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EVENT: Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the International Criminal Court

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
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acebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/77796516946/videos/1743934149133434
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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.

human rights attorney Chel Diokno
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.

Key Senate Democrats Block SAFE Banking Act's Inclusion in Must-Pass Defense Spending Bill [FEATURE]

In the ongoing struggle among congressional Democrats over whether to prioritize incremental marijuana reform legislation over pushing for full federal legalization, proponents of the former saw a stinging defeat this week when Senate heavyweights stripped the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) out of the Senate version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Democrats and even reformers are divided on how to advance marijuana reforms on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
The SAFE Banking Act would protect financial institutions that do business with state-legal marijuana companies even while federal marijuana prohibition remains intact. Its backers argue that it is desperately needed to protect the industry from the logistical and security burdens of conducting a billion-dollar all-cash business. They managed to get the act's language inserted into the NDAA when the measure passed the House in September.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker, who have drafted their own full legalization bill, had made it clear for weeks that they wanted to hold off on the banking bill until after Congress passes legalization. And they still felt that way this week despite pressure from other senators to keep the banking bill in the NDAA.

"We're going to keep talking, but Sen. Schumer, Sen. Booker, and I have agreed that we'll stay this course," Wyden told reporters Monday, adding that "the federal government has got to end this era of Reefer Madness."

The move infuriated SAFE Banking Act supporters. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the bill, moved to reinsert the bill language in a meeting of the House Rules Committee Wednesday, but ultimately decided not to force a vote on the amendment. And Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern lashed out at Schumer during the debate.

"I don't really quite know what the hell his problem is,"McGovern said, referring to Schumer. "But what he's doing is he's making it very difficult for a lot of small businesses -- and minority-owned businesses, too -- [who] deal with the issue of cannabis to be able to move forward and to expand and to hire more people."

The issue has also split the drug reform community, with groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) supporting the push for the SAFE Banking Act while others such as Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calling for outright legalization to be done at the same time as banking.

"Marijuana criminalization means nearly every minute someone is arrested for marijuana and it serves as the pretext for horrific interactions with law enforcement, like the death of Philando Castile," DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique said in a press release. "While we agree cannabis businesses, like any other businesses, need access to banking services -- and in fact, the DPA-supported MORE Act (HR 3617) would fully resolve the marijuana banking issue -- we cannot do so at the expense of equity and justice for Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities that have borne the brunt of prohibition. And we cannot prioritize banking services while cannabis continues to be used as justification for police violence against these communities," she added.

"By slipping SAFE into the Defense Authorization bill ahead of moving the MORE Act, Congress is sending a clear message that the industry and huge multi-state operators take precedent before the countless people that have had their lives devastated by punitive and racially-motivated drug policies," Frederique continued. "We can and must move comprehensive marijuana reform -- centered in equity, justice and community reinvestment -- first and foremost. Then, and only then, can we talk about banking inconvenience."

"We are disappointed in the elimination of the SAFE Banking provisions from the NDAA," MPP deputy director said in a Tuesday statement. "It is unacceptable that so many state-licensed cannabis businesses are operating entirely in cash simply because the Biden administration and Congress, in spite of overwhelming public support, refuse to support even modest reforms to our country's failed federal cannabis laws."

While acknowledging that the banking bill did not take on the social justice side of the equation, Schweich argued it would have been at least some progress.

"While the SAFE Banking provisions would not have addressed criminal justice reform, this was a valuable opportunity for incremental progress, a principle that has served the cannabis reform movement well for many years," he said. "Furthermore, Congress has missed an opportunity to assist hundreds of small and minority-owned businesses in medical and adult-use cannabis states across the country. Without SAFE Banking, employees of cannabis businesses will continue to face public safety risks. Cannabis businesses are experiencing burglaries, armed robberies, and thefts at disturbing rates. It is abundantly clear that leaving cannabis businesses unbanked is dangerous for both workers and the surrounding community."

NORML was equally perturbed.

