Drug War Chronicle

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Medical Marijuana Update

The House has approved allowing members of the military to use hemp and CBD products, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative campaign is threatening to sue the state over signature-gathering, and more.

National

House Approves Hemp, CBD Use for Military Members. The House Monday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would allow service members to use hemp and CBD products. "The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces," the amendment says. The bill now must be approved by the Senate.

Arkansas

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Growers Sue to Keep Out Competition. Five companies with medical marijuana cultivation permits are suing to stop three more cultivation licenses from being issued. The growers argue that the new licenses issued in June violated state law because the law requires they only be issued if the original permit holders couldn't meet patient demand.

Florida

Florida Supreme Court Asks for Rare Second Round of Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case. In a rare move, the state's high court last Tuesday ordered a second round of arguments in a battle about whether the state has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The case is a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa company that has questioned whether a 2017 law passed to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment is itself constitutional. The case centers on parts of the law around licensing companies to operate in the industry.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over State's Refusal to Allow Electronic Signature-Gathering. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the people behind a medical marijuana initiative, is now threatening to sue state officials if they continue to block activists from collecting signatures electronically. The move comes after a federal court ruled that an unrelated initiative campaign could move ahead with electronic signature-gathering. The medical marijuana campaign sent a letter to state officials Monday saying that while it "has no interest in litigation," it will sue if the state does not respond to its request by Thursday.

AZ Pot Foes File Suit to Block Initiative, House Votes to Allow Military Members to Use Hemp and CBD, More... (7/22/20)

The organized opposition makes a move in Arizona, a Pennsylvania lawmaker is trying to jumpstart a stalled marijuana legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Pot Legalization Foes File Lawsuit to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative have filed a lawsuit aimed at keeping the measure off the November ballot. The lawsuit, by Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, argues that the initiative's backers did not accurately describe the measure in a 100-word summary included on petitions that voters signed for it to qualify for the general election. The initiative campaign says the lawsuit is without merit, and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the 100-word summaries do not need to detail every provision of a ballot measure. The initiative has already handed in signatures and is awaiting verification from state officials that it has qualified for the ballot.

Pennsylvania Lawmaker Renews Push to Legalize Recreational Marijuana. State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) is trying to jumpstart a marijuana legalization bill, SB 350, that has been stalled in committee since last fall. He authored a letter to Senate and Republican leadership earlier this month to try to prod them, and more than a dozen other senators, all Democrats, signed it. Street says the state needs the revenues from marijuana legalization in the wake of the fiscal impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Hemp

House Approves Hemp, CBD Use for Military Members. The House Monday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would allow service members to use hemp and CBD products. "The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces," the amendment says. The bill now must be approved by the Senate.

AZ Poll Shows Strong Support for MJ Legalization, BC Premier Asks for Canada Drug Decrim, More... (7/21/20)

The city of Chicago will pay out big time for seizing the vehicles of people in small-time drug busts, a California bill would undo some drug war sentencing excesses, the Colombian opposition has filed a bill to decriminalize and regulate cocaine, and more.

Cocaine could be decriminalized and regulated under a bill being considered in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative awaits confirmation from state officials that it has submitted a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Chicago to Pay $5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Vehicles Seized in Drug Busts. A city council committee on Monday approved a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. The settlement will pay people whose cars were seized the estimated Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle.

Sentencing

California Bill Would End Mandatory Jail and Prison Sentences for Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed SB 378, which would repeal 1980s drug war laws that enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Under current law, judges are denied the discretion to sentence drug offenders to probation or diversion. "For a lot of people in progressive California it is surprising to hear that in 2020, with all of the reforms that we've been working on for years, that there are still mandatory jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses," Wiener explained. "But here we are in California, in 2020, with mandatory prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug sentences," he said.

International

British Columbia Premier Asks Canadian Federal Government to Decriminalize Drugs. BC Premier John Horgan sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to have the federal government decriminalize drug possession. Such a move would "reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need," he said. "Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services," he added.

Colombia Opposition Files Cocaine Decriminalization Bill. A pair of opposition senators have filed a bill to decriminalize cocaine and regulate its production. The bill is part of a broader package to end the war on drugs that was filed last year by the leftist and centrist opposition blocs. The bill seeks strict state control over coca cultivation and cocaine production in a bid to cut the finances of drug trafficking organizations and armed groups.

MT Legalization Activists Say They've Qualified for Ballot, Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower, More... (7/20/20)

New Approach Montana says county-level data shows it has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot but the results aren't official yet, Canada's health minister says she's open to discussing drug decriminalization, and more.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel released this video of a massive armed convoy last Friday. (screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Activists Say County Figures Show They Qualified for Ballot. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, said last Friday that official county-level data shows they collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The claim is based on county-level signature verification data, as well as the campaign's own verification process. The group said it had 8,000 more valid signatures than the 25,000 required for the initiative and nearly 2,000 more valid signatures than the 51,000 required for the constitutional amendment.

Drug Policy

Third Party Presidential Candidates Embrace Marijuana Legalization, Drug Decriminalization. Both the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees are supporting bold drug policy proposals, including marijuana legalization. Neither Democratic nominee Joe Biden nor incumbent Republican Donald Trump have embraced marijuana legalization. Libertarian pick Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins both back legalizing marijuana for adult use and more broadly ending the criminalization of other currently illicit substances. "We've got to treat drug abuse as a health problem. You should legalize marijuana and decriminalize the hard drugs like Portugal," Hawkins said. "Instead of just throwing people in prison and building the biggest prison industrial system in the world -- which Joe Biden had a lot to do [with], he wrote the legislative architecture for that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- we should be treating drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

International

Canada Health Minister Open to Examining Drug Decriminalization. In response to a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Health Minister Patty Hadju said she was open to having discussions about drug decriminalization. "To find out how we would do that in the best possible way. I'm excited to explore all possibilities to reduce the criminalization of people who use substances," she said. "You know having been a person who worked in drug policy for a long time, I can tell you when you have the support of enforcement to take the next steps or affirm what you are doing, I think that's very important," Hajdu said.

Mexico Puts Army in Charge of Customs to Fight Drug Trade. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced that he is placing the Army in charge of Customs at land borders and seaports in a bid to stamp out large-scale corruption linked to the illicit drug trade. "We've taken this decision due to the poor administration of the seaports, with corruption and drug smuggling in these ports," he said. The move does not include the country's airports. Mexican seaports are entry points for precursor chemicals for heroin and methamphetamine manufacture.

Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower. In what is being described by analysts as a message to the Mexican government, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) released a video last Friday showing heavily-armed cartel members alongside a long, long convoy of armored vehicles. The video shows about 75 gunmen wearing military-style fatigues and at least 20 armored vehicles, some emblazoned with CJNG initials and "special forces" or "elite group." The video release came as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was visiting Jalisco state.

