Drug War Chronicle

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Leftist Former Guerrilla and Drug War Critic Gustavo Petro Wins Colombian Presidency [FEATURE]

In an election that has overturned a decades-long status quo in Colombian politics, former leftist guerrilla and Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro won the presidency on Sunday. He beat his competitor, Trumpian businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%, with 100 percent of the votes counted.

Colombia's next president, Gustavo Petro (Creative Commons)
Petro's victory is the latest win in a Latin American "pink tide," with leftists recently winning presidential elections in Bolivia, Chile, Honduras and Peru, and poised to take power once again in Brazil.

What to do about the country's booming coca and cocaine trade and the violence that surrounds it was a central theme in the campaign -- with both candidates critical of a war on drugs intertwined with a ferocious counterinsurgency financed by the United States to the tune of $20 billion since the days of Plan Colombia and paid for with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Colombians.

Even the conservative Hernández, a wealthy real estate developer, suggested giving drugs to addicts as a means of ending drug trade violence. "If we give drug addicts free drugs, be it intravenous, aspiration, or oral, then the demand is over. Nobody buys again," Hernández said in a campaign speech last week. "And if they don't buy [drugs] because we give them to users, the sale is over and the drug is over."

Petro, for his part, has called for legalizing marijuana. "The issue of marijuana seems stupid to me to keep it underground," he said in a recent interview. "Ex-presidents' relatives do the business of exporting legal marijuana and, on the other hand, they throw bombs at the peasants and their children who produce marijuana in [the southwestern province of] Cauca. The possibility of legal exportation of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes through licenses from the national government has friends with political power in Colombia. If Colombia does not get its act together, we're going to lose that business."

But he has also been harshly critical of broader drug prohibition. Last month, he asked whether "the million dead Latin Americans -- the majority Colombians and Mexicans -- has been worth it. Drugs are so demonized that it's politically correct to say 'let's ban them and start a war,' but we never consider the consequences."

Colombia "doesn't need more violence" to stop the drug war, he said. "The drug war is fought with capitalism. It is not with lead or with more violence."

He advocates for voluntary crop substitution instead of forced eradication for coca farmers and has promised to use marijuana as a substitute crop.

His position on coca and cocaine legalization was artfully unclear during the campaign, but there is a bill that would authorize a pilot project to directly buy coca from farmers in areas hardest hit by drug trafficking and state violence and allow the government to set a legal coca market price. While the bill gained some backing since in was introduced in 2020, it has languished in limbo under the anti-reformist outgoing President Ivan Duque. Whether the bill will now move under Petro will be an early indicator of his policy positions.

Sanho Tree is director of the Drug Policy Project at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, and has been studying and traveling to Colombia for years. He was nearly at a loss for words.

"I'm still processing this," he told the Chronicle. "I didn't expect him to live this long, much less win. But they fear the vice president [the country's first female Afro-Colombian to hold the office, Francia Márquez] even more, so that's sort of an insurance policy. It's been 20 years of disappointment, horrors, and setbacks, so this is just a moment of unbridled joy," he said.

"This is a step forward for drug policy, human rights, and civil society, and you have Chile and Brazil -- if Lula wins as it looks he will, there will be a powerful triangular bloc in South America that could eclipse even US influence," Tree said.

And that's not the only potential new alignment Tree foresees. "With Bolivia and Peru, and now Colombia, we could see a regional coca bloc," he said.

And unlike his predecessor, said Tree, Petro will take the 2016 peace accords with the FARC seriously and actually try to implement them. The accords were supposed to bring peace to the countryside, but were opposed by Duque, and once the FARC demobilized, violent rightist paramilitaries and leftist guerrilla factions filled the vacuum as the state failed to provide promised alternative development assistance.

"Duque is an Uribista [ally of former ultra-conservative President Alvaro Uribe, who has been linked to the rightist paramilitaries] and hated the guerrillas," Tree said. "He never wanted peace and he sure wasn't going to help any of them. It was a huge opportunity lost and there was a huge sense of betrayal. In many ways, it is as dangerous as ever for NGOs and human rights defenders, and the state has done nothing. They should have seized the opportunity in 2016, but it was all about Trumpian vengeance instead."

Petro will "take the peace treaties seriously," Tree said. "He will invest in rural communities, and that will make a big difference in daily life for people. Right now, it makes a lot of sense for farmers to grow coca because it is such a valuable crop, but it is also very violent and dangerous. Many farmers would rather not be in that business, and if they don't have to participate in that economy, that could be really helpful."

Tree pointed to the positive experience of Bolivia under Evo Morales.

"With Morales in Bolivia, instead of forced eradication and violence, they stopped that and went a regulated supply -- 40 square meters per family -- and that allowed them to have food security and a predictable income stream, and that allows people to diversify local economies. You can do these kinds of economic experiments once you have a little food security."

Also, said Tree, "fumigation will be off the table."