"It is unfortunate that Congress failed to take this opportunity to affirm the legitimacy of state-legal marijuana markets and instead acted in a way that will continue to deny this emerging legal industry access to basic financial tools and services," NORML political director Justin Strekal said in a Tuesday statement. "Until Congressional action is taken, state-licensed marijuana businesses and those millions of Americans that patronize them will continue to be at a higher risk of robbery due to the all-cash nature of this industry. Furthermore, smaller entrepreneurs who seek to enter this industry will continue to struggle to compete against larger, more well-established and well-capitalized interests."

Despite the defeat this week, the fight to get the SAFE Banking Act back in the NDAA is not over. The current version of the NDAA will now have to go back to both chambers for final approval before heading to the president's desk, and the act's supporters will certainly try to get it reinserted before then.

Meanwhile, the prospects for actual ending federal marijuana prohibition this year appear dim, especially given that it would need 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have operated primarily as obstructionists so far. If neither the SAFE Banking Act nor marijuana legalization materializes, the Democrats will have squandered an opportunity to pass important, popular legislation. There's still next year, but it is already looking to be pretty messy in the run-up to the mid-term elections.

FL Decrim Bill, UAE Drug Reform, Guide for Psychedelic Churches, More... (11/29/21)

The Chacruna Institute releases a guide for psychedelic churches, the Justice Department says the Bureau of Prisons short-changed up to 60,000 First Step Act prisoners on their earned-time credits, and more.

Dubai skyline (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills for 2022. State Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) announced Monday that she is pre-filing two parallel bills to legalize marijuana. One bill would proceed along the statutory legislative route, while the other would ask legislators to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, which would then go before the voters. "I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law," Kulkarni said. "First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent."

Psychedelics

Chacruna Institute Releases Guide to Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. The Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines has released its comprehensive Guide to RFRA and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. This free publication aims to inform churches using psychedelic plant medicine as a sacrament on how to better establish their operation and rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

"This Guide is written to simply explain the laws and basic information needed by a psychedelic plant medicine church to make informed decisions and understand its rights and risks by operating in the United States," said Allison Hoots, member of Chacruna's Council for the Protection of Sacred Plants. The guide is a comprehensive resource on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and how a church using psychedelic plant medicine as sacrament can be informed by the law in terms of its operation and establishing its rights under RFRA. Download it here.

Drug Policy

Florida Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Decriminalize All Drugs. State Rep. Dotie Joseph (D) has filed a drug decriminalization bill, the "Collateral Consequences of Convictions and Decriminalization of Cannabis and All Drugs Act" (House Bill 725). The bill would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by no more than a $50 fine and automatically expunge past arrest and conviction records if the offense is more than a year old. The bill adds that the legislature prioritizes "rehabilitative health intervention in lieu of criminalization for personal usage of controlled substances, including but not limited to stimulants including cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, heroin, fentanyl, depressants or benzodiazepines, and other addictive controlled substances." To that end, charges "associated with the personal usage and possession of controlled substances that do not involve production, distribution or sale shall be decriminalized in favor of civil fines and referral for drug rehabilitation."

Sentencing

Justice Department Finds Federal Bureau of Prisons Failed to Apply Earned Time Credits to First Step Act Prisoners. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has released a report charging that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) failed to properly credit up to 60,000 federal prisoners with time served under the First Step Act's recidivism programs. "We are concerned that the delay in applying earned time credits may negatively affect inmates who have earned a reduction in their sentence or an earlier placement in the community," Horowitz wrote in the report. Under the First Step Act, inmates who completed a recidivism program could receive time-served credit, but the BOP told the inspector general the credits were not applied becausethey "must be negotiated with the national union because it would create changes to conditions of employment, including determinations and application of earned time credits for inmates, for Unit Team staff working in BOP institutions who are bargaining unit employees," according to the report.

