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Chronicle AM -- November 26, 2013

Medical marijuana gets attention in the statehouse, another drug war atrocity in New Mexico, Greece's first safe injection site is open, and a gram of opium or a few pounds of pot can get you the death penalty if you're in the wrong place. And more. Let's get to it:

This is three times the amount of opium that could get an immigrant worker executed in Dubai. (erowid.org)
Medical Marijuana

Key Michigan Politico Says Medical Marijuana Top Priority in December. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said Monday his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first,House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey Lawmaker Files Bill Allowing Patients to Buy Out of State. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) Monday introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

Alabama Lawmaker Ready to Try Again on Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation again next year, she said Monday. The bill would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

Hemp

New Jersey Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would create an industrial hemp license to regulate the "planting, growing, harvesting, possessing, processing, selling, and buying" of the crop passed the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 2415, sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), would require the end of federal hemp prohibition before licenses could be issued.

Law Enforcement

New Mexico Woman Sues over Vaginal Macing During Drug Arrest. What on earth is going on in New Mexico? Just weeks ago, it was forced enemas and colonoscopies for drug suspects; now, another New Mexican, Marlene Tapia, is suing Bernalillo County after she says jail guards strip searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina, where she was hiding drugs. The ACLU of New Mexico is taking the case.

New Jersey Bill Would Increase Drug Penalties. A bill that would reduce the amount of heroin necessary to be charged with a first-degree crime and allow prosecutors to charge drug offenses by the number of units of the drug involved instead of their weight passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. The bill, Assembly Bill 4151, is sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic).

International

Greece Sets Up First Supervised Injection Site. Greece has opened its first "drug consumption" room in a bid to slow the spread of blood-borne diseases among injection drug users there. The site has been open since last month and has been used by more than 200 people so far.

European Drug Experts Urge Austerity-Battered Governments Not to Cut Drug Treatment. Drug experts and policy makers from around Europe gathered in Athens Monday to urge governments to exclude drug-abuse treatment from austerity budget cuts, citing an alarming rise in HIV infections among drug users in Greece. Included in the call are harm reduction programs like the Greek supervised injection site, which is funded with Council of Europe funds.

Colombia's FARC Wants to Lead Alternative Crop Pilot Project. The leftist guerrillas of the FARC, now in peace negotiations with the Colombian government, want an active role in a pilot project to get coca farmers to grow alternative crops. The group is proposing that one of its local military units team with the government in a village in southern Colombia in a five-year project intended to get farmers to quit growing coca.

Malaysia Court Gives Thai Woman Death Sentence for Weed. A judge in Malaysia Monday sentenced a 36-year-old Thai woman to death after she was caught with about 30 pounds of marijuana at a bus depot. Barring a successful appeal, Thitapah Charenchuea will be hanged. DPP Nor Shuhada Mohd Yatim prosecuted the case.

Dubai Prosecutors Seeks Death Penalty for Less Than One Gram of Opium. Prosecutors in Dubai are seeking the death penalty for an Iranian worker accused of possessing 0.8 grams of opium. They charged he possessed it for "promotional purposes," the equivalent of "with the intent to distribute."

Chronicle AM -- November 18, 2013

A bill to protect the guns rights of legal marijuana users has been filed, hempsters hit the halls of Congress, a new medical marijuana bill is filed in Pennsylvania, and more. Let's get to it:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) filed a bill to protect the gun rights of legal marijuana users.
Marijuana Policy

Polis Files Federal Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Legal Marijuana Users. US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) last Thursday filed House Resolution 3483 to override a 2011 ruling by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms that medical marijuana patients cannot legally buy or own guns. The bill's summary says its purpose is "to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide exceptions from the firearm prohibitions otherwise applicable in relation to marijuana if its possession is lawful under State law."

Washington State Now Taking Applications for Pot Business Licenses. Beginning today, Washington state is taking applications for licenses to grow, process, and sell legal marijuana. The licensing application period lasts 30 days. Under rules drafted by the Liquor Control Board, the state will license up to 2 million square feet statewide for marijuana production and up to 334 retail outlets.

