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More Fentanyl Than Heroin Seized at Border Last Year, Marijuana Legalization Bills in Maryland and South Dakota, More... (1/4/22)

It's January, and state legislatures are gearing up to deal with marijuana, a New York state inspector general's report unearths serious problems with prison drug testing, and more.

Part of a 254-pound shipment of fentanyl seized at the border. (CBP)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Lawmaker Pre-Files Legislation to Place Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization on State's 2022 Ballot. Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), chairman of the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup that formed last summer to study adult-use legalization in Maryland, has pre-filed House Bill 1. If approved by three-fifths of the state House and Senate, the bill would ask voters the following referendum question: "Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland?" The bill will be formally introduced when the legislative session opens on January 12.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short on Signatures, Has Only Days Left. The secretary of state's office has informed the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol that it had gathered only 119,825 valid voter signatures when it needed 132,887 to get to the first stage of the "initiated statute" process. That means the Coalition now has until January 13 to come up with 13,062 more valid voter signatures. If the campaign meets that hurdle, the legislature would have four months to address the underlying marijuana legalization legislation. If the legislature fails to act or rejects it, supporters can collect another 132,887 signatures to place it on the statewide ballot, likely in November 2022. The initiative would allow people 21 and older to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

South Dakota Lawmakers Have Marijuana Legalization Bill Ready to Go. With the legislative session set to open next week, state legislative leaders are ready to advance a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, that was drafted by a marijuana working group and approved by the legislative leadership. The bill would restore the will of the voters, who approved legalization at the ballot box in 2020 only to have it thrown out as unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. Legalization isn't the only marijuana-related item on lawmakers' minds; of 38 pre-filed bills, 25 deal with marijuana, mostly with medical marijuana, which voters already approved last year and which the state has moved ahead on.

Drug Testing

New York State Inspector General Investigation Determines Hundreds of Incarcerated New Yorkers Denied Due Process and Endured Severe Punishment as a Result of Egregious Administrative Failure in Drug Testing Program. State Inspector General Lucy Lang announced Tuesday that incarcerated people across the state were subjected to internal penalties including solitary confinement, had their sentences lengthened, parole hearings delayed, family visitation privileges revoked, and suffered other punishments, based upon a highly flawed drug testing program between January and August 2019 administered by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

Lang's investigation found that these sanctions, which impacted more than 1,600 people during that eight-month period, were based upon preliminary positive results for the presence of the opioid buprenorphine, without obtaining confirmation by more specific alternative tests as was required by the instructions provided by the manufacturer, Microgenics Corporation. DOCCS then failed to properly investigate the reason for a significant spike in positive test results after the implementation of the new tests or take prompt corrective action upon being presented with scientific evidence that many of the results were false positives.

The investigation also found that representatives from Microgenics frustrated the efforts of the incarcerated people who attempted to challenge their charges at administrative hearings by providing false or misleading information about the tests' reliability. Changes are being made as a result of the investigation, including an end to the use of solitary confinement for failing a drug test.

Opioids

US Customs and Border Protection Seized More Fentanyl Than Heroin at the Border Last Year. In Fiscal Year 2021, which ran from October 2020 to September 2021, US Customs and Border Protection seized more at least 11,200 pounds of fentanyl at the border, more than double the 5,400 pounds of heroin seized. CBP also seized 319,447 pounds of marijuana, 97,638 pounds of cocaine, 190,861 pounds of methamphetamine, and 10,848 pounds of ketamine, for the fiscal year 2021. The seizure figures come as fentanyl is implicated in about two-thirds of the record wave of drug overdose deaths plaguing the US this year.

MT Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church, More... (1/3/22)

You can now buy two ounces of weed at a time in Oregon instead of only one, New Hampshire lawmakers will try to override the governor's veto of a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Moving to Montana soon? Now you can buy pot there -- if you're in the right county. (Gmark1/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legal Marijuana Sales Begin. On New Year's Day, the state became the latest to allow legal recreational marijuana sales. The move comes more than a year after voters approved a pair of complementary marijuana legalization initiatives in November 2020 with 57 percent of the vote. But it's not on sale everywhere in the state: Under the law, counties where majorities voted for legalization can have pot shops, but in counties where majorities voted against the initiative cannot allow the shops unless the matter is approved in a county-wide vote.

