Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Big Increase in Injection Drug Use, House Passes Another Spending Bill with SAFE Banking, More... (7/18/22)

British Tories audition a new scheme for punishing drug users that effectively decriminalizes somebody's first two drug busts, a new study finds racial disparities in Pennsylvania marijuana arrests are increasing, and more.

The number of Americans injecting drugs increased five-fold in the past decade. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Defense Spending Bill with Marijuana Amendments. The House last Thursday approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes nine amendments pertaining to marijuana and other drug policies. Included in the House version of the bill is language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, language allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to allow medical marijuana recommendations, and two psychedelic research amendments. The SAFE language, which the legal marijuana industry is clamoring for, has been passed in the House as part of several earlier omnibus spending bills, only to be killed in the Senate by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his allies, who have been holding out for passage of a full-blown marijuana legalization bill. We shall see if it turns out any differently this time.

Black Pennsylvanians See More Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests. A new study from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) finds that racial disparities in marijuana arrests jumped upward in 2020, even though overall pot arrests declined. Black Pennsylvanians were five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana statewide. The largest disparity was in Cumberland County, where Blacks were 18 times more likely to be arrested for pot than Whites. "I will say that the numbers moving in the wrong direction is certainly a concern," said Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Meredith Buettner. "This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians." The Republican-controlled state legislature has so far blocked any moves toward legalization.

Drug Policy

CDC Finds Huge Increase in Number of People Injecting Drugs. A new study from the Coalition for Applied Modeling for Prevention (CAMP) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a rapid increase in the number of people shooting up drugs in the past decade. The most recent data, from 2018, put the number of injection drug users at about 4 million, five times the number in 2011, the last previous estimate. The study also found that overdoses -- both fatal and non-fatal -- had also increased dramatically, with deaths related to injection drug use rising threefold during that period, which was before the current spike in overdose deaths, now around 100,000 a year. For every fatal injection drug overdose, there were 40 non-fatal ones, the study found. The CDC estimates that a third of people who inject drugs share syringes, needles or other drug injection equipment.

International

British Tories Plan to Punish Drug Users, Could Seize Their Drivers' Licenses, Passports. The Home Office has announced a scheme to punish drug users in a bid to "tackle the scourge of drug abuse in society." Under the "three-strikes" proposal, first-time illicit drug offenders, including marijuana offenders, would have to pay for and attend a drug awareness course. A second offense would merit a formal warning, another drug awareness course, and up to three months of mandatory random drug testing. For a third offense, people would be criminally charged and, upon conviction, could be banned from nightclubs and other entertainment venues and could have their drivers' licenses and passports confiscated. But, hey, that is effectively decriminalization for the first two offenses. The proposal will now undergo a three-month consultation period before being amended or implemented as is.

What Comes Next in the Philippine Drug War and Will Duterte Pay for His Crimes? [FEATURE]

As the month of June came to an end, so did the term in office of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, notorious for presiding over a bloody and still-continuing "war on drugs" that has left more than 30,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilantes, according to Filipino and international human rights organizations. Duterte's human rights violations sparked the interest of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened an investigation into the matter last year.

ICC headquarters, The Hague, Netherlands
Following a formal request by the Duterte administration in November, OTP paused the investigation in order to reevaluate whether government's accountability efforts touted by the administration were sufficient and credible. Late last month OTP requested court authorization to resume it.

Replacing Duterte is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., known as "Bongbong." Marcos comes with his own baggage; he is the son of former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, infamous for her shoe collection. And his vice president is none other than Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte. Between them, the pair provide a double dose of strongman genes for a population that has proven eager to embrace them.

With the Duterte government now in the rear view mirror, the question now are what happens next in the Philippine drug war and will there ever be justice for the crimes of the past six years?

In a parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on Thursday, "Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC, and the Philippine Drug War," took on those issues. Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (also known as StoptheDrugWar.org -- publisher of this newsletter), a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and the Italy-based Associazone Luca Coscioni, the event was moderated by StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden and Italian former senator Marco Perduca of the Associazone. The event focused on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions."

In the virtual event conducted via Zoom, participants heard from three Filipino experts: human rights activist Justine Balane, Ruben Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Dr. Aurora Parong of the Philippine Coalition for the ICC and the Philippines branch of Amnesty International.

"One of the goals is #16, is peace, justice, and strong institutions. Issues like human rights, accountability and so forth fall within that topic," said Borden, who noted, "Our first event held in March 2017 at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, where we were privileged to present a video from then Vice President Leni Robredo, a video which became controversial in the Philippines due to attacks being made on her for it by political opponents. Robredo was in the first year of her term as vice president, having narrowly defeated Bongbong Marcos to win that post."

"I will lastly note it's nearly 5 ½ years since then Senator Leila de Lima was jailed [on bogus charges for criticizing Duterte's drug war], and we share the widespread hopes in the international community that she will be released soon, particularly since... three of her key initial accusers have recanted their accusations and stated that they were made under pressure."

Perduca followed with a short history of the ICC, explaining that the core crimes with which it is concerned are war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, with the crime of aggression added later.

"The court has jurisdiction over countries that have signed and ratified or have acceded to the treaty, and have... put in place all the necessary measures to... allow the court to take action if local authorities are unwilling or unable to pursue alleged criminals, at any level of the state hierarchy," he explained. "[W]e have made the case before competent authorities at the ICC... that the way in which the war on drugs in the Philippines had been waged amounted to crimes against humanity. It was massive and systematic, and it was the result of a specific order given by someone in charge... The Philippines was party to the treaty until a few years ago [when Duterte withdrew from it], so some of those heinous actions still fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC."

The new boss looks too much like the old boss, according to Balane, who in his day job serves as Secretary General of the organization Akbayan Youth.

"In the first half of the year, during the campaign season, the streets were blaring with the jingle of the new president and vice president, which started with the lines "Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Mukha." It roughly translates as new Philippines and new faces," he said. "But in reality, it's not. In the first half month under Marcos and Duterte, we're been shown the same drug war tactics and the same level of government oppression... The killings haven't stopped with Duterte leaving... and how the killings have remained largely uninvestigated, and the killers let loose under Duterte and possibly Marcos."

"Data from the University of the Philippines (UP) Third World Study Center show that there have been 155 deaths for the first half of the year," Balane noted. "Even in Duterte's final year in office, the killing of children in the drug war continued... [including] two children in the last month of Duterte in Malacanang (the Philippines' executive branch headquarters)." In UP's research, from January to July 2022, 68 of the deaths were carried out by state agents... I'm relying on this UP data because there is a huge underreporting crisis on drug war numbers... This year, before Duterte left office, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that there have been a total 6,248 drug war deaths since Duterte took office. This is a figure that is at least 24,000 lower than the estimates of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and other human rights groups... [I]t's even lower than the figure provided by the office of Duterte... [I]n 2017... the presidential office... admitted... that the drug war killed 20,000 people and listed in its annual accomplishments report, under the section 'fighting illegal drugs in 2017.' This... report became the basis of the Supreme Court order to the Duterte government to explain and release data on the 20,000 deaths which could be state sponsored," Balane said.

Balane was critical of the Duterte government's claim that it would investigate the killings, obviating the need for the ICC to step back in.

"Last year... the Philippine Department of Justice vowed to the international community that they are able and willing to conduct a domestic review of the drug war cases, just to show that the justice system is still working... But this year, the Department of Justice announced to the United Nations that only four cases have led to actual new prosecutions. Imagine that!" he exclaimed. "Four cases out of more than 30,000 reported or suspected cases under the drug war... [T]hat's showing this government has been noncommittal and not... serious about its obligations to the international community, not upholding its human rights obligations."

The Duterte government clearly failed to pursue the police and shadowy vigilante groups behind the killings, Balane said.

"To date, there remains only one case that has led to a guilty verdict against killer cops, and that was in 2018... That's because the norm is of acquitting and letting killer cops go scot-free... Seriously, the prospects of investigation bringing to justice the cases and the killings that happened under the Duterte admnistration remain bleak."

