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Philippines Drug War and Human Rights Solidarity Campaign

EVENT: Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War
Thursday July 14, 2022, 7:45-9:00am ET / 1:45-3:00pm CET / 7:45-9:00pm PT

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeigrD0pHd3j2AKnGpgt56EBOqaVIFbJ

EVENT VIDEO: Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC

EVENT ARTICLE AND VIDEO: How the Global Drug War's Victims Are Fighting Back

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

 

 

 

 
 
Logo created for our Philippines campaign by
artist Cesar Maxit. It combines the universal
human rights logo with imprisoned Senator
Leila de Lima's famous hand gesture.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our global advocacy program on the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. Below you will find detailed discussion of work through s, with video and links to statements or news articles, but only updated through July 2018.

Work done since then, about which we'll be adding in detail to this page soon, includes:

  • February 2019 "soft launch" of  "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines";
  • March 2019 forum at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna;
  • July 2019 forum at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York;
  • December 2019 forum at the International Criminal Court's Assembly of States Parties in The Hague;
  • March 2020 forum at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs;
  • speeches and other participation in allied groups' events in Washington;
  • community meeting on International Human Rights Advocacy at the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform;
  • work we are doing in the US Congress; and
  • other help we are providing to allies.

Material we will be posting from these activities includes but is not limited to:

  • highlights from February campaign events;
  • video footage of the three forums (which bring our total number of events to date to six);
  • presentations on the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns that underpin Duterte's drug war and moves toward autocracy; and
  • photos from various events.

One particular highlight we will mention here is that our March 2019 event drew significant media in the Philippines, due to the participation by Skype of Law School Dean and then senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, who criticized the "erosion of the Philippine justice system." This in turn drew a public response from the government's Justice Secretary, their equivalent of Attorney General.

As noted above, the video and other resources we will be posting broadens our efforts to include exposing the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns being carried out by President Duterte and his allies, which are a key plank of his drug war and moves toward authoritarianism. Presentations done for our events including cutting edge academic research and journalism on how appearances are being manipulated through concerted paid online efforts by "trolls" and others.


While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards.

Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to a likely 30,000 or more since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

 
 
funeral for victim of Duterte's drug war killings

Other abuses in have affected hundreds of thousands, and killings of activists, priests, even mayors are growing as well. In July 2019, the administration filed sedition cases against 35 opposition figures, including Catholic priests and Bishops, current and former Senators and candidates, even Vice President Leni Robredo. After the International Criminal Court announced a preliminary examination of allegations about the Philippine drug war, the administration withdrew the Philippines from the ICC's Rome Treaty.

Duterte is aggressively attacking his critics and the nation's democratic institutions as he seeks to bring about dictatorship. If he succeeds, there's no knowing where or how far the killings may go.

 

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]


Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016(source: Reuters)

 

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this tragedy, and the threat it represents to democracy and international institutions.

Our Philippines efforts to date include a series of events at important international meetings, mainly of the United Nations; a "soft launch" as well as behind the scenes development for "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines"; and other pending efforts.

Our UN events have been high-profile. The first, in March 2017, triggered a major political incident in the Philippines, after Vice President Robredo, a human rights lawyer and opposition leader, sent us a speech by video which criticized the President's drug policies. Our March 2019 event drew headlines in the Philippines and forced a response from the nation's Justice Secretary. Full information on the series appears below.

The "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy" campaign links drug policy reform in general terms to big issues of the day including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and the fight against internet-powered disinformation and authoritarianism.

Our work in this area grew our of advocacy we've done at the United Nations since late 2014. As part of a global community of reform-minded NGOs, we call for people-centered approaches to drug policy governed by human rights. Initially this aimed at the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). When Duterte was elected and the Philippine slaughter began, we turned our attention there.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo recorded
a powerful video for our March 2017 UN event.
 

The pro-Duterte forces have noticed us. Duterte allies including the (now former) Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives have attacked Philippine opposition leaders for working with us. Orchestrated online troll armies have descended on our videos. One of our events even prompted fake news stories.

We are currently crafting plans for moving forward in this campaign in an even bigger way. Please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don't miss any announcements about it. If you have a particular interest in the Philippines and want to be in touch about this, please email us.

 

Our accomplishments to date have included:

 


UN Events

Under the auspices of our UN-accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, we have organized events in conjunction with the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meetings in Vienna, the 2018 and 2019 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development meetings in New York, and the 2019 Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vienna 2017: Our March 2017 event, coorganized with the Manila-based Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, drew massive attention in the Philippines, due to a speech by video from Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo that led to unfair attacks on her by Duterte allies and an (ultimately unsuccessful) impeachment drive. The video also garnered US and international coverage. Robredo's video strongly criticized Duterte's drug war, as well as Duterte-led moves in the Philippines Congress (also so far unsuccessful) to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses, and to lower the age of criminal liability to nine.

We released the video on Monday March 13, three days before our event, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Along with extensive coverage in Philippine mainstream media, discussion of the video trended on Twitter, and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video, as well as a resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events for the CND nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to the Liberal Party's media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. CNN Philippines, on which the president's spokesperson had first made the false claim about the role of the video, published the most extensive story about our debunking of it. (See news links below.)

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

While our statement helped to defuse the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president, Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

The political heat that Robredo, a human rights lawyer, took for participating in our event is unfortunate. But she has continued to speak out against the killings, and remains a popular figure.

News reports on our event, the vice president's video, and its fallout, are too numerous to link here, and media continued for a long time to refer to them when discussing the vice president's political trajectory. One example is this analysis in the prominent Philippine news outlet Rappler, as of late 2019 ranked as the 10th more read web site in the Philippines. We post here a selection of key news links, as well as links for video footage of our entire event and other resources.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Event footage is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty International video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Following are some key news article and related links:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country as of this writing, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

 
 
Senator Trillanes displays copy
of Duterte administration's 2017
report, listing 20,000 killings
among its accomplishments

(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Vienna 2018: A year almost to the day after our 2017 event (and in the same room at the UN), we held another event featuring outspoken opposition Philippine Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV. (Duterte has said of Trillanes, "I [will] destroy him, or he will destroy me.")

