Drug War Chronicle

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MT Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church, More... (1/3/22)

You can now buy two ounces of weed at a time in Oregon instead of only one, New Hampshire lawmakers will try to override the governor's veto of a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Moving to Montana soon? Now you can buy pot there -- if you're in the right county. (Gmark1/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legal Marijuana Sales Begin. On New Year's Day, the state became the latest to allow legal recreational marijuana sales. The move comes more than a year after voters approved a pair of complementary marijuana legalization initiatives in November 2020 with 57 percent of the vote. But it's not on sale everywhere in the state: Under the law, counties where majorities voted for legalization can have pot shops, but in counties where majorities voted against the initiative cannot allow the shops unless the matter is approved in a county-wide vote.

Oregon Doubles the Amount of Marijuana People Can Buy. On December 28, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission approved new rules that include raising the amount of marijuana that people can purchase on a single occasion from one ounce to two ounces. That went into effect on New Year's Day. The state will now also allow home delivery of marijuana across city and county lines.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Lawmakers to Take Up Vetoed Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators will try this week to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill that would have allowed nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers to organize as for-profit businesses. In his veto message, Sununu said he vetoed the bill because it would create monopolies that could dominate the marketplace if and when recreational marijuana is legalized. The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, but passed the House on a voice vote, leaving it unclear whether there is a veto-proof majority there.

Ayahuasca

IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church. The Iowaska Church of Healing has lost its bid to win tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The church holds a "Sacrament of Ayahuasca" where its members use the hallucinogen for spiritual and physical healing, although its leader says he has never conducted such ceremonies at his home or anywhere else in the state. The church applied for tax-exempt status in January 2019.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

With 2021 now receding in the rear view mirror, we look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the arena of drug policy around the world.

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

Protestors denounce Duterte's bloody drug war. (hrw.org)
Rodrigo Duterte's term as Filipino president may be coming to an end, but his bloody legacy of drug war murders is going to haunt him. For us, last year actually begins in December 2020, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its preliminary examination of the Filipino drug war showed evidence of crimes against humanity, clearing the path toward a formal investigation into what are estimated to be more than 30,000 killings. At that point, the ICC had to determine whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines couldn't or wouldn't hold perpetrators accountable, the court could take the case.

ICC attention was only one piece of the mounting international pressure over the Duterte killings. For example, in February, US Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the full exoneration and release of Philippines drug war critic Senator Leila De Lima, who had then been detained on bogus, politically-motivated charges for four years. Now, it's been nearly five years, and she is still behind bars.

In May, a blustering Duterte vowed he would not open up police records about the killings and warned drug dealers that: "If I am there, I will really kill you. I don't care if there's TV around. I will really kill you."

In June, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded its preliminary investigation and announced there was sufficient evidence to request authorization to proceed with an official investigation, which prompted the Duterte administration to say it would not cooperate with the ICC investigation.

In August, Duterte again resorted to bluster, this time taunting the ICC during his last State of the Nation address and daring the court to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country."

But while Duterte blustered, his Justice Department was attempting to blunt the ICC investigation by announcing it had finished a review of 52 drug war killing cases. It was a weak effort though: The cases represented only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 killings for which the Philippines National Police took responsibility. And it wasn't enough to stop the ICC, which announced in September that it would open an official investigation into the killings, setting the stage for summonses and possible arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan.

In October, once again moving to blunt the investigation, the Justice Department announced that 154 police could be liable for drug war misconduct and then announced it would review thousands of drug war killings. The government also invoked a provision of the ICC's Rome Treaty to suspend the investigation while its request to defer it got considered. The following month, the ICC temporarily did suspend its official investigation, as per the treaty. "The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote.

The year ended with human rights groups urging the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

Afghanistan has been the world's largest producer of opium since the 1990s, except for one year when the Taliban banned it the first time they held power. Opium never went away during the nearly two-decade long occupation by the US and NATO forces, and despite Taliban declarations to the contrary, it does not look like the trade is going anywhere.

When the Taliban completed their conquest of the country by seizing Kabul in August, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced," Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

By October, the price of opium was rising in local markets, having tripled since the Taliban took power as buyers anticipated an opium shortage because of the possible ban, but the ban has yet to materialize.

And a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report that same month made it clear why the ban is unlikely to materialize. In a country now in economic crisis because the foreign spending that propped up the previous regime has vanished, UNODC reported that the spring opium crop had generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, also noting that "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan."

The 2021 crop was some 6,800 tons, up 8% over 2020. Given the devastation of the Afghan economy and the unlikelihood that the Taliban will move against a crop that supports hundreds of thousands of Afghan families, it's entirely possible that the crop next spring will be even larger. As one farmer told the UNODC, "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium."

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

Sixteen years after then-President Felipe Calderon called out the military to combat rising violence, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence continued unabated in 2021, with more than 25,000 killed by the end of November.

Amidst the quotidian violence, some notable incidents stand out: in March, an attack on a police convoy in Mexico state left 13 officers dead; in May, presumed cartel gunmen ambushed Joel Ernesto Soto, director of the Sinaloa State Police, on Monday, killing him on the outskirts of Culiacan, the state capital; in June, gunmen in SUVs representing warring factions of the Gulf Cartel ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead; in August, masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. And on and on.

The west central state of Michoacan was particularly plagued by cartel violence in 2021, beginning with an April massacre by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla. In May, warring cartels blocked highways and burned vehiclesin Aguililla and neighboring municipalities.

As violent clashes and blockades continued through the year, residents of those municipalities took to the streets in September took to the streets in Septemberto excoriate the military for staying in its barracks and demand military intervention to fight the cartels. It didn't work. That same month, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel beheaded five men manning a checkpoint on the edge of Tepalcatepec designed to keep the drug gangs out. And in November, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel struck again, killing five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco as it pursued its war with local criminal gangs.

When it comes to US-Mexico cooperation in the war on drugs, 2021 was not a good year. It began with a huge diplomatic spat around the DEA's arrest in late 2020 of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was subsequently released after loud protests from Mexico, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who personally accusing the DEA of making up the case against Cienfuegos. The US retorted with the Justice Department sharply rebuking Mexico for releasing a massive trove of evidence in the aborted drug trafficking case against Cienfuegos. Mexico then countered with a call for a DEA internal probe of the "fabricated" case.

Amidst the controversy, US investigations into the cartels were paralyzed as a law enacted in December requiring US officials to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom they view as largely corrupt, went into effect. In May, US and Mexican officials told Reuters the fight against Mexican drug trafficker had "ground to a halt"because of strained relations between the two counties.

But in October, there was a glimmer of hope for fans of continued anti-drug coordination between the two countries. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting came after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations.

4. Mexico Didn't Get Marijuana Legalization Done (Again)

Two years after the Mexican Supreme Court found marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and ordered the government to legalize it, the Senate finally passed a legalization bill in late 2020. The measure appeared to have momentum on its side, especially after the Chamber of Deputies approved it in March. Under the bill, people 18 and up would be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also created a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce.

The momentum appeared to hold through April, when the bill won two Senate committee votes in as many days but then hit a last-minute snag when it ran into opposition from unhappy with the revised version of the bill. With that, the bill was dead in the water until the congress returned to work in September.

Progress remained slow when lawmakers returned. It was only in November that a draft legalization bill was being circulated among senators, and while there were hints that a vote could happen in December, it didn't. Maybe in 2022.

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

In May, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved an anti-drugs campaign aimed at methamphetamines, and by mid-month police had killed 86 people and arrested 7,000. About the killings, police claimed they were only defending themselves in confrontations with drug traffickers, but family members and activists claimed they were executions. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also said the anti-drug campaign was part of an effort to target and intimidate it.

By the end of May, the toll had risen to 115, with more signs of extrajudicial killings and complaints from the BNP that some party workers had been killed during the campaign despite no connection to the drug trade. Authorities continued to claim that dead dealers had died in crossfire or in gunfights with police, but more families complained that their relatives had been arrested and then killed in custody. Most of the raids were carried out by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), a controversial force that human rights groups have repeatedly accused of abuses, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

By June, the United Nations was responding, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein saying the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers must be "immediately halted" and the perpetrators brought to justice. "Every person has the right to life and they do not lose their human rights because they sell drugs," he added. At that time, the toll stood at 130 dead and 13,000 arrested.

After that, the campaign quieted down, but there is no sign of any Bangladeshi investigations into the killings and human rights abuses in in the late spring. The United States, however, was paying attention, and in December, imposed sanctions on the RAB for human rights abuses, abductions, and hundreds of extrajudicial killings going back to 2018, targeting not only drug dealers, but also opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

Canadian cities, provinces, and activists pressed the Liberal federal government on drug reform issues throughout the year, with important struggles being waged around drug decriminalization and the vanguard issue of a safe drug supply, as well as a noteworthy milestone reached in opioid maintenance therapy.

The Liberals started the year off by introducing a sweeping criminal justice reform billthat would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But critics who demanded deeper reforms scoffed that it was too little, too late.

In April, British Columbia showed what deeper reforms might look like when it formally requested permission from the federal government for provincial drug decriminalization. That same month, saying the Liberal's reform bill didn't go far enough, the New Democratic Party's health critic, MP Don Davies filed a federal drug decriminalization bill.

VANDU is the vanguard.
The city of Vancouver also sought an exemption from federal drug laws to enact decriminalization.The city recommended the decriminalization of one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine, 1.5 grams for amphetamines, two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, and three grams for cocaine. That did not sit well with the city's vanguard drug user activists, who harshly criticized the possession limits. At that point, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) announced that it is withdrawing from talks with the city, and it and other drug policy advocates complained that drug users were largely excluded from the decriminalization process and that police have too large a role.

The push for decriminalization continued throughout the year. In October, nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, urged Prime Minister Trudeau to decriminalize drug possession. And in November, Toronto moved toward decriminalizationas the city's top health officer, Dr. Eilenn de Villa, recommended that the board of health approve a request to the federal government to exempt city residents from criminal charges for small-time drug possession.

But even though decriminalization is in the Liberals' platform, the party under Justin Trudeau is not ready to go there yet. After calling elections in August, necessitating a restart on January criminal justice reform bill, and despite the rising clamor for decriminalization, the Liberal government refiled the bill anyway.

In the summer, an even more direct challenge to drug prohibition was underway as British Columbia moved toward providing a "safe supply" of illicit drugs to street users.A provincial policy directive in British Columbia requires all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths.

A Vancouver elected official and local activists got in on the action, too, when Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the Downtown Eastside in a bid to dramatize the need for a safe drug supply. They also wanted to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

The following month, they were at it again, handing out a "safe supply" of drugs to mark International Overdose Awareness Dayto show the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. And in September, DULF and VANDU formally asked the federal government to allow buyers' clubs for hard drugs. They requested a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs.

And in October, the province of Alberta expressed interest in a safe drug supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them.

Meanwhile, magic mushroom shops were sprouting in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in in the city even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said.

And last but not least, in September, a Vancouver clinic began providing take-home prescription heroin,a North American first. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days, but now the patients can take it home themselves.

7. Malta Becomes First European Union County to Legalize Marijuana -- Germany, Luxembourg Next?

The Maltese parliament approved a bill legalizing marijuanaon December 14, and President George Vella signed it into law four days later, making the country the first member state of the European Union to do so. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law does not envision commercial sales but allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500.

Either Germany or Luxembourg could be next. In October, the government of Luxembourg unveiled its marijuana legalization proposal, which would allow people 18 and over to grow up to four plants and possess up to three grams in public. Like Malta, the Luxembourg law does not envision commercial sales, but people would be allowed to buy and trade marijuana seeds for their home gardens. The proposal still has to be approved by parliament.

