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Chronicle AM: Report Scorches NY MedMJ Program, OH "Bad" Good Samaritan Bill Signed, More... (6/14/16)

The Drug Policy Alliance has some unkind words for New York's medical marijuana program, fentanyl is killing more Kentuckians than last year, Canada won't decriminalize marijuana ahead of legalization, Indonesia prepares a new round of drug executions, and more.

Canada will legalize it, but won't decriminalize it first.
Medical Marijuana

New York's Medical Marijuana Program Pretty Lame, DPA Report Finds. In a new report, Assessing New York's Medical Marijuana Program: Problems of Patient Access and Affordability, the Drug Policy Alliance finds severe problems with patient and caregiver access under the program. The report, which relied on patient surveys, finds that more than half of patients and caregivers had not yet found a doctor to certify them and 60% of those had been looking for three to four months for a physicians. Also, more than three-quarters (77%) said they could not afford their medicine. DPA recommends further legislation to improve the program and urges the Health Department to provide more information about the implementation and performance of the program.

Industrial Hemp

Petition to Deschedule Hemp Launched. A Portland attorney and a Southern Oregon environmentalist have filed a petition asking the DEA to remove industrial hemp from the federal governments list of controlled substances. The petition was filed Monday. The petition asks DEA to declare that a cannabis plant is hemp, not marijuana, it its THC level does not exceed 1%. The Oregon petition is the second hemp petition this month. The Kentucky Hemp Industries Council earlier filed a similar petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Kentucky Report Sees Fentanyl Deaths More Than Tripling. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy has issued a 2015 overdose report that finds fentanyl was a factor in 420 fatal overdoses last year, up from 121 in the previous year. Fentanyl is implicated in 34% of all overdose deaths in the state. State officials said it is often consumed unwittingly by users because it is mixed with heroin.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs "Bad" 911 Good Samaritan Law. Gov. John Kasich (R) has signed into law House Bill 110, which grants immunity from prosecution to overdose victims and people who seek help for them. But the bill contains a pair of provisions added by the Senate that critics say will discourage people from seeking help. One limits immunity to two occasions and makes it unavailable for people on parole, and the second allows medical professionals to share overdose information with law enforcement.

International

Canada's Liberals Reject NDP Call for Decriminalization Ahead of Legalization. Liberal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould said Monday the government would not support the New Democrat's proposal to quickly decriminalize marijuana while awaiting the arrival of legalization. Decriminalizing now would "give a green light to dealers and organizations to continue to sell unregulated and unsafe marijuana to Canadians," she said.

Low-THC Marijuana Based Medicines Now Legal in Macedonia. Medicines containing less than 0.2% THC can now be prescribed by doctors and purchased in pharmacies, Macedonia's agency for medicines announced Monday.

Indonesia Set to Execute 16 Drug Offenders After Ramadan. The convicts will be "immediately executed" after next month's Eid holiday, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said Tuesday. The country has not seen an execution since April 2015, but it executed 14 people that year, mostly foreigners, stoking international outrage.

Chronicle AM: ME Poll Has 55% for Legalization, Indonesia Executing More Drug Prisoners, More... (5/13/16)

A new Maine poll has majority support for legalization, Indonesia is about to execute more drug war prisoners, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maine Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Critical Insights tracking poll finds solid majority support for marijuana legalization six months before Maine voters head to the polls to vote on the initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. A question asking whether respondents whether they favored a law allowing marijuana to be "legalized, taxed, and regulated by adults 21 and over" got the 55%, but a second, more generic question, scored even higher at 59%. These poll results are similar to a March poll that had support for legalization at 54%.

International

Indonesia Gears Up to Execute More Than a Dozen Drug War Prisoners. Five nationals and 10 foreigners face imminent execution for drug crimes, according to local media accounts, lawyers, and activists. Last year, Indonesia attracted international condemnation for executing 12 foreigners and two Indonesians for drug crimes, but now the government of President Joko Widodo is doubling down.

Toronto Looks to Crack Down on Pot Shops. Mayor John Tory this week sent a letter to the municipal licensing committee looking for options to regulate the hundreds of pot shops that have opened in the city since the Liberals announced they were moving ahead with plans to legalize marijuana. Only two other Canadian cities, Vancouver and Victoria, both in British Columbia, have moved to regulate the dispensaries. "Left unaddressed, the number of these dispensaries will only increase," Tory wrote. "This proliferation brings with it potential health risks for individuals who patronize dispensaries where the substance for sale is completely unregulated."

Beyond UNGASS: Looking Toward 2019 [FEATURE]

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for UN Headquarters in Manhattan next week, and civil society and some European and Latin American countries are hoping to make limited progress in moving toward more evidence- and public health-based drug policies. But, knowing the glacial pace of change at the UN and well aware of how little of substance is likely to emerge from the UNGASS, some eyes are already turning to the post-UNGASS international arena.

UNGASS is coming... and then what? (Creative Commons)
Hopes for more forward movement at the UNGASS, always tentative and facing opposition from global drug war hardliners such as Russia, China, and Singapore, were effectively dashed at the run-up meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting last month in Vienna, whose outcome document was described as "quite awful" by leading Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson.

