Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

CA Coerced Treatment Bill Draws Opposition, WY Committee Advances Marijuana Legalization, More... (3/15/21)

New Mexico lawmakers have less than a week to get their act together and legalize marijuana, Republican US senators target drug cartels with a new bill, a fight is brewing over no-knock raids and warrants in the Kentucky House, and more.

Magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics are now the lowest law enforcement priority in DC. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Hits Stalemate on Marijuana Legalization. With the legislative session set to end this week, lawmakers remained at loggerheads Monday over two competing marijuana legalization bills. A hearing set for Sunday was called off minutes before it was set to begin, as lawmakers diverge on issues around taxations, licensing, and expungement for past convictions. The two measures under consideration are Senate Bill 288 and House Bill12.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee voted last Friday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 209. That is the first time any marijuana legalization effort has advanced in the state legislature. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Psychedelics

DC Psychedelic Deprioritization Initiative Now in Effect. As of Monday, possession or use of a wide range of natural psychedelics is now the lowest priority for law enforcement in the nation's capital. That's because a voter-approved natural psychedelic initiative has gone into effect.

Law Enforcement

GOP Senators File Bill Targeting Drug Cartels. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) have introduced the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act, legislation that would subject certain foreign criminal organizations like drug cartels to sanctions, including immigration, financial, and criminal penalties. Similar legislation is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI). The process would be similar to the system used for designating entities as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). "Criminal organizations and drug cartels that terrorize our communities and wage war at our borders ought to be treated just like terrorist groups in the eyes of the US government. This bill would help stop cartel violence by ensuring these groups-and anyone who helps them-face dire consequences for their actions," said Cotton. The bill is not yet avialable on the congressional web site.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Allow Forced Drug Treatment for Drug Offenders. A bill that would allow a pilot "secured residential treatment program" in Yolo County, near Sacramento, is drawing increasing concern. Assembly Bill 1542, sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) would "authorize the court to divert an offender to confinement in a secured residential treatment facility if it determines that the crime was caused in whole or in part by that individual's substance abuse." The bill has drawn the ire of critics such as JusticeLA, which warned that "AB 1542 would implement a pilot program in Yolo County that could easily become a statewide model and would jail houseless community members for misdemeanors such as trespassing and minor thefts under the guise of offering treatment," the group warned. "The pilot program tries to sell punishment as treatment. Our communities call for supportive services for people with mental health conditions, including those related to substance abuse -- not a new mode of incarceration."

Kentucky Bill Restricting No-Knock Raids Faces Amendments in House. In the wake of the killing of Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid last year, the Senate passed Senate Bill 4, which restricted no-knock warrants to cases where there is "clear and convincing" evidence of violent crime and to bar them between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Now the bill faces amendments from House Republicans and former police officers that would instead expand the use of such warrants. At the same time, House Democrats want to amend the bill to make it even more restrictive.

International

Four Mexican Police Officers Killed, Burned in Zacatecas. Presumed drug cartel gunmen opened fire on a police patrol in the north-central state of Zacatecas, killing four officers, then pouring gasoline on their patrol car and burning their bodies. State police said late last Thursday they had captured seven attackers and killed two others. Police also said they discovered a drug cartel camp nearby. The state is increasingly a battle zone as remnant Zetas, the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels and the rival Jalisco New Generation cartel fight for control.

Key Democrat Will Refile Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill, MD House Approves Police Reforms, More... (3/12/21)

A Vermont drug decriminalization bill is filed, Rhose Island's governor rolls out a marijuana legalization plan, Morocco moves toward legalizing hemp and medical marijuana, and more.

The Maryland House has approved sweeping police reforms including limits on no-knock raids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key Congressional Chair Will Refile Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), head of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Thursday that he will reintroduce his bill to legalize marijuana this session. The bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, passed the House last year, but was not taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, the Democrats control both houses.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Dan McKee (D) on Thursday released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2022, which includes a plan for legalizing marijuana. McKee is calling for 25 retailers to be licensed in each of the first three years of legalization, with five being earmarked for minority-owned businesses, including those owned by women. Legislative leaders filed their own bill to legalize marijuana earlier this week. Both lawmakers and administration officials said they plan to work together to achieve legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Senate Revives Substitute Medical Marijuana Bill Killed by House. After the House on Wednesday killed a bill to substitute for a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, Senate Bill 2765, the Senate moved late Wednesday night to revive it. Although SB 2765 is dead, Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-South Haven) successfully amended another bill, House Bill 119, using the exact language in SB 2765.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would legalize hemp, House Bill 126, which has already passed the House, has now been unanimously approved by the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee and is headed for a Senate floor vote. Idaho is the only state where industrial hemp production remains illegal.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bill to Make Legalizing Drugs More Difficult Passes Senate. A proposed constitutional amendment that would make it impossible to legalize marijuana or any drug through the initiative process has been approved by the Senate and now heads to the House. Under the bill, the legalization of any drug would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. This bill now needs to be approved by two-thirds of the House. If approved, it would then go before voters in 2022.

Vermont Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Reps. Selene Colburn (P) and Logan Nicoll (D) have filed House Bill 422, which would decriminalize the possession and dispensing of personal use amounts of all illicit drugs. Under the bill, personal use quantities would be set by a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board within the Health Department. Persons caught with personal use amounts of drugs would face a $50 fine, which could be avoided by agreeing to be screened for substance abuse disorder.

Law Enforcement

Maryland House Approves Sweeping Police Reform Bill. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus police reform bill, House Bill 670, that, among other things, would require the use of body cameras by 2025, ban chokeholds and create a duty for police to intervene in the face of misconduct, and would limit but not ban no-knock raids. The Senate has already approved a package of nine bills with many provisions similar to the House bill. The two chambers will meet to attempt to reconcile the bills and send them to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

International

Morocco Government Approves Bill to Legalize Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The cabinet has approved a bill that would legalize non-recreational uses of marijuana, i.e. hemp and medical marijuana. The bill will now be submitted to parliament. The country is seeking to establish a regulatory framework for the entire chain of cultivation, production, processing and marketing of marijuana for medical, cosmetic and industrial uses such as textiles or paper. Morocco has long been one of the world's leading marijuana producers and currently supplies Europe with black market hashish.

Fed Bill Would End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, SD MedMJ Will Happen on Schedule, More... (3/11/21)

The South Dakota Senate has blocked the governor's effort to delay the implemenation of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the Mississippi House has killed a bill that would have substituted for the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative there, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has authored a bill to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi House Kills Substitute Medical Marijuana Bill. The House late Wednesday killed Senate Bill 2765, which had been filed as a more restrictive alternative to the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November and now under challenge in the state Supreme Court.

South Dakota Senate Blocks Governor's Effort to Delay Medical Marijuana Rollout. The state Senate has killed Gov. Kristi Noem's (R) effort to delay implementation of the Measure 26 medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. The House had already passed House Bill 1100, which would have enacted the delay, but the Senate amended the bill to include immediate decriminalization, and when the two chambers were unable to reach a compromise on Wednesday, the bill died.

Sentencing

Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Awaits Action in Senate. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has filed S. 79, the EQUAL Act, to end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. For years, the disparity was 100:1, but was reduced to 18:1 under legislation passed in the Obama era. This bill would end the disparity entirely, and it would allow for people still serving time for crack sentences under the old law to file motions for reduced sentences. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is sympathetic.

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill [FEATURE]

Mexico took a giant step toward ending marijuana prohibition Wednesday night as the Chamber of Deputies approved a legalization bill on a vote of 316-129. The Senate approved the bill late last year, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has signaled he will sign it into law.

But it's not quite a done deal yet. Because the bill was amended in the Chamber of Deputies -- and lawmakers were still debating possible amendments late Wednesday night -- it must now go back to the Senate for approval of the changes.

Still, Mexico, a country legendary for marijuana production since the days of the hippies, is now on the verge of becoming the world's largest legal marijuana market. In the United States, federal marijuana prohibition still obtains despite state-level legalization in an ever-increasing number of states, potentially (and ironically) leaving the US as the odd man out in North America, sandwiched between legal pot pioneers Canada and Mexico.

The legislative move to legalize marijuana is the outgrowth of a Mexican Supreme Court decision three years ago that held marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and gave the congress a limited amount of time to bring the law into compliance with the constitution. Deadlines were repeatedly bumped back, though, especially as the coronavirus took hold, but now the congress was up against another deadline next month. And this time, it beat it.

