Wealthy Countries Gave Over $1 Billion to Global Drug War, Shows New Report

A recent report from Harm Reduction International (HRI) sheds light on how richer countries like the United States and Europe continue to provide substantial foreign aid for the global War on Drugs. However, rather than addressing issues like poverty, hunger, healthcare, and education, this money is primarily allocated to law enforcement and military efforts. As anyone familiar with the War on Drugs knows, the police and feds rarely make things better, especially when given firearms. 

As a result, the HRI is calling upon governments, including the U.S., to “stop using money from their limited aid budgets” to endorse policies that adversely affect individuals who use drugs. Doing so is inflicting more harm than good; the money could go towards other things, and it’s just plain expensive. 

The “Aid for the War on Drugs” report reveals that between 2012 and 2021, 30 donor countries allocated $974 million in international aid for “narcotics control.” 

Shockingly, some of this aid, totaling at least $70 million, was directed to countries with the death penalty for drug-related charges. The funding allocated to 16 governments that carry out executions for drug-related convictions is especially troubling. 

As detailed in the report, in 2021, U.S. aid funds went to Indonesia to back a “counter narcotics training program.” This occurred in the same year when Indonesia imposed a record-breaking 89 death sentences for drug-related offenses. Japan gave millions to Iran to help pay for their drug-detection dog units, while Iran executed at least 131 people over drugs in 2021.

In the span of a decade, the United States emerged as the most significant contributor, accounting for more than half of the global funding for the drug war, clocking in at $550 million. Following the U.S. were the European Union ($282 million), Japan ($78 million), the United Kingdom ($22 million), Germany ($12 million), Finland ($9 million), and South Korea ($8 million), Marijuana Moment reports

The War on Drugs receives more foreign aid than school food, early childhood education, labor rights, and mental health care. In the period described by the report, 92 countries received assistance for “narcotics control.” The top recipients were Colombia ($109 million), Afghanistan ($37 million), Peru ($27 million), Mexico ($21 million), Guatemala, and Panama ($10 million each). 

“There is a long history of drug policy being used by world powers to strengthen and enforce their control over other populations, and target specific communities,” the report reads. “Racist and colonial dynamics continue to this day, with wealthier governments, led by the U.S., spending billions of taxpayer dollars around the world to bolster or expand punitive drug control regimes and related law enforcement.”

“These funding flows are out of pace with existing evidence, as well as international development, health, and human rights commitments, including the goal to end AIDS by 2030,” the report calls out. “They rely on and reinforce systems that disproportionately harm Black, Brown and Indigenous people worldwide.”

While certain countries, like the U.K., have reduced their expenditure on foreign War on Drugs initiatives, others have chosen to increase their funding. For instance, the U.S. significantly escalated its support for drug war aid at the start of President Joe Biden‘s term. 

The news of the report comes at a time when Biden, never an A+ cannabis advocate, is president as the federal government is finally seriously considering rescheduling cannabis. 

However, to meet the public where they’re at in a classic political play amid the ongoing federal cannabis scheduling review, the White House has reiterated that President Joe Biden has been unequivocal in his support for legalizing cannabis for medical use. They emphasized, “President Joe Biden has been ‘very clear’ that he’s ‘always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.’”

In August, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the potential implications of reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). She responded, “I don’t want to get ahead of the process. I was asked this question before. So just so that everybody is clear: The president asked the secretary of HHS and also the attorney general to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled, as you just kind of laid out.”

While the United States is the world’s primary contributor to the drug war, HRI’s report highlights how these figures fluctuate, which is vital to remember. For instance, in 2021, the U.S. allocated $301 million in aid for “narcotics control,” a significant increase from the prior year’s $31 million. (However, this figure represents a fraction of what the U.S. invests in the global drug war through other initiatives). 

According to the report, Colombia emerged as the largest recipient of this aid. 

The one thing the report does not reveal is the specifics, apparently to safeguard the “health and security of implementing partners, and the national interest of the United States.”

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Colombia Breaks Coca Cultivation Record, UN Report Finds

Colombia broke a new record for cultivating the coca leaf, the plant used to make cocaine, according to a United Nations report. The process involves extracting alkaloids from the leaves using solvents like gasoline. This crude extract turns into a coca base by mixing it with alkaline solutions. Then, with a bit of further refinement, thanks to chemicals like hydrochloric acid, the result is crystalline cocaine hydrochloride. The final product is dried, diluted, packaged, and ready for distribution (and likely stepped on multiple times; one can only hope not with fentanyl) before hitting the illicit market. Colombia is the world’s top coca cultivator, producing 60% of the world’s cocaine, followed by Peru and Bolivia.

On Monday, The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that 230,000 hectares, or 568,340 acres, of land, were planted with coca last year, 2022, which marks an increase of 13% since 2021. 

According to Al Jazeera, Columbia’s potential cocaine output skyrocketed by 24% to about 1.73 million kilograms (1,738 tonnes), the highest number reported since the UN began monitoring the situation in 2001. Colombia has been the world’s biggest producer of cocaine for a long time and is under pressure from the U.S. and the world at large to implement changes to cut down on production. 