The outcomes document includes some minor progressive movement, but does not challenge the trio of treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, while its embrace of "flexibility" emboldens regressive, repressive measures (the death penalty for drug offenses, forced "treatment," criminalization of drug users) in hard line countries, despite being helpful for progressive reforms around the edges of the treaties' prohibition.

MacPherson was one of a handful of international drug policy experts and elected officials who took part in a teleconference last week organized by StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), a US-based group that has been deeply involved in civil society organizing around the UNGASS. He wasn't the only one looking beyond 2016.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernández, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Organizations, called this year's UNGASS poses "a step" toward examining the objectives of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, which will be reviewed in 2019. While the CND outcomes document had good language around the need for embracing multiple approaches, such as public health, human rights, gender, and prevention, it also includes serious shortcomings, she said.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernandez (pan.senado.gob.mx)
"There is a lack of recognition of the relative efficacy of demand reduction and harm reduction policies and the absence of an acknowledgement of the high costs that the prohibitionist and punitive approaches have generated," the senator said.

Mexican senators know all too well the high costs of drug prohibition. For the past decade, the country has been battered by brutal prohibition-related violence that has left at least 100,000 dead, tens of thousands more "disappeared," a legacy of human rights abuses by soldiers and police fighting the cartels, and the legitimacy of the state severely weakened.

"The international community should continue to work toward the establishment of indicators that could help measure the impact of drug policies on people's lives and their rights," Rojas said, suggesting this could still happen at the UNGASS.

But she was also looking down the road.

"Something that should be placed on the table in 2019 is a thorough review of the three conventions on drug control that acknowledges the highly detrimental effects of the current approaches," she said. "And we should be more honest about the so-called flexibility of implementation offered by these treaties and acknowledge that there should be a wider range of action for countries to define their own drug policies, taking into consideration their national and cultural context."

Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson (cssdp.org)
Both Rojas and Canada's MacPherson called for some sort of expert mechanism to guide policymakers eyeing the 2019 meeting.

"Organizations and even some governments are beginning to call for a mechanism post-UNGASS to get real with the modernizing of the treaties," MacPherson said, reflecting frustration with the UNGASS process and prospects. "It's really important that UN member states speak strongly for the need for that mechanism, whether it's an expert committee or some other sort of group. And it needs to happen now -- the next three years are critical coming up to 2019. We really do need to have that process in place to [counter] the kind of intransigence of other countries that use the consensus-based model to hold progress ransom."

"The international community should examine the possibility of establishing an analysis mechanism as a working group of experts, for example, with a mandate to formulate recommendations aimed at the modernization of the international system of drugs for the 2019 review process," Rojas added. "And from a longer-term perspective, we need to see the creation of a special office within the UN Human Rights Council, to follow up and monitor the respect of human rights in the context of the enforcement of the drug policies."

The UNGASS hasn't even gotten here yet, and interested observers are already looking past it. Welcome to politics at the United Nations where most things happen at a snail's pace. The global drug prohibition consensus may be crumbling, but it is crumbling very slowly at the level of international conventions and institutions. The work continues.

[A follow-up story on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico will highlight remarks during the teleconference by Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Aram Barra of Mexico United Against Crime, and StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden.]

Will UNGASS 2016 Be the Beginning of the End for the War on Drugs?

This article is by Ann Fordham and Martin Jelsma, and is republished from openDemocracy. It is part a series of articles about this April's UNGASS. Further information appears below.

In April 2016, the UN will dedicate, for the third time in its history, a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy. The UNGASS has the potential to be a ground-breaking moment that could change the course of the international drug control system. However, political divisions and entrenched institutional dynamics have dampened hopes that it will go down in history as the beginning of the end of the war on drugs.

At the joint request of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala, the General Assembly decided to bring forward the convention of a special session to assess "the achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem", originally foreseen for 2019 or 2020. The three countries stated at the time that "revising the approach on drugs maintained so far by the international community can no longer be postponed", and the UN needed to exercise leadership to "conduct an in-depth review analyzing all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that would impede the flow of resources to organized crime groups". An international meeting had to be convened, "capable of taking the decisions necessary to increase the effectiveness of the strategies and instruments with which the global community addresses the challenges of drugs and their consequences".

Conventional drug control wisdom has put forward the view that stopping the supply of drugs at the source would solve the 'world drug problem', but Latin American countries bear witness to the failure of this approach. Stirred into action by the futility of spending billions of dollars to fight an unwinnable and increasingly violent war on drugs, it is no surprise that political leaders from Latin America have been at the forefront of the drug policy debate. From their perspective, the high human cost in terms of violence, insecurity, mass incarceration and the exacerbation of the social and economic vulnerability of some of society’s most marginalised groups – can no longer be justified as necessary collateral damage in pursuit of eradicating drug markets.