There is an opportunity for positive change in Colombia, especially around drug policy. Now, it is time for Petro to prove himself.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Iowa deputy's pill habit got way out of control, a Pennsylvania cop gets in trouble for letting a drug gang use his apartment as a stash house, and more. Let's get to it:

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a Hanover Township police officer was arrested last Friday for letting a Wilkes Barre apartment he owned be used as a stash house by a drug trafficking operation with ties to Mexico. Officer Kevin Davis is related by marriage to the alleged gang leader, and authorities say he assisted the group in their operations. Davis was just one of nine people busted in the operation, which netted 10 pounds of meth, 2.7 pounds of fentanyl, 10 pounds of marijuana, and $15,000 in cash. He and most of the others are charged with possession with intent to distribute, corrupt organizations, conspiracy, and criminal use of communications facility.

In Bakersfield, California, a Kern County sheriff's detention deputy was arraigned Monday for allegedly bringing meth into the jail. Deputy Elizabeth Fernandez, a 21-year veteran, was found in possession of the drug during her shift, and was charged with being under the influence of drugs, drug possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Sheriff's officials said it was not clear if the drugs were for her personal use or if she was trafficking to inmates.

In Los Angeles, a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer pleaded guilty June 10 to smuggling what he thought was meth through LAX in return for an $8,000 bribe. Michael Williams, 39, was instead the victim of a sting by authorities who suspected him of helping smuggle drugs past checkpoints at the airport. He met with an informant to receive the fake meth in a backpack and agreed to deliver it to an accomplice past the airport's security checkpoint. Then he did so. Then he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to one count of attempted distribution of methamphetamine. He's looking at a 10-year federal mandatory minimum.

In Le Mars, Iowa, a former Plymouth County deputy was sentenced last Tuesday to a whopping 40 years in prison for burglarizing multiple homes to steal prescription drugs. Aaron Leusink, 43, who served as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer, had pleaded guilty in April to 11 charges, including burglary, felonious misconduct in office, unlawful drug possession, and theft. Leusink went down after investigators viewing body camera footage of a possible "on the job inappropriate relationship" in an unrelated matter instead found footage of him breaking into a home and stealing prescription pills. A subsequent search of his home turned up more than 1,600 pills, many which appeared to come from the department evidence locker and others that linked him to five unsolved pharmacy burglaries. At his sentencing, Leusink told the judge he had become addicted to painkillers after surgery.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana legislation gets thwarted in North Carolina, a governor's medical marijuana committee gets going in Kentucky, and more.

Kentucky

Kentucky Governor's Medical Marijuana Committee Meets for First Time. Faced with intransigent Republican opposition in the legislature, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) created the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee to try to chart a path forward. That committee met for the first time on Monday and heard testimony from Kentuckians both for and against medical marijuana as it seeks to provide guidance to the administration about how to move forward. More hearings are coming.

Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Signs Package of Mainly Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law a package of marijuana-related bills, the majority of them dealing with medical marijuana. One bill allows nurse practitioners and psychologists to recommend medical marijuana, another clarifies that devices used to inhale medical marijuana are not drug paraphernalia, another repeals the 10-license limit on dispensary licenses and leaves room for expanding the number of dispensaries, another bill makes the state Health Department the lead regulatory agency, and another bill allows non-state residents to obtain medical marijuana in the state. Edwards also signed bills that specify that the odor of marijuana alone is not probable cause for a search and that smoking marijuana in a motor vehicle operating on the roadway is illegal.

Minnesota

US Supreme Court Declines Review of Minnesota Ruling That Employers Do Not Have to Reimburse Workers for Medical Marijuana. The Minnesota Supreme Court had ruled that employers can't be required to cover the costs of medical marijuana to treat on-the-job injuries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Now, the US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of that decision, leaving the ruling intact and Minnesota workers out of luck. The US Solicitor General's Office argued that federal law preempts any state regulation requiring reimbursement for an illegal drug and was joined by the insurance company that was fending off the worker's claim. "If states could enforce laws compelling third parties to subsidize federal crimes, they could directly undermine congressional determinations," the Solicitor General's brief says. "For example, no legal principle would preclude a state from requiring private employers to reimburse the use of other federally prohibited products or substances, such as LSD and other psychedelic drugs, based on perceived benefits."

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Stalled in House. The state Senate has passed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 711), but is now stalled in the House, and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) says it is unlikely to be taken up before the legislative session ends on June 30. The bill passed the Senate easily on a 36-7 vote and recent in-state polling shows wide support for its passage. The bill envisions a network of 10 medical marijuana suppliers, each operating up to 10 dispensaries to provide medicine for people who have registered with the state for the treatment of specified "debilitating medical conditions."

LA Governor Signs MedMJ Bills, KY Governor's MedMJ Committee Meets, More... (6/22/22)

The US Supreme Court declines to overturn a Minnesota ruling that employers don't have to compensate workers for medical marijuana use related to on-the-job injuries, a Kentucky committee to plot a path foward on medical marijuana meets, and more.

shopping at a dispensary (sondrayruel/DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Governor's Medical Marijuana Committee Meets for First Time. Faced with intransigent Republican opposition in the legislature, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) created the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee to try to chart a path forward. That committee met for the first time on Monday and heard testimony from Kentuckians both for and against medical marijuana as it seeks to provide guidance to the administration about how to move forward. More hearings are coming.

