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Philippines Drug War and Human Rights Solidarity Campaign

 
 
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. We had hoped to fully update this page before the close of this year, but didn't get it done in time.

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"; and
  • March 2019 forum at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna; and
  • July 2019 forum at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York; and
  • December 2019 forum at the International Criminal Court's Assembly of States Parties in The Hague;
  • 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 –


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chronicle AM: US Revokes Visa of Philippines Drug War Chief, VT Psychedelic Decrim Bill Filed, More... (1/23/20)

Connecticut and New York begin grappling with getting marijuana legalization passed, a Vermont bill would legalize several natural psychedelics, the Mexican Senate will take up marijuana legalization in the coming weeks, and more.

Mass Murderers: Duterte with his former police chief, now a senator, Bato dela Rosa (King Rodriguez/PPD via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Senate Democrats Prioritize Marijuana Legalization as Session Looms. Senate Democrats said Thursday that marijuana legalization was among their top agenda items in the upcoming General Assembly session that begins February 5. "There are very high numbers of Connecticut residents already traveling regularly to Massachusetts to buy this product and bring it home with them. I don't think we want to put our heads in the sand," said State Senator Martin Looney (D), Senate President Pro Tempore. "I think the time has come. There is broad base public support for it. We need to recognize it and find support for it."

New York Marijuana Legalization Must Include Social Justice, Drug Policy Alliance Says. Responding to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal including marijuana legalization, the Drug Policy Alliance is reiterating its call for social justice. "We are pleased to see Governor Cuomo's commitment to passing comprehensive marijuana legalization in the state budget this year, and to see him include social equity and small business incubator programs," said Kassandra Frederique, the group's state director. "We are disappointed Governor Cuomo doesn't clearly guarantee that a portion of funds from marijuana sales will be reinvested into the communities most harmed by New York's marijuana arrest crusade. Without this necessary component, the Governor's proposal will not truly right the wrongs done to communities of color by disproportionate enforcement of marijuana."

Psychedelics

Vermont Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) filed a bill Wednesday that would decriminalize psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ayahuasca, peyote, as well as kratom. Cina said he believes that "plants are a gift from nature and they're a part of the web of life that humans are connected to. Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people," he said. "Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue." The bill is HB 878. It currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Foreign Policy

US Revokes Visa of Philippine Drug War Architect. The US government has revoked the travel visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, the former police chief who led the Duterte government's bloody crackdown on drugs, Dela Rosa confirmed Wednesday. The State Department has the authority to deny visas to people implicated in gross human rights violations, and Dela Rosa has been implicated in extrajudicial killings. The Philippines Commission on Human Rights estimates that more than 27,000 people have been killed in Duterte's and Dela Rosa's drug war. [Ed: Note that this move appears to have preceded passage by Congress of appropriations language barring officials involved in the incarceration of Philippine drug war critic Senator Leila de Lima. If so, the State Department must have done unpublished designations of one or more Philippine officials to ban, under existing authority it already had.]

Harm Reduction

South Carolina Bill Would Increase Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. State Rep. Russell Fry (R-Columbia) has filed HB 4711 to increase access to naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. The bill would require prescribers to offer a naloxone prescription to patients who have a history of a substance use disorder or have overdosed in the past. It's been referred to the Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs.

International

Mexico Senate Leader Seeks to Legalize Marijuana This Spring. The Mexican Senate will debate a marijuana legalization bill coauthored by Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal once the legislative session begins next month, his office said. The bill would set up an Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis to create rules for legal marijuana commerce.

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

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 feature here.)

We're looking at 2019 through the rearview mirror now, but before we turn our sights to 2020, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at the last year in international drug policy. From marijuana law reform to the push for drug decriminalization, from the coca fields of Colombia to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and from the killing fields of Mexico and the Philippines, there was a lot going on. Here are ten of the biggest international drug policy stories of 2019, in no particular order.

Medical marijuana was on the move in 2019 -- sort of -- at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
1. Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Advances

The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace.

A lot of the activity was in Europe. In March, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.

In the Netherlands, the government finally moved in August to address the longstanding "backdoor problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. It announced a pilot program to begin in 2021 in which cannabis cafes in ten Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana. The big cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out because of worries that problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

In Denmark, the city council in Copenhagen, the country's capital and largest city, voted overwhelmingly in August to support a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The council has long pushed for this, but now there is a new left-wing government, so perhaps it will be allowed to happen.

