Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

RI Legislators Take Up Legal Pot Bills This Week, Montreal to See Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Clinic, More... (5/17/22)

Nebraska medical marijuana advocates and the ACLU sue over the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements, a Montreal clinic is about to become the first in Quebec to offer psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and more.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has formed a commission to study the benefits of marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislature Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bills This Week. One of the state's best positioned to legalize marijuana this year is finally taking up the issue this week. Committees in both chambers will be voting on legalization bills this week: The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430, and the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593. Both bills would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce under a Cannabis Control Commission. They also have social equity provisions and would impose a 10 percent sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska ACLU, Medical Marijuana Campaigners Sue State Over Signature-Gathering Requirements. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the ACLU of Nebraska said Monday they are filing a lawsuit challenging the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements as unconstitutional. State law requires that initiatives have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in 38 out of 93 counties, which the ACLU called a roadblock in the petitioning process. The group said the requirements skew the system in favor of rural counties, violating both the First and the 14th Amendments. The lawsuit comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana struggles to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group came up with enough signatures to make the ballot in 2020, only to have the measure thrown out by the state Supreme Court but lost significant funders this year.

International

Canada's Quebec to See First Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Facility Open Soon. The Mindspace by Numinus Clinic in Montreal has received permission from Health Canada to become the first health care facility in the province to legally use psilocybin to treat depression. The first clinic in the country to offer such services opened last month in British Columbia. The advances are coming after Health Canada restored its Special Access Program, which allows health care practitioners to request access to restricted drugs that have not yet been authorized for sale in the country. That program was abolished under the Conservatives in 2013 but restored by the Liberal government in January. Health Canada said it is weighing 13 more requests to operate similar service around the country.

London Mayor Sets Up Commission to Study Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana. London, England, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the formation of a commission of independent experts to study the potential benefits of marijuana legalization. Under British law, marijuana remains an illicit Class B drug with severe criminal penalties still in place, especially for dealing. Khan's London Drug Commission will be headed by Lord Charlie Falconer, with research for the commission being led by University College London. Khan announced the formation of the commission during a visit to a marijuana retail shop in Los Angeles over the weekend. "The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drugs laws. That’s why I am here today in LA to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis." Establishing a commission to examine the benefits of legalization was a key campaign pledge for Khan during last year's reelection campaign. 

Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Another Record High, DE Legal Pot Bill Goes to Governor, More... (5/16/22)

Gavin Newsom attempts to lend a hand to California's embattled legal marijuana growers, Ohioans will have to wait another year to vote on marijuana legalization, the first British drug checking service is set to open, and more.

More than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor's Budget Would Give Growers a Break by Eliminating Cultivation Tax. With wholesale marijuana prices cratering and growers screaming for help, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has included the elimination of the marijuana cultivation tax in his proposed FY 2022-2023 budget released Friday. That would eliminate one of the four taxes on marijuana—the cultivation tax of $10 an ounce for dry-weight flowers paid by growers, a state excise tax paid by retailers, a local excise tax paid by retailers, and the state sales tax. Despite cutting the cultivation tax, Newsom's budget still includes $670 million in annual funding for services currently funded by marijuana tax revenues. Newsom's proposal must be approved by the legislature and would go into effect July 1 if it is.

Delaware Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a final vote by the Senate last Thursday, the legislature has approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 371. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed by people 21 and over. But the fate of the bill is uncertain given Gov. John Carney's (D) staunch opposition to legalization, which he has called a "bad idea." If, however, Carney does veto the bill, it would need a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers, which is achievable. But the last time the legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto was 45 years ago.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Vote Delayed Until 2023. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced last Friday that it will forego attempting to get a vote on its marijuana legalization initiative this year after state officials agreed to allow the campaign to keep more than 140,000 signatures it had gathered this year and use them to get on the ballot next year. The move came after House Republicans said the group handed in signatures too late to qualify for this year. The group is undertaking an initiated statute campaign under which it gathers enough signatures to place the issue before the legislature and if the legislature does not enact legalization, it would go before voters. But now, it will go before voters next year—provided the campaign comes up with a second round of signatures—not this year.

Overdoses

Drug Overdoses in 2021 at Highest Level on Record According to CDC, Driven by Opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data last Wednesday showing that drug overdoses had hit 107,622 in 2021, an all-time high. The figure is 15 percent higher than the previous year and represents a 49 percent increase in overdose deaths since 2019. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were implicated in two-thirds of overdose deaths.

International

United Kingdom's First Drug Checking Service to Open This Month. The British Home Office has approved the nation's first drug checking service, where illicit drugs can be tested for purity, strength, and contaminants. The move is aimed at reducing the harms associated with high-risk drug taking and at providing a fuller picture of the illicit drug market. The drug checking will be undertaken by a harm reduction organization called The Loop, working with the Bristol Drugs Project and the People's Republic of Stokes Croft, a community organization. The service is set to begin May 28 and will run once a month, with additional operating hours to be scheduled around significant local events, such as concerts and festivals. 

MO Legalization Init Hands in Double Needed Signatures, Colombia Drug Lord Extradition Sparks Trouble, More... (5/9/22)

Austin voters say adios to no-knock warrants, Colombia's most powerful cartel gets unruly after its leader's extradition to the US, and more.

Colombian drug lord "Otoniel" upon his arrest last October. (Colombian National Police)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Activists Turn in Double the Signatures Needed for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Activists with Legal Missouri 2022, the folks behind a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment, announced Sunday that they had turned in more than 385,000 raw voter signatures in a bid to get the measure on the November ballot. That is more than twice the 171,592 valid voter signatures necessary to qualify, meaning that the measure has almost certainly qualified for the ballot. Initiative campaigns typically try to get a cushion of 20-30 percent more signatures that required to account for rejected signatures, but Legal Missouri has a cushion of more than 100 percent.

Drug Policy

Austin, Texas, Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Marijuana Decriminalization, Ban on No-Knock Warrants. Austin residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a municipal ballot measure that decriminalizes marijuana possession and bans police from using no-knock warrants. Some 85 percent of voters said "yes" to the measure. Now, the city council must codify the results into law, but the council already passed a 2020 resolution to end misdemeanor marijuana arrests, which will now become law. Similarly, officials said police in Austin execute just a handful of no-knock raids each year, but now that number will go to zero.

International

Head of Colombia's Gulf Clan Cartel Extradited to US. Dairo Antonio Úsuga, known as Otoniel, alleged head of the Gulf Clan cartel, was extradited to the United States last week to face drug smuggling conspiracy charges. Otoniel had been Colombia's most wanted man for the past decade before being captured in his jungle hideout last October. The Gulf Clan emerged out of rightist paramilitaries who worked with the Colombian government in the long-running civil war with the leftist FARC. Many in Colombia want him to supply information about atrocities committed by paramilitaries during the conflict, which officially ended with a peace treaty between the FARC and the government in 2016. He already faced Colombian charges of murder, illegal recruitment, kidnapping for ransom, sexual abuse of minors, terrorism, and illegal possession of weapons, as well as drug trafficking.

Colombia's Gulf Clan Cartel Stages "Armed Strike" After Leader's Extradition to US. In response to the extradition of their leader, Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to the US to face drug trafficking charges, the Gulf Cartel launched a four-day "armed strike" beginning last Thursday. They blocked roads and set fire to dozens of vehicles. The Interior Ministry said "more than a hundred vehicles (...) were hit" in the first two days of the action.

Colombian Military Deploys More Troops to Combat Gulf Clan Cartel. The Colombian military is beefing up its already extensive presence in the country's north in response to an "armed strike" called by the Gulf Clan cartel in response to the extradition of its leader Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to the US to face drug trafficking charges. There were already about 50,000 government troops in the region, but now another 2,000 have been deployed. They would be tasked, among other things, with securing roads so that hard-hit commerce can be restored, he said. The Gulf Clan cartel, Colombia's biggest, is estimated to account for between 30 and 60 percent of all cocaine exported from Colombia.

