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The Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

Last century's international prohibitionist consensus on drug policy continued to crumble this year, with moves to relax controls on medical and personal use of marijuana leading the way. But harm reduction measures such as supervised injection sites are also on the rise, international civil society and even some governments are laying the groundwork for reforming the global drug control regime next year at the UN, America's most stalwart drug war ally in South America changes its tune, and more.

Here are the biggest international drug policy stories of the year, in no particular order:

Canada Elects a Marijuana-Legalizing Prime Minister. We may have a handful of legal pot states, but Canada is about to become the first country in North America to free the weed. Newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made marijuana legalization a central plank of his election campaign, and this month, he immediately ordered his new Justice Minister to get on it after winning the election. In the annual throne speech last week, his government reiterated its intention to legalize it. It won't happen overnight, but it's coming.

The US is No Longer the Bogeyman of International Drug Reform. It's not like 2001, when Jamaican decriminalization got put on the back burner after thunderous protests from the US embassy, or even 2009, early in the Obama administration, when more muffled protests from the US helped put the kibosh on drug decriminalization in Mexico. It's more difficult for Washington to criticize other countries when the Obama administration has signaled it can live with legal marijuana in US states, but the administration seems less inclined to do so, anyway. Last year, William Brownfield, head of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs enunciated a policy of tolerance toward reform efforts abroad, and the State Department reiterated that again this year. It's not all roses, though; the prohibitionist beast may be weakening, but its tail still twitches.

Laying the Groundwork for UNGASS on Drugs. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is coming next spring, and the international drug reform movement was busy preparing for it this year. In May, during the High Level Thematic Debate on drugs, reform groups released an open letter calling on the UN to respect countries' drug policy reforms, and in June, while the UNODC marked global anti-drug day, global civil society fought back with events and demonstrations around the globe. Then, in October, Sir Richard Branson provoked a kerfluffle by leaking a UNODC draft document that urged governments to consider drug decriminalization, forcing the agency to walk it back under pressure from at least one country. At year's end, the European Parliamentary Council called for a public health-oriented global drug policy. A lot more has been going on behind the scenes, too, but drug reform at the UN moves at a glacial pace. Stay tuned.

Afghan Opium Production Declines. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UNODC reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Iran executes drug offenders (handsoffcain.net)
Iran Drug Death Penalty Mania Shows First Signs of Receding. Iran has executed hundreds of people for drug offenses this year, but a campaign to end European and UN funding of Iran's drug war has been picking up steam. Some European countries, including Denmark, Great Britain, and Ireland have stopped funding, and in October, the UN special rapporteur on Iran warned that it was using UN support to justify its aggressive use of the death penalty. But that didn't stop the UN Office on Drugs and Crime from this month increasing funding for Iranian anti-drug operations. While the struggle continues on the international front, this month, Iranian parliamentarians themselves expressed discomfort with the death toll. At least 70 are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. Lawmakers are now preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Columbia Stops Aerial Spraying of Herbicide on Coca Fields, Farmers. With US backing and encouragement, the Colombian government sprayed the herbicide glyphosate on coca crops for years despite peasant protests that it was causing illness and damaging other crops and livestock. But in April, after a World Health Organization report reclassified the herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," the health ministry called for the suspension of spraying. The following month, Colombia ended the program despite US pressure to continue it. Then, in September, President Juan Manuel Santos deepened the departure from two decades of US-style drug policies, unveiling a new national drug strategy that will emphasize alternative development.

Mexico Marijuana Moves. In a country where public opinion does not favor legalization, the Supreme Court stunned the nation in November by ruling that people have the right to grow and use marijuana. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten. It also opened the door for a national debate on marijuana policy, with President Enrique Pena Nieto promising it will occur early next year.

