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The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:54

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Categories: Latest News

Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 06:47

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

In Historic Come-from-Behind Victory, Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Passes [FEATURE]

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 05:56

Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Election officials tweeted that "the results remain unofficial" until the city certifies them on May 16. If they hold, Denver will become the first locality in the United States to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of a psychedelic substance.

Even Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the measure, had conceded defeat Tuesday night, with group leader Kevin Matthews saying "it's not a loss, it's a lesson," as the measure trailed by thousands of votes throughout the evening. But then the worm turned, and now Denver has broken new ground.

With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

Personal possession is defined under the measure to include growing one's own mushrooms, but the mushrooms not be "used or displayed in public." The measure does not decriminalize sales, saying they are still subject to prosecution under state law.

Decriminalize Denver campaigned on the criminal and social justice implications of the proposal, as well as touting the potential therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms. Interest in those benefits is part of a psychedelic renaissance underway for years now that is manifested not only in significant increases in the number of young people reporting having used hallucinogens, but also an explosion of research into the therapeutic properties of psychedelics.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]Denver may be the first place where the psychedelic renaissance passes an electoral test, but it won't be the last where it's tried. The Oregon Psilocybin Society is already in the signature-gathering phase of its 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, while just to the south, a group calling itself Decriminalize California is just beginning efforts to get on the 2020 ballot with a statewide decriminalization there. Those same activists tried but failed to get on the ballot last year.

For the Drug Policy Alliance, Wednesday's victory in Denver was only the beginning.

"No one should be arrested or incarcerated simply for using or possessing psilocybin or any other drug," said the group's Colorado state director, Art Way. "If anything, this initiative doesn't go nearly far enough. Given the scientific and public support for decriminalizing all drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, we need broader reforms that can scale back the mass criminalization of people who use drugs."

The state -- and the nation -- need to go further, Way said: "More than a million people are arrested each year in the US for drug possession, but this has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs or the harms they can cause. More comprehensive is necessary to achieve the cost savings and public health outcomes that will maximally benefit Colorado."

But Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization is a beginning.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Categories: Latest News

Legal Marijuana Is a Job Creation Machine [FEATURE]

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 21:40

As the marijuana business comes out of the shadows and into the legal marketplace, jobs in the legal industry are coming with it -- by the hundreds of thousands, with more on the way. In fact, the legal marijuana business is forecast to see the greatest increase in demand of any profession over the next ten years.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]That's according to the marijuana information clearing house Leafly, which crunched the numbers in its recently-released Special Report: 2019 Cannabis Jobs Count. That report finds that legal marijuana has already created 211,000 full-time jobs, with more than 64,000 added last year alone, and tens of thousands more being created this year.

The marijuana workforce increased 21 percent in 2017, jumped by another 44 percent last year, and Leafly expects at least another 20 percent growth this year. That's a more than doubling of the industry workforce in just three years.

By way of comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently listed the industries with the fastest job growth prospects. Home health care aide positions are expected to jump 47 percent, while openings for wind turbine technicians and solar voltaic installers are expected to double. But that's in the next 10 years; the marijuana industry did it in three.

Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't count pot jobs. That left Leafly's data team, working in conjunction with Whitney Economics, to come up with the numbers. They did so using state-reported data, industry surveys, on-the-ground reporting, Leafly's own proprietary data, and economic formulas devised by Whitney.

The upward jobs trend is likely to continue for years to come, rolling through the individual states as they embrace medical marijuana and recreational legalization. So far, 34 states have some form of legal medical marijuana, but only ten have achieved full-blown legalization, so the medium-term job creation potential is substantial.

We can see this playing out in the legal states. Early legalizers Colorado and Washington saw double-digit jobs growth last year -- 17 percent and 26 percent, respectively -- but these numbers actually represent a plateau as their legal markets mature. Triple-digit job growth figures are common as states come online. In Florida, when medical marijuana dispensaries opened up last year, the state added more than 9,000 pot jobs, a stunning increase of more than 700 percent.

The Sunshine State wasn't alone in seeing huge job increases last year. Nevada added more than 7,500 jobs, Pennsylvania went from 90 pot jobs to nearly 4,000, and New York nearly tripled the number of full-time positions. By year's end more than 5,000 New Yorkers worked in the industry.