In a sign of the times, the day before our event when Senator Trillanes arrived at the UN, President Duterte transmitted one-year notice of the Philippines withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, in retaliation for the ICC's preliminary investigation of his drug war. The night before our event, prosecutors in the Philippines indicted the senator on a spurious sedition charge.

Tania Ramírez and Natalie Ginsberg
read Senator de Lima's statement.
Alessandro de Luca also pictured.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)
 

Senator Leila de Lima contributed a written statement to our event as well. Joining Senator Trillanes as featured speaker was Ellecer Carlos, well-known spokesperson for the iDEFEND Philippine human rights coalition. The event was again co-moderated by David Borden and Marco Perduca.

 
 
speaker meeting before the forum
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Roughly 70 people attended, many forced to stand outside the 30-person capacity meeting room. Attendees represented a range of governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and members of the local Filipino community.

While the sedition charge became the main news story, driving out much of the coverage our event might otherwise have gotten, we did get some media including television:



 

 

 

 

 


- After Robredo, Trillanes Turn to Blast EJKs in war on drugs, Inquirer article published in advance of our event

State of the Nation with Jennifer Soho

News 5 Aksyon Tonite

Philtizen article noting State of the Nation report (over 9,700 shares on Facebook)

Trillanes not backing down on sedition case (The Philippines' top news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed for this report at our event. The sedition indictment, which was issued the night before, became the main story.)

How many more Filipinos will suffer under Duterte? De Lima asks (Inquirer article -- over 7,700 shares)

Rights Reporter interview with Senator Trillanes

 

 
 
fake news story with fabricated
statement attributed to us

In another sign of the times, Filipinos working in Vienna attended our event, including both supporters and critics of President Duterte. One member of the "Die Hard Duterte Supporters contingent (DDS -- a play on the infamous "Davao Death Squad" Duterte operated as mayor) challenged Senator Trillanes on the number of killings during the discussion time, while others videorecorded. The pro-Duterte media forces selectively edited the video in order to create an appearance that Trillanes didn't have an answer for him (as the senator and his staff had predicted). An example from a local newspaper in the Philippines appears here. Our Facebook Live video shows that Senator Trillanes did respond, however, and that the encounter was a civil one. The two spoke at length following the event.

Our visit to the UN cafeteria the day before the event led to a series of misleading and fake news stories. A Filipino cashier noticed Senator Trillanes was wearing an NGO badge, rather than one issued by the Philippines' Mission to the UN, and sent a picture to a pro-Duterte blogger. The blogger's post, which misidentified us as a Filipino American NGO, is online here, and has over 7,700 shares. An article posted on two Philippines-focused sites (here and here) "confirmed" that the senator had entered the UN through our auspices.

This information in these pieces isn't fake per se, but they attempt to imply a scandal or problem where there was none. A fake news story followed on the blog post, includes a photo of us on the lunch line with Trillanes, but claims falsely that the senator was "scolded" by a UN security guard who told him to "eat last." A follow-up fake news piece features a fabricated statement attributed to our organization. >A third piece by the same writer provided video from our event of a Filipino Duterte supporter contesting Trillanes' information, but implied falsely that the senator fell silent instead of responding to him.

The Facebook Live video stream from this event follows below. We will post an edited playlist copy and transcript in the near future. In the meanwhile, a realtime transcript from the CND Blog can be read here, and individual speeches can be accessed by going to the following points in the video. (We're not able to link to specific times within Facebook videos.)

  • Statement of Senator Leila de Lima, read by Tania Ramírez and Natalie Lyla Ginsberg (13:38)
  • David Borden (20:17)
  • Marco Perduca (21:03)
  • Senator Antonio Trillanes (26:42)
  • Ellecer Carlos (27:12)
  • Discussion (59:20)

See our September 2018 statement regarding another attempt by the Duterte administration to imprison Trillanes, their most serious one yet.

New York 2018: On July 16, we hosted the third event in the series, "Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Killings in a Time of Authoritarianism," expanding the scope of the discussion to include the death penalty for drug offenses. The event was held at the Church Center of the United Nations, in conjunction with the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

Prominent opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines provided a video for our event, calling for international solidarity for human rights and an end to Duterte's drug war. The two hour event also featured Professor Jason Wright of the Washington & Lee Law School, speaking on behalf of the California-based group Death Penalty Focus; and Justine Balane, International Secretary for Akbayan Youth in the Philippines, via Skype.

The largest Philippine news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed the event, and a report ran on their US station, Balitang America.

Following is the Balitang America's YouTube copy of the TV report:

Following is full video of the event. An edited playlist copy and transcript will be posted in the near future. In the meanwhile, individual sections can be accessed by clicking on the time indications in this list:

  • Welcome and Acknowledgments by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (0:00)
  • Video message from Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (4:16) | (original copy of Hontiveros video here)
  • Remarks by David on Borden on the UN Sustainable Developments Goals, and Background for This Event (7:47)
  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth (14:11)
  • Professor Jason Wright, Washington & Lee School of Law, representing Death Penalty Focus (25:55)
  • David Borden remarks (48:34)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Shilpa Nandwani, Northeast Coordinator, International Coalition for the Philippines US Chapter (53:50)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Terrenze Rienton (1:01:18)
  • General Discussion (1:06:43)
  • audience remarks by Rev. Levi Bautista (1:12:57)
  • General Discussion (1:17:23)

 

In March 2019, we returned to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, where we were joined via Skype by Chel Diokno, Dean of the De La Salle University School of Law, and at the time a candidate for the Philippine Senate. Attorney Diokno's keynote speech garnered strong media attention in the Philippines, and a comment he made about the "erosion of the Philippine justice system" drew a response from Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