Oregon Doubles the Amount of Marijuana People Can Buy. On December 28, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission approved new rules that include raising the amount of marijuana that people can purchase on a single occasion from one ounce to two ounces. That went into effect on New Year's Day. The state will now also allow home delivery of marijuana across city and county lines.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Lawmakers to Take Up Vetoed Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators will try this week to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill that would have allowed nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers to organize as for-profit businesses. In his veto message, Sununu said he vetoed the bill because it would create monopolies that could dominate the marketplace if and when recreational marijuana is legalized. The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, but passed the House on a voice vote, leaving it unclear whether there is a veto-proof majority there.

Ayahuasca

IRS Denies Tax Exempt Status to Iowa Ayahuasca Church. The Iowaska Church of Healing has lost its bid to win tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The church holds a "Sacrament of Ayahuasca" where its members use the hallucinogen for spiritual and physical healing, although its leader says he has never conducted such ceremonies at his home or anywhere else in the state. The church applied for tax-exempt status in January 2019.

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

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

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

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

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

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

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

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

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

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

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

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

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

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting Back Against the Non-Consensual Drug Testing of Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

Two New York state women reported to Child Protective Services after their consumption of poppy seeds resulted in false positives, on drug tests they were never aware of nor consented to as they were giving birth, have filed a complaint against the hospital that ran the tests and then reported them.

The two women, identified only as Crystal H. and Jane Doe, are being represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). The complaints against Garnet Health Medical Center (GHMC) in Middletown were filed with the state Division of Human Rights. They charge that Garnet Health discriminated against both women on the basis of sex and pregnancy by drug testing them without their consent, then interfering with their ability to breastfeed their babies, and referring them and their families to the State Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. (SCR), which subjected them to invasive searches.

Crystal's complaint details how, having been routinely providing urine samples to check for blood and proteins during her pregnancy, one urine sample taken after she was admitted for delivery was used without telling her or seeking her consent "for the purpose of testing it for drugs, including opiates." The complaint notes that "GHMC had no medical reason, necessity, or justification" for the test and that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists rejects the practice of drug testing pregnant patients.

To Crystal's surprise, the drug test came back "presumptive positive," and she was then "met with accusatory and dismissive treatment from the primarily white nursing staff." Although Crystal explained that she had eaten a bagel containing poppy seeds, and a staff physician conceded that the poppy seeds could cause the positive result for opiate, GHMC did not run the more accurate confirmatory test as recommended.

After Crystal gave birth, GHMC drug tested her child -- again without her consent -- and he tested negative. Despite even that, Even after the infant's negative test result, and even though Crystal had asked for a second drug test, and even though the initial test result meant "the test provides a preliminary result only, positive results are unconfirmed," GHMC then reported her to the SCR. GHMC only agreed to retest Crystal after it had reported her, and when that test came back negative, it refused to withdraw the report to SCR or inform SCR of the second, negative test result. (Crystal also took a hair follicle drug test that can detect use for up to three months and came up negative for opiates on that.)

That report to SCR resulted in the Oneida County Department of Social Services conducting an invasive search of her home within 12 hours of her release from the hospital. Crystal remained under for suspicion for two months, until the department closed the abuse and maltreatment investigation as "unfounded."

"Garnet Health turned the joy of becoming a new mom into an absolute nightmare. Right after delivery, hospital staff didn't permit me to nurse because of a false positive drug test result after having eaten a poppy seed bagel. Those bonding moments with my newborn are moments I will never get back," Crystal H. said in a press release announcing the legal action. "Across New York State, low income, and Black and Latinx pregnant New Yorkers are threatened with family separation and discriminated against by their healthcare providers based on accusations of drug use alone. I'm taking action today to ensure that our hospitals' care for newborns and their parents is grounded in principles of public health, not racist stereotypes."

