Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Taliban Launch Opium Poppy Eradication Campaign, NY Safe Injection Site Bill Dies, More... (6/6/22)

Five Texas cities will vote on non-binding marijuana reform measures this fall, the New York legislative session ends without passing a safe injection site bill, and more.

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New York Bill to Crack Down on Illicit Marijuana Possession and Sales Dies. The Senate last week approved Senate Bill 9452, which would expand the state Office of Cannabis Management's authority to seize illicit marijuana and the Department of Taxation and Finance's authority to civilly penalize people for selling marijuana illegally. But the bill died without action in the Assembly as the legislative session came to an end. The bill aimed at "grey market" operators -- retail outlets that are selling weed without being licensed. No licenses for pot shops have been issued yet. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for distributors and retailers to sell weed without a license. Fines for possession of illicit marijuana would have doubled to $400 per ounce of flower and $1,000 for each illicit plant.

Five Texas Cities Will Vote on Marijuana Reforms. Ground Game Texas, which is pushing for marijuana reform across the state, announced last Friday that it had gathered enough signatures to qualify a non-binding decriminalization initiative in the Central Texas town of Harker Heights, bringing to five the number of towns in the state that will have a chance to vote on marijuana reform this year. The other cities are Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos in Central Texas and Denton in North Texas.

Harm Reduction

New York Safe Injection Site Bill Dies as Session Ends. A bill that would have paved the way for safe injection sites in the state, Assembly Bill 224, had died as the legislative session ends. The bill managed to win an Assembly committee vote, but went no further. Other harm reduction bills also died, including one that would require treatment providers to offer clients access to buprenorphine (Senate Bill 6746) and another that would have decriminalized buprenorphine (Assembly Bill 646). On the other hand, a bill that would eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance (Senate Bill 5690) passed.

International

Afghan Taliban Launch Campaign to Eradicate Poppy Crop. Two months after issuing an edict banning opium poppy cultivation in the country, the Taliban has announced it has begun a campaign to eradicate poppy production, with the goal of wiping out the country's massive yield of opium and heroin. For all of this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium and heroin producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of global output. People violating the ban "will be arrested and tried according to Sharia laws in relevant courts," said Taliban deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund. But with the country in profound economic crisis after the departure of Western troops and economic aid last summer, the ban threatens one of the country's most vibrant economic sectors and the livelihoods of millions of poor farm and day laborer families. "If we are not allowed to cultivate this crop, we will not earn anything," one farmer told the Associated Press. Nonetheless, "We are committed to bringing poppy cultivation to zero," said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor.

NC Senate Approves MedMJ Bill, LA Bill to Protect MedMJ-Using State Workers Goes to Governor, More... (6/3/22)

New York lawmakers attempt a crackdown on grey market pot shops, the governor of the US Virgin Islands wants marijuana legalized now, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing some action in the states this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Senate Approves Bill to Crack Down on Illicit Marijuana Possession and Sales. The Senate this week approved Senate Bill 9452, which would expand the state Office of Cannabis Management's authority to seize illicit marijuana and the Department of Taxation and Finance's authority to civilly penalize people for selling marijuana illegally. The bill is aimed at "grey market" operators -- retail outlets that are selling weed without being licensed. No licenses for pot shops have been issued yet. The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor for distributors and retailers to sell weed without a license. Fines for possession of illicit marijuana would double to $400 per ounce of flower and $1,000 for each illicit plant.

US Virgin Islands Governor Renews Call for Marijuana Legalization, Plans Special Session to Get It Done. Gov. Albert Bryan If Jr. (D) has included marijuana tax revenues in the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget and has said he is planning a special session of the legislature to get it done. He also took aim at one key lawmaker, Sen. Janelle Sarauw (I), for blocking progress on a legalization bill. "It's just totally ridiculous now how long Senator Sarauw has been holding our bill in the legislature," the governor said. "Call her and tell her, 'Why are you holding up this adult cannabis use legislation?' We need to get it done. So we put it in [the budget]. We're going to be calling the legislature into special session. We're gonna give them plenty time to think about it," he said. "But we have a $40 million funding gap this year that we need to fill with different types of funding resources. We want to get that going."

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Protect State Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana Goes to Governor. Both houses of the legislature have now approved House Bill 988, which aims to protect state employees from any negative consequences for using medical marijuana. The bill's author, House Rep. Mandie Laundry explained, "This bill provides employment discrimination protections," bill sponsor Rep. Mandie Laundry (D-New Orleans) explained. "It basically means that they can't be precluded from employment or fired just for having a medical marijuana prescription." The bill is now on the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who has given no indication of whether he will sign it or not.

New York Senate Approves Bill to Mandate Health Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana. The Senate on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 8837, which would require public health insurance programs to cover medical marijuana expenses and clarify that private insurers can do the same. The bill would define marijuana as a "prescription drug," "covered drug," or "health care service" under relevant state codes so that Medicaid and workers compensation would be required to provide coverage. The bill now heads to the Assembly.

North Carolina Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday voted 35-10 to legalize medical marijuana by approving Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. That vote was a second reading of the bill, with another vote required next week before the bill is sent to the House, but after today's vote, that is considered a formality. The bill would let patients possess up to 1 ½ ounces of medical marijuana, but does not allow for home cultivation.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Advances, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/2/22)

There will be no psychedelic legalization initiative in Michigan this year, Massachusetts agrees to pay millions to thousands of people convicted of drug offenses based on chemical analyses by disgraced state crime lab chemists, and more.