News Release: Philippine Magnitsky Coalition to Target De Lima Persecutors, EJK Perpetrators

For Immediate Release -- May 7, 2022

Contact: David Borden, [email protected], Eric Lachica, [email protected]

Whoever wins in the May 8 Philippine election, a coalition of prominent Filipinos and allies aims to tighten the screws on officials responsible for extrajudicial killings and the unjust imprisonment of Senator and reelection candidate Leila de Lima.

The coalition is preparing detailed submissions for agencies at the US State and Treasury Departments that implement individually-targeted sanctions against persons suspected of human rights violations or financial corruption. The laws authorizing these sanctions, of which the Global Magnitsky Act is the most well-known, allow for banning travel to the US by designated individuals and sometimes their immediate family members, and can be used to freeze assets held in US financial institutions.

The coalition will also submit the information to new Magnitsky programs in the UK, European Union and Canada, and will send recently-researched information to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Buoying the coalition's hopes is the recanting in recent weeks by two key witnesseswhose testimony led to charges against Senator de Lima. Both say their testimony was coerced. This week a bipartisan group of US senators called for Senator de Lima's release.

NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have been killed extrajudicially by Philippine police and by government-financed vigilante groups associated with the police, since Duterte took office in 2016. Late last year the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court commenced an investigation into the Philippine drug war killings, though currently on pause under a treaty action by the Duterte administration that requests the investigation be reconsidered.

The PH Magnitsky Coalition includes Loida Nicolas Lewis, Chair, US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG); Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA); international justice expert and former Marcos family corruption investigator Ruben Carranza; former Secretary for Filipinos Overseas Imelda Nicolas; USFGG Washington DC Coordinator Eric Lachica; StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden; Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP); with others being added.

Persons the coalition recommends for sanctions will range from top-level national officials and police brass; political figures who encouraged extrajudicial killings or provided political cover for them; legal officials who stymied the investigatory process; local killers and officials who arranged reward payments; and PNP officials at Camp Crame, where Senator de Lima has been imprisoned since February 24, 2017.

Evidence backing up the charges will range from reports by human rights NGOs, national, and international institutions; affidavits from confessed former death squad members; news articles; and speeches in which public officials including President Duterte called for killings and took credit for them.

Eric Lachica, Washington DC Coordinator for US Filipinos for Good Governance, said, "Magnitsky law sanctions on President Duterte and his corrupt enablers would hasten the freedom of Senator de Lima, and would mark a fitting end to his murderous regime."

David Borden, Executive Director of the NGO StoptheDrugWar.org and coordinator of the coalition's Magnitsky effort said, "Disinformation may sway an election, but facts still hold an edge in the international legal system."

After completing this submission, the coalition plans similar efforts related to the corruption and suspected money-laundering efforts involving ill-gotten wealth of the family of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and to the Duterte administration's persecution of media outlets such as Rappler, whose publisher Maria Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

# # #

DE House Passes Legal Pot Bill, US Reps Press DOJ on Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses, More... (5/6/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana falls to opponents' House maneuvers, Venezuela is joining the ranks of coca and cocaine producers, and more.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is calling on the Justice Department to explain civil asset forfeiture abuses. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults, House Bill 371. The bill would not set up a system of taxed and regulated sales but does allow for the unremunerated transfer of up to an ounce from one adult to another. The bill now heads to the Senate, which, like the House, is controlled by Democrats. But it faces a potential veto by Gov. John Carney (D), who has expressed doubts about marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in House. A measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 150) was killed on the House floor Wednesday after a debate over legislative process but without any discussion of the merits of the bill. The bill had already passed the Senate but faced long odds in the House, where opponents of reform filed more than a thousand amendments. One opponent, Rep. John McCravy (R), then created a constitutional challenge for the bill, claiming that it should have originated in the House because it involves a tax on medical marijuana. Under the state constitution, bills involving taxation must originate in the House. House Speaker Pro Tem Thomas Pope (R) then ruled to sustain McCravy's point of order and against an appeal from Rep. Todd Rutherford (D), who said he planned to later scrap the tax language via an amendment, effectively killing the bill. Sponsors said they would keep trying, though.

Asset Forfeiture

House Members Request Justice Department Briefing on Abuses of Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Nancy Mace, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information about the Department of Justice's (DOJ) efforts to address longstanding abuses of its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local governments to partner with DOJ by transferring property, money, or assets that have been seized by law enforcement to the federal government for forfeiture which then shares up to 80% of the proceeds with local and state law enforcement agencies, regardless of state law.

The letter came after a December hearing that examined the need to reform federal civil asset forfeiture programs, including equitable sharing, to prevent state, local, and federal law enforcement from abusing the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans. Expert witnesses testified that state and local law enforcement agencies use DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program to circumvent state laws aimed at curtailing civil asset forfeiture abuse. Between 2000 and 2019, DOJ paid at least $8.8 billion from its Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) to state and local agencies.

"We are concerned that the Equitable Sharing Program creates a loophole allowing state and local law enforcement to seize assets from individuals without bringing criminal charges or a conviction, even in states that prohibit civil asset forfeiture," the Members wrote. "In addition, we are concerned that DOJ does not conduct adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies participating in the Equitable Sharing Program."

International

Venezuela Becoming a Coca, Cocaine Producer. InsightCrime, a website that covers Latin American drug trafficking, is reporting that Venezuela is becoming a coca producing and cocaine manufacturing country. Previously, it had served only as a transshipment point for cocaine produced in the big three coca-growing countries: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. But now, "InsightCrime has uncovered evidence of the presence of significant quantities of coca in at least three municipalities in Zulia, and two more to the south in the state of Apure, each time verified and corroborated by multiple reliable sources," the web site reported. "In addition, sources in the field, international agencies, and the Venezuelan government's own reports show that the crystalizing laboratories used to process coca paste into cocaine hydrochloride have been proliferating in the same areas."

All of this activity is taking place in western part of the country, where Colombian guerilla groups and drug traffickers dominate and appear to be operating openly. "So far, cocaine production in Venezuela is nascent, representing just a drop in an ocean of coca compared to the historic levels seen in Colombia in recent years," InsightCrime noted. "But the country's border region, poor, isolated, abandoned by the state and dominated by armed groups, represents a perfect petri dish for it to spread. And in a country trapped in an economic crisis, ruled by a corrupt regime, and ravaged by criminality, that is a dangerous proposition."

Pell Grants for Prisoners Are Coming Back Next Year, OK Legal Pot Initiative Signature-Gathering Begins, More... (5/3/22)

Signature-gathering for a marijuana legalization inititiave is underway in Oklahoma, the courts block a San Francisco effort to enact broad bans on alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin, and more.

San Francisco. The courts are blocking the city's effort to ban alleged drug dealers from the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Files Preemptive Lawsuit Over Whether It Will Appear on November Ballot. Anticipating an effort by Republican lawmakers to keep their marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit last Friday to block the expected move. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) submitted petitions to the legislature on January 28, giving it until May 28 to approve the petitions calling for legalization, after which, the coalition could then do another round of signature-gathering to put the question directly before voters in November. But Republican legislative staffers have argued that because the petitions were not submitted to the legislature 10 days before the start of the session, as required by the state constitution. But the preemptive lawsuit argues there is state Supreme Court precedent for allowing a November vote.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Begins Signature-Gathering. Marijuana legalization advocates have begun signature gathering for State Question 820, which would legalize adult use marijuana and levy a 15 percent excise tax on retail purchases to fund the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Campaigners will need 95,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot and have until August 1 to do so. Another pair of initiatives could also appear on the ballot. State Question 818 would create a State Cannabis Commission that would replace the OMMA and guarantee patients' medical cannabis access in the Oklahoma Constitution, while State Question 819 would legalize adult-use marijuana and guarantee medical and adult-use marijuana access in the Constitution. Because these two questions would change the state constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering threshold than State Question 820, which would only make statutory changes. The threshold for constitutional questions is 177,958 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

California Appeals Court Blocks San Francisco Bid to Ban Drug Dealers from Tenderloin, SOMA. In a case that began when the city sued 28 alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods and banned them from a 50-square-block area in those neighborhoods, which are rife with open drug dealing and drug use, a state appeals court has upheld a lower court decision last year blocking the bans from taking effect. In its ruling last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeals held that while local governments may be entitled to narrowly target ban orders in some limited circumstances, but not such a broad one. The lower court decision held that the ban was so broad it would violate the constitutional right to travel, and that state law did not appear to authorize it.