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

CA Marijuana Arrests Decline But Disparities Persist, AR MedMJ Growers Sue to Block Competition, More... (7/17/20)

California marijuana felonies are at the lowest level since 1954, Argentina moves to make its medical marijuana program more patient-friendly, and more.

Black and Hispanic Californians are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Felony Marijuana Arrests Decline After Legalization, But Racial Disparities Persist. Felony marijuana arrests continued to decline in the wake of legalization, dropping from 1,617 in 2018, the first year of broad legalization, to 1,181 last year, a decline of 27%. But minorities remained subject to disproportionate arrests, with Hispanics accounting for 42%, Blacks for 22%, and whites at 21%. The percentage of Black and Hispanic arrests "is troubling, especially now that we've legalized it," said Ellen Komp, deputy director of the California arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "It's legal if you have the venture capital to open up on Main Street." The number of felony arrests last year marked the lowest figure since 1954, NORML said.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Growers Sue to Keep Out Competition. Five companies with medical marijuana cultivation permits are suing to stop three more cultivation licenses from being issued. The growers argue that the new licenses issued in June violated state law because the law requires they only be issued if the original permit holders couldn't meet patient demand.

International

Argentina to Allow Home Cultivation, Pharmacy Sales for Medical Marijuana. The Health Ministry on Wednesday met with stakeholders Wednesday to finalize details on draft regulations for medical marijuana cultivation and sales. The draft regs will allow for home cultivation by patients and the sale of oils and topicals by local pharmacies. The regs also guarantee access to medical marijuana for all patients free of charge. The new regulations are aimed at addressing deficiencies in the country's 2017 law that legalized medical marijuana, but failed to adequately cover patient needs.

House Hearing on DC Entheogens Init, Colombia Drug Gangs Enforce Pandemic Lockdowns, More... (7/16/20)

A first congressional challenge to the Washington, DC, natural psychedelics initiative has been fended off, Mexico's toll of "disappeared" in drug violence in the past 14 years tops 70,000, and more.

ayahuasca-inspired art (CC)
Psychedelics

House Committee Takes Up DC Natural Psychedelics Initiative. The House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over affairs in Washington, DC, held a hearing Wednesday to debate the status of magic mushrooms in the nation's capital, as an initiative that would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority appears set to make the November ballot. The day saw an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of DC drug reform efforts, which would bar the use of natural psychedelics without a doctor's recommendation, but Harris then withdrew the amendment in the face of Democratic opposition. "If the district's residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

International

Colombia Drug Gangs, Armed Groups Are Killing Pandemic Lockdown Violators, Human Rights Watch Says. Armed groups tied to drug trafficking organizations have enforced their own lockdown orders and killed people who didn't comply, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The group has documented at least nine killings for breaking social distancing orders since April, as well as documented examples of armed groups threatening and attacking people who breaks the groups' lockdown rules. "In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report released Wednesday. "This abusive social control reflects the government's long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations."

Mexico's Toll of Disappeared Rises Again. The number of people who have been "disappeared" in the prohibition-related violence ripping through Mexico has officially risen to 73,201, up from 61,000 in January. The vast majority of the disappearances have come since 2006, when the contemporary Mexican "war on drugs" began. In that same period, authorities have unearthed nearly 4,000 clandestine graves, with 6,625 bodies recovered.

CDC Says Fatal Drug ODs Up Last Year, FL Supreme Court Orders Rare Second Hearing in MedMJ Case, More... (7/15/20)

After the first decline in drug ODs in decades in 2018, the number jumped again last year, the CDC says; Canadian psychotherapists want the ability to use psilocybin themselves to better treat patients using the drug, and more.

Drug overdose deaths were up last year, according to preliminary data from the CDC. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Asks for Rare Second Round of Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case. In a rare move, the state's high court Tuesday ordered a second round of arguments in a battle about whether the state has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The case is a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa company that has questioned whether a 2017 law passed to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment is itself constitutional. The case centers on parts of the law around licensing companies to operate in the industry.

Drug Use

CDC Preliminary Data Shows Increase in Overdoses Last Year. After declining for the first time in decades in 2018, drug overdose deaths rose 4.6% in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the data, which won't be finalized until year's end, there were 70,980 overdose deaths last year, up from 67,850 in 2018. Experts fear drug deaths will be even higher this year during a global pandemic that has disrupted health care and drug markets, isolated millions of people, and left millions more jobless.

International

Canadian Psychotherapists Petition Government for Permission to Dose Themselves to Better Treat Patients. A nonprofit group of psychedelic therapists, TheraPsil, is asking Health Canada for permission to be able to dose themselves with psilocybin in a bid to better help their patients. The move comes as a group of terminally ill patients awaits permission from the ministry to use magic mushrooms for end of life care. The group says therapists need firsthand experiences with the drug's effects: "The fundamental reason to expose therapists to their own experiences with psychedelics is that, unless you have visited these realms, you are unlikely to understand their importance." Going to a psychedelic therapist who hasn't used psychedelics would be like "going to a sex therapist who's never had sex before," said the group's executive director, Spencer Hawkswell.

ID MedMJ Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over Signature-Gathering, Colombia to Spray Coca Crops, More... (7/14/20)

The Idaho Cannabis Coalition threatens to sue if state officials don't allow it to use electronic signature-gathering in the midst of the pandemic, a drug testing lab reports spikes in the use of four illicit drugs during the pandemic, and more.

Colombian coca grower (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over State's Refusal to Allow Electronic Signature-Gathering. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the people behind a medical marijuana initiative, is now threatening to sue state officials if they continue to block activists from collecting signatures electronically. The move comes after a federal court ruled that an unrelated initiative campaign could move ahead with electronic signature-gathering. The medical marijuana campaign sent a letter to state officials Monday saying that while it "has no interest in litigation," it will sue if the state does not respond to its request by Thursday.

Drug Use

Positive Test Rates for Four Illicit Drugs Spike During Pandemic. A report published by the specialty laboratory Millennium Health analyzed more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

International

Colombian Defense Minister Says Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops to Start Up Again. Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Tuesday that the government is advancing plans to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops in accordance with guidelines set out by the country's high court. "We are advancing, we have taken all the steps demanded by the Constitutional Court and we are meeting the requirements of the authorities," he said. "Restarting the spraying program is fundamental. It is in the best interest of the country and it will allow us to continue making progress much more effectively in the fight against the world drug problem," he added, without giving an exact date to restart aerial spraying." Spraying was halted in 2015 over environmental and public health concerns linked the chemical used, glyphosate, to cancer. The Trump administration is pushing Colombia to restart as well.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Hoo, boy! Highway patrolmen cooking up 'shrooms, district judges tipping off friends and messing up drug investigations, and more. Let's get to it:

In Milpitas, California, a Santa Clara County Sheriff's correctional deputy was arrested last Monday on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the Elmwood Correctional Facility. Deputy Mayra Rios, 35, went down after an "extensive two-month investigation" begun after detectives received information that she was involved in smuggling drugs into the jail. She is charged with possession of meth with intent to distribute.

