Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Idaho MedMj Campaign Suspends, House Moves to Quash Vaping, More... (4/3/20)

A group of US senators is seeking to include marijuana businesses in an emergency loan program, Idaho activists suspend signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative campaign, a leading member of the House Oversight Committee seeks to ban the distribution of e-cigs, and more.

Vaping is again under attack amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleven Senators Ask for Marijuana Businesses to Be Included in Federal Loan Program. Eleven US senators have sent a letter to the leadership of the Appropriations Committee asking that they include a provision to allow marijuana businesses access to federal loan services in a pending annual spending bill. Led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the senators wrote that the committee should "include report language prohibiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) from denying loan applications" to "cannabis firms as part of the fiscal year 2021 spending bill for Financial Services and General Government and Related Agencies." SBA services that marijuana companies should be eligible for include the Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program and Microloan Program, the group said.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Suspended Because of Coronavirus Pandemic. An effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in November is over. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition announced Thursday that it is suspending its signature gathering campaign because of the coronavirus pandemic. It only had until May 1 to turn in signatures, so the suspension marks the effective end to the effort this year.

Vaping

House Oversight Committee Requests FDA ban on E-Cigarettes. In a letter signed by Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Chair Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), the House Oversight Committee asked the Food and Drug Administration Wednesday to ban the distribution of e-cigarettes because of their potential impact on the coronavirus pandemic. The virus's main target is the lungs. "The FDA has both the authority and an obligation to start enforcing the law against all e-cigarettes in order to protect the public health. Vaping will add to the stress on our hospitals as more people take up intensive care beds and require ventilators and other critical equipment," Krishnamoorti wrote.

International

Japan Saw Record Number of Pot Busts Last Year. Some 4,321 people were arrested in marijuana cases last year, up by 743 over the previous year. That is the sixth consecutive year of rising marijuana arrests in the insular nation. Involvement by young people was on the rise, police said, with the number of teens jumping more than four times and the number of people in their 20s more than doubling.

Philippine Drug War Rages Despite Pandemic, NORML Issues Marijuana Policy Crisis Guidance, More... (4/2/20)

President Trump showily announces a ramping up of the drug war in the Caribbean, NORML issues marijuana policy guidance for lawmakers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine drug war continues despite the pandemic, and more.

Whether its drug users or quarantine violators, Philippine President Duterte has a plan: Just kill them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Issues Cannabis Policy Guidance for Lawmakers and Prosecutors for Protecting Public Health During COVID-19 Crisis. NORML and its national network of advocacy chapters have released a memo to state lawmakers, regulators, prosecutors, and other interested parties providing guidance for how they can take emergency actions to better promote the health and welfare of cannabis consumers and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. In states where marijuana is still illegal, the memo calls for immediately deprioritizing marijuana law enforcement, the dropping of charges for pending nonviolent marijuana offenses, and the release of people in jail or prison solely for nonviolent marijuana offenses. In states where it is legal, NORML is calling for pot shops and their suppliers to be designated "essential services," allowing for the home delivery and curbside pickup of marijuana products, and expanding the ability of doctors to advise patients via telemedicine.

Washington Governor Signs Bill to Diversify State's Marijuana Industry. Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed into law HB 2870, "allowing additional marijuana retail licenses for social equity purposes." The measure will allow regulators to direct unused marijuana business licenses to people from communities most negatively impacted by the drug war. It creates a state Marijuana Equity Task Force and allows the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to grant forfeited, canceled, revoked or otherwise unissued marijuana business licenses to qualified equity applicants.

Drug Policy

Trump Doubles Military Assets in Caribbean in Bid to Bolster Drug Fight after Maduro Indictment. The Trump administration hijacked the daily White House coronavirus pandemic briefing Wednesday to announce that it was deploying more US Navy warships and aircraft to the Caribbean in a bid to prevent drug cartels and "corrupt actors" like Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro from using the pandemic to increase drug smuggling. The move follows the indictment of Maduro and a dozen current or former Venezuelan officials on charges of narco-terrorism conspiracy, drug trafficking and corruption. "We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives," Trump said. The Venezuelan government rejected the move, saying it was merely an effort to district from the Trump administration's incompetent handling of pandemic.

International

Mexico Senate Asks Supreme Court for More Time on Cannabis Legalization. Looking at a Supreme Court-imposed deadline to end marijuana prohibition, but faced with the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mexican Senate has asked the high court to "extend deadlines" until "the Senate is in a position to fulfill the responsibilities towards judiciary power bodies." The original court-imposed deadline was October 2019, but the court granted an extension after the Senate failed to agree on the bill. The court has said it would file no more extensions, but senators think the current crisis may be an exception. They'll have to wait to find out, though; the Supreme Court itself is shut down through at least through mid-month.

Philippine Drug War Rages on in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a national partial lockdown on March 15 to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but nothing is stopping his bloody war on drugs. Even amidst the lockdown, drug war killings are continuing. At least nine people have been killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

NY Governor Says No Legalization in State Budget, First Federal Prisoner COVID-19 Death, More... (4/1/20)

It looks like coronavirus has killed marijuana legalization in New York this year, a new nonprofit focused on psychedelic education has emerged, a nonviolent drug offender is the first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, and more.

Prison is no place to be in the midst of a pandemic. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Advocates Call on Governor to End Ban on Recreational Marijuana Sales. Marijuana legalization advocates, doctors, and Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to end his ban on recreational marijuana sales because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most other legal marijuana states are allowing some form of sales. Baker has argued that because Massachusetts is one of the only states in the region that allows recreational marijuana sales, leaving the stores open would attract traffic from other states.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday the state is not likely to legalize marijuana as part of its budget process, dramatically reducing the likelihood that such a measure will pass this year. Cuomo had pushed for inclusion in the budget, but with the budget deadline looming and the state in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said legalization wasn't likely.

Incarceration

First Known Federal Inmate, a Nonviolent Drug Offender, Dies of Coronavirus. The US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has confirmed that a federal prisoner had died from COVID-19. That is the first known coronavirus death in the federal system. He was identified as Patrick Jones, 49, who was serving a 27-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. He was doing time at a low-security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. Fourteen other prisoners and 13 staff members are also infected by the virus.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Orders Prisoner Lockdown. The BOP announced Tuesday that it is moving to Phase Five of its COVID-19 Action Plan, which means all federal prisoners will be confined in their cells for the next 14 days to slow the spread of the virus. The move comes "in response to a growing number of quarantine and isolation cases in our facilities," the BOP said. The BOP also said it is coordinating with the US Marshals Service to "significantly decrease" the arrival of new prisoners. BOP said it would reevaluate after 14 days.

