Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

HUD to Continue Evicting Residents for Marijuana Use, Singapore Drug Execution Delayed, More... (11/9/21)

Another poll has a solid national majority for marijuana legalization, an Ohio judge gets punished for jailing a court spectator for refusing a drug test, and more.

You still can't do this in public housing--even in states where marijuana is legal. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rasmussen Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Rasmussen poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, with only 23 percent opposed. The poll comes just days after a Gallup poll reported support for marijuana legalization holding steady at 68 percent. Even 54 percent of Republicans support legalization, along with 68 percent of Democrats and 62 percent among independents. When respondents were asked if legalization should be done at the local, state, or federal level, 47 percent said the federal government should be in charge, 32 favored the states, and 11 percent wanted local action.

Infrastructure Bill Includes Provision Allowing Research with Marijuana from Pot Shops. The massive infrastructure spending bill approved by the House last Friday includes a provision that will eventually allow researchers access to the marijuana actually being consumed by users instead of relying only on government-grown marijuana from its farm in Mississippi. That provision will require the transportation secretary to work with the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a report within two years with recommendations on allowing scientists access to storefront marijuana to study impaired driving.

Federal Housing Authority to Continue Taking Punitive Actions Against Marijuana Consumers. In response to a request for clarification from to Rep. Elizabeth Holmes-Norton (D-DC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reaffirmed its longstanding policy of banning marijuana users from federally-subsidized housing, even in states where it is legal. In a letter to Holmes-Norton, the agency says that it will continue to enforce policies that involve the "termination of the tenancy of any household" in instances where a tenant is found to have engaged in the use of a controlled substance while on the premises — "including [the use of] state legalized medical marijuana." Because marijuana remains classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance, "HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana," the letter reads.

South Dakota Activists Miss Initiative Signature Deadline but Look to Federal Court Decision for More Time. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws announced Sunday that they would not turn in signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative by a Monday deadline, but are hoping that a federal court ruling will give them until next May to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. In August, the federal district court in the state ruled that the state's election law requiring signatures be handed in a year before the election was unconstitutional, pushing the deadline to the May before the election and enjoined officials from enforcing that provision. The administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is appealing the decision, but the activists argue that "the May 3 deadline is the law in South Dakota and we feel confident that we can rely on that extension." Voters in the state approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it has been blocked by lower courts and a final decision is still pending at the state Supreme Court.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Suspended for Jailing Spectator over Drug Test Refusal. The state Supreme Court has suspended a Seneca County judge for a year without pay for ordering a courtroom spectator to undergo a drug test and then holding that person in contempt and jailing her for refusing to do so. In the unanimous opinion, the court held that Judge Mark Repp violated rules of professional conduct for judges in the state, including a failure to perform all his judicial duties fairly and impartially. The woman, who was the girlfriend of the defendant before the court "suffered great personal indignities and emotional distress as the result of the security and medical screenings she had to endure during her incarceration, on top of the anxiety regarding the care and well-being of her two young children." The boyfriend was a drug court participant, and the Supreme Court held tat Repp's behavior toward him and his girlfriend was "undignified, improper, and discourteous."

International

Malaysia Okays Use of Medical Marijuana. Heath Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has formally acknowledged that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes. The acknowledgement came in response to a question from parliament. Jamaluddin said the medicinal use of marijuana complies with Malaysian drug laws, but that imports and the wholesale trade must be licensed. Medical marijuana should be sold by a registered medical practitioner or pharmacist. "Therefore, if there are parties who have sufficient scientific evidence to use cannabis (hemp) for any medicinal purpose by taking into account the aspects of quality, safety and effectiveness, then the application to register cannabis products for medicinal purposes can be submitted to DCA [Drug Control Authority]] to be evaluated and registered under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984 in order to be marketed in Malaysia," Khairy said in a written reply to the enquiry.

Singapore Delays Appeal Hearing on Man Set to Be Executed for 1.5 Ounces of Heroin. The nation's top court has postponed an appeal hearing for Malaysian national Nagenthran K. Dharmalingam, who was sentenced to death for trying to smuggle 1.5 grams of heroin into the country. Dharmalingam, who his attorneys say is intellectually disabled, was set to be executed Monday, but was delayed amidst an international campaign by human rights groups when the high court accepted an appeal. The hearing was originally set for Tuesday, with Dharmalingam set to be executed Wednesday if he lost on appeal. The appeals court noted that Dharmalingam had tested positive for COVID-19 and sent him away from the courtroom Tuesday, saying, "We have to issue a stay of the execution until all proceedings are concluded. That is the proper order of things."

GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, Mexico Blames US Guns for Bolstering Cartels, More... (11/8/21)

A Malaysian man set to be hanged in Singapore over 43 grams of heroin has won a temporary reprieve, our supply chain woes include 72,000 truckers felled by drug testing, and more.

Drug testing---especially for marijuana--is costing the economy tens of thousands fo truck drivers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming. US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-NC) has drafted a "compromise" marijuana legalization bill that aims for a happy middle between merely rescheduling marijuana, as proposed by some other Republican lawmakers, and the comprehensive bill that Democrats are championing. The proposed bill, known as the States Reform Act, now in preliminary draft form, would deschedule marijuana, impose a 3.75 percent excise tax on weed sales, limit the FDAs regulatory authority to medical marijuana, make the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the lead regulatory agency, and make certain marijuana convictions expungable. The bill has dim prospects in the current Democratically-controlled Congress, but could open the way for similar legislation if Republicans take control after next year's elections.

Drug Testing

Supply Chain Woes Include 72,000 Truckers Taken Off the Road by Failed Drug Tests, Mostly for Marijuana. The American Trucking Association says the industry has a driver shortfall of 80,000, which is contributing to the economy's supply chain woes, but at the same time, some 72,000 truckers have been forced off the roads in the past two years by tough federal drug testing restrictions. The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a registry designed to increase safety on the highways, went into effect in January 2020. "It’s a staggering number of drivers we have lost" because of the new drug-testing rules, said Jeremy Reymer, chief executive of industry recruiter DriverReach. The majority (56 percent were sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. "There needs to be the ability to test for real-time impairment and not just recent or long-term past use of marijuana," said Scott Duvall, director of safety and compliance for TransForce Group, which runs truck driving schools and rents out drivers.

Foreign Policy

Mexico Calls on US Government, Courts for Help Stemming Flow of American Guns to Drug Cartels. Mexican officials say illegal guns are flowing into the country from the US and are contributing to rising homicide rates and empowering the drug cartels responsible for most of the killings. "We estimate that half a million weapons are trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico every year. The problem is that all this weaponry is getting to the criminal organizations, giving them very strong firepower to commit all kinds of crimes," said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, Mexico’s consul general in El Paso. The Mexican government has now filed a lawsuit to try to block the flow. We have never meddled with the Second Amendment. This is not against the rights of the people of the United States to buy and own a gun," Ibarra said. "We (sued) gun manufacturers and distributors we believe are engaging in negligent commercial practices because they know the weaponry they produce is being trafficked to Mexico and is being used in criminal activity."

International

Singapore Temporarily Halts Execution of Malaysian Man Over 1 ½ Ounces of Heroin. Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for smuggling 43 grams of heroin into the country, has won at least a temporary reprieve an international human rights campaign to spare the man, who supporters say is intellectually disabled. The execution is now halted until the constitutional appeal is heard on Tuesday, alongside a separate appeal for psychiatrists to assess Dharmalingam. If both appeals are unsuccessful, he will be hanged as scheduled on Wednesday.

Another AR Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed, Furor Over Looming Singapore Drug Execution, More... (11/5/21)

Critics chide the new drug czar over his perfomance in West Virginia, a third marijuana legalization initiative has been filed in Arkansas, and more. 

Peru's coca crop is increasing, and much of it has to do with the pandemic. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Third Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. And then there were three. Veteran activist Melissa Fults on Friday filed the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment, the third marijuana legalization initiative filed in the state so far this year. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which means it faces higher signature-gathering requirements than the other two initiatives, which are statutory initiatives. Constitutional amendments require 89,151 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but statutory initiatives require only 71,321. In either case, signatures must be handed in by early July 2022. The Fults initiative would increase the number of dispensaries to one for every 15,000 residents up to a maximum of 200 and would also allow the home cultivation of up to six plants. The amendment also envisions a tax on recreational marijuana sales, with proceeds going to support education and the state's general fund. Other initiatives already filed are the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Amendment and an initiative sponsored by Arkansas True Grass.