This year, Leafly predicts the biggest harvest of new jobs in the industry will come in California, where hiring was flat last year because of disruptions caused by the shift from the unlicensed medical system to tightly regulated adult-use legalization. The Golden State should see 10,000 new cannabis jobs, bringing total employment to around 60,000.

Massachusetts, where the adult-use market is just getting started, is set to add some 9,500 positions, while Florida's rollout of medical marijuana should see jobs there increase by 5,000 this year, bringing the total for the state to 15,000. In Oklahoma, there were no legal marijuana jobs in 2018, but with the November 2018 victory of a medical marijuana initiative, there are more than 2,100 jobs now, which should more than double to 4,400 by year's end. Similarly, in Arkansas, where the first dispensary is set to open any day now, the number of industry positions is expected to go from 135 now to nearly a thousand before the year is up.

Now, just imagine what happens when states such as Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York manage to actually get legalization bills through the legislature. The jobs will follow in a wave that will eventually make its way to the last stubborn prohibitionist holdouts in places like South Carolina and South Dakota. The marijuana job boom isn't ending; it's just getting underway.

This article was produced by ​Drug Reporter​, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

Marijuana With a Mission: Brother David's Quest to Turn the Cannabis Industry Truly Green and Good [FEATURE]

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 16:26

With the advent of legalization, the marijuana cultivation industry is being transformed -- and not always for the better. What was once an illicit lifestyle with mom and pop growers hiding in the hills and playing cat and mouse games with prohibition enforcers is now a legal, above-board economic sector that increasingly resembles industrial agriculture, complete with massive indoor grows the size of football fields that gobble up energy, suck up water, and require large inputs of nutrients and pesticides.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]These sorts of practices are not exactly environmentally-friendly and they turn a blind eye to the climate change crisis that is already having an impact in this country, whether it's ever-more-drenching downpours during hurricanes, more frequent and intense tornados, shorelines inundated by rising sea levels, or -- closer to home for the legal marijuana industry -- drought and forest fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Now, some stalwarts of environmental and drug reform activism are partnering with one of California's most environmentally and socially-conscious cannabis distributors to try to tip the industry and marijuana consumers toward embracing ecologically-aware best practices that protect family farms, produce highest-quality product at competitive prices, and are good for the planet.

David Bronner, grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the company's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer), is joining forces with small, sun-grown farmer champion and sustainable cannabis supply chain company Flow Kana to create Brother David's, a nonprofit marijuana company for consumers who value where their weed was grown and care about how it was produced. The venture will also promote a "beyond organic" Sun + Earth certification that all its products will carry.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, pot farmers who wish to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable, environmentally-sound organic agriculture practices cannot avail themselves of the label "organic," which is a federal program operated by the US Department of Agriculture. Sun + Earth certification seeks to fill that gap, and then some.

The Sun + Earth label "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet," the group's web site explains. "We set the standard above and beyond organic." As seen in draft standards released for public comment last August, compliance with standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is just the beginning. The standards go above and beyond organic by promoting biodiversity and preserving ecosystem health, water conservation, carbon sequestration, growing plants in natural light only, and promoting soil conservation, among other requirements.

Such standards are wholly in line with the cutting edge save-the-planet practices now known as regenerative agriculture, which its practitioners define as following: "Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities."

That's exactly what Bronner and Flow Kana want to create in the marijuana industry.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"The problem with cannabis production now is the same as with industrial agriculture in general," Bronner said in a phone interview last week. "Now that we're post-prohibition, we have all the same problems as every legal commodity crop. We're seeing huge, indoor corporate grows that rely on chemicals and are energy-intensive and are displacing small farmers. There's a way we should be growing our crops that is regenerative, that builds top soil and creates biodiverse habitat for wildlife -- not dumping huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers on the land and forcing farmers off the land to work for slave wages."

Flow Kana has the pot farmers Brother David's is looking for. Dedicated to creating the first sun-grown cannabis brand while supporting the state's small, independent marijuana farming ecosystem, the company has partnered with more than 200 Northern California growers using organic farming practices. Not every Flow Kana partner farmer is Sun + Earth certified, but every partner farmer whose product is destined for Brother David's is.

"It took us awhile to find Flow Kana," Bronner noted. "We didn't know of any distribution entity of any size that wasn't trying to integrate with massive grows. But there is a real cool family at the heart of the company; they have really good ethics about partnering with farmers, they're very transparent, and their top farms are all totally regenerative organic. These are multigenerational back-to-the-land farmers who've been growing cannabis alongside vegetables for decades."

