Is El Chapo a Murderous Drug Lord or a Tool of Corrupt Governments?

In opening arguments of the much-anticipated trial of reputed Mexican drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the defense claimed the government’s case was more myth than reality.

In the much anticipated trial of the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the defense claimed “El Chapo” was not the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel (one of the largest drug cartels in Mexico).

Jeffery Lichtman, one of Guzmán’s layers, argued in his opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing in downtown Brooklyn that Guzmán’s long time partner Ismael Zambada was the real leader, and “El Chapo” was being used as a scapegoat by the Mexican and U.S. governments.

Lichtman also claimed in a groundbreaking statement that Zambada was able to stay in business by paying off both the former and current Mexican president, as well as U.S. officials.

“There’s another side to this story,” said Lichtman.

“An ugly side to the story. This is a case that requires you to throw out what you know about the government. Government officials at the highest level can conspire and be bribed by economic gains. They’re in it for the money.”

He cited both the current and former Mexican presidents, as well as Mexican police officers, and the Mexican military as co-conspirators accepting money from Zambada in exchange for secrecy and cooperation.

But the United States, Lichtman said, is only interested in pursuing “El Chapo” because he is “the biggest prize this prosecution could dream of,” while Zambada continues to roam free.

After escaping from Mexican prison twice, and allegedly transporting over 150 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S., “El Chapo” has earned his name as a notorious drug kingpin, with Netflix TV shows based on his narcos business, rap songs named after him, and even a sandwich called ‘The El Chapo” at a deli in NYC.

However, the defense called “El Chapo” more of a myth than reality.

“If the world is focusing on the mythical creature Guzmán, whose going after Zambada?” Lichtman asked the court.

The U.S. Government was quick to rebut.

The Assistant US Attorney, Adam Fels, painted Guzmán as a hard hitting criminal whose multi-million dollar illegal enterprise was fueled by trafficking drugs via underground tunnels onto American soil.

The much anticipated trial began with opening statements late Tuesday afternoon after two jurors had to be replaced in the morning (one juror had a doctor’s note and was excused, the next juror did not have the funds to withstand jury duty).

Hundreds of people lined up outside the courthouse and stood in the rain waiting to go through security. Viewers got there as early as 3 am to get a spot in the court room. Many of the observation rooms were overflowing, and reporters, lawyers, and the general public were turned away.

When the prosecution began, they highlighted how Guzmán was able to traffic drugs into the U.S. like none of his predecessors. 

“Guzmán slashed delivery time time trafficking drugs by building underground tunnels from Mexico to the U.S.,” said Fels. “Consequently, Guzmán earned the name “El rapido”, or speedy.”

When he wasn’t using underground tunnels, “El Chapo” was transporting drugs by submarine, trucks, tractors, trailers, planes, cars; any transportation method he could get his hands on.

But Guzmán was known for more than just his speed.

According to the prosecution, Guzmán ran a gory, violent enterprise where hitman were hired to murder members from rival cartels and even members within the Sinola cartel, starting various drug wars in Mexico.

Fels noted that Guzmán gave direct orders to have his cousin, who was also his Lieutenant, murdered for potentially working with the authorities.

He also promised the jury there would be forthcoming evidence of Guzmán torturing members of rival cartels, and even pulling the trigger himself on one occasion.

Megan Hadley is the Senior Staff Writer at The Crime Report.


Methadone Clinics Expand Despite Criticism

Amid a demand for more science-based treatment for people addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin and other illicit opioids, the expansion of methadone clinics has gone mostly unheralded. Critics liken methadone treatment to trading one addiction for another.

Amid a national demand for more science-based treatment for people addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin and other illicit opioids, the expansion of methadone clinics has gone mostly unheralded, the Washington Post reports. Unlike buprenorphine, which can be prescribed by licensed practitioners and taken orally at home, or injectable Vivitrol, which can be administered by any doctor, methadone must be given out daily at highly regulated and often very visible clinics. Crowded parking lots, long lines and the potential for diversion of the medication have led many states to limit the number of clinics they license. Some politicians and many other critics have likened methadone treatment to trading one addiction for another. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean are among them. That’s starting to change.

