Archive for the ‘ News ’ Category

The Secret Life of Legal Highs

The research chemical market has exploded in recent years primarily due to the emergence of cheap euphoric stimulants produced in volume. The wide appeal and behavioral reinforcement of these compounds relative to the more niche appeal of previous psychedelic research chemicals resulted in a flood of cash from a less discerning clientele. If it made you feel good, it sold – and governments across the world quickly attempted to fill in the blanks in their legislation.

The market has now fragmented, with apparently new compounds popping up based on novel and not explicitly illegal backbones such as the aminoindanes. The effects are touted as nearly identical to older, now illegal alternatives however, and many retail user reports bear this out. This is in contrast to reports from experienced researchers with verified compound, who describe the new aminoindanes such as 5-IAI as effectively worthless.

So why the difference? How can there be such a distinction between reported effects, where a compound that has been found to produce weak threshold effects at best in a controlled setting sell like hotcakes in the retail market? A new research paper provides a rather convincing answer – the “new” retail products simply contain outlawed compounds, and are rebranded with an arbitrarily selected compound name that has some association as a possible replacement.

Seven samples of “new” legal highs were purchased online from multiple sources, sold as MDAI, “benzo fury”, 5-IAI, NRG-3, and E2. They were analyzed using GC-MS, and the results are shocking.

Sold As Active Compounds Identified
MDAI BZP, 3-TFMPP, caffeine.
MDAI MDAI
MDAI BZP, 3-TFMPP, caffeine.

Three samples of “MDAI” were tested. Only one actually contained MDAI, while the other two contained a mixture of caffeine and the illegal piperazines BZP and 3-TFMPP.

Sold As Active Compounds Identified
Benzo Fury BZP, 3-TFMPP, caffeine.
5-IAI BZP, 3-TFMPP, caffeine.
NRG-3 BZP, 3-TFMPP, caffeine.
E2 Caffeine

The results for the other products are equally depressing, none of which match the label. Three samples once again contained a mixture of BZP, 3-TFMPP, and caffeine, while one (E2) only contained large amounts of caffeine. Most interesting was the fact that correlation between various samples was extremely high – the same mixture of compounds was simply sold in differently labelled (and priced) bags!

These products were sold as legal (when they weren’t) and as new and novel different compounds (which they didn’t contain). This practice appears to be far more widespread than many would like to admit.

Baron, Mark and Elie, Mathieu and Elie, Leonie. (2011) Analysis of legal highs – do they contain what it says on the tin? Drug Testing and Analysis. ISSN 1942-7603 (Submitted)

Rick Doblin Answers Anything

Dr. Rick Doblin of MAPS recently answered questions from the public, and I was lucky enough to be included.

Part 1 discusses his vision of a psychedelic future. Part 2 tackles “what can we do”, practical steps for the present.

Missing Kenyan Cocaine Arrives in England

Summary

[Kenyan] Attorney General Wako offers inconsistent, unconvincing explanations of why more than one ton of cocaine held by the Government of Kenya for over a year cannot yet be destroyed. [American Ambassador Wiliam Bellamy] and [British High Commissioner Adam Wood] agreed with the [British Government] to give the [Government of Kenya] another 3 weeks to develop a credible plan before going public with [their] dissatisfaction. Although many have called for Wako’s resignation in recent months, [Kenyan] President Kibaki does not have the constitutional authority to remove the Attorney General from office.

Wako explained that due to a “bad law” (specifically, section 74(a) of the Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances Control Act), the [Government of Kenya] could not destroy the drug stockpile until it had been exhibited to, and sampled in the presence of, all of the defendants in the case. This has already occurred for six defendants currently standing trial in Nairobi. Another key defendant, however, has just been convicted on drug charges in the Netherlands. While the Netherlands has agreed to Kenya’s request for extradition, the defendant had appealed to the Netherlands high court. The High Court is expected to decide within the next two or three weeks whether the defendant can be extradited.

Wako said once the defendant is extradited, he will confront the evidence (the stockpile) and, after that, the stockpile can be disposed of. Wako was vague on how long this process might take. If, on the other hand, the Dutch High Court ruled against extradition, there would be no need to retain the stockpile.