California to Release 3,500 Prisoners Early as COVID-19 Spreads in State Prisons. Lawyers for the state told a panel of federal judges Tuesday the state is taking "extraordinary and unprecedented protective measures" to slow the spread of the virus, including plans to accelerate release and parole dates for 3,500 inmates serving terms for nonviolent crimes and already due to be released within 60 days. The releases are to be conducted "within the next several weeks." The state has already been locking down cell blocks where prisoners exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Psychedelics

Denver-Based Nonprofit Launches National Organization to Educate Public and Develop Leadership in Psychedelic Ecosystem. The Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education ("SPORE") announced today its nonprofit status as an organization that envisions a world where everyone has safe and responsible access to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. SPORE was founded by two proponents of the Denver Psilocybin Initiative, Kevin Matthews and Matthew Duffy, to educate the public and develop leadership in the rapidly growing psychedelic ecosystem to support human wellbeing. The group is being sponsored by the nonprofit group Reconsider and a $50,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

NY Legalization Bid Could Fall Victim to COVID, Dutch Cannabis Cafes Open for Carryout, More... (3/31/20)

Marijuana legalization didn't make into New York's draft budget proposal, Netherlands cannabis cafes reopen for carryout only, DC psychedelic decriminalization activists find creative ways to seek signatures, and more.

Closed since mid-month because of the pandemic, Dutch cannabis cafes are now reopening, but for carryout only. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Push to Allow Marijuana Deliveries. State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) last month filed HB 5274, which would allow for both medical and recreational marijuana deliveries. Now, she is pushing Gov. JB Pritzker (D) to take action to speed the process in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I would be happy to see if the governor maybe could make a special executive order allowing that, or us being able to get that legislation through maybe quicker than normal this year to provide for that," she said. The state is already allowing curbside pickup of customer orders.

New York Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. A draft state budget report does not include marijuana legalization, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) had sought prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. Instead the draft budget says that the "Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis." While achieving legalization through the budget process would be the easiest way to get it done, it could still be done through separate legislation, but that path is more difficult.

Psychedelics

DC Psychedelic Decriminalization Campaign Explores Options. Decriminalize Nature DC, the group behind a psychedelic decriminalization initiative aimed at the November ballot, has been forced to suspend conventional signature gathering because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so now the campaign is looking at other options, including "micro-scale petition signature collection." The campaign would mail petitions to supporters, who could collect signatures from "registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors" and then return the petitions to campaign headquarters.

International

Dutch Cannabis Cafes Reopen, But Only for Carryout. Cannabis cafes were among the many businesses shut down by the Dutch government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15. They have now been allowed to reopen, but only for carryout orders. Dutch authorities made the move to avoid driving marijuana sales underground to an unregulated black market.

Faced with Coronavirus, Big Cities Begin to Forego Drug Arrests, Prosecutions [FEATURE]

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of pieces we will be doing that will focus on the coronavirus pandemic and its various intersections with drug policy, criminal justice, drug use, and the drug trade.

In a time of global pandemic, small-time drug busts are increasingly seen as a luxury we can't afford. (Creative Commons)
Arresting and imprisoning people for drug offenses is a luxury America's biggest cities are finding they can no longer afford as they struggle with the coronavirus pandemic. Now several of them are leading the way in jettisoning the long-entrenched but totally discretionary policing and prosecutorial practice.

Concerns over officer safety, public safety, and keeping jail populations down in a time of social distancing are driving the moves, which are only temporary. But perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will have a chance to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

As the pandemic morphed from looming threat to ongoing crisis in mid-March, forward-looking police departments and prosecutors' offices began to act. In Philadelphia, progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner cited public health concerns as he called for police to revise their arrest policies. The following day, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw issued an internal memo telling police not to arrest people for drug and other low-level non-violent offenses -- at least for now.

Instead, those who would have been arrested are being briefly detained to be identified and while officers gather evidence and then released. Their actual arrests somewhere down the road would be "effectuated by arrest warrant," according to the memo.

In a statement released the following day, Outlaw laid out a public health and police officer safety rationale for the move: "Our mission is to protect and promote the health and safety of our officers and the community we serve to the best of our ability while continuing to discharge every aspect of our core duties," she wrote.

Philadelphia isn't "turning a blind eye to crime," Outlaw told local media as she tried to assuage fears of criminals run amok. "This is similar to the 'summons process' that is utilized in many other counties throughout the Commonwealth. To reiterate, criminal offenders will be held accountable for the crimes they commit," she said.

But that's only if prosecutors in Krasner's office decide to pursue those cases after the fact. And Krasner is not a big fan of the war on drugs. He applauded Outlaw's move in an interview with local media the same day: "It's clear to me that the police commissioner is trying to be thoughtful and creative as we move into uncharted territory," Krasner said, "We commend her for putting the safety of the public's health first."

It's not just Philadelphia. Just days later, Krasner joined DAs from 30 other cities in signing on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. The prosecutors, including those from Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis, called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors."

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby cited the Philadelphia no-arrest policy when she ordered her prosecutors to dismiss any pending charges for drug possession and attempted drug distribution, as well as such offenses as urinating in public, open container, prostitution and minor traffic offenses.

In a memo to prosecutors, she wrote that such crimes pose no risk to public safety and arrestees would normally be released before trial anyway, so it made sense to take that action to limit the threat of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. "An outbreak in prison or jails could potentially be catastrophic," she wrote. "Now is not the time for a piecemeal approach where we go into court and argue one by one for the release of at-risk individuals."

Baltimore Police have not adopted a no-arrest policy for such offenses, but a day after Mosby announced her moratorium on new prosecutions, the department said it had given officers guidance to use their own discretion in making low-level arrests to limit their exposure to the virus.

"For the safety of our residents and officers, the Baltimore Police Department is assessing and evaluating what calls-for-service our officers will be responding to in order to minimize the potential for exposure to COVID-19," the department said in a statement. "This includes giving guidance to officers in using their discretion to further minimize arrests on low-level and non-violent offenses, especially those outlined in the State's Attorney letter."

"We are very encouraged to see some policymakers, like Marilyn Mosby, putting public health first and freeing up important public safety resources at this critical time," said Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug use does not pose any risk to public safety, so it makes sense that we would not arrest or prosecute people for that alone. Doing so is contrary to public health interests, subjecting them to incarceration where they would be put at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it within an already unshielded population that is incapable of practicing the kind of social distancing and increased hygiene measures the rest of us are taking."

