Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Cheaper and More Accessible Naloxone In the Works, Colombian Drug War Critic is Now President, More... (8/8/22)

A Congressional Research Service report zeroes in on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Remedy Alliance is easing naloxone bottlenecks, and more.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Naloxone Access About to Get Easier. Thanks to an informal buyers' club for naloxone that has morphed into an entity known as the Remedy Alliance, access to inexpensive naloxone -- the opioid overdose reversal drug -- is getting easier. The Alliance credits two major developments for the urgently needed breakthrough. First, they have managed to reach agreements with drug manufacturers to get the drug at a discount rate, and second, they have restructured to a system that allows local harm reduction groups to order the drug through an online store, getting around a labyrinthine web of federal regulations that has bottlenecked the flow of the drug amidst the ongoing overdose crisis.

"We think this will totally change the landscape of naloxone in the United States,: said Nabarun Dasgupta, the nonprofit's board president and a scientist at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group, formerly known as the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Buyers Club, has already reversed thousands of opioid overdoses and distributed 1.3 million doses of naloxone last year. Now, the Alliance expects to distribute 2 million doses this year.

International

Ex-Leftist Rebel, Drug War Critic Assumes Office as Colombia's President. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the leftist M-19 guerrilla army, was sworn into office Sunday, helping to cement an emerging leftist bloc around the region, consisting of Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and, most likely, Brazil after its October election. He said Colombia was getting a "second chance" to fight violence and poverty. He also said he was preparing to start peace talks with various armed groups around the country, and he called on the United States to change its prohibitionist approach to drug policy. "It's time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed," he said. "Of course, peace is possible. But it depends on current drug policies being substituted with strong measures that prevent consumption in developed societies."

Jalisco New Generation Cartel Present in 27 of Mexico's 37 States, Congressional Report Finds. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the country's most powerful, now operates in 27 states and Mexico City, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The report, "Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations," says that the CJNG is the dominant criminal force in six states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Guerrero, Mexico, and Veracruz. It is weakest in Mexico's northwest, where the Sinaloa Cartel still dominates. CRS described the CJNG as an "extremely powerful cartel" that has a "reputations for extreme and intimidating violence." It also noted that the DEA "considers the CJNG a top US threat and Mexico's best-armed criminal group." "The CJNG built its dominance internationally first through extending its presence through a rapid expansion inside Mexico," CRS said. "In 2016, many analysts maintained the CJNG controlled a territory equivalent to almost half of Mexico. The group has battled Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel factions in Tabasco, Veracruz, and Guanajuato, as well as the Sinaloa… [Cartel] in the Baja Peninsula and Chihuahua." The CJNG's ambitious expansion campaign was characterized by high levels of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana.

By taking over key ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the CJNG has consolidated "important components of the global narcotics supply chain," the CRS said. "In particular, the CJNG maintains reported control over the ports of Veracruz, Manzanillo, and Lázaro Cárdenas, which has given the group access to precursor chemicals that flow into Mexico from China and other parts of Latin America," the report said. As a result, according to some analysts, the CJNG has pursued an aggressive growth strategy underwritten by US demand for Mexican methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl… Despite leadership losses, the CJNG has extended its geographic reach and maintained its own cohesion while exploiting the infighting among factions of the Sinaloa organization."

AR Legalization Campaign Sues to Get Back on Ballot, Honduras Coca Production, More... (8/5/22)

Coca grower factions continue to clash in Bolivia, Colombia's new president will move to decriminalize drugs, and more.

a coca lab in Honduras (HSDN)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Campaign Sues to Get Initiative Back on the Ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind a marijuana legalization initiative, has filed suit against the State Board of Election Commissioners after the board earlier this week declined to certify the measure for the November ballot even though it had surpassed the required number of valid voter signatures. The board contended that the ballot title and description did not adequately describe the initiative, but Responsible Growth Arkansas says the board made an "incorrect" decision and "denied the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Arkansans to have the opportunity to vote on the Amendment."

International

Bolivia Coca Conflict Continues. Competing coca grower union factions, one affiliated with the government of President Luis Arce and the other opposed, continued to clash in La Paz this week. Adepcoca, which is the nation's largest coca union, is divided, with one faction now calling for the resignation of Minister of Rural Development Remmy Gonzales. And they are demanding the closure of a "parallel market" administered by coca union leader Arnold Alanez, whom the government recognizes as the leader of Adepcoca, and have filed a lawsuit against the government to force its closure. There are only two recognized coca markets, the Adepcoca market in La Paz and the Sacaba market in Cochabamba, and the Adepcoca growers say the third market is "illegal."

Colombia's Incoming Government Will Move to Decriminalize Drugs. The incoming administration of leftist President-elect Gustavo Petro is preparing drug policy proposals including drug decriminalization as it faces record cocaine production and violence from illegal armed groups and traffickers involved in the trade. Petro takes office on Sunday. His drug policy coordinator, Felipe Tascon, said that Petro also wants to end forced eradication of coca crops and instead concentrate on developing the rural economy. Tascon added that Petro will "speak up louder internationally" to explain that the problem is not drugs but "the problems drug prohibition created" and that "Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, if Lula wins, as progressive countries affected by narcotics can propose it as a block."

Honduras Sends in Military to Stop Illegal Coca Production. Honduran soldiers this week were on a mission to destroy a 75-acre coca field in the rugged mountains of Colon department. It's part of an effort by leftist President Xiomara Castro to prevent the country from becoming a cocaine producer. "In the operation, we are carrying out [they have seized] around 42 manzanas of coca bushes, with an approximate yield of one million 600 plants," the military said. There were also "eight nurseries with 50,000 plants ready for transplanting, six drug laboratories" and "three blocks of marijuana." More than 2.6 million coca plants have been seized this year, the military said. "We already have problems with being a transit and consumer country, but being a producer country would generate a criminality that we could not possibly control," it added.

Chronicle Book Review: American Cartel

American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry, by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz (2022, Twelve Press, 400 pp., $30.00 HB)

Phillip S. Smith, with contributions from David Borden

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/americancartel.jpg
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigative reporters Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz have been on the opioid beat for years, teaming up (with others) on the Post's "The Opioid Files" series, which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2020. Now, with American Cartel, the pair provide a deeply-sourced account of how opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies waged an all-out campaign to fend off DEA efforts to stanch the flow of billions of opioid pain pills, and to evade any culpability, even as the overdose death toll mounted year by year.

The picture Higham and Horwitz paint of corporate and political malfeasance is damning. But the laser sharp focus with which they paint it, omits much of the context in which the opioid crisis has unfolded. And that context is also very important.

An article in yesterday's Guardian shows one of the reasons why. In much of the world, very few pain patients are able to access opioids at all. Much suffering results, sometimes leading to suicide attempts. Dr. MR Rajagopal, chair of Pallium India, told the Guardian, "Pain is not visible. It happens in hospital beds or patients' rooms and is not visible to the world. Addiction, on the other hand, is very visible in headlines which quote the US epidemic and overdose deaths. No one talks about the western European success over decades; all the news is about the opioid crisis in the USA. This means that when we try to have discussions, our work becomes harder because many minds are primed against opioids."

In other words, by speaking too solely to one side of an issue, one risks adversely impacting the other sides. Whether "opiophobia" is real or significant in the US is another question. Higham and Horwitz don't venture a view on this, at least not in American Cartel.

One entity that has warned about opiophobia (without using the term) is the US Centers for Disease Control. In a 2019 memo, CDC writes that a 2016 guidance the agency issued on prescribing opioids for chronic pain had seen "misapplication[s]" by some physicians that put patients at risk. The memo cites a New England Journal of Medicine commentary by the authors of the 2016 guidance. It warns against "hard limits" on opioid dosages or cutting patients off; abrupt tapering of prescriptions; applying the guidance to acute pain situations patients face in situations like active treatment for cancer or sickle cell anemia or post-operative care; and applying it to medication-assisted treatment prescriptions for addiction.

Technically the CDC memo addressed a period of a few years beginning in 2016. But the dynamics it describes are inherent risks in a situation where providers are charged with supplying a substance that's useful but also addictive and potentially deadly if misused, and for which they can be sanctioned professionally or even prosecuted and imprisoned if things go wrong or someone disagrees. Pharma-driven promotion of their new opioid products was a factor in driving up prescribing rates to where they reached. But a part of the increase was also the medical community reacting to a real problem of under-treatment or non-treatment of pain for some patients, a problem that coexists with over-prescribing to some other patients. That increase in turn came with a learning curve.

The authors also give short shrift to the impact of today's woes and inequalities in driving the so-called deaths of despair -- a concept coined by Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton -- alienation and anomie, helplessness and hopelessness afflicting many Americans who have been left behind in the modern economy, especially in the opioid use heartlands of the Midwest and Appalachia. The Midwest deindustrialized beginning in the 1970s, and both regions largely missed out on the tech boom of the '90s and '00s. Then came even more pain with the Great Recession, followed by COVID and more economic and social disruption. People there (and elsewhere) are dying not just of opioids, but of smoking, drinking, and suicide. Big Pharma is easily (and oh so deservingly) demonized, but the laser focus on the companies allows us not to have to look in the mirror about the pain our society produces.