A growing group of Latin American and Caribbean countries are calling for a real discussion on alternative policies. In the meantime, Uruguay has moved to create the world's first national legally regulated cannabis market for recreational use, and similar initiatives have happened in the US at the state level. This opening up of the long entrenched and seemingly immovable discussion on prohibitionist drug control principles is unprecedented and has implications for global policy.

In this context, the UNGASS in April represents a critical juncture, an opportunity for an honest evaluation of global drug policy and how to address the most pressing challenges going forward. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in recognition of this rare and important opportunity, has urged member states to use the 2016 UNGASS "to conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options."

The UNGASS preparations

The initial discussions to prepare for the UNGASS were fraught with disagreements over many procedural aspects. These included difficult negotiations over the extent to which the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna would lead the process; how to strike the right balance between the UN capitals of Vienna, Geneva and New York in the preparations; how to ensure meaningful involvement of all relevant UN agencies, academia and civil society; and – last but not least – how open the debate should be: should it be restricted to a discussion of how to improve the implementation of the 2009 Political Declaration and the achievement of its targets for 2019, or should the UNGASS be an opportunity to challenge the current global drug control strategy, possibly even questioning its foundation of the three UN drug conventions?

 

These difficult negotiations, which on the surface often appeared to be arguments over procedure, reflected the deep political divisions within the international drug policy debate. The much-revered 'Vienna Consensus' continues to weaken as the divide between some governments becomes increasingly irreconcilable. A growing number of countries now believe that the traditional repressive drug control approach, based on zero-tolerance, has not worked and has led to disastrous consequences for human rights, public health, citizen security and sustainable development, and as a result it has to be modernised.

 

Some countries calling for an open and inclusive debate at the UNGASS questioned whether this could be truly achieved with a process led by the Vienna-based drug control apparatus, given that the CND, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) have all gained quite a conservative reputation over the decades. Conducting all the preparations in Vienna led to a further problem for inclusivity, given that at least 70 member states do not have permanent representation there and would therefore struggle to fully participate in the process. The point of convening an UNGASS, is that by definition all UN member states and the whole UN system should be included on a equal basis, but limiting the political negotiations on the outcomes exclusively to Vienna, means that in practice the countries and UN agencies not represented in Vienna have much less influence on the process.

In the end, the hard fought-over resolution on the procedures decided that the UNGASS "will have an inclusive preparatory process that includes extensive substantive consultations, allowing organs, entities and specialized agencies of the United Nations system, relevant international and regional organizations, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to fully contribute to the process", while the CND "as the central policymaking body within the United Nations system dealing with drug-related matters, shall lead this process", inviting the president of the General Assembly to "support, guide and stay involved in the process".

UN special sessions are rare and crucial moments in UN-level policy making and are designed to ensure a coherent UN system-wide response to global problems of major concern to the international community. This has so far been less than optimal in discussions on global drug policy. After initial slow engagement from other key UN agencies, significant contributions have now been made from UNDP, UNAIDS and the WHO. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also submitted a comprehensive reportthat outlines the most pertinent human rights violations in relation to drug control policies, while the Human Rights Council held a high level panel in September 2015 on the topic of "the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights".

A Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) was convened to ensure the participation of civil society in the process. The CSTF has representatives from every region of the world, as well as representatives of the key affected populations such as people who use drugs and subsistence farmers growing drug-linked crops among others. Initially, formal recognition of the CSTF was challenging – civil society has always had to fight for visibility and access at the CND but over the last year there has been increasing support for this initiative from governments.  A major victory for the CSTF was explicit support from the president of the General Assembly, who presided over an Informal Interactive Stakeholder Dialogue in New York on the 10 February 2016 organised with the CSTF in support of the preparatory process. The calls for progressive policiesbased in principles of harm reduction, of public health and of human rights from global civil society were deafening at the event.

Shifting regional priorities

 

In terms of regional perspectives, as noted above, the impetus for pushing for another UNGASS on drugs followed growing calls for reform from across Latin America at the highest political level. In fact, the previous UNGASS meetings in 1990 and 1998 had been convened in response to similar calls from Colombia and Mexico. Around them, a group of like-minded countries is gradually shaping up around certain positions, including Ecuador, Uruguay and Costa Rica and supported by Brazil and Bolivia on some issues. Caribbean countries have long been largely absent from the debate, not least because discussions have been limited to the CND in Vienna, where few Caribbean countries are represented – although Jamaica has recently joined the chorus of dissent and the discussion on several other islands has intensified.

In terms of European, particularly European Union (EU), engagement, this has been markedly different from Latin America and reflects the fact that Europe has managed to avoid the sharpest edges of a repressive approach to drug control. European countries have not experienced to the same extent, the high human cost in terms of violence, insecurity, and mass incarceration experienced in Latin America.  Of course the context is different, but in addition, many European governments have been pragmatic, have prioritised health care, harm reduction and human rights protection. While in Europe there are some serious issues regarding the criminalisation of people who use drugs and disproportionate sentences for minor drug offences, most European countries have managed to keep a certain distance from the escalation of the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s in the US, Latin America and Asia. At the international level, the leadership that EU governments have shown in this regard has been critical in shifting the drug policy narrative towards public health, harm reduction and human rights principles.