And in November, the three parties who have formed Germany's new governing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats -- agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The coalition is prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

8. Italy's Pending Referendum on Marijuana and Plant Psychedelics

Italy is on the cusp of a bold drug reform move. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties including the Radicals launched a ballot campaignin for a referendum to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and other psychoactive plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms. They faced several challenges: First, they had to obtain half a million valid voter signatures by month's end and have the signatures validated by the Supreme Court of Cassation, then the Constitutional Court would have to rule that the measure is in line with the constitution, and only then, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing the cultivation of marijuana and psychoactive plants should be stricken.

In October, activists met their first challenge, turning in some 630,000 raw signatures. They were able to meet their signature-gathering goals so quickly because a pandemic-related policy change allowed them to collect signatures online instead of only in person.

Now, after having staved off an attempt by rightist parties to block it, the fate of the referendum is before the courts. If it wins final approval from the Constitutional Court, which will determine whether it conflicts with the constitution, international treaties, or the country's fiscal system, voters could go to the polls on the issue sometime between April 15 and June 15.

There's tons of cocaine around these days. (Pixabay)
9. Cocaine Production Has Doubled in the Course of a Decade

In June, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its annual estimate of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, the three perennial coca and cocaine producing nations. What is at first glance most striking in the current report is that for the first time, one nation -- Colombia -- produced more than 1,000 metric tons of cocaine.

But a closer reading of the report, which details coca cultivation and cocaine production going back to 2010, produces an even more striking finding: Over the decade that the report covers, the total amount of potential cocaine production in the three countries has more than doubled, from 914 tons in 2010 to a whopping 2,132 tons in 2020. In other words, Colombia alone produced more cocaine in 2020 than the whole region did a decade earlier.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does its own annual estimates of global potential cocaine production, and while they differ from those of the United Status, they outline the same massive expansion of cocaine. According to UNODC numbers compiled at Statista, beginning in 2004, 1,000 tons or more (slightly more in most years) was produced every year except 2012, 2013, and 2014, when it dipped down into the 900s. That series, which ended in 2019, has cocaine production topping out at 1,976 tons in 2017.

In the most recent edition of the UNODC's World Drug Report, that organization also reported that cocaine production had doubled, but put the period of doubling from 2014 to 2019, when it registered 1,784 tons.

Take your pick of the numbers. Either way, there is a lot more cocaine being produced these days than just a decade ago, tons more of it.

10. World Health Organization Declines Move Toward Labeling Kratom a Controlled Substance

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recommended in November that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review.

WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine [the active alkaloid in kratom] has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

Whew! Another year to put in the rear view mirror, but not before we reflect on the year that was. It was a year of tragic overdose death numbers and groundbreaking responses; it was a year of advances on marijuana reform in the states but statemate in Congress; it was a year of psychedelic advance in the states and cities -- but not enough political will to reform policing, at least not federally.

As always, there was a lot going on in the realm of domestic drug policy, and here are ten of the year's most important stories. Check back next week for our Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021.

1. Fentanyl, Pandemic Drive Drug Overdose Deaths to Record High

The nation either neared or surpassed the one millionth drug overdose death since 1999 in 2021. Driven largely by two factors -- pandemic-related isolation and lack of access to treatment services, and the increasing presence of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply -- overdose deaths hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported.

That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in October. And as if that were not bad enough, CDC reported in November provisional estimates that drug overdose deaths had topped 100,300 in the period from May 2020 to April 2021 -- the highest one-year overdose death toll ever.

As for that million overall dead figure, the CDC reported that through 2019 the toll had reached 841,000. We are now two years past that, and while that figure hasn't been officially recorded, just adding up the numbers makes it likely that we have already reached that horrific benchmark.

2. Nation's First Official Safe Injection Site Opens in New York City

The legality of safe injection sites -- where drug users can consume their substances in a clean, well-lit place under medical supervision -- remains unsettled under federal law, but officials in New York City decided they couldn't wait. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began calling for them in 2018, and the city Health Department announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center [safe injection site] services in the nation have commenced."

The move was quickly lauded by editorials in leading newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and by Christmas Eve, the city reported that 59 overdoses had already been reversed amid 2,000 visits to the facilities. Meanwhile, a safe injection site in Philadelphia whose opening was blocked in January by a federal appeals court after the Trump administration Justice Department moved against it, is awaiting a March filing by the Biden administration to see if it will take a more positive position allowing the facility to open.

Bills to allow safe injection sites were introduced in a number of states, including California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah, although only the Rhode Island bill passed and was signed into law. Still, the opening of the New York City facilities is a historic harm reduction first for the United States, and a likely harbinger of more to come.

3. Marijuana Reform Progress in the States

Nearly half the population now lives in legal marijuana states after five states this year joined the 13 others that had previously done so, mostly at the ballot box. But the states that legalized it this year all did so via the legislative process. Those are Connecticut (Senate Bill 1201), New Jersey (Assembly Bill 21/Senate Bill 21 and Assembly Bill 897), New Mexico (House Bill 2), New York (Senate Bill S854A), and Virginia (House Bill 2312/Senate Bill 1406).

This movement comes as marijuana legalization continues to garner strong public support, with a November Gallup poll reporting "a new high" of 68 per cent report. There was other marijuana-friendly legislative action in the states as well: Louisiana decriminalized it, four states (Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, Virginia) passed expungement laws, Alabama approved medical marijuana (although not in smokeable form), and 17 states approved medical marijuana expansion laws. Weed is on a roll.

4. Democrats Haven't Got Federal Marijuana Legalization Done, and It's Not Looking So Great for Next Year, Either

With Democrats in control of Congress after the November 2020 elections, hopes were high that this could be the year federal marijuana prohibition would be ended. The House had already passed a legalization bill at the end of the last Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) was pushing for it, and even if President Biden opposed full legalization and would only go as far as supporting decriminalization, that was a bridge that could be crossed when we came to it.

Now, at the end of 2021, that bridge is still a ways down the road. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), passed the House of Representatives a year ago. But that was a different Congress, meaning it has to pass the House again. In this Congress it's only passed the Judiciary Committee, in late September, and hasn't moved since. On the Senate side, Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) rolled out an initial draft of their legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in mid-July, but have yet to formally file legislation.

One big reason for the impasse is that Democrats are at odds among themselves, tussling over whether to hold out for full legalization replete with social equity measures, or to go for incremental measures in the meanwhile, such as banking access for state-legal cannabusinesses through the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996). That bill passed the House and was inserted into the annual defense funding bill, only to be removed at the insistence of Senate leadership in the former camp, including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The fight over how to approach marijuana reform federally has split not only the Democrats, but also the drug reform movement, with groups like the Drug Policy Alliance calling for not passing banking except as part of a full legalization bill, while NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project lobbied hard for the SAFE Act.

As the year came to an end, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) told the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that Congress would take up marijuana reform in the spring. But with an election year looming, Congress evenly divided, and not even all Democratic senators sure votes on marijuana legalization, Congress looks more likely to be nibbling at the edges of federal pot prohibition rather than ending it -- or perhaps to do nothing. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills filed, from expungement to veterans' access to easing research barriers and more. In 2021, nibbling at the edges may be the best we can do.

Meanwhile, in November, a GOP legislator, Sourth Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace filed her own bill, the States Reform Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level. It would do so by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, leaving it up to the states to set their own marijuana policies. The bill would also set a three percent federal excise tax, and release and expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana offenses. Mace said her bill represented a compromise that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Last year's mass mobilization around George Floyd's death has yet to translate to new laws restraining police misbehavior. (CC)
5. Even in the Wake of George Floyd, Police Reform Can't Move in the Senate

Following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police and the massive mobilizations it generated, the impetus grew to reexamine and reform police practices. The spirit of reform in response to the crisis took root in both houses and both parties, with Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott filing a tepid Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act last year. But that bill lacked key provisions demanded by Democrats, such as an end to qualified immunity for police officers in civil lawsuits, and it died at the end of the last session.

That spirit of reform was embodied in February, when the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 1280), sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). That bill would make it easier to convict a police officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution and limit qualified immunity as a defense against liability in a private civil action against an officer. It also restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds and creates a National Police Misconduct Registry, among other provisions.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) envisioned something similar in the Senate when in June he announced his framework for comprehensive police reform legislation. Like the House bill, it too reformed qualified immunity so that people could actually recover damages from police who violate their constitutional rights. It too would make it easier to federally prosecute police misconduct. And it too would create a National Police Misconduct Registry, as well as banning racial profiling and providing incentives for states to adopt policies banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and other airway-restrictive holds in their use-of-force policies.

Booker and Scott would become the point men in a month's long effort to craft a police reform bill with bipartisan support over the course of the summer. But by September, the negotiations had hit a dead end, with Booker telling reporters: "We weren't making progress -- any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform to America's policing," he said. And with that, federal police reform was dead for the year.

One of the irresolvable issues was qualified immunity, on which Scott and the Republicans refused to budge. Instead, in a statement noting the end of negotiations, Scott claimed "Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement" and then, with a complete unawareness of irony, complained about using "a partisan approach to score political points."

So far in the Congress, it has been justice delayed. Will it end up being justice denied? There is still a year left in the session, so stay tuned.

6. The Biden Administration's Partial Embrace of Harm Reduction

From the outset, the Biden administration is proving to be the friendliest ever toward harm reduction, even though it has yet to acknowledge one of the most effective harm reduction interventions: safe injection sites (or "supervised consumption sites" or "overdose prevention centers"). The first signal came in March, when the administration included nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services in the coronavirus relief bill. The bill allocated $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

Then, on April 1, the administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. That document contains a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, but also prioritizes "enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts." The same month, it allowed federal funds to be used to buy rapid fentanyl test strips.

After a quiet summer, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra made news in October when he announced the department's overdose prevention strategy and committed to more federal support for harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. He even suggested the agency might be open to safe injection sites, but in a sign of the delicacy of the subject in this administration, HHS quickly walked back the comments: "HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites," the statement read. "The issue is a matter of ongoing litigation. The Secretary was simply stressing that HHS supports various forms of harm reduction for people who use drugs."

In November, the administration released model naloxone legislation. The administration on Wednesday released model legislation to help states improve access to naloxone treatment for opioid overdoses. The model bill encourages people to obtain naloxone, protects them from prosecution when administering it, requires health insurance to cover it, and provides increased access to it in schools and correctional facilities.

Also in November, that $30 million from the coronavirus relief bill got real when SAMHSA announced it had launched $30 million harm reduction grant funding opportunity to "help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use."

The Biden administration is clearly moving in the direction of harm reduction, but where it comes down on safe injection sites is still muddy. The Justice Department is preparing a brief in the case of Safehouse, a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site that was blocked from opening after the Trump administration Justice Department persuaded the 3rd US Circuit Court of appeals that it violated the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" provision. That brief will be a key indicator of whether the administration is prepared to fully embrace harm reduction, but we are going to have to wait until next year to find out.

7. Oregon Leads the Way on Drug Decriminalization, Others Are Vying to Follow

With the November 2020 passage of Measure 110 with 59 percent of the vote, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession, and by year's end, the initial results were looking pretty good. Because the measure tapped into marijuana tax revenues to fund treatment and harm reduction services, those programs are getting a hefty $302 million in much needed funding over the next two years.

While the numbers are not in yet for this first year of decriminalization, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

In the wake of the Oregon vote, a number of other states saw decriminalization bills introduced -- Florida, Kansas, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington -- and so did Congress, when Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO in June filed the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decrim. DPRA is the first time decriminalization bill to be introduced in Congress.

Also on the decrim front this year, efforts are underway in Washington, DC and Washington state to put initiatives on the ballot next year. The public seems to be ready: A summer poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71 percent of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed and 59 percent supported decriminalizing drug possession. A slightly earlier ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll around the same time had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting decrim. Decriminalization is starting to look like an idea whose time has come.

