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DEA Commits to Expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment, Human Rights Watch Calls for End to US Pot Prohibition, More... (3/23/22)

Rhode Island lawmakers are trying to thrash out agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Policy Project releases a report on the states lagging behind on marijuana reform, and more.

Buprenorphine. The DEA says it is commited to expanding medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as bupe. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Human Rights Watch Calls on US to End Marijuana Prohibition Now. Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal government to legalize marijuana as "a much-needed move toward a US drug policy grounded in human rights, harm reduction, and health." The group noted that in the last Congress, the House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and said a House floor vote on this year's version of the bill, HR 3617 is "an urgent step toward advancing long overdue reforms in the criminal justice system and beyond." It also called on members of Congress to "heed the call of a diverse coalition of organization and cosponsor the bill. House leadership should immediately bring the bill to a floor vote," the group said.

Marijuana Policy Project Releases Report on the States Lagging Behind on Marijuana Reform. Recognizing the 50-year anniversary of the report issued by the Shafer Commission, which investigated the effects of cannabis use on specific communities and found that small amounts of cannabis do not harm society and should not result in criminalization or jail time, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) released a new report on Tuesday, Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail. The report examines the laws that lag the furthest behind public opinion: the 19 states and federal government, which have not even "decriminalized" simple possession of cannabis. In those states, it examines penalties for simple possession, arrest rates, and racial disparities in arrests and provides a glimpse at some of the damage inflicted by draconian laws. It also reviews unsolved crime rates in the states that continue to use limited law enforcement resources to arrest and jail adults for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Meet to Ponder Competing Marijuana Legalization Proposals. The House Finance Committee met on Tuesday to discuss competing marijuana legalization proposals from the House and Senate leadership and Gov. Dan McKee (D). McKee proposed a legalization plan in his budget package, House Bill 7123, while the legislative leaders are backing Senate Bill 2430. At the hearing, advocates complained of inadequate equity provisions in the Senate bill, with members saying they were open to feedback. The governor's bill on the other hand, has provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.

Drug Treatment

DEA Commits to Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday announced the Drug Enforcement Administration’s continued commitment to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment to help those suffering from substance use disorder. "In this moment, when the United States is suffering tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths every year, the DEA’s top priority is doing everything in our power to save lives," said Administrator Milgram. "Medication-assisted treatment helps those who are fighting to overcome substance use disorder by sustaining recovery and preventing overdoses. At DEA, our goal is simple: we want medication-assisted treatment to be readily and safely available to anyone in the country who needs it." The agency has recently been championing a number of initiatives to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid-related substance use disorder, including a loosening of restrictions around buprenorphine and methadone prescribing, reaching out to pharmacists and practitioners to let them know DEA supports medication-assisted treatment, and increasing the number of mobile methadone clinics. 

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures, Ukraine War Deepens Suffering of Drug Users, More... (3/18/22)

Medical marijuana bills advance in Georgia and Kentucky, Honduras' former "narcopresidente" is a step closer to being extradited to the United States on drug charges, and more. 

Fomer Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to face US drug charges, a court there ruled. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Has "Concerns" About Marijuana Legalization Bill's Cannabis Control Commission. Gov. Dan McKee (D) has "significant constitutional concerns" with Senate Bill 2430, the marijuana legalization bill backed by House and Senate leadership. The concerns are around the proposed three-member cannabis control commission's members are to be appointed—and removed if necessary. The governor's office argues that the bill would give the Senate "unfettered discretion" on whether to remove a commissioner, which is says is a violation of the separation of powers. But one of the key sponsors of the bill, which was crafted after long deliberation, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), said the governor's objection is not an insurmountable obstacle. "It’s not a big impediment," said Miller. "It’s solvable." 

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House, Senate Pass Separate Medical Marijuana Bills. The House approved a bill to revamp the state's dysfunctional medical marijuana system, House Bill 1425 on Tuesday. The bill would allow the provision of low-THC cannabis oil "from any available legal source" by August 1 and begin providing it to patients now on the state registry by August 15. The state had passed a low-THC cannabis oil law in 2015, but legal challenges have left Georgians without any legal supply. The Senate, meanwhile, approved its own medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 609, which would require the medical cannabis commission to issue its initial licenses by May 31. Tuesday was the last day for bills to pass their original chamber, so both bills remain alive.