Louisiana Governor Signs Package of Mainly Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law a package of marijuana-related bills, the majority of them dealing with medical marijuana. One bill allows nurse practitioners and psychologists to recommend medical marijuana, another clarifies that devices used to inhale medical marijuana are not drug paraphernalia, another repeals the 10-license limit on dispensary licenses and leaves room for expanding the number of dispensaries, another bill makes the state Health Department the lead regulatory agency, and another bill allows non-state residents to obtain medical marijuana in the state. Edwards also signed bills that specify that the odor of marijuana alone is not probable cause for a search and that smoking marijuana in a motor vehicle operating on the roadway is illegal.

US Supreme Court Declines Review of Minnesota Ruling That Employers Do Not Have to Reimburse Workers for Medical Marijuana. The Minnesota Supreme Court had ruled that employers can't be required to cover the costs of medical marijuana to treat on-the-job injuries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Now, the US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of that decision, leaving the ruling intact and Minnesota workers out of luck.

The US Solicitor General's Office argued that federal law preempts any state regulation requiring reimbursement for an illegal drug and was joined by the insurance company that was fending off the worker's claim. "If states could enforce laws compelling third parties to subsidize federal crimes, they could directly undermine congressional determinations," the Solicitor General's brief says. "For example, no legal principle would preclude a state from requiring private employers to reimburse the use of other federally prohibited products or substances, such as LSD and other psychedelic drugs, based on perceived benefits."

TX GOP Opposes Marijuana Legalization, British Prescription Heroin Shortage, More... (6/21/22)

Pennsylvania takes a step toward legalizing fentanyl test strips, Thailand moves to block minors from using marijuana or hemp, and more.

Prescription herion (diamorphine). Supplies are running low in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas GOP's New Platform Opposes Marijuana Legalization. At its state convention in Houston last weekend, the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank opposing marijuana legalization, even though recent polling shows two-thirds of all Texans and 51 percent of Republicans favor it. The convention did, however, endorse moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The party also adopted several other drug policy planks, including opposing needle exchange programs, requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "terrorist organizations," and encouraging "faith-based rehabilitation."

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, City Council Ponders Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. Two members of the city council filed a resolution to decriminalize "entheogenic plants," including peyote and magic mushrooms, last Wednesday. The council members are Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan. It was a grassroots efforts backed by "many Missoulians," said Carlino. "We’ve heard comments in support of this resolution from veterans who have experience with this in treating PTSD. We’ve heard comments of support from therapists, doctors and dozens and dozens of community members." The council has yet to act on the resolution, which would block Missoula police from arresting people for growing, possessing, or gifting entheogens. The police department adamantly opposes the move.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania House Passes Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The House has unanimously approved a bill to legalize fentanyl strips, House Bill 1393. It does so by removing the test strips from the state's definition of drug paraphernalia. Supporters say the change in the law will allow drug users to avoid overdoses by testing their drugs without fear of being arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia. Philadelphia Mayor John Kenney (D) decriminalized fentanyl test strips in that city in August 2021 and Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has said his office "will not prosecute individuals simply for possessing fentanyl test strips." This legislation would bring state law in line with what is increasing becoming public policy in the state. Companion legislation is now set to move in the Senate.

International

Thailand to Restrict Marijuana Use to Adults After Complaints. Facing with a rising chorus of complaints after the country liberalized its marijuana laws earlier this month, Thai officials announced last Thursday that they will issue rules limiting access to marijuana and hemp to people 20 years of age and older. People under that age will need permission from a doctor to use such products. The move came amid media  reports that two teenage students were hospitalized for marijuana "overdoses." The government is also going to move to limit marijuana consumption in public and to control cannabis in food.

British Prescription Heroin Shortage Wreaking Havoc with People on Maintenance Regime. British drug non-profits are warning that people on prescription heroin (diamorphine) maintenance are now relapsing because of a nationwide shortage of all doses of the prescription drug. Pharmacists are reporting that patients who had been stable on prescription heroin for 10 or 15 years are deteriorating because they cannot access their medication. The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that

5mg, 30mg, 100mg and 500mg injections of diamorphine are currently out of stock. "These are patients that have been on prescriptions for 20 years and have been very stable and working, living their lives, and are closely monitored to ensure they’re not on other drugs," said Clare Robbins of the drug charity Release. "The majority we are supporting at the moment have now relapsed, often for the first time in 10 or 15 years and that’s really devastating for them," she said. "These people have built relationships with their pharmacists over 10 to 15 years and I’ve had pharmacists on the phone who are quite distressed about seeing their patient deteriorate." Only two companies supply prescription heroin in the United Kingdom, and the supply chain has been wobbly since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020. 

Brazil Court Okays MedMJ Home Grows, NC MedMJ Bill Stalled, More... (6/15/22)

The North Carolina Compassionate Use Act is stuck in the House, the European Union's drug monitor reports increasing drug production on the continent, and more.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Stalled in House. The state Senate has passed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 711), but is now stalled in the House, and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) says it is unlikely to be taken up before the legislative session ends on June 30. The bill passed the Senate easily on a 36-7 vote and recent in-state polling shows wide support for its passage. The bill envisions a network of 10 medical marijuana suppliers, each operating up to 10 dispensaries to provide medicine for people who have registered with the state for the treatment of specified "debilitating medical conditions.