Mexico uses the military to fight its drug wars. (Creative Commons)
Under the bill, people 18 and up will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also creates a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. In another change from the Senate bill, this bill would give regulatory control over the new legal industry to the National Commission Against Addictions instead of the independent regulatory body envisioned by the upper house.

Activists bemoaned aspects of the bill, with Mexico Unido Contra la Delinquencia (MUCD) complaining that it represented a "lost opportunity to end the criminalization of users" because it maintains penalties for possession of larger amounts and that it "did not eliminate the crime of cultivation for persons of scarce resources and extreme economic necessity who have dedicated themselves to this as a primordial activity." This would "perpetuate the marginalization and criminal punishment of our peasants, the people most affected by prohibition, who we want to integrate into the market, not maintain in illegality."

MUCD is calling on the Senate to rectify the bill to address such issues. "Above all, we must not create a legal market that only prioritizes the economic benefit of those who participate in sales while we exclude other, less advantaged actors," the group said. "For this, we call on the Senate of the Republic to correct the bill to comply with the mandate of the Supreme Court to eliminate the absolute prohibition of the consumption of cannabis."

The bill would remove one drug from Mexico's lucrative and bloody black markets (DEA)
Still, despite the objections raised by MUCD and others, Mexico is on the verge of shifting from a prohibition regime to legal marijuana regime, and that is a big deal, and a recognition that the country has bigger problems to deal with.

"The damage caused by the prohibition and the war on drugs in Mexico has caused more harm than the health conditions attributed to drug consumption," said Dep. Rubén Cayetano García. "Cannabis is not considered one of the serious public health problems in Mexico."

"For Mexico, given its size and its worldwide reputation for being damaged by the drug war, to take this step is enormously significant," said John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America. "North America is heading toward legalization."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A narc goes rogue in Baton Rouge, a pervy former Michigan deputy gets nailed for kiddy porn and stolen pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Baton Rouge Police narcotics officer was arrested February 26 for stealing drugs seized as evidence and giving them to a friend. Corporal Jason Acree, 34, went down after another officer ratted him out for stealing marijuana that had been seized in a recent drug investigation and admitting that he planned to give it to a friend. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and malfeasance in office.

In Eureka, California, a Humboldt County Sheriff's Office correctional deputy was arrested last Tuesday after being caught with drugs at work. Deputy Ricardo Tranquilino Aguirre went down after a witness reported he was smuggling drugs into the jail, which led to a Humboldt County Drug Task Force investigation, and his subsequent arrest. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance while armed, smuggling contraband into a jail, possession of a controlled substance for sales, and transportation/sale of a controlled substance. And he is now a former deputy.

In Chehalis, Washington, a former state reform school guard was arrested last Thursday for smuggling marijuana, narcotics, and mobile phones to youth offenders at the states maximum-security lockup for juveniles. Julio Hayes, 40, allegedly accepted $11,170 in payments from inmates at the Green Hill School before he was fired after an FBI raid in February 2020. Inmates would use a phone app to send money to Hayes, who would spend some of it on drugs and pocket the rest. He faces seven counts of extortion, two counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He will be arraigned on March 16.

In Louisburg, North Carolina, a Franklin County Sheriff's Office detention officer was arrested Monday for his role in a scheme to provide drugs and other contraband to inmates. Officer Chase Garnett Strickland, 28, and three inmates were rolled up after jail staff developed information that he was providing marijuana, marijuana edibles, cigarettes, and other contraband. He is charged with one count of providing contraband to an inmate.

In Lansing, Michigan, a former Osceola County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty February 26 to multiple child sex and drug charges. Andrew Wernette, 39, went down after a tip led to a raid of his home, where authorities images and videos of child sexually abusive material and drugs that he had pilfered from the department's drug takeback program, which he supervised. Wernette pleaded guilty to three different kiddie porn counts, as well as one count of larceny (for stealing pills), one count each of possession of morphine and OxyContin, and one count of maintaining a drug house. If give the maximum on all counts, he's looking at up to 72 years in prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

Florida Republican lawmakers continue to try to intervene in the state's medical marijuana program, the South Dakota Senate agrees to a medical marijuana delay but only if pot is decriminalized now, and more.

Florida

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels for Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would cap THC levels in medical marijuana at 10% and 15% for edibles. The vote to advance HB 1455 came despite testimony from doctors and patients that the measure was an assault on medicine. It still needs to be approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee and the House Health Care Appropriations Committee before going to a House floor vote.

South Dakota

South Dakota Senate Agrees to Medical Marijuana Program Delay, But Only with Decriminalization Now. The Senate approved a House bill to delay implementation of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, HB 1100, but only after dramatically amending it to include the immediate decriminalization of up to an ounce of marijuana and repeal of the state's unique felony drug ingestion law. Now, the House and Senate have to try to come to an accord over the bill, most likely in conference committee.

Tennessee

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Government Operations Committee last Wednesday approved SB0854/HB0621, the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act. It is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow use of the substance for a set of specified qualifying medical conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HI & NM Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, NJ Harm Reduction Bills, More... (3/10/21)

Marijuana legalization bills advance in Hawaii and New Mexico, a pot prisoners' group calls on President Biden to grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders, a California bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses advance, and more.

Marijuana legislation is popping up all over the place. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Last Prisoner Project Calls on Biden to Grant Clemency to Federal Marijuana Prisoners. The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis-related criminal justice reform, has launched 'A Time To Heal,' an advocacy campaign calling on President Biden to leverage his clemency power to commute the sentences of thousands of people unjustifiably incarcerated due to federal marijuana-related violations. The advocacy organization is also encouraging the President to issue grants to the tens of thousands more still struggling because of the collateral consequences of a federal cannabis conviction. "President Biden himself has acknowledged that 'nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime'. We're encouraging him to turn his words into action and use the most immediate tool at his disposal to provide this desperately-needed relief," said project director of strategic initiatives Natalie Papillion.

Arkansas Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) on Monday filed SB499, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana an infraction punishable by a $200 fine. Possession is currently a Class A misdemeanor.

Hawaii Senate Approves Expanded Decriminalization, Marijuana Legalization Bills. The state Senate approved two separate marijuana policy reform bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 767 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over, while Senate Bill 758 would expand the amount of marijuana that is currently decriminalized from three grams to 30 grams. Both measures passed by veto-proof margins. The bills now head for consideration by the House.

New Mexico Senate Committee Approves Two Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved a Senate bill to legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 288 on a unanimous vote and also approved a House bill to legalize marijuana, HB 12, on a 7-4 vote. Two other legalization bills were shelved by sponsors as the legislature seeks consensus on a final measure. The two remaining bills now head for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legislation must be approved there and on the Senate floor before the session ends on March 20.

New York Coalition Forms for Final Marijuana Legalization Push. Dozens of organized labor groups, progressive organizations, and businesses are set to launch on Wednesday a coalition to make a final push for the legalization of adult-use cannabis products in New York. All told, more than 40 groups are signing onto the coalition called New Yorkers for New Revenue & Jobs, highlighting what advocates contend is one of the main selling points of legalized marijuana in New York: the millions of dollars in revenue the measure would provide in the coming years for the state and local governments. The coalition includes the New York AFL-CIO, as well as the New York Cannabis Industry Association and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 3248, on Monday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces and 10 ounces at home. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels for Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would cap THC levels in medical marijuana at 10% and 15% for edibles. The vote to advance HB 1455 came despite testimony from doctors and patients that the measure was an assault on medicine. It still needs to be approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee and the House Health Care Appropriations Committee before going to a House floor vote.