With this event we also began to address the role of social media manipulation and disinformation in the Philippine crisis. The program included a presentation by video from a scholar of online disinformation campaigns, Pamela Combinido, whose group had interviewed the organizers and rank-and-file "trolls" who carry them out; and a video from BuzzFeed News on Facebook's role in fueling Duterte's drug war, which accompanied an award-winning article on the topic by technology reporter Davey Alba.

videos:

    1

news articles about Diokno's speech:

    1

news stories about the Justice Secretary's response:

    1

HLPF 2019

ASP

 


 

Protest at Philippines Embassy, Washington, DC

  

For the one-year mark of the jailing of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima on spurious drug charges, we organized a protest at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. The event featured street theater with Duterte and Philippine National Police figures arresting Senator de Lima and pretending to shoot attendees.

Allies in the Philippines helped to promote the event's Facebook Live video stream, and it went viral in the Philippines, with nearly 470,000 views as of this writing. Among our cosponsors in the action were Amnesty International, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance and the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines.

 

Other Philippines-focused groups such as Gabriela-DC and the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines-US were participated as well. The event represented a step for Philippines-focused groups with various different ideological roots working together. Video of the action went viral in the Philippines, and has garnered nearly 470,000 views. Since that time our executive director, David Borden, has been a go-to person about the drug war for demonstrations organized by Filipino American groups.

Facebook Live video:

 

      

(photos and video done by event cosponsor DCMJ)

 


Global Sign-On Statement

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

 
InterAksyon article

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered by four important Philippines news outlets:

The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.


Legislative Lobbying

 
 
April 2018 lobbying coalition

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress.

In April 2018, StoptheDrugWar.org's executive director David Borden was invited to join a lobbying group that included advocates visiting from the Philippines as part of the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour 2018 of the Caravan for Peace and Justice for the Philippines, as well as representatives of Filipino American organizations, faith groups participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days the weekend before, and others. Key organizers of the lobbying effort were the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines US Chapter. Borden is regularly asked by Filipino American advocates to address the drug war in meetings and demonstrations.

An update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

  

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Department has raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate. Duterte has recently claimed that a White House visit is in the works, pending scheduling.


Coalition Building

As the above sections show, we have actively sought partners in this campaign, both in the Philippines and in the Filipino American community, including groups spanning a range of the ideological spectrum. But we have also sought to bring others in to the effort -- from drug policy reform, international criminal justice advocacy, the anti-death penalty movement and others.

 

In March before heading to Vienna for our event with Senator Trillanes, we organized a panel for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Baltimore, "Human Rights Challenge, Responding to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines." Our panel featured Eric Lachica of US Filipinos for Good Governance; and Shamah Bulangis and Justine Balane, National Secretary General and International Secretary respectively of Akbayan Youth, who are also SSDP Ambassadors for the Philippines.

The panel was well attended, and following it, we brought signs from Philippines-related demonstrations (our 2/28 embassy protest and others) to the plenary hall, where conference attendees, following a group picture, took a second group pictures with the signs, while holding hands up in a Philippines protest symbol. The photo, posted to Facebook by an attendee, went viral in the Philippines.

The energy of the event and level of interest in this campaign that was shown there, following our successful protest a week earlier, makes us believe that a larger movement can be built on this issue, capable of bringing greater pressure on the Duterte administration over the killings. Please subscribe to our email list to be updated as plans progress, and feel free to contact us directly in the meanwhile.

David Borden met with members of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance San Francisco chapter in July 2018. In this video, filmed by FAHRA leader Ago Pedalizo, Borden remarks on the recent awarding of the prestigious "Prize for Freedom" award to Senator de Lima:


These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform program StoptheDrugWar.org has pursued decisively since fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy program is headed by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in the near future will tweet on Philippines matters as @BordenUNEventPH. In the near future our organization's blog and newsletter will have a significant focus on the Philippines as well. Our Philippines-related content can also be accessed through our category archive at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines.

– END –


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CA Local Voters Approve More Legal Pot Shops, Filipino Drug War Continues, More... (11/15/22)

The Gallup organization looks at which groups support or oppose marijuana legalization, most Oregon residents will be ale to access nearby psilocybin therapy centers, and more.

More store fronts like this will be coming to Southern California soon. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Draws Links Between Marijuana Views and Ideology, Religiosity, and Age. In its latest poll of attitudes toward marijuana, taken in October, Gallup finds that support for legalization remains steady at 68 percent. The polling organization also combined data from the last five years to examine which demographic, social, and political groups strongly support it or strongly oppose it.

Subgroups whose support for legalization exceeds the national average by at least 10 points include those with no religious preference (89%), self-identified liberals (84%), Democrats (81%), young adults (79%) and those who seldom or never attend religious services (78%). Subgroups whose support for legalization was more than 10% below the national average include those who attend church weekly (46%), conservatives (49%), Republicans (51%), older adults (53%) and Hispanic adults (56%).

California Voters Approve Ballot Measures to Expand Pot Shop Sales. Voters in a localities across the state voted last week to approve 12 ballot measures that will either expand or create legal retail marijuana markets. The victories, mainly in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, should result in 70 new retail marijuana sales licenses, along with opportunities for ancillary businesses. Los Angeles County should see 25 new retail licenses, while San Diego County should see 20 more. But while 12 communities approved expansions, another half-dozen rejected them. The votes to ease access to adult use marijuana comes as the state's legal marijuana sector struggles to expand amidst high taxes, local bans and hindrances, and a black market that refuses to go away.