That factors like these should play a role in the opioid crisis, though, doesn't exonerate Big Pharma. Rather, the misleading promotions of their products carried out by pharma, took an even greater toll due to the vulnerabilities those other factors had brought to the fore.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to mount -- over 100,000 per year, and with a new record high every year. Prescription opioids still figure prominently in overdoses. But the greatest part of the problem by far is black-market fentanyl, used deliberately by some high tolerance heavy users of opioids, but primariy causing overdose as an adulterant in heroin, counterfeit prescription pills, and other street drugs, essentially a poisoning crisis. But as Higham and Horwitz note, that is part of a wave of opioid use that began with pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma taking Oxycontin onto the market in the late 1990s. The first decade of this century also saw other prescription opioids -- oxycodone, hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Opana, et al. -- hit the market.

Higham and Horwitz are fond of tossing around astounding numbers of pills produced by manufacturers or sold by certain pharmacies, such as Mallinckrodt producing 3.5 billion 30 milligram hydrocodone pills in one year, and critics could protest that those numbers need context, too. A prescription for a medication doesn't just have a number of pills to take. It specifies how large a dosage there is inside each pill. A smaller number of pills that each contain a higher dose might mean more than a larger number that each contain a smaller dose. And a higher dose prescription sometimes reflects a patient's tolerance to opioids built up through past medical (or non-medical) use. Maybe West Virginia didn't really need 81 million pain pills during a five-year span. But maybe it did. Without more information, it's just not clear what these numbers mean.

They do provide some context, though, for example by comparing pain pill sales across all drug stores in a region and pointing out anomalies not easily explainable by, say, differing rates of cancer or other serious illness. And they demonstrate that plenty of businesses -- from Big Pharma to the drug store chains and individual pharmacies -- were either in it for the money or at best screwed up, both through detailed analysis and telling anecdote. For example, there was the guileless Florida pharmacist who explains to investigators that she fills pain pill prescriptions all day long, but always keeps a certain number of pills on reserve "for my real pain patients."

When the DEA cracked down first on Wild West internet sales of opioids and then on the "pill mills," medical practices with perfunctory examinations and huge numbers of opioid prescriptions whose entire business model seemed to be writing opioid prescriptions, it succeeded in reducing access to those drugs. But the people using opioids didn't stop; they went to black market drugs, fueling first a resurgence in heroin use and now an opioid crisis driven by fentanyl.

A key figure in the tale is Joe Rannazzisi, who as head of DEA's Office of Diversion Control from 2006 to 2015 oversaw the agency's endless effort to ensure that prescribed opioids are only prescribed for legitimate medical purposes and not leaking into the black market. We are inclined to think of the DEA as a prohibitionist agency, but in this case, it is acting as a regulatory agency. And what Higham and Horwitz uncover is a case of regulatory capture -- when the industry being regulated manages to set the terms under which it is regulated, for its own benefit, not that of the public.

Rannazzisi and his team of DEA lawyers spent years going after opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains who were repeatedly (administratively) busted for failing to do due diligence about just who was buying their products. The companies would pay huge fines, promise not to do it again, and then continue to pump massive amounts of opioids through the supply chain.

The companies mobilized against Rannazzissi and his campaign, forming industry front groups, undertaking lobbying efforts, hiring legions of high-priced law firms, and crafting legislation that would rein in what they saw as an out-of-control agency. As Higham and Horwitz document in great detail, it worked.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), both of whom received substantial contributions from the industry, but written by industry lobbyists, the nicely named Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act removed from the DEA tools that Ranizzisi had been using to try to force drug distributors to monitor and report suspicious orders, such as the 1.2 million oxycodone tablets one distributor bought from Mallinckrodt in one day, only to order another 1.2 million the next day.

The bill passed, only to be drastically revised amidst scandal after an earlier Post report on the opioid bill derailed then-President Trump's effort to name Marino drug czar. But Higham and Horwitz also detail rot inside the DEA, where the industry managed to get to high-ranking officials who sidelined Rannazzisi, forcing him into retirement and forcing many of his team members into bureaucratic Siberia. It's an ugly little story of money and power, the sort that is all too common in Washington.

If the first part of American Cartel reads like a detective novel, the second part is more like a legal thriller, It covers the massive wave of civil lawsuits filed against the drug companies, and it is not particularly edifying reading. You see hundreds of high-powered attorneys from the country's top litigating firms -- including dozens of former DEA attorneys working now working for the industry they regulated -- facing off against armies of lawyers for the thousands of states, cities, and counties. You see massive settlements from the companies and massive damages wrested from companies that went to court and lost. While it is unclear just how the moneys won or negotiated by the various plaintiffs is actually being used to help people who suffered from the opioid crisis, what is clear is that it has been a bonanza for the legal profession, with winnings -- excuse me, earnings -- by attorneys reaching well over a billion dollars.

They weren't all in it for the money, though. Some, like West Virginia attorney Paul Farrell, whose state was one of the epicenters of the pain pill epidemic, were sickened by the toll of addiction they saw all around them. Not willing to settle for the pittance the town and county he represented would receive under a massive settlement agreed to by most of the suing entities, he gambled on going it alone against the drug distributors. As this book went to print in April, he was still waiting for a decision. Earlier this month, he lost, with a federal judge ruling that drug distributors were not responsible for the area's opioid crisis.

The litigation goes on, and the dying goes on. Sometimes the drug companies settle, sometimes they lose and have to pay even more. But sometimes they win.

The profit-driven wave of opioids that engulfed the country in the last couple of decades is not an anomaly. The pharmaceutical companies have a historical pattern of creating and marketing drugs that later wreak havoc. That's what they did with amphetamines, that's what they did with barbiturates, that's what they did with benzodiazepines. It's almost enough to make one wonder if profit-driven capitalist enterprises should be in charge of the nation's drug supply.

Read Higham and Horwitz's book. But read Case and Deaton's too. And when you see the next "pill mill" story, don't assume that it is, or isn't, what it seems.

Russian Court Sentences American Basketball Star Brittney Griner to Nine Years in Prison

A Russian judge sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases.

This is what got Brittney Griner a nine year sentence.
Russian authorities detained Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, and she is widely viewed as having become a pawn in the conflict between Washington and Moscow over the war. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict.

President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue to make every effort to free her.

The US has offered a prisoner swap of Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, in return for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's leftist rebels, the FARC. But the Russians have so far demurred, first saying that Griner's trial had to finish and, more recently, showing littler interest in the matter.

While Griner's sentence seems stiff to Western sensibilities, it is in line with Russia's draconian, zero-tolerance drug laws. Drug offenders make up a quarter of the country's prison population. As Penn State University law professor William Butler noted: "To many in the US, nine years' imprisonment may seem like a harsh penalty for cannabis possession. But in Russia, it is par for the course for this crime."

Another American citizen, 61-year old Marc Fogel, is currently serving a 14-year sentence in Russia for marijuana possession. Fogel and his wife were returning to Russia for the last year of a ten year teaching stint, when he was caught. According to family, Fogel uses marijuana to treat chronic back pain.

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Fatal Breonna Taylor Drug Raid, Thai Cannabis Tourism, More... (8/4/22)

Arkansas election officials knock a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot -- at least for now -- San Francisco's new DA cracks down on drug dealers, and more.

Kentucky did not do it, but maybe the federal government can obtain justice for Breonna Taylor.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Panel Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday blocked a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas from appearing on the ballot in November. The board rejected the popular name and ballot title for the measure, which has already accumulated enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The board said it rejected the measure because members believed the ballot title didn't fully explain the measure's impact, but Responsible Growth Arkansas said the amount of detail demanded would make the ballot title "thousands and thousands of words long."

Law Enforcement

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Breonna Taylor Case. The FBI has charged four Louisville police officers for their actions leading up to and during a March 2020 drug raid on the apartment of medical worker Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police gunfire after her boyfriend shot at what he believed to be intruders trying to break into the residence. Those charged include former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankison, and Kelly Hanna Goodlett, as well as current LMPD sergeant Kyle Meany was also arrested Thursday by the feds. The feds are charging the four with civil rights violations, which include charges of obstruction of justice for actions they took after the raid. The four officers largely escaped justice at the state level, with only one charged, and later acquitted -- not for shooting Taylor but for endangering the lives of neighbors by wildly shooting several rounds into the building. The killing of Taylor became a major rallying cry in the summer of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

San Francisco DA Cracks Down on Drug Dealers. Newly-elected District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Wednesday announced tougher new policies to hold drug dealers accountable, saying anyone caught with more than five grams of drugs would no longer be referred to the city's drug court, that she will make use of sentencing enhancements for drug dealing within a thousand feet of a school, and will seek pretrial detention of fentanyl dealers in "extreme" cases. The move comes as Jenkins replaces former progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin, who was recalled amidst rising public concern over crime and squalor in the city. But the city's Public Defender called Jenkin's approach "regressive," saying it will disproportionately affect communities of color. "If District Attorney Jenkins truly wants to address the issues facing our city, she should not be relying on outdated and politically expedient soundbites about harsher enforcement," said Public Defender Mano Raju.

International

Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Penal Colony for Possessing Small Quantity of Cannabis Oil. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases. Griner was detained by Russian authorities just a week before it invaded Ukraine, and her case is widely seen as part of the broader conflict between Russia and the United States over that conflict. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict. President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue all-out efforts to get her home.

Cannabis Cafes Emerge in Thailand. "Several" cannabis cafes have opened in Bangkok since the country decriminalized cannabis in June, despite the government's warning that the law's relaxation did not include recreational marijuana use. Recreational use has exploded under the new law, something that government officials have tried to discourage. Now, a parliamentary committee is working on a bill that could rejigger the rules and possibly impact the cannabis cafes. In the meantime, one café owner said his place had "hundreds" of customers every day. "Europeans, Japanese, Americans -- they are looking for Thai sativa. Cannabis and tourism are a match," he said.

