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Biden Commutes Sentences of 75 Drug Offenders, New Poll Has Strong Support for Drug Decrim, More... (4/26/22)

Marijuana legalization continues to be popular with the public, and support for drug decriminalization is trending the same way, and more.

Unlike his predecessor, Joe Biden used the formal pardon process to issue commutations. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Shows Unwavering Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the market research firm SSRS finds supermajority support for marijuana legalization, with 69 percent of respondents favoring the move. Support was strongest among Democrats (78 percent), followed by independents (74 percent) and Republicans (54 percent). Additionally, 58 percent of respondents, including 71 percent of millennials, agreed that "alcohol is more harmful to a person's health than marijuana." This poll comes on the hells of numerous other polls in recent years showing strong, enduring majority support for legalization. The poll hasa margin of error of +/– 3.5 percentage points.

Drug Policy

New Poll Shows Supermajority Support for Drug Decriminalization. A new survey from Data for Progress and the People's Action Institute shows strong majority support for drug decriminalization. The poll asked: "Last year, the state of Oregon decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. Instead of being prosecuted, a person possessing small amounts of drugs will receive a fine (like a parking ticket). A person can get the fine waived if they participate in screenings from services like treatment, housing, mental health care, and employment. Would you support or oppose a similar measure nationwide?" Overall, 69 percent of respondents supported decriminalization, with Democrats leading the way (82 percent), followed by independents (75 percent), and even a majority of Republicans (54 percent). The poll also asked numerous other questions related to drug policy and harm reduction, with one striking finding that vast majorities of respondents (72 percent) had never read or heard about harm reduction programs.  The poll had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

Pardons and Commutations

Biden Commutes Sentences of 75 Drug Offenders. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced he was commuting the sentences of 75 drug offenders and pardoning three other people. This is the first time Biden has made use of his presidential pardon power. The administration described the pardons and commutations as part of broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system, and it came the same day the Justice Department announced a $145 million plan to provide job skills training to federal prisoners. The administration said Biden is considering further commutations as well even as it noted he had issued more clemency grants than any of the last five presidents this early in their terms. The pardons and commutations went through the usual clemency process, a reversal of how President Trump relied on friends and allies for recommendations and generally used his pardon power to benefit people with wealth and connections, especially pro-Trump political operatives such as Steve Bannon and Roger Stone (although Trump did commute the sentences of a handful of celebrity-endorsed drug offenders). 

Swiss Pharmacy Pot Sales Pilot Project Gets OK, Singapore Set to Hang Mentally Disabled Drug Offender, More... (4/20/22)

A new CBS poll shows continuing strong support for marijuana legalization, Honduras is becoming a coca and cocaine production center, and more.

Yet another poll showing strong support for marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Policy

CBS Poll: Two-Third of Americans Want Marijuana Legalized Federally and in Their States. A new CBS/YouGov poll is remarkably consistent with other recent national polls, finding that 66 percent of Americans want marijuana to be legal at both the federal and state levels. The poll also found broad acceptance of marijuana businesses, with just 30 percent saying they would oppose such a business. The level of support for state-level legalization was identical to the level of support for federal legalization.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. The House Legislative Oversight Committee has voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2704, but only after adding several "poison pill" amendments, including one that would exclude transgender women from accessing no-interest loans available to women and minorities applying for cannabis business funding. Bill sponsor Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Defiance) and committee Democrats said they passed the bill with the amendments in hopes they would be stripped out on the House floor.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3361) passed out of the Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Tuesday and now heads for a House floor vote. Identical companion legislation has already passed the Senate. The bill from Sen. Tom Davis (R) has been under consideration since January 2021.

Louisiana Bill to Ease Access to Medical Marijuana Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to expand access to medical marijuana by changing the agency that regulates the industry and adding the University of Louisiana at Monroe to the list of facilities that can do research on medical marijuana, House Bill 418, passed the House Health and Welfare Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill also would expand the number of licenses from 10 to 25, with 30 percent of the new licenses set aside for social equity applicants.

International

Honduras Sees Proliferating Coca Growing, Cocaine Labs. After years of low-level test plots, coca production and cocaine labs are proliferating in the Central American nation of Honduras, far from coca's traditional home in the Andes. Authorities reported destroying more than half a million coca plants in the first three months of this year alone, more than seized in all of 2021. One coca farm extended over 42 acres and held 345,000 plants, as well as three cocaine labs capable of producing 50 kilograms of cocaine every month. Most of the planting is going on in the mountains of Colon and Olancho departments but is also spreading to the nearby departments of Yoro and Gracia a Dios. The first large coca farm in the country was found just five years ago.

Singapore Set to Execute Mentally Disabled Malaysian Drug Offender. A Malaysian man who defenders say is mentally disabled is set to be hung next week after losing a final appeal. Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was sentenced to death in 2010 for trying to smuggle less than 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. His case has sparked widespread condemnation, including from the European Union. The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network has also called for a halt to the execution. Singapore had enacted a moratorium on executions during the coronavirus pandemic, but that ended just weeks ago with the execution of another drug offender.

