Breaking News:Dangerous Delays: What Washington State (Re)Teaches Us About Cash and Cannabis Store Robberies [REPORT]

Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

MS MedMJ Sales Begin, Myanmar Opium Production Increases, More... (1/27/23)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill is cruising right along, Hong Kong bans CBD as a "dangerous drug," and more.

Opium production is Myanmar has jumped dramatically since the military coup nearly a year ago. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Keeps Advancing. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 100, has won approval in the House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee Thursday. That's the fourth committee to approve it in the House. Meanwhile, a companion bill in the Senate was approved by the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.

Ohio Bill Would Protect Drivers with THC in Their Systems. State Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) has filed Senate Bill 26, which would protect drivers from facing charges for having THC in their system as long as they can prove they were not impaired. The bill would remove the per se limits for marijuana and marijuana metabolites for the purpose of determining whether the driver was Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI). Without a set per se level (where the state assumes one is intoxicated), the bill effectively removes the automatic license suspension for those caught with THC in their systems.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Sales Have Begun in Mississippi. Nearly a year after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, the first legal sales have taken place. The first sales occurred Wednesday at The Cannabis Company in Brookhaven and at two Oxford dispensaries, Hybrid Relief and Star Buds. More than 1,700 patients are currently enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program. Voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020, only to have it invalidated by the state Supreme Court. The legislature then passed a bill authorizing it.

International

Hong Kong Bans CBD as "Dangerous Drug." As of next Wednesday, Hong Kong will ban CBD, a cannabinoid that does not produce the same psychoactive effects as its more potent fellow cannabinoid, THC. "Starting from February 1, cannabidiol, aka CBD, will be regarded as a dangerous drug and will be supervised and managed by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,"customs intelligence officer Au-Yeung Ka-lun said ."As of then, transporting CBD for sale, including import and export, as well as producing, possessing and consuming CBD, will be illegal,"he added.

Mexican Senator Will File Bill to Legalize Natural Psychedelics for Treatment of Mental Health Problems. Sen. Alejandra Lagunes of the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) said Wednesday she will present a bill to legalize and regulate natural psychedelics for the treatment of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. She made the comments at the Intercultural Forum on Entheogenic Medicine, which was held in the federal Senate."It’s scientifically proven that psilocybin from psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline from peyote, DMT from ayahuasca and the Colorado River toad are not drugs. They have a high therapeutic potential, low toxicity and don’t create physical dependence or abuse,"she said.

Myanmar Opium Production Booming After Coup, UNODC Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a new report that opium production is up 33 percent since the military took over the government in February 2021. Farmers in parts of the country have "little option" but to grow opium, reversing years of efforts to reduce poppy planting, said UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas. said "At times like these many farmers see opium as particularly attractive – given predictable demand and the fact that brokers will typically buy the entire crop at the farm gate," said International Crisis Group Myanmar advisor Richard Horsey.

Drug Decrim Bills Filed in MA, NY; Colombia to Reduce Forced Coca Eradication, More... (1/26/23)

Delaware bills to legalize marijuana are moving, a North Carolina medical marijuana bill is filed, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. The Petro government is moving away from forced eradication efforts. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Development Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1, which would legalize marijuana. The vote comes just one day after another committee approved House Bill 2, which would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Rep. Ed Osienski (D), sponsor of the bills, said he expected House floor votes in March.

DC Council Files Bill to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales. Despite an ongoing congressional ban blocking the District of Columbia from allowing legal marijuana sales, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and six other council members have introduced a revised bill, Bill 25-0052,  to create a regulated legal marijuana commerce market. DC voters legalized marijuana in 2014, but the congressional rider in place since then has thwarted efforts to allow legal sales. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature. It also creates a regulatory agency, which would approve licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, microbusinesses, retailers, and testing facilities, and sets a tax rate of up to 13 percent (6 percent for medical marijuana).

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina GOP Senators File Medical Marijuana Bill. On the first day bills could be filed in the new General Assembly session, Senators Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) filed Senate Bill 3, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. Known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the bill allows the use of medical marijuana for a specified list of debilitating conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The pair filed a similar bill last year that passed the Senate but never got any traction in the House.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Samantha Montaño (D) has filed HD 2741, which would eliminate a section of state stature that prescribes criminal penalties for drug possession. Instead of fines or jail, people caught with drugs would be required to participate in "a needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any substance use disorder and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." Anyone who provided proof they had completed a screening within 45 days would see their citations dismissed.

New York Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2340, that would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for drug possession while also creating a task force that’d be responsible for studying and making recommendations about additional reforms. Under the bill, people caught with drugs could either pay a $50 fine or take part in a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." The bill also calls for a drug decriminalization task force that would be charged with making "recommendations for reforming state laws, regulations and practices so that they align with the stated goal of treating substance use disorder as a disease, rather than a criminal behavior."

International

Colombia Will Reduce Forced Coca Eradication Efforts. The government of President Gustavo Petro announced Tuesday that it will be reducing coca eradication efforts in what would be a major shift of policy for Colombia. A new National Policy will reduce forced eradication efforts by 60 percent as the government experiments with alternative approaches to the coca cultivation problem. The Petro government is considering implementing a program agreed to a part of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC that provides subsidies to coca farmers in exchange for voluntary eradication. Although that agreement was part of the deal, it was never implemented by former President Duque, who opposed the overall treaty. 

Asset Forfeiture Reform at the Statehouse 2023 [FEATURE]

Civil asset forfeiture -- the police seizing cash or property from people without first obtaining a criminal conviction -- rankles Americans' sense of fundamental fairness, and legislators around the country have been picking up on that. According to the Institute for Justice, 37 states have reformed their civil forfeiture laws since 2014, although only four -- Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, and North Carolina -- have entirely abolished the practice.

Banning civil forfeiture is one thing; getting law enforcement to actually abide by state-level bans is another, primarily because there is a loophole, the federal Equitable Sharing program which allows prosecutors to hand cases off to the federal government to prosecute. The feds then share as much as 80 percent of the proceeds of the seizure with the local law enforcement entity. (Joint task force busts also allow state and local police to tap into equitable sharing.)

And the feds are pursuing asset forfeiture aggressively. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a July 2017 policy directive directing federal prosecutors to ramp up seizures with or without a criminal conviction and even in states where civil forfeiture is banned. That Trump-era policy remains in effect to this day.

Eight states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio -- have passed legislation aimed at shutting down equitable sharing schemes.

This year, both the number of states banning civil asset forfeiture and the number of states taking aim at the equitable sharing end-run around state laws could increase, with pushes going on in several states. Here are the states where civil asset forfeiture reform bills are in the works (with a tip of the hat to the 10th Amendment Center):

Colorado

Three House Republicans have filed House Bill 1086, which would bar civil asset forfeiture and instead require a criminal conviction before forfeiture could proceed. It also addresses the "policing for profit" motive for asset seizures by sending half of all proceeds to the general fund of the governmental body with authority over the seizing law enforcement agency, a quarter to a behavioral health fund, and a quarter to a law enforcement grant fund. Currently, seizing agencies can keep up to half the funds, with another 25 percent going to the law enforcement grant fund. The bill also removes the state from the federal equitable sharing program. The bill is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

Mississippi

Filed by Rep. Dana Criswell (R),House Bill 622 would abolish civil asset forfeiture in the state and instead require a criminal conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture in most cases. The bill would also effectively get Mississippi out of the federal equitable sharing program and it would eliminate the "policing for profit" motive in civil asset forfeiture by requiring that forfeiture funds be deposited in the state's general fund. Under current state law, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100 percent of seized assets. The bill is currently before the House Judiciary B Committee.

New Hampshire

GOP Reps. Dan McGuire and Rep. Daniel Popovici-Muller have filed House Bill 593, which would require a criminal conviction in most drug cases before asset forfeiture could proceed. (The state has a specific asset forfeiture process for drug offenses, which constitute the vast majority of seizures.) The bill also bars resort to the federal equitable sharing program to circumvent state law, except for a rather sizeable loophole allowing it for seizures by joint drug task forces. The bill is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New York

Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D) and eight Democratic cosponsors have filed Assembly Bill 641, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state and allow asset forfeiture only if "prosecuting authority secures a conviction of a crime that authorizes the forfeiture of property and the prosecuting authority establishes by clear and convincing evidence the property is an instrumentality of or proceeds derived directly from the crime for which the state secured a conviction." It would also require that forfeiture proceeds go into the general fund; under current law, police can keep up to 60 percent. And it would effectively exit the state from the federal equitable sharing program unless the amount seized was more than $20,000. Most forfeitures fall beneath that line. The bill is now before the Assembly Codes Committee.

CO Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed, Czech Legal Pot Bill Coming in March, More... (1/25/23)

A pair of Delaware marijuana legalization bills are moving, Ukraine patients and veterans beseech the parliament to act on a pending medical marijuana bill, and more.

