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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of "Pill Mill" Docs, UN Human Rights Experts Call for End to Drug War, More... (6/27/22)

Drug charges account for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, Pakistan moves toward licensing medical and industrial cannabis production, Spain moves toward medical marijuana sales, and more.

The Supreme Court holds prosecutors to a high standard on charging doctors over prescribing. (Pixabay)
Opiates and Opioids

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Doctors Accused of Overprescribing Opioids. The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the convictions of two doctors accusing of running opioid "pill mills," making it more difficult for the government to prosecute doctors who overprescribe drugs. In seeking to distinguish between legitimate medical conduct and illegally overprescribing, the court held that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor knew or intended to prescribe drugs in an unauthorized manner. "We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court. The cases involved a doctor in Alabama whose clinic dispensed nearly 300,000 opioid prescriptions over a four-year period and a doctor who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming who operated mostly on a cash-only basis, but who also accepted property as payment, including firearms.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Quarterly Report Shows Drugs Remain Most Common Federal Offense. Enforcing federal drug prohibition accounts for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, according the US Sentencing Commission's latest quarterly report. Drug offenses accounted for 32.3 percent of all prosecutions in the last two quarters, with methamphetamine accounting for nearly half (48.6 percent) of all drug offenses and fentanyl continuing to increase, now accounting for 11.8 percent of all drug offenses. Immigration was the second largest category of federal prosecutions, accounting for 26.5 percent of all federal prosecutions, followed by firearms offenses at 14.9 percent. No other federal crime category accounted for more than 10 percent of federal prosecutions. A decline in prosecutions that took place during the coronavirus pandemic has now ended, with about 5,000 federal drug prosecutions every six months.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Use International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking to Call for End of War on Drugs. UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called "war on drugs"and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the following statement:

"Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the 'war on drugs' undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this 'war' has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labor, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law."

Click on the link above for the rest of the statement.

New Zealand Poll Shows Most Support Replacing Punitive Drug Laws with Health-Based Approach. A new poll produced by The Navigators on behalf of the NZ Drug Foundation finds that a solid majority of New Zealanders support replacing the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Some 68 percent of respondents favored the change. A strong majority -- 61 percent -- also favored drug decriminalization and introducing more support for education and treatment. The poll also showed that there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent).

Pakistan Moves to Allow Cannabis Farming for Medical and Industrial Use. The Ministry of Science and Technology will form an authority to regulate and facilitate the farming and use of cannabis, or "Bhang," as it referred to in the country. The authority will issue 15-year licenses for industrial, medical, processing, research, and development purposes. The Department of Commerce will issue licenses for cannabis exports.

Spain Moving Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies. A subcommittee in the Congress of Deputies has accepted a draft bill to regulate medical marijuana sales and referred the bill to the Commission on Health for a vote this week. While the proposed bill has very tight distribution rules, it is being lauded as the first step toward providing greater access. Once the bill is approved by the Health Commission, the Spanish Medicines Agency will have six months to draft appropriate regulations. The draft bill will make THC-containing flowers available by prescription for the treatment of specified illnesses and conditions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana Update

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

Louisiana

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

New York

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

North Carolina

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

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

Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

Marijuana is Now Legal in Rhode Island [FEATURE]

With Gov. Dan McKee's (D) signature Wednesday, Rhode Island became the 19th state in the US to legalize marijuana. The measure he signed into law, Senate Bill 2430, had won final floor votes in both chambers of the legislature on Tuesday. It was the product of months of negotiations among legislative leaders and the governor and within the legislature itself.

The new law allows adults to possess and purchase up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants at home and that part of the law goes into effect immediately. It also includes a provision for the automatic expungement of past civil or criminal marijuana possession convictions by July 2024 (and those who want it sooner can request it). Additionally, it creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent tax on retail sales and another 10 percent in state and local sales taxes. Retail sales could happen as soon as December 1.

And it has significant social equity provisions. It reserves one quarter of all new retail marijuana licenses for applicants that qualify as social equity businesses and it creates a social equity assistance fund providing grants, job training programs, and other social services for communities most negatively impacted by pot prohibition. In an additional twist, the new law also reserves a quarter of new licenses to worker-owned cooperatives.

"This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe," Governor McKee said in a statement announcing the signing. "In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My administration's original legalization plan also included such a provision, and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically."