Drug Policy

Critics Question New Drug Czar's Commitment to Harm Reduction. The Biden administration is now on record as supporting harm reduction policies, but some critics of his pick to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), Dr. Rahul Gupta, are expressing concern over his commitment to harm reduction, especially around his role in shutting down West Virginia's largest needle exchange program. As then-director of the state's Bureau of Public Health and faced with harsh local political opposition to needle exchanges, Gupta ordered an audit of the Charleston needle exchange program and called for it to be suspended because it didn’t require participants to first seek treatment for drug use before accessing clean syringes. That stance flouted Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that support lowering barriers to access and guidelines set up by his own office. Since then, the state has moved toward eliminating all harm reduction services. Dr Robin Pollini, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, and six other harm reduction experts nationwide wrote letters speaking out against Gupta’s findings saying his central criticism – that treatment options weren’t being prioritized above syringe access – showed he missed the point of harm reduction entirely. "The report was arbitrary in faulting the program for not adhering to practices that were not even required by the state certification guidelines” – guidelines written by Gupta’s own office." Pollini said in a recent interview. Gupta's audit legacy includes a new state law that makes it illegal for harm reduction programs in the state to follow CDC guidelines. Since that law passed, three more counties have shut down their needle exchange programs.

International

Peru Coca Cultivation is Rising; Three Reasons Why. While the White House and Peruvian authorities disagree over how much coca is being produced in the country, there is little disagreement that coca cultivation is increasing and Insight Crime has produced an analysis citing three reasons why: The coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns led the government to suspend eradication efforts and reduced the ability of the National Police to enforce coca cultivation laws, the balloon effect (when crops are suppressed in one area, they pop up in another), and people who lost jobs because of the pandemic headed back to the countryside, where sowing coca or working as laborers on coca farms are some of the only economically viable activities.

Singapore Set to Execute Malaysian Man Over 1 ½ Ounces of Heroin. Singapore is set to hang Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam for smuggling 43 grams of heroin into the country, but human rights and legal groups are calling for the execution to be halted because the man has an IQ of only 69, indicating severe disability. A hearing is set for Monday where supporters will argue that executing a mentally disabled person violated the country's constitution. Nagaenthran's lawyer aid he "could possibly have a mental age below 18," and that that disability doesn't allow him to understand deterrence. "Therefore, we contend that the execution is irrational and a capricious act of the state." The Malaysian Bar and other legal groups submitted appeals to commute his sentence this week, and demonstrations have broken out in front of the Malaysian Parliament demanding the government intervene. The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch echoed calls to save Nagaenthran, saying the execution of a disabled person violates international laws and won’t deter crime. "Singapore should commute Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s sentence and amend its laws to ensure that no one is subjected to the death penalty, certainly not people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities,” Human Rights Watch said.

New Gallup Poll Shows Continuing Strong Support for Pot Legalization, Mexico Michoacan Massacre, More... (11/4/21)

A Congressional Research Service report shows easy off-ramp for federal pot prohibition, a new Gallup poll shows marijuana legalization retains strong majority support, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Sees Continuing Strong Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Gallup poll released Thursday has marijuana legalization maintaining record-high levels of support with 68 percent of respondents in favor—the same percentage as when Gallup last polled in November 2020. Only 32 percent favored continuing marijuana prohibition, giving legalization two-to-one support. "As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana," Gallup said. "Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion." Support for legalization was highest among Democrats (83 percent), followed by independents (71 percent) and Republicans (50 percent).

Congressional Research Service Report Provides Pathway for Presidential Administration to Deschedule Marijuana. A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlines pathways for the Biden (or any other) administration to unilaterally end marijuana prohibition and issue a general amnesty for federal marijuana crimes by acting administratively to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). "The President could pursue the appointment of agency officials who favor descheduling, or use executive orders to direct DEA, HHS, and FDA toconsider administrative descheduling of marijuana," the CRS report advised. "The notice-and-comment rulemaking process would take time, and would be subject to judicial review if challenged, but could be done consistently with the CSA’s procedural requirements.The Biden administration has officials in place who are sympathetic to legalization, but the president himself has no sign of going further than decriminalization, not legalization.

Ohio Towns Split on Marijuana Reform Ballot Measures. More than a dozen Ohio cities had marijuana reform measures on the ballot Tuesday and seven of them voted to approve local measures to decriminalize marijuana. Before Tuesday, 22 cities and counties across the state had adopted similar marijuana reform measures. The most common initiative language was "shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Voters in Martins FerryMurray CityNew LexingtonNewStraitsville, RaylandTiltonsville and Yorkville approved the decriminalization proposals, while voters in BrooksideDillonvaleLaurelvilleMcArthurMorristownMount Pleasant and Powhatan Point rejected the reform measures.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees New Massacre, 11 Killed Near Tarecuato. Michoacan state prosecutors announced late Monday that police had found the bullet-riddled bodies of five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco. The area has been a hotbed of bloody conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local criminal gangs. Tarecuato is not from the municipality of La Barca, where clandestine mass graves have been unearthed, and also near to the avocado-producing regions of the state, which are the target of organized crime extortion efforts.

Chronicle Book Review: The Afghanistan Papers

Chronicle Book Review: The Afghanistan Papers: The Secret History of the War by Craig Whitlock (2021, Simon & Schuster, 346 pp., $30 HB)

Well, this is a book that could hardly be more timely. Coming out in the immediate wake of the chaotic debacle that was the final American withdrawal from Afghanistan, The Afghanistan Papers takes advantage of voluminous troves of heretofore unseen accounts of the war to paint an unflattering portrayal of two decades of our seemingly interminable occupation of the country in the name first of fighting Al Qaeda and then of vanquishing the Taliban.

While the book is about the war effort as a whole, for devotees of drug policy, it has two chapters specifically to opium production, its role in the war, and American and allied efforts to suppress it. More on that below.

The author, Craig Whitlock, is an investigative journalist with The Washington Post who spent the last two decades covering the global war on terror and has won prestigious journalistic awards for his efforts. In 2016, he learned of the existence of hundreds of interviews with war participants -- civilian and military alike -- conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) under the rubric Lessons Learned.

For reasons that would become obvious upon their release, SIGAR did not want to release them, but the Post sued under the FOIA Act, eventually prevailing and producing a series of stories based on them in 2019. Here, Whitlock supplements those Lessons Learned interviews with oral history interviews of officials who served at the US embassy in Kabul conducted by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, interviews with more than 600 Afghanistan war veterans conducted by the Army's Operational Leadership Experience project, as well as hundreds of previously classified memos Pentagon head Donald Rumsfeld drafted between 2001 and 2006.

Woven together in Whitlock's narrative, the interviews and documents present a devastating indictment of American hubris, cluelessness, and fecklessness as general after commanding general came and went, all proclaiming "progress" even as the war effort slipped deeper and deeper into the Afghan morass and the body count -- both allied and Afghan civilians -- grew ever higher.

"We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking," said Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, war czar under Bush and Obama.

"We did not know what we were doing," said Richard Boucher, the Bush administration's top diplomat for South and Central Asia.

"There was no coherent long-term strategy," said British Gen. David Richards, who led US and NATO forces in 2006 and 2007.

Yet officials like these, and many, many more, spent the war years playing up illusory successes, minimizing real defeats, and always proclaiming "progress" was being made. But after about 2005, the only progress really being made was by the Taliban, which had returned from defeat to begin an insurgency that would slowly, year by year, envelop ever more of the country until in August it swept into Kabul and once again took control of the country.

The American project to do nation-building in Afghanistan, always half-baked and half-hearted project failed despite the billions upon billions of dollars poured into the country. Or perhaps because of it. As one interviewee noted, the only thing the US managed to build in Afghanistan was "massive corruption."

Enter the opium economy. Not only were leading members of the American-backed Afghan government stacking up personal fortunes out of the US largesse, they were also deeply implicated in the illicit, but economically dominant, opium economy. Even when the Afghan or Americans developed solid cases of drug trafficking, connections inside the government ensured that traffickers remained protected. The Taliban profited from the trade, but so did everybody else.

And even when the Americans managed to snag one of the traffickers, things tended to go screwy. In 2008, they lured an alleged Afghan trafficker named Haji Juma Khan to Jakarta, where Indonesian authorities extradited him to New York to face trafficking charges brought by a federal grand jury. But when he got to court, his defense attorney mentioned in open court that he was an informant for the CIA and DEA, the judge cut her off and later sealed the legal proceedings. His legal proceedings then vanished into a black hole. He was never convicted of any charges but still spent 10 years in US custody before being released in 2018. That tale ought to raise some Orwellian fears.

Whitlock provides a concise history of our efforts to suppress the opium economy as well as the profound contradiction at the heart of the effort: Any attempt to suppress the opium economy undermined the counterinsurgency project. In other words, you could have your war on terror or you could have your war on drugs, but you couldn't have both.