In Collinsville, Illinois, a State Police trooper was arrested last Friday for allegedly growing and selling magic mushrooms. District 11 Trooper Nolan Morgan, 40, went down after an investigation by the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigations received reports of his dealings and discovered more than a half pound of psilocybin mushrooms packaged for delivery. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance, psilocybin mushrooms.

In Denver, a former Colorado state district court judge pleaded guilty July 1 to telling a friend about a large-scale drug trafficking investigation who then tipped off one of the targets. Ryan Kamada, 41, learned from a drug task force officer that he was associated with one of the targets on social media. Kamada then recused himself from the case, but then called a mutual friend and told him to stay away from the suspect, warning that he was under law enforcement surveillance. The friend then told the suspected drug trafficker about the investigation. Kamada pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal task force investigation.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a former Harrison County Sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to more than four years in prison for letting his informants keep a portion of drugs purchased in transactions monitored by law enforcement. Timothy Rock allowed at least three informants to keep some of the dope, including some that came from evidence lockers at the sheriff's office. He was convicted on four counts of distribution of heroin.

Drug Reform Initiatives Already on the November Ballot and Those That Could Still Make the Cut [FEATURE]

With signature-gathering deadlines now past nearly everywhere, the picture of where voters will have a chance to vote on drug reform initiatives becomes clearer -- although not yet finalized because state officials are still counting petitions in some cases. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least two states and as many as four states and ditto for medical marijuana. Groundbreaking initiatives on psychedelic policy and drug decriminalization will also go before voters.

Voters in a number of states will have the chance to weigh in on drug reform initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
In a handful of cases, statewide initiative campaigns had qualified before the coronavirus reared its head, but most campaigns had to struggle to find ways to get signatures in the midst of virtual lockdowns. The virus proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

But in some other states, organizers managed to overcome such obstacles and have -- as of this writing -- either already qualified for the ballot or have handed in enough raw signatures to suggest that they well could qualify once state officials get their counting done.

Here's where things stand at this juncture.

QUALIFIED:

Mississippi -- Medical Marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65 qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

New Jersey -- Marijuana Legalization. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was already on the ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with sales subject to the state's sales tax. This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Oregon -- Drug Decriminalization. For the first time, drug decriminalization will go before voters after the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) qualified for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Oregon -- Therapeutic Psilocybin. Using an online signature-gathering strategy after pandemic lockdowns took effect, the campaign behind Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator qualified for the November ballot in early July.

South Dakota -- Marijuana Legalization. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

South Dakota -- Medical Marijuana. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010. Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions to possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

WAITING TO HEAR:

Arizona -- Marijuana Legalization. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office on July 2. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

District of Columbia -- Natural Entheogens. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures on July 6, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will rule officially in 30 days.

Montana -- Marijuana Legalization.New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 50,000 valid voter signatures) on June 19. Now it's nail-biting time as organizers wait for the state to see if they came up with enough good ones.

Nebraska -- Medical Marijuana. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw signatures on July 2. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

STILL GATHERING SIGNATURES:

Idaho -- Medical Marijuana. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition had given up the ghost in the face of the coronavirus back in March, but its medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected boost and could still make the ballot after federal court decisions around electronic signature-gathering for an unrelated initiative opened the door for a potential revival. Now, the group is asking the state to allow them to collect signatures electronically. They would still need some 55,057 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Come November, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization could continue to expand across the country, while we could also break new ground on drug decriminalization and psychedelics. Let's get out and vote. As if you needed to be told that this year.

Democratic Platform to Call for Rescheduling and Decriminalizing Marijuana But Not Legalizing, Canada Police Chiefs Want Drug Decrim, More... (7/13/20)

Democratic task forces working on the party platform have settled on rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, the Justice Department rips a Massachusetts dope squad for its resort to excessive force, Canadian police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

The Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative has qualified for the ballot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Proposed Democratic Platform Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Descheduling. Task forces charged with drafting the Democratic Party platform are calling not for the total federal legalization of marijuana but for decriminalizing it and for rescheduling it for medical purposes. The recommendations will be provided to the platform committee, which will ratify it before the Democratic national convention next month. According to NJ.com, the proposals include allowing states to decide on whether to legalize marijuana, expunging past convictions, and calling on states that have legalized marijuana to reinvest revenues in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war.

Kansas City to Remove Marijuana Violations from City Code. The city council voted last Thursday to remove possession or control of marijuana as a violation within the city. The ordinance, introduced on June 18 by Mayor Quinton Lucas and four City Council members, passed by a 9-4 vote. Two years ago, the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with the exception of illegal sales, distribution and impaired driving.

Hemp

Hawaii Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize industrial hemp in the state passed the Senate last Wednesday after having already passed the House. The bill, HB1819 HD2 SD3, now goes to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns it was unenforceable, but this year, legislators worked closely with Ige's office to ensure it would get signed.

Law Enforcement

Democratic Progressives Announce BREATHE Act to Reform Policing. House Democratic members including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) are pushing for a wide-ranging bill called the BREATHE Act, which would transform the country's criminal justice system. Among its provisions are a call to eliminate life sentences, retroactively expunge drug convictions, shut federal prisons and immigration detention centers, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" for prisoners. The bill would also move to defund the DEA and ICE, end mandatory minimums, and decriminalize drug possession, among other provisions.

Justice Department Accuses Springfield, Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau of Using Excessive Force. In a report released last Wednesday, the Justice Department said an investigation has revealed that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect the Springfield Police Department's Narcotics Bureau regularly resorted to excessive force. "Our investigation of the Springfield Police Department over the last year revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record-keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct," said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling. The Justice Department said the bureau violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from the unreasonable use of force by the police. In the report, Justice said "our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries."

North Carolina Cops Confronted by Hostile Crowd After Drug Bust. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were swarmed by an angry crowd after police searched a home as part of a drug investigation. People kept arriving at the scene until "a hostile crowd of approximately 50 people had taken over the street in front of the residence," police reported. Police said the crowd blocked the roadway and swarmed a police vehicle, and police resorted to pepper spray to clear the area. Police seized 85 grams of heroin and 15 grams of marijuana and arrested two people.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Wednesday.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Faces Challenge from GOP Congressman. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of allowing Washington, DC, to move forward with drug reform efforts, says that he plans to force a vote in Congress to block the proposed natural psychedelic initiative. He said he plans to force a House Appropriations Committee vote next week.

International

Canadian Chiefs of Police Call for Drug Decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended that simple drug possession should be decriminalized. The report by the association's special committee on decriminalization of illicit drugs calls for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. "Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives," association president and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement. "We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government."