Medical Marijuana Advances. More countries okayed the use of medical marijuana in 2015, including Australia, Croatia, and, just this week, Colombia. Meanwhile, Chile harvested its first medical marijuana crop in April, the Italian Army began growing it in May (to address shortages within the country), and the Dalai Lama endorsed it in June. That same month, Costa Rica outlined requirements for a pending medical marijuana bill, and in July, Israel announced it would make it available in pharmacies and allow more doctors to prescribe it.

Jah Herb is decriminalized in Jamaica. (wikimedia.org)
Jamaica Decriminalizes Ganja. In February, parliament voted to approve a government-supported decriminalization bill, and the law went into effect in April. Now, anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. Adult Rastafarians can also now use the herb for religious purposes. The law also paved the way for a regulatory authority for medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses. In July, Justice Minister Mark Golding signed an order to expunge minor marijuana convictions, and by December, the government had granted its second "marijuana exemption" allowing Rastafarians at a festival to partake of (and possess and transport) Jah Herb without fear of arrest.

Supervised Injection Sites Expand. The harm reduction measure allows drug users to ingest their drugs under medical supervision and without fear of arrest and has been proven to improve outcomes for users and the community without increasing crime or other negatives and without fear of arrest. At the beginning of the year, there were supervised injection sites in eight countries -- Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. By year's end, two more countries got them up and running, France in the spring and Slovenia in the fall. Late in the year, Ireland approved a supervised injection site in Dublin. Meanwhile, in the US, the Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates are mounting a campaign to open one in New York City, which would be the first (official) one in the country.

Chronicle AM: Ireland to Allow SIF, Congress Renews DEA Funding Ban in MedMJ States, More (12/16/15)

Congress continues to block DEA harassment in medical marijuana states, Washington state could see a lot more pot shops, it looks like Florida will vote again on medical marijuana, Ireland is moving toward setting up a supervised injection site in Dublin, and more.

A supervised injection site is coming to Dublin next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Congress to Continue Blocking DEA Interference With Medical Marijuana States. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

Washington Could Allow Lots More Marijuana Stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) today heard a staff recommendation to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from 334 to 556. The move is expected to be finalized in emergency rules to be announced January 6.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Already Has 900,000 Signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Illinois to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Legislators Compete Over How to Restrict Access to Cold Medications. Faced with a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to obtain cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, two lawmakers have come up with an alternative measure that would instead allow pharmacists to decide whether or not customers could buy the cold medications.

Drug Treatment

Most People in Treatment for Marijuana Are Sent There By Courts. A report this month from the US Department of Health and Human Services finds that between 2003 and 2013 52% of people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal justice system. Only 18% were in treatment because they sought it themselves.

International

Irish Cabinet Approves Supervised Injection Site in Dublin. The cabinet has approved a pilot plan for a medically supervised injection facility in the nation's capital. The move came yesterday and was at the behest of Aodhan O'Riordain, the minister in charge of the National Drug Strategy. The country's drug law must first be amended to allow for such facilities, which should happen early next year.

Chronicle AM: CA Initiative Picture Clearing Up, Call for NYC Safe Injection Site, More (12/8/15)

It looks like we're now down to one serious legalization initiative in California, calls grow for a safe injection site in New York City, Nepalese villagers fight marijuana eradicators, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California "Sean Parker Initiative" Revised. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), backed by billionaire tech titan Sean Parker, has been revised to add safeguards for protecting children, maintaining local government control over pot commerce, shielding small businesses from monopolistic competition, and strengthening worker and labor protections in the industry, the campaign said Monday. Click on the title link for more details on the changes.

ReformCA Activists Migrate to Parker Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA) has apparently given up on getting its own legalization initiative on the ballot, with a majority of ReformCA board members now endorsing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, known more widely as the "Sean Parker initiative." Board members endorsing the Parker initiative include Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition head Neill Franklin, Students for Sensible Drug Policy deputy director Stacia Cosner, California Cannabis Industry Association director Nate Bradley, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps head David Bronner; and two other board members have reportedly agreed to withdrawing the ReformCA initiative, making a majority. "We have carefully reviewed amendments submitted by the proponents of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, and we're convinced it's time to endorse that initiative and unite everyone behind a single, consensus measure to achieve a legal, regulated system, which a majority of voters have consistently said they want," Bronner said in a prepared statement.