“There has been an underlying stigma against methadone for so many years that the industry naturally maintains a low profile,” said Yngvild Olsen, an addiction doctor in Baltimore on the board of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “Even now,” she said, “access to methadone is highly geographic. It depends on where you live.” In an opioid epidemic that is killing more than 130 Americans daily, more states, including some that previously limited expansion of methadone treatment, are calling on the industry to set up new programs in opioid-plagued rural and suburban areas that lack adequate medication-assisted treatment options. Opioid treatment companies are responding, with most new clinics offering all three opioid addiction medications, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. A major driver of the expansion is millions in newly available Medicaid reimbursement dollars for methadone treatment in at least 37 states and the District of of Columbia.


Canada Reports Pot Shortage Three Weeks After Legalization

Some frustrated consumers are returning to the black market. “We need more weed!,” says a marijuana retailer in Newfoundland.

Canada is running low on legal pot three weeks after the government approved the use of recreational marijuana. The shortage is sending some frustrated consumers back to the black market, the New York Times reports. At least three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick — face a dearth of legal marijuana and two of them have seen outlets selling cannabis temporarily shut down. “We need more weed!” said Trevor Tobin, who teamed up with his mother to open a marijuana retailer called High North in Labrador City, Newfoundland, a small mining town near the Quebec border. He said suppliers did not grow enough plants and don’t have enough packaging equipment. “It is the law of supply and demand,” Tobin said.

The shortage threatens to undermine a major aim of legalization: to tame an illegal marijuana trade estimated at about 5.3 billion Canadian dollars annually. Angry consumers are returning to their illegal dealers. In Montreal, several pot smokers said their illegal dealers were taking advantage of the shortage by hawking home delivery services and lowering prices. Retailers, consumers and producers are exasperated by the shortage, which is blamed partly on the unexpected explosion of demand for government-approved marijuana and the slow pace at which the federal government has licensed cannabis producers. Of the 132 producers approved by the government to supply marijuana to retailers, 78 have received sales licenses, says the government department Health Canada. “We are building a new legal industry that wasn’t there three weeks ago, and we knew there would be problems,” said Mathieu Gaudreault of Quebec’s cannabis agency. He said demand had outstripped supply, while licensed producers had overestimated their capacity.


‘El Chapo’ vs the US Government: Jury Selection Begins in Tight Security

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, reputedly the world’s most feared drug boss, has escaped custody twice. US authorities, determined that he won’t get away again, have imposed tight security for his daily trip to the Brooklyn, N.Y., courthouse where he will face his accusers in a trial that is predicted to last up to four months.

Police officers standing outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Brooklyn on a rainy Tuesday described the scene as “totally normal.”

Normal, perhaps, if you consider that behind the closed doors of that courthouse, the trial of a reputed major international drug kingpin was underway.

There were two officers outside, and a few more down the street. The main road was blocked off. A Secret Service agent hid in his car on the adjacent street. A bomb dog waited inside.

Inside, Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzmán and his lawyers are preparing for what observers predict will be a long, tedious trial.

Guzmán, whose age is variously given as 61 and 64, who allegedly ran the world’s largest drug-trafficking operation even while behind bars in Mexico.  He now faces the possibility of life imprisonment in the United States, according to USA Today. 

Jury selection began this week for a trial that is expected to last two to four months.

Federal authorities have imposed high security measures to prevent Guzmán from slipping away… again.

Guzmán had previously escaped prison, once by bribing the guards and climbing in a dirty laundry basket.