International

United Arab Emirates Enacts Drug Reforms. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dramatically amended its drug laws to allow for drug treatment instead of prison for first-time offenders. The new law mandates the creation of specialized treatment and rehabilitation units throughout the country, where judges can place offenders instead of in prison. The new law also changes the UAE's stance toward foreigners who get caught carrying food items or other products containing drugs (mainly marijuana). Under the old law, deportation was mandatory in such cases, but now people caught with such items will face no charges, but the items will be seized. The new law also increases penalties for some repeat offenders and imposes a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for anyone "who induced, incited or facilitated drug use for another person." The new law goes into effect January 2.

OR Has Another $270 Million for Drug Treatment Programs, Germany to Legalize Marijuana, More... (11/19/21)

Germany is moving to legalize marijuana, DC is moving to legalize marijuana sales, and more.

Employers are beginning to move away from drug testing workers and job applicants, a new survey finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC Council Holds Hearing on Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. The DC Council on Friday held its first public hearing on a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana in the District. Marijuana has been legal in the District since voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014, but not sales, which has instead emerged as a sort of gray market via the practice of "gifting" marijuana. There is widespread support for legalizing sales, from Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to members of the Council. That would require ending a six-year-old congressional prohibition on sales, which Democrats are already moving to repeal, but which may not happen this year. And then there's the possibility that Republicans can take back control of the House next year and reinstate the ban. But at the Council, the debate is now underway.

Drug Testing

Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Employers Dropping Drug Testing Requirements to Attract Workers. A survey of some 45,000 employers in North America and Europe finds that about one out of 10 are dropping drug testing requirements as a way to attract new hires and keep current employees. Nine percent of those responding said they had "eliminated job screenings or drug tests" as a way to either attract or keep their employees. Sixty-nine percent of respondents acknowledged experiencing "difficulty" in filling staffing positions in the current job market, a 15-year high. The increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana is also having an impact, with Amazon dropping pre-employment marijuana testing in June, and a number of cities and states have enacted policies restricting testing for marijuana.

Drug Treatment

Oregon Set to Spend $270 Million on Drug Treatment Centers as Part of Decriminalization Law. The state Oversight and Accountability Council, created as part of the successful Measure 110 drug decriminalization initiative passed last November, is set to distribute $270 million to groups treating people addicted to drugs. The council has now opened the grant process for groups to seek a share of those funds, which come from legal marijuana tax revenues as mandated by Measure 110. Meanwhile, the council is continuing to craft rules for the new Behavioral Health Resource Networks to increase access to treatment and other services. "Our vision is that by funding BHRNs, there will be a collaboration of networks that include culturally and linguistically specific and responsive, trauma-informed and gender affirming care that will meet the needs of anyone seeking services who have been negatively affected by substance use and the war on drugs," said Oversight & Accountability Tri-chair LaKeesha Dumas.

International

German Coalition Parties Agree to Legalize Marijuana. The three parties set to form the country's next governing coalition have agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats are 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. Legalization would ensure quality control, protect minors, and prevent the distribution of contaminated products, the paper said. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

IN Democrats Call for Marijuana Legalization, PA ACLU Opposes Parental Drug Screening Bill, More... (11/15/21)

Renewed clashes between prison gangs linked to rival drug cartels left at least 68 more dead over the weekend, an Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative gets hit with a nuisance lawsuit, and more.