Marijuana legalization is on the agend in Delaware and the Czech Republic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Regulation Bill Advances. One of a pair of bills that aim to legalize marijuana has passed its first committee hurdle. House Bill 2, which deals with taxation and developing rules for the legal marijuana industry, passed the House Revenue and Finance Committee on a 7-2 vote Tuesday. The other bill in the package sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski (D), House Bill 1, is getting a hearing today. That bill legalizes marijuana. (Update: House Bill 1 was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee today.) Last year, the legislature passed the basic marijuana legalization bill only to see it vetoed by Gov. John Carney (D), but narrowly defeated the regulation bill. This year, Democrats are in a stronger position and could override a gubernatorial veto.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture and Further Opt State Out of Federal Program. Three Republican lawmakers have filed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture and replace it with a criminal process requiring a conviction before asset forfeiture could proceed. The measure, House Bill 1086, would also make it more difficult for law enforcement to do an end run around state law by handing cases off to the feds, who then return most of the seized funds back to the originating law enforcement agency. The bill also reduces the percentage of seized funds that law enforcement agencies can get under state forfeiture from 50 percent to 25 percent.

International

Czech Marijuana Legalization Bill to Be Presented in March. A draft marijuana legalization bill should be ready by the end of March, anti-drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril said. The bill will cover rules for cultivation, production of marijuana products, distribution, sale, and export to other countries. Voboril said he wanted the new marijuana regime in place next year. There are currently plans to create a registry of consumers, small producers, or marijuana associations, but talks in working group set up by the prime minister are ongoing.

Ukraine Patients', Human Rights, and Veterans' Groups Call for Legal Medical Marijuana. A bill that would legalize the medical use of marijuana (No. 7457) has been sitting before parliament for the past six months, and now patient, veteran, and human rights groups are appealing to members of Parliament to move on it. Some 89 groups have joined the appeal. "The patients' community has been fighting for six years to ensure that people with serious illnesses can relieve pain with medicines based on medical cannabis. These are patients with epilepsy, cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, multiple sclerosis and PTSD. Such treatment is a normal practice in more than 50 countries of the world. Today, our patients abroad can receive medicines based on medical cannabis, it is necessary to give them such an opportunity in Ukraine," said Inna Ivanenko, the executive director of the Patients of Ukraine Charitable Foundation.

WA Bill Would Recriminalize Drug Possession, MA Natural Psychedelics Decrim Bill Filed, More... (1/24/23)

Hawaii is getting on the fentanyl test strip decriminalization bandwagon, an Arizona bill would set aside taxpayer funds to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and more.

Massachusetts is the latest state to see a bill filed to decriminalize "natural entheogens." (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Arizona Magic Mushroom Research Bill Filed. A bipartisan bill to fund research into the potential benefits of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms has been introduced in the House. House Bill 2486 would provide $30 million to study how the mushrooms could help with conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The measure would also prioritize using veterans, first responders, and frontline healthcare workers as research subjects.

Massachusetts Bills to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics Filed. Identical bills to decriminalize the possession of natural psychedelics such as ayahuasca, ibogaine, magic mushrooms, and mescaline (but not peyote) have been filed in the House and Senate. The measure, known as An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, is House Bill 1450 and Senate Bill 949. The state-level bills come after several cities in the state, including Cambridge and Somerville, voted to decriminalize magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. Under the bills, "The possession, ingestion, obtaining, growing, giving away without financial gain to natural persons 18 years of age or older, and transportation of no more than two grams of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, and mescaline," would be legalized.

Harm Reduction

Hawaii Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips Filed. The Hawaii Island Fentanyl Task Force and state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura (D) have partnered to file Senate Bill 671, which would legalize fentanyl test strips. The test strips are currently classified as drug paraphernalia, and this bill would redefine drug paraphernalia to exclude them. Similar bills have been filed in the House.

Sentencing

Washington State Bill Would Recriminalize Drug Possession. After the state Supreme Court threw out the state's felony drug possession law in 2021 because it did not require that someone knowingly possessed an illicit drug, the legislature last year passed interim legislation making drug possession a misdemeanor. But that legislation is only valid until July. After that, if the legislature fails to come up with a permanent solution, drug possession will no longer be a crime in the state. So now, Rep Jacqueline Maycumber (R) has filed House Bill 1415, which would permanently make drug possession a misdemeanor. Maycumber says criminalizing drug possession is desirable because being arrested by the police forces people who "need help" by forcing them into drug court, a therapeutic court, or some kind of drug treatment. The bill is currently before the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee.

DE Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed, NM Bill Would Increase Fentanyl Penalties, More... (1/23/23)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill continues to move, a New Hampshire bill that would legalize DMT gets a hearing, and more.

This could finally be the year Delaware legalizes weed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed. Last year, Gov. John Carney (D) vetoed a marijuana legalization bill and legislative Democrats lacked the votes to override it, but this year, with renewed Democratic strength in the legislature, the push is on again. Rep. Ed Osienski (D), who has led the effort for years, has now filed a pair of marijuana legalization bills, House Bill 1 and House Bill 2. The former would legalize marijuana, while the latter would regulate the industry. Committee hearings on the bills will be held this week.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second Committee Vote. A bill to legalize marijuana, House File 100, continues to move. It passed its second committee vote last Friday, being approved by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee on a voice vote, with amendments. It still faces up to a dozen committee votes before it reaches the House floor.

Opiates and Opioids

New Mexico GOP Lawmakers Seek to Increase Fentanyl Penalties. Reps. William Rehm (R), Randall Pettigrew (R) and Stefani Lord (R) have filed House Bill 60, which attempts to address the state's fentanyl problem by increasing penalties for possessing specified amounts of the drug. The bill would increase prison sentences for fentanyl possession by three, five, or seven years, depending on the quantity. If someone possessed more than 25 pills, three years would be added; the seven-year increase would kick in if more than 75 pills were found .The bill is scheduled to be heard first by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, but a date for the hearing hadn't been set.

Psychedelics

New Hampshire Bill Would Legalize DMT. A bill that would legalize dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca, got a hearing in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last week. The measure, House Bill 216, would exempt dimethyltryptamine or DMT from the controlled drug act. It is sponsored by Rep. Matthew Santonastaso (R). Speakers at the hearing cited the drug's religious use as well as its potential to help people dealing with PTSD and help people overcome addictions. The state police testified in opposition to the bill. No vote was taken.

VA Lawmakers Nix Medical Psilocybin, SC MedMJ Bills Filed, More... (1/20/23)

A Montana bill would block child welfare workers from removing children simply because of a parent's drug use, San Francisco is ready to move forward on safe injection sites, and more.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is now pushing for safe injection sites. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Sees Second Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A bipartisan medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act (HB 3486/SB 423), has been filed in both houses this week. It would allow physicians to recommend marijuana to patients with debilitating medical conditions and have them purchase it from state-licensed and -regulated businesses. This is the second medical marijuana bill filed this year. The first, the No Patient Left Alone Act (HB 3215) is similar, but would allow dispensaries to grow their own product. The Compassionate Care Act got through the House last year only to die in the Senate.

Psychedelics

Virginia GOP Lawmakers Block Bill Legalizing Magic Mushrooms for Medical Use. A bill that would allow the use of magic mushrooms for medical purposes, House Bill 1513, has been killed by a subcommittee vote of the House Committee for the Courts of Justice. The bill would have allowed doctors to prescribe the drug for the treatment of depression, PTSD, or end of life anxiety. A bill that would direct Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to create a psilocybin study committee remains alive, however.

Child Welfare

Montana Bill Would Block Child Removals Based Solely on Parental Substance Use. An omnibus child protective reforms bill, House Bill 37, aimed at making the removal of children from parental households more difficult includes a provision that bars child welfare workers from removing a child for neglect or abuse based only on "substance use by a parent or guardian, disorderly living conditions, other factors closely related to economic status, or a child's obesity." The GOP-championed bill came after a year of study in the bipartisan Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee. It passed the House Judiciary Committee Friday and now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Mayor Looking Again at Safe Injection Sites. Mayor London Breed (D) said Wednesday that she is working with Supervisor Hillary Ronen (D) to undo a city law that is an obstacle to nonprofits setting up safe injection sites in the city. Breed and other city officials say they are ready to move forward with privately-funded sites, but to do so, the Board of Supervisors will have to repeal a 2020 ordinance that prohibits safe injection sites. While city politicians had been fearful of a federal reaction to a safe injection site, they have been impressed by New York City's pair of safe injection sites that have operated for more than a year without federal harassment. "The Biden administration and the Newsom administration… are not going to throw San Franciscans in jail or cut off our federal funding because we're saving lives and stopping open-air drug use," Ronen told city staffers.

More Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills Filed, SD MedMJ Expansion Bill Advances, More... (1/19/23)

The US Virgin Islands legalizes marijuana, a Mississippi fentanyl test strip bill is moving, and more.

Reefer in paradise. The US Virgin Islands have legalized marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization, Expungement Bills. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) has signed into law a pair of bills legalizing marijuana and setting up an expungement process for people with marijuana convictions. "From the beginning of the Bryan-Roach Administration, we have worked towards the legalization of the adult use of cannabis, and today, with the hard work of the members of the 34th Legislature and prior Legislatures and the efforts of my team, we are finally here and finally signing into law the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act," the governor said.