Jane Doe's complaint is eerily similar to Crystal H.'s. She, too, innocently partook of a food item containing poppy seeds -- a Sam's Club kale salad with poppy seed dressing -- she, too, was drug tested without her consent or knowledge and deemed a drug user, not allowed to breastfeed her infant, and reported to SCR despite her protestations of innocence. And she, too, suffered the emotional trauma of the experience.

"By drug testing me without my consent and reporting a false presumptive positive result to child welfare authorities, Garnet Health turned what should have been the most meaningful moment of my life into the most traumatic one," she said in the press release. "All because I ate a salad with poppy seed dressing, Garnet Health treated me like an unfit mother, told me I wasn't allowed to breastfeed, repeatedly denied my requests for a confirmatory test, and ensured my name would be on the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. At a time when I should be focused on bonding with the baby I have been dreaming of my whole life, I have been forced to grapple with the heartbreaking effects of Garnet Health's discriminatory actions."

The practice of drug testing pregnant women without their knowledge or consent is common in New York, according to NAPW and NYCLU, but is not supported by leading medical organizations. Here, for example, is a 2019 policy statement from the American Medical Association:

"Our AMA will oppose any efforts to imply that the diagnosis of substance use disorder during pregnancy represents child abuse; support legislative and other appropriate efforts for the expansion and improved access to evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders during pregnancy; oppose the removal of infants from their mothers solely based on a single positive prenatal drug screen without appropriate evaluation; and advocate for appropriate medical evaluation prior to the removal of a child, which takes into account the desire to preserve the individual's family structure, the patient's treatment status, and current impairment status when substance use is suspected."

The NYCLU and NAPW are fighting to end the kind of abuses Crystal and Jane Doe faced.

"No parent should ever endure what Crystal and her husband endured," said Gabriella Larios, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Nonconsensual drug tests prioritize stigma over science and are a relic of racist War on Drugs myths. Garnet Health, and all hospitals across New York State, must immediately stop drug testing pregnant people in secret, and Albany must pass legislation so that no drug test can take place without a pregnant person's informed consent."

"Garnet Health's practice of drug testing all pregnant patients without their informed consent and reporting test results to child welfare authorities has devastating consequences for new families and constitutes illegal sex discrimination," said NAPW attorney Emma Roth. "We're filing the complaint to shine a light on Garnet Health's discriminatory practices and we hope other hospitals take notice. No new mother should ever face such traumatic and discriminatory treatment."

No More Pot Tickets in St. Louis, NY Hospital Sued Over Nonconsensual Drug Testing of Pregnant Women, More... (12/21/21)

An Ohio marijuana legalization initiative campaign hands in initial signatures, St. Louis becomes the latest city to give up on policing small-time pot possession, and more.

No more pot tickets in St. Looey. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Campaign Submits Signatures Needed to Force Vote. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol handed in more than 200,000 raw signatures Monday for its proposed initiative to legalize the personal possession and cultivation of marijuana. They need only 132,887 valid voter signatures for the measure to be valid This is not a typical, direct-to-the-voters initiative; instead, if the signatures are verified, the legislature would then have four months to act on the measure. If the legislature rejects or fails to act on the measure, campaigners would then have to gather another 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the issues before the voters in the next general election.

St. Louis Police No Longer Issuing Marijuana Citations. People found with up to two ounces of marijuana or growing up to six plants will no longer be cited by city police. That's because Mayor Tishaura Jones last week signed into law an ordinance that virtually legalizes marijuana in the city. The ordinance bars police from issuing citations for two ounces or less, bars police from initiating a search based on the "odor or visual presence" of marijuana, and provides that city workers who test positive for marijuana can cite their state-issued medical marijuana cards to avoid "adverse employer actions."