The appeals court largely agreed: "We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the city in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood," Justice Marla Miller wrote in Friday's 3-0 ruling. But, she continued, "although the city contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin." The lower court judge was entitled to believe statements from the four people "that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood," the appeals court added. The city said it was "disappointed" with the ruling, but had yet to decide whether to appeal.

Education

Pell Grants Will Be Available for Prisoners Again Beginning Next Year. Once upon a time, incarcerated Americans were able to try to advance themselves by using Pell Grants to pay for college tuition and textbook costs -- just like other students -- but when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, it barred prisoners from accessing that financial aid. In 2020, though, Congress restored the eligibility for both state and federal prisoners. In the fall of 2021, the Department of Education begin developing rules for the expansion of Pell Grants to prisoners and has now announced that application forms for imprisoned students will be available on October 1 for the 2023 academic year.

International

British Virgin Islands Premier Asserts Immunity in Cocaine Case, Demands Immediate Release. British Virgin Islands (BVI) Premier Andrew Fahie, who was arrested last week in a US government sting in Miami, argued in court Monday that as the elected head of government, he is immune from prosecution and should be released immediately. No word yet on when a federal judge will decide that question, and in the meantime, Fahie remains in custody. Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, were busted at the Miami airport where they met what they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but were actually DEA agents seducing them into a scheme to import cocaine from South America through the BVI. Back home, Fahie already faced allegations of deep corruption, and his arrest may help propel a push to temporarily suspend the constitution and return to rule from London in an effort to clean up the government. Busting a head of state is a big deal and would have required approval at the highest levels of the Justice and State departments.

Oklahoma MedMJ Moratorium Bill Nears Passage, Ecuador State of Emergency Over Drug Trafficking Violence, More... (5/2/22)

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago is moving toward legal, regulated marijuana markets; an Oklahoma bill for an open-ended moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses nears passage, and more.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso. The center-right leader has imposed a state of emergency over drug violence. (unctad)
Medical Marijuana

Last Chance to Kill Oklahoma Bill to Put Moratorium on New Medical Marijuana Businesses. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is warning that time is running out to oppose a pending bill, House Bill 3208, that would impose a moratorium on processing and issuing new medical marijuana business licenses. The measure has already passed in both the House and Senate, but was amended in the Senate, and is now back before the House for a final vote. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, and the state then became the fastest in the country to implement new medical marijuana laws, but lawmakers have been concerned about the explosion of medical marijuana cultivation and businesses since then. The bill would allow the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to extend the moratorium indefinitely, for as long as it "deems necessary."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency over Prohibition-Related Violence in Three Provinces. President Guillermo Lasso announced last Friday that he was decreeing a state of emergency for the next two months in three provinces that have been wracked by violence related to the black market drug trade. "I have declared a state of exception in the (coastal) provinces of Guayas, Manabi, and Esmeraldas, effective from midnight tonight," he said then. Lasso also ordered 4,000 police and 5,000 soldiers deployed to the three provinces and declared an overnight curfew for some areas, such as the town of Duran, near the port of Guayaquil. Increased drug trafficking in the country has left 1,255 dead since the start of the year and has also been linked to a series of prison massacres among rival gangs that have left more than 350 dead. The country is not a significant cocaine producer but serves as a transit hub for its illicit transshipment.

Trinidad and Tobago House Approves Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Commerce. The House last Friday gave unanimous approval to a bill to regulate the legal marijuana industry, the Cannabis Control Bill of 2020. The bill will "provide for the regulatory control of the handling of cannabis for certain purposes, the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Licensing Authority and connected matters." Minister of Local Government and Rural Affairs Faris Al-Rawi said that while the earlier relaxation of the country's marijuana laws helped greatly to unclog the country's criminal justice system, this bill would people the chance to make some "serious money." Trinidad and Tobago has a parliamentary system of government, which means this bill has the support of the government. It must still pass the Senate, though.

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

CA Farmers' Market Pot Sales Bill Advances, CO Prescription MDMA Bill Advances, More... (4/28/22)

No, Virginia, new criminal marijuana offenses are not happening; a bipartisan pair of senators file a bill aimed at helping communities respond to the overdose crisis, and more.

MDMA. A Colorado bill foresees federal rescheduling and seeks to align state statutes to allow prescriptions. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Allow Pot Growers to Sell at Farmers' Markets Advances. A bill that would allow marijuana growers to sell their weed directly to customers at farmers' markets, Assembly Bill 2691, has won a first committee vote, passing out of the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions. The bill comes as growers are seeing historically low prices and facing a financial crunch. The price of outdoor grown marijuana has fallen to $488 a pound, a drop of more than 50 percent from last year. It now goes to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

Georgia Democrats Will Vote on Non-Binding Marijuana Question in May Primary. The state Democratic Party leadership has placed nine non-binding ballot questions, including one on marijuana legalization, on the ballot for Democratic Party voters next month. The marijuana question asks: "Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older, with proceeds going towards education, infrastructure and health care programs?" The aim of the questions is to demonstrate to elected officials that there is support for reforms.

Virginia Senate Kills Governor's Amendments to Recriminalize Marijuana Possession. Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R) effort to create two new criminal offenses for possession of more than two ounces and more than six ounces of marijuana has gone down in flames. Youngkin had proposed the regressive step as an amendment to Senate Bill 591, but the Senate voted Tuesday to re-refer the bill to committee, effectively killing it since the legislative session has already ended for the year. The state legalized marijuana last year.

Psychedelics

Colorado MDMA Legalization Bill Advances. A bill that foresees eventually federal legalization of MDMA for medicinal purposes and seeks to align state statutes to allow state-level legalization for prescriptions once that happens, House Bill 1344, has successful passed the House and won its first Senate committee vote Wednesday. After being cleared by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Drug Policy

Bipartisan Pair of Senators File Bill to Help Local Communities Fight Drug Overdoses. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a caucus member, introduced the Overdose Review Team Act Wednesday to help local communities save lives by improving their response to the overdose epidemic. The legislation would create a grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support local governments in establishing panels of health officials, social service organizations, law enforcement, and others to review drug overdoses. The panels would then develop best practices and policy recommendations to prevent future overdoses -- a model that has been adopted in a dozen states, including Rhode Island.

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Big Easy cop does the Big Sleezy and more prison guards go down. Let's get to it:

In Stillwater, Minnesota, a state prison guard was arrested April 17 for smuggling methamphetamine into the prison. Guard Faith Rose Gratz, 24, went down after a cell phone seized from an inmate incriminated her in a smuggling plot. Prison officials searched her vehicle when she arrived at work and found 233 grams of methamphetamine in it. She is charged with one count of methamphetamine possession with intent to sell and one count of possession of 50 grams or more.

In New Orleans, a New Orleans police officer was arrested last Wednesday on accusations he was dealing crack cocaine. Officer Reginald Koeller III, 38, is also on emergency suspensions pending the outcome of an "ongoing federal investigation." He was arrested by FBI agents and New Orleans police after they executed a search warrant and came up with more than an ounce of crack cocaine. He is charged with illegally carrying a weapon while possessing a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. He could get up to 20 years under state law.

In Punta Gorda, Florida, a guard at the Charlotte Correctional Institution pleaded guilty last Thursday to smuggling methamphetamine and MDMA into the prison. Troy Alexander Cole, 28, agreed on at least three separate occasions to smuggle drugs into the prison in return for cash payments. He copped to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and MDMA and is now looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana will not be on the ballot in Idaho this year, Kentucky's governor is looking into going around a recalcitrant legislature on medical marijuana, and more.

