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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.

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

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

(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: Colombia Legalizes MedMJ, MD MedMJ Delayed Until 2017, More (12/22/15)

DPA ups the pressure on Louisiana Gov. Jindal to free Bernard Noble, Maryland patients face further delays, Colombian patients won't, and more.

Colombian President Santos signs medical marijuana decree today. (colombia.gob)
Marijuana Policy

The Drug Policy Alliance Requests Sentencing Reprieve for Louisianan Given 13-year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes. The Drug Policy Alliance today formally requested the Louisiana governor today to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release Mr. Noble from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes. "The sentence inflicted by Louisiana on Mr. Noble for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, is a travesty," said Daniel Abrahamson, senior legal advisor to the Drug Policy Alliance. "Mr. Noble's sentence does not enhance public safety. It has devastated Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe and what current law provides. Governor Jindal should exercise mercy and use his power as Governor to advance fairness, justice and compassion by issuing Mr. Noble a sentencing reprieve."

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Introduced. For the third year in a row, Rep. Jim Byrd (D-Cheyenne) has introduced a bill to decriminalize pot possession. House Bill 3 would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, with a $50 for less than a half ounce and a $100 fine for up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Patients Will Wait Until 2017 to Get Their Medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission said Monday that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

New Jersey Senate Panel Approves Employment Protections for Patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 Monday to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

Harm Reduction

Indiana County to Start Needle Exchange in Bid to Fend Off Hep C. Monroe County will become the fourth in the state to authorize needle exchange programs after officials there declared a public health emergency amid an outbreak of Hepatitis C. That declaration allows the county to start a needle exchange program.

International

Colombia Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Juan Manuel Santos today signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana. "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana," he said from the presidential palace. "It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease."

Israel's Top Ethicist Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Professor Asa Kasher, described as "Israel's preeminent expert on ethics and philosophy," told the Knesset Committee on Controlled Substances Tuesday that restrictions on medical use of marijuana violated the principles of medical ethics and that general legalization "can be promoted, but only if the process includes relevant regulation."

Chronicle AM: Pittsburgh Decriminalizes, College Drug Testing News, ODs Hit Record High, More (12/21/15)

Pittsburgh decriminalizes, Detroit restricts dispensaries, the Univ. of Alabama is forcing all frat members to be drug tested, fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year, and more.

Rastaman has reason to smile after Jamaica grants festival a "marijuana exemption." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Signature Count Certified. The initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been certified as handing in enough signatures to force the legislature to consider it this spring. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act by May 3, the campaign must then come up with another 10,000 signatures to put the issue directly to the voters in November.

Pittsburgh City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted 7-2 today to approve a decriminalization ordinance. The bill makes possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offense, with a fine of $100. The measure was intended to "help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system," said bill sponsor Public Safety Chair David Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Approves Restrictive Dispensary Ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

Public Health

CDC: Drug Overdoses Hit New High Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control reported last Friday that more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, with 60% of them involving heroin or prescription opiates. Heroin overdose deaths were up 26%, prescription opiate deaths were up 9%, and synthetic opiate deaths (mainly fentanyl) nearly doubled over 2013.

Drug Testing

University of Alabama Subjects All Frat Members to Mandatory Drug Tests. Every fraternity member at the school was required to pass a drug test at the beginning of the academic year, and now, fraternity members are being randomly selected each week for more drug tests. If students test positive, they get several warnings before they are expelled from the fraternity and a university anti-drug program intervenes to "help students get back on track before the school doles out harsher penalties. The drug testing program has been criticized by fraternity members and others as invading the privacy of students, but no one has yet challenged it in court.

ACLU to Appeal Federal Court Ruling Allowing Drug Testing of All Students at Missouri Tech College. The ACLU of Missouri said it will appeal an 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the suspicionless drug testing of all students at the State Technical College of Missouri. The ACLU is seeking a rehearing of the case before the same three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in the school's favor or by the entire bench in the 8th Circuit. The ACLU had filed suit in 2011 to challenge the policy and won at the district court level, but the appeals court last year reversed the lower court decision. The federal courts have held that, with a handful of exceptions, mandatory suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures. The ACLU said the appeals court decision is "poorly crafted and departs from the 8th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent."

