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NJ AG Says Cops Can Smoke Pot (But Not on Duty), ME Good Samaritan Improvement Bill Advances, More... (4/18/22)

New York issues its first marijuana grower licences, a Florida drug treatment provider is convicted of a massive drug testing fraud, and more.

There's money to be made growing weed, and in New York, equity applicants are getting the first crack at it. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Police Can Use Marijuana Off-Duty. Marijuana use is now legal for adults in the state, and that includes police officers, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin wrote in a memo last Thursday. The memo said it is critical for police to be clear-headed on the job, but they cannot be punished for engaging in a legal activity as long as it does not affect their work. Maybe we will see cops in line at pot shops later this week; retail sales begin on Thursday.

New York Issues First Marijuana Grower Licenses. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced last Friday that the state's Cannabis Control Board has approved the first legal marijuana grower licenses in the state. The state has approved 52 Adult-Use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator licenses out of a pool of 150 applicants since March 15. The Office of Cannabis Management will continue to review applications and issue more licenses as quickly as possible. These first licenses went to "equity entrepreneurs" who qualify by having either a past marijuana conviction or one in their family and who have experience operating a successful business in the state.

Drug Testing

Florida Drug Rehab Facility Owner Guilty in Multimillion Dollar Drug Testing Fraud. Carie Lyn Beetle, the owner of Florida drug treatment center, was found guilty last Friday of running a $58 million insurance fraud scheme in which she recruited patients by offering free or discounted rent and free travel to Florida to stay in her sober houses, then tested them as often as three times a week, for which she would submit insurance claims. The frequency of the testing, for which she could bill as much as $5,000 each time, was considered unnecessary, and the results were not studied by treatment professionals. Sometimes the tests were never even conducted, but still billed for. Her center, Real Life Recovery, would also often bill for counseling and treatment services that were not actually conducted, and employees testified that they would regularly forge patient signatures to show they had attended counseling when they had not. For turning her treatment program into a racket, Beetle is now looking at up to 30 years in prison.

Harm Reduction

Maine Senate Approves Strengthened Good Samaritan Law. The Senate last Friday approved a bill to strengthen the state's Good Samaritan law, which is designed to protect people suffering from overdoses and those seeking to help them from prosecution. The bill, LD 1682, would change the existing law so that any person at the scene of an overdose who makes a good faith effort to call for assistance is protected from arrest or prosecution. The bill would include immunity for bail and probation violations, while exempting sex crimes, crimes involving children, and arson, among other crimes. It now heads to the House. 

Senate Legal Pot Bill Filing Bumped Back; Cops Begin to Move Away from Prextextual Traffic Stops, More... (4/15/22)

Bad behavior by the dope squad in Springfield, MA, leads to a consent decree with the Justice Department, the Senate pot legalization bill won't be filed this month after all, and more.

No-knock raids come under scrutiny in a new Washington Post report. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Marijuana Legalization Bill Filing Delayed. The Senate marijuana legalization bill championed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, will not be filed later this month as the trio originally planned, Schumer said Thursday. Instead, he said, the senators are now on track to file the bill before the August recess. The House has already passed its version of a legalization bill, the MORE Act (HR 3617). The House has also repeatedly passed an interim measure aimed at providing access to financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses, the SAFE Act (HR 1996), but Schumer and his allies in the Senate have blocked action on that, saying they want the legalization bill passed first.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Bills to Rein in Medical Marijuana Industry Advance. The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee advanced a number of bills to regulate the state's booming medical marijuana industry Thursday. House Bill 3813 would give Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority investigators the power to seize illegal medical marijuana products and to make arrests, as well as referring evidence, reports, and charges to law enforcement and prosecutors. It passed 11-0. The panel also passed House Bill 3208, which would enact a two-year moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses, on a vote of 9-2. House Bill 4055 would require public utilities to provide the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with reports concerning how much water and electricity a grow facility uses. It passed on a vote of 8-3. House Bill 4411 would remove a limit of two facility inspections a year on medical marijuana operations and require at least one inspection annually. It passed on a vote of 11-0. And House Bill 3971 would let the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority employ "secret shoppers" to verify that retail outlets are complying with laws. It passed 10-1.