National

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The second new notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. Kind Idaho, the group behind an effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, says it is not going to make it. "We aren't going to meet numbers," the campaign's treasurer said. The campaign needs 70,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot but has only come up with a tenth of them, and the deadline is one week from today. "We ran into some issues along the way with basically starting up a grassroots organization without any sort of financial backing or assistance," he said.

Kentucky

Kentucky Governor Announces Plan to Allow Medical Marijuana. In the wake of the legislature's failure to pass a marijuana bill (again), Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced last Thursday a process that could lead to executive actions to allow medical marijuana in the state. "Most of these steps are about hearing from you, the public, so that your voice is heard by the executive branch -- even if it's ignored by the legislative branch," Beshear said. Without naming names, Beshear went after Republican senators who blocked the bill, saying that "it's time that a couple of individuals that are out of touch with the vast majority of Kentuckians on this issue stop obstructing it and we're able to move forward."

North Carolina

North Carolina Poll Has Supermajority for Medical Marijuana, Majority for Legalization. A poll from WRAL News shows that 72 percent of state voters want medical marijuana legalized and 57 percent want full adult legalization. Those supermajorities for medical marijuana include 73 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, while 63 percent of Democrats and only 45 percent of Republicans want full adult legalization. The poll comes as a medical marijuana bill, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 711) is before the Senate, where it went through several committees last yar and is now back before the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Singapore Hangs Second Drug Convict in a Month, New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/27/22)

A Connecticut bill to eliminate commercial marijuana gifting passes the House, a new poll shows strong support for medical marijuana in North Carolina as the legislature considers a bill, and more.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, executed Wednesday in Singapore for 1.5 ounces of heroin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Bill to Eliminate Commercial Marijuana Gifting, Allow Physicians' Assistants to Write Medical Marijuana Recommendations Passes House. The House voted Tuesday to approve House Bill 5329, which would originally have barred the gifting of marijuana by anyone, but has been amended to allow social gifting and has seen the criminal penalties for commercial gifting removed. Advocates had argued that the ban on social gifting would hurt patients who may rely on it to get their medicine. The bill also will allow physicians' assistants to recommend medical marijuana to patients. It now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Has Supermajority for Medical Marijuana, Majority for Legalization. A poll from WRAL News shows that 72 percent of state voters want medical marijuana legalized and 57 percent want full adult legalization. Those supermajorities for medical marijuana include 73 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, while 63 percent of Democrats and only 45 percent of Republicans want full adult legalization. The poll comes as a medical marijuana bill, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 711) is before the Senate, where it went through several committees last yar and is now back before the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Harm Reduction

New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, Poll Finds. A new poll from Data for Progress found majority support for safe injection sites among likely voters in the state. A whopping 80 percent of Democrats and even 43 percent of Republicans favored the harm reduction intervention, creating an overall level of support at 64 percent. This was an online poll, which generally skews younger than traditional phone surveys, but Data for Progress did not provide an age breakdown of the numbers.

International

Singapore Executes Malaysian Man with Mental Disabilities on Drug Charges. The city-state has gone ahead with the execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam after a long international campaign for clemency failed. Dharmalingam, 34, got caught bringing 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. Singapore halted executions during the coronavirus pandemic but started them up again with the hanging of another drug offender on March 30. Singapore has some of the toughest drug laws in the world, with a mandatory death sentence for trafficking more than a half ounce of heroin. Dharmalingam's lawyers had tried numerous appeals, noting that he had an IQ of 69 and that his mental condition had deteriorated in prison, and garnered extensive international support for clemency, to no avail. "Hanging an intellectually disabled, mentally unwell man because he was coerced into carrying less than three tablespoons of diamorphine is unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international laws that Singapore has chosen to sign up to," said Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty group Reprieve.

Biden Commutes Sentences of 75 Drug Offenders, New Poll Has Strong Support for Drug Decrim, More... (4/26/22)

Marijuana legalization continues to be popular with the public, and support for drug decriminalization is trending the same way, and more.

Unlike his predecessor, Joe Biden used the formal pardon process to issue commutations. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Shows Unwavering Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the market research firm SSRS finds supermajority support for marijuana legalization, with 69 percent of respondents favoring the move. Support was strongest among Democrats (78 percent), followed by independents (74 percent) and Republicans (54 percent). Additionally, 58 percent of respondents, including 71 percent of millennials, agreed that "alcohol is more harmful to a person's health than marijuana." This poll comes on the hells of numerous other polls in recent years showing strong, enduring majority support for legalization. The poll hasa margin of error of +/– 3.5 percentage points.

Drug Policy

New Poll Shows Supermajority Support for Drug Decriminalization. A new survey from Data for Progress and the People's Action Institute shows strong majority support for drug decriminalization. The poll asked: "Last year, the state of Oregon decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. Instead of being prosecuted, a person possessing small amounts of drugs will receive a fine (like a parking ticket). A person can get the fine waived if they participate in screenings from services like treatment, housing, mental health care, and employment. Would you support or oppose a similar measure nationwide?" Overall, 69 percent of respondents supported decriminalization, with Democrats leading the way (82 percent), followed by independents (75 percent), and even a majority of Republicans (54 percent). The poll also asked numerous other questions related to drug policy and harm reduction, with one striking finding that vast majorities of respondents (72 percent) had never read or heard about harm reduction programs.  The poll had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

Pardons and Commutations

Biden Commutes Sentences of 75 Drug Offenders. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced he was commuting the sentences of 75 drug offenders and pardoning three other people. This is the first time Biden has made use of his presidential pardon power. The administration described the pardons and commutations as part of broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system, and it came the same day the Justice Department announced a $145 million plan to provide job skills training to federal prisoners. The administration said Biden is considering further commutations as well even as it noted he had issued more clemency grants than any of the last five presidents this early in their terms. The pardons and commutations went through the usual clemency process, a reversal of how President Trump relied on friends and allies for recommendations and generally used his pardon power to benefit people with wealth and connections, especially pro-Trump political operatives such as Steve Bannon and Roger Stone (although Trump did commute the sentences of a handful of celebrity-endorsed drug offenders). 

Schumer Vows Legal Pot Bill Coming This Summer, CO House Passes Fentanyl Felony Bill, More... (4/25/22)

A South Carolina Republican congresswoman who filed a marijuana legalization bill faces an attack by a primary challenger, Alabama Democrats come up with a "Free Weed" website, and more.

Is marijuana legalization coming to the Senate this summer? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Schumer Promises Marijuana Activists Legalization Bill Will Come Before August Recess. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last Friday promised activists he would file his marijuana legalization bill before the August recess. He and colleagues such as a Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-NJ) have been working for more than a year on the bill and have blocked incremental reform legislation, such as the SAFE Banking Act, from being considered in the Senate before the legalization bill is taken up. Schumer had earlier vowed to have his bill out by this month, but last week said that was not going to happen. The draft version of his Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA) has been floating around since last summer.

Alabama Democrats Launch "Free Weed" Website to Push Legalization. The state Democratic Party has launched a Free Weed website in a bid to garner support for its effort to legalize marijuana in the state. The website mixes policy advocacy and promotion of the state Democratic Party. It argues that legalizing marijuana would be an economic boon for the state and that arresting and prosecuting people for possession of small amounts of weed is a waste of criminal justice resources. The party rolled the website out on 4/20.