On issues where common positions can be found, the EU can have a strong impact on the global debate. For example, a united EU promoted the principle of proper sequencing with respect to ensuring that subsistence farmers have sufficient access to alternative livelihoods before being forced to abandon their drug-linked crops. The EU has also demonstrated unity and commitment on harm reduction and the removal of death penalty for drug offences, although a global consensus on these issues is not yet in sight.

Unfortunately, there are also crucial areas where a strong European voice has been absent, and the EU has failed to understand or acknowledge the sense of urgency and relevance of this UNGASS. This is clearly the case with regard to the shift in priority that Latin American countries are seeking, to move away from arresting small-time dealers and chasing drug shipments towards reducing drug-related violence, organised crime and corruption instead. In a sense, this is a plea for a harm reduction policy on the supply side: the drugs market will not be “eliminated or significantly reduced” by 2019, and it is time to forget the hollow illusion of a drug-free world.

Instead, government policy could be more sophisticated and focus on mitigating the most harmful aspects of the drug trade through reducing the levels of illicit drug market-related violence, crime, insecurity and corruption. This thinking mirrors similar priority shifts that have previously taken place in Europe under the harm reduction banner, with governments taking a pragmatic approach to reduce the harms associated with drug consumption without necessarily seeking to stop the use of drugs. These harm reduction policies and programmes have significantly reduced drug-related harm such as overdose deaths, and HIV and hepatitis C prevalence among people who inject drugs.

Cannabis policy and UN treaties

 

Another example is the lack of EU engagement in the debate about global cannabis policy developments, the result of the absence of a common EU position on cannabis and huge national policy variations. Demonstrating an ostrich-like denial regarding cannabis policy developments in the Americas but also at local levels within the EU, the EU common position for the UNGASS underscores the need to “maintain a strong and unequivocal commitment to the UN conventions” and that there is “sufficient scope and flexibility within the provisions of the UN Conventions to accommodate a wide range of approaches to drug policy”. In addition, the issue of drug control is a low political priority as the EU currently has it hands full with the refugee crisis and existential threats around the euro and the future of European integration.

A game-changing difference between this UNGASS and the preceding ones is the fact that the position of the US has fundamentally changed. No longer among the hardliners, the US has acknowledged, both at the UN but also more recently domestically, that the over-reliance on incarceration has failed. In August 2013, US Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences were ‘draconian’ and that too many Americans had been imprisoned for too long for no good law enforcement justification. He made it clear that the status quo was unsustainable and damaging. In 2015, President Obama began a process to commute the sentences of around 6,000 federal drug offenders. In early 2016 the congressional task force created to examine overcrowding in the federal prison system, recommended the repeal of federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. Different legislative initiatives have been tabled, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would cut many mandatory minimums for drug offences in half.

The domino effect of cannabis regulation at state level makes the US less sure-footed of condemning other countries for not stringently adhering to a zero-tolerance approach. Cannabis regulation for recreational use is outside of the scope of the current UN treaty framework for drugs, creating a significant problem for the US since it undermines its credibility to continue defending the conventions as they stand. The big question is whether this will lead to the US accepting more flexibility in policy areas that have been explored elsewhere. These include initiatives such as decriminalisation, drug consumption rooms or the regulation of coca in Bolivia, all policy options that the US currently opposes.

UNGASS outcomes: change of course

 

The past several years have seen significant changes in the global drug policy landscape representing a trend towards more humane and proportional responses based on health, human rights and development principles. To some extent, the UNGASS will acknowledge those advances and thereby consolidate the significant change of course that is happening in various regions of the world. Perhaps the most significant advance will be on the issue of access to controlled medicines – an area that has long been de-prioritised in favour of a focus on repressive, law enforcement-led approaches to reduce the illicit drug trade. Most drugs included in the schedules of the UN conventions also have important medical purposes, and several appear on the WHO “List of Essential Medicines”.  However, the availability of opiate painkillers like morphine for example, has been dramatically low in most developing countries due to overly strict regulations reflecting over-riding concerns about diversion and addiction rather than a need to ensure access to pain relief.

Unfortunately, other areas of progress remain stilted. Russia, alongside several Asian and Middle Eastern countries, has played hardball in the negotiations, effectively putting the brakes on the shifting discourse. The negotiations are driven by consensus, making it unlikely that contested policies in the field of harm reduction, or reforms like decriminalisation, despite being widely accepted and propounded by all relevant UN agencies, will be explicitly recommended in the UNGASS outcome document. Likewise, a clear condemnation of the death penalty for drug offences is probably going to be blocked by a small group of countries. The prophecy that allowing the CND to take full control over the UNGASS preparations would undermine progress towards a more system-wide coherent UN drugs policy seems to be being borne out. Negotiations about the UNGASS outcomes have taken place mostly in ‘informal’ sessions in Vienna, dominated by a minority of member states and from which civil society is excluded from participating or even observing.