Law Enforcement

Some Cops Are Moving Away from Pretextual Traffic Stops. For decades, police have relied on pretextual traffic stops—stopping a driver, frequently a Black driver, for a trivial infraction, such as no license plate light or an expired inspection sticker—as a tool for looking for drug and gun law violations, but the New York Times reports that some departments are now moving from the practice as evidence mounts that they "not only disproportionately snare Black drivers but also do little to combat serious crime or improve public safety, and some escalate into avoidable violence, even killing officers or drivers." The newspaper cited the death in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed 26-year-old Black man who was pulled over for a mismatched license plate and, after a brief struggle, was apparently shot in the head from behind, but he was only the latest of at least 400 unarmed people killed by police in traffic stops in the last five years. Big cities such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Seattle have or are enacting policies restricting stops for minor violations, so has the state of Virginia, and smaller cities such as Berkeley, California, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Lansing, Michigan.

No-Knock Raids Increasingly Common, Judges Act as Rubber Stamps. As part of a series of reports on how no-knock search warrants are obtained and executed, the Washington Post finds that "the dangerous police tactic has grown in use as judges routinely authorize requests for the surprise raids with little apparent scrutiny of claims by officers." It cited recent cases of raids turned deadly, including the killing of an unarmed Black man in a West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, motel room in a raid that turned up 22 grams of drugs, the killing of a 63-year-old Black man in his home in a raid that netted nine grams of drugs, and the notorious Houston raid that led to a gun-battle in which two innocent White homeowners were killed. The no-knock warrants are supposed to be carefully evaluated by judges, but “judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks,” a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams." The Post found that at least 22 people have been killed in no-knock raids since 2015, 13 of whom were Black or Hispanic. In at least five raids, police killed someone who was not their target. There were also at least 24 other searches that ended in killings, but the newspaper was unable to determine what sort of warrant was involved.

Springfield, Massachusetts, Police Agree to Consent Decree Over Out of Control Narcotics Unit. The Justice Department in July2020 issued a report accusing the Springfield police narcotics unit of using excessive violence with impunity, and now, the police and the Justice Department have announced they have agreed on terms for a consent decree enacting a series of policing reforms. "Officers will report all uses of force, including punches and kicks, something which was not previously required in the Springfield Police Department," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "In addition, officers have a duty to intervene to prevent excessive force." The decree also calls for the city's new civilian police commission to have a budget and subpoena power. The police department's dope squad was disbanded in 2021 after the criticism, but the consent decree will apply to the entire police force. Police union leaders had no comment.

Overdoses Hit Another All-Time High, DE Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, More... (4/14/22)

Tennessee lawmakers approve a bill allowing retroactive cuts for people sentenced under the state's old school zone drug sentencing enhancement laws, the Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bill protecting banks and insurers who do business with marijuana businesses from being hassled by state regulators, and more. 

More than 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance. After an earlier attempt to pass marijuana legalization foundered, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) tried again, presenting two bills: House Bill 371 would simply legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and needs only a majority vote to pass. House Bill 372 would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and needs three-fifths to pass. House Bill 371 was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee Wednesday, while House Bill 372 was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1167, which would protect banks and insurers from being penalized by state financial regulators for working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The bill flew through the Senate, passing through two committees in recent days before passing on a 46-3 vote. The bill now heads to the House. "Federal prohibition has forced the cannabis industry to deal with cash, as proceeds may be considered a federal crime," DiSanto said on the floor on Wednesday, adding that the cash-intensive nature of the existing marketplace "makes dispensaries a target for armed robbery."

Public Health

CDC Reports Yet Another Record Number of Drug Overdose Deaths. The nation's overdose crisis continues, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting Wednesday that according to new provisional data, 106,854 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in November 2021. Overdose deaths jumped 16 percent over the previous 12-month period and have more than doubled since 2016. Synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl, were implicated in about two-thirds of those deaths over the past year. But the number of deaths from stimulants has also nearly doubled in the past two years. Five states accounted for one-third of all overdose deaths: California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