Not that the US and its allies didn't try. In 2003, the British offered to pay farmers to eradicate their crop in one province, but the farmers just took the money and harvested the crops anyway. In 2006, the Bush administration launched Operation River Dance, siccing tractors and weed whackers on the poppy fields of Helmand province. The tractors broke down, the hand eradicators quit and worked harvesting poppies whey they got better pay, and corrupt local officials ensured that only disfavored farmers got raided. Not only was the operation a flop -- despite the de rigueur press releases announcing "progress" -- it was severely counterproductive to the war effort because it enraged the opium economy-dependent population of the province, already a Taliban hotbed, and turned them decisively against the Americans and their Afghan allies in Kabul.

The Obama administration tried a different tack: Alternative development, along with crackdowns on smuggling and trafficking. That didn't work either; between 2002 and 2017, Afghan acreage devoted to opium production quadrupled, even as the US spent $9 billion to stop it. The Trump administration reverted to Bush-style tactics, although in 2017 instead of going after poor peasants, it unleashed high-tech bombers and fighter aircraft on "heroin laboratories" that turned out to be mostly easily replaceable mud huts. The destruction of those mud huts was yet another sign of "progress" that was soon forgotten.

If the American withdrawal from Afghanistan this fall was a debacle, it has many fathers. Joe Biden just got to clean up the mess left by his predecessors, and as Whitlock makes achingly clear, there is plenty of blame to go around.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An illicit marijuana scheme in Maine draws in a prosecutor and several cops, a Raleigh detective gets fired for planting fake drugs on people, and more. Let's get to it:

In Bangor, Maine, a prosecutor and a number of law enforcement personnel were indicted last Wednesday as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving illegal marijuana growth and sales that wrapped up a dozen people. Those indicted are accused of collecting over $13 million over six years from weed grown under cover of the state's marijuana law but sold illegally out of state. Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Kayle Alves, 36, is accused of tipping off a sheriff's deputy about an FBI investigation of the ring, and that deputy, Bradley Scovil, then tipped off the ringleader. Two other officers, then-Oxford County Deputy James McLamb, 29, and Wilton police officer Kevin Lemay, 33, are accused of using government databases to warn ringleaders they were under investigation. A 14-count criminal complaint charges 12 people with a range of criminal conduct, including conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, bank fraud, tampering with proceedings, tampering with documents, conspiracy to defraud the United States and to impede and impair the IRS, tax evasion and tax fraud.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a Raleigh police detective was fired last Friday after a lawsuit alleging he planted fake heroin on Black men was settled for $2 million. Detective Omar Abdullah used a snitch who delivered drug buy videos and audio recordings with critical clips missing and delivered drugs that lab tests weren't drugs at all. Victims of Abdullah's scheme spent a combined 2.5 years in jail, and while the city has settled the civil suit, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has so far declined to prosecute him.

In Inglewood, California, an Inglewood police officer was arrested last Friday for trying to sell a kilogram of cocaine to a law enforcement informant. Officer John Abel Baca, 45, is accused of delivering cocaine in April and again in May to a cooperating witness. In the latter instance, he allegedly received $22.000 in cash. An informant for Baca was also arrested last week and charged with intent to distribute heroin after FBI agents found a kilogram of heroin and a pound of cocaine buried in his backyard. The informant had been approved since 2016, but never conducted any actual operations. Baca is the police union representative for the Inglewood police.

In Florence, Alabama, a Lauderdale County jail deputy was arrested last Friday for allegedly trying to deliver meth to inmates. Deputy Matthew Moran, 20, went down after a two-week investigation and was busted when another deputy at the jail confiscated a package from him that contained meth. He is charged with attempt to commit a controlled substance crime, distribution of a controlled substance and promoting prison contraband.

Medical Marijuana Update

Mississippians still can't get their medical marijuana, New York medical marijuana patients can now buy buds, and more.

Mississippi

Mississippi Governor Wants Tighter Limits on Medical Marijuana Before He Will Call a Special Session to Pass It. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said Monday he wants to reduce the amount of medical marijuana that people can buy and reduce the allowable level of THC in it before he will move forward to call a legislative special session to create a medical marijuana program. "If we’re going to have a medical marijuana program, we need to get it done right," said Reeves. "I think getting it done right is more important than getting it done quick." Voters approved medical marijuana via an initiative a year ago, but the state Supreme Court threw out that victory, invalidating the state's initiative process as it did so. The legislature then failed to pass a make-up bill during the regular session. Reeves has said he will call a special session, but now is demanding these new restrictions.

New York

New York Dispensaries Call Now Sell Buds. Finally, smokeable "whole flower" marijuana buds are now on sale in dispensaries in the state. Smokeable marijuana had been banned at the insistence of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) when the state's medical marijuana law passed in 2014. But after the state passed marijuana legalization last year, the ban on smokeable medical marijuana no longer made any sense, according to state Sen. Diane Savino (D), one of the bill's authors. "We knew restricting access to whole flower was going to drive up the cost of the product, because it costs more money to process it into non-smokable forms," Savino said. "And for a lot of patients, the fastest delivery method to really obtain relief is through smoking."

Washington, DC

DC Council Approves Bill to Aid Struggling Dispensaries. The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at helping the city's dispensaries, which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. The new bill allows patients whose cards have expired since March 2020 to continue using them through January 2022 and creates a two-year medical marijuana card, as opposed to the current one-year card. The bill also doubles the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase at one time from four ounces to eight.

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Reform, Philadelphia Voters Approve Pot Legalization Measure, More... (11/3/21)

Election Day brought a pair of big city victories for drug reform, Mississippi's governor wants a more restrictive medical marijuana proposal before he will call a special session, and more.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is trying to tighten the screws on medical marijuana legislation. (nga.org)
Marijuana Policy

Philadelphia Voters Approve Referendum Calling for Statewide Marijuana Legalization. Voters on Tuesday approved a referendum calling for statewide marijuana legalization by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. The referendum adds a section to the city charter, saying "the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes." The referendum is non-binding but adds pressure on the legislature to act. Republicans control both houses of the legislature and have so far blocked action on marijuana legalization, but last month, a bipartisan legalization bill was formally introduced.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Wants Tighter Limits on Medical Marijuana Before He Will Call a Special Session to Pass It. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said Monday he wants to reduce the amount of medical marijuana that people can buy and reduce the allowable level of THC in it before he will move forward to call a legislative special session to create a medical marijuana program. "If we’re going to have a medical marijuana program, we need to get it done right," said Reeves. "I think getting it done right is more important than getting it done quick." Voters approved medical marijuana via an initiative a year ago, but the state Supreme Court threw out that victory, invalidating the state's initiative process as it did so. The legislature then failed to pass a make-up bill during the regular session. Reeves has said he will call a special session, but now is demanding these new restrictions.

DC Council Approves Bill to Aid Struggling Dispensaries. The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at helping the city's dispensaries, which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. The new bill allows patients whose cards have expired since March 2020 to continue using them through January 2022 and creates a two-year medical marijuana card, as opposed to the current one-year card. The bill also doubles the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase at one time from four ounces to eight.

Psychedelics

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Decriminalization Measure. Voters in Michigan's largest city approved a ballot measure to essentially decriminalize psychedelics by an unofficial tally of 61 percent to 39 percent. The initiativesays the city will "decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults." The new policy will also "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority." Detroit now joins the Michigan communities of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Grand Rapids in having approved psychedelic reform. Meanwhile, a bill to legalize the cultivation, possession, and delivery of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics is before the state Senate.

Opioid Makers Win One in California Court, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/2/21)

The DC council retreats from language that would have threatened a crackdown on the city's marijuana "gift economy," a California court rules in favor of opioid manufacturers in a rare victory for the industry, and more.

Marijuana Policy

JAMA Study Finds Legalizing or Decriminalizing Marijuana Reduces Race-Based Arrests. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds that states that legalize or decriminalize marijuana see "large reductions in race-based arrests among adults" while those states that do not continue to see "increases in arrest rate disparities." Legalization was associated with 561 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 185 fewer arrests per 100,000 White people, while decriminalization was associated with 449 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 117 for White people. On the other hand, "cannabis arrests for adults and youth increased over time in states that did not implement a cannabis policy change," the study concluded. "Overall, results revealed that states that implemented a cannabis policy change saw large decreases in arrests compared with states that had no policy reform," the researchers concluded.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Tim Egan (D-Grafton) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot and allow for home grows of up to three mature plants. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and licensed marijuana production and sales. While the House passed a similar bill last year, legalization efforts in the state face an obstacle in Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has historically opposed legalization.