For the General Assembly, an obvious priority for this UNGASS would be how to align UN drug policy with the recently adopted new global framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but negotiations in Vienna carry on as if they are negotiating another CND resolution. Submissions from other member states, UN agencies and civil society calling for a recognition of the failure of repressive responses and highlighting the need to connect the drugs issue with the agreed UN priorities for the future of the planet have so far not been reflected in successive drafts of the UNGASS outcome document.  The general tone of these drafts is very much ‘business-as-usual’.

At present, few countries are willing to openly acknowledge the existence of structural deficiencies with regard to UN system-wide coherence, the institutional architecture and the legal treaty framework. No easy solutions are available for reforming the foundations of the global control system and consensus will be hard to find, but a continued denial of the reality of the on-going policy trends and the resulting tensions with the treaty system will not make them disappear. In fact, to do so will hinder the much-needed evolution of the UN drug control system and its ability to adapt to the realities of today. Towards this end, it could be helpful if the UNGASS outcome leads to the convening of an advisory group or an expert panel to think through different scenarios for the future evolution of the system, especially in the lead up to the next important moment in 2019 when member states will have to agree a new global action plan on drugs, hopefully more in line with the broader set of UN priority goals for the next decade.

Although it is clear that the so-called ‘Vienna consensus’ has been breaking apart for some time and there is a growing desire to find viable policy alternatives to repression and punishment, there are still powerful countries and entrenched bureaucracies that are staunchly opposed to any kind of reform. The divisions between member states but also between UN agencies on this issue have become too visible to ignore and the UNGASS is a perfect opportunity for an honest assessment of the performance of the international drug control system and the options for a change of course.

Given the high human cost of the damaging approaches pursued to date, many people around the world have high hopes that governments will not squander this opportunity. And yet, to what extent the UNGASS can really live up to these hopes remains to be seen. The latest dynamics in Vienna do not bode well, as bureaucratic machinations, political complacency and exclusion seem to rule the process. The lack of vision, inclusivity and commitment to finding new solutions to many of the challenges that remain must be strongly condemned, especially given the urgency expressed by those countries that called for this moment in the first place.

This article was written by Ann Fordham of the International Drug Policy Consortium and Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. It is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Chronicle AM: Iran to Hang 100 Drug Prisoners, Boston Safe Space for Heroin Users Coming, More... (3/7/16)

Iran is reportedly about to execute a hundred drug offenders, Florida's Volusia County becomes the latest locale to decriminalize pot in the Sunshine State, Oregon's governor signs pot bills into law, New Mexico's governor signs a naloxone (Narcan) bill into law, and more. 

Iran is preparing to hang a hundred drug prisoners. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Legislator's Speech Kills West Virginia Bill to Increase Marijuana Sentences. Delegate Bill Flanigan (R-Morgantown) took to the House floor last week to explain how medical marijuana helped him deal with cancer, and immediately after his speech, the House voted 59-40 to kill House Bill 4576. The bill would have increased penalties for bringing drugs, including marijuana, into the state. The bill would have increased the mandatory minimum sentence for importing marijuana from one to five years and increased the maximum sentence from five to 15 years.

Florida's Volusia County the Latest to Decriminalize. Following the path of counties and municipalities in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, Volusia County has become the first in Central Florida to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The county council voted unanimously to grant police discretion to ticket people arrested with 20 grams or less instead of arresting them. The ordinance will take effect April 1 and cover unincorporated Volusia, including the beaches, which are under county control.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Bills. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law two bills that adjust the state's legal marijuana program, Senate Bill 1598 and House Bill 4014. The former makes it easier for some medical marijuana growers to enter the legal marijuana market by removing some bureaucratic requirements, while the latter removes a two-year residency requirement for industry participants.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Second Chance. State officials will recheck the validity of signatures on the New Approach South Dakota medical marijuana initiative after proponents officially challenged an earlier count that found they came up short on signatures.  Last month, state officials disqualified the initiative after a 5% random sample found that nearly half of them were invalid. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said last Friday that her office will conduct a new 5% random sampling "in order to maintain confidence in the petition process." It's still a long shot—the group gathered 16,543 raw signatures and needs 13,871 to qualify for the ballot. That means if even 20% of the raw signatures get thrown out—not an at all unusual event—the initiative effort will fail.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Unanimously Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 1044, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but tightens procedural and evidentiary requirements for law enforcement. Companion legislation, House Bill 889, has passed all committees and now awaits a House floor vote. The two bills are identical and will head for the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R) if the House bill passes.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Governor Signs Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Terry McMillan (R-Las Cruces). The new law allows for the possession, distribution, and storage of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) and removes fears of civil liability for people using it to save lives. It has an emergency clause, which means it goes into effect immediately.

Boston to Set Up Safe Space for Heroin Users. It sounds pretty much like a supervised injection facility without the injecting. The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program plans to open this month a room with a nurse, some soft chairs, and basic life-saving equipment for heroin users to sit and chill under medical supervision after injecting elsewhere. "It’s not a place where people would be injecting," the group's medical director, Jessie Gaeta said. "But it’s a place where people would come if they’re high and they need a safe place to be that’s not a street corner, and not a bathroom by themselves, where they’re at high risk of dying if they do overdose."