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Cook County State''s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office was putting a moratorium on prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenses while the pandemic rages. "Out of an abundance of caution for the health of law enforcement and the community at large, the State's Attorney's Office will not be pursuing cases which pose little to no risk to public safety at this time," Foxx said.

She added that the move was also necessitated by staffing reductions at the Illinois State Police lab. Even if police seized drugs, there is for now no way to test them, thwarting moving forward with prosecutions.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said officers won't stop making arrests for "large amounts" of drugs and downplayed the effect of the staffing reductions at the state crime lab. He also implied many drug arrestees are not being booked into jails.

"We can make an arrest," he said. "An individual could be released pending further investigation. So just because the drugs aren't being tested right away, it doesn't prohibit our ability to do our job. It will prolong it. But we can certainly conduct narcotics investigations that extend when the state lab reopens."

But in New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic in the US, where dozens of NYPD officers have already contracted COVID-19, the department said it "won't slow arrests." If the NYPD is being stubbornly recalcitrant, at least one of the city's borough prosecutors is getting on board with using discretion. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez announced that his prosecutors wouldn't be going after "low-level offenses that don't jeopardize public safety."

The NYPD's stance is hard to fathom, especially as the city is being swamped by a deluge of new coronavirus cases, and the department may by forced to shift its positions as the crisis deepens. At this point, though, it seems to be suffering from a sort of institutional inertia, blindly valuing the arrest of small-time drug offenders and other scofflaws over the health and safety of its own officers and the city's residents. In the midst of the current crisis, it would behoove police and prosecutors everywhere to knock off the rote drug busts and concentrate on the threat staring them in the face.

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

MO and OK Inits Could Fall Victim to Pandemic, COVID-19 Spreads Behind Bars, More... (3/30/20)

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, Pennsylvania says needle exchanges are "life-sustaining" during the pandemic, Vancouver moves to allow "safe supply" of regualted drugs during the crisis, and more.

COVID-19 is in the nation's jails and prisons.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. Missourians for a New Approach, the folks behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that the effort will not be able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign needs 160,000 valid voter signatures by May 3, but at this point has only 60,000 raw signatures. "Yes, it's a terrible setback," said Dan Viets, board chair of the group. "When there's no public gatherings, when people stay in their homes… it's very difficult to find voters."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Doubt as State Shuts Down Signature Gathering. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 is likely to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers has ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. The campaign needs to collect 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the November ballot. It would be "really difficult, if not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an initiative petition campaign could responsibly and feasibly collect the signatures necessary in order to make the 2020 ballot if that campaign doesn't already have the signatures on hand," said campaign spokesman Ryan Kiesel.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Needle Exchanges Are "Life-Sustaining," State Says. Needle exchanges are technically illegal in the state, but the state Department of Health has deemed them a "life-sustaining" service, allowing them to stay open amid the shutdown of other businesses and nonprofits. Some 20 such programs operate in the state, and advocates are hoping this designation could lead to their legalization down the line.

Incarceration

Coronavirus Spread Accelerates in US Jails and Prisons. Jails and prisons across the US are reporting an accelerating spread of COVID-19 with more than 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases. In New York City alone, at least 132 inmates and 104 jail staff have been infected. Jails and prisons are responding in varying ways, including releasing thousands of inmates from detention, some with little or no screening before they are released.

International

Vancouver Moving to Allow Take-Home Doses of Regulated Drugs. Canada's British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with take-home supplies of regulated substances, including opioids, stimulants, tobacco, and alcohol. Vancouver has long called for "safe supply" for drug users, but the combination of two public health crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose epidemic -- has finally made it a reality, with the city drafting new guidelines to allow the practice. "These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they're able to comply with our public-health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines made the move possible.

Mexican Opium Poppy Cultivation Drops 9%, UNODC Says. The land area under opium poppy cultivation decreased by 9% between July 2017 and June 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. Land under cultivation fell from 78,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Poppy cultivation was centered in the Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua meet, but was also grown in northern Nayarit and in the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero. Analysts said the likely explanation for the decrease was a sharp decline in opium gum prices caused by rising demand for synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

OR Inits Seek Signatures Online, French Cannabis Prices Rise Fast, More... (3/27/20)

Mexico is unlikely to meet an April 30 deadline to legalize marijuana as its Senate is suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, Oregon drug decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin initiatives now are seeking signatures online, and more.

psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign behind the Oregon Drug Treatment and Recovery Act initiative, which would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, is shifting to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The campaign says it has already gathered large numbers of signatures, but still needs 8,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. To sign on, click on the link above.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocybin Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes is moving to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The Oregon Psilocybin Services Act campaign needs 112,000 valid voter signatures by July and says it already has 128,000 raw signatures but wants to create a cushion by adding at least 15,000 more signers. To add your signature, click on this form.

International

France Sees Marijuana, Hash Prices Surge During Coronavirus Lockdown. The price of a 100-gram bar of hashish has nearly doubled in Marseille in a week, thanks to tight border controls imposed as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar reports are coming in from Bordeaux and Rennes. Police worry that a prolonged shortage could fan trouble in restive Paris suburbs and prisons.

Mexico Senate Suspends Activities, Puts Marijuana Legalization Deadline in Doubt. The Senate agreed Thursday to postpone most legislative activity because of the coronavirus pandemic, raising questions about whether it can now comply with a Supreme Court-imposed April 30 deadline to approve marijuana legalization. Senate committees approved a bill earlier this month, but it still needs to pass the full Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and signed into law by the president.

US Indicts Venezuela's Maduro for "Narco-Terrorism," A Call to End Marijuana Arrests, Jailings, More... (3/26/20)

The US indicts a leftist Latin American leader for drug trafficking (but not a rightist one), a Michigan prosecutor gets nailed for embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and more.

The US escalates its feud with Venezuela by indicting President Nicholas Maduro for "narco-terrorism. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Law Enforcement Officials, Medical Professionals, Clergy, and Cannabis Advocates Call for the Cease of Cannabis Arrests and Release of Incarcerated Cannabis Offenders in Light of COVID-19.The Marijuana Policy Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated nonviolent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced. The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs' Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Urges Absentee Voting. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative, announced this week is shifting its campaign to social media and urging state residents to consider absentee voting options. Unlike several other state-level legalization initiative campaigns, this one has already qualified for the ballot, so it doesn't have to worry about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on signature-gathering; now it's a matter of getting votes in the midst of the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Prosecutor Charged with Running Criminal Enterprise for Asset Forfeiture Fund Abuses. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has been hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use. He faces ten charges that include five counts of embezzlement, and single charges of running a criminal enterprise, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit forgery, misconduct in office and accessory after the fact. State officials said Smith used the money for a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. Smith's former chief of staff, his current chief of operations, and a local businessman were also charged. They're alleged to have embezzled more than $600,000 since 2012.