8. Conservative State Supreme Courts Negate the Will of the Voters

The November 2020 elections resulted in a clean sweep for drug reform initiatives, with marijuana legalization being approved in four states and medical marijuana in two states. But in two cases, marijuana legalization in South Dakota and medical marijuana in Mississippi, Republican-dominated state Supreme Courts moved to effectively negate the will of the voters.

In South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote, but acting at the behest of South Dakota anti-marijuana Republican Governor Kristi Noem, a county sheriff and the head of the Highway Patrol sued to block the measure. They won in circuit court and won again when the state Supreme Court threw out Amendment A, ruling it unconstitutional because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. Noem's victory may prove ephemeral, though: The activists behind Amendment A are already collecting signatures for a 2022 initiative, and the state legislature didn't even wait for the Supreme Court decision to decide it is ready to legalize marijuana in the next session.

In Mississippi, Initiative 65 won with 74 percent of the vote, but a Republican local official successfully challenged it, and in May, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court threw it out -- managing to wipe out the state's initiative process as it did so. Under the state constitution, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

The state has seen numerous initiatives since 2000, with none of them challenged. When faced with the conundrum, the Supreme Court could have found that constitutional language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," but instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five-district requirement.

The legislature has been working to craft a medical marijuana bill, but Republican Governor Tate Reeves is not happy with the legislative language and has refused to call a special session on medical marijuana. Mississippians will have to wait for 2022.

9. House Votes to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, But Senate Dallies

In September, in an effort to undo one the gravest examples of racially-biased drug war injustice, the House voted to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021, passed on a vote of 361-66, demonstrating bipartisan support, although all 66 "no" votes came from Republicans. Amidst racially-tinged and "tough on drugs" political posturing around crack use in the early 1980s, accompanied by significant media distortions and oversimplifications, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, cosponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Under that bill, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence.

While race neutral on its face, the law was disproportionately wielded as a weapon against African-Americans. Although similarly small percentages of both Blacks and Whites used crack, and there were more White crack users than Black ones, Blacks were seven times more likely to be imprisoned for crack offenses than Whites between 1991 and 2016. Between 1991 and 1995, in the depths of the drug war, Blacks were 13 times more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice meat grinder over crack. And even last year, the US Sentencing Commission reported that Black people made up 77 percent of federal crack prosecutions.

After years of effort by an increasingly broad alliance of drug reform, racial justice, human rights, religious and civic groups, passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act took a partial step toward reducing those disparities. The FSA increased the threshold quantity of crack cocaine that would trigger certain mandatory minimums -- instead of 100 times as much powder cocaine than crack cocaine needed, it changed to 18 times as much.

The 2018 FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. And now, finally, an end to the disparity is in sight. The Senate version of the bill is S. 79, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by fellow Democrat Dick Durbin (IL) and GOP Senators Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). After the vote, they prodded their Senate fellows to get moving. But the Senate bill has yet to move after being filed 11 months ago.

10. Psychedelic Reform Movement Broadens in States and Cities

The movement to ease or undo laws criminalizing psychedelic substances continued to broaden and deepen in 2021. Detroit and Seattle joined Denver and Oakland in the ranks of major cities that have embraced psychedelic reform, with the Seattle city council approving a psychedelic decrim measure in October and Detroit voters approving a psychedelic decrim measure in November.

A number of smaller towns and cities went down the same path this year too, including Cambridge, Massachusetts in February, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September (joining Ann Arbor), Easthampton, Massachusetts in October (joining Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville), and Port Townsend, Washington, in December.

Psychedelic reform bills are now making their way to statehouses around the country, with bills showing up in eight states by March and a handful more by year's end. Most of them have died or are languishing in committee, and a much-watched California psychedelic decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 519, has been pushed to next year after passing the state Senate only to run into obstacles in the Assembly. Two of them passed, though: New Jersey S3256, which lessens the penalty for the possession of any amount of psilocybin from a third degree misdemeanor to a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, became law in February. Then Texas House Bill 1802, which would expand research on therapeutic psychedelics, became law in June.

Meanwhile, building on Denver's pioneering psilocybin decriminalization in 2019, a national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed therapeutic psychedelic and full psilocbyin legalization initiatives aimed at 2022. Oakland activists have announced a "Go Local" initiative under which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from community-based local producers. The move aims to build on the city's current psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, passed in 2019.

NYC Safe Injection Sites Already Saving Lives, Commutations for Drug Prisoners Could Be Coming, More... (12/23/21)

An Iowa Republican legislative leader shoots down Democrats' plan for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, it's the time of year for presidential pardons and commutations, and more.

New York city safe injection sites have already reversed 59 overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Iowa Republican Leader Shoots Down Democrats' Plan for Marijuana Constitutional Amendment. Yesterday, we noted a call by a trio of Iowa Democratic state senators for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. It didn't take long for a key Republican to shoot it down. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale said he had no intention of bringing the proposal for a vote and derided marijuana legalization as a "gimmick." Republicans control both the governor's office and the legislature.

Harm Reduction

New York City Safe Injection Sites Are Already Saving Lives. The NYC Health Department announced Tuesday that the nation's first sanctioned safe injection site has already been heavily utilized and saved dozens of lives. The department announced that 59 overdoses had been reversed at the sites, which have seen more than 2,000 visits from people seeking a safe, secure place to shoot up.

These initial results are "promising" and demonstrate how the sites "reduce needless suffering and avoidable deaths," said Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. "The simple truth is that Overdose Prevention Centers save lives -- the lives of our neighbors, family and loved ones."

A day earlier, the New York City Board of Health unanimously approved a resolution that touts evidence supporting the efficacy of a harm reduction approach to drug use and endorses the city's move to authorize safe consumption sites. The resolution urges "the federal government and New York State provide authorization of such overdose prevention centers and continue to expand funding and support for harm reduction services and medications for opioid use disorder treatment."

The Trump administration moved to block a safe injection site from opening in Philadelphia. It is not yet clear what the position of the Biden administration will be, but advocates are waiting for a Justice Department response in the pending Philadelphia case for a hint of what is to come. The Philadelphia safe injection site, Safehouse, is waiting for the DOJ to submit its position to an appeals court, but in what advocates see as a positive sign, the date for DOJ to do that has been pushed back from November 5 to March 7, 2022.

Sentencing

White House Says Biden Has "Every Intention" of Commuting Sentences for Some Drug Prisoners. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Biden has "every intention of using his clemency power" this year but was non-specific about when that might happen. When asked at a press briefing if there were any plans for commutations, Psaki said: "I don't have anything to preview at this time. I would just reiterate that the president has every intention of using his clemency power," she said. "And there has been some reporting which is accurate out there about looking at nonviolent drug offenders, but I don't have anything to update you on at this point in time."

Fighting Back Against the Non-Consensual Drug Testing of Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

Two New York state women reported to Child Protective Services after their consumption of poppy seeds resulted in false positives, on drug tests they were never aware of nor consented to as they were giving birth, have filed a complaint against the hospital that ran the tests and then reported them.

The two women, identified only as Crystal H. and Jane Doe, are being represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). The complaints against Garnet Health Medical Center (GHMC) in Middletown were filed with the state Division of Human Rights. They charge that Garnet Health discriminated against both women on the basis of sex and pregnancy by drug testing them without their consent, then interfering with their ability to breastfeed their babies, and referring them and their families to the State Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. (SCR), which subjected them to invasive searches.

Crystal's complaint details how, having been routinely providing urine samples to check for blood and proteins during her pregnancy, one urine sample taken after she was admitted for delivery was used without telling her or seeking her consent "for the purpose of testing it for drugs, including opiates." The complaint notes that "GHMC had no medical reason, necessity, or justification" for the test and that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists rejects the practice of drug testing pregnant patients.

To Crystal's surprise, the drug test came back "presumptive positive," and she was then "met with accusatory and dismissive treatment from the primarily white nursing staff." Although Crystal explained that she had eaten a bagel containing poppy seeds, and a staff physician conceded that the poppy seeds could cause the positive result for opiate, GHMC did not run the more accurate confirmatory test as recommended.

After Crystal gave birth, GHMC drug tested her child -- again without her consent -- and he tested negative. Despite even that, Even after the infant's negative test result, and even though Crystal had asked for a second drug test, and even though the initial test result meant "the test provides a preliminary result only, positive results are unconfirmed," GHMC then reported her to the SCR. GHMC only agreed to retest Crystal after it had reported her, and when that test came back negative, it refused to withdraw the report to SCR or inform SCR of the second, negative test result. (Crystal also took a hair follicle drug test that can detect use for up to three months and came up negative for opiates on that.)

That report to SCR resulted in the Oneida County Department of Social Services conducting an invasive search of her home within 12 hours of her release from the hospital. Crystal remained under for suspicion for two months, until the department closed the abuse and maltreatment investigation as "unfounded."

"Garnet Health turned the joy of becoming a new mom into an absolute nightmare. Right after delivery, hospital staff didn't permit me to nurse because of a false positive drug test result after having eaten a poppy seed bagel. Those bonding moments with my newborn are moments I will never get back," Crystal H. said in a press release announcing the legal action. "Across New York State, low income, and Black and Latinx pregnant New Yorkers are threatened with family separation and discriminated against by their healthcare providers based on accusations of drug use alone. I'm taking action today to ensure that our hospitals' care for newborns and their parents is grounded in principles of public health, not racist stereotypes."

Jane Doe's complaint is eerily similar to Crystal H.'s. She, too, innocently partook of a food item containing poppy seeds -- a Sam's Club kale salad with poppy seed dressing -- she, too, was drug tested without her consent or knowledge and deemed a drug user, not allowed to breastfeed her infant, and reported to SCR despite her protestations of innocence. And she, too, suffered the emotional trauma of the experience.

"By drug testing me without my consent and reporting a false presumptive positive result to child welfare authorities, Garnet Health turned what should have been the most meaningful moment of my life into the most traumatic one," she said in the press release. "All because I ate a salad with poppy seed dressing, Garnet Health treated me like an unfit mother, told me I wasn't allowed to breastfeed, repeatedly denied my requests for a confirmatory test, and ensured my name would be on the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. At a time when I should be focused on bonding with the baby I have been dreaming of my whole life, I have been forced to grapple with the heartbreaking effects of Garnet Health's discriminatory actions."

The practice of drug testing pregnant women without their knowledge or consent is common in New York, according to NAPW and NYCLU, but is not supported by leading medical organizations. Here, for example, is a 2019 policy statement from the American Medical Association:

"Our AMA will oppose any efforts to imply that the diagnosis of substance use disorder during pregnancy represents child abuse; support legislative and other appropriate efforts for the expansion and improved access to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders during pregnancy; oppose the removal of infants from their mothers solely based on a single positive prenatal drug screen without appropriate evaluation; and advocate for appropriate medical evaluation prior to the removal of a child, which takes into account the desire to preserve the individual's family structure, the patient's treatment status, and current impairment status when substance use is suspected."

The NYCLU and NAPW are fighting to end the kind of abuses Crystal and Jane Doe faced.

"No parent should ever endure what Crystal and her husband endured," said Gabriella Larios, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Nonconsensual drug tests prioritize stigma over science and are a relic of racist War on Drugs myths. Garnet Health, and all hospitals across New York State, must immediately stop drug testing pregnant people in secret, and Albany must pass legislation so that no drug test can take place without a pregnant person's informed consent."