Separately, the governor also proclaimed that "all criminal convictions for the simple possession of marijuana" are fully and completely pardoned. The legalization bill allows people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of buds, 14 grams of concentrates, and one ounce of marijuana products such as edibles and ointments. The bill has no provision for home cultivation, except for people who use marijuana for religious purposes. It also creates a regulatory agency for marijuana commerce and sets a minimum 18 percent tax on dispensary sales, and it includes several equity components.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Bill to Allow for Wider Use of Medical Marijuana Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill that expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use to include PTSD, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma, Senate Bill 1was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday and now heads for a Senate floor vote. The bill came out of the "Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee,"which met in the interim after the 2022 legislative session. That committee is made up of state lawmakers and officials, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and industry experts from across the state. The bill passed the committee on a 6-1 vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture and Opt State Out of Federal Program in Most Cases. Rep. Dana Criswell (R) has filed House Bill 622, which would end civil asset forfeiture and effectively opt the state out of a program that allows police to do an end run around state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the federal government (and getting a big cut of the proceeds). The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary B Committee.

New Hampshire Bill Would Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture Process and Take Steps to Opt Out of Federal Program. Reps. Dan McGuire (R) and Daniel Popovici-Muller (R) have filed House Bill 593, which would require a prior criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could occur in most cases. The state has a special asset forfeiture process for drug offenses, and this bill would require prosecutors to obtain a criminal conviction in most cases before proceeding with asset forfeiture. It would also take steps to opt the state out of a program that allows police to do an end run around state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the federal government (and getting a big cut of the proceeds). The bill is now before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Drug Policy Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 7, which would decriminalize fentanyl test strips by removing them from the state's definition of drug paraphernalia. Under current state law, possession of fentanyl testing devices is punishable by up to six months in jail. Committee Chairman Lee Yancey (R) said the measure is not encouraging drug use, but aimed at saving lives. "We're just trying to prevent a mistake from becoming a fatal mistake," Yancey said. The bill must pass the full House by February 9 to stay alive.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A San Diego deputy has some bad habits, a Florida jail guard was peddling pot brownies to prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

In Tampa, a Hillsborough County sheriff's detention officer was arrested January 5 for selling marijuana edibles to inmates at the Falkenburg Road Jail. Officer Terry Bradford, Jr., 25, was selling "cannabis-laced edibles" and "other contraband" and was caught with more than a pound of brownies individually packaged for sale. He went down after an inmate snitched him out. He's now been fired, as well as charged with introducing contraband into a detention facility and possession of a controlled substance.

In San Diego, a San Diego County sheriff's deputy was arrested January 7 on a felony warrant for allegedly committing burglaries and possessing drugs. Deputy Cory Richey, a 16-year-veteran of the department, faces 13 counts of burglary and three of drug possession. Authorities said the investigation continues.

In Phoenix, a Maricopa County corrections officer was arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of smuggling fentanyl into the Lower Buckeye Jail. Officer Andres Salazar, 26, was caught with nearly a hundred fentanyl pills in the jail parking lot and is now charged with possession of a narcotic, promoting prison contraband and transport for sale. He is currently on administrative leave.

Another Good Pot Poll, OR Bill to Re-Criminalize Drug Possession, More... (1/18/23)

Oregon Republicans want to undo the will of the voters on drug decriminalization, Mexico's former top security official is now on trial in New York for taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel, and more.

Former Mexican Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna is now on trial in NYC on drug corruption charges. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Another Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization, Social Equity. A new poll from Data for Progress has two-thirds (65 percent) support for marijuana legalization -- in line with a number of recent pot polls. Some 75 percent of Democrats were in favor, as were 67 percent of independents, and even 52 percent of Republicans. The poll also asked about two measures of social equity and found support for both. Some 57 percent of respondents said they would support reserving an initial round of business licenses for people negatively impacted by the war on drugs, while 65 percent said they would support directing a large portion of marijuana tax funds for "community-based initiative programs, such as job placement and skill services, substance use treatment programs, and financial literacy courses."

Drug Policy

Oregon Republicans File Bill to Undo Voter-Approved Drug Decriminalization. Led by Rep. Lily Morgan (R), a group of Republican lawmakers have filed House Bill 2973 to "repeal Measure 110's dangerous drug legalization. "Measure 110 was the voter-approved 2020 initiative that decriminalized -- not legalized -- the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and directed that a portion of marijuana tax revenues go to support drug prevention and treatment. The bill is now before the House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care.

Law Enforcement

Trial for Mexico's Former Top Security Official on Drug Corruption Charges Now Underway in New York City. Genaro Garcia Luna, who served as then-President Felipe Calderon's security secretary between 2006 and 2012, went on trial in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday. He is accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for helping its members move drugs and avoid capture. This was precisely the period when Calderon accelerated his country's war on drug by deploying the military, starting an era of deadly cartel wars that has yet to let up. Garcia Luna moved to the US after leaving office and was arrested here in 2019. The trial is expected to last for around eight weeks and should uncover the inner workings of the cartels' strategies for continuing to be able to operate despite the government's declared war against them.

Medical Marijuana Update

The state legislative season is upon us, and medical marijuana keeps popping up at statehouses, and in Congress.

National

GOP Congressman Files Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients. The first piece of marijuana reform legislation in the new Congress is a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess firearms. Sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), along with Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), the Second Amendment Protection Act seeks to amend federal law around the "sale, purchase, shipment, receipt, or possession of a firearm or ammunition by a user of medical marijuana." Under current law, people who use marijuana can't buy or possess guns because they're considered to be "an unlawful user of or addicted to" a federally controlled substance. Mooney filed a similar bill in 2019, but it did not advance.

North Dakota

North Dakota Senate Approves Bill to Raise Patients' 30-Day THC Limit. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2068, which increases the amount of THC in products such as tinctures and lotions that patients may purchase in a 30-day period. The limit is currently 4,000 milligrams, and the bill originally would have doubled that to 8,000 milligrams, but bill sponsor Sen. Kristin Roers (R-Fargo) amended it down to 6,000 milligrams after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 for a "do not pass" recommendation. The measure now heads to the House.

Ohio

Ohio Bill Would Revamp State's Medical Marijuana Program. State Sens. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) last week filed Senate Bill 9, which would let doctors recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating condition, let growers expand their operations, and expand the number of dispensaries in the state. Similar legislation stalled in the Assembly last year. The bill would also rationalize oversight under the sole purview of the Department of Commerce. Currently, three separate state agencies regulate medical marijuana, which some in the industry say is burdensome.

South Carolina

South Carolina Sees Two Medical Marijuana Bills Pre-Filed. With the legislative just getting underway, lawmakers in Columbia have already pre-filed two separate medical marijuana bills. The Put Patients First Act (House Bill 3226) is cosponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and freshman Republican Rep. Jay Kilmartin. It would make marijuana available to registered patients with a doctor's recommendation. The bill would allow caregivers and dispensaries to "cultivate, grow, and dispense marijuana for medical use." The other bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3486) also has bipartisan sponsors and would "authorize the use of cannabis products by patients with debilitating medical conditions who are under the care of a physician, with exceptions."

South Dakota

South Dakota Bill Would Bar Pregnant or Breast-Feeding Women from Access to Medical Marijuana. Anti-marijuana and anti-abortion zealot Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) has filed a bill that would block the Health Department from issuing medical marijuana cards to pregnant or breast-feeding women, House Bill 1053. The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. Deutsch served as treasurer for Protecting South Dakota Kids, a ballot measure committee that successfully opposed the 2022 marijuana legalization initiative and he also is a past president of South Dakota Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Move Closer to Legalizing Medical Marijuana. For years, the Republican-controlled legislature has fended off any and all efforts to advance marijuana reforms, but it could be different this year. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has said that he thinks a bill to create a medical marijuana program in the state could be passed this legislative session as long as regulations are put forward to ensure it's for those in serious pain. "Our caucus is getting pretty close on medical marijuana," LeMahieu said, marking the first time the Republican Senate leader has expressed support for the notion. Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos has in recent years expressed support for medical marijuana, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long called for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Two-thirds of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana and a super-majority of 80 percent support medical marijuana.

NH Bill Would Legalize Psychedelics, Federal Bill Would Ensure Gun Rights for MedMJ Patients, More... (1/17/23)

A New York bill would end civil asset forfeiture, a Utah bill would decriminalize fentanyl test strips, and more.

Evo Morales may no longer be president of Bolivia, but he still has his eye on the region. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

GOP Congressman Files Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients. The first piece of marijuana reform legislation in the new Congress is a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess firearms. Sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), along with Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), the Second Amendment Protection Act seeks to amend federal law around the "sale, purchase, shipment, receipt, or possession of a firearm or ammunition by a user of medical marijuana." Under current law, people who use marijuana can't buy or possess guns because they're considered to be "an unlawful user of or addicted to"a federally controlled substance. Mooney filed a similar bill in 2019, but it did not advance.