Foreign Policy

US Indicts Venezuelan President Maduro on "Narco-Terrorism" Charges. Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled indictments of President Nicholas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on "narco-terrorism" charges in a new escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign against Caracas. US Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and the others of conspiring with a dissident faction of the Colombian FARC guerrillas "to flood the United States with cocaine." Barr's move against Maduro stands in sharp contrast with the US approach to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a staunch rightist and US ally, whom federal prosecutors have accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, but who remains unindicted.

Denver Pot Shop Closure Reversed, Amsterdam Cannabis Cafes Reopen, MedMj Businesses Essential More... (3/25/20)

Marijuana retail outlets stay open in Denver and Amsterdam after pandemic-inspired efforts to shut them down inspire long lines, drug reform and public health groups urge governors to keep medical marijuana dispensaries open, and more.

Amsterdam cannabis cafe. It's open for carryout after the government had to reverse a pandemic-inspired ban.
Marijuana Policy

Denver Mayor Announces Liquor Stores and Pot Shops Have to Close but Forced to Backtrack in Face of Large Crowds. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) announced Monday afternoon that marijuana shops and liquor stores would have to close their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic but was forced to reverse course later that same day. In response to his announcement, city residents began swarming liquor stores and pot shops -- violating social distancing requirements -- sometimes with lines a block long, forcing the mayor to reconsider. Now, the booze and pot shops can stay open, but must enforce physical distancing requirements.

Medical Marijuana

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Urge Governors to Deem Medical Marijuana Dispensaries as "Essential" Businesses. A dozen public health and drug reform organizations have sent an open letter to every governor in the country, urging them to recognize medical marijuana as a necessary medicine, and to declare dispensaries "essential" businesses that can stay open during periods of reduced movement related to the coronavirus pandemic. Signatories include the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, and the Harm Reduction Coalition, as well as public health groups.

Psychedelics

Denver Psychedelic Reform Panel Holds Second Meeting. The Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review panel -- the nation's first such entity -- held its second meeting Tuesday and reached agreement on criteria for law enforcement reporting on activities related to the 'shrooms. Data collected should include age, location of offense, the offense itself (possession, distribution, cultivation), the quantity involved, race, and whether a prosecution ensued, among other things.

International

Holland Reopens Cannabis Cafes Just A Day After Closing Them in Coronavirus Move. The Dutch government on Monday night abruptly reversed a day-old decision to shut down the country's famous cannabis cafes as part of a social distancing response to the coronavirus pandemic. The reversal came as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. Now, the cannabis cafes can stay open for carryout purchases only. There was no respite, however, for Amsterdam's sex clubs and brothels. They will have to stay shuttered until April 6.

Editorial: Drug Policy During the Crisis

Dear Reformer:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden-dupont-circle-cropped.jpg
David Borden
In this time of crisis, all of us are figuring out how to adapt our lives, take care of our needs, and do our jobs. Everything is affected, and drug policy is not an exception.

Our nation the past several decades has engaged in massive numbers of arrests for what in many cases are low-level violations. Despite some notable bipartisan movement to reform criminal justice, our prisons and jails remain packed with over two million people. With a pandemic in progress, this is a public health crisis in the making, one that will affect the incarcerated, staff of the institutions holding them, their families, ultimately to many more people outside the walls to whom the COVID-19 virus ultimately spreads.

For drug users, and for the health programs that serve them, there are special challenges too. Every person struggling with a substance use disorder, every syringe exchange program or methadone/burprenorphine clinic, every medical marijuana patient, wants to not transmit the invisible threat to themselves or others while going about their day. People in recovery or trying to get there, are stuck at home with less access to support.

Congress has yet to provide funding or specify health requirements to be followed by federal or state penal institutions. A bipartisan group of US senators have called for vulnerable prisoners to be moved to home detention. But the Department of Justice and its Bureau of Prisons have substantially undermined early release programs for elderly prisoners, and at least report had not responded to a Congressional request for information on what steps they are taking to safeguard prisoners from disease. Local advocates are worried that stay-at-home orders, justified for the emergency, could lead to increased enforcement against low-level offenses. This is a time to not arrest where possible, not to do more.

A number of jurisdictions have taken good steps. Philadelphia is ceasing certain types of arrests, instead briefly detaining people and taking information but then releasing them. Baltimore's State Attorney is dismissing charges for a range of low-level offenses, including for drugs. Los Angeles and the State of Ohio have released hundreds of people already in detention. Oregon has temporarily allowed marijuana delivery services to leave product outside. Articles following in this issue of the Chronicle discuss those cases. Much more is needed from the nation's cities, counties and states, and from the federal government.

We support the recommendations of the Justice Roundtable, a criminal justice reform coalition based here in Washington, in which we participate. Their COVID-19 section links to much more in the way of news and resources. On the health side, Vital Strategies has published a round-up of resources on COVID-19 and drug risk reduction.

We will be publishing a larger report on these topics. In the meanwhile, I hope those of you who use social media will help by posting some calls on Congress in an alert distributed by the roundtable. You can download the alert, with sample social media posts and accompanying graphics, here. In the sample posts you should fill in the link for your member of Congress you can find their social media addresses by going to House.gov and Senate.gov, looking up your Representative and your two Senators (US voters) and going to their web sites.

Lastly, don't have doubt that all the different parts of drug policy that we're working on, will continue to be worked on and will continue to move forward. At the right times and in ways adapted to the situation, we and our allies will be making the large and small asks of policymakers. Legislative staffers in criminal justice, health and foreign policy will continue to work on their portfolio of issues. And whether the pandemic last for a longer or shorter time, at some point the public and the media will devote space again to all the other issues that affect our society. This is what I've seen happen during past crises, and it will happen again this time, in the ways that work this time.

Thank you for reading and for being here, and more soon.

Sincerely,

David Borden signature

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
https://stopthedrugwar.org

Mexico Illicit Drug Prices Rising, OR Regulators Allow Curbside Pot Sales, More... (3/24/20)

States grapple with marijuana sales during a time of crisis, Ghana legalizes hemp and CBD, Mexican traffickers facing chemical shortages are raising prices, and more.