Sentencing Policy

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Allowing People Imprisoned for School Zone Drug Offenses to Seek Sentence Cuts. With final votes in the House and Senate this week, lawmakers have approved House Bill 1449, which would allow people sentenced to long prison terms under the state's draconian school zone sentencing enhancement laws to go to court to seek shorter sentences. Since the 1980s, anyone caught selling drugs withing 1,000 feet of a school, park, daycare, public library, or recreation center faced long years in prison. Last year, legislators approved a bill to shrink the zone to 500 feet and give judges the discretion not to add extra years if they don't think children were put in danger. But there were 300 people already stuck in prison under the old rules, and this bill makes updated sentencing criteria retroactive. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who has not said whether he would sign the legislation, but who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and has already offered to fast-track clemency applications for those still doing time under the old law. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A former NYPD cop goes down hard for big-time dope-slinging, an Ohio jail deputy gets caught holding the baggies, and more. Let's get to it:

In Cincinnati, a Hamilton County jail deputy was arrested last Friday after he got caught bringing 12 one-ounce packages of marijuana into the jail. Jason Robinson, 22, was ratted out by fellow jail deputies. Robinson had just graduated from the jail academy and was the president of his recruit class. He was charged with two felony counts of illegal conveyance.

In La Joya, Texas, a La Joya ISD police officer was arrested last Friday on weapons and drug charges. Officer Jose Luis Ramirez was charged with possession of a controlled substance, unlawfully carrying a weapon, and possession of a drug test falsification device. He was arrested by Texas DPS troopers. No further information is available.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison for peddling large quantities of gamma-butyrolactone(GBL) and methamphetamine. John Cicero had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute GBL and 50 grams of methamphetamine last October. According to prosecutors Cicero and his co-conspirators stockpiled and sold liters of GBL and kilograms of methamphetamine in apartments, hotel rooms, and storage units in the heart of midtown Manhattan, and a residence in Bronxville, New York. Cicero played a prominent role in the conspiracy, as someone who had direct access to the Mexico-based source of supply and with whom he arranged the receipt of and payment for methamphetamine. He also created and used fake identity documents and stolen credit cards to pay for, among other things, the luxury Manhattan hotel rooms where drugs were trafficked and used.  

MA Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill, Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring, More... (4/8/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, the Senate is poised to vote soon on a bill to finally eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

Singapore is the object of international condemnation over its resumption of the death penalty for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at helping minority entrepreneurs and people adversely impacted by previous drug law enforcement gain a foothold in the legal marijuana industry. Senate Bill 2801 has numerous provisions, including creating a new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, redirecting tax revenue equivalent to 1 percent of a social equity business’s sales from the state to the city or town where the business is located; directing the Cannabis Control Commission to make rules for localities to "to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry" by individuals from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to Require Communities Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Wins Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1186, which restores voter-created access to medical cannabis across the state by requiring cities to provide consumers access to purchase medicinal cannabis, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee by a vote of 8-3 on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Under current California law — which arguably allows cities to ban any and all cannabis sales — 62% of cities have banned all cannabis sales, including medical cannabis sales. As a result, residents of those cities, including people living with HIV, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, frequently have no option other than to buy on the illicit market. California’s thriving and growing illicit cannabis market both undermines the legal, regulated market and risks people obtaining contaminated cannabis. SB 1186 requires cities to allow some form of medical cannabis access. Cities can choose how to provide that access, either by authorizing medical cannabis delivery, storefront, or both. However, under SB 1186, cities will no longer be able to ban all medical cannabis access.

South Carolina House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill, Sending It to House Floor. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150) Thursday after making minor changes. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of 12 qualifying conditions to access a two-week supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, topicals and patches with a doctor's recommendation from their doctor. The committee amended the bill to add criminal background checks for medical marijuana distributors and security plans for their businesses.

Sentencing Policy

Congress on Verge on Passing Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. This week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) became the 11th Republican to sign onto the EQUAL Act (S. 59), which would eliminate the sentencing disparity in crack and powder cocaine offenses. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also met Tuesday with advocates and formerly incarcerated leaders, where he described the legislation as "a priority." He also said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor, though he did not say when. The bill would apply retroactively and would allow thousands of crack offenders—mainly Black men—to have their sentences reduced and get out of prison. The 100:1 disparity was created by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, but reduced to an 18:1 disparity by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, and that reform was made retroactive by the 2018 First Step Act.

International

Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring. As this year's opium harvest gets underway, the price of opium has hit an all-time high after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation across the country. Farmers in Kandahar reported harvesting their crops without interference and were happy with high prices, but said they might stop growing opium because of the decree. The price of a kilogram of raw opium jumped to a record high of around $330, but has now declined slightly to about $300.