Near Majority for Marijuana Legalization in Wisconsin. A Marquette University Law School poll has Wisconsin hovering on the cusp of majority support for legalization. The late October poll had support for legalization at 49.7%, with 44.9% opposed, 4.7% not sure, and 0.8% who refused to answer.

No Decriminalization in Puerto Rico This Year. Marijuana decriminalization won't happen this year in Puerto Rico. The legislative session has ended without the lower house taking up a decriminalization bill passed earlier by the Senate. Recent polls showing little support for decriminalization and even medical marijuana helped dampen things, but decrim bill sponsor Sen. Miguel Periera said he will reintroduce it in the new session in January.

Medical Marijuana

Americans for Safe Access Forms Virginia Chapter. The national medical marijuana advocacy group is coming to the Old Dominion. The state chapter, Safe Access Virginia, will lobby elected officials to pass a comprehensive Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The group had its inaugural meeting Saturday in Richmond.

Oregon Committee Reviewing Dispensary Rules Meets Today. The committee charged with drafting rules for medical marijuana dispensaries is meeting in Salem today. It will consider an opinion from the Oregon Legislative Counsel that says regulating dispensaries is the job of the state, not localities. Some localities have already moved to ban dispensaries.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) introduced a limited medical marijuana bill Monday. While the text is not yet available, Leach's remarks suggest that it seeks to allow medical marijuana with a high CBD content that could be used by children suffering from epilepsy.

Hemp

Hemp Lobbyists go to Washington, DC. Led by David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, several dozen supporters of industrial hemp were on Capitol Hill Monday urging Congress to lift the federal ban on domestic hemp production. "It's time to grow hemp," Bronner said. "I mean, it's been a long and ridiculous situation."

International

Ireland Stops Anti-Drug Aid to Death Penalty States; Britain Pressed to Do Same. Last Friday, Ireland announced it was stopping "funding to UNODC's Illicit Trafficking and Border Management program because of human rights concerns related to the use of the death penalty in Iran." The British justice reform nonprofit Reprieve is now pressing the UK government to do the same. "Britain is rapidly becoming isolated as the only country which thinks supporting the death penalty machines of Iran and Pakistan is acceptable. Hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in these countries in the last few years for non-violent drug offenses -- helped by millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money. Britain could end this problem tomorrow by putting in place conditions on the aid that it cannot be used to support the death penalty -- why are ministers refusing to do so?"

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Investigators in western Mexico have dug up 19 bodies from a series of eight mass graves after being led to them by corrupt police officers who had been working for drug cartels. More bodies may be coming. They are believed to be victims of turf wars between the Knights Templar and New Generation Jalisco drug trafficking organizations. The corrupt cops were arrested after two federal police were abducted in Michoacan. The missing federal cops are not among the bodies found so far. Meanwhile, in Guerrero, five more bodies were pulled from a mass grave.

Chronicle AM -- November 14, 2013

Years in prison for growing weed in Missouri, life in prison for drug smuggling in Singapore -- we still have a long way to go. There's more drug policy-related news as well today. Let's get to it:

Canadian addicts are suing Ottawa over its moves to block prescription heroin.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Brother and Sister Get 20+ Years for Growing 12 Pot Plants. If anyone still wonders why marijuana law reform is needed, here's why: An eastern Missouri brother and sister, ages 24 and 36, have been sentenced to 22 years and 15 years in prison, respectively, for growing 12 pot plants and eight seedlings. Prosecutors sought the harsh sentences, saying it was a "large-scale" grow and that guns and bullet-proof vests were present in the home. But neither guns nor vests are illegal, and the couple wasn't charged with a weapons enhancement; they got a combined 37 years in prison for growing a few plants.

NORML Endorses Pennsylvania Governor Candidate. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed John Hanger for governor. Hanger is running for the Democratic Party nomination and won NORML's endorsement in part because of his three-point plan to legalize marijuana in the Keystone State by 2017. "NORML PAC is pleased to endorse John Hanger in his campaign to become Pennsylvania's next governor," said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri. "Mr. Hanger is the only candidate who isn't afraid to openly discuss and campaign on a platform that calls for widespread reform of Pennsylvania's marijuana laws."