However, producing coca is such a valuable profession for so many farmers that it’s been challenging to implement changes. Distanced from the harmful effects of the drug made from the crops they grow, coca farming is a means of survival and a way of life for many Colombian citizens. The government has previously promised subsidies and other incentives to move growers away from the coca plant, but so far, officials have yet to follow through.

Colombian Justice Minister Néstor Osuna said that they’re “flattening the curve” and that the increase rate was much lower than in 2021, the BBC reports. However, the UNODC’s Leonardo Correa warned of a sharp rise in potential coca production in 2022.

“The crops that were young last year have now reached maturity and are now productive. In other words, the rate of growth in hectares is decreasing. But the rate of cocaine production is increasing,” he said.

Colombian leftist President Gustavo Petro has previously called the war on drugs “irrational.” He likes to call out poor politics on the topic, such as during his first speech at the General Assembly in 2022. In it, Petro said that the world’s addiction to money, oil, and carbon is destroying the Colombian rainforest through what he described as a “hypocritical” war against drugs, the UN reports.

“The forest that should be saved is at the same time being destroyed. To destroy the coca plant, they throw poisons such as glyphosate that drips into our waters, they arrest their cultivators and then imprison them,” he said. “The jungle is burning, gentlemen, while you wage war and play with it. The jungle, the climatic pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The great sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates. The jungle is our savior, but it is seen in my country as the enemy to defeat, as a weed to be extinguished,” Petro continued.

He has proposed his own ideas to fight the cocaine problem, such as directing enforcement on the drug gang leadership rather than the farmers, increasing social funding in production areas, and expanding voluntary crop substitution programs in high-production areas. 

On Saturday, Petro asked for an alliance among Latin American nations to secure a united front in the fight against cocaine trafficking. Rather than continue confronting the problem with what he describes as a “failed” approach, he also proposed recognizing drug consumption as a public health problem. 

“What I propose is to have a different and unified voice that defends our society, our future and our history and stops repeating a failed discourse,” Petro said in a speech that concluded the Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs, held in the Colombian city of Cali.

“It is time to rebuild hope and not repeat the bloody and ferocious wars, the ill-named ‘war on drugs’, viewing drugs as a military problem and not as a health problem for society,” Petro added. 

The recent UN report shares that almost two-thirds of Colombia’s coca farms are in the southern regions of Narino and Putumayo, which border Ecuador. There has been a 77% rise in coca cultivation in Putumayo, alone, the BBC reports. This area is currently engulfed in gang-related violence. Additionally, roughly half of the coca comes from indigenous reserves, forest reserves, and natural parks controlled by drug cartels or other armed groups such as leftist fighters and right-wing paramilitaries.

The Colombian government promises to adopt new drug policies soon directed at shutting down such criminal groups while protecting the farmers who grow the crop. 

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Coast Guard Seizes 223 Pounds of Cocaine From Boat Headed Towards Long Beach

It’s never a happy ending if you’re a Columbian drug smuggler and your boat breaks down. The feds seized 223 pounds of cocaine and arrested two people headed toward Long Beach after their ship became disabled, FOX11 Los Angeles reports

The panga-style vessel, an open and outboard-powered fishing boat commonly used in the developing world, broke down on the 4th of July off the Colombia coast, and it’s far from the first boat filled with cocaine to do so. U.S. pressure on the Colombian government to crack down on the cocaine trade has epically failed. Coke production in Colombia rose in 2021 to its highest levels in two decades of monitoring, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Reuters reports that the areas sown with the coca plant went up 43% to 204,000 hectares (500,000 acres). 

Needless to say, the two folks aboard the ship didn’t have their cocaine-dusted 4th of July American dream. They flagged down a good Samaritan on their way to Long Beach, according to a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. Their saviors towed their broken-down boat — but snitched. The rescuers (although the smugglers would likely not use that word) perhaps didn’t want to get in trouble when they sensed the boat was carrying more than people and contacted the Coast Guard, alerting them that they suspected the panga boat had drugs on board. 

Their suspicions were correct. 

The Coast Guard searched the boat and found 223 pounds of cocaine hidden in a false bottom of the ship. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers detained the two people onboard and seized the blow and the boat. 

“This operation exemplifies the outstanding interagency collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and CBP,” said Lt. Commander Keith Robinson, chief of law enforcement at Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach.

Columbia’s leftist President, Gustavo Petro, isn’t in favor of illegal drug smuggling. But he has made some interesting points about the environmental effects of the war on drugs, something too many U.S. cannabis growers who have had their crops burned know about. During his first speech at the General Assembly in 2022, Petro said that the world’s addiction to money, oil, and carbon is destroying the Colombian rainforest through what he describes as a “hypocritical” war against drugs, the UN reports.

“The forest that should be saved is at the same time being destroyed. To destroy the coca plant, they throw poisons such as glyphosate that drips into our waters, they arrest their cultivators and then imprison them,” he said. “The jungle is burning, gentlemen, while you wage war and play with it. The jungle, the climatic pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The great sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates. The jungle is our savior, but it is seen in my country as the enemy to defeat, as a weed to be extinguished,” Petro continued.