"Garnet Health's practice of drug testing all pregnant patients without their informed consent and reporting test results to child welfare authorities has devastating consequences for new families and constitutes illegal sex discrimination," said NAPW attorney Emma Roth. "We're filing the complaint to shine a light on Garnet Health's discriminatory practices and we hope other hospitals take notice. No new mother should ever face such traumatic and discriminatory treatment."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A DEA agent heads to prison for diverting $9 million from money-laundering investigations, a California cop heads to jail for throwing out an exonerating drug test of a woman driver, and more. Let's get to it:

In Augusta, Georgia, a Richmond County sheriff's deputy was arrested Monday on charges he smuggled weapons and drugs into the county jail for inmates. Now former Deputy Davion Deboskie joins four other deputies already arrested and fired in an investigation of contraband at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center. Four of the other five were only charged with violating their oaths, but one, like Deboskie, was also charged with unlawful street gang activity. The arrests came after a search of the jail that came up with 23 weapons (19 shanks and 4 clubs), nine tobacco cases, at least five synthetic cannabinoid packages, at least 34 pills, and one container of homemade alcohol.

In Miami, a former DEA special agent was sentenced December 9 to more than 12 years in federal prison for operating a money laundering and fraud scheme while serving as a special agent with the DEA. Jose I. Irizarry, 46, had pleaded guilty in September to all 19 counts of an indictment that included conspiracy to commit money laundering, honest services wire fraud, bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Facing personal financial pressures, Irizarry used his position as a special agent to divert approximately $9 million from undercover DEA money laundering investigations to himself and to co-conspirators. In return, Irizarry received bribes and kickbacks worth at least $1 million for himself and his family, which was used to purchase jewelry, luxury cars, and a home. To carry out the scheme, Irizarry and his co-conspirators used a stolen identity to open a bank account under false pretenses and then utilized the account to receive diverted drug proceeds. The scheme lasted throughout Irizarry's assignments to the DEA's Miami Field Division and to its office in Cartagena, Colombia.

In Ventura, California, a former Ventura County Sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to a year in jail for throwing away a drug test that exonerated a woman and instead continuing to try to arrest her. When the woman complained to another deputy, he found the negative test result in the trash. Then-Deputy Richard Charles Barrios was then charged and convicted of destroying physical matter.

In Ocala, Florida, a former federal prison guard was sentenced last Friday to 20 months in prison for smuggling drugs into the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex. Guard Wayne Grant, 28, went down in a sting where he agreed to smuggle methamphetamine into the prison in exchange for money. He accepted delivery of 70 grams of fake meth and $2,000 in money orders and then smuggled the fake meth into the prison and gave it to an inmate. He was charged with receipt of a bribe by a public official and pleaded guilty in September.

Medical Marijuana Update

The medical marijuana front remains fairly quiet this week, but there's unhappy news for New Mexico patients, and more.

New Mexico

New Mexico Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can't Buy as Much Marijuana as Recreational Users. Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez ruled last Thursday that medical marijuana patients cannot purchase the same amount as non-patients when recreational-use sales begin. In so ruling, he rejected a claim from a medical marijuana patient that he should be able to buy as much marijuana as a non-patient consumer. "Petitioner has failed to establish that he, as well as qualified patients, qualified caregivers, and reciprocal patients, have a clear legal right to purchase an additional two-ounces of medical cannabis, tax free, at this time, under the Cannabis Regulation Act," Chavez wrote. Under the state's medical marijuana program, patients are allowed to purchase just over seven ounces in a 90-day period. The state Medical Cannabis Program has proposed upping that limit to 15 ounces.

Ohio

Ohio Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow more dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, growers to grow more of it, and more patients to qualify for it by expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include any conditions for which a patients might "reasonably be expected" to find benefit or relief. The bill would also shift regulation of dispensaries from the pharmacy board to a new Division of Marijuana Control in the Commerce Department. The bill now heads to the House.

Iowa Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana, Fed Prisoners Released Due to Pandemic Can Stay Home, More... (12/22/21)

The Biden administration rolls out new sanctions aimed at international drug trafficking, a Washington state town endorses psychedelic reforms, and more.

The Justice Department has determined that federal prisoners released because of the pandemic can stay home. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Iowa Senate Democrats Propose Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana. Led by state Sen. Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City), a trio of Senate Democrats have proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The move comes after years of legislative efforts to legalize it have gone nowhere in the Republican-dominated legislature. Joining Bolkom at a Wednesday press conference to announce the plan were state Sens. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) and Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines). It is time, Bolkom said, to "basically (beginning) to treat marijuana like we treat a six-pack of beer." He cited the conviction of more than 4,300 Iowans for marijuana possession last year.

Psychedelics

Port Townsend, Washington, City Council Unanimously Approves Psychedelic Reform Resolution. The city council in the Washington state coastal community of Port Townsend has unanimously approved a resolution making the enforcement of laws against entheogenic substances among the city's lowest priorities. It also includes specific language saying that the city would not direct funding to police specifically for entheogen enforcement activities. The resolution also expresses support for broader decriminalization at the state and federal level. " Port Townsend maintains that the abuse of controlled substances should be understood primarily as a public health issue," the text of the resolution says. The city becomes the second in the state to pass such a measure. Seattle's city council passed an entheogen decriminalization resolution in October.

Foreign Policy

White House Strengthens Sanctions to Fight International Drug Traffic. Last week, the White House issued Executive Order 14059, "Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade." The order implements part of the Fentanyl Sanctions Act of 2019 and significantly expands the use of sanctions by the US government to fight drug trafficking. The order allows the government to impose sanctions on any foreign citizen involved in "international drug proliferation activity" or who provides support -- either financially or in goods or services -- for such activities. The sanctions will allow the US government to block a target's property in the US, block US financial institutions from doing business with the target, and bar US citizens from investing in an entity that has been targeted for sanctions.

Sentencing

Biden Administration Will Let Prisoners Sent Home Because of Pandemic to Stay Home. The Department of Justice has released a new analysis that will allow thousands of federal prisoners released to home confinement to avoid returning to prison to finish their sentences. As part of the 2020 CARES Act coronavirus relief bill, Congress granted the Bureau of Prisons the ability to release some federal prisoners for as long as the pandemic was considered a national emergency, and some 4,800 prisoners were released.

Late in the Trump administration, his Justice Department released a determination that once the pandemic emergency was over, those prisoners would have to go back to prison to finish their sentences. The Biden Justice Department initially agreed, holding that 2,800 of those prisoners would have to return to prison. But with this new analysis, the department has changed course, determining that the Bureau of Prisons does have the authorization to extend home confinement.

"Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment, and have followed the rules," said Attorney General Merrick Garland. "In light of today's Office of Legal Counsel opinion, I have directed that the Department engage in a rulemaking process to ensure that the Department lives up to the letter and the spirit of the CARES Act. We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison."

Your Donations Are Doubled Until December 31!

Posted in:

Dear reformer,

I'm pleased to announce that Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps has pledged $10,000 in matching funds again this year. Donate to either of our nonprofits between now and midnight Dec. 31st, and your gift will be doubled until we reach that goal!

David Borden speaking at a UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event, March 2017
Since our founding, StoptheDrugWar.org has sought to end drug prohibition, replacing its punitive policies with positive ones based on health and well-being, while making a positive impact on issues that intersect with drug policy.

As reforms become more real, the last part of that grows in importance. Our newsletter will devote significant space in 2022 to the tensions that success creates for us in areas like marijuana legalization and psychedelics reform, and to the burgeoning efforts people are making around them. We'll also take these questions up through Zoom meetings and on Clubhouse.

Will the industries include people who've been harmed the most by the drug war? Will arrest and conviction records get expunged? Will craft and other small marijuana businesses survive? How will indigenous people's access to plants they've used for generations be assured, when more people become interested in them too? These are just a few of the issues at stake.

At the UN, we'll continue our efforts to modernize the international drug treaties in light of national moves toward marijuana legalization, while asserting the supremacy of human rights obligations over drug control obligations. We'll continue our campaign to stop Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war slaughter. And we'll take this to the US Congress as well, where appropriations made in the budget every year have a profound effect on drug policies abroad.

We are advancing our strategies and the movement's goals, and are ready to take that into 2022. We need your help to do it. Can you make a generous contribution to our $10,000 matched to $20,000 end-year goal today?

Two kinds of donations count toward our matching funds offer – tax-deductible supporting educational sides of our advocacy, and non-deductible for our legislative lobbying and other costs. Note that, like last year, if you don't itemize your tax-deductions (US taxpayers), for 2021 you can still deduct up to $300 total above-the-line for donations.

If you prefer to donate by check rather than online, those can be sent to us at P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016. For a tax-deductible donation please make your check payable to DRCNet Foundation. For a non-deductible donation please make it payable to Drug Reform Coordination Network. (There's also information on donating stock shares here.)

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016
https://stopthedrugwar.org

P.S. Check back next week for Phil Smith's annual "Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories," to be followed by the annual "Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories."

No More Pot Tickets in St. Louis, NY Hospital Sued Over Nonconsensual Drug Testing of Pregnant Women, More... (12/21/21)

An Ohio marijuana legalization initiative campaign hands in initial signatures, St. Louis becomes the latest city to give up on policing small-time pot possession, and more.

No more pot tickets in St. Looey. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Campaign Submits Signatures Needed to Force Vote. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol handed in more than 200,000 raw signatures Monday for its proposed initiative to legalize the personal possession and cultivation of marijuana. They need only 132,887 valid voter signatures for the measure to be valid This is not a typical, direct-to-the-voters initiative; instead, if the signatures are verified, the legislature would then have four months to act on the measure. If the legislature rejects or fails to act on the measure, campaigners would then have to gather another 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the issues before the voters in the next general election.

St. Louis Police No Longer Issuing Marijuana Citations. People found with up to two ounces of marijuana or growing up to six plants will no longer be cited by city police. That's because Mayor Tishaura Jones last week signed into law an ordinance that virtually legalizes marijuana in the city. The ordinance bars police from issuing citations for two ounces or less, bars police from initiating a search based on the "odor or visual presence" of marijuana, and provides that city workers who test positive for marijuana can cite their state-issued medical marijuana cards to avoid "adverse employer actions."

Drug Testing

New York Civil Liberties Union and National Advocates for Pregnant Women File Complaints Against New York Hospital Over Drug Testing Mothers Without Consent. Last Friday, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the activist group National Advocates for Pregnant Women filed human rights complaints against Garnet Health Medical Center in Middletown on behalf of two mothers who were drug tested while hospitalized to give birth. The hospital reported both mothers to Child Protective Services after the testing generated false positives caused by eating poppy seeds. The groups say the hospital conducted the drug tests without the knowledge or consent of the women, that the pattern of hospital maternal drug testing is discriminatory, and that the practice drives mothers of color away from health services, increasing infant mortality in minority communities. They want the state to pass legislation to end the nonconsensual drug testing of pregnant women.

CO Psychedelic Initiatives Filed, San Francisco State of Emergency Over Drugs & Crime in Tenderloin, More... (12/20/21)

Joe Manchin thinks his constituents would use child tax credit payments to buy drugs, a state of emergency in San Francisco could clear the way for a safe injection site, and more.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) apparently doesn't think too highly of his constituents. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Will Take Up Marijuana Reform in the Spring. In a memo to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus last Thursday, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote that so-far stalled marijuana reform legislation would be taken up in the spring. "The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people," they said. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills before Congress, ranging from full-out legalization to bills seeking to ease access to financial services for state-legal marijuana enterprises, as well as narrower bills dealing with topics such as legal marijuana sales in Washington, DC, and opening up opportunities for research on PTSD, among others.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can't Buy as Much Marijuana as Recreational Users. Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez ruled last Thursday that medical marijuana patients cannot purchase the same amount as non-patients when recreational-use sales begin. In so ruling, he rejected a claim from a medical marijuana patient that he should be able to buy as much marijuana as a non-patient consumer. "Petitioner has failed to establish that he, as well as qualified patients, qualified caregivers, and reciprocal patients, have a clear legal right to purchase an additional two-ounces of medical cannabis, tax free, at this time, under the Cannabis Regulation Act," Chavez wrote. Under the state's medical marijuana program, patients are allowed to purchase just over seven ounces in a 90-day period. The state Medical Cannabis Program has proposed upping that limit to 15 ounces.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists File Psychedelic Therapeutic and Full Psilocybin Legalization Initiatives. A national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed two separate psychedelic reform initiatives -- both with the same title, the Natural Medicine Healing Act -- one of which would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and the other which would create a system of licensed businesses to produce natural entheogens for therapeutic use at "healing centers." The campaign builds on psilocybin decriminalization in Denver in 2019, the first such move in the country. Meanwhile, Oregon voters approved therapeutic psilocybin last year.

