Netherlands Legalizes Medical Marijuana

This week, the Netherlands legalizes medical marijuana for distribution in pharmacies; Maryland legislature votes to fine medical marijuana users rather than jailing them; Afghanistan warns it may slip back into the heroin producing capital of the world; and Peruvian coca farming increases with cutbacks in Colombian coca production.

March 17 -- Associated Press reports: Pharmacies may fill prescriptions for marijuana and patients can get the cost covered by insurance, according to a law that went into effect Monday.

Doctors in the famously liberal Netherlands have long recommended marijuana to cancer patients as an appetite enhancer and to combat pain and nausea. But it is usually bought at one of the country's 800 "coffee shops," where the plant is sold openly while police look the other way.

"The health minister said, look, doctors are prescribing marijuana to their patients anyway, and there are many medicinal users, so we may as well regulate it," said Bas Kuik, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Health.

The Dutch government's stance is in stark contrast to U.S. federal law, which says growers of marijuana for medicinal purposes face the same prison terms that recreational growers do.

Recent studies show a fractional increase in the number of people in the Netherlands who say they have tried marijuana, while overall use levels remain well below those in the United States, despite its widespread availability here.

March 19 -- The Baltimore Sun reports: The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill yesterday that would lessen the penalty for sick people found with marijuana if they can prove they possessed it for medical reasons.

In a 73-62 vote, the House passed what is called a "defense bill." The measure doesn't make marijuana legal for those who say they need it, but it allows a judge to impose just a $100 fine if it is shown the drug is a medical necessity.

March 19 -- BBC News reports: Afghanistan will slip back into its role as the world's premier heroin producer unless the international community hands over promised aid, the ravaged country has warned.

On Friday in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Finance Minister Ghani Ahmadzai unveiled a $2.25bn budget, of which $1.7bn was set aside to rebuild infrastructure flattened by 15 years of conflict.

But more than $1bn still has to be pledged by the countries which previously promised to support the country's rebuilding after the US-led invasion in 2001 to drive out the former Taleban government. Without that, and money to fill the $234m gap in the $550m cost of normal government business, donors will not only cripple the country's recovery but face a resurgent drug trade at home as well, Mr. Ahmadzai warned.

The Taleban government which took power in most of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s stamped down hard on the country's long-established heroin trade. But with precious few other ways for Afghan farmers to make money, many of them are returning to poppy cultivation.

Much of the country remains in the hands of warlords who pay lip service to their alliance with the US and the government in Kabul, while running their territory, effectively, as feudal fiefdoms.

March 22 -- The Washington Post reports: The mountain slopes that rise around this town in Peru's high eastern jungle were the site of a rare success story in the U.S. war on drugs. But the resilient Andean drug industry is flowing back into the Apurimac River Valley, testing a model partnership in Washington's increasingly aggressive counter-drug campaign.

Once one of the world's largest sources of coca leaf, the valley was the focus of a U.S.-backed effort to intercept planes shuttling the key raw material in cocaine to processing laboratories in neighboring Colombia.

Now U.S. eradication efforts in Colombia are squeezing the trade back toward Peru, causing deep social unrest, the threat of armed resistance to U.S. drug policy and political risks for a fragile Peruvian government responsible for implementing the most controversial elements of Washington's strategy.

Peru's coca farmers in this riverside town and in the Upper Huallaga to the north have staged demonstrations since last August against impending eradication programs. The marches and blockades are the stirrings of a grass-roots peasant movement in favor of legalized coca production that resembles one underway in neighboring Bolivia.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

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