EVENT: No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever

Video of this event will be posted in the near future -- please check back!

No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever

side event, UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Wednesday July 8, 2020 / noon-1:30pm ET

online registration via Zoom

The coronavirus pandemic has made ongoing crises affected by drug policy even more intense and urgent. "No Time Like the Present" will discuss incarceration, HIV/AIDS, and rule of law/human rights issues. Our speakers will provide perspectives from the global level, for the US and Philippines, and in New York City. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"No Time Like the Present" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global, https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs

  • Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director, Rock Ed Philippines
  • Ruben Carranza, Senior Expert and Director of Reparative Justice Program, International Center for Transitional Justice
  • Charles King, CEO, Housing Works
  • Ehab Salah, Adviser, Prisons and HIV & UNAIDS Focal Point, UN Office on Drugs and Crime
  • Ninan Varughese, Director a.i., UNAIDS New York Office
  • moderated by David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation

House Spending Bills Include MedMJ Protections, DC Psychedelic Initiative Hands in Signatures, More... (7/7/20)

Mexico once again looks set to move forward with medical marijuana, House funding bills include protections for medical marijuana -- but not recreational marijuana -- and more.

Decriminalize DC has handed in signatures for its natural psychedelic lowest priority initiative. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

House Spending Bills Include Medical Marijuana Protections for States, Banking Systems, and Universities. The Democratically-controlled House unveiled its versions of funding bills this week, and they include provisions that would protect banking businesses and universities doing business with medical marijuana operations, as well as the states that oversee medical marijuana programs. The protections do not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Psychedelics

DC Activists Submit Signatures for Natural Psychedelic Initiative. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will make it official in 30 days.

International

Mexico to Implement Medical Marijuana Law as Marijuana Legalization Delayed. The Mexican Secretariat of Health has announced that it plans to finalize medical marijuana regulations within the next two months. Mexican law was amended to allow for medical marijuana in 2017, but the Health Secretariat has so far failed to issue them. Now it has until September 9 to issue them. The move comes as broader marijuana legalization has been delayed by political bickering and coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Make Ballot, More Mexico Mayhem, More... (7/6/20)

Nevada's governor pushes for wholesale marijuana possession pardons, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico, and more.

no reefer gladness for Arkansas this year (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. Melissa Fults, the main organizer behind the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, has announced that the measure failed to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot by the state's July 3 deadline. "We're not going to make the ballot. COVID-19 killed it," she said. The campaign needed 89,000 valid voter signatures to qualify but had only 30,000-40,000 raw signatures by the deadline.

Nevada Governor Wants Pardons for Old Minor Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced late last week that he has placed a resolution for consideration on the Board of Pardons Commissioners agenda to provide relief to tens of thousands of people who were previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed resolution would unconditionally pardon individuals previously convicted of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, not for purpose of sale. "The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime," Gov. Sisolak said. "If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized."

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill Dozen Cartel Gunmen in Nuevo Laredo Shootout. The Mexican Defense Department reported last Friday that soldiers patrolling the border city of Nuevo Laredo came under fire from gunmen in pickup trucks, then returned fire, killing 12. The department said three army trucks were hit by gunfire but no soldiers were injured. The area has been the site of prohibition-related violence for years, and the feds blamed the attack on the Cartel of the Northeast, a splinter from the old Zetas cartel. Meanwhile, police in the border state of Coahuila reported killing five cartel suspects after being fired on in the city of Torreon, and in Guanajuato state, armed men killed five state police officers and wounded two others.

Austin Police to End Minor MJ Busts, Southern CA DAs Let 100,000 MJ Convictions Be Cleared, More... (7/3/20)

The capital of Texas gives up on enforcing minor marijuana possession offenses, Virginia Democratic lawmakers are eyeing legalization next year, and more.

Austin pot smokers no longer have to worry about going to jail or getting a ticket for a little weed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Southern California Counties Clear 100,000 Marijuana Conviction by July 1 Deadline. The state's 58 district attorneys had until July 1 to challenge the state's recommendations to clear the records of some 191,000 past marijuana convictions, and in southern California, the recommendation went largely unchallenged, meaning some 100,000 marijuana convictions in those counties have now been cleared. The move is the result of the passage of the marijuana legalization initiative in 2016.

Virginia Lawmakers Set Eyes on Legalization a Day After Decriminalization Goes into Effect. Some top Democratic legislators have announced plans to introduce a bill next year to legalize and regulate a legal marijuana market. The move came one day after decriminalization went into effect in the state. "Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do," said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. "While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased." The lawmakers are tying the move to racial and justice advances.

Austin Police Will No Longer Arrest or Ticket People for Small-Time Marijuana Possession Offenses. Police in the capital of Texas will no longer arrest or ticket anyone for small amounts of marijuana. The only exceptions are if there's an immediate threat to someone's safety or it's part of an investigation into a high-priority felony-level narcotics case or a violent felony. The move is an indirect result of hemp legalization, which made it difficult for prosecutors to distinguish between the two members of the cannabis family. Earlier this year, the state Department of Public Safety announced its labs would no longer accept misdemeanor marijuana cases for lab analysis, and the Austin police have stopped developing their own testing. Instead, they're just going to let a little pot ride.

Nashville to End Small-Time Pot Prosecutions, More Cops Charged in Wake of Fatal Houston Drug Raid, More... (7/2/20)

Drug reform initiative campaigns are handing in signatures as deadlines approach, Nashville's DA says no more petty pot prosecutions, Mexican gunmen kill 24 in a raid on a drug rehab center, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Organized opposition to a marijuana legalization initiative has appeared. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Massive Signature Cache. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office Thursday. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Organized Opposition. The Amendment A marijuana legalization campaign, which has already qualified for the November ballot, is now drawing organized opposition. A ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment A has been organized to defeat the initiative and is being led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The opposition is being joined by the usual suspects, including law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

Nashville to End Small-Time Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced Wednesday that his office will no longer prosecute cases involving less than a half-ounce of marijuana. "Effective today, the Nashville District Attorney's office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety," Funk said in a statement.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw voter signatures Thursday. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

Law Enforcement

Houston DA Files New Charges Resulting from Deadly Drug Raid. The investigation into a 2019 Houston drug raid that left two innocent homeowners dead has now resulted charges being filed against six former officers, who are accused of routinely using false information to get search warrants and of lying on police reports, prosecutors announced on Wednesday. Two former members of the unit -- Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant -- had previously been charged in state and federal court in the case, including two counts of felony murder filed in state court against Goines. Those two also got hit with numerous new charges. More than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines have been dismissed by prosecutors. Prosecutors expect more cases will be dismissed.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Attack Drug Rehab Center, Killing 24. In one of the bloodiest attacks yet in the cartel wars, gunmen killed 24 people at a drug treatment center in the central Mexican city of Irapuato on Wednesday. It was the second attack on a rehab center in less than a month; on June 6, 10 were killed in a similar incident. Rival cartels sometimes use the centers as de facto bunk houses for their employees. The region is being flailed by fighting between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.