California is One Signature Away from Okaying Safe Injection Sites [FEATURE]

The nation's most populous state is on the verge of approving safe injection sites in some of its largest cities. A bill that would do just that, Senate Bill 57, narrowly won its final vote in the legislature Monday, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has previously signaled that he was "very open" to the law.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Such facilities could be coming soon to some California cities. (vch.ca)
The bill authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) authorizes what it calls "overdose prevention programs" (or safe injection sites) as pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, the city of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. In each of those jurisdictions, city councils or boards of supervisors have requested inclusion in the bill and will decide whether and how to participate. The pilot program will run for five years, through January 1, 2028.

The legality of safe injection sites under federal law remains unclear. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department strongly opposed them and successfully blocked an effort to open one in Philadelphia, but the Biden administration Justice Department has expressed openness to the harm reduction intervention.

That uncertainty did not stop New York City from opening the first government-approved safe injection sites last November or Rhode Island passing legislation and following suit in March, although the Rhode Island sites are being hobbled by a lack of funding after legislators mandated that no government funds be used to operate them. And that uncertainty has not deterred lawmakers in Sacramento, either.

The California bill overcame extensive pushback, primarily from law enforcement, which argued that the sites failed to provide a strong enough path to drug treatment. Similar objections killed three previous attempts to pass safe injection site legislation by Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), including a 2018 bill that passed the legislature only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

It was supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, California Society of Addiction Medicine, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Healthright 360, Tarzana Treatment Center, and the California Association of Alcohol & Drug Program Executives.

Support for the bill was also heightened by significant increases in drug use and overdoses since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 711 deaths total. In 2021, 640 people died of overdoses, and the city is on track to exceed that number this year. Statewide, approximately 10,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

"California -- like our nation as a whole -- is experiencing a dramatic and preventable increase in overdose deaths, and we need every available tool to help people stay alive and get healthy," said Senator Wiener after the final vote. "Safe consumption sites are a proven model to help people avoid overdose deaths, reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, reduce syringe litter, and help people access treatment. This legislation isn't about whether we want people to use drugs. Rather, it's an acknowledgment that people *are* using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy. The time has come for California to adopt this proven overdose death prevention strategy."

Safe injection sites have been operating for decades in Europe, Canada, and Australia and have a proven safety track record. At the 170 safe injection sites that have operated around the world, not a single overdose death has been reported. In New York City, in the first three months of operation, staff at these sites were able to halt over 150 overdoses.

Safe injection sites are a proven harm reduction intervention that saves lives without increasing crime or disorder. The Biden administration does not appear to be inclined to claim they violate federal law and has made no move against the sites operating in New York and Rhode Island. It appears the path is open. All Gov. Newsom has to do is pick up his pen and sign the bill.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Pennsylvania got too friendly with the local drug dealer, a small-town Ohio cop probably wishes he had maintained domestic bliss, and more. 

In Ironton, Ohio, an Ironton police officer was arrested last Wednesday after a domestic dispute turned into a drug bust. Officer Bradley Spoljaric, 29, went down after Ironton police responded to a morning domestic disturbance call at his home. By that evening, he was arrested and charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence, second-degree felony possession/trafficking in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 dugs and third-degree felony tampering with evidence. That's about all we know. 

In Dickson City, Pennsylvania, a Dickson City police office was arrested last Thursday for revealing a confidential informant's identity to a drug dealer. Patrolman Brandon Muta, 23, drew suspicions when he grew angry upon learning that another officer's informant had identified a certain man as a meth dealer. Muta told a detective that the dealer sometimes supplied him with information. Days later, that informant reported that the dealer had refused to sell her drugs and called her a "snitch," When interviewed later by the detective, the dealer had revealed the informant's name to him. The dealer also confirmed that he had snitched on other dealers for Muta and that Muta had revealed the identities of other informants. It's not clear what the exact charges against Muta are.

In LaGrange, Georgia, a Troup County Sheriff’s Office detention officer was arrested Tuesday after he got caught bringing drugs into the jail for money. Officer Steven Michael Crowder, 23, went down after allegations were made that he was bringing drugs in for inmates and being paid by a third party. An investigation ensued, and his arrest was the result. He faces four counts of violation of oath by a public officer, four counts of items prohibited for possession by inmates, and one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

CA Marijuana Lounges Set to Expand, Coca Clashes in Bolivia, More... (8/3/22)

The country's largest federal workers' union wants an end to marijuana testing of employees in states where it is legal, Mexican cartel gunmen get in a shootout with the Guatemalan president's guards at a border village, and more.

An Amsterdam cannabis "coffee shop." More shops like this are coming to California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Largest Federal Workers' Union Calls for Ending Marijuana Testing for Most Government Employees in Legal States. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation's largest union representing federal workers, adopted a resolution earlier this summer supporting marijuana legalization and calling for an end to marijuana testing and other policies that penalize marijuana-using employees in states where it is legal. Only the title of the resolution, "Resolution to Support Deleting Responsible Off-Duty Marijuana Usage from Suitability Criteria," has been posted, not its actual text. But a draft version of the text included support for marijuana legalization and urged the US Office of Personnel Management to "rescind its policies regarding pre-employment use and off-duty use of cannabis by federal employees in non- safety-sensitive, non-national security positions to the extent such cannabis use is permitted by state or District of Columbia law." The AFGE represents more than 700,000 federal workers.

California Marijuana Consumption Lounges Set to Take Off. After a slow start because of pandemic shutdowns and local concerns, marijuana consumption lounges appear set to expand across the state. Most lounges in the state are currently centered in the San Francisco Bay area (there is only one in the Los Angeles area, in West Hollywood), but now lounges are getting the go-ahead from municipalities in Southern California and the Central Valley. That means the number of lounges in the state could double from the current dozen or so. Right now, new lounges are approved to open in Fresno, Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura counties, with more in the pipeline.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Clash with Police in La Paz. Fighting broke out in the capital city of La Paz between hundreds of coca growers from the Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca) joined by other opponents of leftist President Luis Arce and the police. The clashes are over the commercialization of coca and who will benefit from it. Adepcoca is facing off against pro-government coca growers over who will control the Adepcoca market, through which 90 percent of the country's legal coca crop passes. They accuse the pro-government growers of running a parallel market. The same conflict led to violence clashes in La Paz last year, too. Tuesday's clashes feature coca growers throwing firecrackers and dynamite caps with responding with volleys of tear gas. "We are asking that this alleged market for the sale of coca, which has nothing to do with the legal market of Adepcoca, be closed immediately," said protest leader Carlos Choque. "We will not be afraid if they want to 'shoot' us, we are here." Protest leaders said the protests would continue until the parallel market is closed.

Mexico Drug Cartel Attacks Guatemalan Presidential Convoy. Gunmen from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel launched an attack Saturday on a Guatemalan presidential convoy at the village of La Laguna on the Guatemala-Mexico border Saturday. President Alejandro Giammattei was reportedly not involved in the incident. The presidential guard had been traveling around the village when it spotted armed gunmen approaching. The soldiers told the gunmen to back off, but they instead opened fire. One local cartel leader was wounded and subsequently arrested with the rest of the gunmen fleeing into Mexico, where Mexican authorities arrested four Guatemalan nationals. The JNGC operates extensively in Guatemala.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Goes to Governer, WV Cities and Counties Settle with Opioid Distributors, More... (8/2/22)

Louisiana police can no longer search homes based on the odor of marijuana without a warrant, there is good polling for marijuana legalization in Missouri, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site. California cities could soon follow suit. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Cops Can No Longer Use Marijuana Odor as Excuse to Search Homes. As of Monday, police in the state are prohibited from searching people's residences based on the odor of marijuana unless they have a warrant. That is because the legislature this year passed and the governor signed into law Act 473, which mandates that: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a search without a warrant of a person's place of residence." Another new law, this one banning vaping or smoking marijuana in a vehicle, also went into effect Monday.

Missouri Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll of registered voters has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, including majorities of every demographic group except those over 65 and Republicans. While GOP voters did not show majority support, more Republicans supported legalization (47 percent) than opposed it (40 percent). The poll comes as marijuana legalization initiative awaits a decision a week from today on whether it has turned in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Opioids

West Virginia Cities and Counties Settle with Drug Firms Over Opioid Crisis. A group of cities and counties that sued drug distribution firms, accusing them of fueling a deadly wave of opioid use, have settled with three distributors for $400 million. The companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, were facing imminent trial in state court when they settled. Last month, a federal judge ruled against Cabell County and Huntington in similar claims. They are not included in the settlement announced Monday and plan to appeal the ruling that rejected most arguments made against the drug companies.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow four safe injection site pilot programs to get underway is now on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 57 got final approval in the Senate Monday. It had already passed the Senate earlier, but was amended in the House, necessitating a final concurrence vote. Under the bill, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco could open harm reduction centers as pilot programs lasting through January 1, 2028. "We're seeing an escalation in overdose deaths," Wiener said after Monday's vote. "These sites are a proven strategy to save lives and get folks into treatment. It's time." A similar bill passed in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D). If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, California would follow Rhode Island as states that have okayed safe injection sites. A municipal safe injection site program is currently underway in New York City.