Also in August, Luxembourg looked set to become the first European country to free the weed, as the government confirmed plans to legalize it, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. In December, though, the government said it will still be at least two years, citing "delays in working on policy related to the legislation."

And just at year's end, in Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that the small-scale personal cultivation of marijuana is legal, triggering calls for further legalization. The court declared that laws against growing drug crops should not apply to "small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower."

And Israel decriminalized marijuana possession as of April 1. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes is no longer to be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise, while public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only people who commit a third public possession offense within seven years will face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In Australia, Canberra, the national capital, became the first city in the country to legalize marijuana personal use and cultivation. The law legalizes up to 50 grams and two plants per person, but not sales. It is set to go into effect on January 31, 2020, but conflicts with national marijuana prohibition, so stay tuned. And in nearby New Zealand, the governing coalition announced in May it would hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the 2020 elections. In December, it unveiled a government web site with information on the proposed legalization bill that will be put before the voters.

In the Western hemisphere, Uruguay and Canada have led the way on marijuana legalization, but Mexico looks set to be the next over the line. After legislators there failed to pass legalization by a Supreme Court-imposed deadline at the end of October, the court gave them an extension until June 1 to get it done. Lawmakers got very close late in 2019 but were unable to close the deal because of disputes among competing business interests. There was action in Colombia, too, where an opposition senator filed a legalization bill in August. That bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether it advances.

There was progress in the Caribbean, too. In Trinidad & Tobago, non-commercial marijuana legalization went into effect in December, allowing people to possess up to 30 grams and grow four plants. A regulated marijuana marketplace is likely coming in 2020. In St. Kitts and Nevis,the government in midsummer filed a bill to legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes." It remains pending at year's end. A similar effort is underway in the British Virgin Islands, where a draft bill to legalize marijuana is being reviewed by government officials.

2. Medical Marijuana on the Move

Acceptance of medical marijuana on the global stage continued to increase in 2019, and the year got off to a good start in January when the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to exports, making it the third country, after Canada and the Netherlands, to do so. The following month, the European Parliament approved a resolution to advance medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union.

Meanwhile, Thailand formally embraced medical marijuana when King Maha Vajirlongkorn signed a decree legalizing it and kratom; and later in the year, a member of the country's ruling coalition government filed a bill that would allow people to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal use. And in the Philippines, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was reintroduced in 2019. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2014. Last year, the bill passed the lower house but failed to get out of the Senate.

In Latin America, Peru joined the ranks of medical marijuana countries more than a year after it became law when the government finally approved regulations to cover its production and use. In Mexico, the Supreme Court in August gave the federal health ministry until January to issue regulations on medical marijuana.

In the Caribbean, in August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving marijuana cultivation.

Medical marijuana was sort of on the move at the United Nations too. In late January, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of marijuana from Schedule IV of the global drug treaties, the most restrictive category, along with other related reclassifications of substances involving marijuana's components or synthetic substitutes for them. This would stop short of the kind of full stamp of approval WHO gives to many drugs -- marijuana would not become an "essential medicine" -- but it would eliminate a designation that some governments might find constraining in terms of allowing medical use in their own countries. Most importantly, it would be widely seen as recognition by the UN of marijuana as a medicine (though international law does not ban medical use of marijuana now).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs -- the subset of UN member states that sets drug policy for the UN -- was supposed to vote on the WHO recommendations during its March meeting, but that didn't happen because the recommendations were delayed at the end of 2018, leaving several countries to complain that they needed more time to study them.

"You can't arrest your way out of a drug problem." So why not try decriminalization? (Creative Commons)
3. Drug Decriminalization on the Move

Beyond marijuana legalization, the decriminalization of drug use and possession is probably the most significant means within current political striking range for reducing the criminal justice harms of drug prohibition. Portugal, which decriminalized in 2001, remains a shining example to emulate.

In Canada, in May, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The following month, British Columbia nurses called urgently for decriminalization, but in September, as he campaigned for reelection, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said decriminalization was not on the agenda, even though the national Liberal Party caucus in 2018 passed a resolution calling to "reclassify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones. The conversation is advancing north of the border.