Here are some major dates in Guzmán’s timeline (with some information from the Associated Press):

  • June 10, 1993: Mexico announces Guzmán’s first capture in Guatemala. But even after Guzmán was imprisoned, “He continued to manage his affairs from prison with scarcely a hitch,” writes Robert Saviano in his book “ZeroZeroZero.”  “The maximum security prison Puente Grande, where he was transferred in 1995, became his new base of operations,”
  • Jan. 19, 2001: With the help of bribed guards, Guzman escapes from his top-security prison. Saviano describes the escape: “One of them—Francisco Camberos Rivera, known as El Chito, or the Silent One—opened the door to El Chapo’s cell and helped him climb into a cart of dirty laundry. They headed down unguarded hallways and through wide-open electronic doors to the inner parking lot, where only one guard was on duty. El Chapo jumped out of the cart and leaped into the trunk of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo.”
  • Feb. 22, 2014: El Chapo is captured in Mazatlan after hiding in tunnels for days. The success was touted as a huge win for authorities, who by then had deemed Guzmán the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world.”
  • July 11, 2015: Guzmán escapes through a tunnel from Mexico’s top-security prison. You can see the path he took to escape here.
  • Jan. 8, 2016: He is once again re-captured in Los Mochis, Sinaloa after a shootout with Mexican marines. Five people were killed and one marine was wounded in the fight.

Currently, Guzmán has been held in solitary confinement in a high-security federal cell in Manhattan since January 2017, when Mexico agreed to allow his extradition to the United States for trial.

The Brooklyn Bridge was closed to traffic each time federal officials transported him across the East River from his cell for pretrial hearings at the federal courthouse near the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.

The identities of most scheduled prosecution witnesses also are being kept secret.

Charges against Guzmán include 17 criminal counts and carry a mandatory minimum life sentence.  He denies the charges.

Prosecutors have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against him, an astonishing number considering the potential dangers associated with testifying against a powerful drug kingpin, reports ABC News.

“No one knows what the evidence is but apparently there are hundreds of hours of secret recordings,” Douglas Century, who co-authored “Hunting El Chapo” with Andrew Hogan, the DEA agent who went undercover to capture the drug kingpin, told ABC.

“And they’ve got turncoats who [include] these two twins, the Flores brothers from Chicago, some of Chapo’s closest lieutenants, [and] a guy named Damaso Lopez who has apparently flipped and is working for the Government.”

While “El Chapo” has captivated the attention of true crime writers and Hollywood  celebrities with his alleged crimes, his story carries echoes of an equally ostentatious  narco-boss: Pablo Escobar, the late Colombian drug lord who amassed enormous wealth as the head of a sprawling drug empire based in the city of Medellin in the 1980s and 1990s.

Known as “the King of Cocaine,” Escobar lived in remote luxury on a  ranch where he installed his own private zoo.  He was never brought to justice in the way Guzmán has been—mainly because he was assassinated in 1993 on a rooftop before the justice system could get to him, Alejandro Rincón, a New York Correspondent from NTN24, a Columbian news channel, told The Crime Report.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the two ” said Rincón.

“Both were searched by the authorities. But it’s also interesting to see someone (Guzmán) who did so much harm to one country (Mexico) brought to justice in a new country.”

Opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin next week.

Megan Hadley is senior staff writer for The  Crime Report.


What Happened to Ryan Uhre?

     Ryan Uhre grew up in the suburban town of Weston, Florida, a planned community of 65,000 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area. After attending Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale where he was on the…

     Ryan Uhre grew up in the suburban town of Weston, Florida, a planned community of 65,000 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area. After attending Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale where he was on the wrestling team, Ryan enrolled at Florida State University in the state's capital, Tallahassee. After graduating from FSU in December 2013 with a degree in psychology, Ryan signed on as a legislative intern in state representative Richard Stark's Tallahassee office. In the fall of 2014, the 23-year-old planned to start law school.