Rather than blame the plant, Petro has suggested expanding voluntary crop substitution programs and regulating narcotics by focusing on gang leadership while increasing social funding in coca plant production areas. He argues that the world’s dependence on oil and the adverse climate effects of the failed war on drugs cause more deaths than drugs themselves. 

“What is more poisonous for humanity, cocaine, coal or oil? The opinion of power has ordered that cocaine is poison and must be persecuted, while it only causes minimal deaths from overdoses…but instead, coal and oil must be protected, even when it can extinguish all humanity,” he also said in his General Assembly speech. 

Petro’s point is best understood once you know that the war on drugs fueled Columbia’s mess of a civil war — and there’s a report to prove it. The study was conducted by a commission formed as part of the 2016 peace deal with the leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). The deal ended five decades of civil war and found that “the union of the interests of United States and Colombia led to the construction of Plan Colombia” (a multibillion-dollar military aid program that began in 2000), “which merged together the counter-insurgency, anti-terrorist and anti-narcotics programmes with the war against narco-terrorism,” The Guardian reports

The report also found a “substantial change in drug policy” is needed while calling out the U.S. — who funded Colombia’s armed forces during the war.

And meanwhile, back home in America, cocaine remains only a Schedule II drug, while cannabis continues to clock in at a Schedule I. 

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World Drug Report: A Surge in Global Cocaine Trade

Summary: The UNODC’s annual World Drug Report reveals a significant increase in the production and consumption of cocaine worldwide. Global cocaine production reached an all-time high of 1,976 tons in 2020, a 5.5% increase from the previous year, largely due to the expansion of coca cultivation in Colombia. Despite the increase in production, cocaine seizures have outpaced production, indicating a complex and multifaceted global drug problem. The report also highlights the growing consumption of cocaine, particularly in North America and Western Europe, and the rapid growth of usage in Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe.

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World Drug Report: A Rise in Global Cocaine Production & Consumption

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its annual World Drug Report, revealing a significant surge in the production and consumption of cocaine worldwide. According to the report, global cocaine production reached an all-time high of 1,976 tons in 2020, marking a 5.5% increase from the previous year. This surge in production is largely attributed to the expansion of coca cultivation in Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine.

Interestingly, the World Drug Report also highlights the growing consumption of cocaine, particularly in North America and Western Europe. However, despite the increase in production, the total amount of cocaine available for consumers was still slightly lower than in the mid-2000s. This is because cocaine seizures have outpaced production, with 2,026 tons seized in 2021 alone.

The report also sheds light on the changing dynamics of the cocaine market. While the Americas and Western and Central Europe continue to dominate the market, the drug’s usage is growing rapidly in Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe. This shift indicates the global reach of the cocaine trade and the challenges it presents for international drug control policies.

The famous white is now pink…

The findings of the UNODC world drug report underscore the persistent and growing issue of cocaine production and consumption. It calls for a comprehensive and coordinated international response to address this global challenge. The report also serves as a reminder of the complex and multifaceted nature of the global drug problem, which requires a balanced and evidence-based approach to drug policy. [Source: Vice News]

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From the Archives: The Banana Boat Connection (1978)

By Andy Rosenblatt

John West Thatcher is not your average, run-of-the-mill, depraved, weird, long-haired, hippie drug smuggler. For starters, Thatcher doesn’t drink, curse or smoke. Not even cigarettes. He’s a God-fearing, born-again Christian who eats lunch at his unpretentious desk, wets his hair and combs it straight back, works six days a week and goes to church on the seventh.

He’s also a Kiwanis Club member, Davidson College trustee, retired lieutenant colonel and chairman of the Miami chapter of Youth for Christ. With a cover like that, who would ever suspect that Thatcher is the number one cocaine importer in Florida, maybe in the nation—a distinction he earned without really trying. Or spending a day in jail.

John Thatcher’s business is bananas. Literally. He imports the yellow fruit from Colombia to Miami, 150 million oblong tropical delights each year. He also imports—inadvertently—a lot of cocaine, something Thatcher, a deacon of the Presbyterian Church, finds hard to explain. The nose candy comes in with the rest of Thatcher’s cargo on the three big banana boats he owns. Like Thatcher’s bananas, the coke comes in bunches. Sometimes 50 pounds, sometimes 150 pounds at a time.

What the railroad did for the American West, the banana boat is doing for Colombian cocaine. The connection is easy and efficient. In the last three years, well over a ton of coke has moved through it. Over 750 pounds has been wasted by Customs narcs who watch all banana boats that dock in Tampa or Miami. The top three seizures on the DEA all-time hit parade took place on banana boats. Together, the seizures account for one out of every eight pounds of coke the feds have put their hands on, an incredible $190-million payload of snow. For every pound that’s wasted, it’s certain that three, four or maybe five pounds end up in someone’s nose.

The banana boat offers the big-time coker some significant advantages. Scheduling is one of them. At least two banana boats leave Colombia for Florida every week. Their schedules are as regular as the airlines’, and there’s less chance of losing your baggage.

The banana boats travel the fastest water route possible; they’re nonstop and refrigerated to boot. Unlike their airborne competition banana boats require no overhead, since the coker, in essence, is hitching a ride. There’s no maintenance or licenses to worry about. Not even gas.