Meth and fentanyl from Mexico are about to get more expensive thanks to the coronavirus crisis. (Warner Robbins, GA, PD)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Shutters Recreational Pot Shops, Lets Medical Marijuana Outlets Remain Open. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has ordered recreational marijuana outlets to close during the coronavirus crisis but has spared medical marijuana dispensaries. The emergency order issued Monday closed all non-essential businesses in the state for at least two weeks. Dispensaries are considered essential; recreational pot shops are not.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Rejected for Lack of Signatures. State Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday announced he has rejected a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana because petitioners did not submit the minimum number of valid signatures required. This was a first step; organizers needed to submit summary language of their amendment along with at least 1,000 valid voter signatures. They didn't do that. "Of the 1,000 minimum signatures required to proceed with the constitutional amendment, those boards of elections reported receiving a total of only 271 valid signatures," Yost said. "Finally, because the petition failed to meet the signature threshold, I have not made any determination concerning the fairness and truthfulness of the proposed summary."

Oregon Regulators Approve Curbside Recreational Marijuana Sales. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also regulates marijuana, has approved a temporary rule allowing recreational marijuana retailers to sell their products curbside. The rule permits retailers to take orders and deliver marijuana to a customer who is outside and within 150 feet of the licensed premises. The sales can take place only during normal business hours, no earlier than 7:00am and no later than 10:00pm.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Regulators Ease Medical Marijuana Rules Because of Coronavirus. State regulators trying to ensure that patients continue to have access to medical marijuana have removed a cap on the number of patients caregivers can serve and eliminated background checks for caregiver renewal applications. Curbside pickup has also been okayed, as have remote consultations for some practitioners.

International

Ghana Legalizes Hemp, CBD. The parliament has passed a bill legalizing the production of industrial hemp and its use for medicinal as well as commercial purposes. The bill also expands access to drug treatment and medical care and marks a shift from treating addiction as a legal issue to a public health issue.

Mexican Meth, Fentanyl Traffickers Raise Prices Amid Shortages of Precursor Chemicals. With supplies of Chinese precursor chemicals running low because of disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic, Mexican drug traffickers are raising wholesale illicit drug prices. The Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly increasing the wholesale price of a pound of meth from $100 to $600. The price of fentanyl is also going up, although not yet as dramatically. Wholesale prices for a pound have reportedly increased from $35,000 to $42,000.

Baltimore & Philadelphia to End Drug Arrests Due to COVID-19, SAMSHA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules, More... (3/23/20)

Baltimore and Philadelphia stop drug arrests in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, SAMSHA eases opioid maintenance treatment rules for the same reason, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on drug policy issues. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Hartford Courant and Sacred Heart University has 63.4% of state residents in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. The poll comes as lawmakers push to advance a legalization bill backed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D). The poll found that 34.4% "strongly support" legalization, while 29.9% "somewhat support" it.

Iowa Poll Has First Time Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll has 53% support for marijuana legalization, the first time the Iowa Poll has registered majority support for the move. As recently as 2013, only 29% supported legalization.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Still on the Agenda. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that marijuana legalization remained a priority despite the coronavirus crisis. Asked about his legislative priorities during a briefing on the crisis, Cuomo said "I want to do legalizing marijuana," adding that he also wants to achieve a controversial bail reform measure through the budget.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate last week approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 165. The measure would allow people with a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions - including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain. It also would let them purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Hemp

Idaho House Kills Hemp Legalization Bill. Lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to kill Senate Bill 1345, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. Although the bill had passed the Senate, it ran into opposition from anti-cannabis activists and law enforcement, who warned that it could lead to a "hemp-marijuana culture" in the state.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports 4% Decline in Opioid, Heroin Overdose Deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that overall overdose death rates nationwide dropped 4.1% from 2017 to 2018. Deaths from heroin use dropped by 4%, while prescription opioid deaths dropped by 13.5%. "Decreases in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin reflect the effectiveness of public health efforts to protect Americans and their families," Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, said in a press release. "While we continue work to improve those outcomes, we are also addressing the increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids. We must bring this epidemic to an end," Redfield said. Synthetic opioid deaths were actually up 10%.

Baltimore to End Most Drug Prosecutions Amid Coronavirus Outbreak. In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) is moving to dismiss pending charges against most people accused of drug offenses. According to her guidance to staff, things like drug possession, attempted drug distribution, prostitution, traffic offenses and public urination are among the offenses that shouldn't land people being bars at this point. "This policy is in place for now as an attempt to save lives," Mosby said. "We will assess the policy at a later date and time when this global pandemic is over."

Philadelphia Police Halt Drug Arrests During Coronavirus Outbreak. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw last week ordered the department to begin delaying arrests for low-level offenses, including drug offenses. Crimes including theft, burglary, prostitution, stolen automobiles, vandalism, and certain economic crimes will no longer automatically result in detention. Instead, officers will temporarily detain suspects to identify them, then release them with an arrest warrant issued at some later date.

Drug Treatment

SAMHSA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules in Response to Coronavirus. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced policy changes easing the rules for home treatment of opioid use disorder as a response to the coronavirus crisis. The agency issued a directive allowing some patients in opioid treatment programs to take home a 28-day supply of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine. For less stable patients, SAMSHA is authorizing a 14-day take-home supply.

International

Paraguay Issues First Medical Marijuana Licenses. Late last month, the government issued its first medical marijuana licenses. Twelve pharmaceutical companies received licenses to import seeds for the domestic cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, which will be provided free to eligible patients.

We're Here

Posted in:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg

Thank you for visiting our web site. Phil (writer of the Drug War Chronicle) newsletter is off this week, while he and his partner set up a new home. All of us have been busy adapting to the current crisis situation, and I was overseas recently at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, as part of our efforts on global drug policy and the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. That is why the site doesn't look as current as it usually does.

On my end, amidst all of this I've unfortunately lapsed for a few weeks on the email editions of the Chronicle. Time management with the very small staff we have now, while multiple programs break out, is a challenge too. That's why you haven't seen emails from us yet this month. Working this challenge out has been a process.

There will be an email edition of the Chronicle out later today or tomorrow morning. Most of it will be the content you've probably seen on our site already, due to Phil being on leave. But we will also be publishing information on COVID-19's impact on drug users and the related health services, and on the criminal justice system, including requests for you to take action this week. And Phil will be back this weekend or Monday.

I will also be posting my thoughts on advancing policy reform during a crisis. As some of you know, I've been doing this for awhile. While every crisis is different, there are lessons to be learned from the past.

More soon,

Dave

Vets' MedMJ Bills Advance in House, OR Psilocybin Init Looking Good on Signatures, More... (3/12/20)

The Pine Ridge Reservation votes to legalize weed, a pair of veterans' medical marijauna bills move in the House, signature gathering for the Oregon Psychedelic Service Act initiative is looking good, and more. 