International

Brazil Court Approves Home Cultivation of Medical Marijuana. Under current Brazilian law, medical use of products derived from marijuana is limited to imported goods, but a five-judge panel of the Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that three patients had the right to grow their own medicine. The ruling came after the Health Ministry failed to craft regulations for home cultivation and will likely set a national precedent. Judges on the panel ripped into the government's failure to act as based on "this prejudice, this moralism" and accused it of taking "a deliberately backward action toward obscurantism" in delaying action.

EU Drug Monitor Warns of Rising Drug Production in Europe. In its annual report released Tuesday, European Drug Report 2022, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned of rising drug production on the continent amidst a proliferation of old and new psychoactive substances (NSP) being peddled and gobbled. "Synthetic drug production continues to increase in Europe," EMCDDA noted, citing illegal labs cranking out large quantities of amphetamines, methamphetamines, Ecstasy, cathinones, and other, more exotic NSPs. Some 350 such labs were busted in 2020, the last year for which data is available The report also warned that European crime groups are increasingly working with foreign trafficking networks to cut costs for drug production and trafficking. NSPs, meanwhile, "continue to appear in Europe at the rate of one per week," the report said.

Medical Marijuana Update

Nebraska initiative campaigners catch a break, the Arkansas Supreme Court has some harsh words for regulators, and more.

Arkansas

Arkansas Supreme Court Blasts Failings of State Medical Marijuana Regulators. In a ruling in a lawsuit filed over a medical marijuana business license, the state Supreme Court lashed out at the state's medical marijuana regulatory agency, the Medical Marijuana Commission. Even though the court upheld the commission's decision not to award a license to Eureka Green, the company that brought the suit, it blasted the commission for a number of "shortcomings," including numerous appeals of its rulings, allegations of bribery, failing to abide by earlier rulings by updating its rules and procedures, and doing a poor job on licensing and industry rulemaking.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Petitioners Win Federal Court Victory. A federal judge has granted a request by the ACLU and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana for a temporary injunction blocking the secretary of state from enforcing a requirement that the petitions contain signatures from five percent of registered voters in each of the state's 38 counties. The ACLU and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana sued over the requirement, successfully arguing that it violates the "one person, one vote" rule by valorizing the votes of people in sparsely settled rural counties over those of people in more populated counties. "The State of Nebraska is absolutely free to require a showing of statewide support for a ballot initiative—but it may not do so based on units of dramatically differing population, resulting in discrimination among voters,"wrote District Judge John Gerrard. Gerrard also criticized the state's argument that if the county provision of the petitioning requirement was found unconstitutional, the whole ballot initiative process would collapse. "For the state to argue that the baby must go with the bathwater is eyebrow-raising," Gerrard wrote.

Nebraska Voters Overwhelmingly Want Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. Even as petitioners continue to gather signatures to try to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, newly released polling from the Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey finds that some 83% of Nebraskans supported the idea in 2020 and 2021. The poll also found support for recreational marijuana legalization rising from 40 percent in 2020 to 46 percent in 2021. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana needs to come up with 122,274 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify its pair of initiatives for the ballot. A similar effort was thwarted in 2020 when the state Supreme Court invalidated the initiative saying it violated the "one-subject rule," thus two initiatives this time around.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A New Mexico cop gets popped for using drugs to lure potential mates, a Texas deputy partied too hearty, a Minneapolis cop goes away for stealing drugs during bogus traffic stops, and more. Let's get to it:

In Gadsden, Alabama, a Marshall County sheriff's jail guard was arrested June 2 for smuggling meth into the jail. Corrections Officer David Lowe went down after an internal investigation uncovered small amounts of meth and marijuana, and is charged with first-, second-, and third-degree promoting prison contraband and two counts of possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine).

In Meridian, Mississippi, an East Mississippi Correctional Facility officer was arrested June 1 for trying to smuggle marijuana into the jail. Guard Jashati Amore Alford was caught bringing five pounds (!) of weed into the jail. She is charged with attempting to introduce contraband into a correctional facility, and was last reported residing at her former place of employment until she made bail.

In Sulphur Springs, Texas, a Van Zandt County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Saturday on drug-related charges after he was found unconscious on the floor of a metal shop with a meth pipe and a subsequent search of his home uncovered a substantial dope stash. Deputy Jon Phillips claimed all the drugs found were evidence, but he never logged them in anywhere. His stash included 209 grams of liquid meth, two grams of crystal meth, 70 units of liquid in a hypodermic syringe believed to be meth, 28 ounces of marijuana, and under a half-gram of cocaine. He is charged with possession of less than 400 grams of a controlled substance, possession of less than one gram of a controlled substance

In Albuquerque, a former New Mexico state police officer was convicted last Monday of dealing drugs to teens while he was on the force. Daniel Capehart went down in a 2018 sting operation where he offered marijuana to someone he thought was a teenage girl in exchange for photos of her. Subsequent investigation revealed that he was stealing drugs seized during arrests and given them to women he was attracted to, including a 16-year-old girl. He is looking at a mandatory minimum five years in prison, but prosecutors are asking for eight.