OR Drug Decrim Will Go to Voters, VA Marijuana Decrim Now in Effect, More... (7/1/20)

The Old Dominion decriminalizes pot possession, Oregon will vote on decriminalizing all drugs, drug overdoses are jumping during the pandemic, and more.

Virginia. Now not just for lovers, but for tokers, too. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect. As of July 1, marijuana decriminalization has gone into effect in Virginia. Now, people caught with an ounce or less will face a maximum penalty of a $25 fine. A celebration is planned for the state capital Wednesday. "Richmond hasn't burned this hard since 1865!" the event's anonymous organizers wrote. In 2018, the last year for which full data is available, 29,000 people were arrested on marijuana charges.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Petitioners Prepare to Hand in Signatures. With a deadline to hand in signatures for their initiative Thursday, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has stepped up signature-gathering in recent weeks. The group needs 121,000 valid voter signatures and says they are very close. Stay tuned.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdoses Soar Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic. Based on data from ambulance teams, hospitals, and police, the Washington Post is reporting that drug overdose deaths have jumped and keep jumping during the coronavirus pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post points to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Ohio Senate Passes Drug Sentencing Reform Bill. On a vote of 25-4, the state Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 3, which would reclassify many low-level drug possession felonies as misdemeanors. The bill would also make it easier for people convicted of drug possession crimes to get their records sealed, and it would give judges the option of delaying and possibly dismissing cases if a defendant successfully completed a rehabilitation program. And it doubles the state's already generous limit for decriminalized marijuana possession from 100 grams to 200 grams -- nearly half a pound of pot.

Oregon Drug Decriminalization, Treatment Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office has confirmed that the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) has qualified for the November ballot by handing in more than 116,622 valid voter signatures. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

OR Therapeutic Psilocbyin Init Looks Set to Make Ballot, Atlanta Cops Quit Drug Arrests During Sickout, More... (6/30/20)

UN human rights experts keep up the pressure on the Philippines, the Oregon therapeutic psilocbyin initiative looks set to make the November ballot, and more. 

Atlanta arrests by the numbers during the police sickout. (APD)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Granting Him Expanded Authority to Pardon Marijuana Offenders. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has signed into law House Bill 1424, which gives his office expanded powers to pardon people with past marijuana convictions. The bill allows the governor to "grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana without an application and without seeking the comment of the District Attorney and judges for those cases."

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs Bill Expanding State's Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has signed into law House File 2589, which expands the state's medical marijuana program to include patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe autism. It also increases the state's THC limit to 4.5 grams in 90 days, a limit which some Democratic legislators said was too low.

Psychedelics

Oregon Activists Say They Enough Signatures to Put Therapeutic Psilocbyin on November Ballot. The people behind the state's therapeutic psilocybin initiative, IP 34 said Monday they had gathering enough valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The state has not yet verified that the initiative is over the top, but has already verified nearly 107,000 of the 112,020 needed to qualify. The campaign says it has collected a total of 164,782 signatures and it has "great confidence that Oregon’s psilocybin therapy initiative will qualify for the statewide ballot."

Criminal Justice

Pennsylvania Senate Advances Policing Reform Bills. The Democratically-controlled state Senate has passed a pair of policing reform bills, Senate Bill 459, which requires full documentation of all use of force incidents, and Senate Bill 1205, which aims to ban the use of chokeholds in detaining people. More reform legislation is coming, including bills that will focus on police education and training, introduce more professional oversight including civilian review boards, establish explicit boundaries and protocols in regard to escalation and use of force, alleviate officer stresses (including potentially offering better pay), enhancing civil asset forfeiture protections and penalizing false reporting of wrongdoings based on race and ethnicity. 

Atlanta Sees Drug Arrests Drop to Zero During "Blue Flu" Police Sickout. Atlanta police have demonstrated just how discretionary drug arrests are by not making any during the week of June 14-20 in the midst of a police sickout in the wake of unrest over the killing of Rayshard Brooks by a city police officer. During the same week last year, police arrested 67 people on drug charges; this year, the number was zero. Traffic citations similarly dropped dramatically, from 3,100 during that week last year to 50 this year. Meanwhile, both shooting incidents and aggravated assaults increased during the same period this year over last year.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Renew Call for Independent Impartial Investigation of Philippines Drug War. One year ago, 11 UN human rights experts jointly called on the Human Rights  Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. The Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 41/2 which requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and to present it at its 44th session. "The report, issued on 4 June 2020, confirmed our findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition. The report recognises important efforts to improve the protection of economic and social rights and stresses that these efforts should be guided by a human rights-based approach and focused on 'leaving no one behind'. The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity," UN experts said today. "Given the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations, we renew our call on the Human Rights Council to establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines."

NYPD Spent Almost $100 Million on Drug Enforcement Last Year, Mexico Cartel Violence, More... (6/26/20)

Mexico City's police chief narrowly escapes a cartel assassination attempt, the NYPD spent nearly $100 million enforcing the drug laws last year, and more.

Prohibition-related violence continues unabated in Mexico. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan House Passes Bill Allowing Spouses of State Employees to Seek Medical Marijuana Licenses. The House has passed HB 5700, which would allow spouses of state employees to obtain licenses for medical marijuana businesses. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Drug Policy

NYPD Spent Nearly $100 Million Policing Drug Laws Last Year The New York Policy Department spent $96 million enforcing drug laws last year, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. It spent nearly another half-billion dollars enforcing low-level "broken windows" offenses, the report found. DPA released the brief in support of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition call for Mayor de Blasio and the NYC Council to cut the FY21 NYPD expense budget by $1 billion and redirect savings to core needs in Black, Latinx and other NYC communities of color that have long been the target of the drug war and racist policing.

Sentencing

Michigan Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Package Filed. In a bid to bring down the length of prison sentences in the state—which run nearly twice as long as in neighboring states—lawmakers have filed a bipartisan package of 15 bills aimed at cutting back sentence lengths.

International

Mexico City Police Chief Wounded in Assassination Attempt, Blames Drug Cartel. Mexico City Public Security Chief Omar Garcia Harfuch barely escaped a brazen daytime assassination attempt in the city's upscale Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood early Friday. Harfuch was struck by three bullets and two of his bodyguards were killed, as was a woman bystander. He later blamed the attack on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Mexican Cartel In-Fighting Leaves 15 Dead in Sinaloa. Clashes between gunmen linked to rival factions of the Sinaloa Cartel left 15 people dead in rural communities near the state capital of Culiacan on Wednesday. Seven men clad in body armor and brandishing assault rifles were killed in Tepuche, while eight more armed men were killed in Bagrecitos as they opened fire on homes and vehicles. The violence comes just a week after a convoy of pickup trucks ambushed and attacked navy marines on patrol. The violence is believed linked to a power struggle between the sons of imprisoned leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and forces loyal to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has led the cartel since Guzmán’s incarceration. 