[British High Commissioner Adam] Wood and I both pressed for the [Government of Kenya] to at least invite in outside experts to test, measure and seal the stockpile. This could be done immediately, and without prejudice as to how and when the stockpile was eventually disposed of. Such verification was needed, we argued, to put to rest worries that the stockpile had been tampered with and possibly trafficked. [British High Commissioner Adam] Wood explained how, with shipments of cocaine showing up in London on incoming Kenya Airways flights, [the British government’s] patience was growing thin. I added that the [Government of Kenya] would soon have a serious credibility problem if it could not show that the stockpile was intact and being handled in accordance with best international practices.

Unfortunately, Wako explained, it would not be a good idea to test, measure or seal the stockpile. It would undermine the prosecution’s case since it would allow the defense to argue that the State did not have confidence in its own evidence. Wood and I dismissed this argument as lacking any credibility. When pressed about whether retention of the entire stockpile was necessary throughout the trial, Wako and Tobiko were evasive. Eventually, they admitted that the stockpile could be disposed of once the prosecution rested its case.

Comment

The bottom line is that the Kenyan authorities have been sitting on more than a ton of cocaine for more than a year, at least four consignments of cocaine have reached the U.K. from Kenya in that period, and no one in the [Government of Kenya] is able or willing to assert that the stockpile is intact and that a credible plan exists for measuring and disposing of it. It is significant that Police Commissioner Ali, under whose authority the cocaine is supposedly safeguarded, urged us prior to the Wako meeting to press the Attorney General hard for verification as soon as possible. Ali wants to wash his hands of the mess; for some reason, Wako does not.

[American Ambassador Wiliam Bellamy and British High Commissioner Adam Wood] have heard repeated complaints from respected figures in and out of the [Government of Kenya] (including Anti-Corruption Chief Justice Ringera and World Bank Director Colin Bruce) that Wako is the main obstacle to successful prosecutions of any kind in Kenya. Whether he is profiting in some way from the drug trade, protecting others who are involved in it, or is working from some other motive, we cannot tell. He may feel a degree of immunity since the constitution does not allow the President or any other authority to remove him from office.

Attorney General Wako is also notable for his involvement in the Goldenberg scandal, which some estimate to have cost Kenya more than 10% of its annual gross domestic product.

From Cable Reference ID 06NAIROBI839, 2006-02-24 , Classification CONFIDENTIAL, Origin Embassy Nairobi

2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report – The Netherlands

Summary

The Netherlands continues to be a significant transit point for drugs entering Europe (especially cocaine), an important producer and exporter of synthetic drugs (particularly Ecstasy and amphetamines), and an important consumer of most illicit drugs. U.S. law enforcement information indicates that the Netherlands still is by far the most significant source country for Ecstasy in the U.S. The current Dutch center-right coalition has made measurable progress in implementing the five-year strategy (2002-2006) against production, trade and consumption of synthetic drugs announced in May 2001. For example, there has been a significant increase in Dutch seizures of Ecstasy pills from 3.6 million in 2001 to six million in 2002 (last year for statistics). In July 2003, the National Criminal Investigation Department (Nationale Recherche) was set up with the key objective of enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal investigations and international joint efforts against narcotics trafficking. Operational cooperation between U.S. and Dutch law enforcement agencies is excellent, despite some differences in approach and tactics. Dutch popular attitudes toward soft drugs remain tolerant to the point of indifference. The Dutch government and public view domestic drug use as a public health issue first and a law enforcement issue second.

Cocaine Couriers

Despite fierce political opposition, the Dutch Parliament approved Justice Minister Donner’s plan to close down Schiphol airport to cocaine smuggling from the Caribbean on December 10, 2003. An estimated 20,000-40,000 kilos of cocaine, destined primarily for the European market, are smuggled annually through Schiphol (Dutch cocaine use is estimated at 4,000-8,000 kilos annually – in 2001 and 2002, more than 3,500 drug couriers were arrested and some 10,000 kilos of cocaine seized at the airport). Donner hopes to achieve 100% interdiction of the drugs coming into Schiphol on targeted high-risk flights from the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Suriname. He told the Second Chamber of Parliament on December 3, 2003, that, as a result of the 100% controls of passengers, luggage, freight and aircraft, the number of drug couriers is expected to rise significantly, fearing inadequate law enforcement capacity to handle the number of arrests. According to Donner, this justifies a temporary adjustment in prosecution policy – a certain category of drug couriers will not be prosecuted. He explained that criteria would be drawn up, which will not be made public in the interest of criminal procedures. However, couriers failing to meet these criteria will be prosecuted. (Unconfirmed reports suggested that only smugglers caught with 3 kilos or more are prosecuted.) Donner stated that summoning drug couriers in court at a later date would not be a solution, because this would also put a heavy burden on the Dutch judiciary. He did pledge the Chamber an early assessment of his proposals. Relevant data of drug couriers will be made available to airlines, which will be responsible for taking special measures against these persons, including an indefinite flight ban. Despite opposition within Donner’s own Christian-Democratic Party (CDA), the Second Chamber adopted his proposals on December 10, 2003.