South Carolina Republican Representative Who Sponsored Legalization Bill Faces Call for Drug Test from Primary Opponent. US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who filed a marijuana legalization bill this year, is now facing a primary opponent, Katie Arrington, who thinks Mace may have been "high" while representing the state and has demanded she submit to a drug test. "While residents of the Lowcountry continue to be crushed by skyrocketing inflation and record high gas prices, Nancy Mace opted to spend 4/20 at a pot conference in Miami rather than with her constituents. Nancy should disclose who paid for this trip (to Miami), and should also take a drug test and make the results public. Maybe then the Lowcountry will understand why she has done nothing to combat the disastrous policies of the Biden administration,” " said Arrington. She also pointed to a recent Huffington Post article where Mace declined to say whether she still used marijuana. The Mace campaign within hours accused Arrington of engaging in "a desperate PR stunt by a desperate campaign."

Opiates and Opioids

Colorado House Passes Bill Making Fentanyl Possession a Felony but With No Prison Time. In an effort to address the opioid overdose crisis, the House last Friday approved House Bill 22-1326, which would make possession of between one and four grams of fentanyl a felony, but with no possibility of a prison sentence. The House approved the bill after fending off an amendment that would possession of any amount of fentanyl a felony. The bill would be a step backward from a 2019 law that made possession of up to four grams of most controlled substances a misdemeanor. The bill now heads to the Senate. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.

ND Legal Pot Initiative Can Start Signature-Gathering, Honduras Ex-Prez Extradited on Drug Charges, More... (4/22/22)

Kentucky's governor announces plans for executive actions to make medical marijuana available in the state,  a pair of US senators go after a methamphetamine precursor chemical, and more.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is now in custody in the US on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Can Begin Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jager (R) announced Thursday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach North Dakota has been approved for signature-gathering. The measure would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and direct the legislature to establish rules and create a legal marijuana program by October 2023. The campaign now needs to gather 15,582 valid voter signatures by July 11 to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. Kind Idaho, the group behind an effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, says it is not going to make it. "We aren't going to meet numbers," the campaign's treasurer said. The campaign needs 70,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot but has only come up with a tenth of them, and the deadline is one week from today. "We ran into some issues along the way with basically starting up a grassroots organization without any sort of financial backing or assistance," he said.

Kentucky Governor Announces Plan to Allow Medical Marijuana. In the wake of the legislature's failure to pass a marijuana bill (again), Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced Thursday a process that could lead to executive actions to allow medical marijuana in the state. "Most of these steps are about hearing from you, the public, so that your voice is heard by the executive branch — even if it's ignored by the legislative branch," Beshear said. Without naming names, Beshear went after Republican senators who blocked the bill, saying that "it's time that a couple of individuals that are out of touch with the vast majority of Kentuckians on this issue stop obstructing it and we're able to move forward."

Methamphetamine

Senate Drug Caucus Chairs Call on International Panel to Push for Scheduling of Methamphetamine Precursor Chemical. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, in a letter Thursday urged the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to recommend the scheduling of methylamine—a precursor to methamphetamine. On the INCB’s recommendation, the most recent session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted unanimously to control three fentanyl precursor chemicals, but did not act on methylamine. Whitehouse and Grassley encourage the INCB to back the scheduling of methylamine, which would help to save lives across the globe, they said. "In 2020, 24,576 Americans died from an overdose involving psychostimulants, a class of drugs that includes methamphetamine," Whitehouse and Grassley wrote. "As the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control has expressed to INCB in the past, international action is necessary to stop methylamine sales that enable criminal groups to produce methamphetamine. Recommending that CND schedule methylamine under the 1988 UN Convention will help save lives across the globe, including in the United States."

International

Mexican President Confirms Closure of Elite Anti-Drug Unit That Worked with DEA. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that an elite anti-drug unit that worked on drug investigations with the DEA was shut down last year, confirming a Reuters report from Tuesday. Lopez Obrador said the unit was shut down "over a year ago" and charged the unit had been infiltrated by criminals. "That group, which was supposedly a high-level strategic group, was infiltrated (by criminals),"he said. The Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) police were considered among the country's law enforcement elite and had worked on major investigations, such as the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but one of its former leaders, Ivan Reyes Arzate, has pleaded guilty in US federal court to taking bribes from a drug gang. The unit was seen as vital by US drug agents, who needed Mexican police to help with investigations there.

Honduras Ex-President Extradited to US to Face Drug Charges. Former President Juan Orlando Hernandez was extradited from Honduras Thursday to face drug charges in the US. He is accused of taking massive bribes from Mexican drug traffickers to abet a cocaine-importing conspiracy and related gun trafficking offenses. Hernandez was president from 2014 to January 2022 and was a Washington ally despite rumors of corruption surrounding him for years. "Hernandez abused his position as president of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state,"said US Attorney General Merrick Garland. "Hernandez worked closely with other public officials to protect cocaine shipments bound for the United States." Hernandez's brother Tony, a former Honduran congressman, has already been sentenced to life in prison in the US after being convicted earlier on drug trafficking charges. 

White House Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Nixed, More... (4/21/22)

A pair of companion marijuana legalization initiatives are cleared for singature-gathering in Oklahoma, SAMSHA mantains a firm line on drug testing rules, and more.

A needle exchange. The White House is emphasizing harm reduction measures to take on the overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would have legalized marijuana and had it sold at state-owned retail outlets, House Bill 1598. The bill could still come up for a Senate floor vote, but the committee vote likely signals the end of the road for this legislative session. The House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills in recent years, only to see them die in the Senate. And even if something were to make it to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), he remains opposed to legalization. At least one senator indicated he was stuck in a time warp: "Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?" asked Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren).

Ohio Lawmakers File Marijuana Legalization Bill That Mirrors Ongoing Legalization Initiative. Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrance Upchurch, have filed a marijuana legalization bill with the same language as the legalization initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMTA). CRMTA's initiative passed an initial signature threshold, starting a process where the legislature has four months to either pass legalization or let it go to the voters in November (provided CRMTA succeeds in another round of signature-gathering), but there is little indication that the Republican-controlled legislature is going to act on it.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for two companion marijuana legalization initiative campaigns to begin signature-gathering. State Question 819 and the companion State Question 818, would amend the state constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. Because they amend the constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering hurdle than State Question 820, which has already been cleared for signature-gathering. It needs about 90,000 signatures within 90 days to qualify for the ballot, while State Questions 819 and 820 will need about 178,000 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House released the 2022 National Drug Control StrategyThursday, focusing on treating drug addiction and fighting drug trafficking. The strategy calls for expanded harm reduction interventions, such as drug test strips, needle exchanges, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said. But the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA, maintaining a law enforcement emphasis. Those figures were released as part of the FY 2023 budget released last month.

Drug Testing

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The secondnew notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and  there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

"Weed Like Change" Campaign Aims to Point Consumers Toward Eco-Friendly Marijuana [FEATURE]

A campaign to promote the regenerative organic cultivation of marijuana is now underway in California and Oregon. Calling itself Weed Like Change, the campaign is bringing together a coalition of more than 50 regenerative organic cannabis farmers and brands, dispensaries, allied businesses, and advocacy groups to target and educate pot consumers about the benefits of such cultivation practices and the need to support small-scale legacy farmers in the face of cannabis corporatization.

Sonoma Hills Farm, an organic, regenerative hemp operation in Northern California. (sunandearth.org)
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, regenerative agriculture is a set of holistic practices that aims to maintain and restore ecosystem health by working in harmony with nature, as opposed to exploiting it. When it comes to organic marijuana cultivation, that means not only no artificial inputs -- no pesticides or chemical fertilizers -- but also such techniques as mulching and composting, use of cover crops, inter-cropping, and adding to soil fertility; in general, working with the local environment, not struggling against it.

The campaign is being led by the two-year-old nonprofit Sun+Earth Certified, which, according to its web site, "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet" and "sets the standard above and beyond organic." Sun+Earth currently has 42 certified growers, primarily in California and Oregon, but also with outposts in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black.

Given the ever-greater impacts of man-made climate change, there is a dire need for the marijuana industry to really go green. An academic study published in April by researchers at Colorado State University found that moving from indoor grow operations to outdoor farms would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state's marijuana sector by a whopping 96 percent, shaving more than one percent off the state's total emissions.