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

DOJ Whistleblower Accuses Barr of Anti-Pot Bias, Marijuana Reform Pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon Dies, More... (6/25/20)

Bill Barr is accused of improperly pushing probes of legal marijuana companies, DARPA is funding research into psychedelic-inspired drugs for military purposes, Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus wants marijuana legalized this summer, and more.

The Swiss are moving to ease access to medical marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy, 

Justice Department Whistleblower Accuses Attorney General Barr of Targeting Legal Marijuana Industry with Antitrust Probes. Attorney General William Barr improperly targeted legal marijuana companies with anti-trust investigations because he "did not like" the industry, a Justice Department whistleblower told Congress Wednesday. John Elias, a senior official in the department's antitrust division, told the House Judiciary Committee that his office was "forced for political reasons" to pursue unjustified investigations of the industry. "These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do not meet established criteria for antitrust investigations," the statement says. "While these were nominally antitrust investigations and used antitrust investigative authorities, they were not bona fide antitrust investigations. Nonetheless, they accounted for 29% of the antitrust division's full-review merger investigations in Fiscal Year 2019," Elias said.

Virginia Black Lawmakers Push to Legalize Marijuana in Special Session This Summer. The legislature and the governor just approved marijuana legalization, but the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has included full legalization as part of its list of priorities for a special session this summer. The caucus also plans to file bills dealing with a ban on no-knock warrants,  racial data reporting on low-level arrests, and other criminal justice reforms.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Department of Health Announces Waiver to Allow Medical Marijuana Alternative Treatment Centers to Provide Home Delivery. The state Department of Health Thursday issued a waiver that allows Alternative Treatment Centers to provide home delivery of medical marijuana to patients and designated caregivers. This marks a significant first step in implementing the full home delivery provisions found in Jake Honig’s Law, which was signed by Governor Murphy last summer. Deliveries will be conducted by ATC employees who have undergone a criminal background check, and delivery vehicles will need to be equipped with security measures, including GPS tracking and a secure lock box.

Psychedelics

US Military Spending $27 Million to Develop New Class of Psychedelic-Inspired Drugs. The Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded $26.9 million for research that "aims to create new medications to effectively and rapidly treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse without major side effects.” The researchers are looking at ketamine and psilocybin, but hope to develop drugs without "their hallucinogenic, addictive, and disorienting side effects make their clinical use limited,” said Brian L. Roth, a professor of pharmacology at UNC School of Medicine and the research project’s leader.

Drug Policy

Marijuana Reform Pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon Dead at 92. Lester Grinspoon, a Harvard professor, psychiatrist, and author of a dozen books, including Marihuana Reconsidered, the single most comprehensive and thoughtful and convincing explanation of the crucial need to end marijuana prohibition and establish a legal marijuana market, died Thursday at age 92. Back in the 1970s, Grinspoon began reviewing the literature on marijuana at the behest of his Harvard colleague Carl Sagan and concluded that marijuana should not only not be criminalized, but could be an enriching experience. Dr. Grinspoon was also a long-serving member of NORML’s Board of Directors, including many years as board chair. He served as a member of the NORML Advisory Board until his death.

International

Swiss Government Moves to Ease Access to Medical Marijuana. The Federal Council on Wednesday submitted a revised version of the country's drug law that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana without prior authorization. Under current law, they must first get an exceptional approval from the Federal Office for Public Health. The proposal has the support of all parties except the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

Colombia After the Peace Accords: A Conversation with Vanda Felbab-Brown [FEATURE]

Four years ago, Colombia's decades-long civil war officially came to an end when the leftist rebels of the FARC signed a peace agreement with then-President Juan Manuel Santos. The accord envisioned the demobilization of the FARC as a military force and the use of alternative development to wean peasant farmers from their coca crops and end the country's reputation as a cocaine capital.

Colombian peasant harvesting the coca crop. (DEA.gov)
Four years on, it is probably unfair to call the peace deal a failure, but it hasn't exactly produced the hoped-for results. President Santos completed his term and was replaced by rightist Ivan Duque, who is much less enthusiastic about the accords and whose administration has lagged at implementing the alternative development provisions of the peace deal.

The FARC did demobilize, but last year, after at least 139 FARC members who had laid down their guns were murdered, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle, taking several thousand fighters with them. In taking up arms once again, the FARC dissidents rejoined a vicious, multi-sided fight for control of the cocaine trade that never went away. That fight includes gangs from across the border in Venezuela, rightist paramilitary bandas, two different factions of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the Colombian military, and at least two major Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.

Efforts under Duque to cut coca and cocaine production have not worked. With Duque's government only grudgingly supporting crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective, instead promoting forced eradication, Colombian cocaine production hit a record high last year.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration now views Colombia less as a principal ally in the region and more as a chess piece to be used against the Venezuelan regime of Nicholas Maduro. When it comes to the issue of coca and cocaine, the administration has taken a hard line that harkens back to the days of Plan Colombia. This year, Trump has demanded that Columbia resume spraying of coca crops, proposed an assistance package that slashes economic development aid while nearly doubling anti-drug funding, and deployed a US army brigade to Colombia on a drug-fighting mission.

This week, Drug War Chronicle got on the phone with Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. She is the co-director of the Brookings series on opioids: "The Opioid Crisis in America: Domestic and International Dimensions." Previously, she was the co-director of the Brookings project, "Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives Beyond UNGASS 2016," as well as of another Brookings project, "Reconstituting Local Orders." Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. She is a senior advisor to the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group.

Here's what she had to say:

On the disappointing results of the 2016 accord:

"The peace deal was significant, but produced incomplete results," said Felbab-Brown. "One reason is that non-state actors persisted. The other reason is that the Duque government doesn't like that deal, so it has a policy of death by a thousand cuts, doing the minimum necessary to appear to comply with the law produced by the peace deal while really doing very little."

"The deal was extremely optimistic both in process and in implementation," she argued, pointing to the example of Thailand, where some 30,000 acres of opium poppies were being grown in the 1960s and even with a highly sustained commitment from the Thai monarchy, it took 30 years to end the practice.

"That's only one-tenth of the issue Colombia struggles with," she noted. "The idea that peace would eliminate coca production was unrealistic, but it was necessary to sell the peace plan to the public. People thought that if there was coca, the fighting would persist. And the need to sell it to the United Nations meant people had to emphasize it as part of alternative development."

"Development was the right policy stress, but it was unhampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take, how much coca would persist untampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take and how much coca would persist. A fundamental difficulty for Colombia, among others, is that the resources of the state to do rural development and create alternative livelihoods are quite limited."