     On Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014, Ryan and several of his Alpha Delta Phi fraternity brothers watched the game at Andrew's Capital Grill and Bar in downtown Tallahassee. That night, after the game, he left the bar on foot. His friends thought he was walking to his apartment. He wore a Hawaiian-style shirt and what they call surfing Santas. [Red pants worn by Florida surfers who hit the waves wearing Santa Claus suits.]

     On Friday, February 7, 2014, Ryan's fraternity brothers reported him missing to the FSU Police Department. The search that ensued failed to produce a clue as to Ryan's whereabouts. The day before the missing person report, Ryan's cellphone briefly turned on from the Pompano Beach area. Police officers and others searched for him without result in and around Pompano Beach.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 16 days after Ryan was seen leaving Andrew's Capital Grill and Bar in Tallahassee, police officers discovered his body on the second floor of a two-story vacant building not far from the bar. To have gotten into the building, Ryan would have had to have entered through a door on the roof. The structure, owned by the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Foundation, has been empty since 2006. In 2012 the place was gutted by a fire. Ryan's body lay near a boarded-up window.

     At the death scene, officers found Ryan's broken cellphone, his wallet, identification cards, watch, and an unspecified amount of cash in his pocket. It appeared he had not been the victim of a street mugging. According to reports, detectives were looking for a man believed to have been with Ryan at the time of his disappearance. (Media sites reported that Ryan Uhre was gay.)

     The fact it took the police 16 days to find the young man's body just yards from where he was last seen suggests one of two things: Police incompetence, or the possibility that Ryan died somewhere else and that his body had been dumped in the abandoned building.

    On May 7, 2014, following the February 19 autopsy, the Leon County Medical Examiner's Office announced that Ryan Uhre had accidentally fallen to his death in the abandoned building. According to the toxicology report, he had cocaine, heroin, and alcohol in his blood.

     Why Ryan Uhre was in the building, and exactly what he was doing there, remained a mystery. 


Reuter, Dreifuss Win Stockholm Prize in Criminology

Criminologist Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland and former Swiss Confederation president Ruth Dreifuss are being honored “for shaping more realistic choices about drug abuse.”

Criminologist Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland and former Swiss Confederation president Ruth Dreifuss have won the 2019 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for their work on drug abuse. The prize, awarded since 2006, recognizes outstanding achievements in research or the application of research results for the reduction of crime and the advancement of human rights. The international jury for the prize recognized both an elected official and a policy scholar “for shaping more realistic choices about drug abuse.” The prizes will be presented June 11 in Stockholm.

Jurors cited Reuter and Dreifuss’ work as “champions of creating better evidence, including field tests, of the effects of drug policy innovations on crime and harm.” The Australian-born Reuter has spent decades examining the relationship between drug policy and crime. The prize’s sponsors said “his studies on the effects of enforcement on drug prices and availability found that many of the benefits of prohibition can be achieved with light enforcement, while tough enforcement alone can increase crime without reducing drug consumption.” From 1981 to 1993 he worked at the RAND Corporation, where he founded the RAND Drug Policy Center. Dreifuss, head of her country’s Department of Home Affairs from 1993 to 2002 and President of the Swiss Confederation in 1999, was called “the principal political defender of a seminal set of experiments to test whether an innovation in the treatment of heroin users could help mitigate the crime and health problems of prohibition.” Individuals who had failed in methadone treatment programs were offered Heroin-Assisted Therapy (HAT), the opportunity to inject heroin provided by the state in medically supervised facilities. The evidence showed that HAT greatly reduced the criminality of clients while improving their health. HAT is a routinely available treatment in Switzerland. Dreifuss is President of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.