Psychedelics

New Hampshire Bill to Legalize Possession of Psychedelics Filed. Rep. Kevin Verville (R) has filed House Bill 328, which states that the "possession or use of a hallucinogenic drug by a person 21 years of age or older shall not be an offense."It would also reduce penalties for LSD manufacturing and possession by people under 21. The bill does not name specific drugs, but state statute lists mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and LSD as examples of hallucinogenic substances. The bill has been referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

New York Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture and Opt State Out of Federal Forfeiture Program. Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D) and eight Democratic cosponsors have filed Assembly Bill 641, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state and replace it with a criminal process. Passage of the bill would also effectively opt the state out of a program that allows police to circumvent more strict state forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds. Under the bill seizures could occur only if the "prosecuting authority secures a conviction of a crime that authorizes the forfeiture of property and the prosecuting authority establishes by clear and convincing evidence the property is an instrumentality of or proceeds derived directly from the crime for which the state secured a conviction." The bill would also require that seized funds be deposited in the state's general fund. Under current law, police can keep up to 60 percent of asset forfeiture proceeds, creating an incentive for "policing for profit." The bill is now before the Assembly Codes Committee.

Harm Reduction

Utah Bill to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips Filed. State Sen. Jenifer Plumb (D) has filed Senate Bill 86, which would legalize the use and possession of fentanyl test strips. Under current state law, the test strips are criminalized as drug paraphernalia, but the bill would create an exemption from liability under the state Controlled Substances Act. Test strips are an increasingly popular harm reduction measure in the fight to reduce fentanyl-related drug overdoses. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

International

Former Bolivian President and Coca Grower Setting Up Regional Organization. Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, forced out of office in the wake of disputed elections in 2019, will set up the headquarters of his plurinationalist, indigenist movement in the region in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The movement will convene next week with coca growers from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, as well as Bolivia as Morales commences what he described as a struggle for the "plurinational peoples of Latin America." Continuing strife in Peru after the arrest and jailing of leftist President Castillo in December, as well as continuing strife in Bolivia's Santa Cruz province after the arrest of rightist Gov. Luis Fernando Camacho have placed Bolivian coca growers under unprecedented hardships. Morales rose to power as a Bolivian coca grower leader and still controls six coca grower unions in the Chapare.

Bolivia Celebrates Coca Leaf Chewing Day, WA Psilocybin Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/13/23)

An Ohio bill would revamp the state's medical marijuana program, New York's governor signs a bill mandating that the state immediately re- or deschedule Schedule I drugs if federal law changes, and more.

chewing coca leaf in Bolivia (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Ohio Bill Would Revamp State's Medical Marijuana Program. State Sens. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) this week filed Senate Bill 9, which would let doctors recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating condition, let growers expand their operations, and expand the number of dispensaries in the state. Similar legislation stalled in the Assembly last year. The bill would also rationalize oversight under the sole purview of the Department of Commerce. Currently, three separate state agencies regulate medical marijuana, which some in the industry say is burdensome.

Psychedelics

New York Governor Signs Bill Descheduling Schedule I Drug if Federal Law Changes. Late last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law a bill mandating that the state immediately deschedule or reschedule Schedule I drugs such as MDMA and psilocybin if they are reclassified under federal law, AO 9722. The bills passed both houses with unanimous support and are designed to "provide for parity between the New York State schedule and the federal schedule when certain drugs are approved for medical treatment."

Washington Bill Would Allow Psilocybin Services for Adults. State Sen. Jesse Salomon (D) and 20 bipartisan cosponsors have filed Senate Bill 5263, which would legalize and regulate the psychedelic for people 21 and over. The bill aims to "facilitate the establishment of safe, legal, and affordable psilocybin service centers to provide citizens of Washington who are at least 21 years of age with opportunities for supported psilocybin experiences for wellness and personal growth" and to "improve the physical, mental, and social well-being of all people in this state, and to reduce the prevalence of behavioral health disorders among adults in this state by providing for supported adult use of psilocybin under the supervision of a trained and licensed psilocybin service facilitator." The bill would create a Washington Psilocybin Advisory Board and put the state Department of Health in charge of licensing and developing regulations for the new industry.

International

Bolivia Celebrates Coca Leaf Chewing Day. Bolivians celebrated their heritage Wednesday by honoring the centuries-old tradition of chewing coca leaves during Akuliku commemorations to mark the country's relationship with the traditional crop. Bolivians chew the leaf as a mild stimulant, to help with altitude sickness, and as a form of medicine for certain illnesses. At the Akuliku Festival, the coca leaf was also available reformulated into drinks and soaps."Since my grandparents' time we chewed the coca leaf. We have always used coca because it is a sacred leaf. This coca leaf is good for us, it is highly valued," explained one attendee.

GOP Rep Wants to Use Military Force Against Mexican Cartels, MN Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (1/12/23)

A North Dakota bill would increase monthly THC limits for medical marijuana patients, a South Dakota bill would bar pregnant or breast-feeding women from getting medical marijuana cards, and more.

The Mexican military can't handle the cartels and the US military should help, a GOP congressman says. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A Democratic marijuana legalization bill, House File 100, was approved on a voice vote in the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday and has now been referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, the second of what could be as many as a dozen committee hurdles. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces in public and up to five pounds at a residence, as well as allowing the gifting of amounts up to those limits. It also allows for the home cultivation of four mature and four immature plants, and it would set up a system of taxed and licensed marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Senate Approves Bill to Raise Patients' 30-Day THC Limit. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2068, which increases the amount of THC in products such as tinctures and lotions that patients may purchase in a 30-day period. The limit is currently 4,000 milligrams, and the bill originally would have doubled that to 8,000 milligrams, but bill sponsor Sen. Kristin Roers (R-Fargo) amended it down to 6,000 milligrams after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 for a "do not pass" recommendation. The measure now heads to the House.

South Dakota Bill Would Bar Pregnant or Breast-Feeding Women from Access to Medical Marijuana. Anti-marijuana and anti-abortion zealot Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) has filed a bill that would block the Health Department from issuing medical marijuana cards to pregnant or breast-feeding women, House Bill 1053. The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. Deutsch served as treasurer for Protecting South Dakota Kids, a ballot measure committee that successfully opposed the 2022 marijuana legalization initiative and he also is a past president of South Dakota Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.

Foreign Policy

GOP Congressman Will File Bill to Authorize Use of Military Force Against Mexican Cartels. US Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) said over the weekend that he plans to introduce a bill that would authorize the use of certain US military capabilities against drug trafficking organization in Mexico. "They are defeating the Mexican army. These are paramilitary entities with billions and billions at their disposal," he said during an appearance on Fox's Sunday Morning Futures. But he specified that his proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Forces would not include placing the US military in combat in Mexico: "I'm not talking about US troops. But I am talking about cyber, drones, intelligence assets, naval assets." Former president Donald Trump also recently called for using US special forces, cyber warfare and other capabilities to "inflict maximum damage on cartel leadership, infrastructure, and operations." The Trump administration also considered designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, and a bill to the effect has been filed in the Senate.

Eleven States Where Psychedelic Reform Bills Are on the Agenda This Year [FEATURE]

This year's state legislative season is just beginning, and there is already evidence that the psychedelic renaissance now underway is reaching into statehouses across the land. In at least eleven states, reform bills ranging from therapeutic psilocybin to the decriminalization of natural psychedelics have already been filed, and more states are likely to join the list as the year goes on.

What started with a successful local psilocybin decriminalization initiative in Denver in 2019 has now spread to a number of cities, including Oakland and Santa Cruz, California; Cambridge, Somerville, and Northampton, Massachusetts; Seattle; and Washington, DC. At the state level, Oregon led the way with the 2020 passage of Measure 109, which both decriminalized psilocybin and created a framework for its therapeutic administration, and Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs, including psychedelics. And in November, Colorado voters passed Measure 122, which decriminalizes natural psychedelics and creates a framework for psilocybin "healing centers."

Here (with a tip of the hat to Marijuana Moment) is what could be coming this year:

California

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has filed Senate Bill 58, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin, and psilocyn, but not synthetic psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA. A previous version of the bill included those synthetic psychedelics. That bill passed the Senate only to die at the last minute in the Assembly.

Colorado

After voters approved the legalization of natural psychedelics and the creation of psilocybin "healing centers," Gov. Jared Polis (D) is calling for the legislature to pass enabling legislation "to set it up in a way that prevents any negative consequences and honors the will of the voters." It is unclear what Polis is seeking, but he has previously said he was "excited" about the reforms and called psychedelics a "promising" treatment possibility for some mental health conditions.

Connecticut

Rep. David Michel (D) has filed House Bill 5012, "[t]o allow the use of psilocybin for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, including, but not limited to, the provision of physical, mental or behavioral health care." That bill has been referred to the joint Public Health Committee. Michel told Marijuana Moment this week that he will also cosponsor a psychedelic decrim bill with Rep. Josh Elliott (D).

Illinois

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D) has filed House Bill 1, the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens (CURE) Act, which would remove psilocybin from the state's list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing it. The measure would also allow expungement of certain psilocybin-related convictions and create an advisory board for psilocybin therapeutic services.

Missouri

Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) plans to file a revised psychedelics bill after a broader psychedelic reform bill he filed last year died in the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee. The new version will be a narrowly tailored bill to allow people with serious mental health conditions therapeutic access to psilocybin.