The Pennsylvania ACLU says a proposed parental drug screening bill is unconstitutional. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Indiana Democratic Party Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The Indiana Democratic Party, has announced its full support for marijuana legalization and called on the General Assembly to get the job done. They also called on Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) to rescind his opposition to legalization. Bills to legalize marijuana have so far gone nowhere in the GOP-dominated legislature, but the Democrats said legalization "would provide the opportunity to create an additional revenue stream for the state, create good-paying jobs, develop a long-term cash crop for Indiana's ag and business communities, provide medicinal opportunities for people like the state's veterans and seniors, and could start the process of expunging records for simple possession across the state."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative Hit with Legal Challenge. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is being challenged in court by an incarcerated person, Paul Tay. Tay's lawsuit raises numerous claims about the constitutionality of the initiative, including challenging the validity of signatures gathered in Indian County. "We believe that we have a really strong case," ORCA Director Jed Green said. "[The man filing this challenge] wants attention… this is the second time that he's done this." Green called the lawsuit "a shotgun challenge," going after multiple points and seeing if any of them stick. Green says the challenge is what he calls a shotgun challenge, going after multiple points and seeing if any of them stick. "We don't believe that a lot of it is really pertinent," he said. There will be a hearing on the challenge on December 14.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania ACLU Opposes Bill to Compel Parental Drug Screening in Abuse and Neglect Cases. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has come out against HB 1737, which would allow county children and youth services (CYS) agencies to obtain court orders to compel parents to undergo drug and alcohol testing during child welfare investigations if there is evidence that impairment due to drug or alcohol use is a contributing cause of alleged abuse or neglect. "Because drug testing is considered a search, both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions require the government to show that it has probable cause before it can compel an individual to undergo a drug test," the group said. "HB 1737 would permit unconstitutional intrusions on parents' privacy rights because it does not contain a requirement that a CYS agency have probable cause to believe that an act of child abuse or neglect has occurred and that drug testing the parent will reveal evidence relating to such abuse." The bill passed the House last week.

International

Ecuador Prison Clash Leaves at Least 68 Dead. In the latest outbreak of fighting among prison gangs linked to international drug trafficking groups, at least 68 prisoners were killed in an hours-long gun battle Saturday inside the Litoral Penitentiary, the country's largest prison. This is the second major outbreak of violence at Litoral in less than two months. In September, 119 prisoners were killed in gang-related clashes there. Another 79 prisoners were killed in clashes last February. So far this year, more than 300 prisoners have died in the violence. The prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency decreed by President Guillermo Lasso in October that empowers security forces to fight drug trafficking and other crimes. The country's prisons hold some 40,000 inmates, including 15,000 jailed awaiting trial, and are filled way above capacity.

HUD to Continue Evicting Residents for Marijuana Use, Singapore Drug Execution Delayed, More... (11/9/21)

Another poll has a solid national majority for marijuana legalization, an Ohio judge gets punished for jailing a court spectator for refusing a drug test, and more.

You still can't do this in public housing--even in states where marijuana is legal. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rasmussen Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Rasmussen poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, with only 23 percent opposed. The poll comes just days after a Gallup poll reported support for marijuana legalization holding steady at 68 percent. Even 54 percent of Republicans support legalization, along with 68 percent of Democrats and 62 percent among independents. When respondents were asked if legalization should be done at the local, state, or federal level, 47 percent said the federal government should be in charge, 32 favored the states, and 11 percent wanted local action.

Infrastructure Bill Includes Provision Allowing Research with Marijuana from Pot Shops. The massive infrastructure spending bill approved by the House last Friday includes a provision that will eventually allow researchers access to the marijuana actually being consumed by users instead of relying only on government-grown marijuana from its farm in Mississippi. That provision will require the transportation secretary to work with the attorney general and the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a report within two years with recommendations on allowing scientists access to storefront marijuana to study impaired driving.

Federal Housing Authority to Continue Taking Punitive Actions Against Marijuana Consumers. In response to a request for clarification from to Rep. Elizabeth Holmes-Norton (D-DC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has reaffirmed its longstanding policy of banning marijuana users from federally-subsidized housing, even in states where it is legal. In a letter to Holmes-Norton, the agency says that it will continue to enforce policies that involve the "termination of the tenancy of any household" in instances where a tenant is found to have engaged in the use of a controlled substance while on the premises — "including [the use of] state legalized medical marijuana." Because marijuana remains classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance, "HUD prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana," the letter reads.