Another big advantage is the banana boat’s size. The 300-foot-long ships may look like huge hulks of scrap metal and twisted steel to the untrained eye, but they offer cokers up to 90,000 cubic feet of storage space and a million and one nooks and crannies to hide a stash.

The only limit is the coker’s imagination, which is to say no limit at all. Coke has been found everywhere on Thatcher’s ships. In the pipes, the walls, the electrical paneling; in oil containers and soap boxes. Also in the crew’s lockers, the bilge, abandoned generators, rope lockers, the engine room, the galley and in tin cans. If a suitable compartment cannot be found, it can usually be constructed. Cokers have put in false pipes, false walls and false floors.

A stash of 157 pounds was found in the banana boat’s bilge behind 6,000 boxes of bananas and a layer of decking. Another 42 pounds was inadvertently discovered by a fastidious female narc who marveled about one boat’s galley crew and how they neatly wrapped their garbage. The “garbage” she stumbled past was worth $10 million on the street.

Some of the best places to put small amounts of coke are on Thatcher’s crew. Each banana boat carries more mules than a box of borax soap. The mules pack coke in the heels of their shoes, their underwear, their crotches and sometimes their girdles. The mules are recruited in Turbo, Colombia, where the banana boats dock. The selection process is not an arduous one. Any sailor who understands that there are rewards for poor vision and penalties for sharp eyes can qualify. Mules coming into Miami can expect $1,000 or more for every kilo that is safely delivered.

Luis Eduardo Arias never collected his mule’s fee. He never safely delivered his cocaine. Arias once tried to move 18 ounces of coke off the banana boat Cubahama by stuffing it deep inside his stained jockey shorts. But it wasn’t the telltale bulge of Arias’s crotch that gave the Colombian sailor away. It was the empty quart bottle of Pepsi he never returned.

Two Customs narcs routinely trailed Arias as he left the banana boat, crossed the Miami River and walked to Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban, coke-snorting enclave. They didn’t notice the enormity of the sailor’s groin. At least initially. They did notice the soda bottle and became suspicious when Arias entered a convenience store but didn’t return the bottle for a deposit.

“The Colombians are creatures of habit just like the rest of us,” one of the arresting narcs later said. “None of them would pass up a chance to deposit a bottle. Not one of the big ones that pay a dime.”

Joaquin Fernandez also got burned. Not by Customs; by a competing mule. On a humid and uncomfortable August night in Tampa, Fernandez walked the deck of the banana boat EA, fought with the mosquitoes and waited for his contact. It wasn’t long before a boyish-looking American appeared. “Puta,” the American said in the middle of his conversation, “is Spanish for whore.”

That was Fernandez’s signal. The Colombian moved back into his quarters with great purpose. He then ran into the engine room and started removing the 117 bolts that kept the hatch plate on the water tank and everyone from his stash. Fernandez worked fast, but the last few bolts were stuck. The American who had boarded the boat offered a hand. As Fernandez moved away to make room, he turned and pissed in his pants. Four other men were standing behind him. They all carried guns. The men were Customs agents, tipped off by another sailor suspected of carrying his own load.

Arias and Fernandez ended their American vacation by being hauled before a federal judge and given a lecture and a fine they couldn’t pay before being deported to Turbo, a fishing village turned boom town on the Colombian coast from whence they came.

Virtually nothing happens in Turbo—a town of 30,000 inhabitants, small bars and rutted streets—that doesn’t involve bananas or cocaine. A one-wharf town, 22 miles from the end of the closest paved road, Turbo sits on the edge of the Colombian jungle, where the rich soil produces millions of Cavendish bananas and the surrounding hills produce communist guerrillas.

Bananas provide most of the jobs in Turbo. Cocaine provides most of the wealth. In the best of times, bananas retail for 25 cents a pound. Cocaine, at any time, sells for more than ten times the freemarket price of gold. Turbo’s snowfall has given Colombian cokers the money necessary to buy the fastest planes, the biggest haciendas and the prettiest women. It has given successful mules the chance to purchase one of Colombia’s most sought-after status symbols—a house with a concrete floor.

In Turbo, the wise peasant drinks his aguardiente, a clear liquid made from the essences of anisette and kerosene, with his eyes turned toward the ground. That is a sure way to stay alive in Colombia’s Dodge City. Only one Turbo official ever had visions of becoming Wyatt Earp, and he is dead. He was the captain of the port of Turbo, and three years ago he tried to stop the cokers. The captain was shot dead in the town square at noon. His assassins were never apprehended. There were no witnesses. The men of Turbo continue to drink with their heads lowered.

One of Thatcher’s banana-boat captains calls Turbo “the end of the world.” It is a good place for a gringo to get mugged while trying to freelance cocaine.

But getting coke aboard a banana boat is no problem for Colombia’s cocaine cartel. It takes 30 hours, 100 Colombian stevedores and Thatcher’s 20-man crew to load one boat with bananas. It takes only a modest tip paid to the right Colombian customs inspector to get a stash aboard.

“Anyone with a raft or a canoe,” admits Thatcher, “has access to our ships.” One DEA agent who has been to Turbo and gives the cokers there considerable credit believes they could load a submarine.