DC Council Removes Marijuana Bill Language That Threatened Crackdown on Unregulated Market. A provision of a DC marijuana bill that could have led to a crackdown on the city's unregulated marijuana "gift economy," which skirts the ban on legal retail sales, was removed Monday as the council prepares to vote on the measure on Tuesday. The move came after strong criticism from activists, who argued that targeting those currently providing marijuana would perpetuate systemic racial inequalities that marijuana legalization is supposed to reduce. There are currently estimated to be dozens of grey market pot shops and more than a hundred delivery services operating in the city.

Opioids

California Judge Rules for Drug Makers in Lawsuit Over Opioid Crisis. A California state judge has handed a rare victory to opioid manufacturers by rejecting the legal argument successfully employed against the industry in thousands of cases charging that it substantially contributed to an opioid epidemic that has taken more than half a million lives since the late 1990s, when the appearance of OxyContin marked the beginning of the current wave. "There is simply no evidence to show that the rise in prescriptions was not the result of the medically appropriate provision of pain medications to patients in need," wrote Judge Peter Wilson of Orange County State Superior Court. The counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and Orange and the city of Oakland had sued four opioid manufacturers—Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Allergan, and Endo Pharmaceuticals—charging that their manufacturing and distribution of opioids constituted a "public nuisance, but Judge Wilson held that even if the companies were found to have created false or misleading marketing, "any adverse downstream consequences flowing from medically appropriate prescriptions cannot constitute an actionable public nuisance."

Rahul Gupta Confirmed as ONDCP Director, PA Pot Poll, Colombia Coca Growers Seize Solders, More... (11/1/21)

The nation has a new drug czar, Italian activists hand in hundreds of thousands of signatures to try to get a marijuana and psychoactive substances initiative before the voters, and more.

Meet the new drug czar: Dr. Rahul Gupta has been confirmed by the Senate to head ONDCP. (MD)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Has Record High Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Franklin & Marshall College poll has support for marijuana legalization at a record high, with 60 percent of respondents backing it. That's up one percentage point since the last Franklin & Marshall poll in March. The poll comes as a number of state legislators file bills to make it happen, but such efforts have so far gotten little traction in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Drug Policy

Senate Confirms Dr. Rahul Gupta as ONDCP Director. The Senate last Thursday confirmed President Biden's pick to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), Dr. Rahul Gupta. Gupta is the first MD to serve as drug czar. Gupta has served as West Virginia's Chief Medical and Health Officer and Senior Vice President at March of Dimes. As the state’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Gupta led the opioid crisis response efforts and launched a number of pioneering public health initiatives, including the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Birthscore program to identify high-risk infants. He also led the development of the state’s Zika action plan and its preparedness efforts during the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak.

International

Colombia Coca Growers Seize, Then Release 180 Government Soldiers. Hundreds of coca growers armed with sticks and machetes seized 180 Colombian soldiers who were part of an operation to destroy coca crops early last week and released them days later after deciding unilaterally to let them go after negotiations with the government. "The situation ends here with a voluntary agreement from the growers," said a mediator from the ombudsman's office. The eradication operation was taking place near the Venezuelan border and threatened to disrupt the farmers' livelihoods.

Italian Activists Turn in Hundreds of Thousands of Signatures for Marijuana and Psilocybin Referendum. Last Thursday, activists handed in some 630,000 signatures for a referendum to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and other psychoactive plants and fungi. Now, the Supreme Court of Cassation has 30 days to determine that the signatures are valid, and if they are found valid, the Constitutional Court will determine whether the measure conflicts with the national constitution or international treaties. Activists say they intentionally limited the referendum's language to meet that standard.

NY MedMJ Dispensaries Can Now Sell Smokeable "Whole Flower," SD Panel Calls for Legal Weed, More... (10/28/21)

An asset forfeiture battle pits Kansas deputies and federal prosecutors against Missouri medical marijuana companies, a South Dakota legislative panel recommends the state legalize marijuana (after voters already did so last year with an initiative now tangled up in court), and more. 

New York medical marijuana patients can now buy and smoke buds like his one. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Legislative Panel Recommends Marijuana Legalization. As the state awaits for the state Supreme Court to decide whether or not voters legalized marijuana at the polls last November, the legislature's Marijuana Interim Study Committee on Wednesday wrapped up its work and formally recommended that the state end marijuana prohibition. The panel also recommended setting a 15 percent sales tax on legal marijuana and establishing a system of licensed grows, retail outlets, and testing facilities. The panel did not recommend allowing home grows. The recommendations now go to the full legislature for consideration.

Medical Marijuana

New York Dispensaries Call Now Sell Buds. Finally, smokeable "whole flower" marijuana buds are now on sale in dispensaries in the state. Smokeable marijuana had been banned at the insistence of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) when the state's medical marijuana law passed in 2014. But after the state passed marijuana legalization last year, the ban on smokeable medical marijuana no longer made any sense, according to state Sen. Diane Savino (D), one of the bill's authors. "We knew restricting access to whole flower was going to drive up the cost of the product, because it costs more money to process it into non-smokable forms," Savino said. "And for a lot of patients, the fastest delivery method to really obtain relief is through smoking."

Asset Forfeiture

Sheriff's deputies in Kansas's Dickinson County in May seized $160,000 in cash medical marijuana receipts from dispensaries in Missouri, where medical marijuana is legal, and federal prosecutors in Kansas are moving to seize the money under asset forfeiture laws used to target drug traffickers. A federal magistrate ruled last month that there was probable cause to seize the money because it was derived from illegal drug sales—illegal under federal, not state, law, that is. The firm that was transporting the cash receipts from Missouri to Colorado, Empyreal, is challenging the seizure, arguing that the money came from legal transactions. A hearing on the case is set for January 4.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida sheriff's narc resigns after being accused of sexual assault, and more. Let's get to it:

In Stuart, Florida, a Martin County sheriff's narcotics detective resigned Tuesday following a criminal investigation into accusations of sexual assault. Detective Michael Oliver w, a 10-year veteran, went down after the sheriff's heard from the boyfriend of one of Oliver's snitches, who said that Oliver had sexually assaulted her at her home. Investigators from neighboring St. Lucie County found that Oliver deleted text and phone records from that night and lied to detectives about being at her home. GPS records put him there. Although the detectives wanted to arrest Oliver, the local prosecutor declined, saying that because the snitch had a criminal record with seven felonies, more evidence was needed. Martin County prosecutors have had to drop some 40 drug cases in which Oliver was involved. The sheriff said if Oliver had not resigned, he would have been fired for violating departmental policies.

In Media, Pennsylvania, a Delaware County jail guard was arrested last Tuesday on charges she tried to smuggle drugs into the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Chloe Vadel, 24, went down after investigators were tipped off that she was planning a drug delivery that day. They confronted her with their suspicions and she agreed to a search of her vehicle, which turned up suboxone and possibly synthetic marijuana and marijuana. She is charged with attempting to smuggle drugs into a correctional facility.

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction, Poll Shows Support for DC Drug Decrim, More... (10/27/21)

Arkansas could soon see two seperate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns, a new poll shows DC voters are ready for drug decriminalization, and more.

HHS says there were 840,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. And then there were two. Activists with Arkansas True Grass already have a marijuana legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase, and now, a former state House minority leader has announced the formation of a new advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, to push a second legalization effort. That former lawmaker, Democrat Eddie Armstrong, says his proposed initiative would "allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state." Armstrong has yet to file an initiative text with state officials but promised more information in coming weeks. Statutory initiatives require 71,321 valid voter signatures. If Armstrong's initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it would need 89,151 valid voter signatures. In either case, signature gathering must be complete by next July.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bills to Restrict Cultivation by Caregivers Advance. A package of bills that would limit the amount of medical marijuana that caregivers can grow is headed for the House floor. Under the package, caregivers would have to obtain a new specialty medical marijuana grower license and comply with a variety of new regulations. Under current rules, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants and must register with the state, but do not need a license. Under the bill package, caregivers could grow only 24 plants without a license. Because the package of bills alters the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana initiative, it must garner 75 percent of the vote in both houses to pass.