Psilocybin molecule. An Oregon initiative would allow for its therapeutic use. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oglala Sioux Tribe Approves Medical, Recreational Marijuana. Oglala Sioux Tribe members on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota voted Wednesday to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Both passed by wide margins, with 82% approving medical marijuana and 74% approving recreational marijuana. A proposal to legalize alcohol sales failed with only 44% of the vote. The tribe is now set to be the only one in the nation to legalize marijuana in a state where it otherwise remains illegal.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Committee Approves Marijuana Bills for Military Veterans. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee has approved two bills focused on marijuana and military veterans. The committee voted 15-11 to approve the Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1647), sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), which would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it’s legal. The committee also approved the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act (HR 712), sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA),  which would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the medical potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions that commonly afflict veterans. It was approved in a voice vote.

Iowa House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House on Wednesday passed a bill that adds more qualifying conditions, allow more doctors to recommend patients for the program, and raise limits on THC content. The bill now heads to the Senate. Although Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) vetoed a similar bill last year, she said she is comfortable with this bill.

Tennessee Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill, But Poison Pill Added. A medical marijuana bill, SB 2334, was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, but only after a poison pill amendment that would only allow the bill to take effect if marijuana is rescheduled as a Schedule II substance under federal law. A similar bill is moving in the House.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Mom Sues Hospital over Drug Test That Led to Child Abuse Probe. A mother who gave birth in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital has now filed a suit against the facility charging that it collected and tested her urine for drugs without her consent while she was in labor and reported a false positive result to protective services that resulted in a child abuse investigation. This is the second such lawsuit filed against the hospital since 2014.

Psychedelics

Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Already Has 100,000 Raw Signatures. Campaigners for IR 34, the Oregon Psilocybin Service Act, say they already have 100,000 raw signatures. They need 112,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow adults to visit licensed facilities to have the drug administered under the supervision of medical professionals.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A US CBP officer gets nailed with cocaine, an American Samoan jail guard gets nailed smuggling meth into the jail, and more. Let's get to it:

In Atlanta, a US Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested Tuesday after getting caught smuggling three bricks of cocaine in his luggage as he landed in Atlanta on a flight from the US Virgin Islands. The as yet unnamed officer was allowed to bypass airport security because of his job status, but drug sniffing dogs found the coke. He faces multiple charges, including possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

In Pago Pago, American Samoa, an American Samoan correctional officer was arrested Wednesday for allegedly helping to smuggle illegal drugs and cell phones into the territory's only jail. Officer Ofisa Enoka Leifi Jr. is charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of methamphetamine, and concealing an offense.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County corrections officer was arrested last Thursday for allegedly smuggling marijuana into the County Jail. Officer Ivan Montoya went down after jail guards smelling burning marijuana and he was then snitched out by an inmate as "the officer who had brought in the marijuana." Local media did not report the precise charges.

AZ Legalization Initiative Consolidates, MO Senate Votes to Ban MedMJ Candies, More... (3/11/20)

An Ohio marijuana legalization initiative hits a roadblock, an Arizona marijuana legalization initiative sees the field clear, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Bid Fails, Clears Way for Smart and Safe Legalization Initiative. And then there was one. The Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce has given up on plans for a legalization initiative and is instead endorsing a rival initiative, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act campaign has already gathered more than 270,000 raw signatures, almost guaranteeing that it will qualify for the ballot. It needs 237,000 valid voter signatures by July 2. It has also raised $1.6 million.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Language of Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dave Yost (R) has rejected the language for a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Yost said the proposed language makes unsupported statements and fails to note the amendment would be written into the constitution. Backers can make changes and resubmit it, but the clock is ticking. They only have until July to get it approved and gather 440,000 valid signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Passes Ban on Medical Marijuana-Infused Candies. The Senate has passed that would ban marijuana-infused candy for medical use in what supporters said was a bid to prevent children from accidentally eating marijuana. The measure would ban candy such as lollipops, cotton candy and fruit and animal-shaped edibles that could appeal to children. The bill now goes to the House.

NJ Supreme Court Protects MedMJ Patients' Employment Rights, SD Hemp Bill Deal, More... (3/10/20)

The New Jersey Supreme Court strikes a blow for medical marijuana patients' employment rights, South Dakota's governor and legislature reach a deal to legalize hemp, and more. 

Mississippi lawmakers couldn't agree on whether to ban or regulate kratom, so they did nothing. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi House Passes Medical Marijuana Measure as Alternative to Initiative Already on November Ballot. In a bid to head-off a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the November ballot, the House on Monday approved HCR 39 as an alternative for voters. It's the brainchild of Rep. Trey Lamar (R), who claimed people who signed initiative petitions were duped and accused the initiative campaign of "taking advantage" of the state law allowing for citizen-sponsored initiatives. The measure now heads for the Senate.

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules Workers Can't Be Fired for Failing Drug Test Because of Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that barring coming to work stoned, medical marijuana patients remain protected by the state's anti-discrimination and cannot be fired for testing positive for marijuana. The high court ruling came just days after an appellate court reached the same conclusion. "This protects hundreds, if not thousands of employees" who’ve faced the "stigma of marijuana," said Jamison Mark, a lawyer for the plaintiff.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers, Governor Reach Deal on Hemp Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has reached an agreement with lawmakers that should result in the quick passage of a bill legalizing hemp production in the state. Noem had been demanding $3.5 million to ensure the program started "responsibly," and now lawmakers have agreed to do that. The House has already passed a bill, and now the Senate has gutted and passed its version of a hemp bill, so the agreement can be ratified in conference committee.

Kratom

Mississippi Legislature Decides to Do Nothing About Kratom. Kratom will remain legal and unregulated in the state after legislators killed bills to regulate it and bills to prohibit it. The bills died Tuesday when committees did not consider them before the first big deadline of the legislative session.

Colombian Cocaine Production Jumps, VA Pot Decrim Bill Heads to Governor, More... (3/9/20)

Colombian cocaine production is way up, the US says as it pushes for forced and aerial eradication, NJ pot legalization supporters organize for victory, WVA is moving to increase meth sentences, and more.

Cocaine production in Colombia is at record levels, the US says. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Supporters form Coalition to Push for November Victory. Advocates and stakeholders in the state's marijuana industry have formed a campaign coalition, NJ CAN 2020, to fight for marijuana legalization that includes a racial and social justice approach. The group includes members of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, including the ACLU of New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Latino Action Network, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the NJ CannaBusiness Association.