International

Iran Set to Execute Another 100 Prisoners for Drug Crimes. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Groups said last Friday that sources in and out of Ghezel Hessar prison have confirmed that around a hundred prisoners' death sentences had been reviewed and approved by the country's Islamic Revolutionary Court, and that the inmates have been told they should prepare for death. The group estimates that Iran has hung more than 1,800 people for drug offenses in the past five years.

Chronicle AM: "Baby Bou Bou" Wins $3.6 Million Settlement, Pill Testing Battle Looms Down Under, More... (2/29/16)

Justice at last for Baby Bou Bou, Minneapolis decriminalizes, Ohio lawmakers resort to more drug war, Iran executes all the males in a village for drugs, Australian harm reductionists pledge to open a pill testing center at festivals despite government opposition, and more.

"Baby Bou Bou" before and after a Georgia SWAT team raided his home. (Family photos)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Activists Hand In Revised Initiative. Organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative that was earlier rejected by state officials resubmitted their proposal last Friday. The secretary of state now has about one month to review the petition and draft a summary that could be used during the signature gathering process.

Minneapolis Softens Pot Penalties. The city council voted last Friday to reducing small-time pot possession from a misdemeanor to a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors are not crimes under state law because they are not punishable by jail time. The move is more symbolic than anything, since pot possession is already a petty misdemeanor under state law.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion, But Still No Legal Source. The House Monday approved House Bill 722, adding seven new conditions to the list of those qualifying to use CBD cannabis oil. But much to the dismay of bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state. To obtain their medicine, patients must thus resort to violating federal law by importing the medicine. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House last Friday approved House Bill 104, filed by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County). The bill would allow midwives, nurses, podiatrists, and dentists to certify patients for medical marijuana. The bill has no immediate practical implications because there are not yet any dispensaries open in the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

New Mexico Reveals Names, Addresses of Medical Marijuana Growers, Sellers. The state Health Department has posted on its website the names and addresses of non-profits licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state. The move is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in a lawsuit brought by a reporter and a public interest group.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Injured in Georgia Drug Raid Wins $3.6 Million Settlement. The family of "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, who was burned by a flash bang grenade during a misbegotten, failed drug raid in Cornelia in May 2014, has been awarded $3.6 million in damages. No police were charged in the raid, which hit the wrong home. The infant's medical bills are estimated at $1 million. The Georgia county where the raid took place refused to pay them.

Sentencing

Ohio Bill to Heighten Punishments for Drug Dealers is Moving. The measure, House Bill 171, would lower the threshold for labeling someone "a major drug offender" from 250 grams of heroin to 100 grams. It passed the House last year and is currently in Senate committee hearings. The Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the ACLU of Ohio are opposing the measure, arguing that is just another criminalizing response to what should be viewed as a public health and safety issue.

International

Poll Finds Strong Majority of Canadians Support Pot Legalization. A new Globe & Mail poll has support for legalization at 68% nationwide, with majority support (55%) even in the conservative-leaning prairie provinces. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize it and has called on former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to come up with the best model for legalization. The poll found Canadians split on home cultivation, with 49% in favor and 48% opposed.

Iran Executed Every Adult Male on Drug Charges in One Village. Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi told the semi-official Mehr news agency last week that every adult male drug crimes were rampant in some areas, including "a village in Sistan and Baluchistan province where every single man was executed." Molaverdi pointed to the executions as an example of the government failing to deal with drug trafficking in its southern regions and said Tehran needs to better support the families of those executed. "Their children are potential drug traffickers as they would want to seek revenge and provide money for their families,” she said. "There is no support for these people. We believe if we do not support these people, they will be prone to crime."

Australian Festival Pill Testing Battle Heightens. Harm reductionists seeking to reduce deaths and injury among music festival goers are planning an unsanctioned pill testing scheme and will result to civil disobedience if necessary. The New South Wales government today reaffirmed its opposition to the pill testing pilot project, but activists said they will go ahead with a van staffed with toxicologists and shielded from police by barriers of supporters who will risk arrest to protect the testers from prosecution. The project is still months away from being implemented, though. 

Chronicle AM: WA Drug Task to Disband, Cites Legalization; Harm Reduction Bills Advance in FL, NM, More... (2/18/16)

Even South Carolinians want drug policy reform, a Washington state drug task force calls it quits after marijuana legalization, harm reduction measures advance in Florida and New Mexico, and more.