The plan went into effect on December 11, and, during the first five days, 120 couriers were arrested on flights from the Netherlands Antilles, of whom 31 were released without a summons after drugs were recovered. The remaining 89 cases are being investigated or prosecuted. In addition, 104 potential passengers were turned away by the airlines and 375 passengers did not turn up. About 120 kilos of drugs were seized. During routine checks on flights from Suriname, 22 couriers were arrested, one of whom carried 14.5 kilos of cocaine.

Ecstasy Offensive

In July 2003, Justice Minister Donner published a progress report on the implementation of the five-year (2002- 2006) action plan against production, trade, and consumption of synthetic drugs. According to the report, six million Ecstasy pills were seized in 2002 compared to 3.6 million in 2001, and the number of dismantled Ecstasy laboratories rose to 43 in 2002 from 35 in 2001. The increase in Ecstasy seizures was attributed to intensified controls at Schiphol airport by the special team of Dutch customs and the military police (more than one million pills seized there in 2002), the introduction of five special police Ecstasy teams (total manpower: 90), and increased staffing at the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service-Economic Control Service (FIOD-ECD). The progress report shows that the measures announced in the action plan are well underway. According to the 2002 annual report of the Unit Synthetic Drugs (USD), the five XTC teams conducted 36 investigations in 2002 and arrested some 76 suspects.

The chemical precursor PPK is the principal precursor used by Dutch Ecstasy laboratories. It comes mainly by sea from China through Rotterdam port. Due to human rights concerns, the Dutch government shares only limited information of an administrative nature with China. A Memorandum of Understanding formalizing this information- sharing arrangement was submitted to the Chinese in October 2003. No response has yet been received. The MOU states that China will keep the Netherlands informed regarding the progress and results of investigations that have been instigated on the basis of this administrative information. In addition to working directly with the Chinese, the Netherlands is an active participant in the INCB/PRISM project’s taskforce.

Cannabis

According to the fourth survey on coffeeshops in the Netherlands, published in October 2003, there were 782 officially tolerated coffeeshops at the end of 2002, which is a 3 percent drop over 2001, principally in the four major cities. About 73 percent of Dutch municipalities do not tolerate any shops at all, according to the study. In early 2004, Justice Minister Donner, whose CDA party has advocated closing of coffeeshops, is expected to publish a Cannabis Policy Paper, which should discourage cannabis use.

The 2002 National Drug Monitor shows that the number of recent (last-month) cannabis users in the Dutch population over the period 1997-2001 rose from some 326,000 to 408,000, or 3 percent of the Dutch population of 12 years and older (of a total population of 16 million). The largest increase is reported among young people aged 20-24, while use among the 12-15 year-old age group remained limited and hardly changed from 1997. Life-time prevalence (ever-use) of cannabis among the population of 12 years and older rose from 15.6 percent in 1997 to 17 percent in 2001. The average age of recent cannabis users is 28 years.

On November 27, 2003, the Netherlands agreed on an EU framework decision on harmonized sentencing of drug traffickers. Under the agreement, the maximum penalty for possessing a small quantity of cannabis will be raised from one month to one year imprisonment. The agreement, if ratified by Dutch parliament, would allow the Netherlands to maintain its coffeeshops.

Medicinal Cannabis

Since March 17, 2003, doctors are allowed to prescribe their patients medicinal cannabis. Two suitable government-controlled cannabis growers have been contracted, and, as of September 2003, the drug can be bought from pharmacies. The Health Ministry’s Bureau for Medicinal Cannabis controls quality and organizes the distribution. According to the Health Ministry, cannabis may have a favorable effect on seriously ill patients but the government recognizes the therapeutic effects of medicinal cannabis have not been proved and research continues.