Thatcher, the Colombians and our own narcs have tried everything to peel the Banana Boat Connection. There was one effort to leave only one door on the ship open, but that proved inefficient. There was also an attempt to restrict the crews’ shore leave and forbid them a chance to see their women friends. That nearly provoked a mutiny.

The Colombians have beefed up their customs detail in Turbo, but duty there is considered as attractive as Vietnam. Most Colombians just sit tight in Turbo and wait for their tour to expire.

The narcs who cover the Miami waterfront are more enthusiastic. There’s something about this cat-and-mouse game through an oily, grimy, hot banana boat hull that warms the cockles of a narc’s heart. The whole thing is reminiscent of Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” and, what the hell, it’s taxpayer financed.

“We study them and they study us,” explained one narc. “We know their modus operandi and they know ours. Most of the mules aren’t dumb. They send scouts out to the ship’s bridge with binoculars. Sometimes we’re eyeball to eyeball. The whole thing is fun.”

The narcs don’t like to lose at this game, but the odds are against them by virtue of their numbers. It takes six narcs at least half a day to thoroughly search a banana boat. That’s more men than Customs can regularly afford. Customs has to settle for surveillance of crew members and spot checks.

John Thatcher also takes the Banana Boat Connection to heart. He’s done everything he could to destroy it. For years, Thatcher tried to strike at the cokers with the vengeance of Frankenstein trying to slay his monster. There were times that Thatcher couldn’t sleep at night, so he tried tongue-lashing the crew. Behind his back, in Spanish, they laughed, so Thatcher began to fire them. He fired anyone suspected of being a mule, from sailors to their captains. The turnover rate on Thatcher’s ship soared to over 100 percent a year.

In one of his more desperate moments, Thatcher spent several thousand dollars employing sleuth Ivan Nachman to go to Colombia and break up the smuggling ring. Nachman is a former Miami constable who was raiding lockers at Miami High, searching for heroin, when he wasn’t testing bulletproof vests in his office with a Smith & Wesson .38. Nachman’s search for heroin produced four ounces of grass. His search for a perfect bulletproof vest produced a few holes in the walls of his office.

Nachman left Thatcher’s headquarters for Colombia armed with his sunglasses, his cover as a photojournalist and a sense of bravado developed in the years when copping a few joints from a hippie was considered a big bust. Nachman returned with a portfolio of glossy pictures of the Colombian countryside, an equally flashy bill and no significant new information. The Banana Boat Connection continued undisturbed.

Along the Miami River, John West Thatcher is sometimes called the “man who smuggles bananas and imports cocaine.” The tag used to make Thatcher angry. Now, in an unguarded moment, he can talk about cocaine and laugh.

Forty-six pounds of coke was recently seized near Thatcher’s ship Oro Verde, which in Spanish means “green gold.” Thatcher now thinks he may rename the ship Oro Blanco, or “white gold.”

High Times Magazine, September 1978

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: The Banana Boat Connection (1978) appeared first on High Times.

Colombia Senate Rejects Cannabis Legalization Bill

On June 20, the Senate in Colombia officially rejected a measure that would have allowed recreational cannabis sales. With a 43 to 47 vote, the bill failed to pass with the necessary 54 votes that would have enabled it to pass through its eighth and final debate.

According to Sen. Juan Carlos Losada, the progress seen with this bill is not the end of discussions for adult-use legalization. “I don’t consider this a defeat; we have taken a giant step, four years of putting such a controversial issue at the top of the public agenda, of the public debate,” Losada said. “Continuing to leave a substance that is legal in the hands of the drug traffickers and drug dealers is detrimental to the children of Colombia and detrimental to the country’s democracy.”

A report from La Prensa Latina explained that the eighth debate initially began on June 15, but Senate President Alexander Lopez adjourned the session due to a “verbal confrontation” between Sen. Inti Asprilla (a supporter of the bill) and Sen. Jota Pe Hernandez (who opposed it). Debates resumed again on June 19 but the vote was delayed again due to lack of senators present. The vote was then held on June 20, just before the end of the legislative session.

Former President Álvaro Uribe passed Legislative Act (no. 2) in 2009, which altered Article 49 of the constitution. Under “Drugs, alcohol, and illegal substances,” it states that “The possession and the consumption of narcotic and psychoactive drugs is prohibited, except for medical prescription.” 

Since the passage of that constitutional amendment, multiple attempts have been made to expand cannabis access and pass legalization. In order to modify the Colombia constitution, a bill must pass in four debates in the Senate and four debates in the House of Representatives. After that, the bill would proceed to the president’s desk.

However, since the cannabis legalization bill did not pass in this debate, legislators will have to start over in the next attempt. This is the first time that a cannabis legalization initiative has reached the eighth session of debate.

Supporters of legalization expressed their excitement as the possibility of legalization grew. In May, the Chamber of Representatives passed the bill for its sixth debate. Rep. Losada Tweeted about the event. “#HISTÓRICO Approved with 98 votes our project of #CannabisDeUsoAdulto in 6th debate. Today @CamaraColombia It shows that we are a country that wants to change the failed prohibitionist drug policy to one based on prevention and public health,” Lasada wrote.