The conversation is also advancing in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish National Party formally endorsed drug decriminalization, as did the British Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee. Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, came out hard for decriminalization in a special drugs issue released in October. The following month, Britain's largest drug treatment providers called for radical drug policy reforms, including decrim. But the ruling Conservative Party with Boris Johnson freshly installed as prime minister, remains opposed -- for now.

It's not just Canada and Great Britain, either. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in May submitted a decriminalization plan to Congress, while in Malaysia, the government announced in June that it planned to drop criminal penalties for drug use and possession. The following month, in Colombia, the legislative opposition and the center-right block filed a bill to decriminalize there.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) released recommendations in October calling for harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. In the United States, an effort to put a decrim initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot got underway in the fall, and a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics got underway.

The push to decriminalize is also working its way through the global drug control bureaucracy, as was evident in March when a key UN organization called for global drug decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy -- namely decriminalization. The policy shift -- or rather, recognition of what the policies of UN agencies on this already were -- came in January but was not publicly announced.

4. Harm Reduction and Human Rights

Along with decriminalization, harm reduction and concern about human rights gained momentum in 2019.

In March, a coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna launched a landmark set of international legal standards around drug policy: the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The following month, more than 300 NGOs called for harm reduction and drug decriminalization at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Lisbon.

In the United Kingdom, both the British Labour Party and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee called for safe injection sites, while in Ireland, a Dublin safe injection site was moving closer to reality at year's end.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) recommended harm reduction approaches in October, and the New Zealand government in December announced a pilot program to examine pill-testing at festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country.

5. Mexico Ravaged by Prohibition-Related Violence for Another Year

In January, Mexican authorities reported that the number of murders in 2018 hit an all-time high with more than 33,000, many of them directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. A lot happened between then and now, but at the end of 2019, this year's death toll was at just under 32,000. At least it didn't get worse, but those numbers are still horrifying, and the year-old administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn't been able to turn the corner yet. It's not for lack of trying or willingness to embrace new ideas.

In February, the Mexican Senate approved a plan for a new National Guard to fight crime and drug trafficking, but only after amending it to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

In May, Lopez Obrador called for an end to Plan Merida, under which the US provided security assistance to fight the drug war, with the president saying he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. Saying the plan "hasn't worked," Lopez Obrador added that, "We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative."

In June, the murder rate topped 2,000 a month for this first time, a toll linked to the rise of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is seeking to supplant the Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is now serving a sentence in the US. In north-central Guanajuato state, the JNGC has been duking it out with yet another faction, the Santa Rose de Lima cartel, leaving more than 3,200 dead in that state alone by year's end.

By August, a Catholic bishop issued a call for dialogue between the government and armed groups, including drug cartels. That was Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state), a key opium-growing region. Responding to the government's announcement that it was in talks with so-called community police groups and self-defense militias, but not the cartels, the bishop chided the government, saying, "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace."

As cartel clashes raged through the summer and fall, the government tentatively explored alternatives to continuing drug war. In September, Lopez Obrador said he was considering a referendum on drug legalization, and in October, the ruling MORENA Party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Mario Delgado Carrillo, proposed legalizing all drugs to combat cartel violence. His comments were in response to one of the more brazen cartel actions in 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced the release of El Chapo's son after he was captured by security forces in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan and they turned the city into a war zone until Ovidio Guzman was freed, greatly embarrassing the government.

That same month, in another brazen attack, gun men from the JNGC ambushed police in Michoacan, killing more than a dozen and leaving signed placards on their bodies warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

In yet another act of gruesome violence -- and one that caught the attention of Americans long bored with the violence south of the border -- in November, cartel gun men killed nine women and children with dual US-Mexico citizenship, prompting President Trump to suggest he could use the US military to "wage war" against the cartels. Lopez Obrador declined that offer [Ed: wisely, for them and for us].

6. Coca, Cocaine and Chaos in Colombia

According to both the UN and the US, Colombia accounted for around 70% of global cocaine production in 2017, when the country produced 1,275 tons of cocaine, the most ever. In 2018, production declined by a tiny percentage, but remained near record high levels. There are no figures available yet for 2019, but there is no reason to suspect much has changed.