Balane was not optimistic about the prospects under the new Marcos administration.

"As we enter Bongbong Marcos's presidency, one person a day is killed, approximately. This is according to [UP data]... An official of the Marcos government also vowed that the drug war will be as intensive as before. Even President Marcos himself during the campaign trail said that he would continue the drug war with the same vigor but a different approach. But we continue to question the government's seriousness to put into law any program that is an alternative to what the law enforcement agencies have already been accustomed to under Duterte, because they have already been so comfortable with getting away with their crimes," he charged.

As early as 2017, Senator Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan already filed a bill in the Senate providing a framework for a public health approach on the drug problem. But until now there has been no push from others in the Senate or anyone else in the legislative chamber or the executive to pass it or adopt elements of it highlighting harm reduction instead of the punitive, violent and largely failed approach of the Duterte administration."

Balane concluded by noting, "Marcos Jr., who sits in the office of the president, refuses to be accountable for the extrajudicial killings that happened under his family's regime in the '70s.

"It's important to note that the drug war is not over," said Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice. "There's this famous quote from The Wire, that TV show about drug wars, that 'drug wars are not actual wars, because drug wars never end.'

Carranza explained, "On the first day of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as president... there were drug war killings in the University of the Philippines... involving two brothers who were... from a very poor family... The brothers were invited by a supposed friend to help fix a car, but instead they were taken by plainclothes armed men in a car that was unmarked, taken from the university, and then their bodies were found two days later," he noted.

"I mention this because... part of what Duterte unleashed has been the creation of a national death squad that has now come to exist apart from Duterte himself... [So] I don't think we can reckon with accountability in the drug war based on who the president of the Philippines is. It's important to look at the institutions that enforce the drug war, both the formal state institutions, the Philippine National Police, and the non-institutional and yet much more powerful creations that the drug war has led to. A death squad that used to be local -- Davao City -- has become national under Duterte, and this national death squad continues." "Vicente Danao, the current police chief, was Duterte's former police chief in Davao City. Vicente Danao has a record, not just of being involved in the drug wars in Davao, but also domestic abuse, for which he was exposed by his wife and had to take a leave from his police duties in Davao -- until Duterte, of course, forgave him and said that he will back him up," Carranza explained.

"Vicente Danao is likely to be one of those that, if the prosecutor goes ahead with the investigation that has already been authorized previously by the pre-trial chamber of the ICC.. [will] be investigated," he continued. "It's difficult to say at this point whether Vicente Danao, or anyone else for that matter, will be charged. But obviously those who have been linked to the death squad in Davao, and now operate on a national scale, are likely to be those who will be investigated and potentially charged. This isn't only because of their links to the death squads in Davao and then nationwide. This is also because the ICC prosecutor, with the approval of the pre-trial chamber, has actually extended the coverage of the investigation of the Philippines drug war to the period when Duterte was mayor of Davao, in other words after the ICC treaty took effect for the Philippines in 2011, and years before Rodrigo Duterte became president... During this period, Rodrigo Duterte was mayor, but there were periods when his daughter was mayor of Davao because they took turns being mayor."

It's important to remember... that the International Criminal Court is not the only institution that can pursue accountability for the drug war. It's important to remember that prosecution is not the only measure by which extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity committed in the drug war, can be pursued and those behind them be held accountable. Justice doesn't only equate with courts; justice can be pursued elsewhere, outside of courts," Carranza argued.

"There are two ways in which I think accountability and justice for the drug war can be pursued even outside of the International Criminal Court process. One is through a truth-telling process that can be organized at the local level, perhaps at the community level in the Philippines among the urban poor communities that have been targeted by the drug war," he said. "Part of that work is being done now by priests like my friend Father Flavie Villanueva and the exhumations and the reburials and cremations of those whose bodies were buried in cemeteries whose families cannot afford to... pay for the burial plots. That process of removing remains and then having -- my friend as well, one of the forensic pathologists in the Philippines, Dr. Raquel Fortun -- exhume and examine the bodies, conduct autopsies -- is a truth-telling process. It's important for the international community to support that, because this not only empowers communities, empowers families of the victims into acting on their demands for justice, but gives them some hope that even if there's no formal state process that seeks accountability within the Philippines, even if the ICC prosecutor will take longer to actually conduct the investigation, and even if... the ICC as a court cannot proceed because the Philippines does not cooperate... that there are local processes going on that are outside of court processes," he said.

"The second approach to justice for the drug war involves reparations for families of the drug war victims. Reparations isn't new in the Philippines; the Philippines actually passed a law in 2013... to provide reparations for victims of the Marcos dictatorship."

Carranza pondered, "It is possible to give reparations to be given to victims of the drug war, but it is possible under Marcos? ... The sister of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a senator, Imee Marcos, actually supported a bill that became a law... that gave reparations for those who were victimized and displaced in the siege in Marawi City involving a conflict between a violent extremist group in the Philippine south and the government," Carranza continued.

"But will Marcos Jr. pursue the killings, pursue accountability of those involved in the killings in Duterte's drug war? That is a question that will be fully answered over time, but two things we need to take into account: Marcos Jr. is no stranger to maintaining impunity. He and his family have an interest in maintaining the impunity of Duterte, because any action that might open accountability of presidents past, and even further in the past, will obviously reopen questions around the accountability of the Marcos family," he argued. And "The Marcoses will defend their ill-gotten wealth for as long as they can."

Finally, Carranza argued, "Marcos Jr. will say what the global north's elites will want to hear, what the west, particularly the Europeans in the western part of Europe want to hear, that he will pursue accountability for human rights violations. He has said this... That he will pursue preventive health-related policies for drug users... This is, of course, appealing to Westerners, but does not deal with the root causes of drug use in urban poor communities in the first place, and the economic and social rights violations that then lead to drug use in the Philippines."

Parong and the Philippine Coalition for the ICC are not giving up on the international community.

"The [coalition] is calling on the UN to review and assess the effectiveness of its technical assistance, and review its decision not to probe into the war on drugs. Given the findings of Dr. Raquel Fortun, and of course also the statement of Prosecutor Khan of the ICC that there is no effective investigation, and looking into the systematic nature of the crimes... and therefore have called for the UN Human Rights Council to review its decision..." she said.

"There should be key result areas, or impact assessment of its assistance to the Philippines. Perhaps one would be effective prosecution of perpetrators of the killings in the war on drugs, and then a result that should be achieved. Because there should be changes in the behavior and values of those who are trained during this technical assistance. And then of course there should be the effort to really look at the enablers, those who made it possible that there are >massive killings in the tens of thousands," the humanitarian law expert suggested.

"We also believe that if President Marcos Jr. is really committed to high accountability and to pursue the control on drugs within the rule of law, they should develop a program against drug abuse that integrates a human rights and public health perspective," she continued. "And of course, the Philippine government has to really give complete results of what it says it will pursue the fight against drugs within the rule of law and make high accountability possible, then it should now come out with a very, very complete plan... There has to be specific, there has to be terms of reference, items on the plan, and concrete results in key result areas that can be measured, and not just those general commitments to the rule of law or accountability."

Parong had a specific suggestion for the Marcos-Duterte administration too: "If they really want unity as well as peace so that we can get out of this pandemic crisis... they should review the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, and consider the possibility of getting back, if they really want higher accountability."

But given the workload of the ICC -- the Office of the Prosecutor is looking at abuses in 16 countries right now, it lacks the resources to do all it needs to be doing," she said.

"We think that the internationally community, especially the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should in fact provide the resources which the court needs in order to be able to really act as a court of last resort and deliver justice. Faster also, rather than being at the back burner for investigation, and then it's only after some time that the court can act on them, because they have no resources that is adequate enough to pursue all these cases that they are either investigating, on preliminary investigations, or even those which are on trial. So there has to be more resources and support, not just from the state parties... because if other members of the UN really believe in international justice and support it, then they should support whatever is in the international court's purview to review and make decisions."