"The notion that everyone would be asked to get rid of their coca to go through the compensation process created the mess we are seeing now," she said. "Even if it was not possible to bring in enough resources to accomplish this at the national level, it was worsened by Duque's dislike of the policy and his slowing down of rural development efforts. But it still wasn't going to happen in three years of payments and then no more coca. They've tried that about 20 times before, and it always crashed. There's no reason to believe this would be any different."

On the Trump administration's Colombia policy:

Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings.edu)
"The Trump administration has been back to the 1980s with a rigid, doctrinaire view centered on supply-side policies," she observed. "That said, it has come up with some surprising mutations that you wouldn't expect from a regular Republican administration, as when in 2017 it threatened to decertify Colombia as not living up to US-imposed drug fighting objectives. Republicans were consternated, and so were the Colombians, who expected that Trump would be close to Duque. Trump likes rightist governments and a heavy military emphasis. The administration has been weak dealing with the opioid crisis at home and focused on heavy eradication in Colombia. And Trump has really degraded Colombia. Previous administrations saw it as a principle ally and partner in South America, but Trump views Colombia principally as a platform against Venezuela."

"Trump has two objectives in Colombia: Venezuela and drugs," Felbab-Brown said. "On the drug side, he wants aerial spraying with US contractors. It depends on the day or the month whether drugs or Venezuela is first on the agenda, but Venezuela tends to dominate."

Whether the Trump administration can bend the Colombian government to a deeper role in its anti-Maduro machinations remains to be seen, but that may be a dead end now, anyway, Felbab-Brown said.

"Coca kind of competes with Trump's focus on Colombia as a source of policies against Venezuela, and while Duque is more forward leading in that regard than former president Santos, he realizes he can't risk war or meltdown in Venezuela," she said. "So they've been trying to satisfy Trump without causing a real blowup without any real strategy. After that Guaido stunt with the food aid, both the US and Colombia have been left without any kind of way forward."

On best policies moving forward:

If she were advising the Colombian and US governments, Felbab-Brown said, she would emphasize consolidating the zonas de futuro, where the Duque government is trying to introduce a government presence in five abandoned regions where armed groups and drug trafficking flourish, making up less than three percent of the national territory, instead of worrying about coca eradication.

The "future zones" are Colombia's bid to exert sovereign control over ungoverned parts of its territory. (fupad.org)
"A key line of effort would be to think through how the zonas could be made viable, how best to maximize the policy engagement in the zonas and how to expand them. A key problem with earlier versions of this strategy is that if you succeed, you end up with patches of government presence unconnected to anything else. They need to be made contiguous and connected," she argued.

"I would not care about eradication that much," Felbab-Brown said. "Although it would be unrealistic for a US administration to say that, it could strongly suggest it is not our metric. While Congress can put on pressure for more eradication, I would try to think about where it doesn't cause too much harm to the objective of stabilization. Much of the thinking in both governments is that eradication enhances stability, but it actually hampers it," she said.

"Instead, think about progress in reducing violence in strategic areas. How can we minimize the presence of the bandas, the Venezuelan groups, the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, both of whom are active in Colombia? How can we neuter them or push them out? This is what I would be thinking."

"At a broader strategic level, I would try to persuade Duque to make a much greater effort in rural development and equity, all that. We'll never make Duque into Santos, but perhaps a better version of himself.

On legalization as a solution:

Felbab-Brown was leery of legalization as a solution.

"It's a fantasy in terms of feasibility," she said. "Who is going to legalize cocaine? Not even Switzerland or the Netherlands would go there. And I'm not persuaded it would address the reasons why Colombia is so violent. If you legalized the coca crop, what is the guarantee that these same actors wouldn't be able to get their hands on the coca fields?" she asked.

"There is also a big fallacy in believing that violent actors have control because the commodities are illegal," she argued. "If anything, the conflict isn't just about coca, but timber, gold, and rare minerals -- all legal commodities. These non-state actors are deeply involved in those economies, the dissident groups are interested in the diversification of their portfolios. In Choco, for instance, where there is some of the most intense fighting, some of it is about coca, but more of it is about control of timber and the port. The FARC dissidents, the bandas, the ELN, Sinaloa and Jalisco, they're all there."

"The issue is not fundamentally about whether the commodity is legal or not. Look at the fighting over avocados in Mexico. You can argue for legalizing marijuana or poppies, but legality or illegality is not the crux of the issue. If Mexico wants to legalize poppies, it needs to fix its collapsed law enforcement first."

[Ed: Our organization's view is that global drug prohibition drives up the value and prices for coca and its derivatives, generating tremendous profits for criminal organizations, which get reinvested in other areas of crime and which contribute to their ability to influence political systems. If it would be impossible to secure licit coca grows in Colombia from being taken over by bad actors, another option would be to establish competing operations in other countries with stronger legal systems, providing coca and its derivatives for less than the crime organizations do. We do recognize that transitions between systems have the potential to go wrong, and we don't expect legalization to solve every problem that's become intertwined with prohbition.]

Medical Marijuana Update

All the medical marijuana news is from the Keystone State this week. 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Counties Can Ban Probationers from Using Medical Marijuana. The State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that counties may not ban people on probation or parole from using medical marijuana if they are registered in the state medical marijuana program. In a unanimous decision, the court noted that people in the program are immune from “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner” under state law, even if they are under a court’s supervision. “In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, the political branch has decided to permit patients — including probationers — to use medical marijuana for specified, serious medical conditions, upon a physician’s certification,” the court said in its opinion.

Pennsylvania Bill Would Require Police to Prove Actual Impairment Before Charging Medical Marijuana Patients With DUI. A Republican state senator, Camera Bartolotta, has filed a bill aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted for driving under the influence. The bill does so by exempting patients from the state's DUI law, which requires only the presence of marijuana metabolites to garner a DUI ticket. Instead, police would have to prove that the patient driver is actually impaired.

SF Supes Approve Safe Injection Site Measure, OK Pot Init Can Start Collecting Signatures, More... (6/24/20)

The Kansas City and Los Angeles city councils advance marijuana measures, San Francisco supervisors approve a measure to allow safe injection sites, marijuana legalization is advancing in the Isreali Knesset, and more.

Safe injection sites could be coming to San Francisco--if the state and federal governments clear the way. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Supreme Court Clears Marijuana Legalization Initiative for Signature-Gathering. The state's high court has ruled that the initiative, State Question 807 to legalize marijuana may proceed to the signature-gathering stage. The initiative would legalize marijuana for adults over 21 and impose a 15% marijuana sales tax. Supporters would have to gather about 178,000 signatures of registered voters in 90 days to qualify the question for the ballot.

Kansas City Ordinance Removing Marijuana Prosecutions and Penalties Wins Committee Vote. An ordinance that would remove marijuana prosecutions and penalties from the city code was passed out of the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee Wednesday on a 4-2 vote and now heads for a full city council vote on July 9.