Psychedelics

New York Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms Filed. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D) filed a bill to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms on Monday. AO6065 is similar to legislation Rosenthal filed last year that went nowhere. It would remove psilocybin and psilocin from the state's list of controlled substances. It is now before the Assembly Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Coronavirus Relief Bill Includes Funding for Addiction Treatment, Harm Reduction. The American Rescue Plan Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed this week by Congress, includes nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Wednesday. In addition to $1.5 billion for block grants for prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, the act includes $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

New Jersey Harm Reduction Bills Filed. Far-reaching harm reduction expansion legislation was introduced in the Senate Health Committee earlier today. The bill package, sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, would reduce overdose deaths, prevent infectious disease, and connect people who use drugs to non-judgmental support. It would do this by creating a statewide standing order for naloxone (brand name Narcan), the medicine that reverses an overdose (S3491); lifting the onerous municipal ordinance requirement that limits harm reduction services (S3009); decriminalizing syringes and expunging previous convictions (S3493); making HIV prophylaxis medication available at pharmacies without a prescription (S1039); and allowing harm reduction programs to offer mail-based services (S3065). Companion measures have been filed in the House.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Advances. The Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 73, which would repeal state laws enacted in the midst of the drug war that created mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Fed Bill Would Protect Immigrants With Marijuana Records, ME Drug Reform Push, More... (3/9/21)

The South Dakota Senate throws the governor a curve ball, New Jersey lawmakers are considering lessening the penalties for home marijuana grows -- but not legalizing them -- and more.

A Maine bill would remove criminal penalties for the possession of drug paraphernalia. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Would Not Count Against Immigrants' 'Good Moral Character' Under New Congressional Bill. Immigrants who admit having used, possessed, or distributed marijuana in the past would no longer be denied US citizenship under a new bill, HR 1614 filed Monday by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA). The bill would address the use of the "good moral character" requirement used to deny citizenship to people with marijuana histories. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization.A Goucher College poll released Tuesday has a full two-thirds of Marylanders supporting marijuana legalization, an all-time high. And for the first time, even 50% of Republicans are in favor. The poll comes as the state legislature takes on the issue.

New Jersey State Senators Are Working on a Home Grow Bill, But Without Home Grows. Marijuana legalization advocate Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) are drafting a bill on home grown marijuana, but it looks like the bill won't actually allow home grows, only lessen the penalties for what is currently a 10-to-20-year felony for growing more than 10 plants and five years for growing a smaller number.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) were set to file a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, but no details have been released as of press time. Former Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) had called for marijuana legalization, but she is now out of office and serving as secretary of commerce in the Biden administration.

Hemp

Idaho House Approves Hemp Bill. The House on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, HB 126. The bill now goes to the Senate. Idaho is the only state that has yet to legalize industrial hemp production.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Senate Agrees to Medical Marijuana Program Delay, But Only with Decriminalization Now. The Senate approved a House bill to delay implementation of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, HB 1100, but only after dramatically amending it to include the immediate decriminalization of up to an ounce of marijuana and repeal of the state's unique felony drug ingestion law. Now, the House and Senate have to try to come to an accord over the bill, most likely in conference committee.

Drug Policy

Maine Lawmakers Aim to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Legislators have filed a number of bills this year aimed at undoing the state's hardline drug war approach. One bill, HP 713, would decriminalize drug possession; another, HP 732, would remove penalties for the possession or exchange of drug paraphernalia; while yet another, SP 223, would reform the state's drug sales law so that people could not be charged with distribution basely solely on the amount of drugs seized.

Mexico Lower Chamber Takes Up Legal MJ Bill, WV Bill Extending Drug Sales Sentences Advances, More... (3/8/21)

Advocates for a Washington state bill that would decriminalize drug possession now emphasize treatment, the Russians warn against drug legalization efforts, Morocco moves toward legal medical marijuana, and more.

Mexico is on the verge of making the US the laggard when it comes to marijuana legalization in North America.
Drug Policy

Washington Decriminalization Bill Now Emphasizes Treatment. In the wake of a recent state Supreme Court ruling throwing out the state's felony drug possession law, proponents of a drug decriminalization bill, HB 1499, are now saying that decision is an opportunity to shift drug policy paradigms and are emphasizing the bill's drug treatment provisions. Bill cosponsor Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle) said behavioral health services and programs are not typically offered to people until after they have been arrested. "It is a disease, it is a disorder, and it is the only illness we treat with criminalization," Harris-Talley said. The bill has passed the House Public Safety Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee.

Sentencing

West Virginia Bill to Lengthen Supervision for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Offenders Passes House. Delegate Brandon Steele's (R-Raleigh) HB 2257 passed the House last Friday. The bill would add up to 10 years of supervision for those convicted of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl sales offenses. That would be in addition to any prison sentence. "The whole point of extended supervision is to watch someone who has a propensity to have a repeat crime of the same nature," said Steele before the vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

International

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Chamber of Deputies this week is finally taking up a marijuana legalization bill, but it has been significantly amended since passed by the Senate last year. The bill is getting a joint hearing Monday in the Health and Justice committees, with a vote expected Tuesday or Wednesday. The bill's main provisions -- legalizing up to an ounce for people 18 and older and allowing for the home cultivation of up to six plants -- remain unaltered, but deputies have amended the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other aspects.

Morocco Nears Final Vote on Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Government Council is set to discuss a bill about "legal use of cannabis" for the third time on Thursday. If approved, the bill would allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, as well as legalizing the production of hemp containing less than 0.2% THC, the current standard for the European Union.

Russia Warns More Effort Needed to Prevent Drug Legalization. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev warned the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice that the fight against drug legalization is faltering and more efforts are needed to maintain the prohibitionist status quo. "We insist on a comprehensive and balanced solution to the world drug problem on the basis of strict state compliance with obligations under the relevant UN conventions and the inadmissibility of drug legalization," Kolokoltsev said. Russia's anti-drug strategy officially considers drug legalization a national security threat.

House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, HI Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (3/5/21)

A Long Island doctor has been the first in New York to be charged with murder for his opioid prescribiing practices, there's strong popular support for marijuana legalizaion in Connecticut, and more.

The killing of George Floyd has now led to the House passage of a major policing reform bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). The bill would turn the current possession misdemeanor for less than two ounces into a violation with a maximum $250 fine. Possession of more than two ounces would be a misdemeanor, but punishable only with a fine. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Sacred Heart University has support for marijuana legalization at 66%, with 38% strongly supporting and 28% merely supporting. The poll comes as Gov. Ned Lamont (D) seeks support for a marijuana legalization push.

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a joint meeting Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees voted to approve Senate Bill 767, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over and create a path toward legal marijuana commerce. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday approved SB0854/HB0621, the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act. It is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow use of the substance for a set of specified qualifying medical conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Physician Charged with Murder for Pain Pill Prescribing. A Long Island doctor, George Blatti, has become the first physician in the state to be charged with second-degree murder after police and prosecutors accused him of "depraved indifference" in prescribing opioid pain medications to his patients, including five who died of drug overdoses. Prosecutors characterized the 76-year-old physician as a "serial killer" who knowingly prescribed "huge" amounts of opioids to his patients.

Blatti's arrest is part of a larger trend of going after doctors for opioid prescribing. In 2011, 88 nationwide doctors faced criminal charges, civil lawsuits or medical suspensions over opioid prescribing; in 2019, that number had jumped to 477. Historically such prosecutions haven't always been reasonably targeted -- the '00s case of Dr. Frank Fisher is instructive -- and deciding whether a given prosecution of this type is a reasonable one can require extensive research.

Law Enforcement

House Passes George Floyd-Inspired Police Reform Bill. The House on Wednesday approved HR 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on a 220 to 212 vote mainly along party lines. The measure had passed the House last year, but didn't move in the then Republican-controlled Senate. The bill would create a national database to track police misconduct, ban some no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, and move to end racial and religious profiling. It would also weaken "qualified immunity" for police officers, lowering the bar for people to sue police for alleged civil rights violations. Now, the ball is in the Senate's court.

Virginia Legislature Votes to Legalize Marijuana, But Not Everybody is Happy [FEATURE]

Last Saturday, the Virginia House and Senate approved a pair of bills to legalize marijuana -- but not for three years and with significant portions of the package required to be approved again next year, which could prove difficult if Democrats lose control of the legislature. The bills now go to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, who has previously voiced support for marijuana legalization, but some unhappy advocates are calling on him to amend them to address what they see as serious failings.

Virginia House chamber
The bills, SB 1406 HB 2312 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce beginning on July 1, 2024. They also allow for the home cultivation of up to four plants, two mature and two immature. And they mandate the shielding of records for past marijuana convictions from employers, landlords, insurance companies, and educational institutions.

But according to a bill summary from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the bills also create new criminal offenses for public consumption ($25 fine), minor in possession ($25 fine and substance abuse education program), possession on school grounds (up to six months in jail), consumption in a moving motor vehicle (fine-only misdemeanor), and importing marijuana into the state (up to a year in jail). In addition, while possession of more than an ounce but less than a pound would be a $25 fine, possession of more than a pound can earn up to 10 years in prison.