Cultivation and Production

About 75 percent of the Dutch cannabis market is Dutch-grown marijuana (Nederwiet), although indoor cultivation of hemp is banned, even for agricultural purposes. Amsterdam University researchers estimate that the Netherlands has at least 100,000 illegal home growers of hashish and marijuana, with the number increasing. Together they produce more than 100,000 kilos of soft drugs and are the largest suppliers of coffeeshops, according to the study. The estimates are based on a significant rise in the number of lawsuits and police raids. Although the Dutch government has given top priority to the investigation and prosecution of large-scale commercial cultivation of Nederwiet, tolerated coffeeshops appear to create the demand for large-scale commercial cultivation.

The Netherlands remains one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic drugs. In 2002, the USD registered a total of 740 seizures of synthetic drugs around the world, of which 205 (some 30 percent) took place in the Netherlands. Of the remaining seizures registered in 35 other countries, some 70 percent could be related to Dutch criminal organizations. Of the 205 Dutch seizures, 141 involved synthetic drugs that were intended to be exported. The seizures of drugs around the world that could be related to the Netherlands involved some 24.6 million MDMA tablets and over 910 kilos of MDMA power. Of this total, the largest amount was seized in the Netherlands (6.1 million pills), Belgium (more than 5 million pills), followed by Germany (almost 3 million), the U.S. (2.5 million), France (2 million) and the UK (1.8 million). The USD reported lower amphetamine seizures in 2002 than in 2001, but the quantity of Dutch-related amphetamine seized in other countries went up. In 2002, the USD dismantled 43 production sites for synthetic drugs, of which 26 were situated in residential areas. Most production sites were MDMA laboratories. According to the USD, the production of synthetic drugs in residential areas is an alarming development. The FIOD-ECD, which is primarily responsible for intercepting chemical precursors, seized some 318 liters and 9,255 kilos of PMK and 1,228 liters of BMK in 2002.

Drug use among the general population of 12 years and older, 1997 and 2001 (life-time (ever) use and last-month use)

  Life-time use (%) Last-month use (%)
1997 2001 1997 2001
Cannabis 15.6 17.0 2.5 3.0
Cocaine 2.1 2.9 0.2 0.4
Amphetamine 1.9 2.6 0.1 0.2
Ecstasy 1.9 2.9 0.3 0.5
Hallucinogens 1.8 1.3 0.0 0.0
   of which LSD 1.2 1.0
Mushrooms 1.6 2.6 0.1 0.1
Heroin 0.3 0.4 0.0 0.1

Drug Seizures, source Europol

2001 2002
Heroin (kilos) 739 1,122
Cocaine (kilos) 8,389 7,968
Cannabis resin (kilos) 10,972 32,717
Herbal cannabis (kilos) 22,447 9,958
Ecstasy (tablets) 3,684,505 6,878,167
Amphetamine (kilos) 579 481
LSD (doses) 28,731 355

Cable Reference ID 04THEHAGUE4, 2004-01-02, Classification UNCLASSIFIED, Origin Embassy The Hague.

Psychedelics in the Public Consciousness

Google Ngram is a very interesting project which measures the frequency of the occurrence of words in a large body of books published over the last several hundred years. This can be considered somewhat as a measure of public awareness of a certain term, so let’s use it to see how various prominent psychedelic compounds (mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA) have risen and fallen in the public consciousness from 1900 to 2000.

The first thing we see is that psychedelic compounds as a whole are a very new concept, entering popular usage only in the middle of the 20th century with knowledge becoming more widespread in the 1960s. The word LSD has an almost overwhelming frequency of use, reflecting the intimate association of the drug with the popular concept of the psychedelic experience. Switching this out for “lysergic acid diethylamide” should allow us to compare relative trends with other psychedelic compounds due to decreased frequency while still maintaining a sensible relation to the original term.

This normalizes the dataset somewhat.

Mescaline had been used for thousands of years until it was first isolated and identified in 1897. It slowly grew in the public consciousness until Aldous Huxley’s 1954 work The Doors of Perception thrust the compound into the mainstream.  
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was first consumed by Albert Hofmann in 1943, initially introduced to the market as a psychiatic drug in 1947, and its potential became more clear with corporate and government experiments during the 1950s including the infamous Project MKULTRA. High potency and its positive character led to efficient distribution and widespread use in the 1960s.  
Psilocybin is another ancient compound with sacramental use spanning thousands of years. Vice President of J.P. Morgan and amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson travelled to a remote village of Mexico on a rumor that their religion included ingestion of mushrooms. In 1957, he published an article in Life magazine entitled Seeking the Magic Mushroom that did for psilocybin what Huxley did for mescaline.  
MDMA was first synthesized in 1912, but it languished in obscurity until the mid-1970s when Alexander Shulgin, then at University of California, heard from his students about unusual effects of the amphetamine derivative. In 1978 he and David Nichols published the first report on the drug’s psychotropic effect in humans and its use spread among the psychiatric community as an adjunct to therapy. MDMA used in a recreational context was first reported in gay nightclubs in the Dallas area in the early 1980s with usage peaking during the 1990s rave scene.  