Harm Reduction

Advocates Call for New York City Supervised Injection Site. Faced with a fourth straight year of increasing heroin overdose deaths, public health advocates are calling on the New York City to do more on overdose prevention, including authorizing supervised injection sites. "It's time for New York City to follow the science," said Julie Netherland, PhD, of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Supervised injection facilities can reduce overdose deaths and have proven effective in improving a host of public health and public safety outcomes. We can no longer afford to let fear and stigma stand in the way of saving lives."

International

Slovenia Joins Ranks of Countries Allowing Supervised Injection Facilities. The local nonprofit Stigma has launched a supervised injection site pilot project in the capital, Ljublana. Stigma and the Slovenian Ministry of Health worked quietly behind the scenes to get legal approvals and funding before going public.

Nepalese Villagers Clash With Marijuana Eradicators. Marijuana growing villagers in Makawanpur District fought with police trying to eradicate their crops Monday. Gunfire came from both sides, but no injuries were reported, and crowds dispersed after the gunfire. Police said they had destroyed about 20 acres worth of marijuana crops.

Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.

International

Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.

International

United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Chronicle AM: MO Pot Lifer Wins Commutation, MD Gov Vetoes Drug Reform Bills, DEA Heroin Threat, More (5/26/15)

A second Arizona legalization initiative has been filed, a Missouri marijuana lifer gets a reprieve, Maryland's Republican governor vetoes drug reform bills, the DEA warns of the heroin threat, there's more violence in Latin American drug war zones, and more.

The Show Me Cannabis campaign to free Jeff Mizanskey bears fruit. (twitter.com)
Marijuana Policy

Second Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed. The Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana last week filed paperwork for a second legalization initiative in the state. The other initiative, filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project, handed in its paperwork last month. Both would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and propose a 15% tax, but the new initiative would make possession of more than eight ounces a misdemeanor, while the first one would make it a felony.

Maryland Governor Vetoes Marijuana Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have added some housekeeping measures to last year's decriminalization bill. The bill would have decriminalized public pot smoking and possession of pot paraphernalia. Hogan's explanation for the veto was that he is worried police won't be able to do anything about people smoking pot while driving.

Missouri Governor Commutes Sentence of Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mizanskey. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) last Friday commuted the life sentence meted out to 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey, who had been the subject of a campaign led by Show-Me Cannabis to get him released. Nixon's action doesn't free Mizanskey, but does make him eligible for a parole hearing, after which he could be released.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Blocked in House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.

Heroin

DEA Says Heroin Deaths Highest in a Decade. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, according to a National Heroin Threat Assessment released last Friday by the DEA. Deaths totaled more than 8,200 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of heroin users doubled from 161,000 in 2007 to 289,000 in 2013. Still, heroin overdose deaths pale in comparison with those from prescription drugs, with more than 30,000 people dying of prescription drug overdoses in 2013. [Ed: One cause of increased heroin use is the crackdown on prescription drugs, which has led some users to take to the streets.]

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 528, which would have required police to establish that a property owner knew the property was connected to a crime, set a minimum amount of $300 for triggering seizures, and forbid police from transferring asset forfeiture cases to the federal government (to get around state asset forfeiture laws). Hogan's given reason for the veto was… heroin. "Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic," he said in a veto statement. "The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."

International

FARC Calls Off Ceasefire After Colombian Military Kills 26 Rebels. Colombia's leftist rebels have ended their unilateral ceasefire during protracted peace negotiations with the government after a government air and ground offensive killed 26 FARC fighters last Thursday. But the FARC said it will continue with peace talks. The Colombian military offensive began after the FARC killed 11 soldiers on patrol last month, but the FARC claims the military has been harassing it throughout the peace talks.