Minnesota

Rep. Andy Smith (D) has announced that he is "currently working on a bill forming a psychedelic medicine task force so Minnesotans can have access to these life affirming treatments. For decades scientific research into the positive effects of psychedelic medicine has been muzzled by the 'war on drugs,' but that is [starting] to change," he said. The bill has not yet been filed and the text is not yet available.

Montana.

Two bills are currently being drafted by legislative staff at the request of members. LC 1208, requested by Sen. Jill Cohenour (D)would "[l]egalize psilocybin use for PTSD/mental health treatment," while LC 2311, requested by Rep. George Nikolakakos (R) would more incrementally mandate an interim study on the use of psilocybin for the treatment of mental illness.

New Jersey

Last year, Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) filed Senate Bill 2934, which would legalize the possession, home cultivation, and gifting of psilocybin mushrooms by people 21 and over, as well as setting a system of licensed psilocybin services in supervised settings. That bill has been carried over into the current session and now has a companion version, Assembly Bill 4911, in the Assembly filed by three key lawmakers, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Raj Mukherji (D) and Health Committee Chairman Herb Conaway (D).

New York

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D) has pre-filed Assembly Bill 00114, which would legalize the "possession, use, cultivation, production, creation, analysis, gifting, exchange, or sharing by or between natural persons of twenty-one years of age or older of a natural plant or fungus-based hallucinogen." That would include DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin, and psilocyn. The bill would also allow people to use such substances in religious ceremonies or engage in psychedelic services "with or without remuneration."

Oregon

State voters already approved both therapeutic psilocybin and broader drug decriminalization, but legislators have filed a pair of bills aimed at adjusting the psilocybin services program. Senate Bill 303, filed by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner (D), would mandate that psilocybin businesses and therapists collect and report data such as average psilocybin doses and demographics of their client base. Senate Bill 302, filed by Sen. Kim Thatcher (R), would mandate that psilocybin business applicants provide certain information about ownership and location of their operations.

Virginia

Last year, Del. Dawn Adams (D) filed House Bill 898, which would decriminalize a broad array of psychedelics, but the House bumped it to 2023. It's now 2023, and that bill is still alive. Adams has this year also filed House Bill 1315, which would legalize psilocybin possession for people who have an "order" from a health care professional to treat "refractory depression or post-traumatic stress disorder or to ameliorate end-of-life anxiety." The bill would also reduce the penalty for non-medical possession of psilocybin to a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by no more than 30 days in jail. Meanwhile Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D) has pre-filed Senate Bill 932, which would down-schedule psilocybin from Schedule I to Schedule III and create a Virginia Psilocybin Advisory Board to "develop a long-term strategic plan for establishing therapeutic access to psilocybin services and monitor and study federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding psilocybin."

And this is only January.

FL Doc Gets Twenty Years in Unnecessary Drug Test Scheme, IN Marijuana Bills Filed, More... (1/11/23)

Legal adult marijuana sales have begun in Connecticut, a marijuana legalization bill is filed in Tennessee, and more.

Insurance companies were fraudulently billed more than $125 million. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

It's Official: Connecticut Legal Adult Use Marijuana Sales are On. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced the start of adult-use marijuana sales in a Tuesday news release: "The opening of the adult-use cannabis market in Connecticut marks the start of an expanded cannabis industry that prioritizes the safe and equitable regulation of adult-use cannabis, as well as the preservation of the medical marijuana market, which continues to serve nearly 50,000 patients in the state," the statement said. "Today marks a turning point in the injustices caused by the war on drugs, most notably now that there is a legal alternative to the dangerous, unregulated, underground market for cannabis sales," Gov. Lamont said. "Together with our partners in the legislature and our team of professionals at the Department of Consumer Protection, we've carefully crafted a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. I look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure that this industry remains inclusive and safe as it develops."

Indiana Marijuana Bills Filed. The state's legislative season is just getting underway and at least four marijuana reform bills have already been filed. Senate Bill 70, introduced by Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-District 8), would decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Bohacek also introduced Senate Bill 82, which "establishes a defense to operating a vehicle or motorboat with a controlled substance in the person's blood if: (1) the controlled substance is marijuana or a metabolite of marijuana; and (2) the person was not intoxicated." Meanwhile, State Rep. Jake Teshka (R-South Bend) filed House Bill 1039, which would allow for medical marijuana after the drug is removed as a federal Schedule I controlled substance. And House Bill 1065, authored by Rep. Sue Errington (D-District 34), would establish the cannabis compliance advisory committee to review and evaluate certain rules, laws and programs. Last year, 13 marijuana-related bills were filed. None of them went anywhere.

Tennessee Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) has filed House Bill 0085, also known as the "Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act." The bill would legalize the possession and transfer without remuneration of up to 60 grams (slightly more than two ounces) of marijuana by adults and allow the home cultivation of up to 12 plants, as well as creating a system of licensed and regulated commercial marijuana production and sales.

Drug Testing

Florida Doctor Sentenced to 20 Years for Urine Testing Fraud Scheme. Delray Beach osteopathic physician Michael Ligotti has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for approving medically unnecessary urine tests and treatment for alcohol and drug-addicted patients that cost private insurance companies more than $125 million over a decade. Ligotti, who owned a medical clinic in Delray Beach that profited from the scheme, had pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to commit healthcare and wire fraud and was ordered to surrender his Florida medical license.

The 48-year old physician admitted authorizing "fraudulent" urine drug tests for patients at about 50 drug treatment centers, sober homes, and labs in South Florida. In exchange, many of those same patients were recycled through his Delray Beach medical facility, allowing his practice to bill for and profit from redundant drug treatment and testing services. Ligotti also admitted to signing "standing orders" for expensive and unnecessary urine drug tests for patients at the various treatment facilities, including his own clinic.

In turn, the patients' urine specimens were sent to testing laboratories, which then billed private healthcare insurers for the unnecessary urine drug tests. A single test cost thousands of dollars. As a result, between 2011 and 2020, the healthcare insurers were billed more than $746 million for unneeded addiction treatment and urine testing, according to Justice Department prosecutors. In total, the insurers paid about $127 million for fraudulent drug tests and addiction treatment.

Psychedelic Reform Bills Popping Up, No Federal Pot Possession Prisoners, More... (1/10/23)

The Wisconsin GOP may finally be ready to embrace medical marijuana, the US Sentencing Commission says there are no more federal pot possession prisoners, and more.

President Biden met with Mexico's president Monday. Fentanyl was one of the issues on his mind. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Move Closer to Legalizing Medical Marijuana. For years, the Republican-controlled legislature has fended off any and all efforts to advance marijuana reforms, but it could be different this year. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has said that he thinks a bill to create a medical marijuana program in the state could be passed this legislative session as long as regulations are put forward to ensure it's for those in serious pain. "Our caucus is getting pretty close on medical marijuana," LeMahieu said, marking the first time the Republican Senate leader has expressed support for the notion. Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos has in recent years expressed support for medical marijuana, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long called for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Two-thirds of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana and a super-majority of 80 percent support medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Lawmakers in Nearly a Dozen States Have Already Filed Psychedelic Bills. With the legislative season just getting underway this year, lawmakers in nearly a dozen states have already filed psychedelic reform bills, with measures ranging from legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic purposes to broadly decriminalizing natural plants and fungi. The states with psychedelic reform efforts already underway are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Virginia. Click on the link above for details on efforts in each state.

Foreign Policy

White House Readout on Biden's Meeting with Mexican President Vows Cooperation on Fentanyl. As well as general language about strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the White House readout of Monday's meeting between President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also containing language directly pertaining to the smuggling of fentanyl across the US-Mexico border: "The two leaders also reviewed security cooperation under the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities and discussed increased cooperation to prosecute drug traffickers and dismantle criminal networks, disrupt the supply of illicit precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, shut down drug laboratories, and prevent trafficking of drugs, arms, and people across our shared border."

The relationship between US and Mexican drug law enforcers remains fraught in the wake of the October 2020 arrest of former Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos by DEA agents in Los Angeles and his elease two months later in the face of intense pressure from Mexico, with Lopez Obrador accusing the DEA of "fabricating" charges against him.

[Ed: Whether it's possible to interdict cross-border fentanyl shipments in sufficient quantities to affect the prevalence of the substance is not clear, and the history of interdiction is not encouraging. Whether doing so would ultimately reduce prevalence in the US is also not clear, as much of the fentanyl comes from China, and it can be manufactured anywhere including the US.]

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Reports No One in Federal Prison for Simple Marijuana Possession. In a report released Tuesday, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) notes that: "As of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana remained in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons." The USSC also found that the number of people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law has declined from 2,172 in fiscal year 2014 to only 145 in fiscal year 2021. It also found that one state -- Arizona -- largely drove the federal pot possession arrest numbers, accounting for 1,916 convictions in 2014 but dropping to just two in 2021. Those Arizona arrests appear to be linked to anti-immigration campaigns in the state: Federal marijuana possession offenders in the past five years were 71 percent Hispanic and 60 percent non-citizens.