International

"Marijuana Exemption" Granted for Jamaica Rasta Festival. The Rebel Salute 2016 festival, to be held next month in St. Ann, has been granted a "marijuana exemption" personally delivered by Justice Minister Mark Golding. "Persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith," explained a Justice Ministry factsheet. "Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event." This is the second time such an exemption has been granted.

Chronicle AM: DE Decriminalizes Tomorrow, Drought Halves Afghan Opium Crop, More (12/17/15)

The Obama administration weighs in on Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado legalization, Delaware decrim goes into effect tomorrow, Hawaii released medical marijuana dispensary rules, drought is hurting Afghan poppy production, and more.

Afghan opium production is down 48% this year, thanks to drought conditions. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law. In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems." Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause. They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce. But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction. The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

Delaware Decriminalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, people caught possessing an ounce of pot or less will face a $100 civil fine instead of a criminal charge. Minors caught smoking pot in public will still face criminal sanctions.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Unveiled. A legalization bill to be introduced next month by Sens. Jeannette White (D-Windham) and Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will allow Vermonters to possess up to one ounce and grow up to 100 square feet. Any harvest from personal grows in excess of an ounce must be kept in a secured location. The bill would also set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce, and it would for public consumption in lounges where customers could purchase and use marijuana.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Wins Preliminary Vote. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would make possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Health Department Issues Dispensary Rules. The Health Department Tuesday released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

International

Drought Forces Decline in Afghan Opium Production. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said 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."

Mexico City Mayor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana-Based Medicines. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera is pushing a national initiative in the congress to allow the importation -- but not the production in Mexico -- of marijuana-based medications. He said if morphine-based medicines are legal, marijuana-based ones should be, too.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Drug War a Failure, But..., New Yorkers Toke Up in Streets, More (12/15/15)

The New York Times discovers public pot smoking in its backyard, another Florida jurisdiction decriminalizes, Florida's medical marijuana program faces more delays, the drug czar calls the drug war a failure, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Yorkers Are Smoking Pot on the Streets! The New York Times rather breathlessly reports it has discovered that "lighting up and strolling around seems increasingly common in pockets of Brooklyn, on side streets in Manhattan and in other public spaces." The newspaper cites street smokers are saying they are emboldened by legalization elsewhere in the country and by the low-key comments of the city's leaders, including the police commissioner. Public pot smoking remains an arrestable offense, but that doesn't appear to be stopping a lot of people, especially white people. White people make up less than 9% of those arrested for pot possession.

Florida's Palm Beach County Decriminalizes. County commissioners voted this morning to decriminalize the possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana. Officers can still arrest possessors, but now have the option of simply issuing them a $100 ticket instead. Miami-Dade County has already decriminalized, and so have several municipalities in the Greater Miami area.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Challenged Over Medical Marijuana Grower Licensing. Eleven companies are challenging the way the state issued licenses for the nascent industry. The challenges will be heard by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. This means another round of court proceedings and further delays in getting medicine to patients. The program is already a year behind schedule, and now the earliest that medicines could be available is next spring or summer.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Calls Drug War a Failure, But Resists Calls to Legalize Marijuana. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli proclaimed the war on drugs a failure during a CBS "60 Minutes" interview. He said the "failed policies and failed practices" of the past were largely responsible for the country's mass incarceration problem. "It has been all wrong," he said. "We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. Not only do I think it's really inhumane, but it's ineffective, and it cost us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this." But he couldn't wrap his head around marijuana legalization, arguing that legal drugs kill half a million people a year and that legalizing would send the wrong message."So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It's been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ," he said, adding that he fears states becoming co-dependent on "tax revenue that's often based on bad public health policy."