South Dakota Activists Miss Initiative Signature Deadline but Look to Federal Court Decision for More Time. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws announced Sunday that they would not turn in signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative by a Monday deadline, but are hoping that a federal court ruling will give them until next May to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. In August, the federal district court in the state ruled that the state's election law requiring signatures be handed in a year before the election was unconstitutional, pushing the deadline to the May before the election and enjoined officials from enforcing that provision. The administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is appealing the decision, but the activists argue that "the May 3 deadline is the law in South Dakota and we feel confident that we can rely on that extension." Voters in the state approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it has been blocked by lower courts and a final decision is still pending at the state Supreme Court.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Suspended for Jailing Spectator over Drug Test Refusal. The state Supreme Court has suspended a Seneca County judge for a year without pay for ordering a courtroom spectator to undergo a drug test and then holding that person in contempt and jailing her for refusing to do so. In the unanimous opinion, the court held that Judge Mark Repp violated rules of professional conduct for judges in the state, including a failure to perform all his judicial duties fairly and impartially. The woman, who was the girlfriend of the defendant before the court "suffered great personal indignities and emotional distress as the result of the security and medical screenings she had to endure during her incarceration, on top of the anxiety regarding the care and well-being of her two young children." The boyfriend was a drug court participant, and the Supreme Court held tat Repp's behavior toward him and his girlfriend was "undignified, improper, and discourteous."

International

Malaysia Okays Use of Medical Marijuana. Heath Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has formally acknowledged that marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes. The acknowledgement came in response to a question from parliament. Jamaluddin said the medicinal use of marijuana complies with Malaysian drug laws, but that imports and the wholesale trade must be licensed. Medical marijuana should be sold by a registered medical practitioner or pharmacist. "Therefore, if there are parties who have sufficient scientific evidence to use cannabis (hemp) for any medicinal purpose by taking into account the aspects of quality, safety and effectiveness, then the application to register cannabis products for medicinal purposes can be submitted to DCA [Drug Control Authority]] to be evaluated and registered under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984 in order to be marketed in Malaysia," Khairy said in a written reply to the enquiry.

Singapore Delays Appeal Hearing on Man Set to Be Executed for 1.5 Ounces of Heroin. The nation's top court has postponed an appeal hearing for Malaysian national Nagenthran K. Dharmalingam, who was sentenced to death for trying to smuggle 1.5 grams of heroin into the country. Dharmalingam, who his attorneys say is intellectually disabled, was set to be executed Monday, but was delayed amidst an international campaign by human rights groups when the high court accepted an appeal. The hearing was originally set for Tuesday, with Dharmalingam set to be executed Wednesday if he lost on appeal. The appeals court noted that Dharmalingam had tested positive for COVID-19 and sent him away from the courtroom Tuesday, saying, "We have to issue a stay of the execution until all proceedings are concluded. That is the proper order of things."

GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, Mexico Blames US Guns for Bolstering Cartels, More... (11/8/21)

A Malaysian man set to be hanged in Singapore over 43 grams of heroin has won a temporary reprieve, our supply chain woes include 72,000 truckers felled by drug testing, and more.

Drug testing---especially for marijuana--is costing the economy tens of thousands fo truck drivers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming. US Rep. Nancy Mace (R-NC) has drafted a "compromise" marijuana legalization bill that aims for a happy middle between merely rescheduling marijuana, as proposed by some other Republican lawmakers, and the comprehensive bill that Democrats are championing. The proposed bill, known as the States Reform Act, now in preliminary draft form, would deschedule marijuana, impose a 3.75 percent excise tax on weed sales, limit the FDAs regulatory authority to medical marijuana, make the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the lead regulatory agency, and make certain marijuana convictions expungable. The bill has dim prospects in the current Democratically-controlled Congress, but could open the way for similar legislation if Republicans take control after next year's elections.

Drug Testing

Supply Chain Woes Include 72,000 Truckers Taken Off the Road by Failed Drug Tests, Mostly for Marijuana. The American Trucking Association says the industry has a driver shortfall of 80,000, which is contributing to the economy's supply chain woes, but at the same time, some 72,000 truckers have been forced off the roads in the past two years by tough federal drug testing restrictions. The Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, a registry designed to increase safety on the highways, went into effect in January 2020. "It’s a staggering number of drivers we have lost" because of the new drug-testing rules, said Jeremy Reymer, chief executive of industry recruiter DriverReach. The majority (56 percent were sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. "There needs to be the ability to test for real-time impairment and not just recent or long-term past use of marijuana," said Scott Duvall, director of safety and compliance for TransForce Group, which runs truck driving schools and rents out drivers.