CT Legal Adult Pot Sales Begin Tomorrow, OH Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decrim Bill, More... (1/9/23)

A Mexican judge has blocked the extradition of El Chapo's son to the US, you can now get a license to grow your own marijuana in Missouri, and more.

You can grow your own pot plants in Missouri -- if you get a license from the state. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Adult Marijuana Sales Begin Tomorrow. Adult legal marijuana sales are set to begin tomorrow, January 10. At least nine existing medical marijuana dispensaries have undergone the bureaucratic steps necessary to transition to adult sales tomorrow, with up to another 40 that could open by the end of the year. Initial sales will be limited to a quarter ounce of buds or its equivalent per transaction. The restrictions are in place to ensure adequate supply for medical marijuana patients and will be reviewed over time. Dispensaries in New Haven, Branford, Torrington, Newington, Stamford, Willimantic, Danbury, Montville and Meriden successfully completed the necessary steps to convert to a "hybrid license" and will be allowed to sell to all adults beginning tomorrow.

Missouri Home Cultivation Licenses Now Available. People who want to grow their own under the state's new marijuana legalization regime will have to be licensed to do so, and those licenses are now available. Personal cultivation application forms and instructions are available from the Missouri Cannabis Regulation Division. The license costs $100 and must be renewed annually. People can grow up to six clones, six nonflowering plants, an six flowering plants at the same time. Missouri is the only state to impose a licensing requirement on home growers.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill into Law. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has signed into law House Bill 456, which decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl test strips as part of an effort to reduce overdoses. The new law exempts the test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia. The move makes Ohio the 32nd state to move to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, with a half dozen doing so last year.

International

Mexican Judge Halts Extradition of El Chapo's Son to US. A day after 29 people, including 10 soldiers, died in a wave of violence following his arrest in Culiacan, the extradition of Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, to face charges in the United States has been blocked by a Mexican judge. In the ruling last Friday, the federal judge also suspended a ban on Guzman from communicating with his legal team and family. Guzman faces charges on a US warrant dating back to September 2019. He had been arrested in Culiacan in October 2019 but was quickly released on orders of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador because of violent cartel retaliation.

SC MedMJ Bills, Violence Rocks Mexican City as El Chapo's Son Arrested, More... (1/6/23)

The Mexican cartel leader who escaped during Sunday's Tijuana prison attack has been shot dead, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rejects hair testing for drugs, and more.

No hair testing for truck drivers, the federal regulator says. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Sees Two Medical Marijuana Bills Pre-Filed. With the legislative session set to begin next week, lawmakers in Columbia have already pre-filed two separate medical marijuana bills. The Put Patients First Act (House Bill 3226) is cosponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and freshman Republican Rep. Jay Kilmartin. It would make marijuana available to registered patients with a doctor's recommendation. The bill would allow caregivers and dispensaries to "cultivate, grow, and dispense marijuana for medical use." The other bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3486) also has bipartisan sponsors and would "authorize the use of cannabis products by patients with debilitating medical conditions who are under the care of a physician, with exceptions."

Drug Testing

Federal Regulator Rejects Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has denied a petition calling on the agency to recognize hair samples as an alternative drug-testing method for truckers. The FMCSA was responding to request from an industry association, the Trucking Alliance, to recognize hair testing as a valid form of drug testing. But federal regulations require that truck drivers be tested by urinalysis, and the FMCSA pointed to that language to restate its longstanding position that it has no statutory authority to accept hair testing. Hair testing detects the presence of drugs for months, as opposed to days for urinalysis.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Sees Deadly Clashes as Troops Arrest El Chapo's Son. Mexican Army and National Guard troops successfully arrested Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacan, on Thursday (as opposed to 2019, when they arrested and then released the younger Guzman in the face of cartel threats). But the arrest came at a high cost, as subsequent clashes between Sinaloa cartel forces and the military left 10 soldiers and 19 cartel gunmen dead. The reaction to the bust also included attacks on the Culiacan airport and military helicopters by cartel gunmen, as well as burning buses and private vehicles used to blockade city roadways. The bust comes just days before President Biden is set to visit Mexico and the US-Mexico border.

Mexico Cartel Leader Who Escaped Tijuana Prison During Attack Sunday Killed in Shootout with Cops. Ernesto Alfredo "El Neto" Pinon, the long-imprisoned leader of the Sinaloa cartel affiliate the Mexicles, who escaped prison in Juarez during a deadly attack and breakout on Sunday, was tracked down by intelligence agents and shot and killed in Tijuana on Thursday. At least 19 guards and prisoners were killed in the assault, with another seven people, including police killed in another confrontation Monday. El Neto's killing brings the overall death toll now to 27.

Detroit Legal Adult Marijuana Sales Begin, MN DFL Files Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (1/5/23)

The legislative season is getting underway, here come the marijuana legalization bills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Lawmaker Files Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment. After years of the Republican-dominated state legislature blocking all efforts at marijuana reform, state Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) has filed a constitutional amendment (House Bill 48) that would let the state's voters decide directly whether to legalize marijuana. The amendment would ask voters whether they want to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce and allow for the home cultivation of up to five plants. It does not include provisions for a regulated marijuana market. She has also filed a measure, House Bill 47, that would simply decriminalize possession.

Minnesota DFL Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Nineteen Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL) members of the House filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Fill 100, on Thursday. The measure is largely similar to the legalization bill passed by the House last year, which never got a vote in the Senate. The bill include social equity provisions, expungement provisions, provisions allowing local governments the power to restrict marijuana sales, and an 8 percent sales tax. The bill now heads to the House Commerce Finance and Policy committee, and will likely be put to discussion in various committees.

Virginia GOP Lawmaker Files Bill to Create Regulated Marijuana Market. Del. Keith Hodges (R) has filed a bill to create a regulated marijuana market, House Bill 1464. But some advocates say the measure would gut social equity provisions in favor of providing incentives to corporations to invest in low-income communities. The state currently allows adult-use marijuana possession and home cultivation, but a legal market will not come into being for several years, and the law does not allow the state's existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to adults.

Detroit Adult-Use Marijuana Sales Have Begun. Recreational marijuana sales in Michigan's largest city began on Wednesday, when the House of Dank medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors to recreational buyers. Just hours later, another dispensary, DaCut, similarly opened its doors to recreational buyers. "Going recreational in Detroit is a huge milestone for us," Crystal Jamo, general manager of House of Dank, said. "Just because we've been waiting for it for so long that, like, 'Pinch me, is it real?'"

Philadelphia Safehouse, DOJ Agree to Mediation on Safe Injection Site [FEATURE]

For nearly four years, the Philadelphia nonprofit Safehouse has seen its effort to open a safe injection site in the city stymied by a federal court case brought against it by the Trump administration Justice Department. And although the Trump administration is now history, the Biden Justice Department has continued to pursue the case even as the number of overdose deaths in the city mounts.

The Insite safe injection site in Vancouver. Philadelphia wants one, too. (vch.ca)
But now, Safehouse and the Justice Department (DOJ) have agreed to move their case about the legality of safe injection sites out of a federal district court and into mediation before a federal magistrate, a maneuver that advocates hope can speed up the resolution of the case and get the sites up and operating.

"We agreed with the Department of Justice to move in this direction to reach a settlement and get the lawsuit resolved," Safehouse vice-president Ronda Goldfein told the Philadelphia Inquirer. While declining to further characterize confidential settlement negotiations, she said the group's goals "have not changed" and that Safehouse seeks "a resolution that all parties can live with that give us the opportunity to save lives."

The move comes as the Biden DOJ has hinted at a possible softer stance toward safe injection sites. DOJ did not go to court to block local officials in New York City from allowing two safe injection sites to open in late 2021 or to block state officials from allowing them in early 2022. And DOJ had indicated it was engaged in settlement talks with Safehouse in February 2022.

At that time, DOJ said that it was "evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety."

But that was nearly a year ago, and Safehouse's patience is wearing thin. Just last month, after having repeatedly gone along with DOJ requests for continuances, Safehouse balked. It told the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that it would no longer agree to any additional delays, while the DOJ argued that it needed until February to proceed. The court compromised, requiring that DOJ reveal its position in the lawsuit by January 9.

With the mediation agreement between Safehouse and DOJ, that January 9 date is now moot, but Safehouse is convinced the move will result in a speedier resolution of the case and allow it to finally get into the business of saving lives.

"Since the DOJ commenced this litigation in 2019 until the end of 2021, more than 3,600 lives have been lost in Philadelphia to the opioid overdose crisis. Based on 2022 projections, that number will grow to almost 5,000 deaths," Safehouse said. "Safehouse and those that need its life-saving services have waited long enough."

Meanwhile, there are other signs the federal government may be warming to the harm reduction intervention. In a November report, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service highlighted the "uncertainty" of the federal government's position on safe injection sites and suggested blockages could be overcome by approving an amendment to the annual DOJ funding bill precluding it from spending any funds to go after safe injection sites, much as has been successfully done to protect medical marijuana laws in the states.

And just days before that report was released, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow tacitly endorsed the idea of authorizing safe consumption sites. Research has found that the intervention "has saved a significant [percentage of] patients from overdosing."

Now, if only the DOJ can find a way to get out of the way. Or if it cannot or will not, it will be time to go back to court.