"The Emerald Triangle's ecosystem of small farms is a rare one that regenerative pioneers like Dr. Bronner's have spent decades creating in their supply chain. The cannabis industry already has this and we have to fight to preserve it from the ways of industrial agriculture," said Michael Steinmetz, Flow Kana CEO. "This movement is not only about saving these environmental and community values but making this decentralized model of agriculture the gold standard for others to follow across the cannabis industry and beyond. This fight requires everyone's involvement and careful collaboration across many operators, distributors, retailers, and brands working in tandem to preserve, protect, and evolve our industry and world."

Veteran Washington, DC activist Adam Eidinger, who organized the District's successful 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, is a longtime Bronner ally who describes himself as "a missionary" for Brother David's. He accompanied Bronner on Emerald Triangle scouting trips looking for the right farms.

"We visited all the farms," he recalled in a phone interview. "They're all advocate farms. They've been in the space since before it was legal, some of them 30 or 40 years. These are well-established, multigeneration cannabis farmers. But they're also farms that can grow their own nutrients on-site, they usually also have livestock, veggies, greens, perennials, maybe 40 crops on a small amount of land. And no-till agriculture. You end up losing a lot of topsoil every time you till," he added.

"Brother David's is an activist brand," Eidinger emphasized. "This is people who have consistently been fighting for reform for 20 years, and we're jumping in now, kind of late, because we want to identify cannabis that consumers can trust and we want to support regenerative organic farmers, small-scale producers who have transitioned to the legal market. With this brand, consumers can put their money where it will do the most good."

That's because Brother David's is not only operating under agricultural best practices, it's operating as a nonprofit, with all net proceeds going to support regenerative ag and drug and criminal justice reform efforts.

"Brother David's is dedicating 100% of net profits, and a big chunk of that will go to drug policy reform groups, and not just cannabis reform," Eidinger explained. "David committed $5 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) through Dr Bronner's, but there is still more need with more studies and initiatives. Some of the money will go to criminal justice reform in general, not necessarily about drugs, things like prisoner reentry and sentencing reform. If this takes off, we can do more for the community, and that's the mission. Other companies' mission is to make money."

"The cannabis legalization movement has achieved significant victories in the last 20 years. Now, we need to advance consumer and environmental interests by implementing regenerative organic agriculture in the cannabis industry," said Bronner. "As society moves closer and closer toward the federal legalization of cannabis, we need to chart a new course before it's too late. We need to promote Sun + Earth and other high bar standards -- because it's best for the Earth in this age of climate crisis, and produces the cleanest, greenest and most ethical cannabis possible."

Brother David's is rolling out beginning in May in select California dispensaries. It will offer nine strains from eight different Sun + Earth certified farms partnering with Flow Kana. The strains are priced to compete in the mid-price premium market. For pot people who want to do their share to save the planet, it's time to get woke and bake with Brother D.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, the publisher of this newsletter.

Categories: Latest News

DHS Considers Classifying Fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction [FEATURE]

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 21:33

The military affairs and news web site Task & Purpose has obtained an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that shows the agency is considering designating the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Typically produced in China and then smuggled through Mexico or sent directly to the US via package delivery services, fentanyl has been implicated in tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in recent years. The drug is doubly dangerous because not only is it dozens of times stronger than heroin, it is all too often mixed in with other drugs so that consumers ingest it unwittingly.

The memo obtained by Task & Purpose was dated February 22, 2019 and titled "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl." It was prepared for then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James F. McConnell, who sketched the background of the drug and noted how some members of the federal government see it as a potential "mass casualty weapon."

McConnell is a long-time homeland security official who has led the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office since he was appointed by President Trump in May 2018.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," he wrote. "In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that '...fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals'," he wrote.

But other parts of the memo suggest DHS is considering the move not only as part of a war on fentanyl but as a means of obtaining more funding for the agency's WMD activities. Indeed, funding for the counter-WMD program has declined under Trump, whose homeland security priorities are focused on the US-Mexico border, despite crime rates at the border being lower than in other parts of the country.

"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," McDonnell wrote as he tried to sell the idea. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts. Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis," he added.

The Counter-WMD office could help in the fight against fentanyl by developing and managing new technologies, deploying sensors, and helping other agencies in the field, McDonnell told Nielsen. He also claimed that senior Defense Department leaders "had proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material."