With marijuana legal, drug task forces are having to reassess. (Darrin Frisby Harris/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon House Passes Marijuana Fine-Tuning Bill. The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve House Bill 4014, one of three bills this session aimed at fine tuning the state's marijuana legalization program. The bill removes residency restrictions for owning cannabusinesses, reduces some penalties for marijuana offenses, and adjusts licensing requirements to fit the needs of small farms, among other provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has certified the popular name and title of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. Now, initiative backers can begin the process of gathering some 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Punts on Asset Forfeiture Reform. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday took up Senate File 2166, which would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state, but after a contentious hearing, the subcommittee voted to simply study the issue and develop recommendations for addressing it next year.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds South Carolinians Surprisingly Open to Drug Reforms. According to a a new poll released by the Drug Policy Alliance, a large majority of South Carolina's notably conservative primary voters supports ending mass incarceration, even across party lines. A substantial majority, furthermore, supports decriminalizing drug possession. Some 70% said they considered reducing incarceration rates an important issue and 59% said they favored decriminalizing drug possession.

Drug Testing

Maine Moves to Make It Easier for Employers to Do Drug Testing. The Department of Labor is calling on lawmakers to streamline the approval process for employee drug testing policies and to implement a program to train managers to spot drug-related impairment in the workplace. The proposal comes as an amendment to LD 1384, which is the subject of a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee work session today.

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Advances. The House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 81, which would create a pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 242, also awaits a floor vote.

New Mexico Legislature Approves Overdose Prevention Bills. A pair of bills that would allow individuals and organizations to possess and distribute the opioid reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) have passed out of the legislature and are headed for the governor's desk. The measures are House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 262.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force to Disband, Cites Marijuana Legalization, Funding Cuts. The East Side Narcotics Task Force is going out of business in June after a quarter-century of fighting drug offenses. "The member agencies did an evaluation of the task force and its mission, and what we decided was that the task force had run its course and that due to a variety of challenges, it was time to sunset the task force and look at other options," Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett explained. One of those challenges was marijuana legalization: "When the state law changed, it made us pause and take a look at our mission," Mylett said. "When I arrived in Bellevue (in April 2015), the police chiefs were already discussing how marijuana laws were changing the whole drug trade landscape." He also complained that federal grants to fund such task forces were declining.

International

Saudis Execute Two Yemenis for Smuggling Hash. Yemeni citizens Ahmed Mubarek and Abdul Salam al-Jamali were executed in the Saudi border city of Jazan Wednesday after being convicted of smuggling hashish into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has already executed 62 people this year, putting it on a pace to exceed last year's 153 executions, the highest number in two decades. It's not clear how many people have been executed for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Iran Hangs More Drug Offenders, VT Legalization Hearings Underway, More... (1/19/2016)

Georgia faces a pile of marijuana bills, Boston cops go after one of the state's leading legalization activists, Vermont legalization hearings get underway, and more.

Iran begins the new year as ended the old year, hanging drug offenders. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Legislature Faces Stack of Marijuana Bills. Solons in Atlanta face no fewer than seven pieces of marijuana-related legislation as they return to work this month: House Bill 722 -- Medical Cannabis Expansion, Senate Bill 254 -- No felonies for possession of marijuana, House Bill 704 -- Industrial Hemp; House Bill 283 -- Marijuana arrests and drivers licenses, Senate Resolution 6 -- Ballot initiative for the legalization of marijuana, Senate Bill 7 -- Medical cannabis bill, and Senate Bill 198 -- Marijuana Regulations.

Boston Police Seek to Bust Activist Bill Downing Over Marijuana Sales. Boston Police have filed a criminal complaint against Downing, one of the state's most well-known marijuana legalization activists, charging him with multiple counts of marijuana distribution. A magistrate judge will decide today whether to approve the charges. Downing's attorney said the complaint is nothing but an effort to "silence the most vocal supporters of the legalization of marijuana."

Vermont Legislative Committee Holds Marijuana Legalization Hearings. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on marijuana legalization Monday at three venues across the state. Click on the link to get the flavor of the testimonies.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Coming. Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-Rapid City) and Sen. Betty Olson (R-Prairie City) are working on a welfare drug testing bill that would require mandatory drug testing for people applying for welfare and other cash assistance programs. Federal courts have held mandatory, suspicionless drug testing to be a search under the Fourth Amendment, so this bill could have problems if it gets passed. The bill is not yet on the legislative web site.

International

Iran Hangs Four for Drugs. Four men convicted of drug offenses were hanged at Karaj's central prison last week. They were identified as Seyed Hamid Hajian, Hossein Toutiannoush, Mostafa Jamshidi, and Mohsen Nasiri. Iran hanged hundreds of people for drug offenses last year, and this year looks like more of the same. Or does it? Last month 70 members of the parliament introduced legislation to end the practice.

Chronicle AM: CA Dems Endorse Legalization, Fed Court Upholds MedMJ Firing, More... (1/18/16)

California Democrats have endorsed marijuana legalization, Bernie Sanders ties together racism and pot prohibition, a federal court upholds employers' rights to fire medical marijuana users, and more.

Marijuana Policy

At Democratic Debate, Sanders Ties Together Racism and Marijuana Prohibition. "We have a criminal justice system that is broken," he said. "Who in America is satisfied that we have more people in jail than any country on earth, including China -- disproportionately African-American and Latino. Who is satisfied that 51% of African-American young people are either unemployed or under-employed? Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEOs of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records? We need to take a very hard look at our criminal justice system, investing in jobs and education -- not in jails and incarceration."