Earlier this month on June 6, the Senate passed the bill for its seventh debate. 

Following the bill rejection during the eighth debate, Losada wrote on Twitter that the effort is far from over. “We are sad, but convinced that we gave it our all to the end. We never thought to go that far,” he said. “Today we have majorities, 7 votes were missing. We have been in this fight for 4 years and we will not give up to write a new history in the fight against drugs. Thank you!”

Other supporters such as Sen. María José Pizarro also remain optimistic. “We will remain firm in defending the regulation of #CannabisDeUsoAdulto due to convictions; because the communities of our country have a different opportunity to violence and a job in legality. So that children and youth are not at the mercy of the mafias and jíbaros Colombia, we are going to put ourselves at the forefront #EsHoraDeRegular . @JuanKarloslos gracias!” Pizzaro wrote on Twitter.

In 2016, Colombia legalized medical cannabis production, sale, and export. In July 2021, former Colombia President Ivan Duque approved efforts for legal sales and global export of dried cannabis flower.

The post Colombia Senate Rejects Cannabis Legalization Bill appeared first on High Times.

Week in Review: Amsterdam-Style Cannabis Cafés are California Bound

In this week’s cannabis news round-up, California state assembly passes bill allowing Amsterdam-style cannabis cafés; Colombian senators pass cannabis legalization bill, paving the way for the final vote; Kansas City Royals secure second CBD sponsorship deal in professional baseball and the California senate approves bill prohibiting employers from inquiring about previous cannabis use.

PHOTO Lsantilli

California State Assembly Passes Bill Allowing Amsterdam-Style Cannabis Cafés

In a show of broad bipartisan support, the California State Assembly passed a bill on Wednesday with a vote of 64-9, aiming to establish cannabis cafés similar to those found in Amsterdam. These cafés would enable customers to consume cannabis onsite, creating a more inviting and coffee shop-like experience. While limited onsite cannabis consumption is already permitted under certain circumstances, AB 374 would go further by allowing the sale of non-cannabis-infused products, which is currently prohibited by law.

Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, envisions this legislation to build upon California’s rich cannabis culture and position the state to better compete with Amsterdam, a city globally known for its cannabis scene. With more than 700 cafés allowing onsite cannabis use, Amsterdam generates an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue.

“Lots of people want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others and many people want to do that while sipping coffee, eating a scone or listening to music,” Haney said. “There’s no good reason from an economic, health or safety standpoint that the state should make that illegal. If an authorized cannabis retail store wants to also sell a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop holding back these small businesses.”

Haney hopes the bill will transform the cannabis industry from a purely transactional “pharmacy-like business” into a more social and interactive setting. Moreover, he believes the bill will provide struggling cannabis businesses opportunities for diversification and contribute to tourism and revitalization efforts in downtown areas and other economically challenged business districts across the state.

“California’s small cannabis businesses are struggling,” he said. “Issues such as over-saturation, high taxes and the thriving black market are hurting cannabis businesses who follow the rules and pay taxes.”

The president of Colombia supports legalization of medical cannabis
PHOTO Artixpromo

Colombian Senators Pass Pot Legalization Bill, Paving the Way for the Final Vote

A bill aimed at legalizing cannabis in Colombia has received approval in its second-to-last vote in the Senate on Tuesday, bringing the country one step closer to ending prohibition. However, advocates have raised concerns that unrelated governmental controversies may pose a risk to the bill’s progress as approaching deadlines loom. The proposal, put forth by Rep. Juan Carlos Losada Vargas, had previously passed through multiple votes and cleared the full Chamber of Representatives last month. In a 15-4 vote, the Senate First Committee also approved.

This marks the seventh of eight required votes before the proposed constitutional amendment reaches the president for final consideration. The next and final step is a Senate floor vote scheduled for June 16. It’s important to note that if amendments are made to the bill, lawmakers would have less than a week for bicameral reconciliation before the legislative session concludes.

Sen. María José Pizarro, a prominent advocate of the legislation in the Senate, expressed in an op-ed column last month that the criminalization of cannabis has empowered criminal organizations that continue to spread terror worldwide.

“In parallel, a significant percentage of the increase in the population deprived of liberty worldwide corresponds to people arrested or prosecuted for possession and consumption, which has led to overcrowding and a prison crisis,” she said.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the bill must go through the full legislative process in each Chamber twice, in separate calendar years, to become law.

Last year, the Chamber and Senate passed different versions of marijuana legalization legislation and efforts were made in December to align the bills. The Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of the bill after receiving initial approval in the Chamber.

The proposed legalization bill aims to uphold the “right of free personal development, allowing citizens to decide on cannabis consumption within a regulated legal framework.” It also addresses “arbitrary discriminatory or unequal treatment faced by the consuming population.”

Kansas City Royal Stadium

Kansas City Royals Secure Second CBD Sponsorship Deal in Professional Baseball

The Kansas City Royals have partnered with Pure Spectrum CBD, a Colorado-headquartered company with the stated aim to educate major league baseball fans about the potential benefits of CBD.