The Insite safe injection site in Vancouver. Could something similar be coming to California? (vch.ca)
Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances to Senate Floor Vote. The Compassionate Use Act, Senate Bill 711, was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday, clearing the way for a final Senate floor vote, which could happen as soon as today. If and when the bill passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, and if approved by the House, it would go to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has said he supports medical marijuana. The bill would create a commission to issue 10 medical marijuana supplier licenses, with each supplier able to operate eight retail shops. Patients would be limited to a 30-day supply of medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Michigan Activists Come Up Short on Psychedelic Legalization Initiative, Now Aim at 2024. Activists with Decriminalize Nature and Students for Sensible Drug Policy who have been engaged in signature-gathering to put a psychedelic legalization initiative on the November ballot announced Wednesday that they have come up short for this year and are now aiming at 2024. They had until June 1 to come up with 340,047 valid voter signatures, but only had two months to do so after getting a later start. The normal signature-gathering period is 180 days. Activists declined to say how many signatures they had gathered, but said signatures already gathered would still be valid for the 2024 push as long as they are handed in during this election cycle.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts Agrees to Repay Thousands of Defendants Convicted on Evidence Analyzed by Disgraced State Crime Lab Chemists. The state has agreed to repay millions of dollars in fees and fines paid by some 30,000 defendants whose drug convictions were overturned because they relied on testing done by disgraced state crime lab chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak. Both women served state prison time for falsifying lab results. The settlement is expected to cost the state about $14 million. Each wrongfully convicted defendant will receive hundreds of dollars -- and potentially more. The state has agreed to refund 10 types of fees and fines, including probation supervision fees, victim witness fees, court costs, DNA test fees, drug analysis fees, and driver's license reinstatement fees, among others. The settlement must still be approved by a judge.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Treatment Bill Fails. A bill that would have authorized a three-county pilot program that imposed coerced drug treatment for people with drug-motivated felony crimes, Assembly Bill 1928, failed to get a House floor vote by last week's legislative deadline and is now dead for the session. Bill proponents argued that it would allow people to get treatment in a secure facility instead of just being warehoused in prison. The bill passed the Assembly Health Committee in March but then stalled.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to set up a pilot program to allow certain localities in the state to open safe injection sites, Senate Bill 57, was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday and now heads for an Assembly floor vote. The measure has already passed the Senate, but if it passes in the Assembly, it will have to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote because changes have been made in the Assembly.

British Columbia to Become First Canadian Province to Decriminalize Drug Possession [FEATURE]

Faced with an unrelenting drug overdose crisis, British Columbia (BC) is now set to become the first Canadian province to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, effective for a three-year period beginning January 31, 2023, Health Canada announced Tuesday. The agency has approved a request from BC for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to remove criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

Vancouver, epicenter of British Columbia's drug overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
The move will decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 grams of cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamines, and opioids (including fentanyl and heroin). People found with these personal use amounts of drugs will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized. Instead of handcuffs, drug users will be offered information on health and social services available, as well as referrals. Provincial officials had sought a higher threshold of 4.5 grams.

"The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change. I have thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered both the public health and public safety impacts of this request," said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. "Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis."

"Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one," said Sheila Malcolmson, BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. "By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services."

The province faces a true public health emergency around overdoses, with the BC government reporting at least 2,224 overdose deaths in 2021, an all-time high and a 26 percent increase over 2020. The last two months of 2021 also saw record overdose numbers. Some 85 percent of the reported overdose deaths involved fentanyl.

"Over the past seven years, our province has experienced a devastating loss of life due to a toxic illicit drug supply," said Lisa Lapointe, BC's chief coroner. "This public health emergency has impacted families and communities across the province and shows no sign of abating. In the past seven years, the rate of death due to illicit drug toxicity in our province has risen more than 400%. Drug toxicity is now second only to cancers in BC for potential years of life lost. We cannot simply hope that things will improve. It is long past time to end the chaos and devastation in our communities resulting from the flourishing illicit drug market, and to ensure, on an urgent basis, access across the province to a safe, reliable regulated drug supply."

Decriminalization is not quite safe drug supply, although Health Canada and BC are working on that, too, but it will help, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC's provincial health officer.

"This exemption is a vital step to keeping people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need," said Henry. "By removing the fear and shame of drug use, we will be able to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing harm reduction services and treatment programs."

"Decriminalizing possession of drugs is an historic, brave, and groundbreaking step in the fight to save lives from the poison drug crisis. Today marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors healthcare over handcuffs, and I could not be more proud of the leadership shown here by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia", said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

But while government officials were congratulating themselves on their bold move, critics such as the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said it was not nearly bold enough. In a statement released Tuesday they called for "decriminalization for all."

"The government of Canada's latest move to decriminalize drug possession should go further to protect everyone, in particular those most endangered by drug prohibition and the drug toxicity crisis," the coalition maintained. "We support policy that moves the needle forward; however, it is disappointing that decriminalization under the model announced on May 31st will not protect all people who use drugs from the harms of criminalization. We support progress, but we dream bigger. We want full decriminalization for all."

The coalition took special issue with the 2.5 gram threshold, calling it "a missed opportunity."

"A cumulative threshold quantity of 2.5 grams leaves many people who use drugs behind, namely those living in rural and remote communities who already bear the disproportionate brunt of drug prohibition and the drug toxicity crisis," the coalition protested. "People purchase larger quantities of drugs for myriad reasons: geographic restrictions, personal mobility reasons, and to limit interactions with the illicit drug market." Concerns over too-low threshold quantities were expressed repeatedly to BC and Health Canada by BC's own Core Planning Table for Decriminalization and the Board of the Vancouver Network of Drug Users (VANDU) -- to no avail.