Drug Policy

DC Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds. Just a week after activists announced a push for drug decriminalization in the nation's capital, a new poll finds very strong support for the notion. The poll had 83 percent saying the DC Council should pass an ordinance to "remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use." That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform. The reform is being pushed by a coalition called DecrimPovertyDC, which includes groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Harm Reduction

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction Measures. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday outline the Biden administration's approach to reducing drug overdoses and committed to more federal support for measures such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. The strategy also includes expanding medication-based treatment, reducing "inappropriate" opioid prescribing (which could drive users into the more dangerous black market), and more support for drug treatment. Becerra even expressed some openness to safe injection sites: "When it comes to harm reduction, we are looking for every way to do that. … We probably will support the efforts of states that are using evidence-based practices and therapies." According to an HHS report released Wednesday, 840,000 people died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2019. Becerra's comments reflect a statement of priorities for the administration’s first year released in March by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

MD Pot Poll, Detroit Will Vote on Psychedelic Reform Next Week, More... (10/26/21)

The DEA selects some old blood to review its overseas operations, a new Maryland poll shows a slight decline in support for marijuana legalization--but still a majority--and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Show Slight Dip in Support for Marijuana Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization in the state has dropped from 67 percent in March to 60 percent now, according to a new Goucher Poll. The poll has nearly two-thirds of Democrats supporting legalization, while just under half of Republicans do. The poll comes as the state legislature ponders whether to send a marijuana legalization question to the ballot next year.

Psychedelics

Detroit Will Vote on Natural Psychedelics Lowest Priority Initiative Next Week. Voters in Detroit will have a chance next Tuesday to approve municipal Proposal E, which would "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority." The proposal includes natural plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, such as peyote and magic mushrooms, but not synthesized psychedelics, such as LSD. If the measure passes, Detroit would join Ann Arbor among Michigan cities that have embraced psychedelic reforms. Ann Arbor decriminalized psychedelic plants in September 2020. A similar measure has been introduced in the state Senate by Sens. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

Law Enforcement

DEA Announces Foreign Operations Review Team. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s foreign operations strategy to assess effectiveness, strengths, and areas for improvement. The agency announced Tuesday that the team will be led by two unreconstructed drug warriors, former DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Boyd Johnson, who conducted and supervised investigations in all eight of DEA's global regions. Johnson is currently a senior partner with the WilmerHale law firm, where he specialized in cross-border reviews around corruption, money laundering, and fraud. 

Luxembourg Set to Legalize Marijuana, OH GOP Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, More... (10/25/21)

New Hampshire continues as the lone northern New England holdout on marijuana legalization, Luxembourg is now set to become the first European country to free the weed, and more.

Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Usuga, "Otoniel," under arrest this past weekend. (ENC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmaker to File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Lake County) is set to announce Tuesday that he will file a bill to legalize marijuana, including the growth, processing, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products. The move comes as activists work to put a marijuana legalization ballot measure before voters in November 2022.

New Hampshire House Committee Kills Marijuana Legalization Bills. The House Criminal Justice Committee last Wednesday killed bills that would legalize and tax marijuana and allow people to grow up to six plants at home. The vote fell mainly along party lines with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor. New Hampshire is the only northern New England state to yet approve marijuana legalization.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Town Becomes Fourth in State to Pass Psychedelic Reform Measure. The Easthampton City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for the decriminalization of certain psychedelics and other drugs. The resolution is non-binding but sends a message to local law enforcement that the status quo of criminalization is eroding. The cities of Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have also passed psychedelic reform measures in recent months, and there are both decriminalization and psychedelic study bills awaiting action in the state legislature.

International

Colombians Capture Most Wanted Drug Trafficker. Colombian police and military forces with assistance from the US captured, better known as Otoniel, at his jungle hideout near the Panamanian border Saturday. Otoniel is the leader of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Gulf Clan, taking control of the organization after Colombian police killed his brother nearly a decade ago. President Ivan Duque cheered the bust, saying it was the most significant blow to drug trafficking since the killing of Pablo Escobar in 1993. But analysts such as Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis warned that Otoniel's arrest "is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. Soon we'll have another kingpin and another drug lord who may be much worse."

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Country to Legalize Marijuana. The national government announced last Friday that the country will legalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. Under the proposed legislation, people will be able to grow up to four plants at home. In the meantime, fines for the possession of up to three grams will drop from $291 to $29. While the new legislation has the backing of the government coalition, a vote in parliament is still required to approve it. No word yet on when that will happen.

Canada's Trudeau Urged to Decriminalize Drugs, Spain's Socialists Reject Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/21/21)

Britain's Labor leader rejects drug decriminalization, Spain's ruling Socialists reject marijuana legalization, Peruvian coca growers protest, and more.

International

British Prime Minister Says He Will Examine Latest Advice on Legalization of Psilocybin. In response to a question in Parliament from Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who said the drug had "exciting potential" and urged him to review the law to allow more research into psilocybin's therapeutic qualities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he would: "I can say that we will consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recent advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs such as the one he describes, and we will be getting back to him as soon as possible." Psilocybin is currently a Schedule I substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which means it requires a Home Office license to conduct research, and Blunt and other campaigners want it moved to Schedule 2 to make it easier to conduct research.

British Labor Party Leader Says He Would Not Decriminalize Drugs. Asked if a Labor government would either decriminalize drugs, Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it would not. The comment comes after Scotland's Lord Advocate called for diverting from prosecution people caught with small amounts of drugs. Starmer criticized the notion even as he accused the Scottish National Party of having an "appalling" drug overdose death. When asked about the Lord Advocate's advice made sense, Starmer said: "The Lord Advocate has set up principles and we have not seen the detail yet, which will come out shortly. I do not think what happens in Scotland should be a general application across the UK. One of the benefits of devolution is to allow each of the nations to look separately in context to the challenges they have. But if I was prime minister of the UK I would not be introducing that."

Canadian Prime Minister Urged to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, have written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking him he make drug policy reform a priority for his newly re-elected Liberal government. Even though  Trudeau's Liberal Party approved a decriminalization resolution in 2018, Trudeau has so far rejected the move, but pressure is rising along with the number of drug overdose deaths. The groups are calling for immediate drug decriminalization and a safe drug supply, saying that the overdose deaths are driven by "a contaminated drug supply and the stigma associated with drug use."

Costa Rica Congress Approves Medical Marijuana. The Congress on Tuesday approved the legalization of medical marijuana over opposition from President Carlos Alvarado. The law allows for the cultivation and processing of marijuana for medical use but does not allow for recreational use. Lawmakers are calling on Alvarado not to veto the bill. If he does, the bill would have to be passed again with a supermajority.

Peru Coca Farmers Protest Goverment Crop Eradication. Hundreds of coca leaf growers are in the fifth day of a highway blockade as they protest the destruction of their crops by the government. The protest began with the eradication of coca fields in Carabaya province, in the Puno region. Growing coca leaf is legal for farmers who are on a registered government list, but that list has not been updated since 1978. The demonstrators, who mainly voted for President Pedro Castillo, are calling on him to stop the eradication of unpermitted crops.

Spanish Socialist Party Votes Against Legalizing Marijuana. The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) joined with rightist opposition groups in opposing a bill to legalize marijuana that was sponsored by its coalition partner Unidas Podemos. In opposing the measure, the Socialists aligned themselves with the conservative Popular Party and the extremist right Vox Party. That tactical alliance was able to defeat the bill 263-75. "This is not a question of the right or the left, it is a question of public health," said PSOE lawmaker Daniel Vicente in Congress, adding: "We are a government party."

Senate Democrats Move to Allow Legal DC Marijuana Sales, Ecuador State of Emergency for Drugs, More... (10/20/21)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is confronting drug policy issues as he visits Latin America this week, New York tells employers it can't test workers for marijuana use, and more.

Colombian peasants don't wand to be sprayed with coca-killing herbicides. (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Democrats Move to Let DC Legalize Marijuana Sales. In a package of spending bills unveiled Monday, Senate Democrats have removed a long-standing rider that has blocked the city of Washington, DC, from implemented legal marijuana sales for the past six years. The House took similar action earlier this summer, even though President Biden kept the rider in his budget proposal to Congress. It is not quite a done deal yet, though: Congress must still pass the budget, which is expected to happen in December. The move won plaudits from the marijuana advocacy group NORML, which said: "The omission of the D.C. rider acknowledges the local will of the residents of the District, who overwhelmingly favor retail marijuana sales. The only reason the District is unable to defy the federal government’s marijuana prohibition policies in the same way that other states have is that it lacks statehood and is under direct oversight from Congress."

New York Employers Cannot Test Workers for Marijuana, State Says. The state Labor Department issued new guidance for employers Tuesday that bans them from testing workers for marijuana—unless the employee appears visibly impaired on the job. "Observable signs of use that do not indicate impairment on their own cannot be cited as an articulable symptom of impairment," the guidance states. The new guidance does not apply to workers, such as commercial vehicle drivers, who are subject to drug testing under state or federal law.