Drug Testing

New York Civil Liberties Union and National Advocates for Pregnant Women File Complaints Against New York Hospital Over Drug Testing Mothers Without Consent. Last Friday, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the activist group National Advocates for Pregnant Women filed human rights complaints against Garnet Health Medical Center in Middletown on behalf of two mothers who were drug tested while hospitalized to give birth. The hospital reported both mothers to Child Protective Services after the testing generated false positives caused by eating poppy seeds. The groups say the hospital conducted the drug tests without the knowledge or consent of the women, that the pattern of hospital maternal drug testing is discriminatory, and that the practice drives mothers of color away from health services, increasing infant mortality in minority communities. They want the state to pass legislation to end the nonconsensual drug testing of pregnant women.

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Settlement, 90-Year-Old Pot Prisoner Freed, More... (12/17/21)

The Ohio Senate approves a medical marijuana expansion bill, Baltimore will end pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for potential city government hires, and more.

Horacio Estrada-Elias with family, 2014
Marijuana Policy

90-Year-Old Federal Prisoner Serving Life for Marijuana Offense Wins Compassionate Release. A seriously ill federal prison doing life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana trafficking offense has been freed after a judge granted him compassionate relief on Tuesday -- overruling his own previous order denying the release. Horacio Estrada-Ellis, 90, had served more than a dozen years in prison and suffers from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease, and also contracted the coronavirus while in prison. His warden had recommended compassionate release but federal District Court Judge Danny Reeves denied the motion in July, saying a life sentence is "the only sentence that would be appropriate." But a three-judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court that Reeves had "abused (his) discretion" by ignoring the fact that Estrada-Ellis was unlikely to reoffend and by "overly emphasizing" his nonviolent crimes, and Reeves then issued a new opinion approving his compassionate release. Estrada-Ellis left prison on Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow more dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, growers to grow more of it, and more patients to qualify for it by expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include any conditions for which a patients might "reasonably be expected" to find benefit or relief. The bill would also shift regulation of dispensaries from the pharmacy board to a new Division of Marijuana Control in the Commerce Department. The bill now heads to the House.

Opioids

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Opioid Settlement, Leaving Sackler Family Vulnerable to Civil Lawsuits. US District Court Judge Coleen McMahon on Thursday blew up a carefully negotiated settlement between Purdue Pharma and thousands of state, local, and tribal governments that had sued the company, which manufactured OxyContin, for its role in the rapid rise of opioid addiction beginning in the late 1990s. The agreement had shielded the Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma, from more civil lawsuits in return for a $4.5 billion payment. But McMahon ruled that the bankruptcy code does not allow such an agreement. Purdue has already said it will appeal, but lawyers for some government entities that had appealed the originally settlement were quite pleased: "This is a seismic victory for justice and accountability that will re-open the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused," said William Tong, the attorney general of Connecticut. The explosion of opioid use that began with OxyContin eventually resulted in a backlash, leading to restrictions on the availability of prescription opioid that left chronic pain patients in the lurch and prompted many opioid users to move to the black market, fueling a large increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years.

Drug Testing

Baltimore to No Longer Require Pre-Employment Drug, Alcohol Screening for City Jobs. Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday that the city government will no longer require pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for new hires. The new policy has exceptions for safety-sensitive positions, such as law enforcement, and positions that require driving or operating heavy equipment.

"We want the best and brightest candidates to help us provide efficient and effective City services to our residents," the mayor said. "Frankly, the outdated and costly pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings only served to block qualified and passionate residents from obtaining employment with the City. This policy disproportionately harmed the prospects of talented Black and Brown job candidates. I am grateful that we are making this change now so that we can continue to improve local government operations and better serve the people of Baltimore."

How the Global Drug War’s Victims Are Fighting Back [FEATURE]

Despite significant advances made by governments around the world in humanizing drug control systems since the turn of the century, human rights abuses still seem to be taking place in the course of enforcing drug prohibitions in recent years and, in some cases, have only gotten worse.

The United States continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses and imposes state surveillance (probation and parole) on millions more. The Mexican military rides roughshod over the rule of law, disappearing, torturing, and killing people with impunity as it wages war on (or sometimes works with) the infamous drug cartels. Russia and Southeast Asian countries, meanwhile, hold drug users in "treatment centers" that are little more than prison camps.