MS Makes Naloxone Available for Free, PA Fentanyl Test Strips Now Decriminalized, More... (1/4/23)

Violence continues in Ciudad Juarez in the wake of a deadly Sunday prison break, Mississippi has created a web site where residents can order free naloxone, and more.

fentanyl test strips (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Mississippi Makes Naloxone Available for Free. After nearly 600 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the last year for which full numbers are available, the state is moving to ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The Department of Health has begun a program under which people need only log onto a state website, answer a few questions, and watch a training video, and the department will then send them a free naloxone kit. Or they can download a voucher and have it filled at a local pharmacy. To apply for the free Narcan, visit odfree.org/get-naloxone.

Pennsylvania Law Decriminalizing Fentanyl Test Strips Now in Effect. A new law, Act 111, that decriminalizes fentanyl test strips went into effect Monday. The law achieves this by amending the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972 to no longer define the test strips as drug paraphernalia. Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables).

International

Sinaloa Cartel Gang Leader Among Those Who Escaped in Ciudad Juarez Prison Attack. Among the 27 prisoners who successfully fled a Ciudad Juarez prison as it was attacked Sunday was Ernesto "El Neto" Pinon, the long-imprisoned leader of the Mexicles, a Juarez gang affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel. The attack and jailbreak left 10 guards and seven prisoners dead, with two escaped prisoner later killed by authorities. Pinon had been jailed at the prison since 2010 on a 224-year sentence for murder. Authorities blamed the prison assault on the Mexicles, saying it was attacked by at least 25 of them. Also among the escapees was the Mexicles' number-two man, Cesar Vega.

Death Toll Rises as Mexican Authorities Hunt Down Juarez Prison Attackers, Escapees. At least seven people were killed in a gunfight as Chihuahua state investigators worked to hunt down the perpetrators of Sunday's attack on a Ciudad Juarez prison, as well as 25 prisoners who escaped. The attack was orchestrated by the Mexicles, a Juarez gang long affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel, who long-imprisoned leader and his number two were among the escapees. In the Tuesday shootout, two state investigators and five Mexicles members died.

MD Pot Decrim Now in Effect, CO Natural Psychedelic Decrim Now in Effect, More... (1/3/23)

The Justice Department is suing a major pharmaceutical distributor over its role in the opioid crisis, a Virgin Islands marijuana legalization bill goes to the governor, and more.

Magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics are now decriminalized in Colorado. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Marijuana Possession No Longer a Crime. With the advent of the new year, possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is no longer a crime in the state. People who possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, however, face a maximum $100 fine, while those caught with up to 2.5 ounces face a $250 fine. The reduced penalties are the results of voters approving a referendum in November that directs the legislature to create rules for legal adult sales. That referendum also triggered the implementation of a bill decriminalizing pot possession, which is what went into effect on January 1.

US Virgin Islands Marijuana Legalization Bill Goes to Governor. The US territory's Senate last Friday approved a marijuana legalization bill on a an 11-1 vote, as well as passing separate expungement legislation. The bill has already passed the House. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who has repeatedly called on lawmakers to pass such a bill, is expected to sign both bills into law.

Opiates and Opioids

Justice Department Sues Pharmaceutical Distributor for More Than $1 Billion for Role in Opioid Epidemic. The Justice Department last Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen, which Justice alleges "fueled" the country's opioid epidemic. The complaint claims the company, one of the country's largest drug distributors, failed to fulfill its legal obligation to report suspicious orders or to report suspicious customer behavior to the DEA. The complaint also alleges that AmerisourceBergen constantly violated the Controlled Substances Act by failing to follow the proper steps for distributing opioids under the Act. The DOJ filed the complaint in civil court and seeks over $1 billion in damages.

Psychedelics

Colorado Psychedelics Decriminalization Takes Effect. Natural psychedelics including psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are now decriminalized after Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a proclamation that the voter-approved initiative that decriminalized them had received a majority of votes in the November election. "Coloradans voted last November and participated in our democracy," Polis said in a statement from the governor's office. "Officially validating the results of the citizen and referred initiatives is the next formal step in our work to follow the will of the voters and implement these voter-approved measures." The measure creates a state-regulated system for therapeutic access to natural psychedelics and it decriminalizes the possession, cultivation, and sharing of the naturally occurring psychedelic drugs.

New York Lawmakers File Bill to Legalize Natural Psychedelics. Assembly members Linda Rosenthal (D), Jo Anne Simon (D) and Karines Reyes(D) have filed a bill, A00114, that would legalize the use and possession of a number of natural plant- or fungi-based psychedelics, including DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocyn, recategorize them and eliminate their status as prohibited substances. The bill would: "Legalize adult possession and use of certain natural plant or fungus-based hallucinogens; Grant certain protections for individuals lawfully using such hallucinogens; Remove such hallucinogens from the list of Schedule I controlled substances; Make related provisions."

International

Mexico Prison Assault Leaves 14 Dead, 24 Escaped Prisoners. Presumed cartel gunmen in armored vehicles attacked a prison in Ciudad Juarez Sunday morning, opening fire on guards and other security personnel and leaving 10 guards and four prisoners dead. Another 24 prisoners managed to escape during the mayhem. This same prison also saw violence erupt last August where Mexican army troops had to intervene in a clash between prisoners from the rival Juarez and Sinaloa cartels that led to a riot and shootout with a death toll of 11 people.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2022 [FEATURE]

Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly in international drug policy developments in 2022. (Read about 2022's good, bad and ugly in domestic drug policy here.)

1. The Taliban Bans Opium

With the withdrawal of US and coalition forces and subsequent rapid collapse of the Afghan government in August 2001, the Taliban once again took power in Kabul. During its earlier rule, it banned opium cultivation in 1997 (with little impact) and again in 2000. But after the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, the country saw two decades of massive opium production, making Afghanistan the world's leading supplier of opium and heroin, accounting for more than 80 percent of global supply throughout this century.

Upon resuming its control of the country, the Taliban once again instituted a ban on opium cultivation, making a formal announcement of a ban in April 2022. Even now, at the end of the year, it is too early to tell how serious the Taliban are or how effective the ban will be, although UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva reported in December that there is evidence the ban is being implemented. "Fields planted before and after the declaration have been destroyed," she said. "We will not be able to verify the actual implementation of this ban until early next year but the intention behind it is commendable. Nonetheless, the ban will have a negative effect on the income of individual farmers as few alternative livelihood programs were put in place."

This year, though, the opium crop is "the most profitable in years," the UN reported in November, with cultivation up by nearly a third and prices soaring because of the looming ban. Sowing of the 2023 crop was supposed to be done by November, and it is unclear how much uncertainty about how the ban will be enforced has affected the sowing of the crop. The answer will come in the spring when it is harvest time for the poppy crop.

2. Colombia Elects a Former Guerrilla Drug War Critic as President

In an election that has overturned a decades-long status quo in Colombian politics and threatens to upend US-Colombia relations, former leftist guerrilla and Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro won the presidency in June. He beat his competitor, Trumpian businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%.

Petro is a harsh critic of the US-imposed war on drugs, which he says has cost a million Latin American lives even as the US has spent $20 billion since the days of Plan Colombia to wage a drug war entwined with a vicious counterinsurgency. That spending may have helped drive the leftist guerrillas of the FARC to the negotiating table -- a peace accord was signed in 2016 -- but it has not stopped the coca and cocaine trade, which is now undergoing a boom.

After Petro's election, but before he took office in August, a truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords called for the government to quit focusing on suppressing illicit drugs and instead take the global lead in moving to "strict legal regulation" of those substances. It recommended a new approach to illicit drug production that focuses more on sustainable development and less on the eradication of coca. The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but Petro has said he will follow them.

Petro has been in office for less than six months, but he already held a first assembly of coca growers and called for a regional assembly to discuss hemispheric drug policy. He has also angered the US by vowing not to extradite drug traffickers, and threatening to move toward cocaine decriminalizationand ban the spraying of coca fields with herbicides.

Cocaine decriminalization is not happening yet, but marijuana legalization is. A legalization bill has passed the House and Senate, clearing the way for final votes early next year. Look for Colombia to continue to steer a course away from drug war orthodoxy as the Petro presidency continues.

3. Duterte Leaves Office but His Philippine Drug War Legacy Lingers

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte became ex-president Duterte in June, having finished his six-year term and leaving a legacy of bloody drug war killings. The Philippines National Police have officially admitted killing more than 6,200, but human rights groups put the total toll of dead in Duterte's drug war at around 30,000, with many killed by shadowy vigilantes.

The widespread drug killings under Duterte were condemned by Western governments and human rights groups and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.

Duterte's successor, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the deposed former dictator, is attempting to portray his own drug policies as distinct from Duterte's lethal efforts, but he's made clear that he is not planning to undertake a policy change, his claim to focus on rehabilitation has yet to substantially materialize, and the government's few current "drug rehabilitation" programs are involuntary, coercive, and expose drug users to further stigma.