Foreign Policy

Human Rights Watch Letter Urges State Department to Support Human Rights, Oppose Coca Spraying in Colombia. In a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken ahead of his meeting Wednesday in Bogota with Colombian President Ivan Duque, Human Rights Watch called on the US government to support human rights, noting that "President Duque’s administration has pursued several misguided and dysfunctional polices, including on drug policy, and there has been an increase in abuses by armed groups." The group called for "a strong public and private response by the Biden administration" to curb violence by armed groups, police abuses against protestors, and oppose plans to reinstate the fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate. On coca eradication, Human Rights Watch called for the US to "unequivocally oppose plans to reinstate fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate," fully fund crop substitution programs and ensure protection for people involved in them, and "assess US drug and security policies in Colombia to ensure that they help address the root causes of violence by strengthening the presence of civilian state institutions."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency to Fight Drugs on Eve on US Secretary of State Visit. Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso on Monday declared a 60-day state of emergency to confront drug trafficking and a rising number of killings. Under the emergency decree, the military will join drug and arms confiscation operations in nine of the country's 24 provinces, including Guayas, the home of Guayaquil, the country's primary port and largest city. The crackdown will also see increased police patrols and is "oriented towards and focused on guaranteeing citizens... protection from crime and violence." At a Tuesday press conference, visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he understood that countries must sometimes take such measures but added that democratic norms must be upheld.

Philippines Says It Will Review Thousands of Drug War Killing. Faced with a looming formal investigation into drug war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Philippines Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra said his Justice Department will enlarge its review of more than 6,000 drug killings for which Philippines police have taken responsibility (Human rights groups put the actual number of killings at more than 30,000, many of them conducted by shadowy death squads.) "Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will review these thousands of other cases, too," Guevarra said in an apparent shift from the Duterte government's unyielding defense of its policies but also in an apparent effort to blunt the ICC's investigation. The Duterte government argues that it does not need to cooperate with the ICC because its own justice system is capable of dealing with police huma rights abuses. Guevarra's remarks came as the Justice Department released details of 52 drug war killings.

Baltimore No Drug Possession Arrest Policy is Working; Naloxone Shortages, Price Hikes Amid Overdose Surge, More... (10/19/21)

The South Dakota legislature continues to tangle with marijuana policy, Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature is dithering on making fentanyl test strips legal, and more.

A manufacturing issue at Pfizer is contributing to naloxone shortages and price hikes. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon County Asks for National Guard Help to Fight Illegal Marijuana Grows. With unlicensed marijuana grows and marijuana grows disguised as hemp operations running rampant in southern Oregon, commissioners in Jackson County have asked Gov. Kate Brown (D) to send in the National Guard "to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis." The move came last week, the same day police near Medford raided a site that had 17,500 pot plants and two tons of processed marijuana. That was only the latest massive bust in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties this year, which act as a northern extension of California's Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. In both southern Oregon and northern California, marijuana cultivation has been entrenched for half a century. Gov. Brown has rejected the request for National Guard troops but could reconsider next year, her office said.

South Dakota Lawmakers Ponder Bill to Scrap Medical Marijuana Law but Legalize Adult Use. The legislature's Adult-Use Marijuana Committee on Tuesday is considering a bill that would undo the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law but would instead legalize the use and possession of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill was drafted by committee chair Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), who characterized it as a compromise between factions that oppose and support legalization. Voters also approved legalization last year but allied of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed suit to block it. That case remains before the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, local activists have begun a signature-gathering drive to put a new legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Under the Bartels bill, people 21 and over could possess up to an ounce of weed and up to 22 grams of waxes, oils, and edibles, but home cultivation would not be allowed. Bartels said the medical marijuana law would not be needed if his bill passed, but the Health Department would issue medical marijuana cards for patients under 21.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Price Soars, Shortages Occur Amid Overdose Surge. As the nation confronts all-time high overdose deaths, the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone is increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive. Harm reduction and other community groups are now paying as much as 30 times more for the life-saving medication—when they can obtain it at all. "Not having this life-saving medication to reduce overdose deaths, during a time when we’re seeing the greatest increase we’ve ever seen, is a public health crisis," said Amanda Latimore, director of the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions. "There hasn’t been a more important time than right now to have an overdose reversal drug available. And now that we’re seeing this shortage, we can expect even more fatal overdoses," she said. The shortages are a result of manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which has been providing the drug at low cost to harm reduction groups, and are expected to be resolved by year's end. But in the meantime, other pharmaceutical manufacturers could have ramped up production, but have not done so, no have they cut prices. The reason? "Profit. There’s no other way to put it," said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pennsylvania's Republican-Dominated Legislature Stalls on Allowing Fentanyl Test Strips. Under current state law, fentanyl test strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal, but even as the state and the nation face unprecedented numbers of opioid overdose deaths, the Republican-dominated state legislature is sitting on bills that would amend the law to allow people to use the test strips. House Bill 1393 and its companion measure, Senate Bill 845, are both languishing in committee. While the legislature dithers, the state attorney general, the Philadelphia DA, and the Philadelphia mayor have announced a commitment to not prosecute people for possessing fentanyl test strips.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore’s No-Prosecution Policy for Low-Level Drug Possession and Prostitution Finds Almost No Rearrests for Serious Offenses. A new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fewer new low-level drug and prostitution arrests, almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped, and fewer 911 calls. The findings suggest the new policies did not result in increased public complaints about drug use or sex work, and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug and drug paraphernalia possession and prostitution in March 2020, chiefly as an infection-reduction measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later she announced that the policy would remain in place—even after the pandemic winds down—as a way of reducing the burdens on city police and on the poorer, predominantly Black city residents who are traditionally arrested for such crimes. The report’s key findings, covering the 14 months following the policy change (April 2020 to May 2021), include:

  • An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community. This analysis was based on Baltimore Police Department arrest data.
  • Of the 741 people whose drug and prostitution charges were dropped, six—less than 1 percent—had new arrests for serious crimes during the study period. This analysis was based on Maryland Courts Judicial Information System data.
  • Calls to 911 about drug/paraphernalia and prostitution declined significantly in the post-policy change period.

DEA Unveils Massive Increase in Research Quotas for Marijuana, Psychedelics, More... (10/18/21)

A leading Florida Democratic gubernatorial contender calls for marijuana legalization, a Maine law easing up on needle possession goes into effect, and more.       

Decriminalize Nature logo. The group's Oakland chapter is proposing community-based legal psychedelic sales.
 Marijuana Policy

Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Christ Calls for Marijuana Legalization. US Rep. Charlie Christ, a leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year, called last Thursday for full marijuana legalization and the expungement of charges and existing sentences for misdemeanor and third-degree felony pot possession. The proposal is part of his Justice for All platform, which he said is designed to reform and rebuild the state's criminal justice system. "Our ‘Justice for All’ plan is my promise and commitment to the people of Florida that I won’t be a governor who turns a blind eye to injustices in our communities," Crist said. "That’s why this plan overhauls a system that has hurt and failed our people, predominantly Black and Brown Floridians, at almost every step of the way. We need to finally catch up to the will of the American people with marijuana legalization." Christ proposes using marijuana taxes for drug treatment and diversion programs, as well as support for public school teachers and police officers. A majority of Floridians favor marijuana legalization, but the Republican-nominated state political establishment has blocked any motion in that direction, including the state Supreme Court, which rejected two separate proposals to put adult-use legalization of marijuana on the 2022 ballot earlier this year. Christ earlier served as a Republican governor, and current Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, criticized him for failing to act on legalization when he had a chance.

Psychedelics

Oakland Activists Unveil Initiative to Allow Community-Based Psychedelic Sales. Oakland Decriminalize Nature activists have announced a "Go Local" legislative initiative under which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from community-based local producers. The move aims to build on the city's current psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, passed in 2019. With the backing of a key city council member, the group is undertaking a one-year project to get feedback on how best to provide legal access to entheogenic plants and fungi—without replicating the crass commercialization of the state's legal marijuana markets. In doing so, "you actually do bring other values into the equation beyond profiteering, because it becomes part of the story that people want to support in the community," said Decriminalize Nature chair Carlos Plazola. The process will begin with a series of public workshops, with an eye toward presenting a measure to the city council next summer.

Drug Policy

DEA Proposes Massive Increase in Marijuana and Psychedelic Production for Research Purposes. In a notice published Monday in the Federal Register, the DEA noted "a significant increase in the use of Schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical purposes" and proposed dramatic increases in the quotas for production of marijuana and psychedelics for research purposes. The agency is proposing doubling quotas for marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocin, quadrupling the quota for mescaline, and quintupling the quota for DMT. But especially striking is the proposed increase in MDMA production from 50 grams this year to 3,200 grams next year and the quota for LSD to increase by 1,150 percent to 500 grams. The quota for research marijuana is also jumping, up from 2,000 kilograms this year from 3,200 kilograms this year. The DEA is responding to massive increases in interest in research on psychedelics and marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Maine Law Decriminalizing Syringe Possession Now in Effect. A new state law that allows people to possess syringes with residual amounts of drugs to avoid being charged with drug possession and that also allows people possessing a dozen or more syringe to avoid prosecution went into effect Monday. Previously, possessing 11 or more needles, even unused, was a misdemeanor punishable by up to 354 days in jail. "Most Mainers agree that punitive drug laws don’t work and people who use drugs need access to safety, not criminal punishment, stigma, and heightened risk of illness and death due to preventable illnesses," said Whitney Parrish, policy and advocacy director with Health Equity Alliance. "We need a public health response to a public health crisis, and this law is a transformative step toward rejecting our failed responses to drug use, rooting policies in pragmatism and what works, and decriminalizing safety—and people who use drugs." Maine saw a record number of drug overdose deaths last year and is currently on track to surpass that this year.