Psychedelics

Oregon's Rural Voters Reject Therapeutic Psilocybin Centers but Most Oregonians Will Have Access. On Election Day last week, 27 counties and 114 cities and towns asked voters to approve moratoria or bans on psilocybin therapy centers, which were approved by voters statewide last year. In almost every instance, voters rejected the therapy centers, but those areas account for only a small fraction of the state's population, and most Oregonians will have local access to such facilities. , Nearly three out of four of the state's 4.2 million residents live in localities where the centers are approved, including 17 of the state's most populous cities and 11 counties, including all of the most populous ones.

International

Philippine Police Force Lowballs Drug War Killings in Post-Duterte Era. The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Monday that they have arrested more than 22,000 people in a new drug crackdown under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. PNP Chief Rodolfo Azurin Jr. claimed that police had made efforts to reduce the use of lethal force and that only 46 people had been killed in their anti-drug operations since Marcos took office at the end of June. That figure is belied by numbers from the DAHAS database of drug war killings, which puts the death toll at 127 since Marcos took office, including 29 in October and seven more in the first week of November alone.

While the numbers reported killed under Marcos are a substantial reduction from the pace of killings under Duterte -- human rights groups estimate more than 30,000 people were killed during his bloody war on drugs -- they still represent an unacceptably high level of state violence directed at drug users and sellers. Still, Azurin patted himself and his police force on the back, claiming his reported death toll was "very minimal."

"The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima," side event at UN Human Rights Council, Geneva and Online

On Tuesday, October 4, 2022, we held our first side event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The event featured a statement by prerecorded video from Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines. Father Albert Alejo, a leading human rights advocate from the Philippines who is currently based in Rome, hosted the event in person. Vicente de Lima, brother of imprisoned Philippine former Senator Leila de Lima, spoke live.

News coverage we know about:

Statement of Senator Hontiveros:

full event footage:

Human Rights in the Philippines: The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima

side event for the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Room XXV, United Nations Office at Geneva, and online
Tuesday 4 October 2022, 3-4pm CET / 9-10pm PHT / 9-10am ET

online via Zoom, registration at https:/stopthedrugwar.org/global/or https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMocOyupj4qE9INDq4OqGL71jsyyRFjvVIQ

live streaming on Facebook and YouTube

speakers:

Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (prerecorded video)
Vicente de Lima, brother of Leila de Lima
Father Albert Alejo, S.J., faculty at Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

moderated by:

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

The "Broken Chair," United Nations Office at Geneva
Last 24 February, Senator Leila de Lima marked five years of incarceration in the Philippines. Under the administration of recently-elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., de Lima remains jailed, despite not being convicted of a crime, and despite the recantations of three key accusers, who say they provided testimony because of pressure.

In the meanwhile, the extrajudicial drug war killings begun by former President Rodrigo Duterte continue. The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court, after pausing its investigation following a Duterte administration treaty motion, has sought court authorization to resume. But the Marcos administration has rejected the investigation and said it will not cooperate.

In "The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima," speakers will review her case, and the larger human rights situation in the Philippines.

This is a side event organized for the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council. It is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, with cosponsor Associazone Luca Coscioni. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/globaland https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs. Email [email protected]or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information about this event.

-- END --

Geneva
Switzerland

Federal Bill to Help Small Pot Growers, UN Report on Philippines, More... (9/14/22)

Bolivia coca conflict continues, the back and forth over the Arkansas marijuaan legalization also continues, and more.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Huffman (D-OR) have a plan to help small marijuana producers. (Creative Commons)

Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Secretary of State Declares Marijuana Legalization Initiative "Insufficent." Secretary of State John Thurston (R) declared Tuesday that the Responsible Growth Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative is "insufficient" to appear on the ballot the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name of the measure. But the measure will appear on the ballot nonetheless because the state Supreme Court last month ordered its conditional placement on the ballot while it takes up the issue. It has yet to issue a final ruling on whether the vote will count.

California, Oregon Congressmen File Bill to Allow Small Growers to Sell Direct to Consumers Across State Lines. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have filed a bill to help small marijuana growers compete against large corporations by allowing them to ship and sell their product directly to consumers across state lines once marijuana is federally legalized. The bill is the Small and Homestead Independent Producers (SHIP) Act, which is yet to receive a bill number.
 

International

Bolivia Coca Conflict Continues. Last week, union coca growers opposed to an officially unsanctioned "parallel" legal coca market burned it to the ground, but this week union coca growers who supported the destroyed market sold coca leaves on its steps, demanded the government declare theirs is the only legitimate coca market, and announced another round of mass mobilizations to demand justice. The battle pits the government-allied coca growers of the Arnold Alanes bloc against growers from the Departmental Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca) led by Freddy Machicado. The conflict is now nearly a year old, dating from the election of Alanes as the leader of Adepcoca, but the Machicado faction rejects his authority.

UN Report Calls for Philippines to Take New Approach to Drug Policy. Amid continuing reports of human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines, including in the context of anti-drug operations, victims still face challenges in seeking justice, a UN report published Tuesday finds. In the report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acknowledges the Government’s commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, including through an innovative UN joint program on human rights that is being implemented with Government agencies, the national human rights institution and civil society. The report, mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 45/33, calls for the new Philippines administration to adopt a transformative approach that looks to rights-based solutions for critical issues, including drug law enforcement and counter- terrorism, and to end divisive rhetoric that puts human rights defenders at risk. While acknowledging some progress in a number of areas, the report notes that considerable challenges remain.

"The Government took some initiatives to advance accountability for human rights violations and abuses… However, access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses remained very limited. Institutional and structural shortcomings in law enforcement and the judiciary remained, despite efforts to address some cases," it says. The report highlights "limited oversight of human rights investigations, inadequate investigation capacity and inter-agency cooperation, limited forensic capacity and protracted judicial processes."

The Philippines has admitted to more than 5,000 drug war killing by police during the recently-ended term of Rodrigo Duterte, but human rights groups put the death toll in the low tens of thousands.