The bills attempts to redress racial inequities and discrimination by providing licenses preferences and fee waivers to "social equity applicants," which MPP describes as "having 66% or more owners who: have a prior cannabis conviction, have a close relative with a cannabis conviction, live either in an area with disproportionate cannabis arrests or that is economically distressed, or graduated from a Virginia HBCU." The bills also create a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund to help people and communities disparately harmed by pot prohibition and Cannabis Business Equity and Diversity Support Team to encourage minority involvement and develop criteria for plans to emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion.

"It was a lot of work to get there, but we're on the path to an equitable law allowing for responsible adults to not be penalized for using cannabis," cosponsor Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said after the vote.

"Virginia legislators are proving that it is possible to work swiftly to pass legislation that would not only legalize cannabis, but also address the disproportionate harm caused by decades of prohibition," MPP executive director Steve Hawkins," said in a press release lauding the vote. "Virginia is on the brink of becoming the 16th state to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with sensible legalization and regulation for adults 21 and over. MPP is proud to have played an important role in all three states where legislatures have voted to legalize cannabis -- Vermont, Illinois, and now, Virginia."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) also pronounced itself pleased.

"The advancement of this legislation is another historic step for cannabis justice in Virginia," NORML Development Director and Virginia NORML executive director Michelle Pedini said in a statement greeting the vote. "Stakeholders, the administration, and the legislature have dedicated hundreds of hours to craft legislation that is just and equitable, and that will replace the failed policy of cannabis prohibition with one that promotes Virginia’s economy as well as Virginians' public health and safety."

But the marijuana consumers' group also signaled that it didn't consider the legislation perfect.

"This effort remains a work in progress and our efforts in Virginia are far from over," Pedini noted. "NORML is dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market. In particular, we hope to expedite the timeline with which Virginia adults will no longer face either criminal or civil penalties for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis."

But some Democratic legislators were less than satisfied.

"The final bill, as we saw it, did not have really have the criminal justice reforms as quickly as we would like them to be," said Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke). "We also want to make sure we do everything we can from a safety perspective, from an educational perspective."

"Let us be clear, this bill is not legalization and there are a lot of steps between here and legalization," said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) during Saturday's floor debate. "It's not worse than the status quo. Could it be better, yes."

Some other interested parties, though, including the ACLU of Virginia, Justice Forward Virginia, Marijuana Justice, and RISE for Youth, were not so sure the final package was an improvement. The activist groups had laid out their position -- end marijuana prohibition now, don't criminalize youth, strong expungement, racial justice -- in a February 9 open letter to the administration and legislators, and they unhappily reiterated their commitment to that position after the vote.

In a statement the same day, the ACLU of Virginia blasted the final result as "worse than the status quo" in terms of racial justice. "The bill creates new crimes that include permitting searches for having marijuana in a vehicle and possession under the age of 21," the group charged. "The bill also adds new pretexts like 'transportation' and offering or consuming marijuana in a public place, all of which will be enforced disproportionately against Black Virginians."

The ACLU of Virginia called the legislation little more than "an aspirational policy statement" given that many aspects of it will have to be voted on again next. Its bottom line was blunt: "This bill does not advance the cause of equal justice or racial justice in Virginia. It is the product of a closed-door legislative process that has prioritized the interests of recreational marijuana smokers over people and communities of color. The bill is a failure."

It's now up to Gov. Northam to sign or veto the legislation, or amend it and send it back to the legislature for changes to be considered. Virginia has legalized marijuana, but that battle over what that really means is still underay and undoubtedly just beginning.

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana bill advances in Alabama, South Dakota lawmakers vote to delay the implementation of voter-approved medical marijuana, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, SB 46, last Wednesday and sent it to the House for approval there. The bill would allow patients with specified medical conditions to receive marijuana with a physician's approval.

Florida

Florida Bills Aim to Restrict Medical Marijuana. Rep. Spencer Roach (D-North Fort Myers) and Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) have filed companion bills, HB 1455 and SB 1958, respectively, that would place a 10% THC cap on smokable marijuana and limit THC levels to 16% in other, non-edible medical marijuana products. The bills would also impose advertising restrictions on doctors who recommend medical marijuana. They are being fiercely criticized by medical marijuana advocates, one of whom said the bills continue "to encroach on the practice of medicine between a physician and their patients using outdated, random and scientifically unsubstantiated information."

Missouri

Missouri Bill Would Protect Patients' Privacy, Gun Rights. Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O'Fallon) has filed HB 501, which would make disclosing patient information to the federal government a criminal offense. "I just want to make sure that we're protecting our Second Amendment rights and law abiding citizens who may have medical marijuana, but then they also have a weapon in their house to defend their family when necessary," Schroer said during his testimony on the bill in committee Wednesday. While the measure won support on the committee, no vote was taken.

South Dakota

South Dakota House Approves Bill Delaying Implementation of Medical Marijuana Legalization. The House voted last Thursday to approve a bill delaying implementation of voter-approved medical marijuana, HB 1100. The bill was the brainchild of Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who sought a one-year delay, but the bill was amended in the House to create only a six-month delay "in the spirit of compromise."

DEA Releases Annual Drug Threat Assessment, RI Senate Approves Safer Injection Sites, More... (3/2/21)

The DEA points to Mexican drug cartels as the nation's greatest criminal drug threat, senators in Washington state move to reinstate the state's invalidated felony drug possession law, Dallas police are pushing to stop making small-time pot possession arrests, and more.

A California bill would end almost all marijuana drug testing for employees. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would End Most Workplace Marijuana Drug Tests. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hollywood) has introduced AB 1256, which would bar employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as hair or urine tests, to discriminate against employees. The bill is supported by CA NORML. "It is those tests that we want to ban, because they don't detect anything related to impairment," the group's longtime director Dale Gieringer said. The tests can show whether someone has used marijuana in the past, but not whether they are currently intoxicated.

Dallas Police Push No Arrests for Marijuana Possession Up to Two Ounces. Dallas Police are proposing to the city council Tuesday that it adopt a policy of no longer ticketing or arresting people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana. Pot busts accounted for 7% of all arrests in the city during the first three weeks of February, and 80% of those pot arrets were for fewer than two ounces. The proposal goes before the council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Safe Consumption Sites for Illegal Drugs. The state Senate last week quietly approved SB 0016, which would authorize the creation of "Harm Reduction Centers" where drug users could inject drug under medical supervision. The bill would create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state Health Department on regulating safe injection sites. A companion bill, HB 5245, though, is stuck in the House Committee on Health and Human Services, which has not set a date to vote on it.

Drug Policy

Washington State Senators Bill File to Bring Back Drug Possession Felony Crimes. Just days after the state Supreme Court threw out Washington's felony drug possession law, a pair of Democratic state senators, Mark Mullet and Steve Hobbs, have filed legislation to make possession of a controlled substance a felony again, SB 5468. The court threw out the law because it did not require prosecutors to prove that someone "knowingly" possessed drugs; this bill would merely add "knowingly" to the statute.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment Tuesday. The agency said that "the opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, affecting large portions of the country. Meanwhile, the stimulant threat, including methamphetamine and cocaine, is worsening both in volume and reach, with traffickers selling increasing amounts outside of traditional markets." DEA also pointed the finger at Mexican "transnational criminal organizations" as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Washington House Approves Bill to Ban Chokeholds, No-Knock Warrants. The House on Saturday approved HB 1054, which would ban police from using chokeholds and using no-knock search warrants. The bill is now being considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

VA Lawmakers Approve Legalization... Three Years from Now, Colombia Goes for More Drug War Militarization, More... (3/1/21)

New Mexico lawmakers work to shrink four marijuana legalization bills down to one, Pennsylvania's governor pardons dozens more marijuana offenders, and more.

Virginia State House (Creative Commons)
New Mexico Legislators Agree to Senate Committee Request to Consolidate Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday asked the sponsors of four competing marijuana legalization bills to get together this week and come up with one bill for the committee to consider and vote on this coming Saturday. That would leave legislators with just two weeks to get to a Senate floor vote before the session ends on March 20.