And it's not just funding but having the back of the ICC when it is attacked.

"The Philippine president has in the past attacked the ICC as an institution," she noted. "He also attacked UN officials and ICC personnel... During the campaign, the current presient said he would only allow the ICC personnel to come in as tourists, not as investigators... We think the UN members, as well as the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should be giving political support to the ICC when there is an effort to attack them or diminish their capacities to do their work because they don't have access to the countries that need to be investigated."

For those seeking radical change away from Duterte's drug war, some of the early indicators -- especially the continuing killings -- are not good. And while Bongbong is talking about some limited reforms, it remains to be seen whether he will pursue even those modest goals. For those seeking justice and accountability for Duterte's crimes, the path remains arduous, but that has not stopped them.

House Approves SAFE Banking Again, Colombia Cocaine Production Down Slightly, More... (7/15/22)

The NYPD reverses course on testing cops for marijuana, Colorado's governor signs an executive order protecting marijuana-using workers from discrimination, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Coca and cocaine production remained relatively stable at high levels last year. (Pixabay)
House Approves More Marijuana Amendments as Part of Defense Spending Bill. The House on Thursday approved a half dozen marijuana amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including amendments to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses and allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The banking amendment came from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and contains the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has been included in other omnibus spending bills only to be stripped out in conference committee by Senate leadership, which is still holding out for a full-fledged marijuana legalization bill.

Colorado Governor Issues Executive Order to Protect Marijuana Users from Workplace Discrimination. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has issued an executive order designed to protect workers from being punished or denied a professional license for using, possessing, or growing marijuana. The order includes people from other states. "The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State," said Polis. The order also directs the state Department of Regulatory Agencies to not provide information to aid in professional investigations related to legal marijuana-related activities in the state.

NYPD Says It Will Stop Testing Cops for Weed, Then Reverses Course. The NYPD on Wednesday announced it would quit drug testing officers for marijuana, only to reverse course within a matter of hours. "The New York City Law Department has directed the NYPD to cease all random, scheduled and pre-employment testing for marijuana," an NYPD spokeswoman said early Wednesday. "The Department will continue to administer marijuana screenings to personnel when there are indications of impairment and is reviewing its current policies in light of this directive." But later in the day, an NYPD spokesman said that the department was in discussions with the Law Department about possible conflicts with federal law and that in the meantime, it was back to the old policy. "While these discussions continue, there is no change in NYPD policies, procedures, or testing protocols regarding the use of Marijuana by uniformed members of the service," the spokesperson announced.

International

Colombian Coca, Cocaine Production Fell Slightly Last Year, Drug Czar's Office Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported Thursday that Colombia had seen slight reductions in coca cultivation and cocaine production in 2021. Estimated coca cultivation dropped from 600,000 acres to 578,000, while estimated cocaine production dropped from 994 tons in 2020 to 972 tons last year. Despite billions of dollars in US anti-drug and counter-insurgency funding over the past several decades, Colombia remains one of the world's top cocaine producer, with leftist rebel factions, former rightist paramilitaries, and criminal gangs competing earn black market profits from the trade. ONDCP also reported that Peruvian cocaine production and coca cultivation dropped slightly as well last year, but production was up slightly in Bolivia, leaving global cocaine production at near record levels.

Senate Democrats' Legal Weed Bill Coming Next Week, Peru Seeks US Help With Cocaine Planes, More... (7/14/22)

Some marijuana and psychedelic amendments have made it into a defense spending bill, Germany's Left Party is calling for drug decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana is on the agenda on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana and Psychedelic Amendments to Defense Spending Bill. The House on Wednesday voted to includes a pair of amendments on psychedelic research and one that would require the military to study marijuana-related discrimination in the armed forces as part of an omnibus defense spending bill. Another half dozen marijuana-related amendments remain to be voted on before a final vote on the defense bill. The psychedelic amendments would require research into the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin, MDMA, and ibogaine and one of them is aimed at active duty service members with PTSD.

Senate Democrats' Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Next Week. A legalization bill backed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) is set to be filed next week. The Senate Democratic leadership is pushing the bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, even as it comes under criticism that it is blocking consideration of incremental reforms that would give state-legal marijuana businesses access to banking and financial services. The House has already passed its own marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617).

International

Germany's Left Opposition Party Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Even as the country moves down the path toward marijuana legalization, the Left Party (Die Linke) is calling for the decriminalization of so-called hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The party is proposing a "fundamental rethink" of national drug policy and is calling for addicts to be given access to small amounts of drugs under "therapeutic support." Drug users must be "consistently protected from criminal prosecution," the party said in its motion. Die Linke said the move would free up police resources for more important matters. "Police, public prosecutors, courts and last but not least medical facilities must be relieved and be able to concentrate on important public welfare tasks," the party said.<

Peru Wants US Help to Stop Cocaine Trafficking Planes. Peru has since March been seeking an accord with the US to allow "non-lethal" support for intercepting drug-carrying planes headed for global markets. The US once provided air support for Peruvian efforts to intercept planes, but that program ended two decades ago after the Peruvian Air Force mistakenly shot down a plane that was carrying US missionaries, killing two of them. Ricardo Soberon, head of DEVIDA, the national anti-drug agency, said global demand is undermining eradication efforts on the ground and that it was time to review the "principle of shared responsibility." He added that talks with the US are ongoing: "The process now is strictly one of bilateral negotiation. The Peruvian Foreign Ministry has it in its hands, so we hope to finish that as soon as possible." He said he expects to travel to Washington in the fall to meet with State Department officials to discuss the matter.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Nebraska initiative campaign hands in signatures, no more medical marijuana sales tax in the Garden State, and more.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has handed in some 90,000 raw signatures to try to put its a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. It needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving the campaign with a very slim buffer to account for any invalidated signatures. But after a court ruling this week, the campaign may need to have the support of five percent of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties. That issue is currently being litigated, but as things stand, the requirement is still in effect.

New Jersey

New Jersey Ends Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana Products. Beginning July 1, medical marijuana patients no longer have to pay a state sales tax on their purchases. New Jersey had been one of the few states that imposed the sales tax on medical marijuana but passed legislation in 2019 to begin phasing it out. Now it is gone. "Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Governor Murphy and the legislature's intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability," said Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. "As the sales tax has been phased out… patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers."

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

MA Drug Decrim Bills Move to Study Phase, New San Francisco DA Pledges Drug Crackdown, More... (7/13/22)

DC's congressional delegate files an amendment to allow marijuana use in public housing in places where weed is legal, Connecticut hands out its first social equity marijuana growing licenses, and more.

San Francisco's Tenderloin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Amendments to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing in Jurisdictions Where It Is Legal. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced Wednesday that she has filed two amendments at the House Rules Committee to the fiscal year 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to allow marijuana in public housing in jurisdictions where marijuana is already legal. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. The other would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. The amendments are co-led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Connecticut Social Equity Council Awards First Commercial Marijuana Licenses. The state took another step toward getting retail marijuana sales up and running Tuesday as the Social Equity Council awarded its first commercial marijuana licenses. The 16 licenses are for marijuana growers. The marijuana grows must be located in areas "disproportionately impacted" by the war on drugs. "Our actions today will be transformative for social equity applicants, but more importantly will bring change to communities most harmed by the war on drugs," said Andrea Comer, Connecticut Social Equity Council chair. It's not quite a done deal, though: Licensees must still pass a background check and pay a $ 3 million (!) fee before being officially licensed.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bills Move to Study Phase. After the legislature's Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery approved a pair of companion drug decriminalization bills, Senate bill 1277 and House bill 2119, last month, the legislation has now advanced to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. That committee has now referred the measures for further study, with a report issued at an unspecified later date. Most bills referred to study die there, and bill sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D) has expressed doubts about its future. Still, a decriminalization bill has advanced in the state legislature.