(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.)

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll, UN Report on Arbitrary Detention in War on Drugs, More... (10/15/21)

Baltimore drug arrests are down dramatically thanks to a policy shift by the local prosecutor, Virginia has sealed the records of more than 64,000 small-time pot-dealing charges, and more.

More than 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period ending in March 2021. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Seals 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges. The state has sealed records of more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges, the legislature's Cannabis Oversight Commission heard Thursday. They have been scrubbed from the state's criminal records database, which is used by employers to screen job applicants. Another 333,000 simple possession convictions have also been sealed. The state was ordered to expunge the records as part of the marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll. Drug overdose deaths, primarily but not exclusively around opioid use, hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, but the number could go even higher because the numbers are only provisional, and the CDC has estimated predicted overdose deaths during this period would total more than 99,000. The big jump in fatal drug overdoses came as the country was in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and as fentanyl pervades ever more illicit drug markets—including being used as a cut in non-opioids, such as meth and cocaine—but also reflects a two-decade old trend of rising overdose deaths.

Baltimore Drug Possession Arrests Are Just About Extinct. Baltimore Police on Thursday released data showing that both felony and misdemeanor drug arrests are down, with the latter down dramatically. So far this year, police have arrested 796 people on drug felonies, down 19 percent from the 978 arrests during the same period last year. But when it comes to drug misdemeanors, police have arrested only 38 people so far this year, down a whopping 91 percent from the 445 during the same period last year. The declines are a direct result of a policy decision made last year by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to stop prosecuting certain drug offenses, including drug possession. Conservative local media is criticizing the policy, saying that it has allowed open-air drug dealing to flourish, but the police, the mayor's office, and Mosby's office all say open-air drug markets remain a priority.  

Recent UN Report on Arbitrary Detention and Drug Policies Underscores Urgent Need for Reform, Includes Call for Drug Decriminalization. A recent United Nations human rights report details the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the drug war in countries around the world. The report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) finds that arbitrary detention in drug cases is swelling jail and prison populations precisely as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to reduce prison overcrowding. Arbitrary detention can include people arrested without a proper warrant or detained in ways that do not respect procedural rights. The report notes that states are required to uphold human rights obligations under international law, but that relying on harsh drug war policies creates sustained violations of those policies. "People who use drugs are particularly at risk of arbitrary detention," the report said, pointing to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru, where people arrested on drug charges are automatically jailed pending trial, but also cited the use of torture, particularly in Mexico. The report ends with 17 recommendations, starting with a call to UN members to "decriminalize the use, possession, acquisition or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including the possession of associated paraphernalia." Other recommendations include calling for an end to drug courts, ending the participation of the military in drug enforcement operations, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to cultivate and use plants traditionally grown for spiritual, medicinal, and cultural purposes.

Chronicle Book Review: The Dope [FEATURE]

The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade by Benjamin T. Smith (2021, W.W. Norton, 462 pp, $30 HB)

This past weekend, top-level American officials were in Mexico City meeting with their Mexican counterparts to discuss rebuilding cooperation in the endless struggle against Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The meeting comes nearly 15 years after then-President George W. Bush and then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon initiated the Merida Initiative to fight drugs, crime, and violence. In 2007, when the Merida Initiative began, there were about 2,300 drug-related deaths in Mexico. Fifteen years and $1.6 billion in US security assistance later, the annual Mexican death toll is north of 30,000, American overdose deaths largely linked to Mexican-supplied fentanyl are at an all-time high, and despite killing or capturing dozens of "kingpins," the so-called "cartels" are more powerful than ever.

In The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, Mexico historian Benjamin T. Smith relates the story of another meeting between American and Mexican officials more than 80 years ago. It was at the League of Nations in 1939, and Mexican diplomat Manuel Tello was trying to sell the assembled narcotics experts on a novel approach to opioid addiction: Post-revolutionary Mexico had just passed a new drug law that allowed for state-run morphine dispensaries. Doing that could treat addiction and allow users to get their fix without resorting to a black market, he argued.

That proposal, one much in vogue in harm reduction and public health circles these days, was shot down by none other than Harry Anslinger, head of the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics and self-appointed dope cop to the world. He made it clear to the Mexicans, who had also irked him by challenging his Reefer Madness propaganda, that no such nonsense would be tolerated. That encounter, Smith's narrative makes clear, is emblematic of the US-Mexico relationship when it comes to drugs. The US, with its insatiable appetite for mind-altering substances, has for decades leaned on Mexico to repress the trade its citizens demand, and the results have for decades been dire.

As Smith shows, US pressure on Mexico to ramp up its anti-drug efforts, particularly in the 1940s and 1970s, produced temporary results but also long-term pathologies. Where Mexican authorities had been happy to manage the trade rather than repress it, Washington demanded strict enforcement and aggressive action. Harsher enforcement, including the resort to torture and murder (with the knowledge, encouragement, and sometimes the participation of DEA agents), produced a meaner criminal underworld. Smith especially notes the American insistence on a broad strategy of relying on informants as an aggravating factor in escalating trafficker violence, as traffickers turned on each other for revenge or to protect themselves from potential rats.

Smith also clarifies that the drug trade has always been seen not just as a scourge but as a resource by elements of the Mexican state. Early on, a post-revolutionary governor in Sinaloa taxed the opium traffickers and used the proceeds for public works. Governors in border states like Baja California and Chihuahua followed suit, taxing the trade, protecting favored traffickers and making exemplary busts of those without favored status to please the Americans. Although, as he notes, the politicians increasingly tended to forget the public works and just pocket the money themselves.

Smith described the structure of the relationship between the Mexican state and the drug traffickers as more a "protection racket" than an adversarial one Prior to the 1970s, the racket was carried out at the state level, with the governors and the state police forces providing the protection. Levels of violence were generally low, but likely to spike when a change of administration meant a new set of players in the racket and a new set of favored and disfavored traffickers. The favored traffickers could get rich; the unfavored ones could get jailed or killed as sacrificial lambs to appease the Americans.

In the 1970s, though, both the repression and the protection racket went national, with the mandate to fight the drug trade (and the license to manage it) going to the dreaded federales and their masters in the Ministry of Justice and the presidential palace. The levels of violence increasingly dramatically as the federales and the armed forces pleased the Americans by arresting, torturing, and killing marijuana- and opium-growing peasants as well as traffickers. Traffickers who could once accommodate themselves to the occasional exemplary short prison sentence now fought back when faced with death or years behind bars.

But in this century, thanks largely to fabulous profits from the cocaine trade, the drug traffickers have flipped the script. They no longer work for the cops; the cops now work for them. It's a process Smith refers to as "state capture," even if the state function that is being captured is illicit. Now, cops and politicians who don/t understand who is charge end up in unmarked graves or starring in horrid torture/murder videos.

The Dope is a fascinating and sobering tale, full of colorful characters like Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, the crusading post-revolutionary physician who argued that marijuana was harmless and whose government office was behind the morphine dispensary plan, and La Nacha, Ignacia Jasso, the dope queen of Ciudad Juarez for decades, along with a veritable rogue's gallery of traffickers, cops, spooks, and politicians, all of whom vie for control of the trade and its incredible profits.

It also reveals some broad findings. First, economics is the driving force of the drug trade, and the economic opportunity it has provided (and continues to provide) to millions of Mexicans means it is not going away, Second, as noted above, authorities have sought to harness income from the drug trade, with the result that they are now harnessed to it. Third, aggressive anti-drug policies are driven more by moral panics, the need for bureaucratic fundraising, and scapegoating, and "are rarely implemented for their effectiveness." Nor do they work, even on their own terms, as our current overdose death numbers shout out. Fourth, the causes of violence originate "not from inside the drug trade, but inside the state," particularly with the churning of protection rackets with the arrival of new political leadership. "The other principal cause of violence has been the war on drugs itself."