Pennsylvania Governor Grants 69 More Marijuana Pardons. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday announced that he had granted expedited pardons to 69 low-level marijuana offenders, bring his total of pot pardons to 95. He also pardoned another 241 non-marijuana offenders. The move comes as Wolf calls for marijuana legalization and as a bipartisan bill is now before the legislature.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization… Three Years from Now. The House and Senate reached a deal on marijuana legalization Saturday, but in an attenuated way. The measure would not actually legalize marijuana until 2024 and would require the legislature to vote on parts of the bill again next year, both positions that have legalization advocates complaining loudly. The need for additional votes next year exposes legalization to the chance it could depend on Republican majorities in the House and/or Senate or a new Republican governor who would not be as supportive. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports legalization, and now some Democrats are calling on him to amend the bill and send a more complete measure to the statehouse later this year.

Washington, DC, Mayor Filed Bill to Legalize Marijuana Sales. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Friday that she had filed a bill to legalize pot shops in the nation's capital. DC voters approved marijuana legalization in 2014, but have been blocked from setting up a legal, regulated system of marijuana commerce because federal budget provisions bar the District from using funds to regulate and tax still federally illegal marijuana. With Democrats in control of Congress now, advocates that budget rider will now be killed, clearing the way for legal sales. The measure is B24-0114, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021.

Sentencing Policy

Virginia Legislative Bid to End Mandatory Minimum Sentences Dies. Although both chambers passed bills doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing --HB 2331to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses and SB 1443to end them for all offenses -- House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise, and the bills died as the session ended Saturday.

International

Colombia Launches New Elite Military Unit to Target Coca Crops, Drug Trafficking, Armed Groups. The Colombian government announced last Friday it had launched a new, elite military unit to heighten the fight against coca cultivation, drug trafficking, and the armed groups who benefit from prohibited activities. "The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and -- of course -- any transnational form of terrorism," President Ivan Duque said. The new unit of some 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela and the coca-producing provinces of Cauca and Putamayo.

WA Supreme Court Throws Out Felony Drug Possession Law, Clock Ticking on VA Marijuana Legalization, More... (2/26/21)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Arizona, the Connecticut governor's marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, the Nevada legislature looks at ending the federal ban on food stamps for drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing, Police Chiefs Oppose. The Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill supported by Gov. Ned Lamont (D), SB 888. At the same time, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association is formally opposing the bill, saying it is worried legalization would make the highways less safe and invoking the opioid crisis.

Montana Lawmakers Consider Tightening Limits on Legal Marijuana. The House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday heard testimony of HB 568, which would impose numerical and distance restrictions on legal marijuana businesses. The bill would cap the number of adult sales stores to one per 10,000 residents, with only one shop in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents. The bill would also require pot shops to be 1,000 feet away from places of worship, schools, preschools, day care facilities, parks, recreational facilities and playgrounds. The committee took no action on Wednesday.

South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted Thursday to approve HB 1203, which would let state-chartered banks do business with legal marijuana and industrial hemp businesses. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Virginia House, Senate Seek Compromise on Marijuana Legalization as Saturday Deadline Looms. Legislators have about 24 hours to come to agreement on competing marijuana legalization bills passed by the House and Senate before a Saturday deadline. It looks like lawmakers will go with the House on timing, agreeing to defer legalization until January 1, 2024, while the Senate bill called for legalization on July 1. The two chambers remain split, though, on whether five current medical marijuana operators will be allowed to sell recreational weed. The House opposes such vertical integration, but the Senate would allow it if the operators pay $1 million into a Cannabis Equity Business Fund. The clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Approves Bill Delaying Implementation of Medical Marijuana Legalization. The House voted to approve a bill delaying implementation of voter-approved medical marijuana, HB 1100. The bill was the brainchild of Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who sought a one-year delay, but the bill was amended in the House to create only a six-month delay "in the spirit of compromise."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona House Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House on Wednesday approved a bill to end civil asset forfeiture in the state, HB 2810, which would require that the state actually convict somebody of a crime before seizing their property. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Nevada Lawmakers Take Up Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. The Assembly is considering a bill that would let the state opt out of a federal 1996 "welfare reform" that banned people convicted of drug offenses from being able to receive assistance such as food stamps. AB 138, which was heard Wednesday, removes the prohibition. The bill would have originally required persons to show they were not "currently possessing, using or distributing controlled substance," but Assemblywoman Susie Martinez (D-Las Vegas), the primary sponsor for the legislation, eliminated that section. No vote was taken.

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Strikes Down State's Drug Possession Law. The state Supreme Court on Thursday throw out the state's felony drug possession law because it did not mandate that prosecutors prove that someone knowingly or intentionally possessed drugs. The ruling came in the case of a Spokane woman who was given a pair of jeans that had a small bag of meth in one pocket. "Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature's powers, Chief Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.

NM Legalization Bill Passes Senate, Honduran Prez Warns US on Trafficking Allegations, More... (2/25/21)

A bipartisan marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Pennsylvania, a medical marijuana bill wins approval in the Alabama Senate, and more.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, accused by US prosecutors of involvement in drug trafficking. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, HB 12, is now headed for a House floor vote after passing the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on an 8-4 vote. The bill has been amended to remove some specific tax revenue designations for medical marijuana patients and for communities disparately affected by drug prohibition. The amended bill also removes fines for juveniles, adjusts tax rates on marijuana sales, strengthens employers' rights to have a drug-free environment, and delays the start date for a legal marijuana market.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed with Bipartisan Support. State Senators Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. In a statement Senator Laughlin wrote, "While my colleague Senator Street and I come from different political parties, we see a bipartisan way forward on marijuana legalization that is premised on safety and social equity, said Senator Laughlin. As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way. This bill ensures a legalized market in the Commonwealth is implemented safely and responsibly, with a thoughtful approach that provides opportunities to medical and recreational consumers, farmers, and small, medium and minority-owned businesses." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a medical marijuana bill, SB 46, Wednesday and sent it to the House for approval there. The bill would allow patients with specified medical conditions to receive marijuana with a physician's approval.

Missouri Bill Would Protect Patients' Privacy, Gun Rights. Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O'Fallon) has filed HB 501, which would make disclosing patient information to the federal government a criminal offense. "I just want to make sure that we're protecting our Second Amendment rights and law abiding citizens who may have medical marijuana, but then they also have a weapon in their house to defend their family when necessary, Schroer said during his testimony on the bill in committee Wednesday. While the measure won support on the committee, no vote was taken.

Psychedelics

Missouri Bill Would Add Some Psychedelics to State's Right to Try Law. Rep. Michael Davis (R-Kansas City) has filed a bill, HB 1176 that would allow state residents with debilitating, life-threatening or terminal illnesses to use drugs such as MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, and DMT. The bill would build on a 2014 state right to try law that lets patients with terminal illnesses have access to investigational drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Foreign Policy

Honduran President Warns US That Allegations He Is Involved with Drug Trafficking Could Hurt Anti-Drug Ties with Washington. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said Wednesday that US prosecutors' allegations that he is involved with drug trafficking could affect his country's cooperation with Washington to fight drug trafficking. In a federal court filing February 4, prosecutors in New York City accused Hernandez of using Honduran law enforcement and military officials to protect traffickers, and that he took a million-dollar bribe from former Mexican Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Canada Seeks an Off-Ramp from the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

On February 16, Canada's governing Liberal Party finally moved to enact long-promised reforms to criminal justice by introducing a sweeping new bill that would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But is it enough?

Canadian parliament building, Ottawa (Creative Commons)
The government's move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces mounting pressure for reform on two fronts. First, Canada is facing an unprecedented drug overdose crisis, with the province of British Columbia especially hard-hit. Last year, the provincial Coroners Service reported, BC saw a whopping 1,716 drug overdose deaths, up a startling 74 percent over 2019. The province has always been on the cutting edge of drug reform in Canada, and spurred by the crisis, BC formally asked the federal government in early February for an exemption to the country's drug laws to allow it to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs. That request is still being considered by Ottawa.

But the pressure for drug decriminalization isn't just coming from British Columbia, it's coming from inside the criminal justice system. In July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for drug decriminalization, recommending the "current enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system." The following month, the federal prosecution service issued a directive permitting prosecution of drug cases only in the most serious cases.

And public opinion supports decriminalization. An Angus Reid poll released after the government announced the new bill found that seven out of 10 Canadians felt the country's opioid crisis had worsened in 2020, and 59 percent supported the decriminalization of all illegal drugs.