Other trends become apparent when we separate our observations geographically. While the opportunity to do this is necessarily limited due to language restrictions, we can compare American English usage with British English usage quite easily from 1950 to 2000.

We can see that MDMA citations peaked in the mid 1990s in American English as the British rave scene made noise in North America, but the trend faded in the US while use continued to climb in British English.

Guinean Cocaine Seizure Goes Down in Flames


DATE: 2008-03-06 14:02:00
CLASSIFICATION: SECRET
ORIGIN: Embassy Conakry

SUBJECT: SEIZED DRUGS FINALLY INCINERATED…OR WERE THEY?

SUMMARY: On April 11, 2008, Guinean police seized a shipment of cocaine, exact quantity unknown, and detained six suspects believed to be of Latin American origin. All [US government] requests for additional information regarding the details of the seizure or the suspects have gone unanswered. The [diplomatic] mission focused its efforts to ensure the destruction of the drugs and the result of these efforts proves that corrupt elements of the government are in full control. Exactly one month after the seizure, [the US] Ambassador and [members of the American Regional Security Office] attended the alleged incineration of 390 kilos of cocaine. The incineration was a farce that fooled no one and highlighted the possible complicity of the Guinean Minister of Interior and Security and high-level police officials.

A Long-Anticipated Event

Over a ten-day period, the [US diplomatic mission] in collaboration with the British Ambassador made several unsuccessful attempts to discuss the transparent destruction of the drugs. Finally, on May 2, 2008, the US and UK Ambassadors met with the [Guinean] Minister of Interior and Security and were given well-rehearsed assurances of the [Government of Guinea]’s commitment to combating drug trafficking and an invitation to view the drugs destruction. The incineration, initially planned for May 7 and rescheduled for May 9, finally took place on May 10, 2008.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

After consultations with DEA Paris, [the US] Ambassador requested permission to take a random sample of the cocaine for testing purposes. Controller General Diane automatically agreed, causing an immediate backlash from Director General Bangoura and [the anti-narcotics bureau] Director Mara. Director General Bangoura found several excuses, to include concern over [our] health and safety. He also explained that the cocaine had been treated with chemicals, rendering it useless. Director General Bangoura, in his usual arrogant and condescending fashion, refused to address the [US] Ambassador, claiming that this was not a matter of diplomacy, but police business. [Anti-narcotics bureau] Director Mara’s enraged response included direct accusations of infringement upon Guinean sovereignty. This heated exchange took place in a very public setting and was documented by the private press.

Theatrical Production

Upon the arrival of Minister of Interior and Security Keita and Minister of Justice Paulette Kourouma, the [US] Ambassador’s request for a random sample of the cocaine was quickly denied. The pile was immediately doused with gasoline and ceremoniously lit on fire by the Minister of Justice. The President of the National Committee Against Drug Trafficking was very dramatic in announcing the destruction of 160 kilos of marijuana, 390 kilos of cocaine and 43 boxes of pharmaceutical products (later explained to be expired ibuprofen). The destroyed narcotics were reportedly valued at 6.5 million dollars.

After the incineration, [the American Regional Security Office] was permitted to take a sample from a pre-designated package of cocaine. The [the anti-narcotics bureau] Deputy Director, the only individual that was allowed to get near the pile of narcotics, handpicked the package. On May 6, 2008, the [American Regional Security Office] [Foreign Service National] Investigator received a call from [name removed], who in the past weeks has provided [the Regional Security Office] with sensitive information on the drug seizure. [name removed] stated that the [Government of Guinea] planned to burn packages of flour. [The American Regional Security Office] is unable to prove that the cocaine was in fact substituted with flour; however, the [Government of Guinea]’s lack of cooperation and vehement rejection to a request for random sampling raises troubling questions about the [Government of Guinea]’s interest in transparency. And as the [US] Ambassador’s driver very keenly observed, “I know the smell of burning marijuana, and I didn’t smell anything.” The entire event was a theatrical production.