Mexican Cops Kill 42 Drug Suspects in "Shoot Out." At least 42 suspected drug cartel members and one federal police officer died last Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunfight between police and drug gang gunmen. The killings took place in Jalisco state, home of the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel, although authorities did not name the group. While authorities reported a fierce fight, the one-sided death toll is raising eyebrows.

Paris City Council Announces Location of France's First Safe Injection Site. The city council announced Monday that the country's first "drug consumption room" will be located at the city's Lariboisiere Hospital. The site was chosen after the plan for the original site was derailed by neighborhood opposition.

Chronicle AM: France Okays Safe Injection Sites, Wichita Decriminalizes, Egypt Hash Debate, More (4/8/15)

A Louisiana poll shows rising support for marijuana legalization; if Massachusetts want to legalize, it will be up to the voters; Wichita votes to decriminalize it, a CBD cannabis bill dies in Indiana, France okays safe injection sites, and more.

A proposal to legalize hash in Egypt has stoked debate. (justice.gov/dea)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Sees Rising Support for Legalization, But Still No Majority. The 2015 Louisiana Survey, released Tuesday, shows support for marijuana legalization at 45%, up from 42% two years ago. Opposition was at 52%, down from 56% two years ago. Support was twice as high in southwest Louisiana (57%) than northeast Louisiana (28%). The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, but the legislature appears little inclined to do anything about them.

Massachusetts Lawmakers to Punt on Legalization. There is "no appetite" among lawmakers to address marijuana legalization, leaving the field open for ballot initiatives next year, said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. "There's been conversations and there seems to be no appetite in the Legislature to take up... recreational marijuana, so you should expect to see it on the ballot in 2016," Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told the Boston Herald's internet radio station on Tuesday.

Wichita Votes to Decriminalize. Voters in Wichita voted 54% to 45% to approve a local initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. The measure would make first-time possession an infraction with a $50 fine. But state law says it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) has vowed to sue the city if it passes. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed. A bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy sailed through the House earlier this session, but was killed by a Senate committee vote Tuesday after prosecutors opposed it, saying it was similar to legalizing medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Revamps Application Process for Registered Dispensaries. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced significant changes to the Commonwealth's Medical Marijuana Dispensary program first authorized in 2012. The revised process will license Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) in a format similar to other healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, which DPH also administers. This process will phase out the current use of state procurement policies to register a dispensary. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Kentucky GOP Gubernatorial Hopeful Proposes Drug Testing Welfare Recipients. Would-be Republican gubernatorial nominee Hal Heiner is seeking to win support from the base by pushing a scheme to drug test welfare recipients. He made the call in a series of TV ads that began appearing yesterday. "I am simply asking welfare recipients to do what many employees in Kentucky are already required to do," Heiner said in a statement. "If working Kentuckians can be required to take drug tests, it is certainly reasonable to expect those who are benefiting from their tax dollars to do so as well."

International

France Approves Safe Injection Sites. The National Assembly Tuesday adopted a draft health law that will allow for safe injection sites for injection drug users. Opposition deputies denounced the move as "a first step toward legalizing drugs," for creating "no-go zones," and for sending "incomprehensible messages to our youth," but they did not prevail. Pilot sites will open in Paris, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, and the law will prevent users from being arrested for drug possession within safe injection sites. Safe injection sites already operate in around 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Call for Hash Legalization in Egypt Sparks Lively Debate. Just a few days ago, Cairo tobacco traders called for hash legalization as a revenue measure and submitted a proposal to that effect to the cabinet, and that has sparked strong reactions. The Ministry of Social Solidarity's Drug Control and Addiction Treatment Fund warned that hash is a serious threat to Egypt, which is "safe by nature." The fund claimed hash is a major factor in road accidents because it causes "lack of awareness of one's surroundings." The fund also claimed that a survey it conducted found that 86% of rapists and 23% of murderers were hash users. But hash users cited in the story disagreed. Click on the link for more.