Swiss Pilot Project to Allow Marijuana Sales from Pharmacies Gets Green Light. A plan to allow a few hundred people in Basel to buy marijuana in pharmacies has gotten the go-ahead from the Federal Office of Public Health. This is the first marijuana pilot project to be authorized since the country cleared the way for them last May. The Federal Office of Public Health says the goal of the projects is to heighten understanding of "alternative regulatory forms" that could be the basis for future legalization legislation. The program will get underway in midsummer, with 400 participants able to get marijuana products. The program will last 2 ½ years, with participants questioned regularly about their consumption and their physical and mental health.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Public Health

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

Sentencing Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Sentencing Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

Congress Passes, President Signs Omnibus Funding Bill That Has Reform Advocates Fuming [FEATURE]

The Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday has drug reform and civil rights groups fuming over both what was left out and what made the final cut. The bill extends class-wide scheduling and harsh criminal penalties for fentanyl-related substances, underfunds harm reduction services, and still includes a rider that bars the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

Drug reform and civil rights groups are directing some ire at Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
"We're deeply disappointed in House and Senate leadership for allowing this version of the bill to move forward and neglecting this rare opportunity to advance long overdue reforms," the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release after the bill passed Congress last week.

Congress ended up allocating a measly $18 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Disease and the Opioid Epidemic program that supports needle exchange and overdose prevention program. While the figure is a $5 million increase over the last year, it fails to respond to urgent need to expand harm reduction services.

"With an overdose crisis that claimed more than 100,000 lives in 2021 alone, we urgently need to employ evidence-based services to save lives. Syringe services programs directly reach people at highest risk for overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as other harms associated with drug use. It's past time that lawmakers prioritize making more of these lifesaving harm reduction services available," said DPA deputy director of National Affairs Grant Smith.

While Congress is not paying enough attention to harm reduction, its move to extend the Trump-era temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances will only increase the harms of criminal justice system exposure for people of color while failing to address the overdose crisis, civil rights advocates said. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national groups, wrote a January letter to the White House opposing the move, and its members are not happy now.

"During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a press release following the vote. "For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue."

"We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation," said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. "We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution -- one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color."

"It's hard to believe Congress extended this 'temporary' policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now," said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn't helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities."

And then, there is the issue of marijuana in the nation's capital. DC residents overwhelmingly approved the Initiative 71 marijuana legalization measure in November 2014, but because the District, as a federal territory, cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from being able to implement taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The "Harris rider," named after conservative Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), frustratingly remains intact despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

"We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of DC from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested, said Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. "This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction."

That's a whole lot of disappointment and frustration with the Democratic leadership of the Congress. There may be more to come. The SAFE Banking Act remains stalled, and even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed marijuana legalization bill doesn't look like it has enough votes to pass. This could end up being a year to forget when it comes to responsible drug policies from Congress.

MS Lawmakers Reach Agreement on MedMJ Bill, Seattle City Council Approves Psychedelic Decrim, More... (1/26/22)

Thailand takes another big step toward marijuana decriminalization, San Francisco is turning a blind eye to drug use at a Tenderloin services center, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms got some attention in Seattle, Oklahoma City and Richmond this week. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Medical Marijuana Bill. House and Senate lawmakers announced Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on medical marijuana legislation and were preparing to finalize details of the legislation this week before sending the bill to Gov. Tate Reeves (R). The bill was amended in the House to reduce the amount of medical marijuana available each month for patients, in line with the concerns of Gov. Reeves. The agreement comes more than a year after voted approved a medical marijuana initiative only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Ohio Bill to Add Autism as Medical Marijuana Qualifying Condition Advances. The House Health Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 60, which would add autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the House Rules and Reference Committee, which decides which bills get a floor vote. Bill cosponsor Rep. Bill Seize (R-Cincinnati) said he was optimistic the bill would get a floor vote. "This is a good, bipartisan bill," he said, pointing out that 14 other legislators from both parties are cosponsors.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Republicans File Bills to Decriminalize Psilocybin, Encourage Research on Medical Benefits. State Reps. Daniel Pae (R) and Logan Phillips (R) have filed a pair of bills that would promote research into psilocybin's therapeutic potential, and one of them would also decriminalize small-time possession of the drug. The bills are designed to give lawmakers different options to reach similar objectives, but Pae's bill would also decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce and half of psilocybin.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill to Next Year. The House Courts of Justice Subcommittee has voted to delay consideration of a bill to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics, House Bill 898, until 2023. The move came even after the bill was amended by its sponsor, Del. Dawn Adams (D), to only apply to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics with a practitioner. The object for the delay is to build support and try again next year. A similar bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 262, remains alive.

Seattle City Council Approves Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. The city council on Monday night approved a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of activities around psychedelic drugs, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline. It was already Seattle policy not to arrest or prosecute people for personal drug possession, but this resolution further protects the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants for reasons of "religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices."