Oklahoma Sees Another Legalization Initiative Filed. Stakeholders in the state's medical marijuana industry have filed a legalization initiative, SQ 811, in response to an earlier filed legalization initiative that they say would not fully protect the state's existing medical marijuana industry. The initiative would tax marijuana at 25% but says medical marijuana would be "exempt from all taxes." The same group also filed a decriminalization initiative, SQ 812, the same day.

Virginia Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate on Sunday approved a decriminalization bill, SB 2. The bill has already passed the House, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Under the bill, possession of up to an ounce will now merit a fine of no more than $50.  

Sentencing

West Virginia Legislature Approves Bill Raising Meth Sentences. The state Senate on Sunday approved HB 4852, which would double mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine. What is currently a one-to-five-year sentence would become a two-to-10-year sentence. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back for a concurrence vote to approve changes made in the Senate.

Foreign Policy

United States and Colombian Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to Reduce Cocaine Supply. Last Friday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) led a counternarcotics dialogue with the Government of Colombia to set forth a bilateral, whole-of-government joint action plan to reduce the high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production by 50 percent by the end of 2023.The dialogue focused on increasing coca eradication and cocaine interdiction, improving security and economic opportunities in the rural areas most afflicted by narcotics trafficking, and targeting narcotics-related money laundering and illicit finances. A focus of the discussion was expanding the results of Colombia’s integrated coca eradication program by ensuring full use of all available tools, including manual eradication, alternative development, and a Colombian-led aerial eradication component, supported by rural development and rural security programs.

International

Canadian Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has recently tabled a drug decriminalization bill, C-235, which would remove simple drug possession from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "The international evidence is pretty clear that the way we have dealt with drug use, the war on drugs and throwing police resources to reduce drug use, has failed and has undermined public-health efforts," Erskine-Smith said. "And the overwhelming evidence today is that we should treat drug use as a health issue and we should be removing barriers to seeking treatment, and decriminalization of simple possession would do just that." Private bills rarely pass, but this is a start.

Colombia Cocaine Production Hit Record High Last Year Despite Forced Eradication, US Says. Cocaine production increased 8% last year, reaching an all-time high, according to figures released by the US government. The increase came even as the US and Colombian governments have been promoting forced eradication of coca crops and refusing to support crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective.

Mexico Legal Marijuana Bill Advancing, OR Drug Decriminalization Init Moving, More... (3/6/20)

Boston's first pot shop is set to open Monday, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs again postpones a vote on classifying marijuana, and more.

Viva Mexico! (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Court Rules Smell of Marijuana in Vehicle by Itself Not Grounds for Search. A California appellate panel has ruled that now that marijuana is legal, the smell of marijuana in a car stopped for other reasons isn't enough to justify a full-blown search of the vehicle. "Marijuana and alcohol now receive similar treatment under the law," said the Appellate Division of Alameda County Superior Court in a ruling barring evidence of a loaded handgun that police found during the search in question. The ruling was issued in December and was published by the state courts this week as a precedent for future cases.

Boston's First Pot Shop Set to Open Monday. Three and a half years after voters approved marijuana legalization, Boston is about to get its first marijuana retail outlet. Pure Oasis will open Monday in Dorchester. It is the first shop to be approved by the state's Cannabis Control Commission.

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Measure Rapidly Gathers Signatures for November Ballot.  A campaign to put a drug treatment and drug decriminalization initiative, the "Drug Treatment and Recovery Act" ( IP 44), on the November ballot has already collected 125,000 raw signatures, the Drug Policy Alliance, which is financing the campaign, announced Thursday. The measure needs 112,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It has until May to turn in more signatures.

International

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Once Again Postpones Key Marijuana Vote. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has decided to delay until December a vote due to take place this week on the potential global rescheduling of cannabis. The CND, whose meeting in Vienna ended today, was due to vote on a set of recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) to loosen restrictions on marijuana and related substances like CBD and THC. This is the second time the CND has refused to vote on the recommendations, which the WHO first presented in January 2019.

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. Three Senate committees on Thursday approved a draft legalization bill, bringing it one step closer to passage. Ajoint meeting of the Justice, Health and Legislative Studies committees approved the bill "in general," meaning that individual articles within it remain open for debate and amendment. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. It would also establish a legal market for marijuana that would see 40% of production licenses go to people in communities affected by drug trafficking. Bill specifics will be debated by those same committees and then in a plenary session of the Senate, which could see a final vote as soon as next week. The measure would then go to the Chamber of Deputies. The Supreme Court has issued an April 30 deadline to end marijuana prohibition.

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

DEA Proposes Mobile Methadone Programs, Honduran President Took Drug Bribes, More...(3/5/20)

The DEA proposes allowing mobile methadone treatment programs, US prosecutors say the Honduran president took bribes from drug traffickers, Major League Baseball loosens up on marijuana use by players, and more.

Major League Baseball is loosening up on players' marijuana use. (Scott Slade/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball to Allow Players' Marijuana Use. Major League Baseball has liberalized its stance on marijuana use by players. Under a memo released last month, players can now consume marijuana without risk of discipline, although they can't come to work under the influence and they can't enter into commercial agreements with marijuana companies. The league removed marijuana from its list of controlled substances last year.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have filed House Bill 1086, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. It has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill amends state law to require that criminal proceedings be concluded before any civil forfeiture proceedings could take place, unless the property owner or interest holder waives the right to wait for criminal proceedings to conclude. The bill would also prohibit civil forfeiture proceedings from moving forward in the event of a dismissal or acquittal of criminal charges. Current law allows civil forfeiture proceedings even if a person is acquitting of a crime or charges are dismissed. 

Drug Treatment

DEA Proposes Allowing Mobile Methadone Programs. The DEA has filed a notice in the Federal Register that it is considering a proposed rule that would "revise the existing regulations for narcotic treatment programs (NTPs) to allow a mobile component associated with the registered program to be considered a coincident activity. The NTP registrants that operate or wish to operate mobile components (in the state that the registrant is registered in) to dispense narcotic drugs in schedules II-V at a remote location for the purpose of maintenance or detoxification treatment would not be required to obtain a separate registration for a mobile component. This proposed rule would waive the requirement of a separate registration at each principal place of business or professional practice where controlled substances are dispensed for those NTPs with mobile components that fully comply with the requirements of the proposed rule, once finalized. These revisions to the regulations are intended to make maintenance or detoxification treatments more widely available, while ensuring that safeguards are in place to reduce the likelihood of diversion." There are still 53 days to comment on the rule, which can be done at the link above.