Law Enforcement

New San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins Announces Large Reversal of Boudin Policies Over Drug Arrests. After progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin was recalled by voters last month, incoming District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is now working to undo his policies. She announced that she would be going after drug dealers in the city, singling out the Tenderloin district as areas that need the most help. She also singled out fentanyl as the big drug to crack down in the city. "The days of giving dealers a free pass to flood the streets with fentanyl are over," said Jenkins during a press conference in the district on Tuesday. "I told the public that on day one I will begin enforcing drug crime law. I mean what I say and I am focused on delivering on my promise to hold serious and repeat offenders accountable for wreaking havoc in our communities like the Tenderloin." Jenkins said she would offer more details on policy changes soon.

PA Governor Signs Pot Banking Protection Bill, RIP Ann Shulgin, Violence in Peru's Coca Zone, More... (7/12/22)

Pennsylvania will provide some protections to banks and insurers doing business with marijuana companies, a Florida therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed, and more.

psychedelic pioneer Ann Shulgin (MAPS)
Marijuana Policy

California Awards $1.7 Million in Grants to Support Sustainable Marijuana Cultivation. State officials have announced that have handed out more than $1.7 million in grants to promote sustainable marijuana cultivation practices. The funding is coming from the Qualified Cultivator Grant Program with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cannabis Restoration Grant Program. The grants are going to qualifying nonprofits, government entities, and tribes, who will then distribute the money to individual grower applicants. This is just the first round of grants under the program, which will total $6 million through April 2023.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Pioneer Ann Shulgin Dead at 91. Ann Shulgin, who along with her husband Sasha co-authored the pioneering psychedelic classics PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation. The two acronyms refer to phenelthylamines and triptamines I have known and loved, and the two volumes are compendiums of recipes for hundreds of psychedelic substances. Sasha was the chemist, but Ann was the therapist, and worked with drugs such as MDMA in therapeutic settings when it was still legal. Shulgin continued to advocate for the therapeutic use of psychedelics throughout her life. She spent the last eight years as a widow after Sasha Shulgin died in 2014.

Florida Bill to Legalize Psilocybin for Therapeutic Use Filed. Rep. Michael Grieco (D) has filed the Florida Psilocybin Mental Health Care Act, which would create state-sponsored clinics where patients suffering from mental health disorders could be administered microdoses of psilocybin by a licensed medical professional. The patient would go through the experience under the therapist's supervision and then be offered a post-trip counseling session. The bill comes after earlier bills to study therapeutic psilocybin died in committee in the Republican-controlled legislature.

International

Drug Traffickers in Fresh Round of Violence Against Peru's Indigenous Communities. Indigenous leaders in the Peruvian Amazon have announced that multiple killings of members of the Native Federation of Kakataibos Communities (Federación Nativa de Comunidades Kakataibos -- FENACOKA) in the departments of Ucayla and Huanaco. Four leaders of the federation have been killed since 2019, the group said. The group says the indigenous communities it represents have been subject to worsening intimidation and violence since asking the Peruvian government for support in eradicating coca crops. Last month, armed drug traffickers beat and threatened to kill one community member, demanding that he tell them where to find the leaders who "brought the Navy" to eradicate coca. In another incident last month, three community members were threatened by traffickers and forced to flee their homes. The remote area has become a favorite for traffickers because the presence of the Peruvian state is so attenuated there.

NY Grey Market Pot Shop Crackdown, Trump Praises China's Death Penalty for Drugs, More... (7/11/22)

It looks like they will be voting to free the weed in North Dakota this year, Customs officers nail a 5,000 load of methamphetamine near the Mexican border, and more.

The former president lauded China for executing drug offenders and suggested we should do the same. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Cracks Down on Grey Market Pot Shops. The state's Office of Cannabis Management has sent cease and desist letters to 52 shops across the state it has identified as illicitly selling marijuana. While the state legalized marijuana in March 2021, licensed sales have yet to commence, and the shops have been taking advantage of the interregnum to peddle weed without a permit. Now they must stop or face the prospect of being blocked from ever obtaining a retail marijuana sales license.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Plenty of Signatures. Legalize ND, the group behind this year's marijuana legalization initiative, handed in more than 25,000 raw signatures Monday morning. The initiative requires 15,582 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, meaning it has a cushion of some 10,000 signatures in case some of the raw signatures are invalidated. That is a big cushion that should ensure North Dakotans get a chance to vote on the issue in November. The initiative would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and over and allow for its sale at registered businesses.

Law Enforcement

Trump Again Urges Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Claims China Has No Drug Problem. In a campaign speech for his preferred gubernatorial candidate in Nevada last Friday, former President Donald Trump said the US should follow the lead of China on drug policy and swiftly execute drug dealers. "If you look at countries all throughout the world... the only ones that don't have a drug problem are those that institute the death penalty for drug dealers. They're the only ones, you understand that? China has no drug problem," Trump said to applause from the Republican crowd. Trump said he had asked Chinese Premier Xi Jinping whether China had a drug problem, then made up what he said XI was thinking: "Why would you have such a dumb question is that no, no, no, we don't have a drug problem. Why would we have a drug problem? There is no problem. Drug dealers get the death penalty. The trial goes very quickly. So instead of coming into China, they go someplace else. We've had big drug problems over the centuries, but we don't have a drug problem at all. Now, they don't deal in China," the former president said. Trump prefaced his remark by saying he would either "get a standing ovation" or "people are going to walk out of the room." In fact, China has rising levels of drug use, according to its own National Narcotics Control Commission.

Massive Meth Bust at Otay Mesa Border Crossing. US Customs officers seized a record-breaking 5,000 pounds of methamphetamine from a box truck that had crossed the border from Mexico into the US at the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego last Thursday. They tailed the vehicle to nearby National City, where they observed four men unloading dozens of boxes from the truck and into a van. They four men, all Tijuana residents, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, which exposes them to possible life sentences. The DEA crowed that the bust was "another win against drug cartels," but the cross-border drug trade remains very dynamic, with seizures accounting for only a small percentage of all drugs moving across the border.

ND Legalization Init Hands in Signatures, No More Sales Tax for NJ Patients, More... (7/8/22)

Signatures are handed in for a marijuana legalization initaitive in North Dakota and a medical marijuana initiative in Nebraska, and more.

A Nebraska medical marijuana initaitive campaign faces nail-biting time after handing in signatures with very little cushion.
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Sufficient Signatures, Will Hand Them in Monday. David Owen, the chairman of Legalize ND, the group trying to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot, said Thursday that the group has gathered at least 21,400 raw voter signatures and will probably add more before turning them in on Monday, the deadline for turning in signatures. The initiative needs 15,582 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving a fairly comfortable cushion to make the ballot even if some signatures are invalidated.

Ohio Senate President Rejects Marijuana Legalization, Clearing Way for Signature Drive to Put Issue Before Voters. Although the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol handed in enough signatures to compel the legislature to consider a recreational marijuana legalization bill they proposed, State Senate President Matt Huffman (R) has made it clear that the legislature would not approve it. Under state law, if the legislature rejects or fails to approve the measure, it would go to voters, provided the coalition successfully completes another signature drive. "I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it." Because of signature-gathering deadlines, it is too late to qualify for this year's ballot, and the campaign is now aiming at 2023.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Ends Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana Products. Beginning July 1, medical marijuana patients no longer have to pay a state sales tax on their purchases. New Jersey had been one of the few states that imposed the sales tax on medical marijuana but passed legislation in 2019 to begin phasing it out. Now it is gone. "Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Governor Murphy and the legislature’s intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability," said Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. "As the sales tax has been phased out… patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers."

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has handed in some 90,000 raw signatures to try to put its a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. It needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving the campaign with a very slim buffer to account for any invalidated signatures. But after a court ruling this week, the campaign may need to have the support of five percent of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties. That issue is currently being litigated, but as things stand, that requirement is still in effect.