Mexican Cartel Attack Kills 15 Cops in Jalisco. An ambush of a police convoy by presumed drug cartel gunmen on the highway between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara left 15 policemen dead and five wounded. It was the deadliest attack on Mexican police since 12 federal police were killed in neighboring Michoacan state in 2010. Fingers are being pointed at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has grown to be one of the country's most powerful. The state has seen a spate of violence in recent weeks, including a March 19 ambush of federal police that killed five, a March 23 shootout in which police killed a gang boss, an unsuccessful March 30 attempt to assassinate the state security commissioner, and the killing Monday of the police chief in the town of Zacoalco de Torres. The security commissioner said the recent attacks were revenge for the killing of the gang leader.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Second Maine Initiative, Federal Hair Drug Tests for Truckers Bill, More (3/24/15)

And now there are two Maine legalization initiatives, there is no decrim in New Mexico this year, Denver moves to restrict collective grows, truck drivers could face hair drug tests, the DEA's marijuana eradication program is lagging, and more.

The DEA is chopping down millions fewer pot plants these days. (DEA)
Marijuana

Alaska Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill to adjust the state's criminal codes to allow for legal marijuana passed the Senate Finance Committee Monday and now heads for the Senate Rules Committee before going for a floor vote. The bill, Senate Bill 30, creates crimes for possession of amounts greater than allowed for under state law, bans the delivery of marijuana for sale or barter, and bans marijuana commerce in the state's unorganized boroughs (although villages could opt back in). The bill no longer contains a controversial section banning marijuana concentrates after 2017.

Second Maine Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) today unveiled its plan to legalize marijuana in the state next year. The MPP initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow up to six plants, allow for retail sales with a 10% tax in addition to sales taxes, and limit the number of retail outlets until 2019. Another group, Legalize Maine, unveiled its initiative proposal last month. In the meantime, the legislature is considering a legalization bill from Sen. Diane Russell (D-Portland).

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Dies as Session Ends. A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana is dead after the session came to an end without the House taking it up. Senate Bill 383 had passed the Senate, but was languishing in the House Judiciary Committee when the session ended last Saturday.

Denver City Council Votes to Restrict Collective Gardens. The council voted Monday night to limit the number of marijuana plants that collectives can grow to 36. There are at least 60 collectives in the city, with some having thousands of plants. Marijuana attorney and advocate Rob Corry said that the ordinance violates Amendment 64 and that he'll sue to get it annulled.

Medical Marijuana

House Version of Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (D-AK) Monday introduced the House version of the CARERS Act filed two weeks ago in the Senate. Both bills would allow states to have medical marijuana without federal interference, reschedule marijuana to Schedule II, allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana, allow interstate commerce in CBD cannabis oils, and ease banking problems for the industry. The House version is HR 1538.

New Synthetic Drugs

Texas Senate Approves Bills Banning New Synthetics. The Senate passed one bill to make new synthetics controlled substances, one bill increasing the penalty for possession of the drugs, and one bill that would subject retailers who sell them to a fine of $25,000 a day. The bills are Senate Bill 172, Senate Bill 173, and Senate Bill 461. All three now go to the House, where they are expected to pass.

Drug Testing

Federal Bill Would Allow Hair Drug Testing of Truck Drivers. A bill filed last week by Rep. Eric Crawford (R-AR) would allow motor carriers to submit hair samples for their drivers' drug tests instead of urine samples. Hair testing can reveal drug use months earlier, while urine testing only catches recent drug use. The bill, HR 1467, is supported by several industry organizations.

Law Enforcement

DEA Marijuana Eradication Slowing Down. The DEA is uprooting and destroying far fewer pot plants than it did just a few years ago. According to DEA records, the agency destroyed 4.3 million pot plants last year and 4.4 million the year before. That's less than half of the 10.4 million eradicated in 2009. The slowdown is being blamed on states reducing their enforcement efforts because of the recession and states prioritizing other, more serious, drug threats.