The high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production have made a return to aerial spraying of coca crops a key goal of the rightist government of President Ivan Duque, who in March asked the Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying, which President Juan Manuel Santos banned after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a likely carcinogen. That position won the support of US Secretary of State Pompeo in June, when, ignoring the global criticism of glyphosate and any other strategies for reducing cultivation, he called spraying "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

But in July, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban, although it also said spraying could resume if the government met certain conditions. At the end of December, the government announced plans to resume spraying, publishing a draft law that would allow fumigation flights under supervision of the national police. The proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Meanwhile three years after a peace deal between former President Santos and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC was signed, violence and chaos in the countryside are increasing. In March, coca farmers clashed with police in Cordoba, saying they were returning to coca after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived. In April, a UN report found massacres on the increase, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country.

In June, the government reported a jump in murders, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist the FARC, leaving FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups fighting over who will control the fields. And in August, a new report from Human Rights Watch found that renewed fighting over control of the cocaine trade in the Catatumbo region had forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

And speaking of the FARC, they're back. In June, a military intelligence report said as many as a third of FARC fighters had picked up their guns again. They were joining dissident FARC groups operating in coca-growing regions. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming.

A couple of month later, FARC dissidents made it official. In August, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, the dissidents said that the rightist government of President Ivan Duque had betrayed the peace accord. Led Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin), they said they were ready for a "new stage of fightingm," citing the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Marquez. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2,000-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

President Duque also faces challenges to his hardline approach to drug policy in both the courts and the congress. The Constitutional Court threw out his ban on public pot smoking and drinking, meaning police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke marijuana and drink beer in public. But it's unclear whether Duque will abide by the ruling.

And in June, the legislative opposition and a center-right bloc filed a package of four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Bolivia's coca grower president, Evo Morales, was forced from office late in 2019. (Creative Commons)
7. Farewell to Bolivia's Coca Grower President

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to quit after weeks of sometimes violent protests.

As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, through heavy investments in public works projects. He began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, which had followed a series of controversies and scandals. Chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor. The country is now ruled by an interim hard right regime, but elections are supposed to happen in the next three months.

8. Philippines Drug War Faces International Pushback

The international community turned up the heat on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug war in 2019, but Duterte was undeterred.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into human rights abuses in the drug war, and that March, Duterte responded by quitting the ICC. But the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue. In December 2019 the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the examination was in the "very late stages," and that a decision on whether to open an investigation would be made during 2020.

In April, human rights advocates and harm reductionists rallied against the Philippine drug war at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

In June, the Philippines National Police put the drug war's official death toll at 6,600, up from just under 5,000 seven months earlier. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

That same month, UN experts called for a human rights probe of the Philippines drug war. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called or the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The call gained momentum when a group of two dozen countries called for a UN investigation of drug war killings. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urged the government to halt extrajudicial executions and called on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis. And a major report from Amnesty International on drug war atrocities added fuel to the fire.

In July, the full UN Human Rights Council voted to begin an investigation into the mass killings. The Duterte government responded by refusing to grant the UN access to the country to investigate the killings and other human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin called the UN experts "bastards."

In November, representatives from 51 countries called for the Philippines to "STOP THE KILLINGS" at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country's president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

Also in November, Duterte engaged in some political flim-flam when he named strong drug war critic Vice President Leni Robredo as drug czar, then fired her less than three weeks later. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. But Robredo vowed to carry on the fight. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting," Robredo said.

"They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Meanwhile, another prominent political figure and drug war critic, Senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars, where she has been since arrested on bogus drug charges in February 2017. But she got some support from the US Congress late this year. In two separate moves in December, the Senate approved a Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 42) and approved a State Department spending bill that includes a provision barring entry "to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima."

The Duterte government has responded in typical fashion: It has now denied entry to three US senators, Ed Markey (D-MA), who authored the de Lima resolution, and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

9. Sri Lanka and the Death Penalty for Drugs

Under the baleful influence of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, now former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena early in the year announced plans to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty so drug offenders could be executed, kicking off his campaign with an advertisement announcing job vacancies for executioners. In April, Sirisena announced the first executions would be coming soon as he presided over the burning of seized cocaine.

"To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too."

But with the country in shock after the Easter Islamic terror attacks that left more than 200 people dead, Sirisena had other issues on his mind -- although in July, Sirisena falsely blamed drug gangs for the attacks, saying they were designed to discredit his anti-drug drive.