Poll Finds Support for Psychedelic Research for Military Members, Federal Marijuana Expungement Bill Filed, More... (8/1/22)

Last weekend's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago featured not only music but harm reduction measures, a new poll finds support for federal -- as opposed to state-level -- marijuana legalization, and more.

Chicago officials handed out Narcan and fentanyl test strips at last weekend's Lollapalooza festival. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Marijuana Expungement Bill Filed. Reps. Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) filed a bill last Friday that would pave the way for federal misdemeanor marijuana offenses to be expunged. The bill is the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act. "These misdemeanors -- even without a conviction -- can result in restrictions to peoples' ability to access educational aid, housing assistance, occupational licensing and even foster parenting," said Carter. "Delivering justice for our citizens who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a key component of comprehensive cannabis reform."

Americans Favor Federal Marijuana Legalization Mandate in Polling. Support for marijuana legalization remains high, but a new poll from The Economist and YouGov.com shows an increasing number of people want legalization to come from the federal government. Some 45 percent said the federal government should legalize it, while another 21 percent said legalization should primarily be left up to the states. Between them, that's two-thirds support for some form of freeing the weed. Only 20 percent thought "marijuana should be banned nationally."

Psychedelics

Poll Finds Majority Support Psychedelic Research for Military Members. A new poll from YouGov.com finds that 54 percent of respondents said they support "allowing research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelic substances for active-duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)." Support was strongest among Democrats (60 percent), followed by independents (54 percent) and Republicans (45 percent). Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) both sponsored psychedelic research amendments that made it into the 2023 Fiscal Year National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House earlier this month.

Opioids

City of Chicago Warned Lollapalooza Festivalgoers About Fentanyl. The city's Department of Public Health last Friday issued an alert on its social media accounts warning fans of the massive Lollapalooza music festival that ended Sunday that fentanyl can easily cause an overdose and that they should take steps to know what is in their drugs. The city cautioned that fentanyl is being found not only in heroin, but also non-opioid drugs such as meth, Ecstasy, and cocaine. "Every year, we see young people end up admitted to the hospital because they've experimented -- at a time when we really want people to have fun, but have fun safely," said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

AR Legalization Init Has Enough Signatures, UN Experts Criticize Singapore Drug Executions, More... (7/29/22)

Marijuana seizures at the US-Mexican border are down again, Colombia's Gulf Clan is escalating its attacks on police as it jockeys for position in upcoming negotations, and more.

San Francisco could become the largest US city to decriminalize psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Feds Report Significant Year-Over-Year Decline in Marijuana Seizures at the US Border. The amount of marijuana seized at the US-Mexico border has dropped dramatically this fiscal year, with seizures averaging 408 pounds a day, down from an average of 874 pounds a day during FY 2021, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Other drug seizures at the border are up, but the decline in marijuana seizures is part of a consistent downward trend in recent year. As the DEA has noted, "In US markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana."

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Set to Qualify for Ballot. State officials have confirmed that a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas has submitted enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But the state Board of Election Commissioners must first approve the popular name and ballot title of the measure. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but not home cultivation. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Psychedelics

San Francisco Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Filed. Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D) have filed a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution also calls for broader statewide reform. If the resolution is passed, San Francisco would be the most populous city in the country to decriminalize psychedelics.

International

Colombia's Gulf Clan Trafficking Group Stepping Up Attacks on Police. The Gulf Clan, the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, is stepping up a campaign of violence against police that began in May, when its leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, known as "Otoniel," was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges. But now, as the country approaches the transfer of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, is ratcheting up the violence, apparently in a bid to bolster its prospects in potential negotiations with the new government. At least 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf Clan, 12 of them in the last month, and three in just the past week.

UN Experts Call for Immediate Moratorium on Singapore Executions for Drug Offenses. UN experts have condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug-related charges. There has been a sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore this year.

Nazeri Bin Lajim was arrested in April 2012 and convicted for trafficking 33.39 grams of diamorphine under the 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act in September 2019. The mandatory death penalty was subsequently imposed in his case and enforced on 22 July 2022. "Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes', involving intentional killing," the experts said. "Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold."

The experts reiterated that, as per the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's report on arbitrary detention relating to drug policies andits subsequent jurisprudence, imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses is incompatible with international standards on the use of the death penalty.

White House Preps for MDMA Therapy Approval, MO Legalization Init Could Come Up Short, More... (7/28/22)

South Dakota's first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary opens, the FDA is moving toward approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Legalizing them could be on the ballot in Medford, Oregon, this November. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Needs More Signatures as Deadline Looms. Legal Missouri, the group behind an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, handed in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November election, but may still come up short because of the state's requirement that it meet signature thresholds in each of the state's congressional districts. The group is 1,144 signatures short in the 7th Congressional District and 1,573 short in the 6th. The campaign says it is double-checking signature counts from local election authorities in hopes of making up the shortfall. Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) will announce by August 9 whether or not the campaign has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota's First State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The Unity Road Dispensary in the small town of Hartford opened its doors for business Wednesday, becoming the first state-licensed dispensary to open after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. But it is not the first dispensary in the state: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Cannabis in July 2021, saying it did not need to wait for the state to license it because it is on sovereign Native American territory. Another has since opened on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Psychedelics

Biden Administration Preparing for FDA Approval of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter Wednesday that described the Food and Drug Administration's "anticipated approval… within approximately 24 months" of psychedelic-assisted therapies. The letter said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is exploring establishment of a Federal Task Force to address the complex issues associated with the commercialization of psychedelic medicines, including clinical, regulatory, and public policy matters.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has pioneered clinical trials on MDMA, was pleased: "We applaud the Biden Administration for taking psychedelic-assisted therapies, and their potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, seriously. A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don't leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments," said MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

Doblin continued, "For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering."

Medford, Oregon, City Council Ponders Psilocybin Legalization. In a surprise move, the city council has scheduled a study session about psilocybin for tonight's meeting. No vote on an ordinance is expected, but the city council said it wants the study session to make an informed decision about putting an ordinance on the November ballot.

This Week's Corrupt Cop Stories

A South Carolina deputy gets in trouble for his relationship choices, a former small-town Pennsylvania police chief's heroin habit gets him in trouble, and more.

In Walterboro, South Carolina, a former Colleton County sheriff's deputy has resigned after an internal investigation found that he had been in a sexual relationship with "a known drug dealer/user" for the past year. Former Deputy William Janecki, who supervised the department's narcotics team, allegedly rented motel rooms for her and would overlook drugs in her possession during traffic stops with other deputies, as well as letting her know when warrants for her arrest were filed. Janecki has not yet been charged with anything, but the internal investigation has now been turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division, which will determine if any criminal charges are to be filed.

In Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, the former Elizabeth Borough police chief was indicted on federal charges last Wednesday for stealing heroin from the evidence locker. Former Chief Timothy Butler stole heroin evidence and was using it himself for nearly a year-and-a-half. He had already pleaded guilty to state charges for the same offense back in 2019 and skated with 45 months of probation. The feds have now charged him with one count of theft of government property. He was a member of a federal drug task force at the time and the drugs he stole were considered federal seized property.

In Tallahassee, Florida, a former Gadsden County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to 10 months in federal prison for lying to a federal official about aiding a drug trafficker in 2018 and 2019 after he plea-bargained down from six charges, including unlawful use of a communication device or facilitate possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; and intentionally attempting to possess a controlled substance, in this case cocaine. Joseph Barnes, 54, was also linked to a dog-fighting ring but was never charged for that. He went down after an investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which was told that Barnes would help "large-scale" traffickers by, for example, removing covertly installed tracking devices from their vehicles. An informant then asked Barnes to remove any tracking devices from his vehicle, which he did with FBI agents watching. He also provided expertise on how to defeat drug dogs. When he was questioned by the FBI, he lied about it, and that is what he is going to prison for.

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Senate Legalization Bill Gets Hearing, More... (7/27/22)

The House approves a medical marijuana research bill, Switzerland and Zimbabwe open up to medicinal cannabis, and more.

The ex-president offered a dark and dreary vision of America as he called for the death penalty for drug dealers. (CC)
Senate Democrats' Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. Led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY), one of the original cosponsors of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing Tuesday on the bill and the broader topic of marijuana legalization. The bill would legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge nonviolent marijuana convictions, and impose a federal tax on marijuana sales. Marijuana sales in states that have not legalized medical or recreational marijuana would remain a federal crime. States would still set their own marijuana policies. Sen. Booker said marijuana prohibition had "miserably failed," creating a "festering injustice" of racially disproportionate marijuana law enforcement. But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) opposed the bill, bizarrely arguing that legalization would benefit "gangs and cartels." No vote was taken, and the bill's future remains uncertain.

Medical Marijuana

House Approves Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House on Tuesday approved HR 8454, the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act. The bill sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) passed on a vote of 325-95, exceeding the two-thirds supermajority required for a vote that takes place under a procedure known as suspension of the rules. Under suspension of the rules, no amendments are allowed and debate is limited. The bill passed with unanimous Democratic support, but Republicans were split over it. "This bill makes it easier to do the necessary, rigorous medical research -- just like is done for any other drug that has a claim of efficacy in this country," Harris, who opposes legalization but favors expanded studies, said on the floor. "The American public deserves to know what medical marijuana is useful for because, for anyone with those conditions where it is found to be useful, it could be a godsend -- but for other conditions where the claims won't be found to be valid with rigorous research, it would be found to be ineffective."