The coalition also questioned the timing of the announcement, coming just one day ahead of a vote on a private member's decriminalization bill, Bill C-216, which was defeated Wednesday. "It is clear that the timing of the announcement is meant to hamper the progression of that bill through to committee stage, whereupon it could be further strengthened," the group noted.

The coalition called federal inaction on decriminalization "shameful," adding that "the piecemeal approach the government of Canada is now clearly taking does not adequately address the urgency of the drug poisoning crisis in the country."

Still, drug possession is about to be decriminalized in a Canadian province. Even with its shortcomings, that marks a striking conceptual shift in Canada's approach to drugs. And Toronto could be next. It has a similar exemption request pending.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas cop's party partners partied too hearty, a Kansas cop is in trouble after the evidence locker gets inspected, and more. Let's get to it:

In Ellinwood, Kansas, a former Ellinwood police officer was arrested last Thursday after drugs and cash went missing from the department evidence locker over the winter. Christopher Rowland, 40, went down after an audit of the evidence locker shortly after he resigned showed that drugs and money had gone missing. He is charged with theft, possession of marijuana, official misconduct, interference with a law enforcement officer and interference with the judicial process.

In McAllen, Texas, a McAllen police officer was arrested last Friday on drug charges after one of his companions called police saying she was receiving "messages from strangers" and saw "the silhouette of two people" outside her home. When police arrived, the caller was determined to have an outstanding drug warrant, and when she asked if she could go back in the house to get some clothing, police accompanying her found two men and illicit drugs in plain view in the house. One of the men was Officer Juan Garza, Jr, 33, who, along with the other two people, was charged with possession and use of a volatile chemical, possession of marijuana, possession of controlled substances, and manufacture or delivery of controlled substances. Garza resigned after his arrest.

In San Antonio, Texas, a Bexar County sheriff's deputy was arrested Sunday after attempting to smuggle marijuana into the county jail. Deputy Kolbe Count Ramirez, 21, went down after an inmate was caught speaking in code on a phone call, leading deputies to uncover an operation to smuggle drugs into the jail. A subsequent search of Ramirez' vehicle in the jail parking lot turned up marijuana and synthetic marijuana. He is charged with criminal conspiracy to commit substances in a correctional facility, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of marijuana.

MS Medical Marijuana Applications Start Today, New MO & TX Pot Polls, More... (6/1/22)

New polls in Missouri and Texas show strong support for marijuana legalization, Peru takes steps to ease patient access to medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Shows 62 Percent of Missouri Voters Support Recreational Marijuana. A new poll from SurveyUSA asked "Should the use of marijuana for recreational use remain against the law in Missouri? Or be legalized?" and 62 percent of respondents chose the latter. Some 79 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and even 49 percent of Republicans said legalize it. The poll comes as Legal Missouri 2022 awaits confirmation that its marijuana legalization has qualified for the November ballot. The group handed in some 390,000 raw voter signatures in mid-May, more than double the amount of valid signatures required.

New Poll Shows Majority of Texans in Favor of Legalized Weed. A new poll from the Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler has support for marijuana legalization at 60 percent, with 76 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 42 percent of Republicans in favor. Medical marijuana was even more popular, with 83 percent in favor. Despite popular support, marijuana law reform is making little progress in the Republican-controlled state legislature. Democratic gubernatorial contender Beto O'Rourke has said he favors legalization, while Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said he supports decriminalization of small amounts.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Card Applications Start Today. The state's medical marijuana program is getting underway after passage of the Medical Cannabis Act earlier this year. As of today, June 1, the Department of Health is accepting applications from patients and practitioners; marijuana cultivators, processors, and testers; and marijuana transportation and disposal services. Applications should be approved within five days for patients and within 30 days for licensure, the department said.

International

Peru Issues Draft Law to Allow and Regulate Patient-Grown Medical Marijuana. The Ministry of Health is seeking comment on pending legislation to amend a law passed last year that lets groups of patients or collectives grow their own medicine. The ministry is seeking to refine that law after hearing criticism from advocates who said patients still lacked sufficient access. The draft law will also include guidelines on the production and processing of medical marijuana by patient groups.

Canada Allows BC to Decriminalize Drug Possession, VA Lawmakers Propose Marijuana Misdemeanor, More... (5/31/22)

British Columbia will decriminalize drug possession beginning next year, a new survey finds Americans are less concerned about drug addiction even as overdose deaths rise, and more.

Asian authorities seized 162 tons of meth last year, the UN reports. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Lawmakers Propose New Marijuana Misdemeanor. As part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R) two-year state budget package, lawmakers are proposing a new marijuana possession misdemeanor offense little more than a year after the then-Democratically controlled General Assembly approved marijuana legalization. Under the proposal, possession of more than four ounces of weed in public would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. A second offense would be punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The General Assembly will meet Wednesday in special session to consider the budget.

Drug Policy

Even as Overdose Deaths Rise, Public Concern About Drug Addiction is Decreasing, Pew Survey Finds. The number of Americans who see drug addiction as a "major problem" has declined in recent years, even as the country is in the midst of a sustained increase in drug overdose deaths, which are now at record highs. That decrease is evident even in regions of the country where overdoses have increased the most. Concern dropped in urban, rural, and suburban areas, and it dropped even in areas of high overdose death rates, from 45 percent to 37 percent. In low overdose death rate areas, concern dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent. As to why this is, Pew says: "It's not clear why public concern about drug addiction has declined in recent years, even in areas where overdose death rates have risen quickly. Surveys by the Center show that Americans have prioritized other issues, including the national economy, reducing health care costs and dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. The increase in overdose deaths may also be overshadowed, particularly amid the high number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus outbreak (though, as of this month, far fewer see the virus as a very big problem facing the country)."