Philippines President Promises to Dial Back Deadly Drug War. Newly-installed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has vowed to pursue a less violent and punitive approach to drug problem after the drug war unleashed by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, left tens of thousands dead and little accountability. The war on drugs will continue, but we will have to do it a different way," Marcos said. "In fact, right now, we are trying to formulate what is the best way for the rehabilitation program. These are all being formulated." The new anti-drug campaign will emphasize "the upstream of the problem, the prevention," he added. While Marcos's remarks point to a break with tough Duterte-era policies, he stopped short of any explicit condemnation of his bloody policies. 

San Francisco DA's Misdemeanor Drug Crackdown, Philippine Rejects ICC Investigation into Drug War Killings, More... (9/9/22)

Seattle makes a move on marijuana equity, Bolivian coca growers get rowdy, and more. 

San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins is moving to crack down on open air drug use and selling in the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Council Approves Marijuana Equity Legislation. The city council has approved a package of marijuana equity legislation, including a measure that anticipates the city issuing new "social equity licenses" for city marijuana businesses. The package is the result of months of work by the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force to address the lack of diversity in the industry in the city. Mayor Bruce Harrell (D) called the package "historic," but also noted that "this is a first—but necessary—step toward equity long overdue in the cannabis industry." The program should put the city in line with forthcoming state rules that will require at least 51 percent ownership by individuals "who have resided in a disproportionately impacted area" where there have been factors like a high poverty rate or a "high rate of cannabis-related arrest, conviction or incarceration” to qualify for the special licenses.

Drug Policy

San Francisco DA Announces New Misdemeanor Drug Policy. New District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has announced a new misdemeanor drug policy that will require mandatory drug treatment for people who have five misdemeanor drug possession citations. The move of part of Jenkins' efforts to move against open-air drug use and drug selling, especially in the city's Tenderloin district. "What we are doing is SFPD has begun citing individuals that are engaged in public drug use," Jenkins said. "Both injecting and smoking, pipes, fentanyl, methamphetamines. When a person reaches five citations for that public drug use that is when we file a complaint that we forward to our community justice centers, so that we can connect that person with resources for treatment."

The ACLU of Northern California has some concerns: "One is that it seems to be a backtracking of the statement the DA made a few weeks back saying that she would not prosecute possession or paraphernalia cases. This is saying, you do this five times we’re going to arrest you. Then we’re going to put you through the criminal legal system, which we know and have seen in the past, it is not the best place to put people into recovery," said Yoel Haile, Criminal Justice Program Director for the group.

International

Bolivia's Coca Grower Conflict Continues as Yungas Growers Burn "Parallel" Market in La Paz. The conflict between pro- and anti-government coca grower union factions escalated Thursday as thousands of farmers from the Yungas region broke through police lines, marched into La Paz, and burned down a "parallel" coca market. The protestors attacked with dynamite, firecrackers, and Molotov cocktails. The country has only two officially sanctioned legal coca markets, in La Paz and Cochabamba, but a pro-government faction of a coca grower union opened the "parallel" market in La Paz last October. The coca growers that burned down the market say the government should have shut it down. "The government and its ministers are responsible for this," coca leader Esar Apaza said, adding that the Yungas coca growers would not go home until the government resolves the conflict.

Philippine Government Rejects ICC Request to Resume Investigation of Duterte's Drug War Crimes. The government of Ferdinand Marco Jr. on Thursday rejected a request from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to resume an investigation into thousands of drug war killings that took place under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. The ICC authorized a full investigation into Duterte's drug war last September but suspended the investigation after the Philippines said it would conduct its own review. In August, the ICC asked Manila to respond to its request to reopen the investigation, and now it has a response from the Philippines Office of the Solicitor General, which says that the international court "has no jurisdiction" over the Philippines. "The alleged murder incidents that happened during the relevant period do not constitute "crimes against humanity,'" the agency said in a statement. Philippine authorities have admitted killing roughly 8,000 people as part of Duterte's drug war, but human rights groups put the actual toll at three or four times that. Only three people have been convicted of killings in the drug war, and the government has conceded that in another 52 deaths, police may have used excessive force. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

speakers:

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

co-moderated by:

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

-- END --

News Release: Philippine Magnitsky Coalition to Target De Lima Persecutors, EJK Perpetrators

For Immediate Release -- May 7, 2022

Contact: David Borden, [email protected], Eric Lachica, [email protected]

Whoever wins in the May 8 Philippine election, a coalition of prominent Filipinos and allies aims to tighten the screws on officials responsible for extrajudicial killings and the unjust imprisonment of Senator and reelection candidate Leila de Lima.

2018 DC protest of Senator de Lima's unjust incarceration
The coalition is preparing detailed submissions for agencies at the US State and Treasury Departments that implement individually-targeted sanctions against persons suspected of human rights violations or financial corruption. The laws authorizing these sanctions, of which the Global Magnitsky Act is the most well-known, allow for banning travel to the US by designated individuals and sometimes their immediate family members, and can be used to freeze assets held in US financial institutions.

The coalition will also submit the information to new Magnitsky programs in the UK, European Union and Canada, and will send recently-researched information to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Buoying the coalition's hopes is the recanting in recent weeks by two key witnesseswhose testimony led to charges against Senator de Lima. Both say their testimony was coerced. This week a bipartisan group of US senators called for Senator de Lima's release.

NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have been killed extrajudicially by Philippine police and by government-financed vigilante groups associated with the police, since Duterte took office in 2016. Late last year the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court commenced an investigation into the Philippine drug war killings, though currently on pause under a treaty action by the Duterte administration that requests the investigation be reconsidered.

The PH Magnitsky Coalition includes Loida Nicolas Lewis, Chair, US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG); Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA); international justice expert and former Marcos family corruption investigator Ruben Carranza; former Secretary for Filipinos Overseas Imelda Nicolas; USFGG Washington DC Coordinator Eric Lachica; StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden; Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP); with others being added.