"The reality is that prohibition does not stop cannabis use," said bill sponsor Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "Since Rhode Islanders can already access cannabis just across the state border or on the illicit market, we experience all the challenges without any of the safeguards or resources that our neighboring states have. With this bill, we are ending prohibition in a way that is safe, keeps revenue in Rhode Island, and is as fair and equitable as we can possibly make it."

"Social equity has been a top concern for us throughout this whole process. Senator Miller and I represent some of the communities that have suffered disproportionate harm from prohibition for decades, resulting in generational poverty and mass incarceration. The starting line isn't the same for people in poor, urban and minority communities, and they deserve support to ensure they get the full benefit of participating in legalization. I am grateful to my colleagues in the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of expungement of criminal records and equity in licensing, because they are absolutely critical to ending prohibition fairly," said bill sponsor Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence).

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has worked on the issue in the state for years, pronounced itself pleased with the results in a statement Wednesday, but cautioned that now this progressive law will have to be implemented correctly.

"After years of persistent advocacy by organizations and supporters across the state, lawmakers have enacted a well-crafted cannabis legalization law that will create new opportunities for Rhode Islanders and begin the process of addressing decades of harm caused by prohibition," said MPP state campaigns manager Jared Moffat. "There is more work to be done to ensure that the full promise and potential of this legislation is achieved, but today is a day for us to celebrate and recognize that the hard work of organizing and educating eventually pays off."

A day for Rhode Islanders to celebrate, indeed.

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

For Immediate Release -- May 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pell Grants for Prisoners Are Coming Back Next Year, OK Legal Pot Initiative Signature-Gathering Begins, More... (5/3/22)

Signature-gathering for a marijuana legalization inititiave is underway in Oklahoma, the courts block a San Francisco effort to enact broad bans on alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin, and more.

San Francisco. The courts are blocking the city's effort to ban alleged drug dealers from the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Files Preemptive Lawsuit Over Whether It Will Appear on November Ballot. Anticipating an effort by Republican lawmakers to keep their marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a lawsuit last Friday to block the expected move. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) submitted petitions to the legislature on January 28, giving it until May 28 to approve the petitions calling for legalization, after which, the coalition could then do another round of signature-gathering to put the question directly before voters in November. But Republican legislative staffers have argued that because the petitions were not submitted to the legislature 10 days before the start of the session, as required by the state constitution. But the preemptive lawsuit argues there is state Supreme Court precedent for allowing a November vote.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Begins Signature-Gathering. Marijuana legalization advocates have begun signature gathering for State Question 820, which would legalize adult use marijuana and levy a 15 percent excise tax on retail purchases to fund the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Campaigners will need 95,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot and have until August 1 to do so. Another pair of initiatives could also appear on the ballot. State Question 818 would create a State Cannabis Commission that would replace the OMMA and guarantee patients' medical cannabis access in the Oklahoma Constitution, while State Question 819 would legalize adult-use marijuana and guarantee medical and adult-use marijuana access in the Constitution. Because these two questions would change the state constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering threshold than State Question 820, which would only make statutory changes. The threshold for constitutional questions is 177,958 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

California Appeals Court Blocks San Francisco Bid to Ban Drug Dealers from Tenderloin, SOMA. In a case that began when the city sued 28 alleged drug dealers in the Tenderloin and South of Market (SOMA) neighborhoods and banned them from a 50-square-block area in those neighborhoods, which are rife with open drug dealing and drug use, a state appeals court has upheld a lower court decision last year blocking the bans from taking effect. In its ruling last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeals held that while local governments may be entitled to narrowly target ban orders in some limited circumstances, but not such a broad one. The lower court decision held that the ban was so broad it would violate the constitutional right to travel, and that state law did not appear to authorize it.

The appeals court largely agreed: "We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the city in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood," Justice Marla Miller wrote in Friday's 3-0 ruling. But, she continued, "although the city contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin." The lower court judge was entitled to believe statements from the four people "that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood," the appeals court added. The city said it was "disappointed" with the ruling, but had yet to decide whether to appeal.

Education

Pell Grants Will Be Available for Prisoners Again Beginning Next Year. Once upon a time, incarcerated Americans were able to try to advance themselves by using Pell Grants to pay for college tuition and textbook costs -- just like other students -- but when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, it barred prisoners from accessing that financial aid. In 2020, though, Congress restored the eligibility for both state and federal prisoners. In the fall of 2021, the Department of Education begin developing rules for the expansion of Pell Grants to prisoners and has now announced that application forms for imprisoned students will be available on October 1 for the 2023 academic year.