A virtual event last summer, which ran parallel to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, shined a harsh light on brutal human rights abuses by the Philippines and Indonesia in the name of the war on drugs and also highlighted one method of combating impunity for drug war crimes: by imposing sanctions on individuals responsible for the abuses.

The event, "SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights," was organized by DRCNet Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charity operated by StoptheDrugWar.org, publisher of this newsletter. The "SDG 16" refers to Sustainable Development Goal 16 -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Event organizer and executive director of the organization David Borden opened the meeting with a discussion about the broad drug policy issues and challenges being witnessed on the global stage.

"Drug policy affects and is affected by many of these broad sustainable development goals," he said. "One of the very important issues is the shortfall in global AIDS funding, especially in the area of harm reduction programs. Another goal -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- is implicated in the Philippines, where President [Rodrigo] Duterte was elected in 2016 and initiated a mass killing campaign admitted by him -- although sometimes denied by his defenders -- in which the police acknowledged killing over 6,000 people in [anti-drug] operations [since 2016], almost all of whom resisted arrests, according to police reports. NGOs put the true number [of those who were] killed at over 30,000, with many executed by shadowy vigilantes."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has proposed a formal investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war, but the court seems hampered by a chronic shortfall in funding, Borden pointed out.

"Former prosecutors have warned pointedly on multiple occasions of a mismatch between the court's mission and its budget," he said. "Recent activity at the conclusion of three different preliminary investigations shows that while the prosecutor in the Philippines moved forward, in both Nigeria and Ukraine, the office concluded there should be formal investigations, but did not [submit] investigation requests, leaving it [up to the] new prosecutors [to decide]. The hope is [that the ICC] will move as expeditiously as possible on the Philippines investigation, but resources will affect that, as will the [Philippine] government's current stance."

The government's current stance is perhaps best illustrated by President Duterte's remarks at his final State of the Nation address on July 26. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to "record his threats against those who 'destroy' the country with illegal drugs," the Rappler reported. "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you," said Duterte. "And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years," and again told police to kill drug users and dealers.

At the virtual event, Philippines human rights advocate Justine Balane, secretary-general of Akbayan Youth, the youth wing of the progressive, democratic socialist Akbayan Citizens' Action Party, provided a blunt and chilling update on the Duterte government's bloody five-year-long drug war.

"The killings remain widespread, systematic, and ongoing," he said. "We've documented 186 deaths, equal to two a day for the first quarter of the year. Of those, 137 were connected to the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the armed forces, and 49 were committed by unidentified assailants."

The "unidentified assailants" -- vigilante death squads of shadowy provenance -- are responsible for the majority of killings since 2016.

"Of the 137 killed, 96 were small-time pushers, highlighting the fact that the drug war is also class warfare targeting small-time pushers or people just caught in the wrong place or wrong time," Balane said.

He also provided an update on the Duterte administration's response to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's June 14 decision concluding her preliminary examination of human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war with a request to the ICC to open a formal investigation into "the situation in the Philippines."

In a bid to fend off the ICC, in 2020, the Philippine Justice Department announced it had created a panel to study the killings carried out by agents of the state -- police or military -- but Balane was critical of these efforts.

"[In the second half of 2020], the Justice Department said it had finished the initial investigations, but no complaints or charges were filed," he said. "They said it was difficult to find witnesses [who were willing to testify about the killings], but [the victims'] families said they were not approached [by the review panel]."

The Justice Department is also undercutting the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office whose primary mission is to investigate human rights abuses, Balane pointed out.

"The Justice Department said the commission would be involved [in the investigation process by the panel], but the commission says [that the] Justice [Department] has yet to clarify its rules and their requests have been left unanswered," Balane said. "The commission is the constitutional body tasked to investigate abuses by the armed forces, and they are being excluded by the Justice Department review panel."

The Justice Department review is also barely scraping the surface of the carnage, Balane said, noting that while in May the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they would be granting the review panel access to 61 investigations -- which accounts for less than 1 percent of the killings that the government acknowledged were part of the official operations since 2016 -- the PNP has now decreased that number to 53.