California Democratic Party Calls for Marijuana Legalization. On the final day of the state Democratic Party's annual convention, delegates on a voice vote approved a platform plank saying the state's Democrats "support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Toledo Decriminalization Now in Effect, Despite Legal Challenge. The courts in Toledo are sentencing marijuana users to no fines and no jail time under a decriminalization measure that passed in September, even though state Attorney General Mike DeWine has challenged other portions of the law. Those sections attempted to rewrite state law regarding felony amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Approves First Medical Marijuana Production Facility. The Department of Health and Human Services said last Friday that it has approved the first of three locations to grow medical marijuana and started mailing out ID cards. Some 176 Granite Staters have qualified to use medical marijuana so far.

Federal Court Okays Firing for Medical Marijuana Use. A federal district court in New Mexico has held that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana, even when the drug had been supplied to the employee by a state-legal medical marijuana program. The ruling came in the case of an AIDS patient whose job offer was yanked after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites during a pre-employment drug test. The court noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sens. Michael Hough (R-Frederick), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), and Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) have filed Senate Bill 161, which would reform civil asset forfeiture by barring state law enforcement agencies from doing an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing their cases over to the federal government. The move comes as the state Senate prepares later this week to try to override a gubernatorial veto of an earlier asset forfeiture reform bill.

International

Vietnam Sentences Two to Death for Drug Smuggling. A court in the northern province of Lang Son has sentenced two people to death for selling drugs. Lurong Van Ty and Lu Thi Thuong were given the death penalty in the case; two others were sentenced to life, while other members of the smuggling ring received shorter sentences.

Ten Dead in Cartel Violence in Mexico's Michoacan. Ten people were shot and killed in Michoacan over the weekend in apparent cartel feuds. The violence-plagued states is home to at least seven drug trafficking groups: the Familia Michoacana, Guerreros Unidos, Caballeros Templarios, Los Viagras, Jalisco Nueva Generacion, and the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.

(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: CA Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Kosher MedMJ Comes to NY, More... (12/31/15)

Thar's gold in that there merry-ju-wanna, California finance officials say; Oregon recreational tokers start paying taxes next week, kosher medical marijuana comes to New York, the US surgeon general is planning a review of drug policies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Finance Department Says. The state stands to gain "from the high hundreds of millions to over $1 billion annually," according to the Department of Finance's analysis of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the "Sean Parker initiative," which looks to be the one that will go before voters in November. The state could also save about $100 million a year from "the reduction in state and local criminal justice costs" associated with marijuana prohibition, the report added.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Comes Up Far Short. A DeSoto County woman's effort to get a legalization initiative, Ballot Initiative 48, on the November 2016 ballot has come to an end. Kelly Jacobs managed to gather only 13,320 valid voter signatures by this week's Tuesday deadline. She needed 107,000 to qualify. Jacobs had complained of unlawful denial of access to public buildings and being threatened by Ku Klux Klan members, among other improprieties. "The truth about Mississippi and marijuana is that Mississippians are too afraid of the police to change the law themselves by supporting a ballot initiative with their signatures of approval," Jacobs said.

Oregon Recreational Marijuana Sales Tax Goes Into Effect Next Week. Recreational pot smokers who have been enjoying tax-free marijuana from dispensaries in the state will have to start paying up beginning on January 4. On that date, a 25% sales tax for pot takes effect. Registered medical marijuana patients will not be affected. The tax could decrease at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

New Yorkers Can Get Kosher Medical Marijuana. Vireo Health, a provider of non-smokable medical marijuana products, has been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. The Union said it awarded the certificate after inspecting the company's facilities to ensure that the marijuana was being grown and processed according to kosher standards. Vireo said it was the first time a medical marijuana producer had been certified as kosher.

Drug Policy

US Surgeon General to Review Drug Policies. According to a Federal Register notice published Thursday, the US surgeon general is preparing a report "presenting the state of the science on substance abuse, addiction, and health. The review will cover both illegal drugs and legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. The report will be broad in scope, covering prevention, treatment, and recovery; social, economic, and health consequences of substance use; the state of health care access; and "ethical, legal and policy issues; and potential future directions."

Law Enforcement

Appeals Court Agrees to Hear Case of Texas Trucking Company Suing DEA. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral arguments in the case of Craig Patty in February. Patty owns a trucking company. The DEA used one of his trucks without his permission in a drug cartel sting that resulted in a shootout in Houston leaving an informant dead and leaving Patty's truck bullet-riddled. Patty filed suit, seeking payment from the DEA for fixing the truck and for the temporary loss of its use, as well as damages for emotional turmoil to Patty, who feared the Zetas cartel could come after him. A federal circuit court judge ruled earlier in the DEA's favor.

International

Another Malaysian Faces Death Sentence for Marijuana Trafficking. A 35-year-old Malaysian man has been charged with trafficking 15 pounds of marijuana, which, under the country's Dangerous Drug Act of 1952, carries a mandatory death sentence. The defendant, S. Gunalan, had no legal representation during his initial hearing.

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