International

Ireland Proposes Drugged Driving Law That Could See "Completely Sober" Drivers Arrested. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is backing proposed drugged driving legislation that would allow for roadside drug testing of drivers and prosecution of drivers who had even inactive metabolites of drugs such as marijuana in their systems. When asked if the bill could lead to the prosecution of "completely sober" drivers, Donohoe replied, "yes." Under more questioning, he denied that prosecuting drivers who were not impaired but who had marijuana metabolites in their systems was a case of the government prosecuting drug offenses. "No, it's a road safety offense," he said.

Chronicle AM: Activists Block Bad MI MedMJ Bills, Jeb Bush Now Open to Decrim, More (12/14/15)

San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization, a Kentucky state senator wants it there too, Ohio legalizers spent millions losing last month, a federal drug and mental health treatment bill passes the Senate, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Jeb Bush Now Supports Decriminalization, But Still Calls Pot a "Gateway Drug." GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush last Friday said he could live with decriminalization. "It's one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that," he said in an interview with Joe Mathieu of Boston' WBZ NewsRadio. While that is an advance for the former Florida governor, he added that he rejected legalization and brought out the discredited gateway theory for support. "Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug," Bush continued. "Of course it is, every study shows that."

Kentucky Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) announced last Friday that he has pre-filed the Cannabis Freedom Act, which would repeal pot prohibition and replace it with a regulatory framework that would "promote public safety and responsible cannabis consumption by persons over 21 years of age." The bill will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts January 5.

Michigan Supreme Court Okays Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The state high court has rejected a challenge to the ordinance's legality from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, makes possession or sharing marijuana a civil infraction, punishable only by fines. Forsyth had argued that the ordinance was an illegal restriction on his power to enforce state drug laws, but he lost in circuit court and the Court of Appeals. And he lost again, and finally, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Ohio Legalizers Spent Nearly $22 Million in Failed Initiative Campaign. Ouch, that's gotta hurt! ResponsibleOhio and its deep-pocketed backers, who hoped to win monopolistic marijuana concessions, spent more than $21 million in their campaign, only to get trounced last month. The campaign spent $12 million between July and October and had burned through nearly another $10 million just getting on the ballot.

Eyeing Looming Legalization, San Francisco Creates Marijuana Task Force. Last week, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted to appoint 11 people to a task force aimed at helping to guide the city's policies in the face of seemingly inevitable marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Stop Dispensary Bills. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

Heroin

New Hampshire Attorney General Will Seek Murder Charges in Heroin Overdoses. Attorney General Joe Foster (D) says he plans to aggressively seek murder charges against dealers of drugs involved in overdose deaths. "The message to dealers is: If you sell this stuff here and we can (figure) the facts out, you will be going to jail for a very, very long time," Attorney General Joe Foster said. Overdose deaths are expected to top 400 in the state this. Foster also said he is seeking $115,000 for a new prosecutor for drug cases and exploring a federal grant to hire another drug prosecutor.

Drug Policy

Federal Synthetic Drugs Bill Filed. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) has filed HR 4229, which seeks to "address the continued threat posed by dangerous synthetic drugs by amending the Controlled Substance Act" to make it easier to go after drug analogs. It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentences for violations are "appropriately severe."

Drug Treatment

Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act Passes Senate. The act, S 993, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), passed the Senate last Thursday. It is aimed at facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, veterans treatment services, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Medical Marijuana. In a plenary session last Friday, the Colombian Senate approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. President Santos had said he would do it through an executive order, but the Senate decided not to wait. The bill now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will be debated early next year.

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Chronicle AM: Mexico Issues First Pot Permits, DOJ Wants More $$$ for Asset Forfeiture, More (12/11/15)

A legalization initiative dies in Florida, but another is born in Montana; the Justice Department proposes funding increases for asset forfeiture programs, Mexico issues the first permits allowing people to grow and possess marijuana, and more.

!Viva Mexico!
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Gives Up. Marijuana legalization will not be on the Florida ballot next year. Regulate Florida, which was the group behind the campaign, conceded Wednesday that it would not be able to gather the 683,000 needed signatures by the February deadline. They may try again in 2018, the group said.