FDA OK’s Powerful Opioid; Critics Say More Will Overdose

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued an unusual statement saying he would seek more authority for the agency to consider whether there are too many similar drugs on the market, which might allow the agency to turn down future applications for new opioid approvals.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a powerful opioid for use in health-care settings, rejecting criticism from some of its advisers that the drug would inevitably be diverted to illicit use and cause more overdose deaths, the Washington Post reports. The opioid is five to 10 times more potent than pharmaceutical fentanyl. A tiny pill that is just three millimeters in diameter, it is likely to worsen the nation’s drug crisis, say critics and the head of the FDA’s advisory committee on painkillers. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued an unusual statement saying he would seek more authority for the agency to consider whether there are too many similar drugs on the market, which might allow the agency to turn down future applications for new opioid approvals. “We need to address the question that I believe underlies the criticism raised in advance of this approval,” Gottlieb said. “To what extent should we evaluate each opioid solely on its own merits, and to what extent should we also consider . . . the epidemic of opioid misuse and abuse that’s gripping our nation?”

As the worst drug crisis in U.S. history has accelerated, critics and some public officials have clamored for a holistic approach to narcotic painkillers, instead of the FDA’s practice of evaluating each opioid application on its own. Gottlieb has pledged the FDA would do more to balance efforts to curb the epidemic, which killed a record 49,000 users in 2017, with the needs of people who need strong pain relief. Gottlieb said he would bring a plan to the FDA’s Opioid Policy Steering Committee and perhaps Congress. The guidelines would allow the agency to consider a narcotic’s benefit to public health, its risk of being diverted for abuse and its unique benefits to groups of people in pain before  approving an opioid.


Heroin, Fentanyl Biggest U.S. Drug Threats: DEA

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Threat Assessment issued Friday says that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that have not been hotspots for those drugs.

Opioid overdose deaths hit the highest level ever recorded in the U.S. last year, with an estimated 200 people dying per day, says a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Preliminary figures show more than 72,000 people died in 2017 from opioid-related overdoses across the country. U.S. health secretary Alex Azar said recently overdose deaths have now begun to level off, but he cautioned that it was too soon to declare victory, the Associated Press reports. The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment, released Friday, shows that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the nation’s highest drug threats. Federal officials are concerned that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven’t historically been hotspots for those drugs. The DEA is  worried that people are exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic cannabis into the illicit market or to states that don’t have medicinal or so-called recreational use marijuana laws. President Trump has declared the U.S. opioid crisis a “public health emergency” and just last week pledged to put an “extremely big dent” in the scourge of drug addiction.

Fatal heroin overdoses rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with a nearly 25 percent increase in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South. Most of the heroin sold in the U.S. is being trafficked from Mexico, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize the most amount of heroin along the Mexico border, near San Diego, California. Legislation Trump signed last week will add treatment options and force the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for fentanyl. The DEA’s report noted that methamphetamine is making its way into communities where the drug normally wasn’t heavily used. Chronic use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, can cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions.


On Eve of ‘El Chapo’ Trial, Judge Tells Prosecutors Not to Dwell on Murders

“This is a drug conspiracy case that involves murders,” Judge Brian Cogan told government prosecutors. “I’m not going to let you try a murder conspiracy case that happens to involve drugs.” The trial of what the prosecution calls the “greatest 21st century criminal” is due to open next Monday in Brooklyn, NY.

Federal prosecutors in the case against Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the longtime leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, plan to offer evidence that the defendant took part in no fewer than 33 murders, The New York Times reports. But the judge presiding over the trial, which is set to open Nov. 5 in Brooklyn, N.Y. with jury selection, called the number of killings “way too much” and “out of control.”

Apparently exasperated at the prospect of testimony about so many slayings, Judge Brian M. Cogan told the government that it hardly needed to detail every murder that Guzmán, who is known as El Chapo, is suspected of committing to make its point that he used violence to run his operation. Judge Cogan also warned the prosecution that if its presentation got too gory, he might cut it short.

“This is a drug conspiracy case that involves murders,” Judge Cogan said at a hearing. “I’m not going to let you try a murder conspiracy case that happens to involve drugs.”

In the leadup to what looks likely to be one of the most absorbing examinations of the grisly international drug trade, El Chapo’s lawyers have already complained that the government is preparing an “inquisition” of their client.