"The domestic review by [the] Justice [Department] appears influenced by Duterte himself," said Balane. "This erodes the credibility of the drug war review by the Justice Department, which is the government's defense for their calls against international human rights mechanisms."

The bottom line, according to Balane, is that "the killings continue, they are still systematic, and they are still widespread."

In Indonesia -- where, like Duterte in the Philippines, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) also declared a war on drugs in 2016 -- it is not only extrajudicial killings that are the issue but also the increasing willingness of the government to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.

"Extrajudicial killings [as a result of] the drug war are happening in Indonesia," said Iftitahsari, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who cited 99 extrajudicial killings that took place in 2017 and 68 that happened in 2018, with a big jump to 287 from June 2019 through June 2020. She also mentioned another 390 violent drug law enforcement "incidents" that took place from July 2020 through May 2021, of which an estimated 40 percent are killings.

"The problem of extrajudicial killings [in Indonesia] is broader than [just] the war on drugs; we [also] have the problem of police brutality," Sari said. "Police have a very broad authority and a lack of accountability. There is no effective oversight mechanism, and there are no developments on this issue because we have no mechanisms to hold [the] police accountable."

Indonesia is also using its courts to kill people. Since 2015, Sari reported, 18 people -- 15 of them foreigners -- have been executed for drug offenses.

"In addition to extrajudicial killings, there is a tendency to use harsher punishment, capital punishment, with the number of death penalties rising since 2016," she said.

Statistics Iftitahsari presented bore that out. Death penalty cases jumped from 22 in 2016 to 99 in 2019 and 149 in 2020, according to the figures she provided during the virtual event.

Not only are the courts increasingly handing down death sentences for drug offenses, but defendants are also often faced with human rights abuses within the legal system, Sari said.

"Violations of the right to a fair trial are very common in drug-related death penalty cases," she said. "There are violations of the right to be free from torture, not [to] be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and of the right to counsel. There are also rights violations during trials, including the lack of the right to cross-examination, the right to non-self-incrimination, trial without undue delay, and denial of an interpreter."

With authoritarian governments such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines providing cover for such human rights abuses in the name of the war on drugs, impunity is a key problem. During the virtual event's panel discussion, Scott Johnston, of the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First, discussed one possible way of making human rights abusers pay a price: imposing sanctions on them individually, especially under the Global Magnitsky Act.

That US law, which was based on one enacted in 2012 to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, was expanded in 2016 to punish human rights violators around the globe by freezing their assets or denying them visas to enter the United States. A related law known by its spot in the US Code, "7031(c)," can also be used to deny visas to immediate familly members of the alleged abusers.

"In an era [when]... rising human rights abuses and also rising impunity for committing those abuses [are]... a hallmark of what's happening around the world, we see countries adopting these types of targeted human rights mechanisms [imposing sanctions] at a rate that would have been shocking even five or six years ago," said Johnston. "Targeted sanctions [like the Global Magnitsky Act] are those aimed against specific individual actors and entities, as opposed to countrywide embargos," he explained.

The Global Magnitsky program is one such mechanism specifically targeted at human rights abuses and corruption, and the United States has imposed it against some 319 perpetrators of human rights abuses or corruption, Johnston said. (The most recent sanctions imposed under the act include Cuban officials involved in repressing recent protests in Cuba, corrupt Bulgarian officials, and corrupt Guatemalan officials.)

"We've seen a continued emphasis on using these tools in the transition to the Biden administration, with 73 cases [of sanctions having been reported] since Biden took office," he noted.

And it is increasingly not just the United States.

"The US was the first country to use this mechanism, but it is spreading," Johnston said. "Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, [and] the European Union all have these mechanisms, and Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are all considering them. This is a significant pivot toward increasing multilateral use of these mechanisms."

While getting governments to impose targeted sanctions is not a sure thing, the voices of global civil society can make a difference, Johnston said.