International

Canada Allows British Columbia to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The federal government announced Tuesday that the province of British Columbia will be allowed to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs beginning next year. People 18 and over in the province will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, meth, and MDMA without criminal penalty or having their drugs seized beginning on January 31. The move is in response to a standing request from the province to grant it an exemption from the country's law criminalizing drug possession. British Columbia has seen more than 9.400 drug overdose deaths since 2016, and both the provincial government and activist groups have lobbied for the move. Activist groups go even further, calling for a "safe supply" of drugs.

UN Says More Than a Billion Meth Tablets Seized in East and Southeast Asia Last Year. Authorities in East and Southeast Asia seized 1.008 billion methamphetamine tablets last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. That was the first time more than a billion tablets were seized and is seven times higher than the amount seized a decade ago. That billion tablets translates to 91 tons of meth, but that was only slightly more than all the meth seized in all forms in the region, which totaled 172 tons. "I think the region is literally swimming in methamphetamine," said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the UN agency. "So there's going to have to be a radical policy shift by East Asia to address this problem or it's just going to continue to grow," Douglas said. "Production and trafficking of methamphetamine jumped yet again as supply became super concentrated in the Mekong (River region) and in particular Thailand, Laos and Myanmar," he added. He noted that the increased production is driving down prices, with a tablet now costing five or six times less than it did a decade ago.

State Banking Regulators Call for Passage of SAFE Banking Act, Colombia Could Elect a Drug War Critic as President, More... (5/27/22)

A congressman calls on the Transportation Department to adjust its drug testing policies for truck drivers to account for broad marijuana legalization, Michigan enacts a new asset forfeiture law for airports, and more.

Leftist Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is a harsh critic of the US drug war in Colombia. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Urge Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Protections as Part of Manufacturing Bill. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), which represents state financial regulators from across the country, sent a letter Wednesday to House and Senate leaders urging them to include marijuana banking reform in the COMPETES Act, a large-scale manufacturing bill. "By granting a safe harbor for financial institutions, Congress can bring regulatory clarity to the financial services industry, address public safety concerns and ensure access to financial services for state-compliant marijuana and marijuana-related businesses," CSBS Acting President James Cooper said.

The group is calling on congressional negotiators to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking act in the version of the bill that will go to President Biden. The House included it in its version of the bill, but the Senate removed the language. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has consistently blocked passage of the SAFE Banking Act, arguing that outright federal legalization is the path to go down, but there is little sign that there is sufficient support in the Senate for a legalization bill to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bill to Let Airport Authorities Seize Suspected Drug Cash Signed into Law. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a pair of Republican-sponsored bills, House Bill 4631and House Bill 4632, that will allow airport authorities to seize suspected drug cash or property without first obtaining a conviction or guilty plea if the cash or property exceeds $20,000. The seizure would still have to be upheld in a civil judgement. "Drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan," said bill sponsor Rep. Graham Filler (R-Clinton County). "The men and women who keep our airports secure need to have the proper authority to keep drugs and drug money out of our state -- and this reform gives them the tools they need to get the job done."

Drug Testing

Lawmaker Calls on Transportation Department to Amend "Outdated" Marijuana Testing Requirements. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling on the department to change its policies that punish commercial truck drivers for using marijuana while off the job. "To date, 48 states have enacted laws that, to varying degrees, relax their prohibitions against the use of marijuana," wrote Blumenauer. "Nevertheless, your department's zero-tolerance policy sweeps up drivers who were unimpaired, drivers who have not used cannabis for weeks or even months, and drivers who have used federally-legal CBD oils. Blanket disqualifications are unjust, unfair, and cause widespread economic and social damage. Thousands of driving positions are unfilled, compounding our supply chain woes. Penalizing safe drivers who comply with state cannabis laws harms both the drivers and the supply chains they support." Amidst supply chain challenges and a driver shortage, more than 36,000 truckers have had their licenses suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in recent months.

International

Leftist Critic of US Drug War Poised to Win Colombian Presidency. Former leftist guerilla and Bogota mayor and current Senator Gustavo Petro is poised to win the first round of Colombia's presidential elections (although he may be forced into a run-off if he comes in with less than 50 percent of the vote). Petro is a staunch critic of the US's drug war in Colombia, frequently noting that despite spending billions on military and law enforcement and decades of US pressure to reduce drug production, the country remains a top supplier of cocaine and is awash in prohibition-related violence. He has also recently questioned the extradition last month of the head of the Gulf Clan Cartel, Dairo Antonio Usuga and is more broadly critical of extradition.

"Extradition: it merits a discussion -- a review of the figures -- to see if what’s been done for 40 years has worked or not; if a million dead Latin Americans -- the majority Colombians and Mexicans -- has been worth it," he said in an interview last month. Despite all the violence and security spending, Colombian cocaine production has tripled in the past decade, according to US government data.

CO Governor Signs Bill Increasing Fentanyl Penalties, SD Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November, More... (5/26/22)

The Louisiana House approves a bill to protect state workers who use medical marijuana, a South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. They could seem less bad after voters have another chance to legalize marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November -- Again. Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced Wednesday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws has qualified for the November ballot. Initiative 27 will give voters a second chance to vote for marijuana legalization. In 2020, the same group sponsored a legalization initiative that won with 54 percent of the vote, only to see the will of the voters overturned by the state Supreme Court at the behest of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.