Singapore Drug Executions Spark International Condemnation, Rare Public Protest. Singapore resumed executions of drug offenders on March 30, with others in line to be hung shortly, and that is sparking both condemnation abroad and rare public protests at home. The UN Human Rights office expressed concern about what it feared would be "a surge in execution notices," Amnesty International charged that "the use of the death penalty in Singapore violates international human rights law and standards,"  and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, now the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, wrote that Singapore’s 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for 20 different drug offenses, "has not fulfilled its intention of preventing and combatting illicit drug trafficking and drug use." She added that the country’s "use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the [international law] threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ … and thus clearly violates international human rights law." And on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the resumption of the death penalty in a rare public protest.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Ohio narc gets nailed for peddling fentanyl, two Rikers Island jail guards go down for smuggling dope into the jail, and more. Let's get to it:

In Prince George, Virginia, a Riverside Regional Jail officer was arrested last Wednesday after he got caught bringing drugs into the facility. Officer TiJuan Collins went down after an internal investigation and was found to be carrying illegal drugs and over $600 cash. He is charged with two counts of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute drugs, attempt to deliver drugs, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm while possessing drugs, and three counts of unauthorized delivery of articles to a prison.

In New Orleans, an Orleans Parish sheriff's office recruit was arrested Tuesday for allegedly sneaking marijuana into the jail for delivery to an inmate. Derrick Webb, 20, went down after he got caught with weed on him during a search at work. He admitted delivering marijuana for cash on at least two other occasions. He is charged with three counts each of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, introducing contraband in prison and malfeasance in office.

In New York City, two city jail guards were arrested Tuesday for allegedly smuggling cellphones and drugs such as K2 and marijuana to Bloods gang members on Rikers Island. Krystle Burrell, 35, and Katrina Patterson, 31, were arrested in separate schemes that involved different Rikers jails. Patterson reportedly obtained at least $30,000 from girlfriends of an inmate.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Columbus police narcotics officer pleaded guilty last Friday to conspiring to distribute fentanyl. John Kotchkoski, 33, and fellow officer Marco Merino had been arrested by federal agents in September 2021 after getting caught up in an FBI sting where they thought they were transporting the drug for traffickers. Prosecutors alleged Kotchkoski made at least half a million dollars in the conspiracy, and as part of his plea agreement, he forfeited cash, firearms, vehicles including a Cadillac Escalade and a Corvette and a $500,000 money judgment against him. 

DC Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Allow Legal Pot Sales, Cops Being Killed in Mexico's Zacatecas, More... (4/6/22)

A Georgia bill that would actually get cannabis oil into the hands of patients goes down, the DC city council narrowly rejects a bill that would effectively legalize adult pot sales, and more.

The Sentencing Project is warning of new mandatory minimums in a bill now before the Senate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Legalize Pot Sales for Adults, Crack Down on "Gifting." The District of Columbia city council narrowly voted down a bill that would have allowed people 21 and over to "self-certify" themselves as medical marijuana patients but would have also cracked down on unlicensed operators who have been "gifting" marijuana to people who buy token products and services. The District legalized marijuana possession in a 2014 initiative, but has been blocked from implementing legal sales by Congress. The bill that went down in defeat Monday actually had majority support but needed nine of the council's 13 votes to pass. It got eight.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill to Allow Patients Access to Medical Marijuana Falls One Vote Short. State legislators approved a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but that bill left patients in the lurch because it did not provide any means of providing cannabis oil. A bill that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil, House Bill 738, passed the House earlier this year, but the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote in March, and now, the legislative session has ended without the Senate taking any further action.

Sentencing

Sentencing Project Urges Senate to Oppose Hawley Bill to Impose New Mandatory Minimums. In a letter submitted to the Senate, The Sentencing Project’s Amy Fettig urged the U.S. Senate to oppose the request for unanimous consent on S. 3951 – the PROTECT Act of 2022 – and vote no on the bill. The bill, from Trumpist rightist Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), seeks to build on recent GOP talking points around child pornography by creating new mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses, but as the Sentencing Project noted, "The US Supreme Court, Congress and the US Sentencing Commission have acted in a bipartisan way for almost 20 years to address federal mandatory minimum sentencing policies in order to create more fairness, proportionality and equity in sentencing. Unfortunately, this bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing policies, including an attempt to establish mandatory sentencing guidelines – previously ruled unconstitutional – for certain offenses. This legislation would have far-reaching implications for eroding fairness and justice, including the potential to usher in a new era of mandatory minimums." The Senate was set to vote on a unanimous consent request for the bill on Wednesday.