Drug Policy

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. Former President Donald Trump called Tuesday for the death penalty for drug dealers during a speech that painted a dark portrait of contemporary America. "The penalties should be very, very severe. If you look at countries throughout the world, the ones that don't have a drug problem are ones that institute a very quick trial death penalty sentence for drug 'dealers," Trump said at the America First Policy Institute. "It sounds horrible, doesn't it? But you know what? That's the ones that don't have any problem. It doesnt take 15 years in court. It goes quickly, and you absolutely -- you execute a drug dealer, and you'll save 500 lives," Trump continued. "It's terrible to say, but you take a look at every country in this world that doesn't have a problem with drugs, they have a very strong death penalty for people that sell drugs," he said.

The former president, who is now under investigation for various crimes related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, unironically called for a broad and harsh crackdown on crime, including police cars parked on every corner, giving police greater qualified immunity, "We're living in such a different country for one primary reason: There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime," Trump said, calling for efforts to defeat violence and to "be tough and be nasty and be mean if we have to."

International

Switzerland Fully Legalizes Medical Cannabis and Allows Export. Beginning August 1, Swiss patients will be able to legally obtain medical marijuana with a medical prescription. Until now, patients were forced to seek individual permission from the Federal Office of Public Health. This comes after the Federal Council (the executive branch) amending the Swiss Narcotics Act approved by parliament in March 2021. Although cannabis for medical purposes will be legal next week, the law only allows products containing less than 1% THC, the limit set for the country's hemp industry. The new law also will allow for exports.

Zimbabwe Allows Cannabis Use in Medicines for First Time. The country's Medicines Control Authority has invited licenses cannabis and hemp producers, as well as importers, exporters, manufacturers, and retail pharmacists to apply for licenses to sell hemp-based products for use as medicines. "Unlicensed sellers of cannabis will be prosecuted for selling unapproved" medicines, the authority added. Would-be licensees must provide product samples and allow official inspections. The move is largely driven by the country's search for ways to boost income in its agricultural sector. The Treasury Department estimates the crop has the potential to reach $1.25 billion a year.

Senate Dems' Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow, Senate Bill to Allow TV Pot Ads in Legal States Filed, More... (7/26/22)

Senate Majority Leader Schumer's marijuana legalization bill gets two new cosponsors and a hearing tomorrow, a Cannabis Resource Center to promote equity in the industry launches in New York, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Schumer's Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Two More Cosponsors. The marijuana legalization bill backed by Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and cosponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) has picked up two more cosponsors. Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) have now signed on to the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which was released one week ago today. "It is long past time the federal government catches up to Washington state when it comes to cannabis laws,"Murray said. "This legislation is about justice, strengthening our economy, and bringing the federal government into the 21st century."

But Murray added that she wanted to see Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (S.910) pass: "While the reforms we are pushing for are critical and long overdue -- I remain fully committed to passing SAFE Banking however possible -- including as a standalone bill,"Murray said. "It makes absolutely no sense that legal cannabis businesses are forced to operate entirely in cash, and my bill would bring them into the formal banking system where they belong."

Witnesses Picked for Senate Marijuana Legalization Hearing Tomorrow. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a cosponsor of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), will chair a meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism Friday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms," and the witness list is now set. The witnesses on the majority side are Malik Burnett, a pro-legalization physicians who is now medical director of harm reduction services at the Maryland Department of Health; former federal marijuana prisoner Weldon Angelos, who was pardoned by then-President Trump and now advocates for clemency for federal marijuana prisoners via his nonprofit The Weldon Project; and Annapolis Police Chief Edward Jackson, a member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). The minority witnesses are former federal prosecutor Steve Cook, a hardline drug warrior; and former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, who has become a Fox News regular since penning the broadly criticized and questionably researched book "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence."

Senate Bill Filed to Allow Marijuana TV, Radio Ads in States Where It is Legal. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) on Tuesday filed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Advertising Act, which would allow marijuana businesses in states where it is legal to advertise their products and services on TV and radio. The bill mirrors an amendment that was included in a recently passed spending bill in the House The bill would block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from penalizing TV and radio stations for running such ads as long as "the activities of the cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider were, at the time of the broadcast or other transmission of advertising," were legal in the state, tribe or territory.

New York Marijuana Resource Center Launched. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined advocates and community leaders in New York City for the launch of a new marijuana resource center designed to promote equity in the state's marijuana industry. Schumer used the occasion to point out overlaps between the state's push for social justice in the industry and the need to federally legalize marijuana. Just last week, he filed such a legalization bill. "We're trying at the federal level to mimic what New York has done -- not just in legalization and ending criminalization but making sure social justice is an essential part of any legislation," Schumer said at the event, adding that he and colleagues are "making some progress" in building bipartisan buy-in on marijuana reform from "conservative Republicans and libertarians."

DEA Backs Off on Banning Five New Psychedelics, Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with New President, More... (7/25/22)

Signature gatherers are criss-crossing the Cowboy State for a pair of marijuana initiatives, the US and India sign a joint agreement on cooperating against the drug trade, and more.

tryptamine molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Signature-Gathering Drive Chugging Right Along. Organizers of a pair of marijuana initiatives, the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act and the Wyoming Cannabis Amendments, are at the midpoint of an 18-month-long signature-gathering window and already have about 17,000 raw voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. They need 41,776 valid voter signatures to make the ballot. One initiative would legalize medical marijuana; the other would remove criminal penalties for possessing or using marijuana.

Psychedelics

DEA Reverses Course, Will Not Ban Five New Psychedelics. Back in January, the DEA announced that it was moving to place five new psychedelics, all tryptamines, on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. But there was significant public pushback on the proposed role, including at a DEA public hearing where researchers and advocates made the case for not regulating the substances. Last Friday, DEA announced it had withdrawn the potential rule. The five new psychedelics are 4-Hydroxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (4-OH-DiPT), 5-Methoxy-alphamethyltryptamine (5-MeO-AMT), N-Isopropyl-5-Methoxy-N-Methyltryptamine (5-MeO-MiPT), N,N-Diethyl-5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeO-DET), and N,N-Diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT).

Foreign Policy

US, India Ink Agreement on Fighting Drug Traffic. The State Department announced last Friday that India and the United States have signed an Amended Letter of Agreement (ALOA) in the field of narcotics control and law enforcement cooperation. The signing took place during the third meeting of the India-US Counternarcotics Working Group (CNWG) held in New Delhi on July 7-8. "Representatives from relevant agencies responsible for law enforcement, policy formulation, drug demand reduction, and other drug-related matters, participated in the deliberations on wide-ranging issues related to drug demand, narcotics trafficking, regulatory and control efforts, and cooperation on enforcement and criminal investigations," the State Department said. Both countries agreed to increase coordination and information-sharing on the drug trade, as well as fighting unregulated chemicals and pharmaceuticals being diverted into the black market. They also agreed to include drug demand reduction topics in the working group.

International

Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with Incoming President. After the FARC laid down its arms in 2016 as part of an agreement with the Colombian government, the largest remaining leftist rebel group in the countryis the National Liberation Army (ELN). Now, ELN leader Eliécer Erlinto Chamorro says that the group is interested in reaching a peace deal with leftist incoming President Gustavo Petro. "We hear voices from the new government about a different policy against drug trafficking: 'the war on drug trafficking must be ended', for being a policy that did not produce positive results. We agree, but it is not enough," he explained. "The new government says it is interested in peace in Colombia, the ELN too. We have listened to their messages and we are in the best disposition to resume talks to fill peace, with contents of social justice and democracy," the revolutionary leader said. "It is about ending drug trafficking once and for all. To build that solution, the country can count on us," he added. The ELN is one of numerous armed actors on the left and right that have financed their activities through the drug trade.

CO Psychedelic Legalization Init Qualifies, Singapore Hangs Fifth in Four Months for Drug Offenses, More... (7/22/22)

Iowa's Democratic attorney general calls for legalizing fentanyl test strips, GOP senators file a bill to go after drug cartel "spotters," and more.

The Rio Grande River marks the US-Mexico border in this remote region of Texas. Can you spot any spotters? (Pixabay)
Drug Policy

GOP Senators File Bill to Target Cartel Spotters. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and cosponsors Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) have filed the Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act, which "increases penalties for those who aid cartels in illegal activity by transmitting information about the positions of Border Patrol or destroying Border Patrol communication devices." The bill would stiffen penalties on spotters by increasing fines and imposing a maximum prison term of 10 years on those convicted of helping cartels.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Attorney General Calls for Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Faced with rising drug overdose deaths in the state, Attorney General Tom Miller (D) said Thursday he wants to see legislation introduced next year to legalize fentanyl test strips. He also said he wants to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. "There's no one thing that's going to solve this problem, but the pieces of different solutions are going to really, really make the difference," Miller said. Miller's remarks came a week after Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) held a news conference about rising fentanyl overdoses and offered up a public messaging campaign aimed at younger Iowans. Iowa saw 470 drug overdose deaths last year, up from 419 in 2020 and 350 in 2019.

Psychedelics

Colorado Psychedelic Legalization Psilocybin Therapy Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The Natural Medicine Health Act has qualified for the November ballot. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, backed by the national New Approach PAC, turned in about 100,000 more raw signatures than needed to qualify after a short, three-month signature-gathering campaign. The initiative would legalize possession of certain psychedelics, establish a therapeutic model for supervised psilocybin treatment and provide a pathway for record sealing for prior convictions. There are no explicit possession limits for natural psychedelics, including psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn. There is no provision for recreational sales. A second psychedelic legalization initiative, sponsored by Decriminalize Nature Colorado, that would simply allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT is still in the signature-gathering phase.

