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BC High Court Blocks Recriminalization of Public Drug Use, UFC Ends Weed Ban, More... (1/2/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1202)

There is yet another hiccup in the effort to get Alabama medical marijuana dispensaries open, South Dakota's Republican governor commutes the prison sentences of a dozen people for using drugs, and more.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has commuted the sentences of a dozen people imprisoned for "unlawful ingestion" of drugs. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

UFC Knocks Out Marijuana Ban: Major Shift in Professional Athlete Drug Policy.The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced that it has removed marijuana from its list of banned substances for professional fighters, building on a 2021 policy that largely protected its athletes from being penalized for testing positive for THC.

"UFC's goal for the Anti-Doping Policy is to be the best, most effective, and most progressive anti-doping program in all of professional sports," said UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell.

With this move, the UFC is part of a broader trend in sports organizations of relaxing their marijuana policies. The National College Athletic Association (NCAA), National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB) have all made similar adjustments, while the National Football League (NFL) modified its testing policy in 2020.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Judge Temporarily Blocks Issuance of Medical Marijuana Business Licenses. Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson last week issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the state from issuing new licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries. The move comes amid an ongoing legal dispute over how the state selected the winning companies.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission had awarded licenses to four dispensaries, but they will be on hold while Judge Anderson hears the challenge to the selection process.

State lawmakers approved medical marijuana in 2021, but a series of delays -- of which this challenge is merely the latest -- have prevented the opening of dispensaries so far. The commission says it is aiming to get them open this year.

The commission has issued licenses to other companies that were selected to cultivate, transport, and test marijuana and is set next month to issue the coveted "integrated" licenses for vertically integrated companies that grow, transport and sell medical marijuana. Anderson has not yet ruled on a request to block the issuance of the integrated licenses.

The case against the dispensary licensing was brought by Yellowhammer Medical Dispensaries, which had initially been awarded a license but saw that license rescinded amid disputes about the election process and was not selected as a licensee in the final round.

Pardons and Commutations

South Dakota Frees A Dozen People Convicted of Drug Ingestion but Keeps Them on Parole. On the Friday before Christmas, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) commuted the prison sentences of a dozen people imprisoned under the state's harsh and unique "ingestion" law, which requires only a positive drug test to hand someone a felony conviction and a prison sentence. But instead of freeing them entirely from the state's clutch, she ordered that they be placed on community supervision for their unauthorized possession of a controlled substance convictions.

No other state has or applies a law that criminalizes people just for drug use. And South Dakota does apply it. In 2022, nearly one out of five non-violent female prisoners were doing time on ingestion charges, and so were 12% of non-violent male prisoners.

Last year at this time, Noem issued seven commutations, including some for people convicted of violent crimes and some that went against the wishes of victims' families and the state parole board. One of the recipients of Noem's 2022 commutations pleaded guilty to another crime less than two weeks after her release. The 12 commutations this year bring her total since taking office in 2019 to 24.


British Columbia Supreme Court Blocks New Law Against Public Drug Use. The Canadian province is in the second year of a three-year experiment with drug decriminalization, which allows adults to possess up to 2.5 grams of drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but the provincial legislature in November passed a law criminalizing drug use in places frequented by children and families. Now, the provincial Supreme Court has stepped in to block that move -- at least temporarily.

The court last Friday issued a temporary injunction until March 31to halt enforcement of the law, saying "irreparable harm will be caused" if the law comes into force.

The Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances allows fines and imprisonment for people who refuse to comply with police orders not to consume drugs within six meters (20 feet) of all building entrances and bus stops; within 15 meters (49 feet) of playgrounds, spray and wading pools, and skate parks; and in parks, beaches and sports fields.

The law was challenged by the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, which argued it would violate the Canadian charter if enforced. Attorneys for the association announced themselves pleased with the ruling, saying it shows "substance use cannot be legislated without scrutiny."

Provincial officials were not so pleased. "The law in question prevents the use of drugs in places that are frequented by children and families," said BC Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. "While we respect the decision of the court, we are concerned that this decision temporarily prevents the province from regulating where hard drugs are used, something every other province does, every day."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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