International

Canada Parliament Passes Bill Aimed at Blocking Safe Injection Sites. Parliament has passed Bill C-2, the "Respect Communities Act," which supporters said would give communities a chance to have input on whether to allow safe injection sites. But opponents of the bill say it will only increase the number of hurdles such life-saving programs must surmount before they can operate. The Conservative government has been a staunch opponent of safe injection sites.

Chronicle AM: ACLU Drug Reformer to Big DOJ Post, OR Init Leading, FL MMJ Init Trailing, More (10/16/14)

Polls have the Oregon initiative up, but the Florida initiative down; a marijuana march in New Jersey takes place on Saturday, Obama nominates a drug reformer to a key Justice Dept. position, a Dutch court sticks a thumb in the government's eye, and more. Let's get to it:

ACLU drug and sentencing reformer and racial justice fighter Vanita Gupta is nominated to lead the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
Marijuana Policy

Latest Poll Has Oregon Legalization Initiative Up By Nine Points. An Oct. 8-11 survey taken for Oregon Public Broadcasting has the Measure 91 legalization initiative at 52% of the vote with 41% opposed. If these numbers hold true, even if all undecided ended up voting "no," the initiative would still pass.

NJ Weedman to Lead Legalization March Saturday in Trenton. New Jersey marijuana activist Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman, is leading a legalization march this Saturday in Trenton. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Launches "Vote Medical Marijuana" Campaign. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group aims to educate voters ahead of next month's elections with a new 30-second online TV advertisement that will air on Sunday cable news programs in Detroit, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Washington state. The campaign also includes an interactive online voters' guide at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org. Check it out at the links.

Another Poll Has Florida Initiative Coming Up Short. A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative at 48% of the vote with 44% opposed and 7% undecided. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to win. This is just the latest in a series of polls showing the initiative failing to reach that mark. Click on the link for more poll details.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates ACLU Attorney with Strong Drug Reform Record to Head Justice Department Civil Rights Division. The Obama administration has nominated ACLU attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Gupta has been a stalwart drug reformer, working to obtain justice for the victims of racially biased drug enforcement in Tulia, Texas, currently leading the ACLU's National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, and speaking out frequently about drug war injustices and against mandatory minimum sentencing. "The war on drugs has been a war on communities of color," she wrote in 2011. She is also a strong supporter of marijuana law reform, including legalization.

International

Unprecedented Swarm of Overdoses at Vancouver Safe Injection Site -- But No One Died. Vancouver's InSite safe injection site has seen 31 overdoses in two days, a record for the facility. The ODs came on Sunday and Monday, and speculation is that a particularly strong batch of heroin, perhaps laced with fentanyl, is responsible. It's worth noting that no one died in the InSite overdoses, where medical attention is at hand. In fact, no one has ever died of an overdose at InSite. The batch of heroin has claimed at least one life, though -- a 20-something woman who died in a hostel on the Downtown East Side. There was no medical attention on hand for her. "Heroin overdoses don't need to be fatal," said Gavin Wilson of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which runs InSite. "They're reversible if caught in time."

Guatemala Weighing Softer Drug Punishments. President Otto Perez Molina has told Reuters that the country is considering reducing drug sentences for small-time offenses as part of its push to liberalize its drug policy. "We have 17,000 prisoners in our jails. Many of them are linked to drug trafficking. Some of them are indeed criminals. And there are some who are in for minimal amounts of consumption or possession," Perez said. "So I think there are steps we could take time to analyze," he added, when asked about the possibility of easing sentences to lighten the strain on Guatemala's overstretched penal system. The government received an interim report from a commission studying possible drug policy changes last month, and Perez said final recommendations would be ready sometime in the first half of next year. He also said that his government is considering regulating medical marijuana and opium poppy production for medical purposes.