Medical Marijuana

I-502 Leader Calls for Medical Marijuana Home Grows to Remain. Alison Holcomb, architect of Washington state's successful marijuana legalization campaign, has called on state regulators to continue allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. I-502, the legalization initiative, does not allow home cultivation for non-patients, and regulators have proposed ending home cultivation for patients as well, but have run into considerable flak for that and other proposals that impinge on the existing medical marijuana system. Holcomb's statement came Wednesday, the last day for public input on the issue.

Criminal Justice

Virginia's Criminal Justice System Cruel, Ineffective, and Crisis-Bound, Report Says. The Justice Policy Institute released a report Wednesday bemoaning the state of criminal justice in the Old Dominion. The report's title pretty much says it all: Virginia's Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective, and Unfair. While the state has made some recent progress, it "continues to suffer under misguided policies and practices of the past," the report concluded. The report made a number of reform recommendations, including reintroducing parole and reducing the focus on drug offenses.

International

Canadian Addicts Sue for Prescription Heroin. Five Vancouver heroin addicts and Providence Health Care have launched a constitutional challenge to the federal government's ban on prescribing the drug. Health Canada's special access program (SAP) had recently approved applications from BC doctors to give diacetylmorphine (heroin) treatment to about 20 patients who were completing their participation in a Vancouver-based clinical trial -- the first time it had ever done so, but the federal health ministry denounced the decision and immediately changed policies to ensure it was never allowed again.

Mexican Cartel Pays $25 Million a Year in Bribes, Newspaper Says. The Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) drug trafficking organization in Michoacan is paying nearly $25 million a year to different officials in the state, the Mexico City newspaper El Milenio reported. The group also spends about $5 million a year in bribes in other states where it has a smaller footprint. In Michoacan, federal police commanders are getting more than $25,000 a month, state police commanders are getting more than $18,000 a month, and so are some officials in prosecutors' offices. Journalists are also on the cartel's payroll, with print reporters getting $3,000 a month and radio reporters getting nearly $2,000 a month. The numbers come from an intelligence report made available to reporters.

Colombia's FARC Ready to Deal with Coca Issue. As the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian government enter the next phase of their negotiations to end the nearly half-century-old armed struggle there, the FARC's top leader, Timoleon Jiminez, said the issue of illicit drug cultivation, which is next on the agenda, could be addressed, but only in the context of social justice for the peasantry. "We understand that if rural communities are satisfied in their basic aspirations as a result of agreements in dialogs and many negotiation tables taking place in the country, the problem of illegal crops would have disappeared forever in Colombia," he said. "Our satisfaction for a Colombia without coca will be enormous, much more, if the way leads to a Colombia without poverty that can make use of its political rights without any threats and violence." Peace talks resume next week in Havana.

First Singapore Drugs Death Row Inmate Re-Sentenced. The first person to benefit from Singapore's reform of its draconian death-penalty-for-drugs law was re-sentenced Thursday. Yong Vui Kong had been sentenced to death for bringing less than two ounces of heroin into the country, but under the sentencing reform, he was re-sentenced to life in prison and 15 lashes of the cane. The changes allow judges the discretion to sentence a courier to life imprisonment and caning if he is found to have substantively assisted the authorities in the fight against drug-trafficking.

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

Chronicle AM -- November 7, 2013

Portland's police chief demonstrates why local initiatives are only a start, a new Urban Institute report has ideas for reducing the federal prison population, the Irish parliament rejects marijuana legalization on its first go round, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Portland Police Chief to Ignore Legalization Initiative Victory. Portland, Maine, voterd Tuesday to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his officers will continue to issue citations for pot possession under state law. But Sauschuck also said Portland police didn't consider small-time pot possession a high priority even before Tuesday's vote, and the numbers back him up. In the last two 12-month periods, police there have averaged about one pot possession ticket a week.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Groups Launch Fundraising Campaign for 2014 Arkansas Initiative. Arkansas medical marijuana advocates Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) have joined forces with the national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to raise enough money to get the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act initiative on the 2014 ballot. The campaign kicks off Saturday in El Dorado with a concert sponsored by Budweiser (!), which will give a portion of the proceeds to ACC.