Persons the coalition recommends for sanctions will range from top-level national officials and police brass; political figures who encouraged extrajudicial killings or provided political cover for them; legal officials who stymied the investigatory process; local killers and officials who arranged reward payments; and PNP officials at Camp Crame, where Senator de Lima has been imprisoned since February 24, 2017.

Evidence backing up the charges will range from reports by human rights NGOs, national, and international institutions; affidavits from confessed former death squad members; news articles; and speeches in which public officials including President Duterte called for killings and took credit for them.

Eric Lachica, Washington DC Coordinator for US Filipinos for Good Governance, said, "Magnitsky law sanctions on President Duterte and his corrupt enablers would hasten the freedom of Senator de Lima, and would mark a fitting end to his murderous regime."

David Borden, Executive Director of the NGO StoptheDrugWar.org and coordinator of the coalition's Magnitsky effort said, "Disinformation may sway an election, but facts still hold an edge in the international legal system."

After completing this submission, the coalition plans similar efforts related to the corruption and suspected money-laundering efforts involving ill-gotten wealth of the family of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and to the Duterte administration's persecution of media outlets such as Rappler, whose publisher Maria Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

# # #

Duterte Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Killings, Oklahoma MJ Legalization Init Filed, More... (1/6/22)

It's January and marijuana legalization efforts are winding up, Manhattan's new DA will refuse to prosecute some drug crimes, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Iowa Lawmakers Release Proposal to Put Marijuana Legalization on the Ballot. Three state Senate Democrats have filed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in the state. The proposal would put the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission in charge of regulations, would allow people 21 and over to possess and purchase marijuana, and set up a system of taxed and regulated production and sales. To become law, the amendment would have to be approved by two General Assemblies and then put on the next election ballot. Senators Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Windsor Heights), and Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) introduced the proposal.

New Hampshire House Refuses to Pass or Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Tuesday voted down an attempt to kill a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 237, but then also refused to pass it. The bill would have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years old and older, regulated its use and commercial sales, and tax those sales. The motion to kill the bill failed on a 171-158 vote, while a motion to pass the bill failed on a 170-163 vote. The House then decided on a 300-32 vote to table the bill.

New York Governor Announces $200 Fund for Social Equity Marijuana Businesses. The state will create a $200 million fund to assist social equity applicants trying to get marijuana business licenses, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced during her State of the State address Wednesday. But the funding mechanism -- a "public/private" model based on licensing fees and taxes -- has some minority industry members concerned that the funding will only be available after the industry has already been established, still leaving social equity applicants in an adverse position.

Oklahoma Activists File New Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Activists on Tuesday filed a new marijuana legalization initiative with state officials. This time, the local activists are being backed by the national New Approach PAC, which has backed a number of successful initiatives in other states. A different group of state activists has already filed its own legalization initiative. This newest measure would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce, grow up to six plants and six seedlings, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. If and when the initiative is approved for signature-gathering, the campaign will have 90 days to come up with 94,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Says Proposed Current Dosage Amount for Medical Marijuana is Too High. Governor Tate Reeves (R) is digging in his heels on concerns about how much marijuana medical marijuana patients could use under proposed legislation. "If 10 percent of the Mississippi population gets a marijuana card, that's 300-thousand Mississippians," he said. "At 11 joints a day, that's 3.3 million joints a day, 100 million joints a month,1.2 billion joints on the streets of Mississippi a year and I just think that's too much to be on the streets." Voters approved medical marijuana in the November 2020 elections, only to see it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. Both Reeves and the legislature have vowed to enact medical marijuana legislation, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

Prosecution

Manhattan DA Announces Office Will Not Prosecute Certain Offenses, Including Some Drug Offenses. New Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued a memo this week directing his prosecutors to seek jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses and not prosecute charges such as marijuana misdemeanors, fare-jumping, trespass, unlicensed vehicle operation, prostitution, or resisting arrest unless the offense is accompanied by another misdemeanor or felony. Also, small-time drug sellers will not be charged with felonies and will be eligible for diversion. Bragg is only the latest big city progressive prosecutor to embrace such an approach to prosecution; prosecutors in places like Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have been leading the way.

International

Duterte Says He Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Deaths. Outgoing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte remains unrepentant about the thousands of people killed in his bloody war on drugs. In a major speech Tuesday, he said police doing their duty had a right to fight back when their lives were endangered, and that he would not apologize for his actions. "I will never, never apologize for the deaths of those bastards," he said in English, before adding in Tagalog, "Kill me, imprison me, I will never apologize." Official government numbers put the death toll in Duterte's drug war at 6,200, but human rights groups say the real toll is more than 30,000. The Duterte administration is currently trying to fend off an International Criminal Court investigation of human rights abuses in its drug war.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

With 2021 now receding in the rear view mirror, we look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the arena of drug policy around the world.

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

Protestors denounce Duterte's bloody drug war. (hrw.org)
Rodrigo Duterte's term as Filipino president may be coming to an end, but his bloody legacy of drug war murders is going to haunt him. For us, last year actually begins in December 2020, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its preliminary examination of the Filipino drug war showed evidence of crimes against humanity, clearing the path toward a formal investigation into what are estimated to be more than 30,000 killings. At that point, the ICC had to determine whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines couldn't or wouldn't hold perpetrators accountable, the court could take the case.

ICC attention was only one piece of the mounting international pressure over the Duterte killings. For example, in February, US Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the full exoneration and release of Philippines drug war critic Senator Leila De Lima, who had then been detained on bogus, politically-motivated charges for four years. Now, it's been nearly five years, and she is still behind bars.

In May, a blustering Duterte vowed he would not open up police records about the killings and warned drug dealers that: "If I am there, I will really kill you. I don't care if there's TV around. I will really kill you."