"These are wholly discretionary and [it]... can be difficult to [ensure that they are]... imposed in practice," he said. "To give the U.S. government credit, we have seen them really listen to NGOs, and about 35 percent of all sanctions have a basis in complaints [nonprofits]... facilitated from civil society groups around the world."

And while such sanctions can be politicized, the United States has imposed them on some allied countries, such as members of the Saudi government involved in the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and in cases of honor killings in Pakistan, Johnston noted.

"But we still have never seen them used in the context of the Philippines and Indonesia."

Maybe it is time.

In addition to the speakers quoted above, our event also included Marco Perduca, representing Associazone Luca Coscioni, who served in Italy's Senate from 2007-2013.

Our event elicited responses from the government on Indonesia, live during the Questions and Comments section; and from the government of the Philippines in writing later. We also had questions and comments from Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli of NGO FAAAT; iDEFEND Philippines Secretary General Rose Trajano; and Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines, who was a speaker on our 2021 HLPF event.

full event video (YouTube playlist):

full event video (single file):

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

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

Original invite:

Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC
side event on the online margins of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Treaty (ICC)

Wednesday 15 December 2021, 7:00am New York / 1:00pm The Hague / 8:00pm Manila

Zoom registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYrdeqoqTMiGda-kkne8zE-zA9LxojrGwz9
F
acebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/77796516946/videos/1743934149133434
Y
ouTube livestream: https://youtu.be/VCwxNrBDwXk

Since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has presided over a drug war extrajudicial killing campaign in which NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have died. In response to the threat and now reality of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the Duterte administration has argued the ICC lacks jurisdiction because the Philippines has an accountability process underway. But the scope of the government's investigations, and of any results from them, both remain very small.

"Keeping It Real" will discuss the Philippine Department of Justice's Interagency Task Force, the continuing reality of government orchestrated extrajudicial killings, the administration's recent motion to suspend the ICC investigation, and the incarceration of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima as it approaches its five-year mark and as she runs for reelection from jail.

Famous human rights attorney Chel Diokno keynoted our forum.
Keynote: Atty Jose Manuel I. "Chel" Diokno is Founding Dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, where he served as Dean from 2010-2019; and is Chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the oldest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines. Already prominent in legal circles, Diokno gained greater fame while running for Senate in 2019, especially among Filipino youth, and he is a 1Sambayan coalition candidate for Senate in 2022.

Comments on ICC process by Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch

Other commenters to be announced.

co-moderators:
David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, former Senator, Italy, 2008-2013

Organized by DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org, cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni, Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, Filipino American Human Rights Alliance, Forum Droghe, other cosponsors TBA.

Register here. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to read about our work in this area.

Senate Names Meth an "Emerging Drug Threat," UFCW Marijuana Industry Unionization, More... (12/14/21)

A bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids is sickening people in Florida, Chicago is handing out fentanyl test strips in a bid to bring down record overdose numbers, and more.

Meth seized in Nebraska. No, it was not cooked by Breaking Bad's Heisenberg. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

UFCW Gains Another Victory in Marijuana Industry Unionization Drive. An ongoing drive by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) gained another victory this week as 70 employees of the four-store Sweet Flower Cannabis chain in Southern California voted to join the union. The chain just got a license for a fifth shop in Culver City, and staff there will also be able to join the union under a labor peace agreement. The UFCW has won several other unionization votes in California this year, as well as at pot businesses in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The union represents about 10,000 workers in the industry. The Teamsters are also active in unionizing the industry, winning victories in California and Illinois.

Methamphetamine

Senate Passes Grassley, Feinstein Methamphetamine Bill. The Senate on Monday passed the Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021 (S. 854), legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill designates methamphetamine as an emerging drug threat and directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to implement a plan to address the rising use of methamphetamine. The bill "requires ONDCP to develop, implement and make public, within 90 days of enactment, a national emerging threats response plan that is specific to methamphetamine." The same bill passed the Senate last year but failed to move in the House.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Severe Bleeding From 'Spice' Synthetic Cannabinoid Leaves 35 Hospitalized in Florida. At least 35 people in the Tampa Bay area have recently been hospitalized with severe bleeding after ingesting the synthetic cannabinoid "Spice," the state's poison control center reported. Victims have reported bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, vomiting blood, blood in urine and stool, and heavy menstrual bleeding -- symptoms associated with a condition known as coagulopathy, where the blood's ability to clot is impaired.