Sentencing Reform

Urban Institute Report Says Best Way to Reduce Federal Prison Population is Modify Sentencing, Prosecution Policies. A new report from the Urban Institute, Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System, concludes that "reducing the number of drug offenders is the quickest way to yield an impact on both prison population and cost," and recommends changes in both prosecution ("front end") and sentencing and reentry ("back end") policies.

International

The Silk Road is Back. The anonymous online marketplace notorious as a drug-buying and -selling venue is back up and running. It went down earlier this year when FBI agents arrested its operator, Ross Ulbrict, but was up again as of yesterday.

David Nutt Calls Britain's Drug Laws an Obstacle to Research.Scientist David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs, says Britain's drug laws are stifling research into the benefits of drugs like marijuana and Ecstasy. "The UK has gone from being early adopters of evidence based harm reduction -- prescription heroin, needle exchanges and opiate substitute therapy -- to lagging behind many countries across the globe that are modifying their drug policies to better reflect advances in our understanding of drugs," he told Forbes. Nutt, who was fired from the commission over his views on drug policy, recently won the John Maddox Prize, which is awarded for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility.

Irish Parliament Rejects Marijuana Legalization. The Irish Dail (parliament) soundly rejected a bill to legalize marijuana Wednesday. The private member's motion filed by TD Luke "Ming" Flanagan was defeated on a vote of 111-8. Still, the occasion marked the first time the Dail has seriously debated marijuana policy.

Czech Activists Denounce Grow Shop Raids, Plan Protests. The Czech marijuana reform group Legalizace has denounced Monday's mass raids on grow shops as "an absolutely unacceptable and scandalous infringement upon civil rights and freedoms" and is calling for a protest Saturday evening at Prague's Old Town Square.

Iran Drug Executions Continue. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's leading executioner of drug offenders, and this month is no different. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, which monitors Iranian press reports, 11 people have been hung for drug offenses so far this month, and we haven't even finished the first week. The annual number of people executed for drug offenses in Iran is in the hundreds.

Iran Drug Execution Frenzy Continues This Year

Last Wednesday, three men convicted of drug related charges were hanged in the prison in the Iranian city of Isfahan, state media reported. The prisoners died unnamed; only the charges and the fact of their execution were mentioned.

That's par for the course for the Islamic Republic, which in recent years has emerged as one of the world's most prolific executioners of drug offenders. Hundreds were sent to the gallows for drug offenses last year (a final tally isn't in yet) and nearly 500 the year before that, according to Iranian human rights sources and state media reports compiled by the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain. 21 more were executed in January alone, bringing the total so far this year to 24.

It's a grim litany:

  • Five prisoners executed January 30 at the prison in Kerman for "armed trafficking of 53 kilograms and 250 grams of opium."
  • One man hanged January 28 at the prison in Mianeh for selling 890 grams of crack. In addition to being executed, this unnamed man was fined $3 million rials for being a drug addict.
  • Six prisoners, including two women and one Afghan, hanged January 27 in Esfahan after being convicted of drug trafficking.
  • One man identified only as "Ch.P." hanged January 24 at Sharoos Prison for trafficking 1.94 kilograms of morphine.
  • Three prisoners identified only by their initials fined, lashed, and hanged January 23 at Qazvin Prison for "possession and trafficking of narcotic drugs."
  • Two prisoners, "M. Sh." and M. F.," hanged January 16 at Semnan Prison for trafficking 6.732 grams of crack and 1,739 grams of crack and 30.8 grams of crystal meth, respectively.
  • Two prisoners hanged January 6 in Khomarabad for "possession and trafficking of drugs."
  • One unnamed prisoner hanged January 2 in the prison at Yasouj for trafficking 20,050 ampules of heroin and 74,917 "psychotropic pills."