And Philippines police are continuing to kill people in the name of fighting drugs, albeit at a lower level than during the Duterte era. In November, police tried to claim the death toll was "very minimal," saying only 46 people had been killed since June 30, when Marcos took office. But the government's habit of lying, obstructing, and obfuscating, so well developed under Duterte, appears to remain intact under Marcos. An independent estimate from the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center put the actual number of people killed in drug war incidents at 127, nearly three times the police number.

4. Mexico's Drug War Continues Unabated

Four years into his six-year term, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is having no more luck with his "kisses not bullets" approach to his country's violent drug trafficking organizations than his predecessors did with their various efforts to rein in the so-called cartels. After four years of AMLO, the country has seen 140,000 murders, most of them committed by the cartels. That is a 61 percent increase over the same four-year period under his immediate predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto.

AMLO has also scrapped the Federal Police, replacing them with the National Guard, which he wants to fold into the armed forces. In a worrying sign, the military is now shouldering more and more of the overall responsibility for dealing with violent.

And it is not working. The competing cartels periodically take a respite from trying to kill each other and go to work terrorizing the state and its agents, as was the case in August and September, when the cartels and allied gangs rampaged across four states, shutting down roads and businesses, burning vehicles and businesses, and attacking police and troops, including a stunning series of attacks in Tijuana.

Meanwhile, the cartels continue to work away assiduously at their main enterprise: exporting massive amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl into the United States.

5. Canada's British Columbia Wins Approval for Drug Decriminalization

Faced with an intractable drug overdose problem, British Columbia, long a leader in progressive approaches to drug policy, in October 2021 requested an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow it to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Health Canada granted that exemption in June 2022.

The new measure goes into effect on January 31, 2023 and will extend three years to January 31, 2026. Under the decrim plan, possession of up to 2.5 grams of those drugs (cumulatively) will not result in arrest or confiscation of the drugs. While decriminalization is a first in Canada, activists in Vancouver and throughout the province are critical of the low weight limits and of the fact that minors will continue to be arrested regardless of the weight of the drugs they are carrying.

British Columbia's pending drug decriminalization will be first for Canada, but it's not the first in North America. Mexico decriminalized drug possession in 2009 and Oregon voters decriminalized drug possession in 2020.

6. Saudi Arabia Resumes Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

After halting executions of drug offenders in January 2020, Saudi Arabia suddenly and without warning resumed them on November 10. Two weeks later, it announced that 20 men had been executed for drug offenses. Dozens of people remain on death row for drug offenses and face imminent execution.On November 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Saudi government to halt the imminent execution of one drug prisoner and called on the Saudi authorities to adopt an official moratorium on executions for drug-related offenses, commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and guarantee the right to a fair trial for all defendants, including those accused of committing such crimes, in line with the law and its international obligations.

Nearly three dozen NGOS led by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to act on urgent measures in response to the series of drug-related executions carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since November 10.

Globally, 146 countries, including 20 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have abolished the death penalty. The United Nations does not consider drug offenses to be among the most "serious" crimes that would warrant the death penalty, and resort to the death penalty for such offenses contradicts the standards of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board.

7. Pakistan Moves to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

At year's end, Pakistan's lower house, the National Assembly, passed the Control of Narcotic Substances Amendment Bill 2022, which abolishes the death sentence for drug dealing and converts it into a life sentence. The bill comes as the country has seen a spate of executions for different sorts of offenses since 2014, when it lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of a terrorist attack on an army school that left 132 children dead.

The vote came just weeks after Saudi Arabia's execution of three Pakistani nationals when it suddenly resumed drug executions in November.

Earlier in the year, the Senate Standing Committee on Anti-Narcotics approved keeping the death penalty for certain trafficking offenses, but in September, President Arif Alvia approved the amendment allowing for life sentences instead.

8. Russia Weaponizes Its Draconian Drug Laws to Turn American Athlete Brittney Griner into a New Cold War Political Pawn

Russia has long used its draconian drug laws against its own citizens, including dissidents, but this year the Kremlin was able to deploy them as a means of pressuring the United States when Russian customs officials arrested American women's basketball star on drug trafficking charges as she entered the country to play off-season pro ball a week before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Russia has theoretically adopted the decriminalization of small-scale drug possession, but officers commonly find just enough of a drug to file criminal charges, as was the case with Griner. Although Griner was found with vape cartridges containing less than a gram of medically-recommended cannabis oil, she was charged not with drug possession but with smuggling "a significant amount" of proscribed drugs, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to ten years.

She was duly convicted in a Russian court and sentenced to 9 ½ years in a Russian prison, creating an embarrassment and distraction for the Biden administration, which faced mounting pressure to win her release. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, a prisoner swap was announced, and Griner was released in December in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison in 2011 (after already serving three years in pretrial detention).

9. European Countries Move Down Path to Marijuana Legalization

Late last year, Malta became the first European country to legalize marijuana, and this year, several other countries have been taking steps along the same path. In June, Luxembourg move to enact marijuana reforms, although it has retreated from "legalization" to "regulation," and is proposing the decriminalization of up to three grams of marijuana and allowing the cultivation of up to four plants at home. The government had originally proposed full-blown commercial legalization back in 2018 and says that still remains its goal.

In October, Germany unveiled its marijuana legalization plan. The health ministry rolled out a plan that includes the decriminalization of the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana as well as allowing for the sale of marijuana to adults in a regulated marketplace. The German government will also consult with the European Union's executive commission to ensure that the legalization plan complies with EU laws and will move forward "on this basis" only if the EU approves.

And in November, the Czech Republic began drafting a marijuana legalization bill. The country has already legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana for adult use, but the country's center-right governing coalition has now begun the process of a drafting a full marijuana legalization bill. The issue was pushed by the Czech Pirate Party, the smallest member of the governing coalition, which said legalization would "make the Czech Republic a freer country" and "bring billions into public budgets."

10. Thailand Kind of, Sort of Legalizes Marijuana

In June, the Thai government removed marijuana from the country's narcotics list, allowing people to grow all the weed they want and freeing more than 3,000 marijuana prisoners. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now.

But that has not stopped the use and sale of full-potency marijuana. What began as a flowering of edibles and tinctures shops in June has now morphed into a full-blown recreational marijuana scene, with thousands of dispensaries of dubious legality and the government impotently warning a tide of marijuana tourists they are not welcome.

The government's marijuana moves have been confusing and controversial, and the government is attempting to bring some order to the situation with a 95-article Marijuana Bill that seeks to regulate gray areas around cultivation, consumption, and sales. That bill is expected to be passed before the country's next general in May.

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Call on Biden to Deschedule Marijuana, Belize Coca Bust, More... (12/23/22)

There's a big payout for a Georgia woman falsely arrested on cocaine charges, British police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

Coca, traditionally grown only in the Andes, is popping up in Central America and Mexico. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Urge Biden to Deschedule Marijuana. After marijuana reforms failed to pass as the current Congress winds down, a bipartisan group of 24 lawmakers called on President Biden to "recognize the merits of full descheduling" of marijuana. Despite the spread of marijuana and marijuana legalization in the states, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, in the same schedule as heroin and LSD. They reminded Biden that he had launched the first formal review of marijuana scheduling back in October, which they called "a crucial and laudable step," but they called for more action.

"Marijuana does not belong in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a classification intended for exceptionally dangerous substances with high potential for abuse and no medical use," the lawmakers wrote. "The decision to schedule marijuana was rooted in stigma rather than an evidence-based process, and it is time to fully remedy this wrong. While Congress works to send you a comprehensive legalization bill, the administration should recognize the merits of full descheduling." The signatories were 20 Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and four Republicans.

Law Enforcement

Federal Jury Awards Georgia Woman $1 Million After Wrongful Cocaine Arrests, Extended Jail Stay. A federal jury in Atlanta has awarded a Georgia woman $1 million in damages after an Atlanta police officer falsely accused her of drug possession and she was jailed for months -- even after testing showed she did not possess cocaine. The officer stopped her on the street for jaywalking and falsely accused her of hiding cocaine inside an exercise ball. She spent a month in jail before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed an analysis that found the substance in question was not cocaine and then inexplicably spent another four months in jail before being released. The arresting officer was initially ordered to pay the damages and his pay began to be garnished, but Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has since said the city will take responsibility for the costs.

International

Belize Armed Forces Destroy More Than 100,000 Coca Plants. The Belize Defense Force, the Coast Guard, and the national Police Department destroyed more than 100,000 coca plants in a joint raid southwest of Graham Creek Village this week. No arrests were made, and the plants were burned. Coca has traditionally been cultivated only in the Andes, but in recent years, the international criminal organizations that run the traffic have experimented with coca plantations in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, as well as Belize.

British Police Chiefs Call for Decriminalization of First-Time Drug Offenses. The National Police Chiefs' Council and the College of Policing are calling for the decriminalization of first-time drug possession offenses, with the use and possession of drugs by first-offenders treated as a public health -- not a law enforcement -- matter. Under the plan, people caught with illegal drugs would be offered drug education or treatment programs, but those who do not comply or complete the programs would be subject to criminal prosecution. Police in 14 of the country's 43 police forces have already adopted similar policies, but the plan is opposed by the Conservative government, which has been floating proposals to stiffen drug penalties, including for marijuana.

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