A Sun+Earth certified grow in California. (sunandearth.org)
That funding builds on a 2012 academic report from UC Berkeley found that all cannabis grown in the US uses at least one percent of all electricity consumed in the country at a cost of $6 billion per year. A report from New Frontier Data that found that indoor cultivation in the US produces 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide or one pound of carbon emissions for each gram of harvested flower. The same report found that growing indoors uses 18 times more electricity and produces nearly 25 times more carbon than outdoor farms.

"We're thrilled to be participating in the Weed Like Change campaign," said Casey Branham, co-founder of Phoenix Rising Farm, situated on the banks of the Little Applegate River in southern Oregon. "As the real stewards of this cottage industry in Oregon, small family farms like ours provide opportunity in local communities and produce craft cannabis that is recognized nationwide," he continued. "Regenerative organic cannabis is not only better for the consumer by being more cannabinoid and terpenoid-rich, but it's also better for the environment, as it emphasizes soil health, water management, and the enhancement of the overall ecosystem in its production, as well as being free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers."

The Weed Like Change campaign is also being supported by Dr. Bronner's soaps as part of its commitment to regenerative organic agriculture and drug policy reform. The natural soap maker, which has put millions into drug reform efforts over the years, has produced a special Weed Like Change! label on a limited edition run of its 4oz. Castile Liquid Soap bottles, which will be distributed at campaign education events throughout California and Oregon.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer David Bronner. (drbronner.com)
"Small-scale legacy cannabis farmers fear they are at risk of extinction. To keep these farmers in business as well as for the broader health of people and planet it is imperative for cannabis consumers to choose sun-grown regenerative organic cannabis," said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer of Dr. Bronner's. "We need to transition the global food system and the cannabis industry to regenerative organic agriculture and away from the dominant carbon intensive industrial model that threatens the livelihoods of small-scale farmers."

Ethically responsible pot smokers have choices to make about the kinds of growing methods they support with their dollars. Weed Like Change aims to help them make the right choice -- for the small farmers who were the traditional backbone of marijuana cultivation, for the communities in which both farmers and consumers live, and for the sake of the planet and our place on it.

Medical Marijuana Update

Oklahoma is trying to rein in its medical marijuana industry, a South Carolina bill is heading for a House floor vote, and more.

Louisiana

Louisiana Bill to Ease Access to Medical Marijuana Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to expand access to medical marijuana by changing the agency that regulates the industry and adding the University of Louisiana at Monroe to the list of facilities that can do research on medical marijuana, House Bill 418, passed the House Health and Welfare Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill also would expand the number of licenses from 10 to 25, with 30 percent of the new licenses set aside for social equity applicants.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Bills to Rein in Medical Marijuana Industry Advance. The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee advanced a number of bills to regulate the state's booming medical marijuana industry last Thursday. House Bill 3813 would give Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority investigators the power to seize illegal medical marijuana products and to make arrests, as well as referring evidence, reports, and charges to law enforcement and prosecutors. It passed 11-0. The panel also passed House Bill 3208, which would enact a two-year moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses, on a vote of 9-2. House Bill 4055 would require public utilities to provide the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with reports concerning how much water and electricity a grow facility uses. It passed on a vote of 8-3. House Bill 4411 would remove a limit of two facility inspections a year on medical marijuana operations and require at least one inspection annually. It passed on a vote of 11-0. And House Bill 3971 would let the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority employ "secret shoppers" to verify that retail outlets are complying with laws. It passed 10-1.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate last Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1167, which would protect banks and insurers from being penalized by state financial regulators for working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The bill flew through the Senate, passing through two committees in recent days before passing on a 46-3 vote. The bill now heads to the House. "Federal prohibition has forced the cannabis industry to deal with cash, as proceeds may be considered a federal crime," DiSanto said on the floor on Wednesday, adding that the cash-intensive nature of the existing marketplace "makes dispensaries a target for armed robbery."

South Carolina

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3361) passed out of the Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Tuesday and now heads for a House floor vote. Identical companion legislation has already passed the Senate. The bill from Sen. Tom Davis (R) has been under consideration since January 2021.

Swiss Pharmacy Pot Sales Pilot Project Gets OK, Singapore Set to Hang Mentally Disabled Drug Offender, More... (4/20/22)

A new CBS poll shows continuing strong support for marijuana legalization, Honduras is becoming a coca and cocaine production center, and more.

Yet another poll showing strong support for marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Policy

CBS Poll: Two-Third of Americans Want Marijuana Legalized Federally and in Their States. A new CBS/YouGov poll is remarkably consistent with other recent national polls, finding that 66 percent of Americans want marijuana to be legal at both the federal and state levels. The poll also found broad acceptance of marijuana businesses, with just 30 percent saying they would oppose such a business. The level of support for state-level legalization was identical to the level of support for federal legalization.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. The House Legislative Oversight Committee has voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2704, but only after adding several "poison pill" amendments, including one that would exclude transgender women from accessing no-interest loans available to women and minorities applying for cannabis business funding. Bill sponsor Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Defiance) and committee Democrats said they passed the bill with the amendments in hopes they would be stripped out on the House floor.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3361) passed out of the Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Tuesday and now heads for a House floor vote. Identical companion legislation has already passed the Senate. The bill from Sen. Tom Davis (R) has been under consideration since January 2021.

Louisiana Bill to Ease Access to Medical Marijuana Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to expand access to medical marijuana by changing the agency that regulates the industry and adding the University of Louisiana at Monroe to the list of facilities that can do research on medical marijuana, House Bill 418, passed the House Health and Welfare Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill also would expand the number of licenses from 10 to 25, with 30 percent of the new licenses set aside for social equity applicants.

International

Honduras Sees Proliferating Coca Growing, Cocaine Labs. After years of low-level test plots, coca production and cocaine labs are proliferating in the Central American nation of Honduras, far from coca's traditional home in the Andes. Authorities reported destroying more than half a million coca plants in the first three months of this year alone, more than seized in all of 2021. One coca farm extended over 42 acres and held 345,000 plants, as well as three cocaine labs capable of producing 50 kilograms of cocaine every month. Most of the planting is going on in the mountains of Colon and Olancho departments but is also spreading to the nearby departments of Yoro and Gracia a Dios. The first large coca farm in the country was found just five years ago.

Singapore Set to Execute Mentally Disabled Malaysian Drug Offender. A Malaysian man who defenders say is mentally disabled is set to be hung next week after losing a final appeal. Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was sentenced to death in 2010 for trying to smuggle less than 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. His case has sparked widespread condemnation, including from the European Union. The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network has also called for a halt to the execution. Singapore had enacted a moratorium on executions during the coronavirus pandemic, but that ended just weeks ago with the execution of another drug offender.

Swiss Pilot Project to Allow Marijuana Sales from Pharmacies Gets Green Light. A plan to allow a few hundred people in Basel to buy marijuana in pharmacies has gotten the go-ahead from the Federal Office of Public Health. This is the first marijuana pilot project to be authorized since the country cleared the way for them last May. The Federal Office of Public Health says the goal of the projects is to heighten understanding of "alternative regulatory forms" that could be the basis for future legalization legislation. The program will get underway in midsummer, with 400 participants able to get marijuana products. The program will last 2 ½ years, with participants questioned regularly about their consumption and their physical and mental health.

NJ Legal Marijuana Sales Begin Tomorrow (4/20), MA Psychedelic Decriminalization Reform Push, More... (4/19/22)

There is a brewing controversy over whether New Jersey cops can smoke weed now that it is legal there, Massachusetts activists plan a psychelic and broader decriminalization push, and more.

The next state to commence legal adult-use marijuana sales. And on 4/20, no less. (Creative Commons)
New Jersey Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin Thursday. The first sales of adult-use marijuana are set to begin Thursday after the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission last week licensed seven medical marijuana dispensaries to sell their products to anyone 21 or over. But while medical marijuana patients can purchase up to three ounces every 30 days, adult-use customers will only be able to purchase one ounce at a time. The commission earlier this month approved more than 100 conditional licenses for smaller growers and manufacturers, many with social equity ownership, but those licensees are not expected to be operating until next year.