The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is frowned upon by the United Nations, a stance embraced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

"UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature," the international agency said in 2010 report (see page eight).

The Iranian resort to the death penalty for drug offenses has attracted international condemnation from the likes of Amnesty International and the Norway-based human rights group Iran Human Rights, which in 2011 helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran.

More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

Iran

Indonesian Court Gives British Grandmother Death for Drugs

An Indonesian court last Tuesday sentenced a British woman to death for trying to smuggle about 10 pounds of cocaine into the resort island of Bali, the anti-death penalty group Hands off Cain reported. Lindsay Sandiford, 56, cried when she heard the sentence, but had no other comment before being led back to jail.

Sandiford had been arrested upon arrival in Bali's international airport in May, when authorities found 4.8 kilograms of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase. She told authorities a criminal gang had threatened her and her children if she didn't transport the drugs, which had a street value of $2.5 million.

The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is frowned upon by the UN, which considers it a human rights violation. That stance is even embraced by th UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature," the international agency said in 2010 report (see page eight).

While Indonesia has notoriously harsh drug laws -- it is among the nations listed by Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project as both having and using the death penalty for drug offenses -- Sandiford's sentence was harsher than expected.

Two other Britons charged in the case received lesser sentences (a fourth awaits sentencing), and prosecutors had recommended only 15 years in prison, but judges at the Denpasar District Court said there was no reason for a light sentence. She had damaged Bali's reputation as a tourist destination, they said.

Sandiford joins an estimated 114 other prisoners on Indonesia's death row, most of them convicted of drug offenses. At least 40 death row inmates are foreigners, including several Australians.

Since 1998, five foreigners have been executed in Indonesia, all for drug offenses. The good news is that Indonesia hasn't actually executed anyone since 2008, when 10 people went to the gallows.

Indonesia

Singapore Death Row Drug Defendants Can Now Seek Review

Drug traffickers and other death row inmates in Singapore can now seek review of their death sentences after changes to the island city-state's mandatory death sentence went into effect with the new year, the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain reported. Some 32 people whose appeals had already ended sit on death row there; it is unclear how many are drug traffickers.

the gallows (wikimedia.org)
Last month, amendments to the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Misuse of Drugs Act were approved that allow death row prisoners to introduce new evidence to show that their cases satisfy the conditions for a life sentence instead of death.

Before that, murder and drug trafficking above certain amounts garnered mandatory death sentences. Now, drug trafficking convicts who were only couriers and who cooperated substantially with authorities can seek review of their death sentences, as can people convicted of murder, unless that killing was the equivalent of first-degree murder in the US.

Under Singapore law, people sentenced to life in prison can seek review of their sentences after serving 20 years.

According to Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project, Singapore is one of a group of six "high application states," or countries that both have the death penalty on the books for drug offenses and actually impose it. The others are China, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

Singapore
Singapore

Singapore Eases Death Penalty in Some Drug Cases

The parliament of Singapore has approved legislation abolishing mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases. The action came last Wednesday, according to a press release from the Singapore Attorney-General's Chambers.

Singapore skyline (wikitravel.org)
Under the reform, judges will be able to commute some death sentences to sentences of life in prison. Before, judges were forced to impose the death penalty on persons trafficking drugs above certain specified quantities.

The reform will allow judges to avoid imposing the death penalty only if specified conditions are met. Those conditions are if the defendant was no more than a drug courier and prosecutors certify that he "has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau to disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore, or the accused proves that he was suffering from such abnormality of mind that it substantially impaired his mental responsibility for committing the offense."

While human rights groups have called for the abolition of the death penalty in Singapore, the government there has called it a deterrent to serious crime. According to Harm Reduction International's 2010 report, The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses, Singapore is one of the states with a "high commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses, meaning not only does it have the death penalty on the books, but it uses it. Other countries with a "high commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Attorney-General's Chamber, which oversees all criminal prosecutions in the East Asian city-state, said that 34 people are currently on death row for either murder or drug offenses, although it didn't specify how many were from which category. All of those on death row can now appeal their sentences, the prosecutor's office said.