“I’ve defended some difficult cases and some notorious clients but I’ve never had my hands tied behind my back like this,” Jeffrey Lichtman,  a member of the defense team, told The Guardian.

“This is literally an inquisition. Constitutional fairness has gone out the window because the government wants a show trial with a quickie conviction.”

Brutal as they are, the 33 killings Guzmán stands accused of do not reflect the full scope of the bloodshed that prosecutors plan to introduce at his trial. They are also poised to describe how the defendant killed — or ordered the deaths of — an untold number of law enforcement officers and people who betrayed him.

Earlier this month, Guzmán’s lawyers filed a motion accusing the government of inundating them with 117,000 audio recordings and 14,000 new pages of documents.

El Chapo, whose name means “Shorty” in Spanish was first arrested in 2014, but staged a dramatic escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.  He was rearrested a year later and extradited to the U.S.



Why the Marijuana Wars Now Include Hemp

If Colorado voters next week approve a technical change in the definition of “industrial hemp,” they may set in motion a nationwide effort to regulate a substance that has long occupied a quasi-legal gray area in America’s drug wars.

Next week, on Nov. 6, voters in seven states will weigh in on marijuana-related initiatives on the ballot. But one of those seven states—Colorado—has already legalized medical and recreational marijuana.

So what’s left to decide?

In a word: hemp.


Hemp plant. Photo by Vitaly via Flickr

Hemp is a specific kind of cannabis sativa. You could call it a “close sister” of marijuana, and it has occupied a quasi-legal gray area ever since the drug war began.

In Colorado, the proposed “Amendment X” to the state constitution is actually a follow-up to the original law passed in 2012 after voters approved marijuana legalization. Voters will be asked to support a re-definition of “industrial hemp” which, in the constitution, is currently defined as a “plant with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration that does not exceed three-tenths percent on a dry weight basis.”

The amendment proposes changing that definition to read that hemp “has the same meaning as it is defined in federal law or as the term is defined in Colorado statute.”

Why bother? According to Colorado Sen. Steve Fenberg, a co-sponsor of the measure, it would give farmers and the emerging cannabis industry in the state the necessary flexibility to stay competitive if federal laws regarding hemp change by increasing the percentage of THC.

But the focus on economic motives shouldn’t detract from the more interesting point about hemp’s place in the marijuana wars.

While there are certainly crazed hemp advocates out there who want to wear marijuana clothing, hemp is non-psychoactive. You could smoke it forever and never get high, but no one is advocating smoking hemp.

Hemp is useful as a fiber. It has been used for rope, among other things. George Washington grew hemp.

The main difference between the hemp variety of c. sativa and marijuana is that hemp contains almost no THC. But that “almost” has made marijuana foes oppose hemp cultivation.

One of the reasons that so many people want to cultivate hemp is that, while it contains negligible amounts of THC, it has large amounts of CBD—cannabidiol – a useful chemical that is also found in marijuana. Proponents believe it has numerous benefits including pain relief. The benefits of medical marijuana are derived from CBD, which can be extracted from hemp.

In fact, it is. That’s where the quasi-legal gray area comes in.

CBD is non-psychoactive. It is not considered or treated as a drug. It’s regulated—or more accurately not regulated—like many of the herbal supplements found in natural food and vitamin stores, where it is derived exclusively from hemp. It also is sold in medical marijuana dispensaries and shops, usually derived from marijuana.

A Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spokesperson actually said, “Hemp is a made-up word,” perhaps meaning as a legal concept, since the word has a long etymology—certainly older than the 1971 Controlled Substances Act. (I recall a pirate poem where a buccaneer bragged that “the hemp that will hang me hasn’t been grown.”)

On the other hand, a May 2018 internal directive from DEA suggests that hemp-derived CBD might be legal.

Why bother making CBD from marijuana? Because medical marijuana advocates believe that CBD has better effects when it contains a little bit of THC. They cite evidence of an “entourage effect,” where the two chemicals interact and produce better results. In the same way, some advocates believe whole marijuana rather than just CBD works better.