Montana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D) Thursday approved the language of Initiative 178, which would legalize pot for people 21 and over, subject to licensing requirements and state regulations. Petitioners need 24,175 valid voter signatures, including at least 5% of registered voters in each of the state's 343 House districts.

St. Petersburg Ponders Decriminalization. St. Petersburg city council members Thursday asked Pinellas County commissioners to decriminalize small-time pot possession. Council members said that if the county doesn't act, they will draft their own municipal decriminalization proposal. In the past year, local decriminalization has taken off in Florida, with Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, as well as several municipalities in those counties, adopting similar ordinances.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Wants Even More Money for Asset Forfeiture Programs. American law enforcement is seizing property from citizens at a record rate, but that's apparently not good enough for the Justice Department, which is seeking increased funding to support the asset forfeiture activities of the DEA and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The department wants $297.2 million to fund asset forfeiture in FY 2016, up $14 million over the previous year and up a whopping 146% since 2008. The entire federal drug control budget has increased by only 25% during that same period.

Drug Policy

Maine Legislature Caves in to Governor, Agrees to Hire More Drug Agents. Legislative leaders Wednesday unveiled a $4.8 million plan to fight the state's opiate use problem, with half of the funding going to law enforcement, including the hiring of 10 new state drug agents. Gov. Paul Le Page (R) had threatened to call in the National Guard today to fight drugs if the legislature didn't fund his demands. The other half of the money designated would go toward treatment, recovery, and education.

International

Mexico Issues First Permits to Grow and Use Marijuana. The Mexican government has awarded permits to four people that allow them to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. The move comes in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision allowing the four to legally produce it for their own use. Both the court ruling and the permits were limited to the four people in the case, but could pave the way for similar court rulings across the country and, ultimately, pot legalization nationwide.

Danish Parliament Considers Medical Marijuana. The parliament today began debating a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill is sponsored by Alternativet, but has the support of other parties as well. Alternativet, Dansk Folkeparti, Liberal Alliance, Socialistisk Folkeparti, and Radikale all support the bill. Together, they have 88 votes in parliament, precisely the number needed for the measure to pass.

Chronicle AM: Naloxone News in NC & NYC, DC Pot Social Club Fight, CO Pot Tourism, More (12/10/15)

Legal weed is drawing tourists to Colorado, DC activists fight for pot clubs, a federal appeals court rules that all students at a technical college can be subjected to drug testing, there's naloxone news from New York City and North Carolina, and more.

NCHRC reports 1,500 overdoses prevented with Naloxone in 2 1/2 years.
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana is Boosting Colorado Tourism. Pot businesses have long claimed as much, and now they have some solid evidence. A Colorado Tourism Office study released Wednesday shows that the state's marijuana laws influenced nearly half (49%) of decisions to vacation in the state. Some 22% of survey respondents said marijuana was "extremely influential" in their decision to visit Colorado. Twenty percent said it was "very much influential" and nearly 7% said it was "somewhat influential."

DC Activists Fight Back Against Bill That Would Ban Pot Clubs. The city council is today hearing a bill that would make permanent a ban on businesses allowing patrons to smoke marijuana on premises, but that's not sitting well with the people who got weed legalized in the District. "It's unnecessary. The current law prohibits any venue from selling marijuana or promising marijuana in exchange for admission. But what they're doing with this bill is banning any kind of use of use outside the home. There's a big problem with that, because there are lots of people who have nowhere to use their cannabis," said Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful 2014 legalization initiative. Eidinger is warning that if the council passes the bill, he could push more ballot initiatives, including one allowing marijuana to be treated like tobacco and one that would impose term limits on council members.

Illinois Lawmaker Files Decriminalization Bill. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) announced today that she is filing House Bill 4357, which would make possession of up to 10 grams a civil offense punishable only by a fine. A similar bill passed earlier this year only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who proposed amendments to it at the time of his veto. The new bill addresses those amendments.