Sirisena's blood lust has so far been thwarted by the courts. In June, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of four people set to be hanged in October for drug offenses.

In October, as Sirisena's term was running out, his plans to make the executions his last act of state was again thwarted, with the Supreme Court again staying the executions until March 20, 2020. Now it will be up to newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaska to decide whether to continue Sirsena's aberration.

10. The Extent of the US's Drug War Fiasco in Afghanistan Becomes Achingly Apparent

In late October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued its latest report on the seemingly endless US occupation of Afghanistan, and its analysis of American anti-opium efforts was particularly devastating. SIGAR found that although we've spent nearly $9 billion trying to suppress the opium poppy, Afghanistan remained far and away the world's largest opium producer throughout the US occupation.

The country produced a record high nine tons of opium in 2017, and although drought reduced last year's crop, SIGAR noted that "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan. Interdiction activities -- drug busts -- have "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production," SIGAR found, while eradication efforts "have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation." Alternative development was funded at low levels, and SIGAR found it "ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

Whew, that's pretty bad, but it gets worse. This month, the Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, an extensive piece of investigative reporting that showed US officials consistently lied about making progress in the war even though they knew they weren't. The papers contain a section on opium, "Overwhelmed by Opium," that makes a thoroughly depressing read as it documents the myriad ways US anti-drug policy imploded. "Of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless," the Post noted. That's saying something.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Referendum Set to Advance, Dirty Detroit Narcs, MA Pot Vaping Resumes, More... (12/13/19)

Italy legalizes hemp and CBD products, Trinidad and Tobago moves toward marijuana decrim, New Jersey legislators are busy on two fronts, and more.

New Jersey legislators are making progress on two different fronts this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Demand Update from DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have sent a letter to the DEA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding that they provide an update on efforts to expand the number of authorized marijuana grows for research purposes. The letter notes that DEA announced more than three years ago that it would begin approving additional research grows, but has yet to issue any new licenses. The agency says the volume of new applications requires that it develop alternate rules before issuing any new licenses.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Okayed to Resume Sales of Some Vaping Products. The state's Cannabis Control Commission has amended a November ban on marijuana vaping products, now allowing stores to sell them but only if they are manufactured after this date and have been tested for contaminants.

New Jersey Legislature Holds Hearing on Marijuana Referendum. Legalization supporters outnumbered foes Thursday as the legislature held hearings in both chambers on whether to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot letting voters decide on whether to free the weed. Votes on the measure are expected in both houses on Monday.

Expungement

New Jersey Drug Expungement Bill Headed for Monday Vote. After an Assembly committee passed a bill, A-5981, Thursday without hearing any testimony, the measure heads for floor votes in both houses on Monday. The bill would make it easier for people to rid their records of minor drug and other offenses. Under its "clean slate" provision, all prior non-serious crimes could be sealed after a decade, while those involving smalltime marijuana or hashish possession could be expunged immediately. For minor drug offenses that occur after the bill is passed, a judge would immediately remove them from a person's record.

Foreign Policy

Senate Committee Passes Resolution for Sanctions Against Philippine Officials Involved in Imprisonment of Drug War Critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 142), which calls for the applications of sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against Philippines officials responsible for "orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention" of Filipina drug war critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The resolution also calls for sanctions against members of the security forces and Philippine officials responsible for extrajudicial killings during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. The resolution is non-binding but signals strong revulsion toward the behavior of the Duterte government.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Accused of Corrupt Policing. A raid on the Detroit Police Department's narcotics unit in August has uncovered dirty dealing there. Investigators have found a half-dozen instances of narcs stealing money from alleged drug dealers and two where drugs were planted on suspects. One former narc was arrested the day of the raid on federal charges he took bribes from a drug dealer, and Chief James Craig said he's looking at the unit that the officer was assigned to. "Sadly, as we continue our probe, we think it's going to grow in terms of magnitude," Craig said.

International

Italy Legalizes Hemp, CBD Products. Parliament this week legalized the production and sale of cannabis products containing less than 0.5% THC. The law will go into effect January 1. Former rightist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had vowed to shut down shops selling what the Italians call "cannabis light," but now parliament has thwarted that effort.