In Minneapolis, a former Minneapolis police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to more than three years in prison for stealing drugs from people during bogus traffic stops. Ty Jindra, 29, was convicted last November of stealing Tramadol, methamphetamine, and oxycodone from people he had stopped—one for a tag violation and one a group of teens who rolled through a stop sign—and then conducted unlawful searches, confiscating the drugs for his own use. That garnered him two civil rights violations for the illegal searches. Tindra admitted to developing a dependence on Xanax and then moving on to street drugs. 

OR Bans Sale of Artificial Cannabinoids, NE MedMJ Initiative Wins Key Federal Court Ruling, More... (6/14/22)

Polling suggests that if a Nebraska medical marijuana can make the ballot, it can win easily; the Arkansas Supreme Court reams that state's medical marijuaan regulators, and more.

The push is on once again for medical marijuana in the Cornhusker State. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Becomes First State to Ban the Sale of Artificial Cannabinoids. Beginning next month, grocery stores and other unregulated markets will be banned from selling "artificially derived cannabinoids" under rules adopted by the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC). To be able to place such products for sale, manufacturers of cannabinoid products synthetically created or extracted will have to seek approval from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). If approved by the FDA, such products will be able to be sold at dispensaries licensed by the OLCC, but only in the form of edibles, tinctures, pills, or topicals.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Blasts Failings of State Medical Marijuana Regulators. In a ruling in a lawsuit filed over a medical marijuana business license, the state Supreme Court lashed out at the state's medical marijuana regulatory agency, the Medical Marijuana Commission. Even though the court upheld the commission's decision not to award a license to Eureka Green, the company that brought the suit, it blasted the commission for a number of "shortcomings," including numerous appeals of its rulings, allegations of bribery, failing to abide by earlier rulings by updating its rules and procedures, and doing a poor job on licensing and industry rulemaking.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Petitioners Win Federal Court Victory. A federal judge has granted a request by the ACLU and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana for a temporary injunction blocking the secretary of state from enforcing a requirement that the petitions contain signatures from five percent of registered voters in each of the state's 38 counties. The ACLU and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana sued over the requirement, successfully arguing that it violates the "one person, one vote" rule by valorizing the votes of people in sparsely settled rural counties over those of people in more populated counties. "The State of Nebraska is absolutely free to require a showing of statewide support for a ballot initiative—but it may not do so based on units of dramatically differing population, resulting in discrimination among voters,"wrote District Judge John Gerrard. Gerrard also criticized the state's argument that if the county provision of the petitioning requirement was found unconstitutional, the whole ballot initiative process would collapse. "For the state to argue that the baby must go with the bathwater is eyebrow-raising," Gerrard wrote.

Nebraska Voters Overwhelmingly Want Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. Even as petitioners continue to gather signatures to try to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, newly released polling from the Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey finds that some 83% of Nebraskans supported the idea in 2020 and 2021. The poll also found support for recreational marijuana legalization rising from 40 percent in 2020 to 46 percent in 2021. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana needs to come up with 122,274 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify its pair of initiatives for the ballot. A similar effort was thwarted in 2020 when the state Supreme Court invalidated the initiative saying it violated the "one-subject rule," thus two initiatives this time around.

Germany Takes First Steps Toward Legal Weed, Australia's NSW AG Calls for Drug Decriminalization, More... (6/13/22)

Brazil's annual march for marijuana is back, a bill legalizing medical marijuana just landed in the Ukrainian parliament, and more.

Up to a gram of cocaine (and other drugs) could be decriminalized in Australia's New South Wales. (Pixabay)
International

Australia's New South Wales Attorney General Proposes Drug Decriminalization. Saying that the state's drug policies are "clearly not working," New South Wales Attorney General Mark Spearman has proposed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Reports list a threshold of one gram for amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as threshold amounts for Ecstasy, ketamine, and LSD, but not for opiates. It is unclear if opiates will be decriminalized as well. Under the proposal, police would the discretion to issue up to two fines to an individual, with the fine waived if the person undertakes counseling or some other health intervention. The move comes just days after the Australiana Capital Territory (Canberra) announced it was moving to decriminalization. The proposal comes more than two years after a special commission on methamphetamine addiction issued a report  calling for reforms, but the state government had yet to act on that report—until now.

Brazilians March for Marijuana Legalization. After a two-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil's annual "Marcha da Macohna" (March for Marijuana) returned over the weekend, with hundreds of people marching in Sao Paulo. Marijuana has been decriminalized since 2006, but remains illegal and use is allowed only for medical reasons. "We really need to have marijuana legalized because that way it will be accessible to anyone. It's not fair for a child to have 80 seizures a day and not have access to the treatment because the family can't pay for the treatment with cannabidiol. They don't have access to it, said demonstrator Barbara Gael. "Yes, legalize it, because all uses are medicinal, even smoking for those who have pain, for example, will relieve the pain. It’s past time to legalize. We’re way behind on this, it’s fundamental."