In June, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded its preliminary investigation and announced there was sufficient evidence to request authorization to proceed with an official investigation, which prompted the Duterte administration to say it would not cooperate with the ICC investigation.

In August, Duterte again resorted to bluster, this time taunting the ICC during his last State of the Nation address and daring the court to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country."

But while Duterte blustered, his Justice Department was attempting to blunt the ICC investigation by announcing it had finished a review of 52 drug war killing cases. It was a weak effort though: The cases represented only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 killings for which the Philippines National Police took responsibility. And it wasn't enough to stop the ICC, which announced in September that it would open an official investigation into the killings, setting the stage for summonses and possible arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan.

In October, once again moving to blunt the investigation, the Justice Department announced that 154 police could be liable for drug war misconduct and then announced it would review thousands of drug war killings. The government also invoked a provision of the ICC's Rome Treaty to suspend the investigation while its request to defer it got considered. The following month, the ICC temporarily did suspend its official investigation, as per the treaty. "The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote.

The year ended with human rights groups urging the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

Afghanistan has been the world's largest producer of opium since the 1990s, except for one year when the Taliban banned it the first time they held power. Opium never went away during the nearly two-decade long occupation by the US and NATO forces, and despite Taliban declarations to the contrary, it does not look like the trade is going anywhere.

When the Taliban completed their conquest of the country by seizing Kabul in August, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced," Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

By October, the price of opium was rising in local markets, having tripled since the Taliban took power as buyers anticipated an opium shortage because of the possible ban, but the ban has yet to materialize.

And a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report that same month made it clear why the ban is unlikely to materialize. In a country now in economic crisis because the foreign spending that propped up the previous regime has vanished, UNODC reported that the spring opium crop had generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, also noting that "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan."

The 2021 crop was some 6,800 tons, up 8% over 2020. Given the devastation of the Afghan economy and the unlikelihood that the Taliban will move against a crop that supports hundreds of thousands of Afghan families, it's entirely possible that the crop next spring will be even larger. As one farmer told the UNODC, "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium."

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

Sixteen years after then-President Felipe Calderon called out the military to combat rising violence, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence continued unabated in 2021, with more than 25,000 killed by the end of November.

Amidst the quotidian violence, some notable incidents stand out: in March, an attack on a police convoy in Mexico state left 13 officers dead; in May, presumed cartel gunmen ambushed Joel Ernesto Soto, director of the Sinaloa State Police, on Monday, killing him on the outskirts of Culiacan, the state capital; in June, gunmen in SUVs representing warring factions of the Gulf Cartel ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead; in August, masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. And on and on.

The west central state of Michoacan was particularly plagued by cartel violence in 2021, beginning with an April massacre by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla. In May, warring cartels blocked highways and burned vehiclesin Aguililla and neighboring municipalities.

As violent clashes and blockades continued through the year, residents of those municipalities took to the streets in September took to the streets in Septemberto excoriate the military for staying in its barracks and demand military intervention to fight the cartels. It didn't work. That same month, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel beheaded five men manning a checkpoint on the edge of Tepalcatepec designed to keep the drug gangs out. And in November, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel struck again, killing five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco as it pursued its war with local criminal gangs.

When it comes to US-Mexico cooperation in the war on drugs, 2021 was not a good year. It began with a huge diplomatic spat around the DEA's arrest in late 2020 of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was subsequently released after loud protests from Mexico, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who personally accusing the DEA of making up the case against Cienfuegos. The US retorted with the Justice Department sharply rebuking Mexico for releasing a massive trove of evidence in the aborted drug trafficking case against Cienfuegos. Mexico then countered with a call for a DEA internal probe of the "fabricated" case.

Amidst the controversy, US investigations into the cartels were paralyzed as a law enacted in December requiring US officials to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom they view as largely corrupt, went into effect. In May, US and Mexican officials told Reuters the fight against Mexican drug trafficker had "ground to a halt"because of strained relations between the two counties.

But in October, there was a glimmer of hope for fans of continued anti-drug coordination between the two countries. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting came after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations.

4. Mexico Didn't Get Marijuana Legalization Done (Again)

Two years after the Mexican Supreme Court found marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and ordered the government to legalize it, the Senate finally passed a legalization bill in late 2020. The measure appeared to have momentum on its side, especially after the Chamber of Deputies approved it in March. Under the bill, people 18 and up would be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also created a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce.

The momentum appeared to hold through April, when the bill won two Senate committee votes in as many days but then hit a last-minute snag when it ran into opposition from unhappy with the revised version of the bill. With that, the bill was dead in the water until the congress returned to work in September.

Progress remained slow when lawmakers returned. It was only in November that a draft legalization bill was being circulated among senators, and while there were hints that a vote could happen in December, it didn't. Maybe in 2022.

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

In May, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved an anti-drugs campaign aimed at methamphetamines, and by mid-month police had killed 86 people and arrested 7,000. About the killings, police claimed they were only defending themselves in confrontations with drug traffickers, but family members and activists claimed they were executions. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also said the anti-drug campaign was part of an effort to target and intimidate it.

By the end of May, the toll had risen to 115, with more signs of extrajudicial killings and complaints from the BNP that some party workers had been killed during the campaign despite no connection to the drug trade. Authorities continued to claim that dead dealers had died in crossfire or in gunfights with police, but more families complained that their relatives had been arrested and then killed in custody. Most of the raids were carried out by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), a controversial force that human rights groups have repeatedly accused of abuses, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

By June, the United Nations was responding, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein saying the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers must be "immediately halted" and the perpetrators brought to justice. "Every person has the right to life and they do not lose their human rights because they sell drugs," he added. At that time, the toll stood at 130 dead and 13,000 arrested.