Michigan Legalization Campaign to Extend Signature Gathering. MI Legalize is extending its signature gathering campaign and turning to paid circulators to qualify for next year's general election ballot. Under state law, petitioners have 180 days to gather signatures, but that is a clock that runs backward from the time signatures are actually turned in. The campaign's original turn-in date was December 21, but it will now go longer. That means early gathered signatures may not be counted. For example, if the campaign turned in signatures on January 21 instead of December 21, the first 30 days' worth of signatures would not be counted, but more recent signatures would.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Commission Rejects Growing It In-State. The Commission on Medical Cannabis voted 9-5 against allowing medical marijuana to be grown in the state, but the main proponent of expanding the program, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was still optimistic he can get in-state cultivation approved. "I think we can still make a compelling argument to the governor," Peake said. "I think we can address the fears of law enforcement. I think we can address the issue of potential demand. I'm absolutely certain we can provide legislation that both maximizes the benefit for our citizens and minimizes the risk to public health in our state."

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature-gathering. Read the initiative here.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court Rules Missouri College Can Drug Test All Students. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Monday that the Linn State Technical College can require all students to take drug tests. The appeals court decision overturns a federal judge's 2013 decision that the college could only drug test students in five particularly safety-sensitive programs. The school policy had been challenged by the ACLU of Missouri, which said such widespread, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment.

Harm Reduction

New York City Makes Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Available Without a Prescription. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Monday that the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) will now be available without a prescription in pharmacies in the city. "The deaths are what we all struggle to avoid… but that's just the tip of the iceberg," de Blasio said during his announcement at a YMCA. "For every death, there are literally hundreds who struggle with addiction."

North Carolina Sees 1,500 Lives Saved With Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. In just under 2 ½ years, more than 1,500 overdose deaths have been prevented with the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported today.

Law Enforcement

Rep. Steven Cohen Rips Use of Student Snitches. In the wake of a 60 Minutes report last Sunday and earlier reporting by Reason, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) ripped into the practice of using nonviolent, first-time drug offenders as confidential informants. "It's time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how the behavior of confidential informants not only threatens to ruin young lives, but in some cases, end their lives," he said, adding that he intends to file reform legislation.

International

Scotland To Begin Ticketing, Not Prosecuting, People With Pot. Starting next month, Scottish police will issue warnings to people caught with marijuana rather than prosecuting them. The move is part of a broader effort to change how police deal with petty crime, freeing them up to deal with more serious offenses.

Chronicle AM: NJ Pot Legalization Hearing, Pittsburgh Ponders Decrimalization, More (11/17/15)

Pot legalization was on the agenda in New Jersey, and decriminalization was on the table in Pittsburgh yesterday, West Virginia lawmakers ponder a food stamp drug testing bill, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Legalization. Led by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday heard from marijuana legalization advocates, leading Scutari to clash with Sen. Joh Kyrillos (R), who complained that anti-legalization voices were not heard. Earlier, Scutari had said that anti-legalization voices would be heard at a later hearing. Monday's panelists included policy advocates, doctors, and representatives from law enforcement.

Pittsburgh to Take Up Decriminalization Bill. A bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession in the city was to be introduced today. The ordinance, based on a similar one in Philadelphia last year, would make possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana or public pot smoking a civil violation with a $100 fine. The bill is being sponsored by Councilman Daniel Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Nearly 350,000 Signatures. The initiative from United for Care has already gathered 342,582 valid voter signatures. That puts it half-way to the 683,179 valid voter signatures to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Petitioners have until February to get the rest of the signatures.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Legislature Ponders Welfare Drug Testing. Lawmakers Monday discussed a draft bill to allow for drug testing of some food stamp recipients. The bill would limit drug testing to people for whom there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. That suspicion could be aroused by an initial drug screening, if the person has a drug conviction in the past five years, and if a newborn baby born to the food stamp recipient tests positive for drugs. The bill would also allow child welfare authorities to investigate people who failed or did not take a drug test. The bill will likely be formally introduced in January.

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