Second, just as last summer's massive protests in the United States channeled and amplified long-standing demands for racial and social justice here, so they echoed north of the border. Canada has its own not-so-noble history of racism and discrimination, and the number of Black and Indigenous people swept up in the country's criminal justice system demonstrates that the legacy of the past continues to this day.

Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population but accounted for 25% of all federal prisoners in 2019. Similarly, Black Canadians accounted for about 3% of the population but more than 7% of prisoners that year. As the Justice Ministry noted in a 2017 report, after Conservatives passed tough anti-crime measures early this century, Black and Indigenous were disproportionately targeted for mandatory minimum sentencing in the decade ending in 2017. And as the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported, non-white inmates are more likely to sent to maximum security prisons, have forced used against them, and be denied parole.

As the government rolled out the bill, C-22, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," Justice Minister David Lametti made clear that not just public health but also racial justice was on its mind.

Trudeau had asked him to "address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system," he told a press conference. "We are turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy," he added. "It was an approach that did not make our communities safer. It did not deter criminals. It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair. Its singular accomplishment has been to incarcerate too many Indigenous people, too many Black people and too many marginalized Canadians."

The bill envisions reforms in policing, prosecuting, and sentencing drug offenders and sets out statements of principle for dealing with drug offenses, including "problematic drug use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue," state actors should recognize human rights and harm reduction imperatives, and criminal sanctions are stigmatizing and not consistent with public health practice.

Under these principles, when encountering people using or possessing drugs, police would be granted the discretion to "consider whether it would be preferable... to take no further action, or warn the individual, or, with the consent of the individual, to refer the individual to a program or to an agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual."

Similarly, the bill mandates the prosecutors open drug possession cases only when a warning, referral, or alternate measures are "not appropriate, and a prosecution in appropriate in the circumstances." And it gives judges much broader discretion to order probationary sentences instead of confinement.

C-22 looks as if it were designed to cut off inputs to the Canadian prison system at every level of the system. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented Toronto's Beaches-East York riding (district) since 2015 and is a longtime proponent of full drug decriminalization, says that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

He filed private member's bills this session for decriminalization (C-235) and for an evidence-based diversion model (C-236) to reduce drug arrests and prosecutions. It is that latter bill that the government has now largely adopted as C-22.

"I favor drug decriminalization because the war on drugs is an absolute failure that harms the people we want to help," he told the Chronicle. "Our opioid crisis has taken more than 16,000 lives since 2016, and there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including around drug charges."

"My goal was to call for full decriminalization, with a second bill to show the government if they weren't inclined to favor decriminalization, here's an alternative that would get us closer to the goal and would be more politically feasible. This bill seriously restricts the discretion of police and prosecutors to proceed, according to a set of principles that will ensure a stronger focus on human rights and harm reduction," he said. "It doesn't go as far as I want it to go, but it is unquestionably a step forward. It will be virtually impossible for the state to move forward with drug possession charges and prosecutions."

Donald Macpherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of Vancouver's groundbreaking Four Pillars drug strategy in the 1990s, has a more jaundiced view of both the Liberals and C-22.

"The things that are in this bill are all things the Liberals promised when they were elected in 2015, and if they had done this then it would have been seen as a good move, getting rid of egregious stuff the Harper government had implemented," he told the Chronicle. "But now, the discussion has moved so far that even police chiefs are calling for decriminalization. It's too little, too late."

Even the limited support he gave the bill was filled with caveats.

"Overall, though, it is a good thing, it is incremental progress, getting rid of the mandatory minimums is probably the most powerful aspect in terms of criminal law," McPherson conceded. "But the bill was supposed to deal with the disproportionate impact of drug law enforcement on people of color, and it won't do it. There will be more probationary sentences and more alternatives to imprisonment, but arrests and prosecutions will be 'at the discretion of' and Black and Indigenous people will now be caught up in kinder, gentler diversion programs."

Still, passage of C-22 would be a step in the right direction, Macpherson said.

"It is preparing the ground for the next step, full decriminalization, which I think is now inevitable. The harms of criminalization in Canada are now so evident to everyone that the question now is not whether to but how to," he said. "We saw this with cannabis -- at a certain point, the change in the discourse was palpable. We're now at that point with drug decriminalization."

Long-time Vancouver drug user activist Ann Livingston, cofounder of the pioneering Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and currently executive project coordinator for the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, had an even more jaundiced view than Macpherson, scoffing at more police discretion and expanded probationary sentences.

"I'm glad to see the mandatory minimums gone, but the Liberals want more police, and we say don't do us any more favors," she told the Chronicle. "And the police have always had discretion to not make drug arrests; they just never exercise it. And probation -- many of the people in jail are there for probation violations, even administrative ones, like missing appointments."

For Livingston, the cutting edge is now no longer criminal justice reforms or even decriminalization but creating a safe supply of currently illegal drugs. Limited opioid maintenance programs, including heroin, are available in the city, but they aren't enough, she said.

"Here in British Columbia, we had 900 COVID deaths last year and 1,700 overdose deaths. What we need is a safe drug supply," she argued. "We have to have clear demands and what we are demanding is a pure, safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. This is a crisis; this is the time to do this drug law stuff right. And to get serious. The feds tell us they place no barriers on heroin prescribing, but then they fight about who is going to pay for it."

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals think passing C-22 is going to quiet the clamor for more fundamental change in Canadian drug policies, they should probably think again.

Canada

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered Michigan detective finally faces justice, a Minnesota narcotics officer gets nailed for driving doped up, and more. Let's get to it:

In Hazel Park, Michigan, a former Hazel Park police detective was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $68,000 in seized drug money. Sean Boucher, 45, is accused of filching the funds between 2013 and 2017. He was suspended from the department in 2017 and resigned shortly thereafter. He is now finally being charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000, and five counts of embezzlement of more than $50 as a public official.

In Pelham, Georgia, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after coworkers detected a strong odor of marijuana as she attempted to enter the facility. Officer Kimbrya Almond then consented to a search, which revealed marijuana, rolling papers, pajamas, and a package of gummi bears with an odor of alcohol. She was then arrested by the Mitchell County Sheriff's Office.

In Lyons, New York, a Wayne County Jail guard was arrested last Thursday for allegedly peddling drugs to prisoners. Guard Seth Welch, 26, went down after an internal investigation at the jail, and now faces charges of first-degree promoting prison contraband and second-degree receiving reward for official misconduct, as well as misdemeanor counts of second-degree promoting prison contraband, official misconduct, and fourth-degree criminal sale of marijuana.

In Farmington, Missouri, a former Desloges police officer was arrested last Thursday on multiple drug charges. George Bradley "Brad" Judge Jr., 49, had been the subject of in investigation by a state drug task force and the FBI and resigned from the force after his home was raided in October. During the raid, police found more than 30 grams of methamphetamine, as well as heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, lorazepam, tramadol, chlordiazepoxide, and zolpidem. Some pills were in prescription bottles with other people's names on them. A total of 14 counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of second-degree trafficking drugs were included in the charging documents.

In Fergus Falls, Minnesota, an Ottertail County police narcotics investigator was arrested Monday after he got caught driving his squad car while under the influence of fentanyl. Sheriff's Deputy Kelly Blackman, 43, was on the job when he engaged in a pursuit with a fugitive, who eventually crashed into another car, killing an elderly couple. Blackman refused to submit a voluntary blood sample, but one was eventually taken, and it came back positive for fentanyl. He now faces one count of fourth-degree DWI and one count of public officer misconduct. And some cases he was involved in are now being looked at anew after an investigation showed he did not log some seized drug paraphernalia into evidence.

Medical Marijuana Update

A New Jersey appeals court clears the way for dealing with pending medical marijuana license applications, and there's lots of action in the states this week.

New Jersey

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Licensing to Resume After Appellate Court Ruling. The state's appellate court ruled last Thursday to uphold the denial of seven medical marijuana licenses, clearing the way for the state to begin dealing with nearly 150 license applications that have piled up while the case was being contested.

North Dakota

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Edibles. The House has approved a measure, House Bill 1391, that would allow medical marijuana patients to use edibles. The bill would limit edibles to 10 milligrams of THC and allow patients to possess edibles with up to 500 milligrams.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma House Approves Expanding Non-Resident Medical Marijuana Patient Licenses. The House voted last Thursday to approve House Bill 2022, which would extend the length of medical marijuana licenses granted to out-of-state residents. The bill would lengthen the licenses' period of validity from 30 days to two years. The bill also would open up licenses to resident of all 50 states, not just those with existing medical marijuana. The bill must still be approved by the Senate.