There is an extensive mythology around the Mexican drug trade. Benjamin T. Smith has gone a long way toward dispelling those myths by providing an accurate, in-depth, well-sourced history of the trade and the domestic and international politics around it. To understand today's fearsome Mexican drug cartels, start here.

SD Activists Begin 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Drive, Report on Racial Disparities in State Prisons, More... (10/13/21)

A pair of GOP Ohio lawmakers prepares a marijuana legalization bill, the Sentencing Project releases a new report on differential racial incarceration rates in the states, and more.

A new Sentencing Project report finds Blacks are imprisoned in state prisons at a rate five times that of Whites. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill. In a sign of changing times, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced Tuesday they were preparing a marijuana legalization bill. For years, Democrats have led the fight for marijuana legalization, but in recent days, first Pennsylvania and now Ohio are seeing signs of Republican interest in moving forward on legalization. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) rolled out a bill that would allow people 21 and over to buy and possess marijuana, with limited home cultivation allowed. The bill also envisages a 10 percent tax on retail marijuana sales, with half going to the state's general fund and half going to law enforcement and mental health and addiction treatment and recovery services. Callender and Ferguson are circulating a cosponsorship memo to build support for the forthcoming legislation and are aiming to formally file the bill within the next six weeks or so.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Although state voters already approved a marijuana legalization initiative last year, it was challenged in court by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and two law enforcement officials, and the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on its constitutionality. The people behind the successful initiative, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, is not waiting on—or counting on—a favorable Supreme Court ruling and is moving ahead with plans for a 2022 initiative designed to get around the issue that has the 2020 initiative stuck in the courts: the claim that it unconstitutionally encompasses more than one subject. This new initiative simply legalizes marijuana possession and cultivation for people 21 and over. The secretary of state on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for signature gathering to begin. Campaigners have until May 8, 2022 to come up with 16,691 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Sentencing Policy

New Sentencing Project Report Finds Blacks Imprisoned in State Prisons at Rate Five Times of Whites. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of Whites, and Latino Americans are 1.3 times as likely to be incarcerated than non-Latino whites, according to a new report by The Sentencing Project, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.The report, authored by Senior Research Analyst Ashley Nellis, documents the rates of incarceration for white, Black, and Latinx Americans for each state. Although Black Americans are not a majority of the general population in any of the 50 states, they make up more than half of the prison population in a dozen states: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. New Jersey tops the nation in terms of disparity in its incarceration rates, with a Black/white ratio of more than 12 to 1. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut follow closely behind, incarcerating Black Americans at about 10 times the rate of white people. Latino individuals are incarcerated nationally in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the rate for non-Latino whites, but at a much higher rate in Massachusetts (4.1), Connecticut (3.7), New York (3.0), and North Dakota (2.4). In raw numbers, Latino incarceration is highest in border and southwestern states. The report makes several policy recommendations: eliminate all mandatory minimums, enact racial impact statements that require crime bills to be accompanied by an estimate of the policy’s impact on demographic groups, and discontinue arrest and prosecution for low-level drug offenses that often lead to accumulation of prior convictions

Booker & Warren Call on DOJ to Deschedule Marijuana; US & Mexico Meet to Forge New Relations on Crime & Drugs, More... (10/12/21)

California's governor vetoes a "contingency management" drug treatment bill, a pair of progressive senators call on the Justice Department to deschedule marijuana, and more.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) send letter to DOJ seeking marijuana descheduling. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Booker, Warren Call on DOJ to Decriminalize Cannabis. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter last Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the Federal controlled substances list. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA's list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), based on the finding that it does not have the potential for abuse. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.

"While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis," wrote Booker and Warren. "We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis. Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation's enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws."

Drug Treatment

California Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Paid People to Stay Off Drugs. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has vetoed a bill that would have made California the first state to embrace "contingency management," the drug treatment program in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Newsom had asked the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid, but still rejected Senate Bill 110 without explanation.

Foreign Policy

US, Mexico Meet to Restore Cross-Border Cooperation on Drugs, Crime. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City Saturday to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting comes after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations that grew especially fraught after DEA agents arrested a retired former senior Mexican military officer for alleged links to drug traffickers. That prompted the Mexicans to demand -- and obtain -- his release and to pass a law limiting the involvement of the DEA inside Mexico. The new framework appears to signal a break with Plan Merida, the more than decade-old security agreement under which billions of dollars in US security assistance went to help Mexico fight drug traffickers, but which also saw drug-related killings rise to record levels.

NY Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Curbing OD Crisis, CA Governor Signs Hemp Regulation Bill, More... (10/8/21)

Another poll has two-thirds support for freeing the weed, Oklahoma activists file initative petitions to legalize marijuana, and more.

Hemp products like these will be regulated under a new California law just signed by Gov.Gavin Newsom (D). (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Finds Supermajority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Harris Research poll has 66 percent of respondents supporting marijuana legalization, with millennials (79 percent) and Generation X (76 percent) being the most supportive. For Baby Boomers, slightly less than half supported legalization. The findings are in line with other recent polls showing a supermajority for legalization.

Oklahoma Activists File Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Regulation Initiative Petitions. Activists organized as Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action have filed a pair of petitions related to marijuana policy. Question 817 would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, while Question 818 would replace the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with a stand-alone agency. The group now has 90 days to come up with 178,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Regulatory Bill. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday signed into law Assembly Bill 45, which creates a comprehensive regulatory framework for the manufacture and distribution of hemp-derived products in the nation's most populous state. The bill allows for the sale of smokeable hemp products, as well as hemp-infused foods and drinks. The bill should also provide clarity to consumers, reassuring them that products are independently tested and properly labeled. Because the law was passed as an emergency measure, it goes into effect immediately.

Opioids

New York Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Blunting Overdose Crisis. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) on Thursday signed into law a package of bills designed to ease the overdose epidemic in the state. One bill eases access to the opioid overdose drug naloxone, another allows for the use of medication-assisted treatment in state prisons, a third decriminalizes the sale and possession of needles and syringes, a fourth creates an online directory of naloxone distributors, and the fifth creates a judicial diversion program for some felony offenders. "Addiction can impact any family, suddenly and harshly - those who find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle are there through no fault of their own," Governor Hochul said. "This is a personal battle for me and I am proud to be able to combat the opioid crisis by signing these bills into law. There is no shame in seeking help for substance use and I want to let all New Yorkers know that we are here for you. Treatment should always be accessible for those who need it."

CA Governor Signs Bill Rolling Back Mandatory Minimums for Some Drug Offenses [FEATURE]

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday signed into law a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for certain drug sales offenses, a vestige of harsh drug war policies enacted in the 1980s. The bill, Senate Bill 73, leaves in place upper penalties but now judges will have the discretion to sentence offenders to probation or other alternatives.

The law the bill replaces required not only mandatory minimum sentences for some sales offenses, but also barred judges from granting probation to people with a second drug offense, even for personal possession, and even some people with a first drug offense.

For example, under the old law, people convicted of possession for sale of cocaine, heroin or meth faced a mandatory minimum two-year sentence, and people convicted of transportation for sale of those drugs looked at a mandatory minimum three-year sentence. Offenses such as growing peyote or forging a prescription also triggered mandatory minimums.

"Our prisons and jails are filled with people -- particularly from communities of color -- who have committed low-level, nonviolent drug offenses and who would be much better served by non-carceral options like probation, rehabilitation and treatment," said bill sponsor Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in a statement. "The racist, failed War on Drugs has helped build our system of mass incarceration, and we must dismantle and end its vestiges, which are still in place today. War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane and expensive. SB 73 ends mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and gives judges more options to allow people to stay out of jail. It's an important measure that will help end California's system of mass incarceration."

"Mandatory minimums disproportionately affect people of color, many of whom may suffer from a number of pre-existing mental and health conditions," said bill cosponsor Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles). "It is why judges must be able to evaluate crimes and grant probation when it is in the interest of justice, in the interest of public safety, and is consistent with the values of our communities. For these reasons I am proud to co-author SB 73."

The bill had the backing of a wide coalition of state and national organizations including Drug Policy Alliance, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, California Public Defenders Association, and drug treatment professionals. The only organized opposition came from law enforcement groups and the conservative California family council. It was the third time the legislature has tried to end mandatory minimum for drug offenses in recent years, and the third time was the charm.

"Mandatory drug sentences have been an expensive failure. They've separated families unnecessarily without making our communities any safer. Good riddance," said Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

We are grateful to Senator Wiener and Assembly Member Carrillo for leading the fight to remove this antiquated and cruel policy that has allowed the drug war to tie judges' hands for far too long," said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Forcing judges to send people to jail when they honestly believe that they and their communities would be better served with probation or other community services is incredibly counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. We are thankful the legislature and Governor Newsom have realized this and are taking these important steps to set things right in California."

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