While specific details of the Royals-Pure Spectrum deal weren’t disclosed, the partnership has already commenced with a brand activation called the Pure Spectrum Lodge outfield experience at Kauffman Stadium, the team’s home field. This initiative invites fans to enjoy the game while allowing them to learn about CBD.

“As someone who grew up in Kansas City, this partnership with the Kansas City Royals is more than a ‘dream come true’ for me,” Dan Huerter, CEO of Pure Spectrum, said in a statement. “To be able to work with such an iconic organization and to be a part of promoting health and wellness in my hometown is an incredible honor.”

This move by the Royals follows in the footsteps of the Chicago Cubs, who established a CBD sponsorship agreement with Mynd Drinks in April, after MLB’s announcement in 2022 allowing such partnerships.

Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

California Senate Approves Bill Prohibiting Employers from Inquiring About Previous Cannabis Use

The California Senate has passed a bill that would make it illegal for employers to inquire about an applicant’s past cannabis use. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Steven Bradford (D), received a 29-9 vote in favor on Tuesday after going through four committees.

The new bill states that employers cannot ask job applicants about their prior cannabis use. Exceptions to this policy include workers in the building and construction trades and those requiring federal background checks and security clearances.

The bill will now move to the Assembly for further consideration. If signed into law, it would expand on existing employment protections that prevent employers from penalizing workers who use cannabis outside of work in accordance with state law.

If passed into law, the commencement date of the legislation will be January 1, 2024, aligning with the effective date of the previous cannabis employment protections signed by Gov Gavin Newsom (D) last year.

The post Week in Review: Amsterdam-Style Cannabis Cafés are California Bound appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Colombia Senators Approve Cannabis Legalization Bill

A bill to legalize cannabis in Colombia passed in the Senate on Tuesday. The primary focus of ending the war on cannabis is directly tied to halting organized crime, and illicit activities and addressing overpopulated prisons. Sen. María José Pizarro, the Senator behind the legislation, wrote in an op-ed last month that current cannabis prohibition “has enriched criminal organizations that continue to expand and sow terror around the world.”

“In parallel, a significant percentage of the increase in the population deprived of liberty worldwide corresponds to people arrested or prosecuted for possession and consumption, which has led to overcrowding and a prison crisis,” she added.

The constitutional amendment made its way through the Chamber of Representatives last month before passing in the Senate First Committee in a 15-4 vote. This signifies the seventh of eight votes required before the bill reaches Columbia’s progressive President Gustavo Petro’s desk. After its latest success, the legislation goes to the Senate floor, where voting should occur on June 16. 

While Petro hasn’t given a direct quote on his view of the legislation, proponents of the bill are hopeful, as Petro has supported the legalization of the legislation since his inauguration in August, historically speaking up against the horror that can arise from prohibition, particularly the power it gives dangerous illicit markets. 

Last year he addressed the UN to urge fellow nations to change their drug policy approach. The president often discusses the need to release people in prison for cannabis charges. Petro also discussed how a legal cannabis market could nurture Columbia’s economy. He noted that smaller towns, such as the Andes, could potentially enjoy a legal cannabis industry without licensing requirements. Petro is also open to creating an exportation business so Columbia can sell to other legal nations. 

Because the bill is a proposed constitutional amendment, under Columbia law, it must make it through the entire legislative process in each chamber twice, in different calendar years, to finally pass and come into effect. If it passes, the amendment will support “the right of the free development of the personality, allowing citizens to decide on the consumption of cannabis in a regulated legal framework,” it reads. It also aims to reduce the “arbitrary discriminatory or unequal treatment in front of the population that consumes.” It would include treatment centers for those with substance use disorders and provide public education campaigns. 

Another encouraging point Petro has brought up is the role cannabis could play in harm reduction by mitigating the demand for cocaine. The president, a former member of Colombia’s M-19 guerrilla group, has survived firsthand violent conflict between guerrilla soldiers, narco paramilitary groups, and drug cartels. So far, Columbia’s combative drug enforcement policies have only worsened the problem. Colombia continues to be a major cocaine exporter, according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). As Justice Minister Néstor Osuna vocalized at a public hearing in the Senate panel in 2022, Colombia has been the victim of “a failed war that was designed 50 years ago and, due to absurd prohibitionism, has brought us a lot of blood, armed conflict, mafias and crime.” Back in 2020, Columbian lawmakers introduced legislation to regulate coca and, thus, cocaine production while admitting that the country’s historical attempts to address the problem failed. However, the bill died thanks to a conservative legislature. 

These problems are not unique to Columbia, and the president knows it. Last year, Petro met with Mexico’s president (the country is also considering cannabis legalization), and they announced efforts to unite Latin American leaders at an international conference focused on “redesigning and rethinking drug policy” given the “failure” of prohibition. 

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Colombia Chamber of Representatives Passes Cannabis Legalization Bill

On May 8, the Colombian Chamber of Representatives passed a cannabis legalization bill. In the sixth of eight discussions, the bill was passed with a 98-57 vote. In Colombia, legislative acts require eight debates, and in the most recent discussion, it needed 95 votes to move forward.