Thankfully the US Ambassador’s driver was there to recognize the smell of burning marijuana, or else the seizure may have remained a mystery to this day.

The event was a real eye-opener and a facade. The incineration was a ridiculous attempt by the [Government of Guinea] to prove that a law enforcement campaign against narcotics exists. If anything was proven, it was that the traffickers’ influence has reached the highest levels of the government. There is an obvious fracture within the security forces, and only a handful of officials appear to be fighting to carry out legitimate duties. The clear reluctance and open animosity displayed by all the senior Ministry of Interior and Security (MIS) officials and the diffident response of the Ministers to the [US] Ambassador’s request suggest complicity at the highest levels of the Ministry. The silver-lining of the event is that the heated debate and ridiculous protestation by MIS to the Ambassador’s request for a random sampling were witnessed and recorded by elements of the Guinean media (state-owned and independent).

From Cable Reference ID 08CONAKRY184, 2008-03-06 14:02:00, Classification SECRET, Origin Embassy Conakry.

AIRCR Jumps the Shark

The Association of Independent Research Chemical Retailers (AIRCR) is a collection of largely UK based research chemical vendors who have banded together in a stated attempt at creating a self-regulating organization. The motivation apparently was a result of the wide-scale scams and misrepresentation of product that occurred as the easy money of mephedrone sales started to dry up due to government regulation.

A noble goal indeed, as even before this the research chemical scene as a whole was not exactly a shining example of professionalism and restraint. Self-regulating organizations have a strong track record in many fields including finance, law, medicine, and engineering, and can demonstrate the ability of the market to regulate itself without requiring explicit government oversight. They can also quickly shift from self-regulating to self-serving organizations as their structures may encourage monopolistic behavior and cronyism.

AIRCR initially appeared to sit almost precisely between these two extremes. There was no question that after the March 2010 ban of mephedrone in the UK many research chemical vendors scrambled to provide any substitute product at all to the seething masses who had gotten used to the cheap and staggeringly effective drug. Hyperpotent long-lasting toxic stimulants, existing (and now illegal) mephedrone stocks rebranded and sold with nonsense chemical formulas, and simply fake product had created mass disillusionment within many retail customers, and retailers began to panic as they saw sales volumes plummet.

The retail strategy of AIRCR seems to be best outlined by the approach of a group of several UK based websites who are now AIRCR members. Their first mainstream exclusive compound 6-APB (“Benzo Fury”) was based off the structure of the classic MDA. Correctly identifying that the major issues leading to prohibition of mephedrone were indiscriminate doses and widely available cheap product, 6-APB was produced in limited runs and pressed into “pellets” (not pills, which would imply human consumption and not “research” of course). Presumably the hope was that with a more expensive product divided up into an appropriate dose overconsumption would be less of an issue. By having a monopoly on production and controlling supply, the compound could be rationed via economic pressures to those most likely to use it correctly – and more importantly, to those least likely to create unwanted media attention. While less profitable month to month than the wide-scale sales of mephedrone, it would hopefully provide a more consistent cash flow, few competitive pressures, and a longer production run leading to a better structured business model.

For new recreational entheogens with limited reinforcing characteristics this business model, while far from perfect, is a rational approach to the current regulatory environment. Retail levels sales to end users are largely tolerated if media attention and underage use is limited, a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” of the drug world. But with their latest product, AIRCR has succumbed completely to the temptations of monopoly and have fixed a noose about their own neck.

The compound in question is literally trademarked by AIRCR as methiopropamine, presumably to distract from the more conventional nomenclature of methamthetamine. The similarity to the much-demonized methamphetamine is no coincidence, as it can be thought of as methamphetamine where the phenyl group is replaced by a sulfur-containing thiophene group. Typically the replacement of a phenyl with a thiophene in this class of compounds results in increased inhibition of VMAT, which can be correlated with increased reinforcement and addictive effects. Preliminary tests appear to indicate similar qualitative effects to methamphetamine, a shorter duration, slightly lower potency, and more peripheral effects including vasoconstriction and sweating.

It seems almost a foregone conclusion to say that sales of a research chemical with this level of behavioural reinforcement and close structural similarity to one of the most publicly demonized drugs of our time will not end well. Supply controls will likely be insufficient to limit media attention, and these very supply controls are likely to be quickly circumvented as synthesis and precursors will be vigorously investigated by other labs wanting to get in on a fast buck. A shame that the first public attempt at self-regulation in the research chemical industry could fall to temptation so quickly.