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Legislature Passes Bill to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Both the House and the Senate have approved a bill that would decriminalize fentanyl test strips. Under current law, the overdose prevention tool is considered drug paraphernalia. At least one public health initiative, Vivent Health (formerly the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin), has already distributed nearly 46,000 test strips anonymously, with no questions asked.

San Francisco Allowing People to Use Drugs Inside New Tenderloin Treatment Linkage Center. The city is turning a blind eye to drug use in an outdoor area of the mayor's new Tenderloin Linkage Center in United Nations Plaza. At the center, the city offers basic hygiene services, food, clothing, and referrals to treatment and housing services inside the building. The drug use is going on in a fenced-in area outside the building. Critics have accused the city of running an "illicit drug consumption site," but a spokesman for Mayor London Breed (D) said that the "emergency initiative is about doing everything we can to help people struggling with addiction, and getting them connected to services and treatment. As part of that, the linkage center is serving as a low-barrier site to bring people off the street."

International

Thai Narcotics Control Board Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced Wednesday that the Narcotics Control Board had approved the removal of marijuana from the country's list of controlled substances. The delisting will next be formally singed by Charnvirakul and will go into effect 120 days after notice is published in the government gazette. The move definitely clears the way for the cultivation and production of medical marijuana and hemp, but it was unclear is marijuana possession would no longer be an arrestable offense.

Mexico Cartel Drone Bombs Rivals, Vermont Drug Decriminalization Bill, More... (1/14/22)

Ohio marijuana legalization campaigners take a second stab at coming up with enough signatures for their initiated statute, Virginia lawmakers file bills to defelonize peyote and psilocybin mushrooms, and more.

A bomb dropped from a drone explodes as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacks its rivals in Michoacan. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in More Signatures. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has handed in additional signatures after falling short earlier this month. Under state law, the campaign needs 132,887 valid voter signatures to begin the initiated statute process, which would then give state legislature four months to approve it. If it doesn't, campaigners would have to gather another round of signatures and then take the matter directly to the voters. The campaign handed in more than 200,000 raw signatures earlier this month, but the secretary of state's office determined that only 119,825 were valid. Now, the campaign has handed in an additional 29,918 raw signatures. Slightly more than 13,000 of them need to be found valid for the process to continue. Stay tuned.

Psychedelics

Virginia Lawmakers File Bills to Defelonize Peyote, Psilocybin Mushrooms. State Delegate Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) has filed a bill to reduce the penalty for possession of peyote and psilocybin mushrooms from a felon to a misdemeanor. The bill is House Bill 898. Adams, who is also a nurse practitioner, cited psilocybin's growing acceptance in medical contexts, saying "It is increasingly a recognized treatment for refractory depression and PTSD. It's changed people's lives." Companion legislation has been filed in the Senate, but prospects for passage are cloudy at best, especially in the House of Delegates, where Republicans historically unfriendly to drug reform took control after last November's election.

Drug Policy

Vermont Lawmakers File Drug Decriminalization Bill. Democratic and Progressive lawmakers have joined forces to file House Bill 644, which would decriminalize the possession and sale of personal use amounts of illicit drugs. The bill sponsored by Reps. Logan Nicoll (D) and Selene Colburn (P) would make possession or distribution of small amounts of drugs an offense punishable only by a $50 fine, which could be waived by completing a health screening through a new drug treatment referral system. The "benchmark personal use" threshold would be set by a new Drug Use Standards Advisory Board. The bill has 40 initial cosponsors, nearly one-third of the House.

Sentencing

Thousands of Federal Inmates Now Being Released Under First Step Act. Thousands of federal inmates, including many drug offenders, are now eligible for immediate release after the Justice Department published a rule Thursday allowing more prisoners to participate in programs that allow them to earn shorter prison sentences. The inmates will be transferred to residential reentry centers, supervised release programs, or home confinement.

The rule published in the Federal Register on Thursday sets out how the Bureau of Prisons should apply the First Step Act. That law gave the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons considerable leeway in interpreting how to implement it, including whether credits for good time and job training that occurred before the law passed could be used to apply for early release.

International

Mexico's Jalisco New Generation Cartel Deploys Drones to Bomb Rivals. Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC), has attacked rivals in Tepalcatepec, Michoacan, with bombs dropped from a drone. Video of the attack, which featured multiple bombs dropped from the sky, appeared on Twitter. It's just the latest violent attack on Michoacan residents as the JNGC engaged in turf wars with various rivals in the state.

Residents on the ground were eventually able to shoot down the drone, but not before it dropped multiple bombs on its target. Townspeople had briefly been in a brief gunfight with JNGC in the hours before the drone attack. The mayor of the municipality, Martha Laura Mendoza, said she has pleaded with federal authorities for help fending off continuing violence. "It's been four months," she added. "No one has contacted us or offered a solution!"

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