Another Texas City Will Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization in November. After Austin voters earlier this month overwhelming approved a marijuana decriminalization measure, the Central Texas town of Killeen is now set to vote on a similar measure in November. Ground Game Texas, the progressive group behind both efforts, said Wednesday it had collected enough signatures to make the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Bill to Protect State Workers Who Use Medical Marijuana. The House on Tuesday voted 60-32 to approve House Bill 988, which would protect state employees from negative consequences for legal medical marijuana use. The bill would bar employees being fired for medical marijuana use and would prevent discrimination against potential hires for medical marijuana use. Public safety employees such as police and firefighters are not included, though. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Opiates and Opioids

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Increasing Fentanyl Penalties. Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 22-1326, the "Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act." The bill lowers the threshold for a felony fentanyl possession charge from four grams to one and includes counterfeit pills that may contain only small amounts of the drug. As a last-minute change, lawmakers added a provision that will allow people to argue in court they did not "knowingly" possess fentanyl, which is a common phenomenon because the drug is often used in counterfeit pills. The bill also allocates $10 million for emergency health services and more than $25 million in harm reduction spending, primarily for overdose reversal drugs, but also for fentanyl test strips and a three-year education campaign.

Marijuana is Now Legal in Rhode Island [FEATURE]

With Gov. Dan McKee's (D) signature Wednesday, Rhode Island became the 19th state in the US to legalize marijuana. The measure he signed into law, Senate Bill 2430, had won final floor votes in both chambers of the legislature on Tuesday. It was the product of months of negotiations among legislative leaders and the governor and within the legislature itself.

The new law allows adults to possess and purchase up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants at home and that part of the law goes into effect immediately. It also includes a provision for the automatic expungement of past civil or criminal marijuana possession convictions by July 2024 (and those who want it sooner can request it). Additionally, it creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent tax on retail sales and another 10 percent in state and local sales taxes. Retail sales could happen as soon as December 1.

And it has significant social equity provisions. It reserves one quarter of all new retail marijuana licenses for applicants that qualify as social equity businesses and it creates a social equity assistance fund providing grants, job training programs, and other social services for communities most negatively impacted by pot prohibition. In an additional twist, the new law also reserves a quarter of new licenses to worker-owned cooperatives.

"This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe," Governor McKee said in a statement announcing the signing. "In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My administration's original legalization plan also included such a provision, and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically."

"The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use," said bill sponsor Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it."

"Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process. Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration. The starting line isn't the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization. I am grateful to my colleagues in the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of expungement of criminal records and equity in licensing, because they are absolutely critical to ending prohibition fairly," said bill sponsor Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence).

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has worked on the issue in the state for years, pronounced itself pleased with the results in a statement Wednesday, but cautioned that now this progressive law will have to be implemented correctly.

"After years of persistent advocacy by organizations and supporters across the state, lawmakers have enacted a well-crafted cannabis legalization law that will create new opportunities for Rhode Islanders and begin the process of addressing decades of harm caused by prohibition," said MPP state campaigns manager Jared Moffat. "There is more work to be done to ensure that the full promise and potential of this legislation is achieved, but today is a day for us to celebrate and recognize that the hard work of organizing and educating eventually pays off."

A day for Rhode Islanders to celebrate, indeed.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Oklahoma police chief gets nailed for peddling meth, an Oklahoma prosecutor uses his position to get sexual favors, and more. Let's get to it:

In Tulsa, a former Ottawa County assistant district attorney was arrested April 27 over allegations he traded legal work for sex and drugs. Daniel Thomas Giraldi is accused of obtaining sexual favors in exchange for special treatment of some defendants and of inducing women to travel with him for sex in exchange for money or drugs. Investigators recorded numerous incriminating phone calls and text messages where Giraldi agreed to do legal favors in exchange for sex. When he met with a confidential informant on one of his assignations, he gave her a bag containing several pills that were later found to be controlled substances. He also had condoms with him. He is charged with accepting bribery as a public official, interstate racketeering, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and drug trafficking.

In St. Louis, a county jail guard was arrested May 7 for smuggling fentanyl into the facility at least twice last fall, leading to two non-fatal overdoses among inmates. Jailer Joeisha Cofer went down after authorities found text messages between her and an inmate, who was also charged after a search turned up 33 fentanyl pills in his cell. Both Cofer and the inmate are charged with delivery of possession of a controlled substance at a jail. Cofer is now residing at her former place of work after a judge refused to grant her bail.

In Placerville, California, an El Dorado Sheriff's Office correctional officer was arrested May 11 after allegedly showing up for work high. Jailer Anthony Horne, 29, drew the suspicion of coworkers upon arrival at the jail and was then arrested for driving under the influence. When deputies then searched him, they found methamphetamine on his person. In addition to DUI, he is now charged with possession of a controlled substance and bringing a controlled substance to the jail.

In Calvin, Oklahoma, the Calvin police chief was arrested May 13 on charges he was using and selling methamphetamine. Chief Joe Don Chitwood was arrested by Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics agents after a month-long investigation prompted by a tip that he was involved with meth. After Chitwood sold $20 worth of meth to an undercover informant, agents raided his residence and found more meth. He has since resigned as police chief, leaving the town with no police force since he was the sole member of the department.