Drug Policy

Joe Manchin Privately Told Colleagues Parents Use Child Tax Credit Money on Drugs. Among Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) reasons for announcing he would not support President Biden's Build Back Better bill was one that he didn't say out loud: That "he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their own children," the Huffington Post has reported, citing "two sources familiar with the senator's comments." The child tax credit has provided families with $300 a month per child, cutting childhood poverty rates nearly in half. The Post reported that "Manchin's comments shocked several senators," but are in line with other reported comments that he thought people would use proposed sick leave to go hunting. It also echoes long-standing conservative talking points about welfare.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Mayor Declares State of Emergency in the Tenderloin. Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency in the city's Tenderloin district last Friday aimed at combatting rising crime, drug use, and homelessness there. The declaration allows city officials to suspend zoning laws to create a site that would offer shelter and mental health services to people suffering from drug addiction. Fully one quarter of all overdose deaths in the city last year took place in the Tenderloin. The move comes after the city Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a building in the Tenderloin to house a proposed safe injection site. The declaration also takes aim at crime in the neighborhood. "We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly," Breed said. "Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets."

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Settlement, 90-Year-Old Pot Prisoner Freed, More... (12/17/21)

The Ohio Senate approves a medical marijuana expansion bill, Baltimore will end pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for potential city government hires, and more.

Horacio Estrada-Elias with family, 2014
Marijuana Policy

90-Year-Old Federal Prisoner Serving Life for Marijuana Offense Wins Compassionate Release. A seriously ill federal prison doing life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana trafficking offense has been freed after a judge granted him compassionate relief on Tuesday -- overruling his own previous order denying the release. Horacio Estrada-Ellis, 90, had served more than a dozen years in prison and suffers from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease, and also contracted the coronavirus while in prison. His warden had recommended compassionate release but federal District Court Judge Danny Reeves denied the motion in July, saying a life sentence is "the only sentence that would be appropriate." But a three-judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court that Reeves had "abused (his) discretion" by ignoring the fact that Estrada-Ellis was unlikely to reoffend and by "overly emphasizing" his nonviolent crimes, and Reeves then issued a new opinion approving his compassionate release. Estrada-Ellis left prison on Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow more dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, growers to grow more of it, and more patients to qualify for it by expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include any conditions for which a patients might "reasonably be expected" to find benefit or relief. The bill would also shift regulation of dispensaries from the pharmacy board to a new Division of Marijuana Control in the Commerce Department. The bill now heads to the House.

Opioids

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Opioid Settlement, Leaving Sackler Family Vulnerable to Civil Lawsuits. US District Court Judge Coleen McMahon on Thursday blew up a carefully negotiated settlement between Purdue Pharma and thousands of state, local, and tribal governments that had sued the company, which manufactured OxyContin, for its role in the rapid rise of opioid addiction beginning in the late 1990s. The agreement had shielded the Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma, from more civil lawsuits in return for a $4.5 billion payment. But McMahon ruled that the bankruptcy code does not allow such an agreement. Purdue has already said it will appeal, but lawyers for some government entities that had appealed the originally settlement were quite pleased: "This is a seismic victory for justice and accountability that will re-open the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused," said William Tong, the attorney general of Connecticut. The explosion of opioid use that began with OxyContin eventually resulted in a backlash, leading to restrictions on the availability of prescription opioid that left chronic pain patients in the lurch and prompted many opioid users to move to the black market, fueling a large increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years.

Drug Testing

Baltimore to No Longer Require Pre-Employment Drug, Alcohol Screening for City Jobs. Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday that the city government will no longer require pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for new hires. The new policy has exceptions for safety-sensitive positions, such as law enforcement, and positions that require driving or operating heavy equipment.

"We want the best and brightest candidates to help us provide efficient and effective City services to our residents," the mayor said. "Frankly, the outdated and costly pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings only served to block qualified and passionate residents from obtaining employment with the City. This policy disproportionately harmed the prospects of talented Black and Brown job candidates. I am grateful that we are making this change now so that we can continue to improve local government operations and better serve the people of Baltimore."

How the Global Drug War’s Victims Are Fighting Back [FEATURE]

Despite significant advances made by governments around the world in humanizing drug control systems since the turn of the century, human rights abuses still seem to be taking place in the course of enforcing drug prohibitions in recent years and, in some cases, have only gotten worse.

The United States continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses and imposes state surveillance (probation and parole) on millions more. The Mexican military rides roughshod over the rule of law, disappearing, torturing, and killing people with impunity as it wages war on (or sometimes works with) the infamous drug cartels. Russia and Southeast Asian countries, meanwhile, hold drug users in "treatment centers" that are little more than prison camps.

A virtual event last summer, which ran parallel to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, shined a harsh light on brutal human rights abuses by the Philippines and Indonesia in the name of the war on drugs and also highlighted one method of combating impunity for drug war crimes: by imposing sanctions on individuals responsible for the abuses.

The event, "SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights," was organized by DRCNet Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charity operated by StoptheDrugWar.org, publisher of this newsletter. The "SDG 16" refers to Sustainable Development Goal 16 -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Event organizer and executive director of the organization David Borden opened the meeting with a discussion about the broad drug policy issues and challenges being witnessed on the global stage.

"Drug policy affects and is affected by many of these broad sustainable development goals," he said. "One of the very important issues is the shortfall in global AIDS funding, especially in the area of harm reduction programs. Another goal -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- is implicated in the Philippines, where President [Rodrigo] Duterte was elected in 2016 and initiated a mass killing campaign admitted by him -- although sometimes denied by his defenders -- in which the police acknowledged killing over 6,000 people in [anti-drug] operations [since 2016], almost all of whom resisted arrests, according to police reports. NGOs put the true number [of those who were] killed at over 30,000, with many executed by shadowy vigilantes."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has proposed a formal investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war, but the court seems hampered by a chronic shortfall in funding, Borden pointed out.

"Former prosecutors have warned pointedly on multiple occasions of a mismatch between the court's mission and its budget," he said. "Recent activity at the conclusion of three different preliminary investigations shows that while the prosecutor in the Philippines moved forward, in both Nigeria and Ukraine, the office concluded there should be formal investigations, but did not [submit] investigation requests, leaving it [up to the] new prosecutors [to decide]. The hope is [that the ICC] will move as expeditiously as possible on the Philippines investigation, but resources will affect that, as will the [Philippine] government's current stance."

The government's current stance is perhaps best illustrated by President Duterte's remarks at his final State of the Nation address on July 26. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to "record his threats against those who 'destroy' the country with illegal drugs," the Rappler reported. "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you," said Duterte. "And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years," and again told police to kill drug users and dealers.

At the virtual event, Philippines human rights advocate Justine Balane, secretary-general of Akbayan Youth, the youth wing of the progressive, democratic socialist Akbayan Citizens' Action Party, provided a blunt and chilling update on the Duterte government's bloody five-year-long drug war.

"The killings remain widespread, systematic, and ongoing," he said. "We've documented 186 deaths, equal to two a day for the first quarter of the year. Of those, 137 were connected to the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the armed forces, and 49 were committed by unidentified assailants."

The "unidentified assailants" -- vigilante death squads of shadowy provenance -- are responsible for the majority of killings since 2016.

"Of the 137 killed, 96 were small-time pushers, highlighting the fact that the drug war is also class warfare targeting small-time pushers or people just caught in the wrong place or wrong time," Balane said.

He also provided an update on the Duterte administration's response to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's June 14 decision concluding her preliminary examination of human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war with a request to the ICC to open a formal investigation into "the situation in the Philippines."

In a bid to fend off the ICC, in 2020, the Philippine Justice Department announced it had created a panel to study the killings carried out by agents of the state -- police or military -- but Balane was critical of these efforts.

"[In the second half of 2020], the Justice Department said it had finished the initial investigations, but no complaints or charges were filed," he said. "They said it was difficult to find witnesses [who were willing to testify about the killings], but [the victims'] families said they were not approached [by the review panel]."

The Justice Department is also undercutting the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office whose primary mission is to investigate human rights abuses, Balane pointed out.

"The Justice Department said the commission would be involved [in the investigation process by the panel], but the commission says [that the] Justice [Department] has yet to clarify its rules and their requests have been left unanswered," Balane said. "The commission is the constitutional body tasked to investigate abuses by the armed forces, and they are being excluded by the Justice Department review panel."

The Justice Department review is also barely scraping the surface of the carnage, Balane said, noting that while in May the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they would be granting the review panel access to 61 investigations -- which accounts for less than 1 percent of the killings that the government acknowledged were part of the official operations since 2016 -- the PNP has now decreased that number to 53.

"The domestic review by [the] Justice [Department] appears influenced by Duterte himself," said Balane. "This erodes the credibility of the drug war review by the Justice Department, which is the government's defense for their calls against international human rights mechanisms."

The bottom line, according to Balane, is that "the killings continue, they are still systematic, and they are still widespread."

In Indonesia -- where, like Duterte in the Philippines, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) also declared a war on drugs in 2016 -- it is not only extrajudicial killings that are the issue but also the increasing willingness of the government to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.

"Extrajudicial killings [as a result of] the drug war are happening in Indonesia," said Iftitahsari, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who cited 99 extrajudicial killings that took place in 2017 and 68 that happened in 2018, with a big jump to 287 from June 2019 through June 2020. She also mentioned another 390 violent drug law enforcement "incidents" that took place from July 2020 through May 2021, of which an estimated 40 percent are killings.

"The problem of extrajudicial killings [in Indonesia] is broader than [just] the war on drugs; we [also] have the problem of police brutality," Sari said. "Police have a very broad authority and a lack of accountability. There is no effective oversight mechanism, and there are no developments on this issue because we have no mechanisms to hold [the] police accountable."

Indonesia is also using its courts to kill people. Since 2015, Sari reported, 18 people -- 15 of them foreigners -- have been executed for drug offenses.

"In addition to extrajudicial killings, there is a tendency to use harsher punishment, capital punishment, with the number of death penalties rising since 2016," she said.

Statistics Iftitahsari presented bore that out. Death penalty cases jumped from 22 in 2016 to 99 in 2019 and 149 in 2020, according to the figures she provided during the virtual event.

Not only are the courts increasingly handing down death sentences for drug offenses, but defendants are also often faced with human rights abuses within the legal system, Sari said.

"Violations of the right to a fair trial are very common in drug-related death penalty cases," she said. "There are violations of the right to be free from torture, not [to] be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and of the right to counsel. There are also rights violations during trials, including the lack of the right to cross-examination, the right to non-self-incrimination, trial without undue delay, and denial of an interpreter."

With authoritarian governments such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines providing cover for such human rights abuses in the name of the war on drugs, impunity is a key problem. During the virtual event's panel discussion, Scott Johnston, of the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First, discussed one possible way of making human rights abusers pay a price: imposing sanctions on them individually, especially under the Global Magnitsky Act.

That US law, which was based on one enacted in 2012 to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, was expanded in 2016 to punish human rights violators around the globe by freezing their assets or denying them visas to enter the United States. A related law known by its spot in the US Code, "7031(c)," can also be used to deny visas to immediate familly members of the alleged abusers.

"In an era [when]... rising human rights abuses and also rising impunity for committing those abuses [are]... a hallmark of what's happening around the world, we see countries adopting these types of targeted human rights mechanisms [imposing sanctions] at a rate that would have been shocking even five or six years ago," said Johnston. "Targeted sanctions [like the Global Magnitsky Act] are those aimed against specific individual actors and entities, as opposed to countrywide embargos," he explained.