Rep. Juan Carlos Losada Vargas, who is also the bill’s sponsor, shared the news on Twitter on May 9. “#HISTÓRICO Approved with 98 votes our project of #CannabisDeUsoAdulto in 6th debate. Today @CamaraColombia It shows that we are a country that wants to change the failed prohibitionist drug policy to one based on prevention and public health,” Vargas wrote on Twitter.

The bill would create a regulatory framework for legal cannabis both for adults as well as for scientific purposes. “The purpose of this Draft Legislative Act is to allow the regularization of the use of cannabis by adults, as well as the unification of the current regulations regarding the use of cannabis for scientific use, as long as the established requirements are met,” a translated excerpt of the bill text states. “The foregoing in order to recognize and guarantee the fundamental rights to equality and the free development of personality, unify the constitutional, legal and jurisprudential references on the matter and propose a different strategy to combat illegal cannabis trafficking, as a tactic to reduce violence in the country.”

The bill also supports the creation of public education campaigns and substance abuse programs.

Vargas published op-ed pieces in late March and April where he discussed the history of cannabis efforts in Colombia and how proper regulation will save lives. “Five years ago, when we first brought the cannabis discussion to Congress, we were completely certain that, in a legislative body with conservative majorities, it was virtually impossible to pass a bill of this nature; however, simultaneously with an assured defeat, we always had the conviction that one day—much sooner rather than later—our project was going to go ahead,” Vargas wrote in March. “Well, it looks like that day has come.”

In April, the Chamber of Representatives had discussed cannabis on five occasions. “Passing five debates shows that this Congress, supported by the will of millions of Colombians who went to the polls, demonstrates that it is ready to take a step towards a new drug policy that abandons the failed paradigm of prohibition and opens the field for it to a policy guided by the guidelines of public health, the prevention of consumption and the guarantee of citizens’ rights,” Vargas wrote in April. “We are very little away from starting to write a new history in the fight against drugs, at this point it is a matter of political will. Every vote is decisive.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration, for the last two discussions. If passed, it would be sent to Colombian President Gustavo Petro. 

In the past, Petro has confirmed support and interest in ending the War on Drugs. Last year he explained how he will strive to allow Colombian people to live in peace. In November, Petro met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to discuss “geopolitical, commercial, cultural and development cooperation.” In a joint statement, they announced their goal for change. “Recognizing the failure of the fight against drugs and the vulnerability of our peoples in the face of this problem, Mexico and Colombia will convene an International Conference of Latin American leaders with the objective of redesigning and rethinking drug policy,” both presidents said in their statement.

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Cocaine Production Soars to Record Levels, UN Reports

According to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “The COVID-19 pandemic had a disruptive effect on drug markets. With international travel severely curtailed, producers struggled to get their product to market. Night clubs and bars were shut as officials ramped up their attempts to control the virus, causing demand to slump for drugs like cocaine that are often associated with those settings.

“However, the most recent data suggests this slump has had little impact on longer-term trends. The global supply of cocaine is at record levels. Almost 2,000 tons was produced in 2020, continuing a dramatic uptick in manufacture that began in 2014, when the total was less than half of today’s levels.”

According to The Guardian, production “of coca, the drug’s base ingredient, spiked 35% in 2020-21, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.”

“The pandemic was a bit of a blip for the expansion of cocaine production, but now it has rebounded and is even higher than what it was before,” said Antoine Vella, a researcher at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and who contributed to the report on cocaine.

The UN report says that the “surge is partly a result of an expansion in coca bush cultivation, which doubled between 2013 and 2017, hit a peak in 2018, and rose sharply again in 2021.

“But it is also due to improvements in the process of conversion from coca bush to cocaine hydrochloride. In parallel, there has been a continuing growth in demand, with most regions showing steadily rising numbers of users over the past decade. Although these increases can be partly explained by population growth, there is also a rising prevalence of cocaine use. Interceptions by law enforcement have also been on the rise, at a higher speed than production, meaning that interdiction has contained the growth of the global amount of cocaine available for consumption,” the report continues. 

While the cocaine trade has long been concentrated in major hubs like Colombia, that might be changing. As Vella told The Guardian, “I think we need to shift away from thinking of cocaine as being a European/North American problem because it’s also very much a South American problem.” 

“The cocaine trade in Colombia was once controlled by just a few major players. As a result of a fragmentation of the criminal landscape following the demobilization of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in 2016, it now involves criminal groups of all sizes, structures and objectives. But, signs of consolidation of some of these groups have recently emerged. These developments have led to an increasing presence of foreign actors in Colombia. Mexican and Balkan criminal groups have moved closer to the centre of production to gain access to supplies and wholesale quantities of cocaine,” the report says. “These foreign groups are not aiming to take control of territory. Instead, they are trying to make supply lines more efficient. Their presence is helping to incentivize coca bush cultivation and finance all stages of the supply chain.” 

The report continues: “In established cocaine markets, the proportion of the general population using the drug is high. But these markets only cover around one-fifth of the global population. If the prevalence in other regions increases to match established markets, the number of users globally would increase tremendously because of the large underlying population. This type of market convergence has already been happening in the case of Western and Central Europe, where purity levels and prices have harmonised with the United States, although prevalence of cocaine use in Western and Central Europe has not yet reached the level in the United States.”

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