In Fort Myers, Florida, a guard at the Charlotte Correctional Institution was sentenced Monday to 2 ½ years in federal prison for trying to smuggle drugs into the prison. Guard Leslie Spencer, 49, went down in a sting in which an inmate working as an FBI snitch got him to agree to smuggle three ounces of meth, three ounces of MDMA, and two cellphones into the prison. After making the deal, Spencer met an FBI agent posing as a drug supplier and took possession of the meth, MDMA, cellphones, and payment for the smuggling operation. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 to attempting to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances.

Biden Signs Criminal Justice Reform Executive Order, RI Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization, More... (5/25/22)

Rhode Island is set to become the 19th legal marijuana state, West Virginia announces a big settlement with drug manufacturers over their role in the opioid crisis, and more.

After congressional inaction, President Biden issues an executive order on criminal justice reform. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Voters Approve Marijuana Legalization Ballot Question. State voters sent a strong signal to lawmakers Tuesday by overwhelmingly approving a non-binding ballot question on marijuana policy. Voters were asked: "Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older, with proceeds going towards education, infrastructure and health care programs?" A whopping 80 percent of them answered "yes."

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization. Both the House and the Senate voted Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430. Gov. Dan McKee (D) is set to sign it into law today. The law will allow people 21 and over to possess, grow, and purchase limited amounts of marijuana. It also includes expungement and social equity provisions. Once the bill is signed into law, Rhode Island will become the 19th state to free the weed. Look for our feature story on this later today.

Opiates and Opioids

West Virginia Announces Settlement with Opioid Manufacturers. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday that the state had reached a $161.5 million settlement with two drug companies over their role in the opioid epidemic. The settlement came as the trial in the state's lawsuit against Allergan and Teva was nearing its end. Morrisey touted the settlement as "record-breaking," saying it was the highest per capita settlement in the country and blasted the two companies as "helping fuel the opioid epidemic in West Virginia by engaging in strategic campaigns to deceive prescribers and misrepresent the risks and benefits of opioid painkillers."

Criminal Justice

President Biden Signs Executive Order to Advance Accountable Policing, Strengthen Public Safety. Marking the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, President Biden on Wednesday issued a broad-ranging executive order to advance accountable policing and enhance public safety. The move comes after Congress largely failed to act on policing reform in the wake of the killing and the mass protests it generated. Among other provisions, the order creates a new national database of police misconduct, restricts the use of no-knock search warrants, bans the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints unless deadly force is authorized, requires new standards limiting the use of force for all federal agencies, restores the Obama administration's restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies, requires an updated approach to recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of law enforcement officers; requires all federal law enforcement agencies to track data on use of force; directs a government-wide strategic plan to propose interventions to reform the criminal justice system; and requires full implementation of the First Step Act.

DE Governor Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Bill, KS GOP Lawmakers Kill Fentanyl Test Strip Bill, More... (5/24/22)

North Carolina sees a marijuana legalization bill filed, Ohio sees a fentanyl test strip bill filed, and more.

Fentanyl test strips are being legaized in states across the country -- but not Kansas. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Governor Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. John Carney (D) has vetoed House Bill 371, which would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce of weed by people 21 and over but did not create a legal marijuana commerce regime. That move earned him the wrath of fellow Democrats, but that did not deter Carney. "I recognize the positive effect marijuana can have for people with certain health conditions, and for that reason, I continue to support the medical marijuana industry in Delaware," Carney said in returning the bill to the state House. "I supported decriminalization of marijuana because I agree that individuals should not be imprisoned solely for the possession and private use of a small amount of marijuana -- and today, thanks to Delaware's decriminalization law, they are not. That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people. Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved." Lawmakers could try to override the veto, but that hasn't been done successfully in the state since 1977.

North Carolina Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. Toby Fitch (D-Wilson) filed a marijuana legalization bill on Monday, Senate Bill 765. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to two immature and two mature plants, as well as setting up a system of regulated cultivation and sales. The bill faces dim prospects in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Harm Reduction

Kansas Legislature Kills Effort to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. After defeating a bill decriminalizing the possession of fentanyl test strips earlier in the session, House Republicans this week blocked a last-minute effort by Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Jason Probst (D-Hutchinson) to attach the fentanyl test strip language to a broader controlled substances bill. This was the last day of the legislative session, so no further action is possible this year. Republicans argued that the test strips would facilitate people using drugs, which they are apparently more concerned with than people dying.

Ohio Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) has filed a bill to decriminalize fentanyl strips, House Bill 456. Boggs said she was motivated by the recent overdose deaths of two Ohio State University students. "Many of you may know that Ohio State recently had a great loss when two university students who had finished with their finals, were about to go into graduation weekend, ended up overdosing what we believe was on fentanyl from Adderall that they had purchased on the streets. This problem is certainly something that I think we all appreciate is significant and needs to be addressed, and we believe that by decriminalizing these fentanyl testing strips, it's creating one more tool, one more avenue that could potentially result in somebody avoiding an overdose that is unattended because they are unaware of what substances are in the drugs that they are using," Biggs said.

Federal Pot Busts Continue Decade-Long Decline, VT Governor Vetoes Drug Decrim Study Bill, More... (5/23/22)

Luxembourg is on a path to be the first European Union country to legalize marijuana, Alabama Medicaid is being challenged for blocking access to Hep C treatment for people who use drugs or alcohol, and more.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) has vetoed a bill that could have led the way to drug decriminalization. (vt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Pot Busts Continue to Decline. The DEA arrested 2,576 people on federal marijuana charges in Fiscal Year 2020, down dramatically from 2010, when the DEA made 8,215 pot arrests. Arrests have declined on an average of 11 percent a year in the past decade. Some of the decline is because of the coronavirus pandemic, which the Bureau of Justice Statistics said, "drove an 81 percent decline in arrests and 77 percent decline in cases charged from March to April 2020." But the decline also reflects discretionary decisions by the Justice Department as state after state legalizes marijuana.