The Global Magnitsky program is one such mechanism specifically targeted at human rights abuses and corruption, and the United States has imposed it against some 319 perpetrators of human rights abuses or corruption, Johnston said. (The most recent sanctions imposed under the act include Cuban officials involved in repressing recent protests in Cuba, corrupt Bulgarian officials, and corrupt Guatemalan officials.)

"We've seen a continued emphasis on using these tools in the transition to the Biden administration, with 73 cases [of sanctions having been reported] since Biden took office," he noted.

And it is increasingly not just the United States.

"The US was the first country to use this mechanism, but it is spreading," Johnston said. "Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, [and] the European Union all have these mechanisms, and Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are all considering them. This is a significant pivot toward increasing multilateral use of these mechanisms."

While getting governments to impose targeted sanctions is not a sure thing, the voices of global civil society can make a difference, Johnston said.

"These are wholly discretionary and [it]... can be difficult to [ensure that they are]... imposed in practice," he said. "To give the U.S. government credit, we have seen them really listen to NGOs, and about 35 percent of all sanctions have a basis in complaints [nonprofits]... facilitated from civil society groups around the world."

And while such sanctions can be politicized, the United States has imposed them on some allied countries, such as members of the Saudi government involved in the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and in cases of honor killings in Pakistan, Johnston noted.

"But we still have never seen them used in the context of the Philippines and Indonesia."

Maybe it is time.

In addition to the speakers quoted above, our event also included Marco Perduca, representing Associazone Luca Coscioni, who served in Italy's Senate from 2007-2013.

Our event elicited responses from the government on Indonesia, live during the Questions and Comments section; and from the government of the Philippines in writing later. We also had questions and comments from Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli of NGO FAAAT; iDEFEND Philippines Secretary General Rose Trajano; and Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines, who was a speaker on our 2021 HLPF event.

full event video (YouTube playlist):

full event video (single file):

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC [EVENT VIDEO]

Original invite:

Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC
side event on the online margins of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Treaty (ICC)

Wednesday 15 December 2021, 7:00am New York / 1:00pm The Hague / 8:00pm Manila

Zoom registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYrdeqoqTMiGda-kkne8zE-zA9LxojrGwz9
F
acebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/77796516946/videos/1743934149133434
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ouTube livestream: https://youtu.be/VCwxNrBDwXk

Since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has presided over a drug war extrajudicial killing campaign in which NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have died. In response to the threat and now reality of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the Duterte administration has argued the ICC lacks jurisdiction because the Philippines has an accountability process underway. But the scope of the government's investigations, and of any results from them, both remain very small.

"Keeping It Real" will discuss the Philippine Department of Justice's Interagency Task Force, the continuing reality of government orchestrated extrajudicial killings, the administration's recent motion to suspend the ICC investigation, and the incarceration of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima as it approaches its five-year mark and as she runs for reelection from jail.

Famous human rights attorney Chel Diokno keynoted our forum.
Keynote: Atty Jose Manuel I. "Chel" Diokno is Founding Dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, where he served as Dean from 2010-2019; and is Chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the oldest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines. Already prominent in legal circles, Diokno gained greater fame while running for Senate in 2019, especially among Filipino youth, and he is a 1Sambayan coalition candidate for Senate in 2022.

Comments on ICC process by Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch

Other commenters to be announced.

co-moderators:
David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, former Senator, Italy, 2008-2013

Organized by DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org, cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni, Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, Filipino American Human Rights Alliance, Forum Droghe, other cosponsors TBA.

Register here. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to read about our work in this area.

Should Marijuana Banking Wait for Legalization? [FEATURE]

The Senate passed the defense spending bill this week without the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) languge, after Senate leaders stripped the provision aimed at allowing state-legal marijuana businesses access to financial services from the bill. The senators, led by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), had made it clear for weeks that they wanted to hold off on the banking bill until after Congress passes marijuana legalization.

Surveillance video of robbers hitting an Oakland dispensary in November.
Schumer, along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) is pushing his yet-to-be-filed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, while the House has its own version of a legalization bill, the MORE Act (HR 3617). But while they managed to remove the SAFE Banking Act from the defense bill, the fight to enact it is not over -- nor is the MORE Act or any other legalization bill poised to get a vote in the Senate, much less to pass it. And therefore the increasingly contentious debate surrounding how best to advance marijuana reforms at the federal level isn't over either.

Debby Goldsberry has been a marijuana reform activist since the late 1980s, as well as being involved in the marijuana industry as a founder of the Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), one of the Bay Area's most successful dispensaries in 2000. She was director of BPG for 11 years before moving on to other dispensaries.

She is currently a consultant with Green Rush Consulting in Oakland and a compliance officer with the Hi-Fidelity marijuana shop in Berkeley, and she says the lack of access to financial services is a problem.

"It is incredibly burdensome," she told the Chronicle. "It's basically destroying the industry. With a lack of access to capital, we have to go to the private market, which gouges us. And having to deal with cash -- there are so many cash transactions -- makes even simple things like accounting more time consuming. You have to do cash counts, cash audits, and of course, more security. It's just more worries."

Being robbed is one of those worries. That's because marijuana dispensaries make attractive targets for burglars, thieves, and robbers. One reason is because they are cash businesses due to being locked out of the banking system. They also stock a valuable commodity -- marijuana -- and they advertise their locations.

Sometimes the attacks come in waves, such as Colorado in 2014 in and in Oklahoma and Oregon last year -- including one robbery in Portland that left a dispensary worker shot dead. And California pot businesses were targeted last summer when at least 40 dispensaries were hit by caravans of burglars in the midst of the protests over the George Floyd killing.

More recently, Northern California has seen dozens of marijuana businesses suffer burglaries or attempted burglaries, including a half dozen in San Francisco's Bayview in October and 15 in Sacramento going into November. That month, it was Oakland's turn, with more than two dozen operators hit, with losses reaching about $5 million.

And it is ongoing. Just last week, Amber Senter, whose marijuana incubator EquityWorks, was targeted in late November, reported that: "The robberies of cannabis businesses in Oakland are still happening. Multiple armed robberies last night."

"It's not just marijuana businesses," longtime California NORML head Dale Gieringer told the Chronicle. "They're going after all sorts of high-end shops, too."

Gieringer said he supported enacting the SAFE Banking Act because he sees that as the most achievable.

"You should take what you can get," he said, adding that he was pessimistic about legalization in this Congress and beyond. "Those bills with social equity provisions won't pass because they won't get a single Republican vote and not even all the Democrats. And they will probably be dead in the next Congress, too."

"I'm a Fabian," Geiringer said. "I believe we can advance incrementally and build on the progress."

"Cash is part of the reason why" the dispensaries are being hit, said Goldsberry, but she said that isn't the only reason.

"There's a lack of equity in the cannabis industry," she said. "Oakland has a long history of rioting based on inequalities and inequities and injustices linked to the war on drugs. As Martin Luther King said, it's the language of the voiceless. Now we have a cannabis industry where the people in the legacy industry can't gain access and it's all run by capitalists. They've taken historical inequality and made it even more unequal. It's not just the cash -- it's easy to store cash in safes you can't steal -- but the perspective is these are people who don't care about us, so we don't care about them, and we rob them."

Still, despite qualms about the evolving nature of the industry, Goldsberry also supports advancing the SAFE Banking Act.

"A change that would allow banking wouldn't just be incremental," said Goldsberry. "It's an essential next building block we need to bring an end to cannabis prohibition. It's too much to ask for it all at once; we're going to have to piecemeal this thing."

Both Goldsberry and Gieringer live in a state where marijuana consumers generally haven't haven't had to worry about federal marijuana prohibition for a quarter-century, since the passage of Proposition 215 and its wide-open language regarding who was eligible for medical marijuana (just about anyone who wanted it). That could make them a bit more sanguine about federal marijuana prohibition even as they bemoan its negative impacts on their industry.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has strongly insisted that legalization should be prioritized over access to banking for marijuana businesses, however, remains adamant that the SAFE Banking Act is no substitute for legalization. And it is not even willing to concede that pot shops are a target because of the restrictions on banking.

"While it is true that marijuana businesses have been the recent targets of some high-profile robberies, it is also true that many other businesses with valuable merchandise have also been the victims of robberies in recent weeks," Maritza Perez, director of the DPA's Office of National Affairs, told the Chronicle. "Whether it has been jewelry stores, the Apple Store, or marijuana retailers, the common denominator is not a lack of access to banking services, but rather valuable inventory."

Perez also rejected the notion that passing the SAFE Banking Act could be seen as "getting half a loaf is better than none."

"The implication that SAFE Banking is the equivalent of half of the MORE Act is not something that I agree with," she said. "SAFE does nothing to remove criminal penalties for marijuana or expunge the records of those with marijuana arrests. SAFE does not create a Community Reinvestment Fund to help social equity entrepreneurs and begin to repair communities that have been the targets of generations of racist enforcement of marijuana prohibition. SAFE does not protect immigrants from deportation for engaging in legal marijuana conduct."

Perez also argued that even if the SAFE Banking Act were to pass, the industry would not be out of the financial woods, and that the MORE Act has provisions that the SAFE Banking Act doesn't address.

"Even from a purely industry-focused lens, it would be absurd to say SAFE is half of MORE," she said. "There is no tax relief for regulated marijuana businesses under SAFE, while the MORE Act would effectively end the application of Section 280E, significantly reducing the tax rate for marijuana businesses. Additionally, SAFE would merely provide safe harbor for banks to work with marijuana businesses, but because marijuana would still be federally illegal, banks are unlikely to offer commercial loans to most marijuana businesses. Under SAFE, only multistate operators would likely qualify as credit-worthy for commercial lending, which would widen the existing gap between MSOs and social equity entrepreneurs."

Lacking foreseeable prospects for passing the MORE Act, though, not every advocate will consider such arguments relevant to whether to press for banking access at least in the meanwhile. And so the debate over whether to accept partial reforms, worth "half" of what the MORE Act would be worth or not, will continue. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana Update

A fairly quiet week on the medical front, with just a couple of states making some program changes.

Michigan

Michigan Governor Signs Bill to Aid Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law House Bill 4921, which amends the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Act so that licensed growers only have to submit financial statements to regulators every three years instead of every year, as has been the case. Whitmer said the bill will make financial reporting easier for growers.

New Jersey

New Jersey Regulators Approve Provisional Licenses for 30 New Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Finally, state regulators have provided provisional licenses to 30 applicants seeking to run medical marijuana facilities. So far, there are only 23 such facilities in the state, leading to high prices and supply bottlenecks for patients, who are not permitted under state law to grow their own. Provisional licensees still have to pass background checks and win site approval before they can open for business.

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, NY GOP US Reps Back Bill to "Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites," More... (12/15/21)

A therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed in New York, the prosecutor in Arizona's second most populous county is at least temporarily not prosecuring drug possession cases, and more.

flag of Malta
Psychedelics

New York Assemblyman Files Bill to Allow Therapeutic Psilocybin Use. Assemblyman Pat Burke (D) has filed a bill that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and create facilities where the mushrooms could be grown and provided to patients. It is a set-up similar to what Oregon voters approved last year. The bill provides a list of qualifying medical conditions but also says psilocybin could be recommended "for any conditions" certified by a practitioner. The Department of Health would be responsible for providing a training course for practitioners and licensing the psilocybin centers.