International

Singapore Hangs Drug Offender, Fifth Execution in Four Months. Singapore authorities executed Nazeri bin Lajim for heroin trafficking on Friday. It was the fifth execution in less than four months, all of drug offenders. "Five people have been hanged this year in Singapore, in a period of less than four months. This relentless wave of hangings must stop immediately. The use of the death penalty in Singapore, including as mandatory punishment for drug-related offences, violates international human rights law and standards," Amnesty International's death penalty expert Chiara Sangorgio said. "Everyone executed in Singapore in 2022 has been sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offenses. Rather than having a unique deterrent effect on crime, these executions only show the utter disregard the Singaporean authorities have for human rights and the right to life. We call on governments, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Control Board to increase pressure on Singapore so that international safeguards on the death penalty are respected and drug control policies are rooted in the promotion and protection of human rights. Singapore's highly punitive approach does neither."

Senate Democrats File Marijuana Legalization Bill, Bipartisan Psychedelics for Terminally Ill Bill Filed, More... (7/21/22)

Singapore is set to hang a drug offender today, Sensators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill to allow the terminally ill to use certain psychedelics, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Senate Leadership Introduces Legislation to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), today introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The legislation repeals the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana, provides deference to states' cannabis policies, and establishes mechanisms to help repair the harms associated with the racially and economically disparate enforcement of prohibition. The CAOA removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedule entirely, ending the threat of federal prosecution for possession and licensed commercial activity, and allows states to implement their own cannabis policies free of federal interference. It also eliminates many problems facing regulated state cannabis markets, including lack of access to financial services, the inability to deduct standard business expenses when filing federal taxes, and the lack of uniform national regulatory standards and guidelines. The legislation also directs funding to reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition and helps improve diversity and inclusion in regulated cannabis markets. The bill's prospects in the evenly-divided Senate are unclear, at best.

Psychedelics

Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Amend the Right to Try Act to Assist Terminally Ill Patients. US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation Thursday to clarify that the Right to Try Act should allow terminally ill patients to have access to Schedule I drugs for which a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed. Specifically, the Right to Try Clarification Act would remove any obstacle presented by the Controlled Substances Act with respect to Schedule I substances when they are used by doctors and patients in accordance with the federal Right to Try law. Companion legislation will be introduced in the House by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Nancy Mace (R-SC).

The federal Right to Try law permits patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases or conditions, and who have exhausted all approved treatment options, access to certain treatments that have not yet received final FDA approval. In general, a drug is eligible for Right to Try use after a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed for that drug but prior to the drug being approved or licensed by the FDA for any use. In other words, in limited conditions involving life threatening illness and for drugs that have been proven to be safe, the federal Right to Try law removes the FDA out of doctor-patient decisions and reverts regulation back to the states. Under the terms of the federal Right to Try law, states remain free to permit or prohibit Right to Try use under their own laws.

International

Singapore Set to Hang Drug Offender Today. The city-state is set to hang 64-year-old Singaporean citizen Nazeri Lajim for drug trafficking today. This would be the fifth execution since March after a long pause in hangings during the coronavirus pandemic. He was handed the death sentence in 2017, some five years after being arrested during an anti-narcotics operation. Nazeri was found with two bundles of what was analyzed to be 35.41 grams of heroin, exceeding the 15 gram legal threshold for the imposition of the death penalty.

The country is increasingly out of step with its neighbors on drug policy. Thailand legalized most forms of marijuana last month, and Indonesia and Malaysia are discussing medical marijuana. The government defended its hardline approach: "It really is incumbent upon us to present the choices in very vivid terms and persuade our people, including young people, that we have to make the right choices for them and for society," said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Sudan Defense Lawyers Charge Political Detainees Forced to Undergo Drug Tests. The legal group Sudan's Emergency Lawyers, which defends people seeking to protest against rule by the military-dominated government, is charging that people being arrested at protests are now being subjected to unlawful drug tests. Detainees including at least 15 minors and six women were released after being beaten, assaulted and subjected to drug tests, the group said.

The lawyers said "what is really disturbing is that these people are now subjected to a drugs test," which they stressed "is completely contrary to the law". The lawyers say that those detained were not in possession of drugs and were not found in any suspicious situation that necessitates this procedure or would give authorities common cause. They pointed to the fact that any referral for examination must be made by the prosecution. "This procedure is purely criminal, it violates the rights of the detained, and it is against the principle of assumption of the accused's innocence, and completely contrary to the law. It degrades dignity and has a profound psychological impact," the lawyers added.

Rumors have been circulating that young protesters are using drugs, meth in particular, because they don't seem to show hunger or fatigue, but there has been no evidence to back up the rumors.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Michigan detective goes to prison for peddling fentanyl, a Tennessee deputy is in trouble over a tricky scheme to get his hands on a vehicle seized in a drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

In Angola, Louisiana, an Angola state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday after she got caught sneaking meth into the prison inside a bag of potato chips. Now ex-Corrections Officer Alissa Plessy, 53, went down in a random search as she reported to work and was found to be carrying nearly 17 ounces of the drug, She is charged with possession with intent to distribute Schedule II narcotics and introduction of contraband into a penal institution.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly selling ghost guns and drugs to a motorcycle gang. Officer Steven Umberto Angelini, a 16-year veteran of the force, began selling and trading drugs with the president of the Maryland Infamous Ryders Motorcycle Club after a drug supplier they both knew was murdered. In January, he provided 90 oxycodone pills in exchange for $100 and an eighth-ounce of cocaine. He also offered the biker leader information on the dealer's murder and on buying more drugs. In April, Angelini made another deal, this time trading a ghost gun he said he built for cash and cocaine. The exact charges he faces were not specified.

In Covington, Tennessee, a former Tipton County sheriff's deputy was indicted last Wednesday for using his position as an evidence custodian to post a car that had been seized in a drug investigation for sale on a state web site in the middle of the night and then having a friend of his buy the vehicle for $500 34 seconds later using a "Buy Now" option. The vehicle was later sold on the site for $2,853.83 in October 2021. Former Deputy Daniel Jacobs was charged with official misconduct, attempted theft of property over $2,500 and computer crimes over $2,500.

In Highland Park, Michigan, a former Highland Park Police detective was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for peddling fentanyl. Tiffany Lipkovitch, 47, an 11-year detective, was caught arranging deliveries of samples of her wares on numerous recorded phone calls and in recorded meetings. She was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

Australia's First Drug Checking Site Opens This Week, TX Bill Would Make Legal Pot a Local Option, More... (7/19/22)

There are marijuana reform rumblings in the Lone Star State, Ohio becomes the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip decrim bill, and more.

Texas State Capitol (Daniel Mayer, Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill Would Let Cities, Counties Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) has filed a bill, House Bill 3248, that would let cities and counties the option of locally legalizing recreational marijuana use, possession, and sales. The bill would also impose a 10 percent tax on marijuana products, with 10 percent of that going to pay for regulation, another 10 percent to pay for marijuana testing and quality control, 20 percent to participating local governments for oversight, and the rest would go into the state school fund. "While Texas has made progress with the Compassionate Use Act, we have been left behind on a potential revenue source that would increase investments in public education, stop the unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession and create jobs in our state," González said. "We should allow our local communities to make the best decision for themselves in regards to cannabis legalization, and HB 3248 would allow that for adults 21 years or older." The bill faces long odds in the GOP-dominated legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Calls for Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) says he supports the expansion of medical marijuana access and nodded toward other conservative states that have fully legalized medical use. Governments should only be able to make something illegal "for a powerful reason or set of fact," he wrote in a letter, comparing pot prohibition to the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s. "As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable,"he wrote. It is time for all of us, including the Governor, members of the Texas Legislature and others to come together and set aside our political differences to have an honest conversation about cannabis: where we have been, where we are going and what role government should properly play," Miller ended his letter. "We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas."

Harm Reduction

Ohio Bill Would Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Ohio could become the latest state to decriminalize or legalize fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction measure aimed at reducing overdose deaths. State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) has filed House Bill 456 would decriminalize fentanyl drug testing strips. They are currently classified as drug paraphernalia, but that hasn't stopped them from beginning to pop up in bar bathrooms in Cincinnati. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is increasingly adulterating other illicit drugs or appearing as counterfeit prescription opioids. In Ohio, nearly two-thirds of 1,497 cocaine overdose deaths last year were caused by drugs laced with fentanyl. The bill has just been filed, but has garnered no opposition so far.

International

Australia's First Fixed Drug Checking Site to Open This Week in Canberra. Beginning on Thursday, Australia's capital city, Canberra, will host the country's first fixed location drug checking site. Previously, drug testing has twice been done at music festivals. The move comes as the Australian Capital Territory prepares to implement drug decriminalization. "This Australian-first program will help people who use drugs better understand or avoid unknown and potentially dangerous substances in illicit drugs," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

"We know the safest option is not to take drugs and this will always be our advice to the community. However we recognize some people will choose to use drugs and there is a need for initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use."

Big Increase in Injection Drug Use, House Passes Another Spending Bill with SAFE Banking, More... (7/18/22)

British Tories audition a new scheme for punishing drug users that effectively decriminalizes somebody's first two drug busts, a new study finds racial disparities in Pennsylvania marijuana arrests are increasing, and more.