Germany Moves Toward Marijuana Legalization. The Health Ministry announced Monday that it will begin a series of expert hearings on marijuana legalization beginning Tuesday. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has promised to enact legalization, and the hearings will see more than 200 witnesses from the fields of law and medicine, as well as officials from various levels of government and international experts. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he planned to draw up legislation in the second half of the year, after the hearings finish up.

Ukraine Medical Marijuana Bill Goes to Parliament. The executive branch has filed a medical marijuana bill, No. 7457, with the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. The draft law regulates marijuana for medical, industrial, scientific, and technical purposes in order to create conditions for expanding patient access to the plant, including for post-traumatic stress disorders linked to the Russian invasion of the country. The bill does not legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Drug Possession, Malaysia Ends Mandatory Death Penalties, More... (6/10/22)

The State Department is looking for drones to spray Colombian coca crops, Thailand begins handing out a million marijuana plants, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. Are drones coming for his crop? (DEAmuseum.org)
Foreign Policy

US Wants to Use Drones to Kill Coca Plants in Colombia. The State Department is looking for drones to use to spray herbicides on farmers' coca crops, a newly released request on a government website reveals. "The Department of State, INL Bogota, has a requirement to purchase spray UAV systems to support eradication operations throughout Colombia," the request reads. The program would be under the control of the Colombian National Police. The State Department says drones would lessen threats to personnel involved in coca eradication in the country, one of the world's top cocaine producers. "Coca cultivation in Colombia remains at record highs and eradication operations in Colombia remain dangerous. INL Bogota is seeking to bolster the CNP’s capability to increase the coca eradication rates and minimize the risk for police personnel in the field."

International

Australian Capital Territory to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) announced Thursday that it will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamine. It will become the first jurisdiction in the country to do so. Under the new law, people in possession of less than the threshold amounts of the drugs will be fined, but not arrested. Some, though, can have their fines waived if they attend an informative session on harm reduction or enter drug treatment. "We know from research and evidence around the world that criminalizing drug users does not reduce drug use and that treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Malaysia to Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty, Including for Drug Offenses. The Malaysian government said Friday it will end the mandatory death penalty for various offenses, including drug offenses, and replace it with "alternative punishments" at the discretion of judges. "This shows the government's emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, reflecting the transparency of the country's leadership in improving the criminal justice system," Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said. The country had declared a moratorium on executions in 2018 but laws imposing the mandatory death sentence remained and courts were required to impose those sentences on convicted drug traffickers. The country currently has more than 1,350 under death sentences, including 925 convicted of drug-related offenses. More than 500 of those under death sentences are foreigners.

Thailand Begins Distributing a Million Marijuana Plants. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakulkicked off a marijuana plant giveaway in Bangkok Friday, handing out the first hundred seedlings of what is planned to be a million-plant distribution. The giveaway is designed to encourage marijuana production, which government officials say will help low-income farmers, especially in the northeast. Charnvirakul was cheered by a crowd of thousands as he took credit for legalizing marijuana. The government insists that, officially, only medical marijuana has been legalized, but there are no plans to monitor small-scale cultivation. 

Chicago Expands Drug Diversion Program, Thailand Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect, More... (6/9/22)

Nominees to the US Sentencing Commission vowed to the Senate Judicary Committee that they would implement reforms in the First Step Act, Ukraine moves to allow medical marijuana, and more.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Mayor Announces Expansion of Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent David O. Brown, and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Allison Arwady on Wednesday announced the expansion of eligibility for the Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. The program is an initiative that diverts individuals who are arrested for the possession of controlled substances into substance use treatment in lieu of felony charges. The new criteria will now expand to individuals who have not been arrested in Chicago for a violent crime within the past ten years and were in possession of two grams or less of any controlled substance. Additional drugs beyond heroin also now qualify for this d.iversion initiative. These drugs include fentanyl, morphine, ketamine, and methamphetamine, among other controlled substances as identified by Illinois law. The original program criteria for participants were limited to those arrested in possession of one gram or less of only heroin or cocaine and who had no prior violent arrest history. The initial evaluation findings of the program showed there was an almost 50% reduction in future arrests among the first 1,000 participants, 25% of whom were connected with treatment for the very first time.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Vows to Implement Criminal Justice Reform Law. Seven Biden administration nominees to the US Sentencing Commission told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that they will prioritize implementing the 2018 First Step Act, which aims to reduce harsh sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reduce recidivism. The commission lost its quorum in 2019, just a month after President Trump signed the bill into law, preventing it from implementing changes to sentencing guidelines. President Trump nominated new commission members, but the Senate never acted on those nominations, mission, leaving the commission unable to act on the reforms.

International

Ukraine to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The government has advanced a draft medical marijuana bill, with the Cabinet of Ministers approving the draft and sending it to the parliament for approval. Health Minister Viktor Liashko, cited the Russian invasion of the country in announcing the move: "We understand the negative consequences of the war on the mental health camp, "Liashko wrote. "We understand the number of people who will require medical treatment in the last breath. The bill envisions allowing only low THC marijuana for medical use and would strictly regulate the cultivation, production, and sale of medical marijuana products, as well as authorizations and licenses for the cultivation and scientific research.