EVENT: Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War

International Criminal Court, The Hague
Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War

parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Thursday July 14, 2020 / 7:45-9:00am ET

online via Zoom, registration at https:/stopthedrugwar.org/global/ or https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeigrD0pHd3j2AKnGpgt56EBOqaVIFbJ

Following a formal request by the Duterte administration last November, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court paused its investigation into the Philippine drug war, to reevaluate whether the government's accountability efforts were sufficient and credible. Late last month OTP requested court authorization to resume it.

In the meanwhile, a new president and vice president were inaugurated -- Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte. The ICC's international profile has also ballooned to a greater level than ever before, due to its role investigating human rights abuses in Ukraine.

UN Sustainable Goal #16 logo
In "Building Back with Justice?", speakers will review the status of the Philippine drug war killings and the government's response, the ICC case in light of the Rome Statute and the court's current challenges, and ramifications of the Marcos family's return to power.

This is a parallel event coinciding with the 2022 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, focusing on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"Building Back with Justice?" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council that is also known as StoptheDrugWar.org, and is cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

speakers:

Justine Balane, Filipino human rights activists
Ruben Carranza, International Center for Transitional Justice
Aurora Parong, Philippine Coalition for the ICC

co-moderated by:

David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, Associazone Luca Coscioni and former Senator, Italy

-- END --

AR Legalization Campaign Hands in Signatures, Amnesty on Singapore Drug War Hangings, More... (7/7/22)

A federal circuit court puts the hurt on a Nebraska medical marijuana initiative, DC residents can now self-certify as medical marijuana patients, and more.

Downtown Washington, DC. Adults there can now self-certify as medical marijuana patients. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign to Turn in Massive Signature Cache Tomorrow. Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, is handing in signatures Friday and the group says it has collected more than double the number of signatures required. These are just raw signatures, but initiative campaigns typically seek a cushion of excess signatures of 10, 20, or 30 percent to make up for any that are invalidated, and this is a cushion of 100 percent, so it looks very likely that Arkansans will be voting to free the weed in November. The amendment would allow people 21 and over to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana but would not allow for home cultivation. It does not contain provisions to expunge past records or to address social equity.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Rules Against Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Signature-Gathering Case. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a stay to the state of Nebraska in a case regarding signature-gathering requirements for a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives. The group behind the campaign, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, had successfully challenged the state's requirement that initiatives must obtain signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in at least 38 of the state's 93 counties, having won a preliminary injunction on the issue in federal district court. The 8th Circuit's ruling stayed that preliminary injunction, meaning the old requirements are once again in effect.

DC Mayor Signs Bill to Allow People 21 and Over to Buy Medical Marijuana Without a Doctor's Recommendation. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Wednesday signed into law a bill that allows DC residents to "self-certify" their need for medical marijuana, removing the need for obtaining a doctor's recommendation. "We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community," Bowser said. The move comes as Congress continues to block the District from being able to allow recreational marijuana sales and as the District grapples with the proliferation of unregulated marijuana "gifting shops," where people pay high prices for items such as t-shirts and then receive marijuana as a "gift."

International

Amnesty International Calls on Singapore to End Wave of Drug War Executions. "End the wave of hangings and immediately impose a moratorium on executions," the human rights group demanded Thursday after Singapore executed two men on drug charges. Responding to the execution of Malaysian national Kalwant Singh in Singapore, together with that of another man, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for Research Emerlynne Gil said: "Singapore has once again executed people convicted of drug-related offenses in violation of international law, callously disregarding public outcry. Going against a worldwide trend towards abolishing the death penalty, Singapore is just one of four countries known to have executed people for drug-related offenses in recent years. The death penalty is never the solution and we oppose it unconditionally. There is no evidence that it acts as a unique deterrent to crime."

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

This Week's Corrupt Cop Stories

A Pennsylvania state trooper gets wasted on the job, and more. Let's get to it:

In Honesdale, Pennsylvania, a former Pennsylvania State Police corporal pleaded guilty last Thursday to stealing drugs from the barracks evidence room. Ex-Corporal Brain Rickard didn't just steal them; he got wasted with them on the job, leading to his current predicament. And he used office computers to cover up the thefts. Richard had been found at work "in a compromised state, unable to function normally, and made a commotion when he was told to return home," prosecutors said. A subsequent search of his office turned up empty heroin packets and a crumpled evidence envelope, and additional packets with the same branding were found in Rickard's home when it was searched. He pleaded guilty to acquisition of controlled substance by misrepresentation, obstructing administration of law, tampering with physical evidence, forgery, and theft by unlawful taking. Sentencing is set for September 19.

In El Paso, a former El Paso police officer was sentenced last Thursday to two years in prison for helping her stepfather sell cocaine out of his house. Monica Garcia, 24, admitted using her position as a police officer to help him avoid being caught, including running license plates through a police database to figure out which ones belonged to undercover officers. But her stepfather still managed to make a sale to a snitch, leading to his arrest and conviction and subsequently to her arrest and conviction. She copped to one count of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved house.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Nebraska medical marijuana initiative campaign is going down to the wire on signature-gathering, a Pennsylvania bill to protect patients from DUI charges advances, and more.

Arizona

Arizona Medical Marijuana Regulators Must Revise Fee Structure, Auditor's Review Finds. State auditors recommended three years that the Department of Health Services needed to make changes in how it manages the state's medical marijuana fund, and in a new report released late in June, the auditors said the department had failed to act on the initial recommendations. The auditors said the department had followed other of its 2019 recommendations, including performing medical marijuana facility inspections and addressing complaints and noncompliance issues, but has not adequately audited its fee structure nor addressed funding allocations for specific programs outlined in the medical marijuana law.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Says It Is Near Signature Goal. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), who is working with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana to put a pair of linked initiatives on the November ballot, said Wednesday that "overwhelming number of Nebraskans have turned out and signed our petitions in the last ten days" and that the campaign has gathered some 87,000 raw signatures. It needs that amount of valid voter signatures to qualify. Initiative campaigns typically seek a cushion of 10, 20, or 30 percent more raw signatures than needed to account for signatures found to be invalid. But the campaign only has until Friday to come up with additional signatures, and it is pleading with Nebraskans to come up with at least 5,000 more signatures (a cushion of only about 4 percent) by then, which may or may not be sufficient to offset signatures found to be invalid.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Bill to Protect Patients from DUI Charges Advances. The Senate Transportation Committee has approved Senate Bill 167, which would protect state medical marijuana patients from wrongful convictions for driving under the influence. The bill advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote. The bill would treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug, requiring proof of impairment that interferes with a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before he could be charged with DUI. The state currently has a zero-tolerance DUI law that could expose patients to such charges for taking their medicine. There are some 700,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

Senators Press Biden to Deschedule Marijuana, OK Legalization Init Hands in Signatures, More... (7/6/22)

The Nebraska medical marijuana initiative campaign is in a final frantic push to come up with additional signatures, the Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative campaign hands in beaucoup signatures, and more.

President Biden is being pushed to deschedule marijuana via executive action. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Democrats Press Biden to Use Existing Authority to Take Step Forward on Marijuana Legalization. A trio of leading progressive senators are among those who are pressing for President Biden to use his authority to deschedule marijuana. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) signed on to a letter Wednesday that called on the administration to "use its existing authority to (i) deschedule cannabis and (ii) issue pardons to all individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.