Harm Reduction

Arizona House OKs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchange Programs. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 2608, which would legalize needle exchange programs in the state as part of an effort to reduce disease and overdoses among illicit drug users. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Honduran President Took Bribe from Drug Traffickers, US Prosecutors Charge. Honduran President Juan Orlando Sanchez agreed to shield a drug trafficker from prosecution and offered to let him use the country’s armed forces for security in exchange for a $25,000 bribe, prosecutors in Manhattan federal court alleged Tuesday. The drug kingpin, Daniel Fuentes Ramirez, was arrested in Miami on weapons and cocaine conspiracy charges. Last fall, President Sanchez's brother, a former Honduran senator, was convicted in New York on cocaine conspiracy charges.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Northern California town pays big-time for some reefer-stealing rogue officers, a New York City narc gets a little too drunk for his own good, and more. Lete's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD narcotics officers was arrested Friday after drunkenly harassing a women, punching a bartender, fighting with a security guard, and shooting his gun inside a Williamsburg bar. Officer Steven Abreu, 31, now faces a charge of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, criminal mischief and harassment." He's been freed on supervised release.

In Rocky Ford, Colorado, a Rocky Ford police officer was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to sell marijuana that he had seized. Officer James Lopez, 56, had seized the marijuana, but instead of turning it in, took it to a friend's house and packaged it for sell. He faces charges of distribution of a controlled substance and official misconduct.

In Rohnert Park, California, the Rohnert Park Police Department agreed to a $1.5 million settlement to a set of drivers who had marijuana unlawfully seized from them by a group of rogue Rohnert Park police officers. The pay-out settles eight different lawsuits from drivers who claimed the officers robbed them out cash and marijuana. The officers were led by former drug enforcement partners Brandon “Jacy” Tatum and Joseph Huffaker, who stopped drivers on US Highway 101 far outside of the city limits. Those two officers have escaped any criminal charges, but are no longer with the department.

Medical Marijuana Update

Utah sees its first dispensary open, a Florida bill to cap THC at 10% hits a snag, and more.

Florida

Florida Measure Would Cap THC at 10% for Underage Patients. House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) last Friday filed an amendment to a Senate Appropriations Committee bill that would cap the THC level of medical marijuana at 10% for underage patients. Last month, Oliva said that capping medical marijuana at 10% was one of his priorities. The amendment to Senate Bill 230, which limits the cap to kids, is most likely a concession to veterans' groups that made it clear last week they opposed any caps.

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels Hits Snag. An amendment to an appropriations bill that seeks to limit medical marijuana to no more than 10% THC for patients under 21 has hit a snag in the Senate. Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, (R-Stuart) introduced the proposal Monday and tried to add it to a Department of Health appropriations bill but has now removed it after facing questions from members of the Senate Rules Committee.

Hawaii

Hawaii Bill to Protect Patients' Employment Rights Advances. A bill that would protect medical marijuana cardholders from being fired or not hired because they tested positive for marijuana is advancing in the legislature. Instead of a drug test, cardholders could undergo a "fit-for-duty" test that measure impairment, not metabolites. The bill excludes law enforcement and prison guards, other public safety workers, and health care workers who administer drugs to patients. The state Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee and the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill Friday with some amendments. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Utah

Utah Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Amendments Bill. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 121, just days before the state's medical marijuana program opened Monday. The changes in the bill include packaging, expungements, dosing, and limits on how many patient recommendations doctors can provide. "This bill makes needed adjustments and clarifications to Utah's medical cannabis law," Herbert said. "These changes will help us ensure that Utah patients have the best possible access to cannabis products as our new program rolls out on Monday, March 2."

Utah Sees First Dispensary Open. The Beehive State's first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Salt Lake City Monday. Dragonfly Wellness on State Street beat everyone else to the punch. Thirteen other dispensaries are expected to open across the state this year.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

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Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Chronicle AM: Trump Says Colombia Must Restart Spraying Coca Crop, UT Gets First Dispensary, More... (3/3/20)

Connecticut lawmakers hold a hearing on marijuana legalization, Mexican lawmakers prepare to debate a marijuana legalization bill, President Trump says Colombia must restart aerial spraying of coca crops, and more. 

President Trump calls on Colombia to restart the aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. Members of the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday. The topic was details of a legalization proposal, Senate Bill 6, from Gov. Ned Lamont (D). Under Lamont's proposal, possession of up to 1.5 ounces would be legal for people 21 and over and past pot possession convictions would automatically be expunged for people convicted before 2015. Lawmakers heard from the public, and the committee's next step is a meeting where lawmakers can voice their opinions and then vote on the bill.

Louisiana Activists Rally for Marijuana Law Reform. Members of the reform group Legalize Louisiana rallied in cities across the state Monday to lobby for marijuana rights. Activists gathered outside courthouses in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and New Orleans to demand expansion of medical marijuana, legal reforms, and marijuana legalization.

Maine Legal Marijuana Sales Pushed Back Three Months. Voters legalized marijuana in the state in 2016, but legal sales have yet to happen, and now they're being pushed back another three months. The problem is time-consuming license applications for pot businesses. Applicants must first receive a conditional state license, then get local approval, then return to the state for an active license. The Office of Marijuana Policy says it has received 200 applications, with 80 of them complete enough for regulatory review.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels Hits Snag. An amendment to an appropriations bill that seeks to limit medical marijuana to no more than 10% THC for patients under 21 has hit a snag in the Senate. Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, (R-Stuart) introduced the proposal Monday and tried to add it to a Department of Health appropriations bill but has now removed it after facing questions from members of the Senate Rules Committee.

Utah Sees First Dispensary Open. The Beehive State's first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Salt Lake City Monday. Dragonfly Wellness on State Street beat everyone else to the punch. Thirteen other dispensaries are expected to open across the state this year.

Foreign Policy

Trump Says Colombia Will Have to Restart Spraying of Coca Crops. During a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque, US President Donald Trump said Colombia will have to restart its aerial spraying program in order to destroy the country's coca crop. "You're going to have to spray," Trump told journalists at a White House meeting with Duque. "If you don't spray you're not going to get rid of (the coca), so you have to spray with regard to the drugs in Colombia." Colombia suspended aerial spraying of the crop in 2015, after the World Health Organization linked glyphosate to environmental harm and cancer risks.

International

Mexico Congress to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. The Mexican congress will debate a 228-page marijuana legalization bill this week. It would allow people 18 and over to possess up to an ounce, with possession of more than an ounce but less than 200 grams decriminalized. People could also grow their own crop as long as their harvest is less than 480 grams. Possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized. The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses. There would be a 12% tax on retail marijuana sales.

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