Singapore
Singapore

Singapore to Relax Death Penalty for Some Drug Traffickers

Singapore, once famously called "Disneyland with the death penalty" by author William Gibson, will move to relax the imposition of mandatory death sentences for drug traffickers.  The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state's deputy prime minister said Monday the government will produce a draft law by year's end that will give judges more discretion in some drug trafficking and murder cases, Reuters reported.

Singapore (wikimedia.org)
Singapore, which was been ruled by the same party since 1965, is a notoriously crime-averse society that subjects even minor offenders to punishments including caning. It has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs. Amnesty International and other human rights groups estimate it has hanged hundreds of people, including dozens of foreigners, for drug offenses since 1990. 

Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of importing, exporting or trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis, 200 grams of cannabis resin or more than 1,000 grams of cannabis mixture; trafficking in more than 30 grams of cocaine; trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin; and trafficking in excess of 250 grams of methamphetamine The mandatory death penalty for drugs was introduced in a 1975 Amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973 and was subsequently broadened.

But given the evolution of "our society's norms and expectations," the government will introduce the reforms, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told parliament. "While there is a broad acceptance that we should be tough on drugs and crime, there is also increased expectation that where appropriate, more sentencing discretion should be vested in the courts."

But not too much discretion. Escape from the mandatory death penalty would only be available to low-level couriers or those who have mental issues, Teo explained. The drug courier would have to show that he had no other role in supply or distribution.

"We also propose to give the courts the discretion to spare a drug courier from the death penalty if he has a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act, and instead sentence him to life imprisonment with caning," Teo said.

It's not that the government is going soft, Teo emphasized. "In particular, the mandatory death penalty will continue to apply to all those who manufacture or traffic in drugs -- the kingpins, producers, distributors, retailers - and also those who fund, organize or abet these activities," he said.

In 2010, the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project identified Singapore as one of the nations highly committed to the use of the death penalty for drug offenses. Also included in that category are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Another 26 countries, including the US, either actually execute some drug offenders or have laws on the books allowing for their execution.

But Singapore has been slowly shifting. While its customs forms still bluntly warn incoming travelers of "death for drug traffickers," the government has suspended all executions since it began a review last year.

Perhaps those other "highly committed" drug offense death penalty states will take notice.

Singapore
Singapore

Iran Executed Nearly 500 Drug Offenders Last Year

The Norwegian-based human rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) has presented its annual report on the death penalty in the Islamic Republic and announce that at least 676 people were executed there last year. Of those, 480, or 71%, were executed for drug offenses, IHR said.

public mass execution in Iran, 2008 (ncr-iran.org)
The count of 676 executions was based on information reported by official Iranian news, other independent sources, or high-ranking officials in the Iranian judiciary. IHR said that the actual number of executions is "probably much higher" than that figure.

Of the 676 executions tallied by IHR, only 416, or 62%, were reported by official media or high-ranking officials. The group said some executions are not announced by state media, but lawyers and family members were notified prior to the execution. In other cases of "secret" executions, not even family and lawyers are notified. IHR left more than 70 additional reported executions off its tally because of difficulty in confirming details.

Drug offenses were far and away the most common death penalty charges. More than five times as many people were hung for drug crimes as for rape (13%) and more than 10 times as many as for murder (7%). Some 4% were executed for being "enemies of God," 1% for acts against chastity, and in 3% of the cases, no charge was made public.

Situated next door to Afghanistan, supplier of nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium and heroin, Iran has been waging a fierce "war on drugs" against smugglers and traffickers transiting the country on the way to European markets. But much of that opium and heroin is destined for Iran itself, which suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates.

While China, the world's leading executioner state, may execute more drug offenders -- the numbers are hard to come by because China doesn't report them -- Iran leads the world in executions per capita, both for drug offenses and all offenses combined.

Last year, IHR helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran. More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

Iran

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