The exact cause of the bleeding was not stated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "...chemicals [in synthetic marijuana] are often being changed as the makers of spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals." Similar reactions in a 2018 incident involving Spice were attributed to the chemical brodifacoum having been added.

Florida has not legalized marijuana and allows only limited access to medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Now Passing Out Free Fentanyl Test Strips. With fentanyl now linked to most opioid overdose deaths in the city, the Chicago Department of Health has begun offering free fentanyl test strips to the public. The program first began in October, and so far, more than 7,000 strips have been distributed, mostly through harm reduction organizations. The Cook County Department of Public Health is also distributing fentanyl test strips in the city and its suburbs. Cook County registered a record number of opioid-related deaths in 2020.

St. Louis Repeals Marijuana Law, Haiti President Likely Murdered by Well-Heeled Drug Traffickers, More... (12/13/21)

No more pre-employment marijuana testing in Philly starting next month, Malta is set to become the first country is Europe to legalize weed this week, and more.

assassinated Haitian President Jovunel Moïse
Marijuana Policy

Philadelphia Ban on Pre-Hire Marijuana Testing Takes Effect on January 1. An ordinance passed by the city council in April and signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney (D) that bars employers from requiring potential hires to submit to pre-employment testing for marijuana will go into effect on January 1. The ban does not address testing of current employees, nor does it stop employers from firing people for being high on the job or having marijuana at the workplace. There are some exceptions to the ban: law enforcement positions, jobs requiring a commercial drivers license, and child care and health care workers.

St. Louis Mayor Signs Bill Repealing Marijuana Laws. Mayor Tishaura Jones (D) has singed Board Bill 132, which repeals the city's laws related to the possession of small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia. "We are seeing a major shift in the way our country sees not just marijuana, but how it connects to public safety, incarceration, and economic opportunity in our communities," said Mayor Jones. "This law will help reduce racial disparities in our policing, make our city safer, and make St. Louis more competitive in hiring for city positions." Of 600 people arrested on marijuana charges in the city in the last three years, nearly 500 were black, the mayor's office said.

International

Haiti's Leader Kept a List of Drug Traffickers; His Assassins Came for It. Assassinated Haitian President Jovenal Moïse was moving against drug and arms smugglers, and that may be what is behind his murder, The New York Times reports: "Before being assassinated in July, he had been working on a list of powerful politicians and businesspeople involved in Haiti's drug trade, with the intention of handing over the dossier to the American government, according to four senior Haitian advisers and officials tasked with drafting the document.

The president had ordered the officials to spare no one, not even the power brokers who had helped propel him into office, they said -- one of several moves against suspected drug traffickers that could explain a motive for the assassination." When the gunmen who killed him burst into his residence, they stayed long enough to search through his files for his list of suspected drug traffickers, which one of the captured gunmen said was a key target.

"I would be a fool to think that narco-trafficking and arms trafficking didn't play a role in the assassination," said Daniel Foote, who served as the US special envoy to Haiti before stepping down last month. "Anyone who understands Haiti's politics or economics understands this." Some of the traffickers are linked to former President Michel Martelly, and his brother-in-law, Haitian businessman Charles Saint-Remy, at whom many fingers are being pointed, has been named by the DEA as a suspected drug trafficker.

Malta Set to Legalize Marijuana This Week, Would Be First in Europe. The Maltese parliament is set to approve a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday that the president has already promised to sign into law. People 18 and up could possess up to seven grams (a quarter ounce) and grow up to four plants. Home growers could possess up to 50 grams of their harvest at home. The bill does not envision commercial sales, but instead would allow for non-profit cooperatives to grow and distribute marijuana to members.

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