Drug Policy

Alabama Medicaid Sued for Denying Hep C Treatment for People Who Use Drugs. The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation and AIDS Alabama have filed an administrative complaint with the Justice Department, charging that Alabama Medicaid is discriminating against people with substance use disorder by denying "[Hep C] treatment to otherwise eligible Medicaid enrollees who cannot prove they did not use drugs or alcohol within the last six months." Prospective enrollees must promise not to use illegal drugs or alcohol, even though only alcohol has an effect on the liver. Alabama Medicaid patients who are found to be using drugs, including alcohol, could see their access to treatment, which otherwise costs tens of thousands of dollars, blocked. "On an individual level, for a single person seeking hep C treatment, it means the difference between being cured of hepatitis C and continuing to live with this very dangerous illness that, in many cases, can lead to liver scarring, liver cancer and even death," said Suzanne Davies, an attorney and CHLPI clinical fellow.

Vermont Governor Vetoes Drug Decrim Study Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) has vetoed House Bill 505, which would have created a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board as a first step toward drug decriminalization. The board would have been charged with determining a way to decriminalize the personal possession of currently illicit drugs, as well as ending the legal distinction between powder and crack cocaine. But in his veto message, Scott complained that the bill "places no limits on which drugs can be contemplated for legalization or the amounts, and while rightly saying we need to view substance abuse as a public health matter -- a point where I agree -- it includes absolutely no recognition of the often-disastrous health and safety impacts of using drugs."

International

Jordanian Armed Forces Kill Four Drug Smugglers from Syria. Four people trying to smuggle a large quantity of drugs from Syria into Jordan have been killed, with an unspecified number of others wounded and others escaping back into Syria, the Jordanian armed forces said. Jordan is both a destination and a transit route for captagon, an amphetamine now manufactured in Syria. The military did not specify who killed the smugglers, but in January, Jordanian soldiers killed 27 armed smugglers as they crossed the border.

Luxembourg Council of Government Set to Review Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Month. The Council of Government will review a draft of a marijuana legalization bill next month. The government has committed to legalization, and in the current draft, would allow for home cultivation and would legalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana. If the bill passes, Luxembourg would be the first country in the European Union to legalize marijuana, although Germany is now following a similar process.

RI Legal Pot Bill Heads for Final Votes Next Week, FL Governor Signs Fentanyl Murder Bill, More... (5/20/22)

A Delaware bill to tax and regulate marijuana comes up short but remains alive after a parliamentary manuever, Michigan uses court settlements to fund a massive response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a punitive fentanyl bill into law. (fl.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legal Marijuana Regulation, Sales Bill Falls Short—For Now. A bill that would have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, House Bill 372, failed in the House Thursday even though it won a majority of votes. The bill needed a two-thirds majority in the House because it had tax provisions, but cam up short on a 23-15 vote. But the bill is not dead because sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), changed his vote to "no," which gives him three legislative days to rescind the roll call vote and bring the bill forward for reconsideration before the end of this year’s legislative session. With Osienski voting "yes" next time, along with a bill supporter who missed the vote because he is sick with COVID, the bill has the votes to pass next time.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House, Senate Floor Votes Next Week. With approval Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary and House Finance committees, an amended marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430, is now headed for final floor votes in the House and Senate, which are scheduled for next Tuesday. As well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, the bill contains social equity components and allows for automatic expungement of past marijuana possession offenses.

Opiates and Opioids

Florida Governor Signs Bill to Make Murder Charges Easier in Drug Overdose Deaths. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed into law House Bill 95, which would make it easier for prosecutors to seek first-degree murder charges against drug sellers if an overdose leads to someone's death. Currently, drug sellers face life in prison or the death penalty if the drug they sold verifiably caused the death of a consumer, but prosecutors complained it was hard to win convictions in cases involving multiple controlled substances and/or alcohol. Under the new law, prosecutors will only have to show that the drug was a "substantial factor" in the person's death. As the session wound down, legislators also added language that increased mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking between 4 and 14 milligrams of fentanyl and its analogs from three to seven years, and for trafficking between 14 and 28 milligrams of fentanyl to 15 to 20 years. They also stripped out a provision that would have legalized fentanyl test strips, signaling no room for compassion but plenty of space for punishing policies.

Michigan Governor Signs Bills Aimed at Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a package of bills that invest $800 million in treatment, prevention, and mental health in response to the opioid crisis. Senate Bills 993, 994, and 995 will handle the disbursement of settlement funds from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as creating an Opioid Advisory Committee to help craft policies to prevent, treat, and support people using opioids. "The opioid crisis touches families across our state, which is why it’s so crucial to ensure that Michiganders facing substance use issues have the support and resources they need to get better," said Governor Whitmer. "The legislation I signed today will be instrumental in preventing more deaths and will provide Michigan families impacted by the devastating opioid epidemic with some semblance of relief. These funds will bring millions of dollars to support our neighbors, family, and friends in treatment and recovery. I will continue to work with anyone who wants to help those who are struggling."

Record Overdose Death Numbers Prompt Calls for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalizaion [FEATURE]

On May 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year. The figure marks a 15 percent increase over 2020, with the number of overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999. And this is only provisional data; the actual death toll could be even higher.