The number of Americans injecting drugs increased five-fold in the past decade. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Defense Spending Bill with Marijuana Amendments. The House last Thursday approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes nine amendments pertaining to marijuana and other drug policies. Included in the House version of the bill is language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, language allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to allow medical marijuana recommendations, and two psychedelic research amendments. The SAFE language, which the legal marijuana industry is clamoring for, has been passed in the House as part of several earlier omnibus spending bills, only to be killed in the Senate by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his allies, who have been holding out for passage of a full-blown marijuana legalization bill. We shall see if it turns out any differently this time.

Black Pennsylvanians See More Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests. A new study from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) finds that racial disparities in marijuana arrests jumped upward in 2020, even though overall pot arrests declined. Black Pennsylvanians were five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana statewide. The largest disparity was in Cumberland County, where Blacks were 18 times more likely to be arrested for pot than Whites. "I will say that the numbers moving in the wrong direction is certainly a concern," said Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Meredith Buettner. "This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians." The Republican-controlled state legislature has so far blocked any moves toward legalization.

Drug Policy

CDC Finds Huge Increase in Number of People Injecting Drugs. A new study from the Coalition for Applied Modeling for Prevention (CAMP) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a rapid increase in the number of people shooting up drugs in the past decade. The most recent data, from 2018, put the number of injection drug users at about 4 million, five times the number in 2011, the last previous estimate. The study also found that overdoses -- both fatal and non-fatal -- had also increased dramatically, with deaths related to injection drug use rising threefold during that period, which was before the current spike in overdose deaths, now around 100,000 a year. For every fatal injection drug overdose, there were 40 non-fatal ones, the study found. The CDC estimates that a third of people who inject drugs share syringes, needles or other drug injection equipment.

International

British Tories Plan to Punish Drug Users, Could Seize Their Drivers' Licenses, Passports. The Home Office has announced a scheme to punish drug users in a bid to "tackle the scourge of drug abuse in society." Under the "three-strikes" proposal, first-time illicit drug offenders, including marijuana offenders, would have to pay for and attend a drug awareness course. A second offense would merit a formal warning, another drug awareness course, and up to three months of mandatory random drug testing. For a third offense, people would be criminally charged and, upon conviction, could be banned from nightclubs and other entertainment venues and could have their drivers' licenses and passports confiscated. But, hey, that is effectively decriminalization for the first two offenses. The proposal will now undergo a three-month consultation period before being amended or implemented as is.

What Comes Next in the Philippine Drug War and Will Duterte Pay for His Crimes? [FEATURE]

As the month of June came to an end, so did the term in office of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, notorious for presiding over a bloody and still-continuing "war on drugs" that has left more than 30,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilantes, according to Filipino and international human rights organizations. Duterte's human rights violations sparked the interest of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened an investigation into the matter last year.

ICC headquarters, The Hague, Netherlands
Following a formal request by the Duterte administration in November, OTP paused the investigation in order to reevaluate whether government's accountability efforts touted by the administration were sufficient and credible. Late last month OTP requested court authorization to resume it.

Replacing Duterte is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., known as "Bongbong." Marcos comes with his own baggage; he is the son of former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, infamous for her shoe collection. And his vice president is none other than Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte. Between them, the pair provide a double dose of strongman genes for a population that has proven eager to embrace them.

With the Duterte government now in the rear view mirror, the question now are what happens next in the Philippine drug war and will there ever be justice for the crimes of the past six years?

In a parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on Thursday, "Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC, and the Philippine Drug War," took on those issues. Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (also known as StoptheDrugWar.org -- publisher of this newsletter), a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and the Italy-based Associazone Luca Coscioni, the event was moderated by StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden and Italian former senator Marco Perduca of the Associazone. The event focused on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions."

In the virtual event conducted via Zoom, participants heard from three Filipino experts: human rights activist Justine Balane, Ruben Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Dr. Aurora Parong of the Philippine Coalition for the ICC and the Philippines branch of Amnesty International.

"One of the goals is #16, is peace, justice, and strong institutions. Issues like human rights, accountability and so forth fall within that topic," said Borden, who noted, "Our first event held in March 2017 at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, where we were privileged to present a video from then Vice President Leni Robredo, a video which became controversial in the Philippines due to attacks being made on her for it by political opponents. Robredo was in the first year of her term as vice president, having narrowly defeated Bongbong Marcos to win that post."

"I will lastly note it's nearly 5 ½ years since then Senator Leila de Lima was jailed [on bogus charges for criticizing Duterte's drug war], and we share the widespread hopes in the international community that she will be released soon, particularly since... three of her key initial accusers have recanted their accusations and stated that they were made under pressure."

Perduca followed with a short history of the ICC, explaining that the core crimes with which it is concerned are war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, with the crime of aggression added later.

"The court has jurisdiction over countries that have signed and ratified or have acceded to the treaty, and have... put in place all the necessary measures to... allow the court to take action if local authorities are unwilling or unable to pursue alleged criminals, at any level of the state hierarchy," he explained. "[W]e have made the case before competent authorities at the ICC... that the way in which the war on drugs in the Philippines had been waged amounted to crimes against humanity. It was massive and systematic, and it was the result of a specific order given by someone in charge... The Philippines was party to the treaty until a few years ago [when Duterte withdrew from it], so some of those heinous actions still fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC."

The new boss looks too much like the old boss, according to Balane, who in his day job serves as Secretary General of the organization Akbayan Youth.

"In the first half of the year, during the campaign season, the streets were blaring with the jingle of the new president and vice president, which started with the lines "Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Mukha." It roughly translates as new Philippines and new faces," he said. "But in reality, it's not. In the first half month under Marcos and Duterte, we're been shown the same drug war tactics and the same level of government oppression... The killings haven't stopped with Duterte leaving... and how the killings have remained largely uninvestigated, and the killers let loose under Duterte and possibly Marcos."

"Data from the University of the Philippines (UP) Third World Study Center show that there have been 155 deaths for the first half of the year," Balane noted. "Even in Duterte's final year in office, the killing of children in the drug war continued... [including] two children in the last month of Duterte in Malacanang (the Philippines' executive branch headquarters)." In UP's research, from January to July 2022, 68 of the deaths were carried out by state agents... I'm relying on this UP data because there is a huge underreporting crisis on drug war numbers... This year, before Duterte left office, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that there have been a total 6,248 drug war deaths since Duterte took office. This is a figure that is at least 24,000 lower than the estimates of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and other human rights groups... [I]t's even lower than the figure provided by the office of Duterte... [I]n 2017... the presidential office... admitted... that the drug war killed 20,000 people and listed in its annual accomplishments report, under the section 'fighting illegal drugs in 2017.' This... report became the basis of the Supreme Court order to the Duterte government to explain and release data on the 20,000 deaths which could be state sponsored," Balane said.

Balane was critical of the Duterte government's claim that it would investigate the killings, obviating the need for the ICC to step back in.

"Last year... the Philippine Department of Justice vowed to the international community that they are able and willing to conduct a domestic review of the drug war cases, just to show that the justice system is still working... But this year, the Department of Justice announced to the United Nations that only four cases have led to actual new prosecutions. Imagine that!" he exclaimed. "Four cases out of more than 30,000 reported or suspected cases under the drug war... [T]hat's showing this government has been noncommittal and not... serious about its obligations to the international community, not upholding its human rights obligations."

The Duterte government clearly failed to pursue the police and shadowy vigilante groups behind the killings, Balane said.

"To date, there remains only one case that has led to a guilty verdict against killer cops, and that was in 2018... That's because the norm is of acquitting and letting killer cops go scot-free... Seriously, the prospects of investigation bringing to justice the cases and the killings that happened under the Duterte admnistration remain bleak."

Balane was not optimistic about the prospects under the new Marcos administration.

"As we enter Bongbong Marcos's presidency, one person a day is killed, approximately. This is according to [UP data]... An official of the Marcos government also vowed that the drug war will be as intensive as before. Even President Marcos himself during the campaign trail said that he would continue the drug war with the same vigor but a different approach. But we continue to question the government's seriousness to put into law any program that is an alternative to what the law enforcement agencies have already been accustomed to under Duterte, because they have already been so comfortable with getting away with their crimes," he charged.

As early as 2017, Senator Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan already filed a bill in the Senate providing a framework for a public health approach on the drug problem. But until now there has been no push from others in the Senate or anyone else in the legislative chamber or the executive to pass it or adopt elements of it highlighting harm reduction instead of the punitive, violent and largely failed approach of the Duterte administration."

Balane concluded by noting, "Marcos Jr., who sits in the office of the president, refuses to be accountable for the extrajudicial killings that happened under his family's regime in the '70s.

"It's important to note that the drug war is not over," said Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice. "There's this famous quote from The Wire, that TV show about drug wars, that 'drug wars are not actual wars, because drug wars never end.'

Carranza explained, "On the first day of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as president... there were drug war killings in the University of the Philippines... involving two brothers who were... from a very poor family... The brothers were invited by a supposed friend to help fix a car, but instead they were taken by plainclothes armed men in a car that was unmarked, taken from the university, and then their bodies were found two days later," he noted.