International

British Virgin Islands Premier Asserts Immunity in Cocaine Case, Demands Immediate Release. British Virgin Islands (BVI) Premier Andrew Fahie, who was arrested last week in a US government sting in Miami, argued in court Monday that as the elected head of government, he is immune from prosecution and should be released immediately. No word yet on when a federal judge will decide that question, and in the meantime, Fahie remains in custody. Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, were busted at the Miami airport where they met what they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but were actually DEA agents seducing them into a scheme to import cocaine from South America through the BVI. Back home, Fahie already faced allegations of deep corruption, and his arrest may help propel a push to temporarily suspend the constitution and return to rule from London in an effort to clean up the government. Busting a head of state is a big deal and would have required approval at the highest levels of the Justice and State departments.

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

"Weed Like Change" Campaign Aims to Point Consumers Toward Eco-Friendly Marijuana [FEATURE]

A campaign to promote the regenerative organic cultivation of marijuana is now underway in California and Oregon. Calling itself Weed Like Change, the campaign is bringing together a coalition of more than 50 regenerative organic cannabis farmers and brands, dispensaries, allied businesses, and advocacy groups to target and educate pot consumers about the benefits of such cultivation practices and the need to support small-scale legacy farmers in the face of cannabis corporatization.

Sonoma Hills Farm, an organic, regenerative hemp operation in Northern California. (sunandearth.org)
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, regenerative agriculture is a set of holistic practices that aims to maintain and restore ecosystem health by working in harmony with nature, as opposed to exploiting it. When it comes to organic marijuana cultivation, that means not only no artificial inputs -- no pesticides or chemical fertilizers -- but also such techniques as mulching and composting, use of cover crops, inter-cropping, and adding to soil fertility; in general, working with the local environment, not struggling against it.

The campaign is being led by the two-year-old nonprofit Sun+Earth Certified, which, according to its web site, "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet" and "sets the standard above and beyond organic." Sun+Earth currently has 42 certified growers, primarily in California and Oregon, but also with outposts in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black.

Given the ever-greater impacts of man-made climate change, there is a dire need for the marijuana industry to really go green. An academic study published in April by researchers at Colorado State University found that moving from indoor grow operations to outdoor farms would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state's marijuana sector by a whopping 96 percent, shaving more than one percent off the state's total emissions.

A Sun+Earth certified grow in California. (sunandearth.org)
That funding builds on a 2012 academic report from UC Berkeley found that all cannabis grown in the US uses at least one percent of all electricity consumed in the country at a cost of $6 billion per year. A report from New Frontier Data that found that indoor cultivation in the US produces 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide or one pound of carbon emissions for each gram of harvested flower. The same report found that growing indoors uses 18 times more electricity and produces nearly 25 times more carbon than outdoor farms.

"We're thrilled to be participating in the Weed Like Change campaign," said Casey Branham, co-founder of Phoenix Rising Farm, situated on the banks of the Little Applegate River in southern Oregon. "As the real stewards of this cottage industry in Oregon, small family farms like ours provide opportunity in local communities and produce craft cannabis that is recognized nationwide," he continued. "Regenerative organic cannabis is not only better for the consumer by being more cannabinoid and terpenoid-rich, but it's also better for the environment, as it emphasizes soil health, water management, and the enhancement of the overall ecosystem in its production, as well as being free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers."

The Weed Like Change campaign is also being supported by Dr. Bronner's soaps as part of its commitment to regenerative organic agriculture and drug policy reform. The natural soap maker, which has put millions into drug reform efforts over the years, has produced a special Weed Like Change! label on a limited edition run of its 4oz. Castile Liquid Soap bottles, which will be distributed at campaign education events throughout California and Oregon.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer David Bronner. (drbronner.com)
"Small-scale legacy cannabis farmers fear they are at risk of extinction. To keep these farmers in business as well as for the broader health of people and planet it is imperative for cannabis consumers to choose sun-grown regenerative organic cannabis," said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer of Dr. Bronner's. "We need to transition the global food system and the cannabis industry to regenerative organic agriculture and away from the dominant carbon intensive industrial model that threatens the livelihoods of small-scale farmers."

Ethically responsible pot smokers have choices to make about the kinds of growing methods they support with their dollars. Weed Like Change aims to help them make the right choice -- for the small farmers who were the traditional backbone of marijuana cultivation, for the communities in which both farmers and consumers live, and for the sake of the planet and our place on it.

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