After that, the campaign quieted down, but there is no sign of any Bangladeshi investigations into the killings and human rights abuses in in the late spring. The United States, however, was paying attention, and in December, imposed sanctions on the RAB for human rights abuses, abductions, and hundreds of extrajudicial killings going back to 2018, targeting not only drug dealers, but also opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

Canadian cities, provinces, and activists pressed the Liberal federal government on drug reform issues throughout the year, with important struggles being waged around drug decriminalization and the vanguard issue of a safe drug supply, as well as a noteworthy milestone reached in opioid maintenance therapy.

The Liberals started the year off by introducing a sweeping criminal justice reform billthat would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But critics who demanded deeper reforms scoffed that it was too little, too late.

In April, British Columbia showed what deeper reforms might look like when it formally requested permission from the federal government for provincial drug decriminalization. That same month, saying the Liberal's reform bill didn't go far enough, the New Democratic Party's health critic, MP Don Davies filed a federal drug decriminalization bill.

VANDU is the vanguard.
The city of Vancouver also sought an exemption from federal drug laws to enact decriminalization.The city recommended the decriminalization of one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine, 1.5 grams for amphetamines, two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, and three grams for cocaine. That did not sit well with the city's vanguard drug user activists, who harshly criticized the possession limits. At that point, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) announced that it is withdrawing from talks with the city, and it and other drug policy advocates complained that drug users were largely excluded from the decriminalization process and that police have too large a role.

The push for decriminalization continued throughout the year. In October, nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, urged Prime Minister Trudeau to decriminalize drug possession. And in November, Toronto moved toward decriminalizationas the city's top health officer, Dr. Eilenn de Villa, recommended that the board of health approve a request to the federal government to exempt city residents from criminal charges for small-time drug possession.

But even though decriminalization is in the Liberals' platform, the party under Justin Trudeau is not ready to go there yet. After calling elections in August, necessitating a restart on January criminal justice reform bill, and despite the rising clamor for decriminalization, the Liberal government refiled the bill anyway.

In the summer, an even more direct challenge to drug prohibition was underway as British Columbia moved toward providing a "safe supply" of illicit drugs to street users.A provincial policy directive in British Columbia requires all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths.

A Vancouver elected official and local activists got in on the action, too, when Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the Downtown Eastside in a bid to dramatize the need for a safe drug supply. They also wanted to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

The following month, they were at it again, handing out a "safe supply" of drugs to mark International Overdose Awareness Dayto show the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. And in September, DULF and VANDU formally asked the federal government to allow buyers' clubs for hard drugs. They requested a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs.

And in October, the province of Alberta expressed interest in a safe drug supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them.

Meanwhile, magic mushroom shops were sprouting in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in in the city even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said.

And last but not least, in September, a Vancouver clinic began providing take-home prescription heroin,a North American first. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days, but now the patients can take it home themselves.

7. Malta Becomes First European Union County to Legalize Marijuana -- Germany, Luxembourg Next?

The Maltese parliament approved a bill legalizing marijuanaon December 14, and President George Vella signed it into law four days later, making the country the first member state of the European Union to do so. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law does not envision commercial sales but allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500.

Either Germany or Luxembourg could be next. In October, the government of Luxembourg unveiled its marijuana legalization proposal, which would allow people 18 and over to grow up to four plants and possess up to three grams in public. Like Malta, the Luxembourg law does not envision commercial sales, but people would be allowed to buy and trade marijuana seeds for their home gardens. The proposal still has to be approved by parliament.

And in November, the three parties who have formed Germany's new governing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats -- agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The coalition is prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

8. Italy's Pending Referendum on Marijuana and Plant Psychedelics

Italy is on the cusp of a bold drug reform move. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties including the Radicals launched a ballot campaignin for a referendum to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and other psychoactive plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms. They faced several challenges: First, they had to obtain half a million valid voter signatures by month's end and have the signatures validated by the Supreme Court of Cassation, then the Constitutional Court would have to rule that the measure is in line with the constitution, and only then, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing the cultivation of marijuana and psychoactive plants should be stricken.

In October, activists met their first challenge, turning in some 630,000 raw signatures. They were able to meet their signature-gathering goals so quickly because a pandemic-related policy change allowed them to collect signatures online instead of only in person.

Now, after having staved off an attempt by rightist parties to block it, the fate of the referendum is before the courts. If it wins final approval from the Constitutional Court, which will determine whether it conflicts with the constitution, international treaties, or the country's fiscal system, voters could go to the polls on the issue sometime between April 15 and June 15.

There's tons of cocaine around these days. (Pixabay)
9. Cocaine Production Has Doubled in the Course of a Decade

In June, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its annual estimate of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, the three perennial coca and cocaine producing nations. What is at first glance most striking in the current report is that for the first time, one nation -- Colombia -- produced more than 1,000 metric tons of cocaine.

But a closer reading of the report, which details coca cultivation and cocaine production going back to 2010, produces an even more striking finding: Over the decade that the report covers, the total amount of potential cocaine production in the three countries has more than doubled, from 914 tons in 2010 to a whopping 2,132 tons in 2020. In other words, Colombia alone produced more cocaine in 2020 than the whole region did a decade earlier.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does its own annual estimates of global potential cocaine production, and while they differ from those of the United Status, they outline the same massive expansion of cocaine. According to UNODC numbers compiled at Statista, beginning in 2004, 1,000 tons or more (slightly more in most years) was produced every year except 2012, 2013, and 2014, when it dipped down into the 900s. That series, which ended in 2019, has cocaine production topping out at 1,976 tons in 2017.

In the most recent edition of the UNODC's World Drug Report, that organization also reported that cocaine production had doubled, but put the period of doubling from 2014 to 2019, when it registered 1,784 tons.

Take your pick of the numbers. Either way, there is a lot more cocaine being produced these days than just a decade ago, tons more of it.

10. World Health Organization Declines Move Toward Labeling Kratom a Controlled Substance

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recommended in November that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review.

WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine [the active alkaloid in kratom] has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

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