Foreign Policy

Mexico Calls on US Government, Courts for Help Stemming Flow of American Guns to Drug Cartels. Mexican officials say illegal guns are flowing into the country from the US and are contributing to rising homicide rates and empowering the drug cartels responsible for most of the killings. "We estimate that half a million weapons are trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico every year. The problem is that all this weaponry is getting to the criminal organizations, giving them very strong firepower to commit all kinds of crimes," said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, Mexico’s consul general in El Paso. The Mexican government has now filed a lawsuit to try to block the flow. We have never meddled with the Second Amendment. This is not against the rights of the people of the United States to buy and own a gun," Ibarra said. "We (sued) gun manufacturers and distributors we believe are engaging in negligent commercial practices because they know the weaponry they produce is being trafficked to Mexico and is being used in criminal activity."

International

Singapore Temporarily Halts Execution of Malaysian Man Over 1 ½ Ounces of Heroin. Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for smuggling 43 grams of heroin into the country, has won at least a temporary reprieve an international human rights campaign to spare the man, who supporters say is intellectually disabled. The execution is now halted until the constitutional appeal is heard on Tuesday, alongside a separate appeal for psychiatrists to assess Dharmalingam. If both appeals are unsuccessful, he will be hanged as scheduled on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats Move to Allow Legal DC Marijuana Sales, Ecuador State of Emergency for Drugs, More... (10/20/21)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is confronting drug policy issues as he visits Latin America this week, New York tells employers it can't test workers for marijuana use, and more.

Colombian peasants don't wand to be sprayed with coca-killing herbicides. (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Democrats Move to Let DC Legalize Marijuana Sales. In a package of spending bills unveiled Monday, Senate Democrats have removed a long-standing rider that has blocked the city of Washington, DC, from implemented legal marijuana sales for the past six years. The House took similar action earlier this summer, even though President Biden kept the rider in his budget proposal to Congress. It is not quite a done deal yet, though: Congress must still pass the budget, which is expected to happen in December. The move won plaudits from the marijuana advocacy group NORML, which said: "The omission of the D.C. rider acknowledges the local will of the residents of the District, who overwhelmingly favor retail marijuana sales. The only reason the District is unable to defy the federal government’s marijuana prohibition policies in the same way that other states have is that it lacks statehood and is under direct oversight from Congress."

New York Employers Cannot Test Workers for Marijuana, State Says. The state Labor Department issued new guidance for employers Tuesday that bans them from testing workers for marijuana—unless the employee appears visibly impaired on the job. "Observable signs of use that do not indicate impairment on their own cannot be cited as an articulable symptom of impairment," the guidance states. The new guidance does not apply to workers, such as commercial vehicle drivers, who are subject to drug testing under state or federal law.

Foreign Policy

Human Rights Watch Letter Urges State Department to Support Human Rights, Oppose Coca Spraying in Colombia. In a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken ahead of his meeting Wednesday in Bogota with Colombian President Ivan Duque, Human Rights Watch called on the US government to support human rights, noting that "President Duque’s administration has pursued several misguided and dysfunctional polices, including on drug policy, and there has been an increase in abuses by armed groups." The group called for "a strong public and private response by the Biden administration" to curb violence by armed groups, police abuses against protestors, and oppose plans to reinstate the fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate. On coca eradication, Human Rights Watch called for the US to "unequivocally oppose plans to reinstate fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate," fully fund crop substitution programs and ensure protection for people involved in them, and "assess US drug and security policies in Colombia to ensure that they help address the root causes of violence by strengthening the presence of civilian state institutions."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency to Fight Drugs on Eve on US Secretary of State Visit. Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso on Monday declared a 60-day state of emergency to confront drug trafficking and a rising number of killings. Under the emergency decree, the military will join drug and arms confiscation operations in nine of the country's 24 provinces, including Guayas, the home of Guayaquil, the country's primary port and largest city. The crackdown will also see increased police patrols and is "oriented towards and focused on guaranteeing citizens... protection from crime and violence." At a Tuesday press conference, visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he understood that countries must sometimes take such measures but added that democratic norms must be upheld.