Trinidad and Tobago Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. People caught with more than 30 but less than 60 grams would pay a fixed fine. The bill would also allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants and provide a pathway for expungement of previous small-time marijuana offenses. The bill now heads for a Senate vote later this month. But it also contains provisions that would impose new penalties against possession and distribution of other substances, such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine.

Chronicle AM: Biden Walks Back Pot "Gateway Theory" Remarks, Philippines VP Warns Duterte on Drug War, More... (11/26/19)

Facing criticism, Joe Biden walks back his marijuana "gateway theory" remarks; the FDA designated psilocybin therapy a "breakthrough therapy" for the second time, and more. 

Filipino President Duterte is being called out on his drug war by Vice President Robredo. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Walks Back Marijuana ‘Gateway Drug’ Comment After Week of Criticism. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden now says there "no evidence" marijuana is a gateway drug. That's a retreat from his widely criticized comments last week suggesting that it was a gateway drug. "I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that," Biden said Monday in response to a reporter's question.

Psychedelics

FDA Calls Psychedelic Psilocybin a 'Breakthrough Therapy' for Severe Depression. For the second time this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated therapy with psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy," which will help accelerate the typically slow-moving process of drug development and review. Such a designation is only granted when preliminary evidence suggests it may be a significant improvement over existing therapies.

International

Philippines VP, Fired as Drug Czar, Warns Duterte. Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war who he hired and then fired as head of an inter-agency anti-drug panel, has vowed to carry on her fight against Duterte's draconian drug policies. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting", Robredo said. "They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Trinidad and Tobago Marijuana Reform Bills Filed. Two government-backed marijuana reform bills were filed in parliament last Friday. One bill would decriminalize possession of up to 30 grams of weed but would also include new penalties for possession and sale of other drugs, such as LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. It also allows for the growth of four plants for personal use but specifies they must be male plants, which do not produce buds. The second bill would legalize the use, sale, and distribution of marijuana for medical, research, and religious purposes.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CA Pot Tax Increase Coming, MI Bans Pot Vaping Products Until Retested, More... (11/25/19)

California pot taxes will increase come January 1, Michigan halts sales of pot vaping products until they get retested, and more. 

California's struggling legal marijuana industry will get another dose of taxation in the new year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Taxes Set to Go Up in New Year. California tax officials announced last Thursday that marijuana excise and cultivation taxes will go up on January 1. The state Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced that the markup rate for the excise tax will increase from 60% to 80%, while cultivation taxes will rise by 4.3% for flowers and leaves and 8% for fresh marijuana plant material. The move comes as the legal pot industry in the state complains that is it being outcompeted by black market actors, who don't pay taxes.

Vaping

Michigan Halts Sales of Marijuana Vaping Products Until Retested. State regulators have temporarily halted the sale of marijuana products intended for vaping so that they can be tested for a compound linked to lung illnesses. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the emergency rules last Friday. "It is absolutely vital that patients and consumers know, with certainty, the ingredients in the products that they are using," Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a written statement. "These rules require stringent testing and will continue to prioritize the health and safety of Michiganders."

International                  

Philippines President Fires Rival He Named Drug Czar Less Than Three Weeks Ago. President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday fired Vice President Mario Leonor Robredo from her position as drug czar, a position he named her to less than three weeks ago. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. Robredo has infuriated Duterte by criticizing "senseless killings" during his crackdown on drugs that has left thousands dead.

Chronicle AM: Trump Offers to "Wage War" on Mexican Cartels, SD MedMJ and Legalization Initiatives, More... (11/5/19)

South Dakota medical marijuana and marijuana legalization campaigns turn in raw signatures, a California psychedelic decriminalization initiative gets updated, President Trump offers to "wage war" on Mexican drug cartels after an ambush left nine dual US-Mexican citzens dead, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Next year, the state could become less bad for marijuana users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Turns in Signatures. The activist group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws on Monday submitted more than 50,000 raw signatures to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana to a vote. The proposal would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older and would require the legislature to pass laws regulating cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. The group needs 33,921 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 elections. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Monday, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Psychedelics

California Natural Psychedelics Initiative Refiled. Decriminalize California, the group behind a move to decriminalize psilocybin, has filed a new version of its initiative with state officials. The new version seeks a new ballot title and summary and adds language regarding amnesty for past offenses and allowing for sales of psilocybin.