Harm Reduction

New York GOP US Representatives Back Bill to Defund Safe Injection Sites. Republican members of the state's congressional delegation are lining up behind a bill from one of their own, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), that aims to cut funding for group and governments that open safe injection sites. The bill is a response to the opening this month of the first officially acknowledged safe injection sites in the US in New York City. Her bill, the Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites Act of 2021 is being cosponsored by New York Republican Reps. Andrew Garbarino, John Katko, Claudia Tenney. And Lee Zeldin. They argue that safe injection sites violate the Controlled Substances Act, citing an appeals court ruling in January that blocked the opening of such a site in Philadelphia. "Gifting money to heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life is an egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars," Malliotakis said, reprising a longstanding conservative position that does not recognize any benefit from such harm reduction practices.

Law Enforcement

Amidst Surging COVID Cases, Arizona's Pima County Will No Longer Prosecute Drug Possession Cases. Pima County (Tucson) Attorney Laura Conover (D) announced Tuesday that she will temporarily stop prosecuting drug possession cases because of pandemic-related risks. She said the policy will be in effect for at least 60 days "to protect both Pima County jail employees and people who are detained against the surging threat of COVID." Also included are people caught with drug paraphernalia or those in "related personal-use incidents."

A sizeable percentage of (society) has expressed disinterest in the vaccine, depriving us of the herd immunity that would have put this virus behind us," Conover wrote in a memorandum to law enforcement officials. "COVID is now spreading inside the jail, putting people there at risk. The health and safety of our community are paramount." The move comes as county officials prepare to fire hundreds of corrections officers who refused to get vaccinated.

International

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, First European Union Nation to Do So. Members of the Maltese Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill legalizing marijuana, becoming the first European Union country to make the leap. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law also allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500. President George Vella supported the measure and is set to sign it later this week.

Senate Names Meth an "Emerging Drug Threat," UFCW Marijuana Industry Unionization, More... (12/14/21)

A bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids is sickening people in Florida, Chicago is handing out fentanyl test strips in a bid to bring down record overdose numbers, and more.

Meth seized in Nebraska. No, it was not cooked by Breaking Bad's Heisenberg. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

UFCW Gains Another Victory in Marijuana Industry Unionization Drive. An ongoing drive by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) gained another victory this week as 70 employees of the four-store Sweet Flower Cannabis chain in Southern California voted to join the union. The chain just got a license for a fifth shop in Culver City, and staff there will also be able to join the union under a labor peace agreement. The UFCW has won several other unionization votes in California this year, as well as at pot businesses in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The union represents about 10,000 workers in the industry. The Teamsters are also active in unionizing the industry, winning victories in California and Illinois.

Methamphetamine

Senate Passes Grassley, Feinstein Methamphetamine Bill. The Senate on Monday passed the Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021 (S. 854), legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill designates methamphetamine as an emerging drug threat and directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to implement a plan to address the rising use of methamphetamine. The bill "requires ONDCP to develop, implement and make public, within 90 days of enactment, a national emerging threats response plan that is specific to methamphetamine." The same bill passed the Senate last year but failed to move in the House.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Severe Bleeding From 'Spice' Synthetic Cannabinoid Leaves 35 Hospitalized in Florida. At least 35 people in the Tampa Bay area have recently been hospitalized with severe bleeding after ingesting the synthetic cannabinoid "Spice," the state's poison control center reported. Victims have reported bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, vomiting blood, blood in urine and stool, and heavy menstrual bleeding -- symptoms associated with a condition known as coagulopathy, where the blood's ability to clot is impaired.

The exact cause of the bleeding was not stated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "...chemicals [in synthetic marijuana] are often being changed as the makers of spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals." Similar reactions in a 2018 incident involving Spice were attributed to the chemical brodifacoum having been added.

Florida has not legalized marijuana and allows only limited access to medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Now Passing Out Free Fentanyl Test Strips. With fentanyl now linked to most opioid overdose deaths in the city, the Chicago Department of Health has begun offering free fentanyl test strips to the public. The program first began in October, and so far, more than 7,000 strips have been distributed, mostly through harm reduction organizations. The Cook County Department of Public Health is also distributing fentanyl test strips in the city and its suburbs. Cook County registered a record number of opioid-related deaths in 2020.

St. Louis Repeals Marijuana Law, Haiti President Likely Murdered by Well-Heeled Drug Traffickers, More... (12/13/21)

No more pre-employment marijuana testing in Philly starting next month, Malta is set to become the first country is Europe to legalize weed this week, and more.

assassinated Haitian President Jovunel Moïse
Marijuana Policy

Philadelphia Ban on Pre-Hire Marijuana Testing Takes Effect on January 1. An ordinance passed by the city council in April and signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney (D) that bars employers from requiring potential hires to submit to pre-employment testing for marijuana will go into effect on January 1. The ban does not address testing of current employees, nor does it stop employers from firing people for being high on the job or having marijuana at the workplace. There are some exceptions to the ban: law enforcement positions, jobs requiring a commercial drivers license, and child care and health care workers.

St. Louis Mayor Signs Bill Repealing Marijuana Laws. Mayor Tishaura Jones (D) has singed Board Bill 132, which repeals the city's laws related to the possession of small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia. "We are seeing a major shift in the way our country sees not just marijuana, but how it connects to public safety, incarceration, and economic opportunity in our communities," said Mayor Jones. "This law will help reduce racial disparities in our policing, make our city safer, and make St. Louis more competitive in hiring for city positions." Of 600 people arrested on marijuana charges in the city in the last three years, nearly 500 were black, the mayor's office said.

International

Haiti's Leader Kept a List of Drug Traffickers; His Assassins Came for It. Assassinated Haitian President Jovenal Moïse was moving against drug and arms smugglers, and that may be what is behind his murder, The New York Times reports: "Before being assassinated in July, he had been working on a list of powerful politicians and businesspeople involved in Haiti's drug trade, with the intention of handing over the dossier to the American government, according to four senior Haitian advisers and officials tasked with drafting the document.

The president had ordered the officials to spare no one, not even the power brokers who had helped propel him into office, they said -- one of several moves against suspected drug traffickers that could explain a motive for the assassination." When the gunmen who killed him burst into his residence, they stayed long enough to search through his files for his list of suspected drug traffickers, which one of the captured gunmen said was a key target.

"I would be a fool to think that narco-trafficking and arms trafficking didn't play a role in the assassination," said Daniel Foote, who served as the US special envoy to Haiti before stepping down last month. "Anyone who understands Haiti's politics or economics understands this." Some of the traffickers are linked to former President Michel Martelly, and his brother-in-law, Haitian businessman Charles Saint-Remy, at whom many fingers are being pointed, has been named by the DEA as a suspected drug trafficker.

Malta Set to Legalize Marijuana This Week, Would Be First in Europe. The Maltese parliament is set to approve a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday that the president has already promised to sign into law. People 18 and up could possess up to seven grams (a quarter ounce) and grow up to four plants. Home growers could possess up to 50 grams of their harvest at home. The bill does not envision commercial sales, but instead would allow for non-profit cooperatives to grow and distribute marijuana to members.

Yet Another Poll Shows Strong Marijuana Legalization Support, Canada Decrim Platform, More... (12/10/21)

Member states of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs block a human rights expert from presenting a report on arbitrary detentions, a Missouri bill would end police searches based solely on the odor of marijuana, and more.

Canadian civil society groups have a plan to decriminalize drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

National Poll: Marijuana Legalization Supported by Majorities of All Age Groups. A new YouGov America poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57 percent, with majority support in every age group. Support among Democrats was at 70 percent, while among Republicans it was only 40 percent. While the poll shows continuing strong support for marijuana legalization, it comes in a few points lower than other recent national polls on the issue.

Missouri Bill Would End Warrantless Searches Based Solely on Odor of Marijuana. Rep. Ian Mackey (D-Richmond Heights) has filed legislation, House Bill 1867, that would bar police from using the odor of marijuana as justification for a warrantless search. Here's the bill language in its entirety: "Notwithstanding any provision of law, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle, home, or other private property." As Rep. Mackey noted: "Medicinal marijuana is legal in Missouri. It makes sense because of these new laws [the smell of marijuana alone] should not be a justifiable reason for a police officer to begin searching property or a particular individual."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Regulators Approve Provisional Licenses for 30 New Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Finally, state regulators have provided provisional licenses to 30 applicants seeking to run medical marijuana facilities. So far, there are only 23 such facilities in the state, leading to high prices and supply bottlenecks for patients, who are not permitted under state law to grow their own. Provisional licensees still have to pass background checks and win site approval before they can open for business.

International

On International Human Rights Day, UN Drugs Body Silences UN Human Rights Expert on Groundbreaking Report. In an unprecedented, last-minute decision, the lead UN drugs body has blocked the presentation of a report from a group of independent human rights experts that calls out governments for serious human rights abuses committed in the war on drugs. The UN's lead drug policy-making body has slammed the door on human rights expert Dr Elina Steinerte, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who was due to present a watershed study on how drug control policies drive an epidemic of arbitrary detention across the world. She has been blocked from addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs today, 10th December, which is coincidentally International Human Rights Day, and her statement has been merely published online.

The last-minute decision, which led to a contentious exchange during the session, was reached through an opaque, closed-door process that kept the human rights experts in the dark about their exclusion until today. The report sheds light on the arrest and incarceration of millions of people around the world for drug-related offences, including for drug use. People who use drugs are also routinely held against their will in so-called "rehab centers," where they are often subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, including forced labor.

With Thursday's decision, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs stands in defiance of the Human Rights Council - the main UN human rights body -- which had asked human rights experts to produce the very same report that now has been stonewalled.

Canadian Civil Society Groups Release Drug Decriminalization Platform.In the wake of almost 23,000 drug poisoning deaths since 2016, twenty-one civil society organizations across the country, including groups of people who use drugs, families affected by drug use, drug policy and human rights organizations, frontline service providers, and researchers, have collaborated to release Canada's first civil society-led policy framework for drug decriminalization in Canada.

Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy seeks to end the harmful and fatal criminalization of people who use drugs -- which has fueled unprecedented overdose deaths -- and protect the health and human rights of all people in Canada. The comprehensive platform, endorsed by more than 100 organizations calls for the full decriminalization of all drug possession for personal use -- as well as sharing or selling of drugs for subsistence, to support personal drug use costs, or to provide a safe supply -- by repealing or amending sections of Canadian drug laws, removing all sanctions linked to possession or "necessity trafficking," tighten rules around when police can stop, search, and investigate someone for drug possession, and shift resources away from law enforcement to non-coercive policies, programs, and services that protect people's health and human rights.

LA Times Endorses Safe Injection Sites, New Zealand to Ban Cigarettes By Raising Legal Age, More... (12/9/21)

SAMHSA announces historic harm reduction grants, South Dakota marijuana legalization campaigners say their signature-gathering campaign is going well, Michigan's governor signs a bill easing burdens on medical marijuana growers, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kools-cropped.jpg
These will be effectively banned in New Zealand as the country raises the legal smoking age each year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Legalization Campaign Has Collected 15,000 Signatures for 2022 Initiative. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), the campaign that has worked since 2019 to legalize recreational and medical cannabis in the state, announced Thursday that it has collected over 15,000 signatures for its proposed 2022 recreational cannabis legalization initiative. A 2022 initiated measure requires 16,961 valid signatures from registered South Dakota voters to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. The campaign says its goal is to gather 25,000 raw voter signatures. It has until May 3, 2022 to get them. The same group sponsored last year's Amendment A legalization initiative, which was recently ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. "In light of the extremely flawed Amendment A ruling, we hope that the South Dakota legislature will enact a cannabis legalization law in the upcoming session. But if that does not occur, we will give South Dakota voters the opportunity to approve legalization at the next election. We will not stop working until the will of the people is respected," said campaign spokesman Matthew Schweich.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Governor Signs Bill to Aid Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law House Bill 4921, which amends the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Act so that licensed growers only have to submit financial statements to regulators every three years instead of every year, as has been the case. Whitmer said the bill will make financial reporting easier for growers.