Neither the Defense Department nor DHS would comment to Task & Purpose on the report, but members of the counter-WMD community contacted by the web site reacted with bemusement and skepticism.

Fentanyl as a WMD is a "fringe scenario," chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense expert Dan Kaszeta reacted. There are "literally dozens" of toxic chemicals that could be easily weaponized, he said.

"This is like declaring ecstasy as a WMD," said another member of the Defense Department's counter-WMD team speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told Task & Purpose. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

But McConnell is planning to move ahead. In the memo, he said his office would continue to brief DHS on fentanyl-related counter-WMD efforts and would schedule an interagency planning event on fentanyl.

An unnamed senior Defense official told Task & Purpose that while such a meeting was probably "a good idea," it was far more likely that someone seeking a chemical WMD would instead turn to sarin or mustard gas. "Anybody with a college level degree in chemistry can manufacture chemical weapons agents," he said.

"I cannot see any scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield, or for that matter, a terrorist using a really toxic chemical like fentanyl in an attack when they could just sell it for funding the purchase of firearms and explosives or steal an industrial chemical instead," the official added.

In that light, McConnell's memo appears more as a cynical bureaucratic exercise aimed at increasing program budgets rather than a serious effort to address homeland security.

Categories: Latest News

Holland's Half-Baked Attempt to Return to the Marijuana Vanguard [FEATURE]

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 20:16

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Holland was the world's marijuana mecca. Under the quite sensible policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), Dutch authorities didn't quite legalize marijuana but instead effectively turned a blind eye, allowing licensed retail establishments -- the famous coffeeshops -- to sell five grams or less of marijuana, and to let their customers consume the products onsite despite prohibition remaining on the books.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]A generation of stoners made the pilgrimage to Amsterdam, getting wrecked on hash and primo nederwiet (Dutch weed) and musing fuzzily about why their home countries couldn't be as cool about cannabis as the Netherlands. That was then.

Oh, the stoners still come for coffeeshops like the Bulldog and Die Melkweg, especially weekend punters from more puritanical locales, such as Britain and France, where weed can still get you in trouble. This is the "drug tourism" the Dutch decry even as they pocket the Euros.

But over the years, some of the luster has rubbed away, in part because conservative Dutch governments who were never happy with the coffeeshop scene whittled it down as much as they could, but also in part because the Dutch were standing still while the relaxation of marijuana prohibition gained momentum around the world.

Uruguay legalized it. Canada legalized it. Ten American states, the nation's capital, and two US territories legalized it, with another state or two or three likely to do it this year. And this was actual legalization, not the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "it's still illegal but we'll allow it" Dutch compromise. And while no European country has completely legalized it, decriminalization is afoot in broad swathes of the continent, and Spain allows private use and cultivation, as well as "cannabis clubs," especially in Catalonia.

Now, though, the Dutch are finally considering taking the next step, and that involves fixing a chronic issue for their system: the "back door problem." That is, while it has been allowed for the coffeeshops to sell marijuana, they have had no legal source of supply. The Dutch system had no provision for the regulated provision of product to the coffeeshops. Instead, while coffeeshops could openly sell to their customers through the front door, their black market weed supplies had to sneak in the back door.

A halting and limited effort to rectify the situation is now about to get underway. The coalition government announced last week that it will move forward with a pilot program in regulated marijuana production for the coffeeshops. Under the plan, the government will issue licenses to 10 growers who will each have to produce at least 10 types of marijuana product, with THC content clearly marked on the packaging. A minimum of six and a maximum of 10 local authorities will take part in the trials, which will last four years, meaning that it will be up to the next government to decide whether the Netherlands will press ahead with state-regulated production.

But both the local authorities' association, VNG, and the government's highest advisory body, the Council of State, have already criticized the plan as too limited and stringent. The plan seeks to completely eliminate the black market as a source for coffeeshop product: "Coffeeshops in the municipalities which are taking part in the experiment can only sell legally-produced hemp products and growers can only sell to those shops," the plan says. "This means the entire chain will be closed."

The local authorities in the country's two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, have complained that the goal is unworkable, especially in Amsterdam, where more than a hundred coffeeshops are doing brisk business. The Council of State, meanwhile, has complained that the pilot program is too small and will not allow useful conclusions to be drawn.