Thailand's Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect; First Country in Asia to Free the Weed. As of today, people in Thailand are free to grow unlimited amounts of marijuana as the plant is now removed from the country's narcotics list, but smoking weed in public is still an offense. Sales began immediately at Bangkok shops. "We've been waiting for 43 years, since 1979,"said Chaiwat Banjai, one of the owners of Highland Cafe, where sales took place. It was that year that Thailand enacted the Narcotics Act, which outlawed cannabis and its derivatives. "Now, weed is legal. Weed is finally legal. We never thought we'd come so far like this." The government also opened the prison doors to marijuana offenders, releasing more than 3,000 of them, amending sentencing for a thousand more, and dropping charges against people currently charged with marijuana offenses. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now (but that doe not appear to be stopping them). The parliament is currently considering a bill to regulate the sale and consumption of marijuana.

Delaware Lawmakers Fail to Override Governor's Marijuana Legalization Veto [FEATURE]

Delaware marijuana legalization supporters suffered a bitter defeat this week. They had seen a legalization bill, House Bill 371, pass the legislature with a veto-proof majority, only to see the bill vetoed by Gov. John Carney (D), and when the House voted to override the veto came Tuesday, the veto-proof majority had vanished into thin air, with the effort failing on a 20-20 vote.

Delaware State Capitol (Creative Commons)
That's because five Democrats who voted for the bill -- state Reps. Stephanie Bolden, Andria Bennett, William Carson, and Sean Matthews -- voted against overriding the veto, as did two Republicans who had voted for the bill, Reps. Michael Ramone and Jeffrey Spiegelman. House Speaker Valarie Longhurst (D), who had voted "yes” on the bill, abstained on the override vote.

The vote came just hours after more than 150 people led by the Delaware Cannabis Coalition rallied outside the statehouse to rail against Gov. Carney's veto and urge lawmakers to override it color:#333333">

"If you listen to his reasonings for his veto, it's almost as if you're watching Reefer Madness from the 1930's,” the bill's Senate sponsor, Trey Paradee (D) told the crowd. "So I'm not quite sure where he gets his information on this issue. But at this point, 19 other states have already figured this out. This is long overdue.”

Inside the chamber, House bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) implored his colleagues to override the veto.

"I think this body is quite capable of directing and fixing any issues that may come from the passage of this legislation,” Osienski said during the House debate. "We need legalization, so I beg of my colleagues not to wait till 2025 to do this, but to override this veto, and then we can work together on the regulation and taxation.”

While House Bill 371 only legalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- not a legal marketplace, Osienski was referring to a broader legalization bill that did include a taxed and regulated market, House Bill 372. That bill failed even though it won a majority of votes because it needed a two-thirds majority in the House due to its tax provisions. After that, the legislature then approved House Bill 371, but even personal legalization without a marketplace was too much for Gov. Carney, who said he could live with medical marijuana and even decriminalization, but not legalization.

"I recognize the positive effect marijuana can have for people with certain health conditions, and for that reason, I continue to support the medical marijuana industry in Delaware,” Carney reasoned in his May veto statement. "I supported decriminalization of marijuana because I agree that individuals should not be imprisoned solely for the possession and private use of a small amount of marijuana -- and today, thanks to Delaware's decriminalization law, they are not. That said, I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interests of the state of Delaware, especially our young people. Questions about the long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use, as well as serious law enforcement concerns, remain unresolved.”

As the House session ended Wednesday, Osienski released a statement saying legalization would be stymied if Carney did not change his mind about it.

"I didn't have enough votes in my own caucus alone -- only 23 members initially voted for HB 371,” Osienski said. "I didn't have the support of all three Republicans who voted for the bill, which put the veto override out of reach. However, I felt it was important to the advocates and supporters who have fought for a safe, legal, regulated cannabis industry to see this process through to the end.”

The Marijuana Policy Project's state policy director, Karen O'Keefe, isn't counting on Carney changing his mind or legalization happening before Carney leaves office.

"Unless there are major changes to the composition of the Delaware House, prohibition will almost surely continue in Delaware until there's a new governor in 2025,” she told Marijuana Moment. "In the meantime, Delawareans -- disproportionately Black and Brown Delawareans -- will continue to be subjected to thousands of unnecessary, intrusive searches and stops because Gov. Carney vetoed HB 371, and several members of the House didn't have the courage of their convictions to vote to override his veto.”

Too bad Delaware does not have an initiative process. Delawareans have shown levels of support for legal weed at levels above 60 percent for more than five years, yet their political system fails to respond.

Medical Marijuana Update

A North Carolina medical marijuana bill is moving, a Louisiana bill to protect medical marijuana-using state employees goes to the governor, and more.

Louisiana

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

New York

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

North Carolina

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

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

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Push for Tax Relief for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The House Finance Committee has approved an amendment to a broader tax code reform bill that would allow medical marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses for state tax purposes. Such businesses cannot deduct business expenses on their federal tax returns because the plant remains federally illegal, but the amendment would let the businesses add deductions after the fact to their federal corporate tax filings. The state Senate has already passed a bill to clarify that medical marijuana businesses may use the state's banking system, but the House has yet to act on its version of that bill.