Farewell AIRCR, we hardly knew ye.

Afghan Heroin and Supply Side Economics

A diplomatic cable sent in September of 2009 describes a speech given by Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, briefing NATO on the results of the 2009 Afghanistan Opium Survey.

On September 18 the Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, briefed at NATO Headquarters the results of the 2009 Afghanistan Opium Survey. Opium cultivation trends reported were positive overall and showcased a major decline in opium cultivation in Afghanistan by 22 percent in 2009, the lowest in 15 years. Costa described Afghanistan as having a southern opium problem not an Afghanistan opium problem. The report found that nearly 99 percent of all opium production took place in the south. All other provinces in Afghanistan produced only 1 percent of the country’s total opium in 2009. The UK and U.S. support to Helmand Governor Mangal’s three-pronged “food zone” project was illustrated as a successful initiative promoting licit farming in the South. Costa said the World Food Program should buy wheat at the higher price in Afghanistan instead of Pakistan, as it would have a greater positive impact on the Afghan economy. Eradication mechanisms were reported to have minimal affects and accounted for only 3 percent to 4 percent in cutting opium cultivation.

So how are major players in the heroin market reacting to this decrease in supply? Taking a cue from other monopolistic cartels like De Beers, they have been stockpiling and releasing only partial proceeds of production in order to keep prices high and manage supply shocks like this.

Opium Stocks Remain High

Costa said that Afghanistan has 12,400 tons of opium stocks because it produces more than the world consumes. Costa believes the insurgency is withholding these stocks from the market and treating them like “savings accounts.” He said the stocks pose a serious threat as it could be used to finance the insurgency. Costa encouraged intelligence organizations to keep focus on the storage and movement of Afghanistan’s opium stocks.

And who precisely is benefiting from this intelligent management of heroin and opium stockpiles?

Drug-Taliban Links

Costa responded to Sweden’s question on which parts of the insurgency are gaining the most from narcotics profits by pointing to operations in southern Afghanistan. He said that there was evidence of emerging narco-cartels along Afghanistan’s southern border that are linked to the Taliban. Costa said that the UNODC interviews those who have been recently released by the Taliban for an inside view into insurgency activities. He said many former Taliban detainees said that their sleeping bags were often bags of opium. Costa said the interviews yielded information that many narcotics transactions and transport activities occurred during the night. Costa said there was a grey area between those apart of the insurgency for the ideological aspects and those involved because of the financial gains of the black market narcotics industry. In the north, Costa said there was evidence within the last 12 to 18 months of new narcotics networks by the insurgency. Costa also mentioned that Afghanistan had a political drug cartel, but did not go into details.

Astoundingly, a statement by one of the highest ranking anti-narcotics agents in the world that Afghanistan has a “political drug cartel” barely merits a full sentence. Attempts to convince Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Attorney General Mohammed Isha Aloko of the values of Western narcotic control ideology appear to be falling on deaf ears, as demonstrated by several high profile pardons of those both deeply involved in the heroin trade and connected to high-level government office.

From Cable Reference ID 09USNATO397, 2009-09-18 16:04, Classification CONFIDENTIAL, Origin Mission USNATO.

Casablanca’s Cafe Culture

A diplomatic cable was sent in May 2008 from Casablanca describing external, internal, and underground sources of wealth in Morocco.

Most Casablancans acknowledge that at least some of Casablanca’s wealth comes from illicit activities such as drug-trafficking and money laundering. In the words of [name removed], “We have dirty money. The problem is we don’t know how much.” Statistics do not exist to quantify how much of Casablanca’s wealth can be traced to illicit activities. However, one indication can be found in the USG’s own 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: “Morocco is the world’s biggest producer of cannabis resin (hashish) and is consistently ranked among the world’s largest producers of cannabis.” The report estimates that Morocco’s drug trade (mostly to Europe) nets about USD 13 billion per year, more than twice the amount brought in by tourism in 2007. Some portion of this money finds its way to Casablanca, where it is either spent on jewelry, cars, houses and other items, or it is laundered. Referring to the use of cafes as fronts for illegitimate business activities, one finance professional joked that “money laundering creates a nice cafe culture in Casablanca.”

From Cable Reference ID 08CASABLANCA104, 2008-05-23 16:04, Classification CONFIDENTIAL, Origin Embassy Casablanca.