International

Mexico's Zacatecas State Sees 16 Cops Killed So Far This Year. An ongoing turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in the west-central state of Zacatecas has seen at least 16 police officers killed in the first quarter of 2022, according to a register of killings of police. The most recent killing was March 26 in Fresnillo, when an off-duty officer was killed when armed civilians at a roadblock opened fire on his vehicle, then lit it on fire. For the last week, police across the state have gone on strike, demanding better pay and healthcare, the reinstatement of fired officers, and deploring the security situation in the state. The state is currently short about 3,000 police officers. Zacatecas is now the state with the highest number of police killingsso far in 2022 and also currently has the highest homicide rate of any state in the country. 

MI Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Begins Signature Drive, Biden Budget Keeps Ban on DC Pot Sales, More... (3/29/22)

A new anti-drug reform super PAC emerges and targets a GOP congresswoman, Singapore is now set to hang a mentally disabled man on drug charges, and more.

The Biden White House moves to maintain the status quo on marijuana in its new proposed FY 2023 budget. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden's New Budget Keeps Ban on DC Marijuana Sales, Preserves State Medical Marijuana Protections. It's status quo on marijuana policy in President Biden's just released budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023. His proposal would maintain the bar on allowing the District of Columbia to legalize marijuana sales, but would also maintain a separate rider that protects state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was not pleased: "I have a hard time reconciling the administration’s strong support for DC statehood, which would give DC not only voting representation in Congress but also full local self-government, with a budget that prohibits DC from spending its local funds on recreational marijuana commercialization," she said. "With Democrats controlling the White House, House and Senate, we have the best opportunity in over a decade to enact a budget that does not contain any anti-home-rule riders."

New Anti-Drug Super PAC Emerges, Targets Republican Congresswoman Who Filed Marijuana Legalization Bill. A new anti-drug super PAC, Protect Our Kids PAC, has emerged this week, announcing it is targeting US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) over her support for marijuana legalization. Mace filed a bill to legalize marijuana earlier this year. "(Mace has) become the Republican face of marijuana legalization in a district and a state that has no marijuana legalization at all," said group spokesman Luke Niforatos. "She's not putting families first. She's not putting parents and kids first, and so we're just going to make sure that her primary voters know about that."  Niforatos also serves as executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, arguably the nation's leading pot prohibitionist group. Protect Our Kids PAC will also target selected races nationwide in a bid to defeat pro-marijuana legalization candidates.

Louisiana Bill Would Bring Back Prison Time for Pot Possession—But Only for Minors. A bill that would modify the decriminalization law approved last year to allow for the imprisonment of minors caught with small amounts of marijuana, House Bill 700, is headed for a House floor vote next week. Under the decriminalization law, people caught with a half-ounce or less of marijuana face a maximum $100 fine. But the bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagwell (R-Stonewall) would allow minors to be jailed for up to 15 days on a first offense, up to two years for a third offense, and up to four years for a fourth offense. The bill passed out of the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice after being amended to provide protections for minors who are medical marijuana patients. Bagley said the bill is necessary because schools can't keep marijuana off their campuses, and that the threat of incarceration could be used as a lever to get teens into treatment.

Psychedelics

Michigan Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Begins Signature Drive. The activists behind a psychedelic legalization campaign announced Monday that after the Board of State Canvassers certified its initiative last week, signature gathering to get the measure on the November ballot is now underway. The effort is being led by the national group Decriminalize Nature, the group's state chapter, and Students for Sensible Drug Policies (SSDP). The measure would authorize the "supervision, guidance, therapeutic, harm reduction, spiritual, counseling, and related supportive services with or without remuneration." It also reduces penalties for possessing other Schedule I and II drugs. To qualify the measure for the November ballot, activists will need to turn in 340,047 valid signatures from registered voters by June 1.