South Dakota

South Dakota House Votes to Deny Telehealth for Medical Marijuana. The House voted 38-30 last Wednesday to defeat House Bill 1147, which would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use telehealth to consult with practitioners in order to obtain recommendations. One Republican opponent called the idea "premature," while another called it "not ready for prime time." South Dakota okayed medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in November.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Virginia

Virginia General Assembly Approves Sales of Buds for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to buy flowers, House Bill 221, has passed the General Assembly. Currently, only highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles are allowed to be sold. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

NJ AG Ends Most Marijuana Arrests & Prosecutions, Mexico Coca Plantation Discovered, More... (2/24/21)

A North Dakota marijuana legalization bill passes the House, Nebraska medical marijuana advocates demand action from the legislature, and more.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has ordered an end to most marijuana arrests and prosecutions in the state. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, on a 7-5 vote. That's the second committee to approve the bill in the past week. It now heads for a third vote in the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee.

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Marijuana Possession, Small-Time Distribution Arrests. In the wake of Governor Phil Murphy's (D) signing into law three bills that set up a legal marijuana marketplace, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday ordered police to immediately stop arresting people for possessing less than six ounces of weed or distributing up to an ounce. He also ordered prosecutors to immediately dismiss charges for any pending marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under state law. Although Grewal had issued guidance urging an end to marijuana arrests and prosecutions after voters approved a legalization referendum in November, police still made 6,000 pot arrests since then. Now, no more.

North Dakota House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House voted Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, HB 1420. Some lawmakers said they voted to approve the bill because they feared if they didn't, voters would do it themselves through the initiative process. The bill now heads to the Senate. It would allow adults to buy up to 20 grams every two weeks, with purchases tracked. There is no provision to allow home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally to Urge Support for Bill. Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis held a rally at the statehouse Tuesday to urge legislators to pass a medical marijuana bill, LB 474. It is sponsored by Senator Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who was one of the leaders of last year's initiative that qualified for the ballot only to be disqualified by the state Supreme Court.

South Carolina Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. As legislators ponder whether to approve a medical marijuana bill this year, a new poll finds overwhelming support for it. The survey released by the advocacy groups SC Compassionate Care Alliance and Compassionate SC had support at 72%, with just 15% opposed.

International

Mexican Soldiers Discover 10-Acre Coca Crop in Guerrero. The Mexican military announced Monday it had discovered and destroyed a 10-acre coca crop growing in the southwestern state Guerrero. They also found a cocaine manufacturing lab nearby. It's the first time a coca crop has been found in the state, which is known for marijuana and opium poppy cultivation, but it's not the first time coca has been discovered being grown in Mexico. The army uncovered a coca field in the southern state of Chiapas in 2014.

Biden AG Nominee Addresses Marijuana & Mandatory Minimums, El Chapo's Wife Busted at Dulles, More... (2/23/21)

Republcan legislators continue to try to wreak havoc with voter-approved marijuana initiatives, Judge Merrick Garland speaks out on marijuana and sentencing policy at his confirmation hearing, and more.

Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland, here chatting with Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Attorney General Nominee Sets Gentler Line on Marijuana, Cites Discriminatory Enforcement. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's pick as attorney general, said Monday that prosecuting people complying with state marijuana laws is not "a useful use of limited resources" and that there is "a question of prioritization about resources and discretion" around the issue. Garland was responding to a question from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also said during the hearing that the enforcement of marijuana prohibition is a "perfect example" of how the criminal justice system is racially biased and imposes disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

Montana GOP Bill Would Delay Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Saying the voters' decision to legalize marijuana with a quick timeline "doesn't make any sense," State Representative Bill Mercer (R) has filed a bill that would push back the October 1 deadline until sometime in 2023. The bill is set to be heard this week in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Medicial Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Bill Would Give Protection to Overdose Victims. Representative Janet Yang Rohr (D-Napierville) has filed House Bill 3445, which would mandate that people seeking assistance for a drug overdose would not be criminally charged or prosecuted if they make a good faith effort to seek drug treatment. It also includes language protecting parolees from having their status revoked in case of an overdose. The bill would expand a Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 to include the person who is actually overdosing.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo's Wife Busted on Drug Trafficking Charges at DC Airport. Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug trafficking kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested Monday night after flying into Dulles International Airport. She faces federal charges of conspiring to help distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the US. She is accused of helping El Chapo continue to run his enterprise while behind bars. She is a joint US and Mexican citizen.

Sentencing

Biden Attorney General Nominee Endorses Ending Mandatory Minimums. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, said Monday that he agrees with a Biden administration policy of ending the use of mandatory minimum sentences. His comments came in response to a question from Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and can be heard at the 28-minute mark of the linked video.

NJ Governor Signs Marijuana Bills, VA Considers Mandatory Minimum Repeal, More... (2/22/21)

New Jersey finally gets marijuana legalization done, Virginia lawmakers are trying to do the same, a Massachusetts drug decrim bill is filed, and more.

The Nevada legislature is considering legislation that would limit but not ban raids with no-knock warrants. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Makes It Official; Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization Bills. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed into law a pair of bills implementing voter-approved marijuana legalization (A21) and decriminalizing marijuana possession (A1897). He also signed into law a bill setting penalties for underage use, S3454, an issue that had held up legalization for more than two months after the legislature passed the first two bills.

Virginia Legislators Meet in Conference Committee to Reconcile Marijuana Legalization Bills. House and Senate negotiators are meeting this week to try to reconcile marijuana legalization bills passed by the respective chambers, HB 2312 an SB 1406. They need to thrash out differences over local authority, licensing rules, and timing to reach a consensus.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D) have filed HD 3439, which would remove all criminal penalties for personal amount drug possession and replace them with a maximum fine of $50. People caught with drugs could avoid the fine by attending a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Julian Cyr (D), SD 2248, is virtually identical.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Bill to Study Psychedelic Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mike Connolly (D) has filed HD 3829, which would create an interagency task force to "study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi." The task force would be charged with developing recommendations on how to legalize natural psychedelics "in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants."

Law Enforcement

Nevada Bill to Restrict No-Knock Warrants Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on Senate Bill 50, which would restrict but not entirely ban no-knock arrest warrants. The bill would ban no-knock warrants for misdemeanors, property crimes or simple drug possession. In other cases, law enforcement would have to show a risk to public safety by not using a no-knock warrant, explain why just knocking on the door isn't appropriate, and certify that a no-knock warrant is the last resort. A proposed amendment from the ACLU of Nevada and defense attorneys and public defenders would exclude evidence gathered in no-knock raids if police don't follow the guidelines for no-knock warrants. But that amendment threatens to derail law enforcement support for the bill.

Sentencing

Virginia Legislature Ponders Ending Mandatory Minimums. The House has passed a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, HB 2331. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed another bill, SB 1443, which ends all mandatory minimum sentencing under state law. A conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and House will try to hash out the significant differences between the bills, though it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be struck.

Norway Government Proposes Depenalization, ND House Approves MedMJ Edibles, More... (2/19/21)

Medical marijuana is receiving attention at various state houses, a trio of US senators warn the Philippine government on imprisoned drug war critic Sen. Leila De Lima, the Iowa Senate looks resolutely backwards, and more.

Medical marijuana is on people's minds in various state legislatures right now. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Edibles. The House has approved a measure, House Bill 1391, that would allow medical marijuana patients to use edibles. The bill would limit edibles to 10 milligrams of THC and allow patients to possess edibles with up to 500 milligrams.

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Licensing to Resume After Appellate Court Ruling. The state's appellate court ruled Thursday to uphold the denial of seven medical marijuana licenses, clearing the way for the state to begin dealing with nearly 150 license applications that have piled up while the case was being contested.

Virginia General Assembly Approves Sales of Buds for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to buy flowers, House Bill 221, has passed the General Assembly. Currently, only highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles are allowed to be sold. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Oklahoma House Approves Expanding Non-Resident Medical Marijuana Patient Licenses. The House voted on Thursday to approve House Bill 2022, which would extend the length of medical marijuana licenses granted to out-of-state residents. The bill would lengthen the licenses' period of validity from 30 days to two years. The bill also would open up licenses to resident of all 50 states, not just those with existing medical marijuana. The bill must still be approved by the Senate.