Still, the coalition government is moving forward with the plan and says it expects final decisions on which local authorities will be involved by the end of the year. The Netherlands is now poised to once again move into the marijuana vanguard with state-regulated commercial marijuana production, even if the government's plan is still half-baked. We will see in four years whether the country is ready to finally solve the "back door problem" and fully embrace the marijuana business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 21:58

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Marijuana Laced with Fentanyl? No, Just Cluelessness by White House Drug Policy Advisor Kellyanne Conway [FEATURE]

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 23:11

Among other roles in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway is the White House's opioid crisis czar. But a comment she made last week demonstrates how totally clueless and unqualified for the job she is.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]At a news conference before briefing Trump on the latest developments in the opioid crisis, Conway took on fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid linked to an ever-increasing number of overdose deaths in the country. The presidential advisor warned that fentanyl was turning up in other drugs, which is true. The illicit drug is showing up not only in heroin, where it might be expected to add to the opioid's kick but also in other powder drugs whose users are not even looking for an opioid high, such as the stimulants cocaine and methamphetamine.

The concern about drugs being adulterated with fentanyl is warranted. But Conway went a step further in her remarks, making a claim that would require only a moment's thought (or some actual familiarity with illicit drugs) for her to realize was not only false but ludicrous.

"People are unwittingly ingesting it," she said of fentanyl. "It's laced into heroin, marijuana, meth, cocaine, and it's also being distributed by itself."

Okay, one of those drugs is not like the others, and that should have been a signal to Conway that she was spouting horse manure. Fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and meth are all drugs that come in powder form, making it easy to cut one with the other. Marijuana, on the other hand, consists of the flowering buds of a plant. Marijuana buds spotted with powdery white speckles would be obvious (and would probably have consumers wondering if that white stuff was mold).

There is also no evidence of marijuana adulterated with fentanyl despite some urban mythologizing by a handful of law enforcement officials, which was repeated by people who should know better, including Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

When questioned about Conway's fentanyl and marijuana claim, the White House press office pointed to a speech last year by Volkow. "Fentanyl is being used to lace a wide variety of drugs, including marijuana," she claimed.

When questioned about Volkow's claim, the NIDA press office cited "anecdotal reports" from law enforcement. But those "reports" were actually a single report from police in Vancouver, B.C., in 2015 that "fentanyl-laced marijuana" was killing area drug users. And despite the panic over the claim, Vancouver cops admitted a year later that they hadn't actually seen "fentanyl-laced marijuana".

Again in 2017, some Canadian officials claimed there had been fentanyl-laced marijuana deaths. The only problem with that claim is that Canadian coroners reported no such cases.

There are a couple of ways the fentanyl-laced marijuana myth could have come about. The first is that extremely sensitive fentanyl test strips, which detect concentrations as tiny as one-billionth of a gram, could have detected minuscule amounts of the drug on pot handled by people using fentanyl, much the same way $20-dollar bills are found to be widely contaminated with traces of cocaine. Just as you're not going to get high by licking a $20, you're not going to die by smoking weed contaminated by vanishingly-small traces of fentanyl.

The second link is the presence of marijuana in the bodies of some who have died of fentanyl overdoses. But that reveals only that some people use multiple drugs, not that the lethal fentanyl was in the weed.

The DEA, for its part, has not reported encountering "fentanyl-laced marijuana," but none of this has stopped Conway from making her bogus claim. She made the same claim to right activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March.

That Conway continues to spout such nonsense is disturbing for a number of reasons, drug policy experts told Buzzfeed News last week.

"It's crazy that this story is coming out from our leaders," said epidemiologist Dan Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco. "It shows that concerns about fentanyl have reached the level of moral panic. Fear outweighs rational evidence. There is scant evidence for cannabis laced with fentanyl."

"This is part of a wider fentanyl panic that goes beyond having alternative facts and leads to bad decisions," added Northeastern University drug policy expert Leo Beletsky. "There's this mistaken belief that law enforcement are experts on the drugs they are seizing. That's just not the case, and that's part of the problem."

That's an important and under-emphasized point. Police are no more experts on drugs because they arrest drug users and sellers than they are experts on marital relations because they arrest people for domestic violence.

"The danger in a moral panic is that we see this overreaction that leads to a replay of the mistakes of the crack cocaine crisis," Beletsky said. "We need to move beyond the universe of alternative facts."

Unfortunately, this is an administration that swims in a sea of alternative facts. The least we can do is push back hard.

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