Foreign Policy

In Wake of Killings of Nine Americans, Trump Says He Could Send US Military to "Wage War" on Mexican Drug Cartels. After nine dual US-Mexican citizens were killed in an ambush in Sonora on Monday, President Trump tweeted that he could send the US military into Mexico to "wage war" on drug cartels. The US was "ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively" if Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked for help, Trump said. Lopez Obrador declined the offer, but said he would speak to Trump about security cooperation between the two countries.

International

Mexican Supreme Court Gives Congress Six More Months to Legalize Marijuana. The Supreme Court has given Congress another six month to pass legislation that will legalize marijuana after Congress failed to get it done by an October 31 deadline. That means that the bill now seen as closest to the finishing line is likely to be modified. Its current version limits foreign ownership, vertical integration, and license resale, all of which are opposed by business interests. The Senate asked the court for an extension after failing to reach a consensus by the October deadline.

Philippine Drug War Critic Appointed to Key Drug Policy Role. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival and a harsh critic of his bloody drug war as co-chair of an inter-agency anti-drugs body. Vice-President Leni Robredo has criticized Duterte's tactics and expressed alarm about the death toll while saying that the deadly campaign has failed to stop the drug trade. The move could be a cynical ploy by Duterte to make her a scapegoat for the failures of his anti-drug campaign, a Robredo spokesman suggested.

Chronicle AM: Support for Drug Decrim at Dem Debate, PA Legalization Bill Filed, More... (10/16/19)

A pair of Pennsylvania state senators have filed a marijuana legalization bill, the Mexican Senate prepares to vote on marijuana legalization, Amnesty International rips the Philippine drug war, and more.

Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in support of drug decriminalization at Tuesday night's debate. (CNN screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Officials Move to Ban Three Marijuana Vaping Additives. The Marijuana Enforcement Division held a public hearing Tuesday as its moves to finalize a ban on three additives in marijuana vaping products that have been linked to the outbreak of lung illnesses among vapers. Those additives are Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E Acetate, and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil). The proposed rules will be sent to the State Licensing Authority for approval and signature. Provided the changes are approved, they would go into effect on January 1.

Pennsylvania Senators File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) have filed SB 350 to legalize marijuana. Under the bill, anyone 21 or over could consume the substance, consumption lounges would be allowed, and people would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants at home as long as they register and pay a $50 annual fee. Similar legalization legislation has already been introduced in the House.

Drug Policy

Two Presidential Candidates Voice Support for Drug Decriminalization at Democratic Debate. Democratic presidential contenders Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in favor of decriminalizing opioids during the Democratic debate Tuesday night. "We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing," Yang said in response to a panelist's question. "Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives." When O'Rourke was asked whether decriminalization is part of the solution to the opioid crisis, he responded: "Yes it is. For many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described."

Foreign Policy

White House Extends Long-Lived National Emergency on Colombia Drug Trafficking. President Trump has continued a 1995 executive order declaring a national emergency regarding Colombian drug trafficking for another year. "The actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and cause an extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm in the United States and abroad," he wrote in his notice. "Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia declared in Executive Order 12978."

International

Mexico Senate Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in Next Few Days. A key lawmaker has told Reuters the Senate will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in the next few days. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader for the ruling MORENA Party, said the bill would regulate personal use and marijuana sales, as well as research into the plant. The bill also contemplates the creation of marijuana growing cooperatives. "The end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country," Monreal said. Under a Mexican Supreme Court ruling, the government has until October 24 to legalize marijuana. If and when the measure passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, which is also controlled by the MORENA Party.

Philippine Drug War Should End Following Police Chief's Resignation, Amnesty International Says. Philippines National Police head Gen. Oscar Albayalde was forced to resign over corruption in the National Police, the lead agency prosecuting the country's bloody drug war, and now Amnesty International is calling for that campaign to end. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said: "General Albayalde's resignation is the last blow to the credibility of the so-called 'war on drugs'. The Philippines authorities must ensure that justice is done and that this lawless and murderous campaign ends now. President Duterte has said that due process of law will be afforded to Albayalde -- the very rights that his government has denied to thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, who have been unlawfully killed by the police acting as judge, jury and executioner. This scandal shows that impunity is entrenched in the institutions supposed to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The authorities must urgently expand their probe into General Albayalde to cover the wide-ranging police abuses that continue up to this day."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Scottish Political Party Calls for Drug Decrim, Cannabis Cafes in Alaska, More... (10/14/19)

California will see a batch of new marijuana-related laws, Scotland's largest political party calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Amsterdam cannabis cafe (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill but Vetoes Cannabis in Hospitals. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a number of marijuana-related bills, including one -- AB 37 -- that will let state-legal businesses use more tax deductions, but he vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals and other health care facilities.