The senators said the letter was the second time they had asked the administration to move on descheduling. The first time was in October 2021, and they described the administration's response as "extraordinarily disappointing." "The Administration's failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes," they wrote in the letter, which was addressed to President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws has handed in nearly double the number of raw signatures needed to get a measure legalizing adult use marijuana, State Question 820, on the November ballot. The group needed some 94,000 valid voter signatures to qualify and handed in more than 164,000 raw signatures. A companion measure, State Question 819, faces a higher signature threshold because it is a constitutional amendment, but is also expected to qualify for the November ballot. It needs 177,957 valid voter signatures to qualify and it has until August 1 to hand them in.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Medical Marijuana Regulators Must Revise Fee Structure, Auditor's Review Finds. State auditors recommended three years that the Department of Health Services needed to make changes in how it manages the state's medical marijuana fund, and in a new report released late in June, the auditors said the department had failed to act on the initial recommendations. The auditors said the department had followed other of its 2019 recommendations, including performing medical marijuana facility inspections and addressing complaints and noncompliance issues, but has not adequately audited its fee structure nor addressed funding allocations for specific programs outlined in the medical marijuana law.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Says It Is Near Signature Goal. State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), who is working with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana to put a pair of linked initiatives on the November ballot, said Wednesday that "overwhelming number of Nebraskans have turned out and signed our petitions in the last ten days" and that the campaign has gathered some 87,000 raw signatures. It needs that amount of valid voter signatures to qualify. Initiative campaigns typically seek a cushion of 10, 20, or 30 percent more raw signatures than needed to account for signatures found to be invalid. But the campaign only has until Friday to come up with additional signatures, and it is pleading with Nebraskans to come up with at least 5,000 more signatures (a cushion of only about 4 percent) by then, which may or may not be sufficient to offset signatures found to be invalid.

Fed Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in WV Lawsuit, CA Kills Marijuana Cultivator Tax, More... (7/5/22)

A Washington state county commissioner demonstrates her cluelessness about harm reduction, Senate drug warriors file the END FENTANYL Act, and more.

pain pills (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Ending Cultivation Tax on Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 195, a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state's legal marijuana system whose most striking feature is the removal of the wholesale tax on marijuana growers. The aim of the bill is to provide relief to the struggling industry and further erode the marijuana black market. The bill also shifts collection of the state's 15 percent excise tax from the distributor level to the retail level, and it freezes the excise tax for at least the next three years. Aiming at unlicensed operators, the bill allows for fines of up to $10,000 per day for property managers who knowingly rent or lease space to unlicensed marijuana businesses. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, half for equity operators and half for microbusinesses. Social equity operators will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit and will be able to keep 20 percent of excise tax revenues for reinvesting in their businesses.

Opiates and Opioids

Bipartisan Group of Senate Drug Warriors File END FENTANYL Bill. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have filed the cutely-acronymed Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act (Senate Bill 4440). The bill would require the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure drug interdiction guidance is up to date. The legislation was prompted by a 2019 GAO report, Land Ports of Entry: CBP Should Update Policies and Enhance Analysis of Inspections, which found drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years. Scott used a press release about the bill to slam President Biden for his "failed open border policies" even though DEA figures show that 80 percent of fentanyl comes through ports of entry, not in the backpacks of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented border crossers.

Federal Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in West Virginia Lawsuit. A federal judge ruled against West Virginia plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from three major drug distributors who they accused of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills in eight years in one county hard hit by opioid addiction. Cabell County and the city of Huntington had sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

Plaintiffs argued that the companies sent a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the county and that their conduct was unreasonable, reckless, and disregarded the public health. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor. Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote, noting that the plaintiffs supplied no evidence that the companies distributed opioids to any entity that was not properly registered with the DEA or the state Board of Pharmacy. The city and the county had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward opioid efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement plan would have been to reduce overdoses,

Harm Reduction

WA County Commissioner Fears "Normalization" of Naloxone. Amanda McKinney, a Republican Yakima County Commissioner, is concerned that the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will be "normalized." She was responding to a presentation by the Board of Health about the increase in drug overdose deaths and the district's overdose awareness campaign, but zeroed in on one sentence: Among the goals of the campaign was "Increase awareness and education about the benefits of naloxone to normalize its use."

That set off McKinney: I'm really concerned about that last slide where it says normalize use. I would really like for us to expand on what that means," McKinney said. "I'm just wondering if there is a better term than normalize, 'cuz normalize to me means we're accepting this and promoting this as part of our daily lives and I think that that word is inappropriate."

Apparently unfamiliar with the notion of harm reduction, she also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips. "I'd really like to know what the effectiveness is of fentanyl testing strips and syringe exchange services for actually successfully getting people off and away from being someone who is a habitual drug user," McKinney said. "I question those methods as being methods that are successful in getting people actually off the drugs." Following McKinney's comments, Health District Director Andre Fresco explained that harm reduction's primary goal is not to end drug use, but to save lives, and added that the district is involved in efforts to get people off drugs.

Another Push for the SAFE Banking Act, NJ Magic Mushroom Legalization Bill Filed, More... (7/1/22)

The Ohio Supreme Court rejects a police backpack search for marijuana, the Massachusetts Senate has approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. It could be legal to grow, possess, and share them under a New Jersey bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Marijuana Banking Amendment to Must-Pass Defense Bill in Latest Reform Push. Led by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-OR), sponsor of the House-passed version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996), a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to attach that legislation to the must-pass bill. This is the second year Perlmutter has tried to get the SAFE Banking Act language into the defense spending bill. Passage of the bill in the Senate has been stymied by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been blocking the incremental bill as he continues to push for a full-scale marijuana legalization bill. Perlmutter's amendment will be taken up in the House Rules Committee, and if approved as part of the spending bill in the House, would be subject to conference committee approval with Senate leaders.

Ohio Supreme Court Finds Marijuana Backpack Search Unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a woman for marijuana possession, ruling that a warrantless search of her backpack in her home violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Police came to the woman's home with an unrelated arrest warrant and searched her backpack while she was already handcuffed and sitting in a patrol car. They found 391 grams of mostly marijuana edibles and charged her with felony marijuana possession. Police and prosecutors argued that they had the right to search the backpack for weapons, but the justices held there was no rationale for a weapons search once the woman was detained. Police and prosecutors also argued that a bit of plastic baggie protruding from the backpack justified the search, but the justices rejected that as well. "When police search a bookbag in a home under circumstances that do not give rise to any exigency, they must follow the command of the Fourth Amendment: get a warrant," wrote Justice Patrick DeWine. The case goes back to lower courts for reconsideration.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Senate President Files Bill to Legalize Magic Mushrooms for Personal Use. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2934, that would allow people 21 and over to "possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport, deliver without consideration, or distribute without consideration, four grams or less of psilocybin," the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms. People could legally grow, cultivate, or process the mushrooms capable of producing psilocybin on private property. The bill would also expunge past criminal offenses for magic mushrooms. "This bill is a recognition of evolving science related to psilocybin and its medical uses related to mental health, and if science can provide relief in any fashion with this natural substance under a controlled environment then we should encourage this science," Scutari said. In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill downgrading psilocybin possession from a third-degree crime to disorderly persons offense with a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Asset Forfeiture

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would raise the evidentiary standard for prosecutors to be able to pursue civil asset forfeiture. The bill, Senate Bill 2671, would raise the standard from the lowest legal standard -- probable cause -- to the "preponderance of evidence." The bill also bars asset forfeiture prosecutions for less than $250 and provides the right to counsel for indigent people in asset forfeiture cases. "We view ourselves as a socially progressive state with strong protection for civil liberties. But our current laws on civil asset forfeiture are anything but, and reforming in this area is long overdue," said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Nears Final Passage, PA MedMJ DUI Bill Advances, More... (6/30/22)

North Carolina permanently legaizes hemp at the last minute, a Missoula, Montana, entheogen decriminalization resolution is withdrawn for lack of support, and more.

The safe injection site in Vancouver. Similar facilities could be coming soon to California cities. (vcha.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Protect Patients from DUI Charges Advances. The Senate Transportation Committee has approved Senate Bill 167, which would protect state medical marijuana patients from wrongful convictions for driving under the influence. The bill advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote. The bill would treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug, requiring proof of impairment that interferes with a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before he could be charged with DUI. The state currently has a zero-tolerance DUI law that could expose patients to such charges for taking their medicine. There are some 700,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

Hemp

North Carolina Approves Permanent Hemp Legalization. Just two days before a previous law temporarily legalizing hemp production was set to expire, leaving an estimated 1,500 state hemp farmers in the lurch, the legislature gave final approval to a bill to make hemp legalization permanent, Senate Bill 455 on Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the bill into law Thursday. The old law was set to expire Friday.