Philippines Says It Will Review Thousands of Drug War Killing. Faced with a looming formal investigation into drug war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Philippines Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra said his Justice Department will enlarge its review of more than 6,000 drug killings for which Philippines police have taken responsibility (Human rights groups put the actual number of killings at more than 30,000, many of them conducted by shadowy death squads.) "Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will review these thousands of other cases, too," Guevarra said in an apparent shift from the Duterte government's unyielding defense of its policies but also in an apparent effort to blunt the ICC's investigation. The Duterte government argues that it does not need to cooperate with the ICC because its own justice system is capable of dealing with police huma rights abuses. Guevarra's remarks came as the Justice Department released details of 52 drug war killings.

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll, UN Report on Arbitrary Detention in War on Drugs, More... (10/15/21)

Baltimore drug arrests are down dramatically thanks to a policy shift by the local prosecutor, Virginia has sealed the records of more than 64,000 small-time pot-dealing charges, and more.

More than 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period ending in March 2021. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Seals 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges. The state has sealed records of more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges, the legislature's Cannabis Oversight Commission heard Thursday. They have been scrubbed from the state's criminal records database, which is used by employers to screen job applicants. Another 333,000 simple possession convictions have also been sealed. The state was ordered to expunge the records as part of the marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll. Drug overdose deaths, primarily but not exclusively around opioid use, hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, but the number could go even higher because the numbers are only provisional, and the CDC has estimated predicted overdose deaths during this period would total more than 99,000. The big jump in fatal drug overdoses came as the country was in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and as fentanyl pervades ever more illicit drug markets—including being used as a cut in non-opioids, such as meth and cocaine—but also reflects a two-decade old trend of rising overdose deaths.

Baltimore Drug Possession Arrests Are Just About Extinct. Baltimore Police on Thursday released data showing that both felony and misdemeanor drug arrests are down, with the latter down dramatically. So far this year, police have arrested 796 people on drug felonies, down 19 percent from the 978 arrests during the same period last year. But when it comes to drug misdemeanors, police have arrested only 38 people so far this year, down a whopping 91 percent from the 445 during the same period last year. The declines are a direct result of a policy decision made last year by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to stop prosecuting certain drug offenses, including drug possession. Conservative local media is criticizing the policy, saying that it has allowed open-air drug dealing to flourish, but the police, the mayor's office, and Mosby's office all say open-air drug markets remain a priority.  

Recent UN Report on Arbitrary Detention and Drug Policies Underscores Urgent Need for Reform, Includes Call for Drug Decriminalization. A recent United Nations human rights report details the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the drug war in countries around the world. The report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) finds that arbitrary detention in drug cases is swelling jail and prison populations precisely as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to reduce prison overcrowding. Arbitrary detention can include people arrested without a proper warrant or detained in ways that do not respect procedural rights. The report notes that states are required to uphold human rights obligations under international law, but that relying on harsh drug war policies creates sustained violations of those policies. "People who use drugs are particularly at risk of arbitrary detention," the report said, pointing to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru, where people arrested on drug charges are automatically jailed pending trial, but also cited the use of torture, particularly in Mexico. The report ends with 17 recommendations, starting with a call to UN members to "decriminalize the use, possession, acquisition or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including the possession of associated paraphernalia." Other recommendations include calling for an end to drug courts, ending the participation of the military in drug enforcement operations, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to cultivate and use plants traditionally grown for spiritual, medicinal, and cultural purposes.

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