Los Angeles Ordinance to Reset Legal Marijuana Market Wins Committee Vote. The city council's Rules Committee voted Tuesday to approve a series of changes to help the city's struggling legal marijuana market, including strengthening programs aimed at helping operators from communities that suffered most from the nation's war on drugs. One proposed change would limit delivery licenses only to businesses that meet social equity benchmarks until 2025. The committee also approved allowing businesses to relocate while being licensed, clarify what employees are required to have background checks and streamline the application process.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Approves Bill to Allow Safe Injection Sites. The Board on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow nonprofits to operate safe injection sites in the city. The legislation, backed by Mayor London Breed, passed the Board unanimously. It creates a system for issuing permits to nonprofits who want to undertake such activities. There are still obstacles to overcome, though. A state bill, Assembly Bill 362, which would authorize the city to open a safe injection site, has yet to pass the Senate, and the Trump administration remains opposed to any such moves.

Sentencing Reform

California's Prop 47 Reduced Racial Disparities in Arrests and Jailings, Study Finds. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California has found that Prop 47,  the 2014 ballot measure that lowered penalties for many property and drug crimes in California, has reduced but not eliminated the gap between African Americans and whites in arrests and jailings. In the first two years after Prop 47 went into effect, racial disparities in arrests for crimes covered by the initiative dropped 24.4%, while disparities in booking dropped 36.2%. But for drug crimes, the decline in racial disparity was even more stark, about 55%.

International

Israeli Knesset Gives First Approval to Marijuana Legalization Bills. The full Knesset voted Wednesday to advance a pair of bills that would legalize marijuana. That's only the first step in a legislative process that could take months to reach fruition. Under the bills, possession of up to 50 grams and up to two marijuana plants in a private place would not be a crime. Possessing more than the legal limit would result in a large fine, and public use would be prohibited.

Dem Congresswomen File COVID Decarceration Bill, Vancouver Activists Rally for Safe Drug Supply, More... (6/23/20)

Iowa's capital and largest city moves toward marijuana law reform, Vancouver activists march to demand a safe drug supply, progressive Democratic congresswomen roll out a public health-minded bill to reduce incarceration, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. Now activists are calling for a safer drug supply, too. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Des Moines Creates Task Force to Study Marijuana Decriminalization. Iowa's capital and largest city is moving toward making enforcement of marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority. On Monday night, the city council took the first step in that process by voting unanimously to create a task force to study marijuana decriminalization. That task force will study the issue and make recommendations to the council by October 1. The resolution was part of an anti-racial profiling ordinance also unanimously passed by the council Monday.

Psychedelics

Iowa Amendment to Decriminalize Psilocybin Defeated. State Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) last week filed an amendment to a budget bill that would have removed psilocybin and psilocin from the state's controlled substances list. But members questioned how germane the amendment was to the budget bill and the presiding officer agreed, ruling the measure "not germane." Still, it got a vote and was handily defeated,76-17. Shipley last year filed a bill to legalize psilocybin and MDMA for medical use.

Sentencing Policy

Democratic Congresswomen File Bill to Dismantle Mass Incarceration. Last week, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ayanna Pressley (MA), and Barbara Lee (CA) introduced the as yet unnumbered Dismantle Mass Incarceration for Public Health Act, which would require the release of eligible individuals who are currently in custody in a jail or prison during the COVID-19 crisis and for one year after the crisis ends. "This pandemic should not be a death sentence for anyone," said Congresswoman Tlaib. "We already know that Black and Brown folks are disproportionately affected by this virus outside prison walls. We also know that they’ve been disproportionately incarcerated for decades. These factors make for a unique urgency to get this bill passed, so we ensure incarcerated individuals and their loved ones have a fighting chance to see each other again."

International

Vancouver Activists Rally and March in Downtown Eastside for Safe Drug Supply. With last month being the deadliest for drug overdoses in years with more than 170 dead in the city, Vancouver activists rallied and marched through the Downtown Eastside, the epicenter of hard drug use in the city, to demand access to a safe supply of drugs for users. While acknowledging federal and provincial government efforts to ease access to such drugs, lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in interruptions to the drug supply and led to the local manufacture of substitutes cut with more dangerous and toxic ingredients. The rally was led by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

US Deploys Air Force Planes to Curacao in Anti-Drug Effort, Israel Moves Closer to Pot Legalization, More... (6/22/20)

Georgia Senate Democrats have filed a police reform bill that includes marijuana decriminalization, the US is ramping up anti-drug operations near Venezuela, Israel takes a step toward marijuana legalization, and more.

With a Knesset committee vote, Israel takes another step toward marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Police Reform Bill Includes Marijuana Decriminalization. Georgia Senate Democrats have filed the Georgia Justice Act, which covers a wide range of issues such as police body cameras, no-knock warrants, racial profiling, demilitarizing law enforcement and cannabis policy reform. It also includes a plank calling for marijuana decriminalization, under which possession of up to a half ounce would be a misdemeanor punishable by only a $300 fine. Under current state law, possession is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill Would Require Police to Prove Actual Impairment Before Charging Medical Marijuana Patients With DUI. A Republican state senator, Camera Bartolotta, has filed a bill aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted for driving under the influence. The bill does so by exempting patients from the state's DUI law, which requires only the presence of marijuana metabolites to garner a DUI ticket. Instead, police would have to prove that the patient driver is actually impaired.

Foreign Policy

US Air Force Deploying Planes to Curacao in Ramped Up Anti-Drug Operation. The US Southern Command announced last Friday that four US Air Force planes will be deployed to Curacao, a Caribbean island nation just 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, for counter-narcotics operations. An E-3 Sentry surveillance plane and an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System plane, supported by two KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, will fly detection and monitoring missions in international airspace, Pentagon officials said. The move is meant to "help U.S. and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organizations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region," the Southern Command said. The deployment will involve about 200 US personnel at the Cooperative Security Location, a complex used for regional training in counterterrorism and drug interdiction, in Williamstad, Curacao. The move comes several weeks after the Trump administration accused the Venezuelan government of being involved in drug trafficking.

International

Israel Knesset Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a pair of marijuana legalization bills that would legalize marijuana possession and consumption by adults 21 and over. This is only the first step on a process in which the bills must be discussed in committee and then approved at least three times by the full Knesset.

Mexican President Says He Ordered Freeing of El Chapo's Son to Prevent Bloodshed. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged last Friday that he personally ordered the release of one of imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons after he was captured by the military last fall in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. "I ordered that this operation be stopped and that this presumed criminal be freed," he said, adding that he acted to prevent a slaughter. The capture of Ovidio Guzman Lopez resulted in hours-long gun battles and cartel roadblocks in Culiacan, leaving at least 14 people dead. The violence didn't end until the son was released. “If we hadn’t suspended [the operation] more than 200 innocent people … would have lost their lives,” the president said.

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