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Shelved. A pair of city council members, Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan, earlier this month introduced a resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants in the city, but they have now shelved it after failing to gain enough support on the council to move it. Other council members cited scarce research on the plants' benefits, unresolved questions about law enforcement, and the potential threat to youth as reasons to oppose the resolution. The sponsors now say they will now regroup and seek to build council support before trying again.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Passes Assembly. The Assembly has approved Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) bill to allow safe injection site pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. The bill foresees a five-year pilot program for each of those locales, all of which have formally requested to be included. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote after changes were made in the Assembly and then to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). "Every overdose death is preventable," said Sen. Wiener. "We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

Supreme Court Sides with Inmate in Crack Cocaine Resentencing Case [FEATURE]

In a Monday decision little-noticed amidst the rising clamor over recent Supreme Court decisions on guns, abortion, and religion, the highest court in the land ruled in favor of a federal crack cocaine prisoner seeking a sentence reduction under the terms of the 2018 First Step Act. The ruling could affect thousands of other mostly Black inmates sentenced under the nation's harsh crack cocaine laws.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes for the majority. (Creative Commons)
During the crack panic of the 1980s, Congress passed legislation creating a 100:1 disparity in the weight of the drug required to trigger a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence. Confronted with the increasingly unassailable evidence that the sentencing disparity was neither scientifically justified nor racially neutral -- nearly 80 percent of federal crack prosecutions targeted Black people by 2009 -- Congress in 2010 passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced but did not eliminate the weight disparity, setting it at 18:1.

The Fair Sentencing Act provided relief to people sentenced after its passage, but it was not retroactive, meaning people sentenced under the old standard still had to do those harsh sentences. In order to address that oversight and reduce racial inequities, Congress in 2018 passed the First Step Act, making those sentencing changes retroactive and opening the door for people sentenced under the old law to seek resentencing.

The case in question, Concepcion v. United States, began when Carlos Concepcion pleaded guilty to selling crack in 2009 and was sentenced to 19 years in prison based on the 100:1 sentencing disparity in effect at the time. After passage of the First Step Act and having already served a decade of his sentence, Concepcion filed for a reduced sentence. Part of his argument was that he was no longer considered a "career offender" subject to harsher sentencing because of changes in the federal sentencing guidelines unrelated to the First Step Act.

Without that "career offender" designation, Concepcion would have been a free man after serving just less than six years [Ed: six years is itself a very long time], but a Massachusetts federal district court judge declined to consider factors unrelated to the First Step Act and denied his resentencing request. That denial was upheld by the 1st US Circuit Court in Boston, and Concepcion and his attorneys then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in a 5-4 decision.

The majority on the court was an odd one, consisting of the three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor -- joined by hard conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor wrote the opinion.

In it, she argued that judges enjoy broad discretion at sentencing and that discretion continues in any later proceedings that may change the sentence.

"Federal courts historically have exercised broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing, consistent with their responsibility to sentence the whole person before them," she wrote. "That discretion also carries forward to later proceedings that may modify an original sentence. District courts' discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence."

There is nothing in the First Step Act that limits that discretion, she added.

"Nothing in the text and structure of the First Step Act expressly, or even implicitly, overcomes the established tradition of district courts' sentencing discretion," she wrote. "The text of the First Step Act does not so much as hint that district courts are prohibited from considering evidence of rehabilitation, disciplinary infractions, or unrelated Guidelines changes. The only two limitations on district courts' discretion appear in §404(c): A district court may not consider a First Step Act motion if the movant's sentence was already reduced under the Fair Sentencing Act or if the court considered and rejected a motion under the First Step Act. Neither limitation applies here."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the First Step Act only authorized judges to cut sentences related to changes in the crack sentencing ranges, but not unrelated factors.

"Congress enacted the First Step Act to provide a targeted retroactive reduction in crack-cocaine sentencing ranges, not to unleash a sentencing free-for-all in the lower courts," Kavanaugh wrote.

But that was the minority opinion. And if reducing unduly harsh crack cocaine sentences that were based on panic and prejudice is "a sentencing free-for-all," that would be a small price to pay for some restorative justice.

Medical Marijuana Update

A signature-gathering deadline looms in Nebraska, DC does away with requiring a doctor's recommendation to buy medical marijuana, and more.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Has Only A Week to Come Up With 50,000 Signatures. Things are looking grim for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group trying to qualify an initiative for the November ballot. The campaign needs 50,000 more valid voter signatures in the next week to qualify but has only gathered 35,000 signatures in months of signature-gathering. The campaign has been plagued this year by the loss of significant donors who had funded past efforts. "The reality is we need 50,000 Nebraskans to sign the petition in the next two weeks. Now it's on Nebraskans. The volunteers and patients have carried the water this far. It's on Nebraskans to go out and find a place to sign it," said state Sen. Anna Wishart, co-chair of the initiative. The same group qualified an initiative for the 2020 ballot, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

North Carolina

North Carolina House Republicans Block Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate has passed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 711), but it now appears doomed in the House even though the legislative session still has more than a week to run. During a closed-door meeting Wednesday, House Republicans voted internally not to advance the bill. But the bill is not dead until the session ends, and it is theoretically possible that the bill could advance because budget negotiations are still ongoing.

Washington, DC

DC Council Ends Requirement for Doctor's Recommendation Before Buying Medical Marijuana. The DC Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill eliminating the requirement that people seeking to purchase medical marijuana first obtain a doctor's recommendation. The bill allows city residents 21 and over to "self-certify" they need marijuana for medicinal purposes when they register for a patient card. The bill now goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who has indicated she supports the measure.

No Drug Decrim Init in WA This Year, Colombia Truth Commission Calls for Legal, Regulated Drugs... (6/29/22)

A House committee has advanced an amendment to protect state-legal marijuana businesses, the DC city council votes to let adults "self-certify" for a medical marijuana card, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. The country's truth commission is calling for big changes. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Amendment to Protect Legal State Marijuana Programs. The House Committee on Appropriations voted Tuesday to approve an amendment that would prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with legal adult-use marijuana programs as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2023. The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH), with the non-committee support of past champions Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), would bar the DOJ from using resources to interfere with the ability of states, territories, tribal governments, or the District of Columbia to implement laws and regulations governing the legal and regulated production, sale, and use of cannabis by adults or to target people acting in compliance with those laws.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Ends Requirement for Doctor's Recommendation Before Buying Medical Marijuana. The DC Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill eliminating the requirement that people seeking to purchase medical marijuana first obtain a doctor's recommendation. The bill allows city residents 21 and over to "self-certify" they need marijuana for medicinal purposes when they register for a patient card. The bill now goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who has indicated she supports the measure.

Drug Policy

Washington Activists End Bid to Put Drug Decriminalization Initiative on November Ballot, Cite Cost of Signature-Gathering. Commit to Change WA, the people behind a proposed drug decriminalization initiative, said Monday that it was halting efforts to qualify for the ballot this year and would instead work with the legislature to try to pass a decriminalization bill next year. "We will not be moving forward to qualify Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922 to the November 8 general election ballot," the group said. "Signature gathering proved more challenging and prohibitively expensive than projected." The decision to quit comes even as new polling shows that two-thirds of state voters would have voted for the measure after reading the ballot language. "Though the proposed Initiative 1922 will no longer be on Washington ballots this November, legislators in the state must note that Washington voters are ready to end the War on Drugs and want to start treating substance use issues with compassion and data-backed policies," the pollsters said.

International

Colombian Truth Commission Calls for "Strict Legal Regulation of Drugs, End to Drug War. A truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC called on Tuesday for the government to quit focusing on suppressing illicit drugs and instead take the global lead in moving to "strict legal regulation" of those substances. It recommended a new approach to illicit drug production that focuses more on sustainable development and less on the eradication of coca.