Drug Paraphernalia

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Crack Down on Meth Pipes. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved Senate File 363, which aims to crack down on businesses selling glass pipes for smoking meth by requiring them to pay a $1,500 licensing fee and charging a 40% surcharge tax on each pipe sold. The bill carries civil penalties for selling without a license and makes using the devices as drug paraphernalia a serious misdemeanor. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Make Using Synthetic Urine to Defeat a Drug Test a Crime. The Senate voted on Wednesday to approve House File 283, which would make it a criminal offense for an employee to use synthetic urine to "defraud" a workplace drug test. A first offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The bill now goes to the House.

Foreign Policy

US Senators Urge Full Exoneration and Release of Philippines Drug War Critic Senator Leila De Lima. On Thursday, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), released a statement regarding the acquittal of Senator Leila de Lima in one of three bogus charges filed against her by the Government of the Philippines. Senator de Lima has been unjustly detained for four years next week on politically-motivated charges, widely condemned by human rights organizations and governments around the world as an illegitimate response meant to punish her for criticizing the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte. "While we are pleased that one of the three illegitimate charges against Senator De Lima has been dropped, it is clearly not enough." said the Senators. "The Duterte administration has wrongfully detained Senator De Lima for four years under false charges because she is willing to speak out and stand up to the egregious abuses of the government. President Duterte has tried to silence his critics and the independent press through false and politically motivated charges, but his disdain for human rights, free speech, and democracy is on clear display to the world. We will continue to hold the Duterte government responsible for its abuses until Senator De Lima is released, all of the fabricated charges against her and other prisoners of conscience are dismissed, and the victims of President Duterte's campaign of abuse against the Filipino people have obtained justice."

International

Norwegian Government Proposes Drug Depenalization. Norway's center-right government proposed Friday a dramatic restructuring of its drug laws to focus on treatment rather than jail or fines for people found in possession of small quantities of drugs. "Decades of criminal punishment has not worked," said Liberal Party leader and Education Minister Guri Melby. "We will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatised and called criminals when they are in fact ill." Drugs would remain illegal, but possession of small quantities would no longer be punished. Instead people would face mandatory drug counseling, and a fine for refusing to participate. The move comes as the government faces a rising challenge in the September parliamentary elections from the Center Party, which has criticized the plans as leading to more drug use, not less.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess Continues, More... (2/18/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill moves, Wisconsin's governor calls for legal marijuana, the South Dakota House quashes telehealth for medical marijuana patients, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600. The bill advanced on a partisan vote, with all Republicans opposed. Republicans control the state Senate, making the bill's prospects cloudy.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Standoff. Efforts to advance marijuana legalization implementation legislation remained stymied Thursday after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a "cleanup" bill was cancelled for the second day in a row. Legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) remain at loggerheads over how to handle underage marijuana possession. Now, Murphy will likely have to decide whether to approve two pending bills or veto them, which would contradict his campaign promise to legalize marijuana, as well as contradicting the will of the voters, who approved it in a referendum in November. "The governor has two bills on his desk that he has articulated problems with, and it doesn't appear that the Legislature is going to solve those problems," said Bill Caruso, an attorney and founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The governor's deadline to act is noon Friday, although that could be pushed back to Monday.

Wisconsin Governor's Budget Plan Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Tuesday released a budget plan that includes legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. The move comes despite strong resistance in the Republican-controlled state legislature. "The Governor believes it is time to join other states, including two of our neighbors, who have legalized recreational marijuana," an explanatory document from his office said. The proposal would allow adults to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants at home.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Votes to Deny Telehealth for Medical Marijuana. The House voted 38-30 on Wednesday to defeat House Bill 1147, which would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use telehealth to consult with practitioners in order to obtain recommendations. One Republican opponent called the idea "premature," while another called it "not ready for prime time." South Dakota okayed medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in November.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) filed Senate Bill 519, which would decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelic drugs in the state. "People should not be going to jail for possessing or using drugs," Wiener said. "It's a health issue, not a criminal issue, and I hope that we get all the way there." The bill would also expunge criminal records for people convicted of psychedelic possession offenses and create a task force to address regulatory issues.

Asset Forfeiture

South Dakota Bill Would Limit Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 164, which would bar asset forfeiture in drug cases where the amount of the drug in question was no more than a personal use amount. The bill would originally have banned asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction but was amended in committee to strip out that section. Under the bill, it would take at least half a pound of marijuana to trigger asset forfeiture. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Senate Committee Approves Legalizing Drug Testing Strips. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has approved Senate Bill 1486, which would legalize the use of test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid which accounts for a majority overdose deaths in the US, mostly by people who didn't know they were taking it. The test strips are currently considered illegal drug paraphernalia. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, by Carl Hart (2021, Penguin Press, 290 pp., $28.00 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart is a one-man drug and drug user destigmatization machine. In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, the Columbia University psychology professor blasts drug prohibition as both an affront to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness and as a tool of racial oppression. And he makes a strong, informed argument that recreational drug use can be, and usually is, a good thing.

You could hardly find someone more qualified to make the case. Hart has spent years in the trenches of neuropsychopharmacology research, handed out drugs (or placebos) to thousands of research subjects, published numerous scientific papers and popular articles in the field, and risen to the top of his profession along the way. And here is his bottom line:

"[O]ver my more than 25-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even 'recreational' drugs can and do improve day-to-day living... From my own experience -- the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities."

Hart is refreshingly -- and deliberately -- open about his own recreational drug use. Given the stigmatization and persecution of people identified as "drug users," he feels that justice demands privileged partakers come out of the closet and give voice to their own, non-destructive drug use histories as a necessary remedy for that demonization. He certainly does so himself, revealing a disciplined yet curious mind most definitely not averse to sampling various substances.

Those substances include heroin, which he describes as his current favorite drug, one that he's been using episodically for years now: "There aren't many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day... Heroin allows me to suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head... The world is alright with me. I'm good. I'm refreshed. I'm prepared to face another day, another faculty meeting, another obligatory function. All parties benefit."

But Hart is not quite so mellow when it comes to people and institutions he sees as helping to perpetuate overly negative depictions of various drugs or the persecution of drug users. He rips into Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) over her "addiction is a brain disease" mantra and the rigid ideological control she has over research funding. He rips into journalists for uncritically and sensationally reporting salacious scientific findings about the evils of drugs that he argues are not supported by the evidence they are supposedly based on. He even calls Bernie Sanders "ignorant" (that word shows up more than a few times) for complaining that marijuana shouldn't be in the same drug schedule as "killer drugs like heroin."

Dr. Carl Hart (Columbia University)
Hart doesn't deny the potential dangers of drug use but makes the case that they are dramatically overstated. In that sense, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a corrective to more than a century of anti-drug propaganda. In a deep dive into opioids, for instance, he notes that most opioid overdose deaths are actually opioid/benzodiazepines/alcohol deaths, and that a large number of them are due to ignorance (there's that word again) -- in that, in the black market that currently exists, drug users do not and cannot know what exactly is in that pill or powder they purchased.

As long as we are in a prohibition regime, the least we can do is widespread drug testing for quality control, as is done at some European music festivals, Hart argues. But that's the only kind of drug testing he's down with; he calls the urine drug testing industry "parasitic," a sobriquet he also applies to the drug treatment industry.

But hang on, he's not done yet. Although he is an advocate for harm reduction practices, he has a bone to pick with the term itself: It's too damned negative! Drug use doesn't typically involve harm, he argues, but pleasure-seeking. As I pondered this, I came up with "benefit enhancement" as an upbeat alternative to harm reduction, but Hart went with "health and happiness."

And he's got a bone to pick with "psychedelic exceptionalism," the notion, dear to folks like Decriminalize Nature, that psychedelics, or better yet, "plant entheogens," are somehow "better" than dirty old drugs like meth or heroin and thus deserve to be treated differently, more gently. He also snarks at the notion that taking drugs for spiritual or religious purposes is of a higher order than taking them for fun and rebels at the notion of having a shaman or guide during a tripping session: "Some people find this comforting. I find it creepy and have never done so myself."

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is bracing, informative, and provocative contribution to the literature. Even the most ardent drug reformers and defenders would benefit from reading it and reexamining their own assumptions. Maybe Carl Hart is onto something.

Drug War Issues

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