International

Singapore Set to Hang Malaysian Man with Mental Disability on Drug Charges After Last Appeal Fails. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities who has been on death row on drug charges in Singapore since 2010 is now set to be hanged after his last legal appeal was rejected. Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam got caught trying to smuggle less 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore. At an earlier court hearing, his IQ was revealed to be 69 — a level internationally recognized as an intellectual disability, but the court ruled Nagaenthran knew what he was doing by violating Singapore's harsh anti-drug laws. It called his final appeal "an abuse of process and that international law does not apply." The British rights group Reprieve is mounting a last-ditch pressure campaign to get a pardon from President Halimah Yacob. "The Singaporean government has made clear its commitment to champion the rights of persons with disabilities. Allowing this travesty of justice to take place would fly in the face of those promises," Reprieve director Maya Foa said.

Chronicle Book Review: "Transforming the War on Drugs" [FEATURE]

Transforming the War on Drugs: Warriors, Victims and Vulnerable Regions edited by Annette Idler and Juan Carlos Garzon Vergara (2021, Oxford University Press, 584 pp., $34.95 PB)

If you have been watching the growing fissures and fractures in the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the United Nation's three-treaty international drug control regime (IDCR) and are expecting the whole thing to come crashing to the ground sometime soon, don't hold your breath. That is the message that comes through loud and clear in Transforming the War on Drugs, an essential collection that comprehensively analyzes the past and present of global drug policy and points the way to a different, better future.

As the contributors make clear, while the IDCR is suffering well-earned stresses, especially around its failure to succeed on its own terms -- reducing drug use and the drug trade -- and while the "Vienna consensus" may be fraying, the global reform movement that has been building since the failure of the 1998 UN General Assembly Session (UNGASS) on Drugs to meet its goal of eradicating drug use within a decade has yet to jell.

As Monica Serrano explains in "A Forward March Halted: The UNGASS Process and the War on Drugs," while Latin American nations such as Colombia and Mexico called for a reconsideration of the IDCR, paving the way for the 2016 UNGASS, they did not succeed in building alliances with other nations that could push the process forward. That was not only because of deficiencies in those countries' efforts, but also because, despite the ever-increasing calls for change, a majority of countries around the world still subscribe to the law enforcement-heavy tenets of the global drug prohibition regime.

That is despite the now quite clearly understood harms that the IDCR imposes on different countries and groups around the world. Whether it is enabling the rise of violent drug trafficking organizations, destroying the livelihoods of poor drug crop farmers, creating horrendous human rights violations, filling prisons around the world, or creating needless suffering for drug users, the international response to drug use and trafficking is creating real, calculable negative consequences.

As coeditor Annette Idler demonstrates in "Warriors, Victims, and Vulnerable Regions," the heedless harshness of the IDCR is embedded in its very DNA. From the beginning, the US "war on drugs" model and the rhetoric of drugs as "evil" and an existential threat to the security of nation-states has excused the sort of "state of emergency" measures -- criminalization, law enforcement crackdowns, militarization -- that, while not even managing to make countries more secure, manages to bring not security but insecurity to communities and drug using individuals.

Other contributors to the volume make that point in great detail in case studies of Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, West Africa, the Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan), the Golden Triangle, and Russia. How can one argue that drug prohibition has brought security to Mexico, with thousands of killings each year and police forces so corrupted you don't know which department is working for which cartel? Likewise, West Africa, where drug prohibition has so corrupted some governments that "the state becomes a threat to its own self"?

Given current events, the case of Russia is particularly interesting. It is one of the staunchest supporters of the current IDCR, but not just because of its inherent authoritarianism. Russia didn't really have a significant drug control regime until the post-Soviet era of the 1990s, and then it modeled its apparatus on that of the DEA. But even though it looked to the West for drug war expertise, its drug concerns were primarily domestic: It has one of the world's most serious heroin problems, one driven by supply rather than demand, contributor Ekaterina Stepanova explains. That supply is coming from Afghanistan, and Russian addicts account for about one quarter of all Afghan heroin production. One more reason for Russia to be unhappy with the US and NATO, who, in two decades of occupying Afghanistan, never effectively suppressed the poppy crop.