The commission offered a scathing critique of the country's drug war, backed by the United States. "The current drug policy is ineffective in preventing consumption," the panel writes in a nearly 900-page report. "The policy of the war on drugs and narcotrafficking has been a factor in the persistence of conflict and violence in Colombia." The commission is also calling for sweeping reforms of the criminal justice system and separating the National Police from the Ministry of Defense.

The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but incoming President Gustavo Petro has said he will follow them.

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of "Pill Mill" Docs, UN Human Rights Experts Call for End to Drug War, More... (6/27/22)

Drug charges account for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, Pakistan moves toward licensing medical and industrial cannabis production, Spain moves toward medical marijuana sales, and more.

The Supreme Court holds prosecutors to a high standard on charging doctors over prescribing. (Pixabay)
Opiates and Opioids

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Doctors Accused of Overprescribing Opioids. The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the convictions of two doctors accusing of running opioid "pill mills," making it more difficult for the government to prosecute doctors who overprescribe drugs. In seeking to distinguish between legitimate medical conduct and illegally overprescribing, the court held that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor knew or intended to prescribe drugs in an unauthorized manner. "We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court. The cases involved a doctor in Alabama whose clinic dispensed nearly 300,000 opioid prescriptions over a four-year period and a doctor who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming who operated mostly on a cash-only basis, but who also accepted property as payment, including firearms.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Quarterly Report Shows Drugs Remain Most Common Federal Offense. Enforcing federal drug prohibition accounts for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, according the US Sentencing Commission's latest quarterly report. Drug offenses accounted for 32.3 percent of all prosecutions in the last two quarters, with methamphetamine accounting for nearly half (48.6 percent) of all drug offenses and fentanyl continuing to increase, now accounting for 11.8 percent of all drug offenses. Immigration was the second largest category of federal prosecutions, accounting for 26.5 percent of all federal prosecutions, followed by firearms offenses at 14.9 percent. No other federal crime category accounted for more than 10 percent of federal prosecutions. A decline in prosecutions that took place during the coronavirus pandemic has now ended, with about 5,000 federal drug prosecutions every six months.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Use International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking to Call for End of War on Drugs. UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called "war on drugs"and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the following statement:

"Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the 'war on drugs' undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this 'war' has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labor, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law."

Click on the link above for the rest of the statement.

New Zealand Poll Shows Most Support Replacing Punitive Drug Laws with Health-Based Approach. A new poll produced by The Navigators on behalf of the NZ Drug Foundation finds that a solid majority of New Zealanders support replacing the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Some 68 percent of respondents favored the change. A strong majority -- 61 percent -- also favored drug decriminalization and introducing more support for education and treatment. The poll also showed that there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent).

Pakistan Moves to Allow Cannabis Farming for Medical and Industrial Use. The Ministry of Science and Technology will form an authority to regulate and facilitate the farming and use of cannabis, or "Bhang," as it referred to in the country. The authority will issue 15-year licenses for industrial, medical, processing, research, and development purposes. The Department of Commerce will issue licenses for cannabis exports.

Spain Moving Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies. A subcommittee in the Congress of Deputies has accepted a draft bill to regulate medical marijuana sales and referred the bill to the Commission on Health for a vote this week. While the proposed bill has very tight distribution rules, it is being lauded as the first step toward providing greater access. Once the bill is approved by the Health Commission, the Spanish Medicines Agency will have six months to draft appropriate regulations. The draft bill will make THC-containing flowers available by prescription for the treatment of specified illnesses and conditions.

Marijuana Banking Protections Again Excluded from Spending Bill, House Approves Easing Bupe Access, More.... (6/24/22)

The Mississippi Supreme Court upholds a black man's life sentence for marijuana possession, a Senate committee clears the way for people who have used marijuana to get jobs in the intelligence community, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Provision Stripped from Omnibus Stimulus Bill, New Banking Measure Introduced. A conference committee of lawmakers has stripped the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) out of the final version of an omnibus economic stimulus bill. The act was included in the House version of the bill, but not the Senate's. The move marks yet another defeat for efforts to provide protections for financial institutions that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) holds out for full-blown marijuana legalization. Meanwhile, a new bill similar to the SAFE Banking Act, the Capital Lending and Investment for Marijuana Businesses (CLIMB) Act, has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Allow People Who Used Marijuana to Work in Intelligence Agencies. The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would allow intelligence agencies to hire people who have used marijuana in the past. The committee advanced the annual intelligence authorization bill, which included the marijuana provision. The move is "a common-sense change to ensure the IC can recruit the most capable people possible," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). National security officials have complained for years that the lifetime prohibition of marijuana use has limited the pool of qualified applicants to the intelligence agencies.

Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Man's Life Sentence for Marijuana Possession. The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a life sentence for Allen Russell after he was found guilty of possessing 43 grams of marijuana. Such an offense normally carries a three-year sentence, but Allen was sentenced under the state's habitual offender law. He had previously been convicted twice of burglary and once of being a convict in possession of a firearm. The high court ruled that the sentence did not amount to cruel and unusual punishment and was in line with state law. Do we have to mention that Allen is black?

Drug Treatment

House Passes Bill to Remove Barriers to Medication-Assisted Treatment. The House on Wednesday approved the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (HR 2482), which seeks to address outdated federal regulations that hamper doctors from being able to prescribe drugs such as buprenorphine that are used to treat opioid use disorder. The bill is part of a larger package that also eliminated barriers to accessing methadone, as well increasing funding and training for people with mental health and substance use disorders to enter the workforce. Current federal requirements that doctors receive a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine have left many rural counties without effective access to the drug.

NE MedMJ Initiative Signature Deadline Looms, Swiss Ease Medical Marijuana Access, More... (6/23/22)

North Carolina House Republicans are blocking a medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate, opium sales continue at an Afghanistan opium market despite a Taliban ban, and more.

Despite an announced Taliban ban on opium, sales are continuing at the market in Helmand. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Has Only Two Weeks to Come Up With 50,000 Signatures. Things are looking grim for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group trying to qualify an initiative for the November ballot. The campaign needs 50,000 more valid voter signatures in the next two weeks to qualify but has only gathered 35,000 signatures in months of signature-gathering. The campaign has been plagued this year by the loss of significant donors who had funded past efforts. "The reality is we need 50,000 Nebraskans to sign the petition in the next two weeks. Now it's on Nebraskans. The volunteers and patients have carried the water this far. It's on Nebraskans to go out and find a place to sign it," said state Sen. Anna Wishart, co-chair of the initiative. The same group qualified an initiative for the 2020 ballot, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

North Carolina House Republicans Block Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate has passed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 711), but it now appears doomed in the House even though the legislative session still has more than a week to run. During a closed-door meeting Wednesday, House Republicans voted internally not to advance the bill. But the bill is not dead until the session ends, and it is theoretically possible that the bill could advance because budget negotiations are still ongoing.

International

Afghanistan Opium Markets Still Operating in Helmand Province Despite Taliban Ban. The Taliban may have issued an edict banning opium production and the opium trade, but it has yet to take effect in the poppy-growing heartland of Helmand province. Opium farmers there are still selling their harvests to smugglers, and they say they are doing it out of economic necessity in the now poverty-wracked nation. "People will sell it as long as they have it at home, it is not food. By selling it, people can make some money to feed their families," one farmer explained.

Switzerland to Ease Medical Marijuana Access. The Swiss government announced Wednesday that it will lift the ban on medical marijuana, in line with a March 2021 amendment to the Swiss Narcotics Act. As of August 1, patients will no longer have to obtain permission from the Federal Office of Public Health, but instead can get a recommendation from a doctor. "The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient," the government said. The government had allowed some 3,000 people to use medical marijuana, but the public health office itself described the process as "tedious administrative procedures" and said "Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy."

Drug War Issues

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