Harm Reduction

SAMHSA Announces Unprecedented $30 Million Harm Reduction Grant Funding Opportunity to Help Address the Nation's Substance Use and Overdose Epidemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is now accepting applications for the first-ever SAMHSA Harm Reduction grant program and expects to issue $30 million in grant awards. This funding, authorized by the American Rescue Plan, will help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use.

SAMHSA will accept applications from State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, Tribal organizations, nonprofit community-based organizations, and primary and behavioral health organizations. Providing funding and support for innovative harm reduction services is in line with the Biden-Harris Administration's ongoing efforts to address the overdose epidemic, and is a key pillar for the first time in the multi-faceted Health and Human Services' overdose prevention strategy announced in October.

This funding allows organizations to expand their community-based overdose prevention programs in a variety of ways, including distributing overdose-reversal medications and fentanyl test strips, providing overdose education and counseling, and managing or expanding syringe services programs, which help control the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. To apply to this grant funding opportunity, click here.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "New York City is saving people from drug overdose deaths. Why can't California?" the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times endorsed safe injection sites as an overdose prevention measure and called on the Biden administration to clarify that it supports the harm reduction measure: "The Biden administration could also help by giving a clear statement that it supports states taking action to curb drug overdoses and that it won't move to shut down the overdose prevention centers in New York City or anywhere else. That's really the only rational and humane course of action in the face of a plague of preventable deaths."

Washington State Senator Files Bill to Specify That Fentanyl Testing Equipment is not Drug Paraphernalia. State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 5509, that would exempt fentanyl testing equipment from being defined as drug paraphernalia. State law currently defines paraphernalia as "testing equipment used, intended for use, or designed for use in identifying or in analyzing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of a controlled substance." But public health agencies and needle exchange programs are already distributing fentanyl test kits. This bill would align the law with reality. Honeyford should not be mistaken for a drug reformer; he is also planning to file a bill enabling prosecutors to charge people with murder if they sell drugs that result in a fatal overdose.

International

New Zealand to Ban Cigarettes by Constantly Rising Smoking Age. The country aims to eliminate cigarette smoking by raising the legal age for smoking, currently set at 18, by one year each year beginning in 2027. That means people born after 2009 will never be able to legally purchase cigarettes. New Zealand already boasts the world's highest cigarette prices at $24 a pack and is also planning to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes and cut back on the number of tobacco retailers. The plan does not have universal support, though. MP Karen Chour, of the libertarian-leaning Act Party, said the move would lead to a black market. "Prohibition has never worked -- in any time or place -- and it always has unintended consequences," she said.

EVENT: Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the International Criminal Court

Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC
side event on the online margins of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Treaty (ICC)

Wednesday 15 December 2021, 7:00am New York / 1:00pm The Hague / 8:00pm Manila

Zoom registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYrdeqoqTMiGda-kkne8zE-zA9LxojrGwz9
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acebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/77796516946/videos/1743934149133434
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ouTube livestream: https://youtu.be/VCwxNrBDwXk

Since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has presided over a drug war extrajudicial killing campaign in which NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have died. In response to the threat and now reality of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the Duterte administration has argued the ICC lacks jurisdiction because the Philippines has an accountability process underway. But the scope of the government's investigations, and of any results from them, both remain very small.

"Keeping It Real" will discuss the Philippine Department of Justice's Interagency Task Force, the continuing reality of government orchestrated extrajudicial killings, the administration's recent motion to suspend the ICC investigation, and the incarceration of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima as it approaches its five-year mark and as she runs for reelection from jail.

human rights attorney Chel Diokno
Keynote: Atty Jose Manuel I. "Chel" Diokno is Founding Dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, where he served as Dean from 2010-2019; and is Chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the oldest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines. Already prominent in legal circles, Diokno gained greater fame while running for Senate in 2019, especially among Filipino youth, and he is a 1Sambayan coalition candidate for Senate in 2022.

Comments on ICC process by Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch

Other commenters to be announced.

co-moderators:
David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, former Senator, Italy, 2008-2013

Organized by DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org, cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni, Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, Filipino American Human Rights Alliance, Forum Droghe, other cosponsors TBA.

Register here. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to read about our work in this area.

Key Senate Democrats Block SAFE Banking Act's Inclusion in Must-Pass Defense Spending Bill [FEATURE]

In the ongoing struggle among congressional Democrats over whether to prioritize incremental marijuana reform legislation over pushing for full federal legalization, proponents of the former saw a stinging defeat this week when Senate heavyweights stripped the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) out of the Senate version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Democrats and even reformers are divided on how to advance marijuana reforms on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
The SAFE Banking Act would protect financial institutions that do business with state-legal marijuana companies even while federal marijuana prohibition remains intact. Its backers argue that it is desperately needed to protect the industry from the logistical and security burdens of conducting a billion-dollar all-cash business. They managed to get the act's language inserted into the NDAA when the measure passed the House in September.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker, who have drafted their own full legalization bill, had made it clear for weeks that they wanted to hold off on the banking bill until after Congress passes legalization. And they still felt that way this week despite pressure from other senators to keep the banking bill in the NDAA.

"We're going to keep talking, but Sen. Schumer, Sen. Booker, and I have agreed that we'll stay this course," Wyden told reporters Monday, adding that "the federal government has got to end this era of Reefer Madness."

The move infuriated SAFE Banking Act supporters. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the bill, moved to reinsert the bill language in a meeting of the House Rules Committee Wednesday, but ultimately decided not to force a vote on the amendment. And Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern lashed out at Schumer during the debate.

"I don't really quite know what the hell his problem is,"McGovern said, referring to Schumer. "But what he's doing is he's making it very difficult for a lot of small businesses -- and minority-owned businesses, too -- [who] deal with the issue of cannabis to be able to move forward and to expand and to hire more people."

The issue has also split the drug reform community, with groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) supporting the push for the SAFE Banking Act while others such as Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calling for outright legalization to be done at the same time as banking.

"Marijuana criminalization means nearly every minute someone is arrested for marijuana and it serves as the pretext for horrific interactions with law enforcement, like the death of Philando Castile," DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique said in a press release. "While we agree cannabis businesses, like any other businesses, need access to banking services -- and in fact, the DPA-supported MORE Act (HR 3617) would fully resolve the marijuana banking issue -- we cannot do so at the expense of equity and justice for Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities that have borne the brunt of prohibition. And we cannot prioritize banking services while cannabis continues to be used as justification for police violence against these communities," she added.

"By slipping SAFE into the Defense Authorization bill ahead of moving the MORE Act, Congress is sending a clear message that the industry and huge multi-state operators take precedent before the countless people that have had their lives devastated by punitive and racially-motivated drug policies," Frederique continued. "We can and must move comprehensive marijuana reform -- centered in equity, justice and community reinvestment -- first and foremost. Then, and only then, can we talk about banking inconvenience."

"We are disappointed in the elimination of the SAFE Banking provisions from the NDAA," MPP deputy director said in a Tuesday statement. "It is unacceptable that so many state-licensed cannabis businesses are operating entirely in cash simply because the Biden administration and Congress, in spite of overwhelming public support, refuse to support even modest reforms to our country's failed federal cannabis laws."

While acknowledging that the banking bill did not take on the social justice side of the equation, Schweich argued it would have been at least some progress.

"While the SAFE Banking provisions would not have addressed criminal justice reform, this was a valuable opportunity for incremental progress, a principle that has served the cannabis reform movement well for many years," he said. "Furthermore, Congress has missed an opportunity to assist hundreds of small and minority-owned businesses in medical and adult-use cannabis states across the country. Without SAFE Banking, employees of cannabis businesses will continue to face public safety risks. Cannabis businesses are experiencing burglaries, armed robberies, and thefts at disturbing rates. It is abundantly clear that leaving cannabis businesses unbanked is dangerous for both workers and the surrounding community."

NORML was equally perturbed.

"It is unfortunate that Congress failed to take this opportunity to affirm the legitimacy of state-legal marijuana markets and instead acted in a way that will continue to deny this emerging legal industry access to basic financial tools and services," NORML political director Justin Strekal said in a Tuesday statement. "Until Congressional action is taken, state-licensed marijuana businesses and those millions of Americans that patronize them will continue to be at a higher risk of robbery due to the all-cash nature of this industry. Furthermore, smaller entrepreneurs who seek to enter this industry will continue to struggle to compete against larger, more well-established and well-capitalized interests."

Despite the defeat this week, the fight to get the SAFE Banking Act back in the NDAA is not over. The current version of the NDAA will now have to go back to both chambers for final approval before heading to the president's desk, and the act's supporters will certainly try to get it reinserted before then.

Meanwhile, the prospects for actual ending federal marijuana prohibition this year appear dim, especially given that it would need 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have operated primarily as obstructionists so far. If neither the SAFE Banking Act nor marijuana legalization materializes, the Democrats will have squandered an opportunity to pass important, popular legislation. There's still next year, but it is already looking to be pretty messy in the run-up to the mid-term elections.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A rogue cop in northern California goes down for stealing weed and cash from motorists in the guise of marijuana law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, a former Cook County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday for his alleged role in trafficking cocaine from Mexico to Illinois. Juan Carmona, 46, went down after Homeland Security Investigations discovered Carmona's participation in an international cocaine trafficking ring and seized 16 kilograms of cocaine from two residences he owned. He is charged with calculated criminal drug conspiracy, criminal drug conspiracy, controlled substance trafficking, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and possession of a controlled substance. He's looking at a mandatory minimum 30-year sentence on the conspiracy charges.

In San Francisco, a former Rohnert Park drug interdiction team leader pleaded guilty last Wednesday to conspiring with a team member to steal cash and marijuana from motorists traveling local highways. Ex-Sgt. Brandan "Jacy" Tatum and his partner, Joseph Huffaker, were both indicted in 2018; Tatum is the one who pleaded guilty last week. The pair ranged well beyond the Rohnert Park city limits to stop motorists in Sonoma and Marin counties and unlawfully seize their property under the guise of marijuana law enforcement. The pair went down after a string of motorists complained about them to local media. Tatum pleaded guiltyto federal charges of conspiracy to commit extortion under "color of law," falsifying records in a federal investigation and tax evasion. Tatum is set to be sentenced on March 9.

Medical Marijuana Update

Minnesota patients will soon be enjoying edibles, a Rhode Island lawsuit aimed at protecting patients from employment discrimination gets settled, and more.

Florida

Florida Bill to Protect Patient Privacy Filed. A bill to protect patient privacy by blocking the scheduled repeal of an exemption for medical marijuana from some public records requirements was filed Thursday. HB 7005 was filed by the House Government Operations Subcommittee. A companion bill is pending in the Senate.

Minnesota

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program to Add Edibles as New Option. The state Health Department announced Wednesday that its medical marijuana program is adding edibles as a new option for patients. The department said it is adding infused edibles in gummies and chews as approved delivery methods for marijuana. Other approved delivery methods are pills, vapor oil, liquids, topicals, powdered mixtures, and orally dissolvable products, like lozenges, but not smokeable flowers. Smokeable flowers will be allowed in March 2022, based on a law approved by the legislature this year.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island ACLU Announces Settlement of Lawsuit Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Discrimination.The ACLU of Rhode Island on Thursday announced the settlement of a lawsuit dealing with the rights of medical marijuana patients in employment. The settlement comes four years after Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Richard Licht ruled in the case that a Westerly fabrics company discriminated against Christine Callaghan when consideration of a paid internship was rescinded because of her participation in the state's medical marijuana program and her acknowledgment that she therefore would not be able to pass a required pre-employment drug screen.

In its decision, the court held that the state's medical marijuana law, which bars discrimination in employment against cardholders, applies to job applicants like Callaghan. Under the settlement agreement, the company has agreed to pay Callaghan $3,500 in back pay and compensatory damages, and to pay attorneys' fees. The company has also agreed to amend its drug use policy to consider applicants who are authorized medical marijuana cardholders.

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