One of the more fascinating chapters is on rethinking the metrics of measuring success in drug policy. Instead of measuring "securitized" items such as acres of drug crops eradicated, the amount of drugs seized, the number of traffickers arrested -- all of which really measure repressive enforcement activity -- contributors Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre argue for new metrics for a new framework for evaluating drug policies. With broad goals of improving the health and welfare of the population and enhancing the safety and security of people who use drugs and the broader public, instead of measuring busts and seizures, we should be quantifying metrics for decriminalizing drug use (is it decriminalized, how many legislative measures are aimed at it, how many civil society groups are involved, how many people are being arrested and imprisoned) and curbing drug harms through public health measures (number of drug overdose deaths, number of other drug-related deaths, prevalence of drug-linked infectious disease). This really make sense if we are actually interested in improving lives as opposed to the quixotic quest to eliminate drug use.

There is a whole lot more to this volume. It is a comprehensive, systematic effort to theoretically, conceptually, and empirically investigate the effects of the IDCR and offer a more human alternative. Anyone seriously interested in working to understand and change the global drug prohibition regime need a well-thunbed copy of this on his bookshelf.

Executions of Drug Offenders Surged Last Year, Pot Industry Push for SAFE Banking Act, More... (3/21/22)

A suburban Atlanta prosecutor's big to clamp down on Delta-8 THC products runs into a judicial roadblock, the University of Michigan SSDP chapter is spearheading a municipal drug decriminalizaiton resolution, and more.

Marijuana industry execs are swarming Capitol Hill in a last-ditch bid to win passage of the SAFE Banking Act. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Industry Pushing Hard to Get Banking Measure Passed Before Midterms. More than 20 head executives of major marijuana companies have unleashed a lobbying blitz on Congress in a bid to get the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) passed before the November midterms. They worry that if Republicans take over after the November elections, passage of the bill would be doomed. Passage of the bill has been blocked by the Democratic Senate leadership, which is holding out for a yet-to-be finalized marijuana legalization bill from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The marijuana companies say that while they also support legalization, they do not see the votes to pass it this year. "We want comprehensive reform, but we also recognize that with the potential for the House and Senate to change hands, we have an opportunity now to pass impactful legislation, and if we fail to do that, it could be years until we get something done," said Jared Maloof, CEO of Ohio-based medical marijuana company Standard Wellness.

Georgia Judge Blocks DA's Efforts to Ban Delta-8, Delta-10 Cannabis Extracts.  Suburban Atlanta Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gaston has been blocked from enforcing a ban on cannabis extracts contained Delta-8 and Delta-10 by an order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall. Last Friday, Schwall issued a 30-day restraining order barring Gwinnet County from prosecuting people for possessing or selling the extracts. The two cannabinoids are similar to THC (Delta-9 THC), but have less powerful psychoactive effects, and they inhabit a hazy legal status. In January, Austin-Gaston said that possessing, selling, or distributing such products are felony offenses and raided two distributors, seizing millions of dollars worth of product, charging at least one person with a felony. Her actions are blocked as part of a lawsuit brought by two owners of a Gwinnet County vape story chain, who are seeking to have the extracts declared legal in the state.

Drug Policy

University of Michigan Students Push Ann Arbor Drug Decriminalization Resolution. The university chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy has launched a campaign to decriminalize the possession of drugs and their small-scale distribution. After consulting with community members, the group has drafted the Ann Arbor Resolution to Advance Sensible Drug Policy, which will be put before the city council. After consultation with stakeholders, the resolution sets a suggested permitted amount of 15 grams of any drug, much higher than other decriminalization measures. While drug laws are generally set by the state and federal governments, the resolution, if adopted, would make drug possession the lowest law enforcement priority and ban the use of city funds to enforce the prohibition on drug possession.

International

Executions for Drug Convictions Surged in 2021; Most Are Kept Secret. According to a new report from Harm Reduction International, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2021, at least 131 people were executed for drug offenses last year, but "this number is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally." Even so, it is nearly four times the number of executions reported in 2020. HRI named Iran and China as definitely carrying out drug executions last year, and it suspects that Vietnam and North Korea did as well, but cannot confirm that because of government secrecy. The report identifies "High Application States" where "executions of individuals convicted of drug offenses were carried out, and/or at least 10 drug-related death sentences per year were imposed in the past five years." Along the countries mentioned above, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all make this rogue's gallery. At least 3,000 people are on death row for drugs worldwide, the report found, with at least 237 drug death sentences issued last year in 16 countries. 

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