DE Marijuana Legalization Bill is Dead, No Mandatory School Drug Tests in Pakistan, More... (6/8/22)

The DC city council approves a bill to bar bosses from firing or not hiring workers because of a positive marijuana test, a Michigan bill to make fake urine for drug tests a crime advances, and more.

Michigan lawmakers worry that legal pot smokers are cheating drug tests with fake urine. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Lawmakers Fail to Override Governor's Veto of Marijuana Legalization Bill. No legal weed for you, Delawareans! At least not this year. After Gov. John Carney (D) vetoed a bill that would legalize marijuana possession but not create a legal marketplace, House Bill 371, the House on Wednesday attempted to override his veto. But the effort came up short, failing on a 20-20 vote after House Majority Leader Valarie Longhurst (D) abstained and five Democrats and two Republicans who had voted for the bill voted against the override attempt. Those votes made the difference: The override only needed 26 votes to pass.

DC Council Approves Bill to Block Employers from Firing Workers Who Fail Marijuana Tests. The DC city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would bar employers from firing workers who test positive for marijuana, Bill 24-0109, the Cannabis Employment Protection Amendment of 2022. The bill would also ban employers from refusing to hire people with positive marijuana tests. There are some exceptions: employers can still fire marijuana users if the employer is acting under federal guidelines or if the worker partakes on the job. The bill now goes to the desk of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Drug Testing

Michigan Bill to Outlaw Fake Urine Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would criminalize the sale or possession of "drug masking products, Senate Bill 134, has already passed the Senate and a House committee and is now headed for a House floor vote. The bill would make it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine to "distribute, deliver, sell, or possess with intent to distribute, deliver, or sell a drug masking product." Selling such products commercially would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The state legalized marijuana in November 2018.

International

The National Assembly on Wednesday blocked a motion to introduce a bill that would make drug testing of all students mandatory. The move came after Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Jayed Abbassi told lawmakers the government already had a program to randomly test students in place. One legislator decried the potential financial and psychological implications of mandatory testing on students and families and suggested that if the law were approved to students, it should be applied to parliamentarians as well.

US Mayors Call for Pot Banking Fix, Portugal Left Bloc Calls for Marijuana Legalization, More... (6/7/22)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is pretty chill about weed, Pennsylvania lawmakers are advancing a tax fix for state medical marijuana businesses, and more.

Marijuana Policy

US Mayors Approve Resolution Calling on Congress to Fix Marijuana Banking Issues and End Pot Prohibition. The US Conference of Mayors on Monday adopted a resolution calling on Congress to pass legislation to protect banks working with state-legal marijuana enterprises. The move comes as Congress ponders whether to include the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) in a large-scale manufacturing bill that is currently being thrashed out in conference committee. The mayors also called for marijuana legalization. "Now, therefore, be it resolved, that The United States Conference of Mayors urges Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021 to provide financial security for cannabis dispensaries and related companies and enhance public safety," the resolution says. "Be it further resolved, that The United States Conference of Mayors supports federal legislation legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis and the adult use of recreational cannabis, including the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA)." The US Conference of Mayors represents the 1,400 US cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

New York City Mayor Takes Chill Stance on Marijuana. Even as the legislature attempted unsuccessfully to crack down on unlicensed marijuana sellers, New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) was telling a crowd at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in Manhattan to fire up their joints. "Enjoy yourself, light up, but most importantly, spend some money," Adams told the crowd. He also said he would not approach grey market operators with a heavy hand. "'Listen, you can't do this,' give them a warning," the mayor said. Instead of arrests or fines, he said he wants to help non-licensed pot sellers get legitimate. But it wouldn't be total anarchy, Adams said: "If they refuse to adhere to the rules, then you have to come back and take some form of enforcement actions, such as a summons, such as, you know, talking about their ability to sell alcohol." Official legal pot sales are set to begin at year's end.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Push for Tax Relief for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The House Finance Committee has approved an amendment to a broader tax code reform bill that would allow medical marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses for state tax purposes. Such businesses cannot deduct business expenses on their federal tax returns because the plant remains federally illegal, but the amendment would let the businesses add deductions after the fact to their federal corporate tax filings. The state Senate has already passed a bill to clarify that medical marijuana businesses may use the state's banking system, but the House has yet to act on its version of that bill.

International

Portuguese Left Bloc Demands Marijuana Legalization. The Left Bloc, a member of the country's governing coalition, has renewed calls for marijuana legalization after the effort went nowhere for the past two years amidst government crises. The Bloc only holds a small number of seats in the legislature, but it is expecting the support of the Socialist Party, by far the leading member of the coalition. "One year ago this week the initiative of the Left Block was debated in the parliament: the legalization of cannabis," said Left Bloc member Catarina Martins. "As you know, this process did not come to an end. To defend public health is to end hypocrisy," said Martins. "And we believe that there are now all the conditions to end this hypocrisy in Portugal. We know that there are so many people, on all sides of the parliament, which have already realized that the hypocrisy of prohibition has been a way of putting young people at risk."

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

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

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Criminal Justice

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

Drug Treatment

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Opiates and Opioids

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

Drug War Issues

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