New Jersey Police Chiefs Say Cops Should Be Barred from Using Marijuana. Responding to an opinion last Thursday from Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin that police officers can smoke marijuana while off duty, the New Jersey State Association of Police Chiefs is calling on the legislature to make an exception for police officers and other "safety-sensitive" professionals and bar them from using marijuana at any time. "Our association is asking for the law to be modified so police brass has the necessary tools to make an appropriately measured response when a “safety-sensitive” employee uses cannabis," the chiefs wrote. "Police executives need to assure the public that their officers are not working while cannabis is metabolizing in their system. Keep in mind, cannabis can exist in the body for up to 28 days." (It is non-psychoactive marijuana metabolites that remain in the body for an extended period of time, not psychoactive THC, which wears off in a matter of hours.)

New Jersey Governor Says He Would Consider Banning Weed for Cops. Responding to a rising kerfluffle over whether police should be able to use marijuana now that it is legal in the state, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said Monday that he would consider barring recreational marijuana use for off-duty police officers. Addressing concerns that police might show up stoned on the job, Murphy said, "There’s no allowing anybody to show up impaired, whether you’re drinking or whether you’ve smoked weed. Anybody who shows up impaired would be dealt with aggressively." And then he added: "Would I be opened minded to a legislative fix that would address this? The answer is yes."

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Activists Plan Decriminalization Campaign in Worcester, Statewide Reform Push. Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM) has launched a signature-gathering drive to put a decriminalization initiative that emphasizes psychedelics but would also decriminalize the personal possession of all currently illegal drugs. They are hoping the city council, which recently approved a resolution calling for a study of the utility of arresting people for possession of entheogenic plants and replacing that approach with a lowest law enforcement priority approach, would approve the measure this year. But if not, they are aiming at collecting some 16,000 signatures by this summer to put it directly before voters in November. Activists are preparing a similar push in Amherst, as well as a state-wide effort to make legislators file decriminalization bills "by request" of voters even if the legislators do not support them. 

NJ AG Says Cops Can Smoke Pot (But Not on Duty), ME Good Samaritan Improvement Bill Advances, More... (4/18/22)

New York issues its first marijuana grower licences, a Florida drug treatment provider is convicted of a massive drug testing fraud, and more.

There's money to be made growing weed, and in New York, equity applicants are getting the first crack at it. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Police Can Use Marijuana Off-Duty. Marijuana use is now legal for adults in the state, and that includes police officers, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin wrote in a memo last Thursday. The memo said it is critical for police to be clear-headed on the job, but they cannot be punished for engaging in a legal activity as long as it does not affect their work. Maybe we will see cops in line at pot shops later this week; retail sales begin on Thursday.

New York Issues First Marijuana Grower Licenses. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced last Friday that the state's Cannabis Control Board has approved the first legal marijuana grower licenses in the state. The state has approved 52 Adult-Use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator licenses out of a pool of 150 applicants since March 15. The Office of Cannabis Management will continue to review applications and issue more licenses as quickly as possible. These first licenses went to "equity entrepreneurs" who qualify by having either a past marijuana conviction or one in their family and who have experience operating a successful business in the state.

Drug Testing

Florida Drug Rehab Facility Owner Guilty in Multimillion Dollar Drug Testing Fraud. Carie Lyn Beetle, the owner of Florida drug treatment center, was found guilty last Friday of running a $58 million insurance fraud scheme in which she recruited patients by offering free or discounted rent and free travel to Florida to stay in her sober houses, then tested them as often as three times a week, for which she would submit insurance claims. The frequency of the testing, for which she could bill as much as $5,000 each time, was considered unnecessary, and the results were not studied by treatment professionals. Sometimes the tests were never even conducted, but still billed for. Her center, Real Life Recovery, would also often bill for counseling and treatment services that were not actually conducted, and employees testified that they would regularly forge patient signatures to show they had attended counseling when they had not. For turning her treatment program into a racket, Beetle is now looking at up to 30 years in prison.

Harm Reduction

Maine Senate Approves Strengthened Good Samaritan Law. The Senate last Friday approved a bill to strengthen the state's Good Samaritan law, which is designed to protect people suffering from overdoses and those seeking to help them from prosecution. The bill, LD 1682, would change the existing law so that any person at the scene of an overdose who makes a good faith effort to call for assistance is protected from arrest or prosecution. The bill would include immunity for bail and probation violations, while exempting sex crimes, crimes involving children, and arson, among other crimes. It now heads to the House. 

Senate Legal Pot Bill Filing Bumped Back; Cops Begin to Move Away from Prextextual Traffic Stops, More... (4/15/22)

Bad behavior by the dope squad in Springfield, MA, leads to a consent decree with the Justice Department, the Senate pot legalization bill won't be filed this month after all, and more.

No-knock raids come under scrutiny in a new Washington Post report. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Marijuana Legalization Bill Filing Delayed. The Senate marijuana legalization bill championed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, will not be filed later this month as the trio originally planned, Schumer said Thursday. Instead, he said, the senators are now on track to file the bill before the August recess. The House has already passed its version of a legalization bill, the MORE Act (HR 3617). The House has also repeatedly passed an interim measure aimed at providing access to financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses, the SAFE Act (HR 1996), but Schumer and his allies in the Senate have blocked action on that, saying they want the legalization bill passed first.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Bills to Rein in Medical Marijuana Industry Advance. The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee advanced a number of bills to regulate the state's booming medical marijuana industry Thursday. House Bill 3813 would give Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority investigators the power to seize illegal medical marijuana products and to make arrests, as well as referring evidence, reports, and charges to law enforcement and prosecutors. It passed 11-0. The panel also passed House Bill 3208, which would enact a two-year moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses, on a vote of 9-2. House Bill 4055 would require public utilities to provide the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with reports concerning how much water and electricity a grow facility uses. It passed on a vote of 8-3. House Bill 4411 would remove a limit of two facility inspections a year on medical marijuana operations and require at least one inspection annually. It passed on a vote of 11-0. And House Bill 3971 would let the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority employ "secret shoppers" to verify that retail outlets are complying with laws. It passed 10-1.

Law Enforcement

Some Cops Are Moving Away from Pretextual Traffic Stops. For decades, police have relied on pretextual traffic stops—stopping a driver, frequently a Black driver, for a trivial infraction, such as no license plate light or an expired inspection sticker—as a tool for looking for drug and gun law violations, but the New York Times reports that some departments are now moving from the practice as evidence mounts that they "not only disproportionately snare Black drivers but also do little to combat serious crime or improve public safety, and some escalate into avoidable violence, even killing officers or drivers." The newspaper cited the death in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed 26-year-old Black man who was pulled over for a mismatched license plate and, after a brief struggle, was apparently shot in the head from behind, but he was only the latest of at least 400 unarmed people killed by police in traffic stops in the last five years. Big cities such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Seattle have or are enacting policies restricting stops for minor violations, so has the state of Virginia, and smaller cities such as Berkeley, California, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Lansing, Michigan.

No-Knock Raids Increasingly Common, Judges Act as Rubber Stamps. As part of a series of reports on how no-knock search warrants are obtained and executed, the Washington Post finds that "the dangerous police tactic has grown in use as judges routinely authorize requests for the surprise raids with little apparent scrutiny of claims by officers." It cited recent cases of raids turned deadly, including the killing of an unarmed Black man in a West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, motel room in a raid that turned up 22 grams of drugs, the killing of a 63-year-old Black man in his home in a raid that netted nine grams of drugs, and the notorious Houston raid that led to a gun-battle in which two innocent White homeowners were killed. The no-knock warrants are supposed to be carefully evaluated by judges, but “judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks,” a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams." The Post found that at least 22 people have been killed in no-knock raids since 2015, 13 of whom were Black or Hispanic. In at least five raids, police killed someone who was not their target. There were also at least 24 other searches that ended in killings, but the newspaper was unable to determine what sort of warrant was involved.

Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Agree to Consent Decree Over Out of Control Narcotics Unit. The Justice Department in July2020 issued a report accusing the Springfield police narcotics unit of using excessive violence with impunity, and now, the police and the Justice Department have announced they have agreed on terms for a consent decree enacting a series of policing reforms. "Officers will report all uses of force, including punches and kicks, something which was not previously required in the Springfield Police Department," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "In addition, officers have a duty to intervene to prevent excessive force." The decree also calls for the city's new civilian police commission to have a budget and subpoena power. The police department's dope squad was disbanded in 2021 after the criticism, but the consent decree will apply to the entire police force. Police union leaders had no comment.

The Taliban Announces a Ban on Opium. Really? [FEATURE]

On April 3, the Taliban announced a ban on drug cultivation in Afghanistan, for years the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global supply of the substance, from which heroin is derived, throughout this century. But the ban announcement raised as many questions as it answered and has been met with a degree of skepticism, not only around the motives of the Taliban but also because opium plays such a key role in an Afghan economy that is now in especially dire straits.

The opium poppy is an economic mainstay in Afghanistan. Can the Taliban really suppress it? (UNODC)
"As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," said an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order said.

The order also banned the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, or use of other drugs. (Afghanistan is also one of the world's leading cannabis producers and is seeing rapidly increasing methamphetamine production.)

The Taliban presided over the only other opium ban in modern Afghan history back in 2000, but that effort faltered amidst a popular backlash against repressing a crop that provided incomes for hundreds of thousands of families, and eventually withered away before the Taliban were overthrown by the invading Americans late in 2001.

During two decades of foreign occupation, repressing the opium trade largely played second fiddle to the war on terror, and the Afghan opium economy prospered. By the end of 2021, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that the opium trade was worth between $1.8 and $2.7 billion, constituting as much as 11 percent of the country's Gross National Product (GNP). UNODC also noted that the departure of Western development assistance after the Taliban takeover in August, which accounted for 22 percent of GNP, will only make drug markets a larger share of the economy.

So, is the ban for real? And if the Taliban are serious, can they actually do it, given the crucial role the crop plays in the devasted national economy? The Chronicle consulted with a couple of experts on the topic, and opinions were divided.

Sher Jan Ahmadzai is director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is skeptical.

"If you look at the Taliban's historical approach to opium, they only banned it when prices went down to increase demand," said Ahmadzai. "A second goal has been to respond to international pressure that opium should be banned. But looking strategically at opium, where their funding comes from, it doesn't seem to me that they will really pursue this."

"There are a couple of reasons for that," Ahmadzai continued. "One, they have been dependent on the income from opium. Although opium production is haram, they didn't ban it for religious reasons. Instead, they taxed it, and many of their leaders have been involved in drug trafficking and depend on this. To me, it seems very difficult to accept the ban as a fact.

"Second, most of rural Afghanistan, especially the southwest, has traditionally been dependent on opium production, and it will really hurt them economically, which will create political problems among the Taliban. Their support base is opium-growing farmers, and a ban will attract their anger," he argued.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institute. She thinks the ban is for real but will come with a high price.

"For several years, Taliban interlocutors were saying they were moving toward the ban," said Felbab-Brown. "It didn't work out for them in 2000, and later they were deeply engaged in poppy cultivation, but the leadership now is very conservative, very inward-looking, very doctrinaire, and is trying to restore 1990 policies. The more internationalist factions within the Taliban are much weaker and have not been successful in implementing policies.

"There is good reason to believe they will try to implement the ban, but that will have significant impacts on the implementers, including fighters, who have not gotten paid," she continued. "This will impact relations among the various factions and the ability of commanders to pay their fighters, which will be negatively affected by the ban.

"The question is how long will they maintain it, how long are they willing to squeeze the people and deal with compounding rifts within the Taliban. They don't want to alienate various factions, but in this case, we see a very conservative policy that will compound those rifts," she predicted.

Ahmadzai was not convinced that the ban reflected factional differences between conservatives and internationalists within the Taliban.

"I don't see any big differences in their policies," he said. "I haven't seen any breakups, so it's hard to say it's a power struggle between the factions. No one has spoken out against it; even those who were stationed in Doha have not spoken out against anything the conservatives have done. If there is a power struggle, it is not around differences over banning."

For Ahmadzai, the ban is little less than a publicity stunt, especially given harsh economic conditions and Afghanistan's desperate need to mollify the international community in order to get sanctions removed and assistance flowing again.

"The urban economy was already seeing its own share of destruction in the last eight months, and the rural economy is more or less based on opium," he said, "so more than anything this looks like another cosmetic step to let the international community know they are doing something. They want to make Iran or Russia happy. Russia is a huge market for Afghan drugs, and the Russians want them to come down hard on opium production."

Felbab-Brown disagreed.

"There is also a possible international dimension to this; the Taliban may be trying to curry favor with Iran or Russia, but that is not the principal reason," said Felbab-Brown.

Whatever the reason for the ban announcement, if it actually happens, it is going to make tough times in Afghanistan -- the UN last month reported that the country is facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis of "unparalleled proportions" -- even tougher.

"The Taliban are not promising help or advising people what to do; their attitude is just cope with it. But the country is already in a drastic humanitarian situation, and this will not just hurt farmers, there will be significant knock-on effects," said Felbab-Brown. "The economy has dried up since the Taliban took power, and heroin has been one of the sources of liquidity. As problematic as the bans and eradication were in 2000, eventually they were not enforced and eradication was not funded, and now the economy is so much worse. The economic impact of the Western withdrawal is already awful; this will make it just tragic."

Overdoses Hit Another All-Time High, DE Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, More... (4/14/22)

Tennessee lawmakers approve a bill allowing retroactive cuts for people sentenced under the state's old school zone drug sentencing enhancement laws, the Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bill protecting banks and insurers who do business with marijuana businesses from being hassled by state regulators, and more. 

More than 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance. After an earlier attempt to pass marijuana legalization foundered, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) tried again, presenting two bills: House Bill 371 would simply legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and needs only a majority vote to pass. House Bill 372 would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and needs three-fifths to pass. House Bill 371 was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee Wednesday, while House Bill 372 was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1167, which would protect banks and insurers from being penalized by state financial regulators for working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The bill flew through the Senate, passing through two committees in recent days before passing on a 46-3 vote. The bill now heads to the House. "Federal prohibition has forced the cannabis industry to deal with cash, as proceeds may be considered a federal crime," DiSanto said on the floor on Wednesday, adding that the cash-intensive nature of the existing marketplace "makes dispensaries a target for armed robbery."

Public Health

CDC Reports Yet Another Record Number of Drug Overdose Deaths. The nation's overdose crisis continues, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting Wednesday that according to new provisional data, 106,854 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in November 2021. Overdose deaths jumped 16 percent over the previous 12-month period and have more than doubled since 2016. Synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl, were implicated in about two-thirds of those deaths over the past year. But the number of deaths from stimulants has also nearly doubled in the past two years. Five states accounted for one-third of all overdose deaths: California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

Sentencing Policy

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Allowing People Imprisoned for School Zone Drug Offenses to Seek Sentence Cuts. With final votes in the House and Senate this week, lawmakers have approved House Bill 1449, which would allow people sentenced to long prison terms under the state's draconian school zone sentencing enhancement laws to go to court to seek shorter sentences. Since the 1980s, anyone caught selling drugs withing 1,000 feet of a school, park, daycare, public library, or recreation center faced long years in prison. Last year, legislators approved a bill to shrink the zone to 500 feet and give judges the discretion not to add extra years if they don't think children were put in danger. But there were 300 people already stuck in prison under the old rules, and this bill makes updated sentencing criteria retroactive. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who has not said whether he would sign the legislation, but who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and has already offered to fast-track clemency applications for those still doing time under the old law. 

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