"I mention this because... part of what Duterte unleashed has been the creation of a national death squad that has now come to exist apart from Duterte himself... [So] I don't think we can reckon with accountability in the drug war based on who the president of the Philippines is. It's important to look at the institutions that enforce the drug war, both the formal state institutions, the Philippine National Police, and the non-institutional and yet much more powerful creations that the drug war has led to. A death squad that used to be local -- Davao City -- has become national under Duterte, and this national death squad continues." "Vicente Danao, the current police chief, was Duterte's former police chief in Davao City. Vicente Danao has a record, not just of being involved in the drug wars in Davao, but also domestic abuse, for which he was exposed by his wife and had to take a leave from his police duties in Davao -- until Duterte, of course, forgave him and said that he will back him up," Carranza explained.

"Vicente Danao is likely to be one of those that, if the prosecutor goes ahead with the investigation that has already been authorized previously by the pre-trial chamber of the ICC.. [will] be investigated," he continued. "It's difficult to say at this point whether Vicente Danao, or anyone else for that matter, will be charged. But obviously those who have been linked to the death squad in Davao, and now operate on a national scale, are likely to be those who will be investigated and potentially charged. This isn't only because of their links to the death squads in Davao and then nationwide. This is also because the ICC prosecutor, with the approval of the pre-trial chamber, has actually extended the coverage of the investigation of the Philippines drug war to the period when Duterte was mayor of Davao, in other words after the ICC treaty took effect for the Philippines in 2011, and years before Rodrigo Duterte became president... During this period, Rodrigo Duterte was mayor, but there were periods when his daughter was mayor of Davao because they took turns being mayor."

It's important to remember... that the International Criminal Court is not the only institution that can pursue accountability for the drug war. It's important to remember that prosecution is not the only measure by which extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity committed in the drug war, can be pursued and those behind them be held accountable. Justice doesn't only equate with courts; justice can be pursued elsewhere, outside of courts," Carranza argued.

"There are two ways in which I think accountability and justice for the drug war can be pursued even outside of the International Criminal Court process. One is through a truth-telling process that can be organized at the local level, perhaps at the community level in the Philippines among the urban poor communities that have been targeted by the drug war," he said. "Part of that work is being done now by priests like my friend Father Flavie Villanueva and the exhumations and the reburials and cremations of those whose bodies were buried in cemeteries whose families cannot afford to... pay for the burial plots. That process of removing remains and then having -- my friend as well, one of the forensic pathologists in the Philippines, Dr. Raquel Fortun -- exhume and examine the bodies, conduct autopsies -- is a truth-telling process. It's important for the international community to support that, because this not only empowers communities, empowers families of the victims into acting on their demands for justice, but gives them some hope that even if there's no formal state process that seeks accountability within the Philippines, even if the ICC prosecutor will take longer to actually conduct the investigation, and even if... the ICC as a court cannot proceed because the Philippines does not cooperate... that there are local processes going on that are outside of court processes," he said.

"The second approach to justice for the drug war involves reparations for families of the drug war victims. Reparations isn't new in the Philippines; the Philippines actually passed a law in 2013... to provide reparations for victims of the Marcos dictatorship."

Carranza pondered, "It is possible to give reparations to be given to victims of the drug war, but it is possible under Marcos? ... The sister of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a senator, Imee Marcos, actually supported a bill that became a law... that gave reparations for those who were victimized and displaced in the siege in Marawi City involving a conflict between a violent extremist group in the Philippine south and the government," Carranza continued.

"But will Marcos Jr. pursue the killings, pursue accountability of those involved in the killings in Duterte's drug war? That is a question that will be fully answered over time, but two things we need to take into account: Marcos Jr. is no stranger to maintaining impunity. He and his family have an interest in maintaining the impunity of Duterte, because any action that might open accountability of presidents past, and even further in the past, will obviously reopen questions around the accountability of the Marcos family," he argued. And "The Marcoses will defend their ill-gotten wealth for as long as they can."

Finally, Carranza argued, "Marcos Jr. will say what the global north's elites will want to hear, what the west, particularly the Europeans in the western part of Europe want to hear, that he will pursue accountability for human rights violations. He has said this... That he will pursue preventive health-related policies for drug users... This is, of course, appealing to Westerners, but does not deal with the root causes of drug use in urban poor communities in the first place, and the economic and social rights violations that then lead to drug use in the Philippines."

Parong and the Philippine Coalition for the ICC are not giving up on the international community.

"The [coalition] is calling on the UN to review and assess the effectiveness of its technical assistance, and review its decision not to probe into the war on drugs. Given the findings of Dr. Raquel Fortun, and of course also the statement of Prosecutor Khan of the ICC that there is no effective investigation, and looking into the systematic nature of the crimes... and therefore have called for the UN Human Rights Council to review its decision..." she said.

"There should be key result areas, or impact assessment of its assistance to the Philippines. Perhaps one would be effective prosecution of perpetrators of the killings in the war on drugs, and then a result that should be achieved. Because there should be changes in the behavior and values of those who are trained during this technical assistance. And then of course there should be the effort to really look at the enablers, those who made it possible that there are >massive killings in the tens of thousands," the humanitarian law expert suggested.

"We also believe that if President Marcos Jr. is really committed to high accountability and to pursue the control on drugs within the rule of law, they should develop a program against drug abuse that integrates a human rights and public health perspective," she continued. "And of course, the Philippine government has to really give complete results of what it says it will pursue the fight against drugs within the rule of law and make high accountability possible, then it should now come out with a very, very complete plan... There has to be specific, there has to be terms of reference, items on the plan, and concrete results in key result areas that can be measured, and not just those general commitments to the rule of law or accountability."

Parong had a specific suggestion for the Marcos-Duterte administration too: "If they really want unity as well as peace so that we can get out of this pandemic crisis... they should review the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, and consider the possibility of getting back, if they really want higher accountability."

But given the workload of the ICC -- the Office of the Prosecutor is looking at abuses in 16 countries right now, it lacks the resources to do all it needs to be doing," she said.

"We think that the internationally community, especially the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should in fact provide the resources which the court needs in order to be able to really act as a court of last resort and deliver justice. Faster also, rather than being at the back burner for investigation, and then it's only after some time that the court can act on them, because they have no resources that is adequate enough to pursue all these cases that they are either investigating, on preliminary investigations, or even those which are on trial. So there has to be more resources and support, not just from the state parties... because if other members of the UN really believe in international justice and support it, then they should support whatever is in the international court's purview to review and make decisions."

And it's not just funding but having the back of the ICC when it is attacked.

"The Philippine president has in the past attacked the ICC as an institution," she noted. "He also attacked UN officials and ICC personnel... During the campaign, the current presient said he would only allow the ICC personnel to come in as tourists, not as investigators... We think the UN members, as well as the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should be giving political support to the ICC when there is an effort to attack them or diminish their capacities to do their work because they don't have access to the countries that need to be investigated."

For those seeking radical change away from Duterte's drug war, some of the early indicators -- especially the continuing killings -- are not good. And while Bongbong is talking about some limited reforms, it remains to be seen whether he will pursue even those modest goals. For those seeking justice and accountability for Duterte's crimes, the path remains arduous, but that has not stopped them.

House Approves SAFE Banking Again, Colombia Cocaine Production Down Slightly, More... (7/15/22)

The NYPD reverses course on testing cops for marijuana, Colorado's governor signs an executive order protecting marijuana-using workers from discrimination, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Coca and cocaine production remained relatively stable at high levels last year. (Pixabay)
House Approves More Marijuana Amendments as Part of Defense Spending Bill. The House on Thursday approved a half dozen marijuana amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including amendments to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses and allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The banking amendment came from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and contains the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has been included in other omnibus spending bills only to be stripped out in conference committee by Senate leadership, which is still holding out for a full-fledged marijuana legalization bill.

Colorado Governor Issues Executive Order to Protect Marijuana Users from Workplace Discrimination. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has issued an executive order designed to protect workers from being punished or denied a professional license for using, possessing, or growing marijuana. The order includes people from other states. "The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State," said Polis. The order also directs the state Department of Regulatory Agencies to not provide information to aid in professional investigations related to legal marijuana-related activities in the state.

NYPD Says It Will Stop Testing Cops for Weed, Then Reverses Course. The NYPD on Wednesday announced it would quit drug testing officers for marijuana, only to reverse course within a matter of hours. "The New York City Law Department has directed the NYPD to cease all random, scheduled and pre-employment testing for marijuana," an NYPD spokeswoman said early Wednesday. "The Department will continue to administer marijuana screenings to personnel when there are indications of impairment and is reviewing its current policies in light of this directive." But later in the day, an NYPD spokesman said that the department was in discussions with the Law Department about possible conflicts with federal law and that in the meantime, it was back to the old policy. "While these discussions continue, there is no change in NYPD policies, procedures, or testing protocols regarding the use of Marijuana by uniformed members of the service," the spokesperson announced.

International

Colombian Coca, Cocaine Production Fell Slightly Last Year, Drug Czar's Office Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported Thursday that Colombia had seen slight reductions in coca cultivation and cocaine production in 2021. Estimated coca cultivation dropped from 600,000 acres to 578,000, while estimated cocaine production dropped from 994 tons in 2020 to 972 tons last year. Despite billions of dollars in US anti-drug and counter-insurgency funding over the past several decades, Colombia remains one of the world's top cocaine producer, with leftist rebel factions, former rightist paramilitaries, and criminal gangs competing earn black market profits from the trade. ONDCP also reported that Peruvian cocaine production and coca cultivation dropped slightly as well last year, but production was up slightly in Bolivia, leaving global cocaine production at near record levels.

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