More people died of drug overdoses last year than from gunfire and traffic accidents combined, and the ever-rising death toll is leading to ever-louder calls for effective policy prescriptions and harm reduction interventions to reduce the carnage.

Opioids were implicated in nearly 80,000 overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and its derivatives, involved in more than 68,000. Cocaine was mentioned in more than 23,000 overdose deaths and psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine, mentioned in more than 30,000.

To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized the urgency of the problem, embracing harm reduction interventions such as needle exchanges, drug testing, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The strategy includes $30 million for harm reduction grants, but also $300 million increases for the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol. While the prohibitionist impulse remains strong, at least the administration has explicitly recognized the need for harm reduction.

But that isn't enough, advocates say.

"New data from CDC has confirmed our worst fears. The combined pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly potent illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels," said Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, in a statement.

>Vital Strategies is a global public health organization that in February, launched "Support Harm Reduction," a campaign to highlight five key interventions for preventing overdose that many people in the United States still don’t have access to: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. 

>"What we’re doing now isn’t working, because the decades-old punitive response to drug use still predominates: The transition to a health-first, harm reduction approach has been slow and piecemeal," Heller continued. "Anemic levels of funding and policy support are woefully insufficient to stem the tide of overdose we are experiencing. These data are an urgent call to action for government at all levels: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that centers harm reduction and support instead of criminalization and punishment for people who use drugs.  

"Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths," Heller added. "Most of these services are available in some form, in some locations in the majority of states, but they all need to be massively scaled up with an emergency investment. Until such actions are taken, the continued escalation of this overdose crisis seems inevitable," she said.

"The devastating rise in overdose deaths is falling most heavily on Black and Indigenous communities, where the need for relief now is more urgent than ever before," Heller noted. "A massive surge in funding and support for a harm reduction public health response will save lives immediately, engaging people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The time for action is now."

Likewise, the new CDC numbers prompted the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) to call on Congress to urgently support harm reduction services and move toward drug decriminalization.

"Once again, we are devastated by these numbers," said Jules Netherland, DPA Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement. "Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbors lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalization - and this is where it has gotten us. It's clearly not working. It's time we start investing where it actually matters - in our communities, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities where we are now seeing the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. The evidence shows us, that in order to actually make a difference, we have to replace these approaches with those centered in public health, such as drug decriminalization coupled with increased access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction services, overdose prevention centers, and legal regulation and safer supply to reduce the likelihood of accidental overdose," Nederland said.

It is time for safe injection sites, too, DPA insisted.
 
"We are grateful that the Biden Administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National Drug Control Strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services," Nederland said. "It's also essential that Overdose Prevention Centers be implemented, which decades of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and utilization in over 14 countries show us are one of the most effective ways to save lives now. While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives."

RI Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Floor Votes Next Week, Thailand's Million Pot Plant Giveaway, More... (5/18/22)

Delaware's anti-legalization governor makes some ambiguous comments about a legal pot bill on his desk, Ohio is set to more than double the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Governor Makes First Comments on Marijuana Legalization Bill on His Desk. Gov. John Carney (D), a long-time opponent of marijuana legalization, has given his first reaction to passage of House Bill 371, which legalizes the possession and sharing of up to an ounce by people 21 and over but does not contemplate a legal marijuana marketplace. Marijuana use shouldn’t be a "criminal offense" and HB 371 "just decriminalizes," Carney said, hinting he could support the bill. "It doesn’t have a regulatory piece that goes with it, so we’re looking at the same concerns that I’ve been articulating for some time with respect to public safety and its effect on our young people, and we’ll continue to keep those in mind." An earlier effort by bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) to advance a full-blown legalization bill faltered in the legislature, so he split it up into two parts, HB 371 and House Bill 372, which would create a regulatory framework for marijuana commerce. That bill awaits a House floor vote.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Agree on Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill. Legislators have apparently reached agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430. The amended bill now includes automatic expungement of past marijuana possession convictions, pushed the effective date of legal adult sales from October 1 to December 1, and eliminates the fees currently charged to medical marijuana patients and caregivers. The bill is set to be heard today by the House Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, with floor votes in both chambers set for next Tuesday.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Set to More Than Double. The state Board of Pharmacy has approved 70 new medical marijuana dispensary licenses, with three more applications pending. Once the new shops are open, the number of dispensaries in the state will more than double from the current 58. Those dispensaries will serve the more than 261,000 Ohioans who are currently registered in the state's medical marijuana program.

International

Thailand to Give Away a Million Pot Plants. The Thai government is set to give away one million marijuana plants for free for "home cultivation" but only for medical purposes. Beginning June 9, it will be legal to grow marijuana as a "household crop" or as part of a "small-scale commercial enterprise," and the government will mark the occasion with the pot plant giveaway. The move comes after the country legalized marijuana for "medical use and research" in 2018 and dropped marijuana from its list of controlled substances in February. 

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overdoses

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

For Immediate Release -- May 7, 2022

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

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

2018 DC protest of Senator de Lima's unjust incarceration
The coalition is preparing detailed submissions for agencies at the US State and Treasury Departments that implement individually-targeted sanctions against persons suspected of human rights violations or financial corruption. The laws authorizing these sanctions, of which the Global Magnitsky Act is the most well-known, allow for banning travel to the US by designated individuals and sometimes their immediate family members, and can be used to freeze assets held in US financial institutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

Education

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

Drug War Issues

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