Dutch Court Refuses to Punish Marijuana Growers. A court in Groningen has found two people guilty of growing marijuana, but refused to punish them, instead criticizing the government's policy that criminalizes pot growing but allows its sale in the country's famous cannabis coffee shops. "The court finds the suspects guilty, but no punishment will be applied," the court said in its ruling. "Given that the sale of soft drugs in coffee shops is tolerated, this means that these coffee shops must supply themselves and so cultivation must be done to satisfy these demands. The law does not state how this supply should be done," the court said. The Groningen growers had been open about their activities, and the court found they had acted within the spirit of the marijuana laws, acting "in the interests of public health and so as to not disturb the public order."

Chronicle AM -- August 4, 2014

Sentencing reform bills look to be picking up steam in Congress, Massachusetts is expanding drug courts, Tennessee's welfare drug test law generates unimpressive results, drug reform conferences are coming in Latin America, and more. Let's get to it:

Oregon drug court (co.washington.oregon.us)
Marijuana Policy

Toledo, Ohio, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Backers of a Toledo municipal decriminalization initiative handed in some 13,000 signatures Monday. They need 6,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign is being led by Northwest Ohio NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The bill, House Resolution 5226, would exclude low-THC therapeutic cannabis oil from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It was filed with three cosponsors, and picked up seven more late last week. There are five Democrats and five Republicans now sponsoring it.

Sentencing

Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, Senate Bill 1410, would allow federal judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases, apply adjusted crack cocaine sentences to people after the passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, as well as other sentencing reform provisions. The latest cosponsor is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill now has 31 cosponsors -- 23 Democrats, two independents, and six Republicans.

House Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3382, is identical to the Senate version above. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). The bill now has 49 cosponsors -- 35 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

House Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3465, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), amends the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow for funding for grants for family-based drug treatment and for drug treatment and criminal justice collaboration for people leaving prison. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX). The bill now has 40 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Law Screens 800 Applicants; One Fails Drug Test. In the first month that the new welfare drug screening and testing law went into effect, 812 applicants were asked to submit to screening for evidence of possible drug use. Four refused the initial screening, a series of questions about drug use. After initial screening, only six people were asked to submit to drug tests in order to receive benefits. Five out of the six passed. One failed the drug test.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 5212, was introduced late last week by. Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI). It would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. It now has a cosponsor, Rep. Renee Elmers (R-NC).

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts to Expand Drug Courts. Faced with an increase in heroin overdoses and opiate addiction, the state will add five drug courts to the 21 it currently has. Drug reformers criticize drug courts as not the answer for dealing with people whose only "crime" is their drug habit.

International

Mexican State Moves to Limit Coverage of Violent Crime. The state of Sinaloa, home to -- you guessed it -- the Sinaloa Cartel, has barred reporters from covering the violence there. The state congress last Thursday approved a law that restricts journalists to official government press releases for crime information and bans them from inspecting the scene, taking any photos or videos, or recording audio on-site.

Uruguay Solicits Bids for Marijuana Growers. Would-be marijuana growers in Uruguay have until August 18 to submit bids for licenses to grow pot at government-run fields and then sell it to consumers. The government there will license up to five growers.

Colombia Drug Reform Conference Later This Month. A drug reform conference will be held in Bogota on August 14 and 15. The conference is "Drug Policy 25 Years After the Death of Luis Carlos Galan: How Much Have We Advanced?" The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and Dr. Carl Hart will be there, as will numerous Colombian and other Latin American presenters and participants. Click the title link for more details.

Fifth Annual Latin American Drug Reform Conference in Costa Rica Next Month. The hemispheric conference will be held in San Jose on September 3 and 4. The conference will also include the First Annual Central American Drug Reform Conference. Click on the title link for lots more information.

Denmark's Liberal Alliance Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The opposition Liberal Alliance called at its summer meeting Sunday for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs, increasing the use of medical marijuana in the national health sector, and continuing the safe injection site initiative. "We know that it doesn't help to punish people for being in possession of drugs," said party leader Anders Samuelson. "We are not talking about a total liberalization of drug dealing. It should still be illegal to sell drugs, but not to be in possession of them." The proposal is not winning support from other political parties.

Drug War Issues

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