Drug Trafficking in Mozambique

A cable was sent in November of 2009 from the US Embassy in Maputo detailing the increasing problems Mozambique was experiencing with drug trafficking. The diplomat described how “porous borders, lack of law enforcement resources, and rampant corruption allow drug traffickers to freely transit the country”.

Air Routes

2. (S) The primary route for cocaine is by air to Maputo from Brazil via Johannesburg, Lisbon or Luanda. On arrival passengers and baggage do not pass through immigration and customs, which allows them to avoid the improved security at the airports of origin. Drugs (mostly cocaine) are smuggled overland to South Africa for local South African consumption or onward to Europe. Cocaine is often smuggled by mules and/or in suitcases with hidden compartments. The drug traffickers routinely bribe Mozambique police, immigration and customs officials in order to get the drugs into the country. The decrease in drug related arrests at Maputo International Airport is not attributable to improved interdiction efforts but rather increased police and customs involvement in drug smuggling. A high level law enforcement official admits most police drug seizures are not reported to his office because traffickers and police make on-the-spot arrangements to allow the drugs to continue to flow. Police and customs officials routinely detain drug smugglers and are then bribed to release the smugglers and the drugs are confiscated and resold. Domingos Tivane, the Director of Customs, is directly involved in facilitating drug shipments. Tivane has amassed a personal fortune in excess of a million dollars, to include numerous investments around Mozambique.

Sea Routes

3. (S) Transport by sea is the preferred route for hashish, mandrax, and heroin shipments, often involving large quantities. Drugs come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. They are then loaded onto a vessel that sails to Dar Es-Salam, Tanzania, or Mombasa, Kenya. Drugs are often concealed in containers with legitimate goods and are often offloaded and sent via land to Mozambique. Alternatively, the vessel offloads its cargo in the Ports of Maputo, Beira and especially Nacala. Drugs are then smuggled overland to South Africa or onward via air, to the U.S. and Europe.

“Mandrax” here refers to a brand name of methaqualone, commonly known as Quaaludes in North America. No longer legally produced, it is clandestinely manufactured for the illegal drug market in many African and South Asian countries. Methaqualone is a common drug of abuse in low-income segments of South African society, where it is mixed with cannabis (“dagga”) and typically smoked in a bottle neck pipe.

Two Main Drug Trafficking Networks

4. (S) There are two large drug trafficking networks that operate in Mozambique. Both of these networks have ties to South East Asia. Mohamed Bashir Suleiman (MBS) is the head of a well financed organized crime and money laundering network centered on the family owned and managed business conglomerate Grupo MBS. Suleiman uses Grupo MBS and proxies like Rassul Trading, run by Ghulam Rassul, and Niza Group, owned by the Ayoub family, to smuggle drugs from Pakistan via Dubai in containers carrying televisions, electrical equipment, cooking oil and automobiles. The Suleiman family has connections in South Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Latin America and Portugal, and maintains a complex structure of businesses with a wide variety of commercial activities that serve as a cover for a multitude of illegal activities. Suleiman has a close relationship with former President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano and current President Armando Guebuza, and enjoys ties to senior level Mozambican officials, including the Director of Customs, Tivane. Grupo MBS and the Suleiman family reportedly have connections in the Ibrahim Dawood international drug syndicate.

5. (S) Ghulam Rassul Moti is a Mozambique based ethnic South Asian narcotics trafficker who has smuggled hashish and heroin in the Nampula province of Northern Mozambique since at least 1993. He has been linked to several prominent international narcotics traffickers and uses these relationships and his political influence to avoid customs and police inspections at the seaports and borders. Moti owns Rassul Trading Co. and Grupo ARJ which are major narcotics importers in Nacala, and suspected in the trafficking of persons, mainly Pakistanis. Post is also seeing increased cooperation between West and East African based narcotics networks with Mozambique drug networks. The main drug organizations are rumored to support extremist Islamist elements in Mozambique.

Corruption of Senior Level Government Officials

6. (S) A porous border, lack of resources for law enforcement as well as endemic corruption among Mozambique’s senior level officials leads to a situation where drug traffickers are able to freely transit the country. Mid-level Mozambican officials are afraid to go after people involved in the major drug networks because they know they have connections to senior level government officials. Senior members of the ruling FRELIMO party are seeking to hide the level of corruption from the press, the electorate and the international donor community. As a high level law enforcement official also said recently in private, ‘Some fish are too big to catch.’

From Cable Reference ID 09MAPUTO1291, 2009-11-16 07:07, Classification SECRET, Origin Embassy Maputo.