Anchorage, Alaska, to Vote on Allowing Cannabis Cafes. The Anchorage Assembly voted last week to let voters decide whether the city should allow people to smoke pot in retail locations around town. The question will be on the April 7, 2020, municipal ballot.

International

Philippines National Police Chief Resigns Amidst Drug Scandal. Gen. Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippines National Police, has stepped down amidst allegations that he intervened as a provincial police chief to prevent his officers from being prosecuted for allegedly selling a huge quantity of seized drugs. The National Police have led enforcement of the Philippines' bloody drug war.

Scottish National Party Formally Endorses Drug Decriminalization. Scotland's largest political party has formally endorsed the "decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs," and called on the British government to allow Scotland to make drug policy decisions for itself. The resolution was introduced at the party's annual convention, and passed unanimously.

Chronicle AM: Tentative Oxycontin Settlement, Philippines Says No to UN Investigators, More... (9/12/19)

It looks like the thousands of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma over Oxycontin are about to be settled, a new audit finds California's unlicensed pot shops greatly outnumber licensed ones, Florida's attorney general seeks to block a marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family will reportedly pay out billions to settle Oxycontin lawsuits. (Creative Commons)
California's Legal Pot Shops Are Outnumbered Three-to-One by Black Market Ones. According to an audit conducted by the United Cannabis Business Association, there are more than three times as many unlicensed marijuana shops as there are regulated ones. The audit found about 2,850 unlicensed dispensaries and delivery services, compared to only 873 licensed sellers in the state. The audit was based on Weedmaps listings. Fewer than 20% of California cities allow regulated pot shops, and though many large cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, do allow them, unlicensed dispensaries proliferate there as well. Earlier this year, Weedmaps showed 220 unlicensed pot shops in Los Angeles, compared to only 187 licensed ones.

Florida Attorney General Challenges Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) is challenging a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state… on the grounds that it is too detailed. The amendment is 10 pages long. "There is no way 10 pages of the law can be summarized clearly in 75 words or less and would adequately convey to the voters what exactly they will be voting on," the attorney general said. There are two significant legalization initiative campaigns underway in the state; the one Moody is challenging is the "Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions" initiative. Now it will be up to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the initiative comports with the legal requirements.

New Mexico Task Force Opposes State-Run Pot Shops. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's (D) Cannabis Legalization Working Group, which is looking at regulatory options for marijuana legalization, has come out against state-run marijuana stores. Instead, it is endorsing a system of licensing commercial entities. The working group also recommends barring local governments from banning pot shops, although they would be allowed to impose zoning and similar restrictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Board Rejects Anxiety, Autism as Qualifying Conditions. The State Medical Board voted Wednesday to reject adding anxiety and autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. Earlier this year, the state's Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee recommended adding the conditions, but the board overruled them. It did say it might revisit the issue later "if additional studies or evidence are brought forth in the petition process."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma, Sackler Family Agree to Oxycontin Settlement. Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have reportedly agreed to a tentative settlement of thousands of lawsuits filed by states and other localities over the role of Oxycontin in the current opioid epidemic. According to news reports, Purdue will file for bankruptcy and effectively dissolve, while a new company will form and continue selling Oxycontin, with the revenues going to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit settlement. The deal is expected to be worth between $10 and $12 billion, including $3 billion from the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue.

International

Philippines Refuses to Grant UN Access to Investigate Bloody Drug War. The Philippines will not allow visits by the United Nations to investigate its brutal war on drugs, Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said Wednesday. He called the UN experts "bastards" who had already prejudged his country. Asked if UN investigators should be allowed to work in the country, he said: "No. Because they have already prejudged. I already said those bastards -- especially that woman acting like the queen in Alice in Wonderland -- first, the judgment, then the trial. No." That was a reference to Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, who has been a staunch critic of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

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