CBD and THC are only two of the dozens, maybe hundreds, of cannabinoids in marijuana.

CBD’s legality, even without THC, is as murky as hemp if not more so. If you read some websites (often those that sell CBD products), they claim it is 100 percent legal. Others say it is exactly as illegal as marijuana at the federal level (although several states that don’t allow even medical marijuana have approved CBD).

Under the provisions of the federal 2014 Farm Bill, hemp may be legally grown only as part of a pilot program for research purposes in a few states (though the upcoming and overdue new farm bill may expand it). Since CBD can only be extracted from marijuana or hemp, and since those plants can’t be legally cultivated under federal law, CDB can’t be legally sold or marketed or even mailed.

Marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act—meaning among other things, that it has no recognized medical benefits or safe usages. Until recently, CBD as a component of marijuana was considered likewise worthless and dangerous, with opponents citing the DEA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lack of findings as evidence: Since they hadn’t found that there are medical or safe usages, there aren’t any.

Now the FDA has changed the game by approving Epidiolex, a childhood epilepsy drug containing CBD.

The DEA quietly went along with the FDA decision and moved Epidiolex to Schedule V, the least restrictive schedule of the CSA (while leaving CBD itself on Schedule I). That was just a recognition of what the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) concluded in 2015: “CBD appears to be a safe drug with no addictive effects, and the preliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) made a similar finding last year, writing that “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”

Not only is there no evidence that CBD is addictive, but it may even provide opiate addiction help by offering an alternative to highly addictive painkillers, including opiates such as heroin and morphine or synthetic opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. That’s the finding of three recent studies.

The U.S. government actually has a patent on CBD based on the National Institutes of Health’s expectations for or potential of CBD, including for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and HIV-caused dementia, stroke, glaucoma, and seizures.

The lack of regulation means you can’t be sure what you are getting when you purchase so-called CBD products, however. According to a Consumer Reports study, less than a third of CBD products purchased online contained the stated amounts of CBD. “Some didn’t contain any CBD, while others were found to also have THC”.

Regardless of its efficacy or legality, the laws regarding usage and sales of CBD are rarely enforced, but there are exceptions.

In 2017, marijuana dispensaries in Alaska were selling CBD products while waiting for legalization to go into effect. On Feb. 9, law enforcement officers seized all of them in a multi-city bust for violating state “testing and packaging requirements,” without the paperwork that would have allowed the owners to possibly recover their property later.

No arrests were made, and other stores where the products were likewise sold—natural food and health stores—were left alone. That suggests it was more of a harassing action than a legal one.

In Ohio, following the initiation of its new medical marijuana program, CBD sales—which had been allowed for years—have become restricted to licensed marijuana dispensaries. To be fair, CBD products found at dispensaries are more likely to be what they say they are.

The lack of regulation and quality control is troublesome, but the solution is to legalize and regulate CBD—as 17 states have done—not semi-regulate or selectively enforce.

In June, President Donald Trump indicated he would “probably” sign a bill allowing each state to set its own marijuana policy without interference from the federal government—formalizing the Obama administration’s policy and Trump’s own campaign promise.

But that’s not quite legalization, and technically might not include CBD.

One thing that might improve CBD and marijuana’s odds is revenue. If they are legal, U.S. companies can monetize them, and the federal government can collect more taxes.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

Canada just legalized marijuana and therefore can monetize it. Already our northern neighbor had been shipping cannabis around the world, supplying Germany’s pilot medical marijuana program for one.

Now Canada is eyeing the CBD market. Coca-Cola is considering a line of “functional wellness beverages” with CBD, too.

Stephen Bitsoli is a frequent commentator for The Crime Report and other websites on drug policy, addiction and related subjects. A former journalist and a lifelong reader, Stephen loves learning and sharing what he’s learned. Readers’ comments are welcome.