Kentucky House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The legislation now heads to the Senate. This is the third try for bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who got a similar bill through the House in 2020 only to see in die in the Senate and whose 2021 effort got nowhere in the midst of the pandemic. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R) says he will back it despite personal reservations.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures. Decriminalize California, the group behind a psilocybin legalization initiative campaign, announced Wednesday that it had failed to gather enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The all-volunteer effort faltered during the winter outbreak of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. "We were doing great there collecting and then in mid-December just about everyone of our core volunteers got COVID and most of the events we were scheduled at either closed, postponed or had an extremely weak turnout," campaign manager Ryan Munevar said in an email to supporters. The group will now do fundraising in coming months to determine whether it is feasible to start a second effort in either June or October of next year for 2024.

International

At Urging of US, CND Acts Against Precursor Chemical Used to Produce Illicit Fentanyl. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted Friday to control three chemicals used by drug traffickers to produce illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is driving overdose deaths in the United States. At the request of the United States, and with the recommendation of the International Narcotics Control Board, the Commission’s Member States voted unanimously to take international action and control the acquisition, production, and export of three precursors used to manufacture illicit fentanyl and its analogues. "President Biden has made clear that ending the overdose epidemic is a top priority. As part of the Administration’s efforts to reduce the supply of illicit fentanyl driving overdose deaths, the United States called on the global community to regulate three chemicals commonly used to produce it, and today that call was answered," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "This new action makes it more difficult for drug traffickers to obtain and use these chemicals for illicit purposes. It will also help disrupt synthetic drug trafficking that not only leads to deaths caused by overdose, but also corruption, drug-related violence, and insecurity. The collective work of the international community to address global drug-related challenges has never been more important. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building on today’s progress."

Honduran Judge Okays Extradition of Former President to Face US Drug Charges. A judge in Honduras has ruled the former President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to the United States to face drug charges. Hernandez was president from 2014 until last month, after he lost an election, and was considered a US ally even though federal prosecutors alleged he was involved in drug trafficking throughout his presidency. He was detained last month by the new government at the request of the US. The "narcopresidente" has until Saturday to appeal the Wednesday ruling, after which he could be extradited. Meanwhile, he remains in prison in Honduras.

War Deepens Suffering for Ukraine's Drug Users. Drug users in the country are facing shortages of methadone and street drugs as the Russian military campaign in the country disrupts daily life. "Today, I went around five pharmacies where I used to get methadone on prescription. None were open. Another place was open today, but there was a queue of at least 200 people and I didn’t want to go into withdrawal right there, and so I went home," one drug user said. In the city of Kyiv, there were 45 fee-based centers serving opioid-dependent patients each; now they are all closed after the doctors evacuated. Similar clinics in the Crimean Peninsula were shut down when Russian forces took over in 2014; since then, of approximately 800 Crimean methadone patients, at least 80 have killed themselves, died of fatal overdoes, or died of other narcotic causes. 

Feds Approve "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment, DE Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies, More... (3/11/22)

A medical marijuana bill advances in Kentucky, congressional negotiators have slashed harm reduction funding in the final appropriations bill of the year, and more.

Congress appears ready to slash harm reduction funding in the face of an overdose epidemic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies. House Bill 305, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state, is dead, coming up two votes short in a key vote Thursday. Those two votes belonged to Republican representatives who had previously said they would vote for the bill, but one did not vote, saying he had an unspecified conflict of interest, and the second voted "no" after submitting four amendments, three of which were rejected, and claiming his failed "prove that [Democrats] do not care about bipartisanship." Also, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osieski (D) failed to switch his vote from "yes" to "no" before the vote ended, which would have allowed him to bring the bill back to the floor later in the legislative session. 

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15-1 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, clearing the way for a House floor vote, which could come as soon as next week. A similar bill passed the House in 2020, but did not get taken up by a Senate committee because of lack of support and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid to win broader support, bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R) narrowed the bill this year by including provisions that ban smoking marijuana or growing it oneself, but Senate leadership still has "concerns."

Drug Treatment

Biden Administration Approves "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services has cleared the way for "contingency management" drug treatment, a somewhat controversial program that pays people with drug problems for not using drugs. The notion is supported by decades of research that shows giving people repeated small amounts of money for meeting recovery goals has a large impact on helping people remain sober. But the use of the program was limited by fears it would violate a federal law that forbids kickbacks to patients until the HHS inspector general's office issued an advisory legal opinion last week giving the okay. "Although the arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal anti-kickback statute if the requisite intent were present, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] will not impose administrative sanctions on requestor in connection with the arrangement," the opinion said.

Harm Reduction

Congress Proposes Cuts in Harm Reduction Funding in Final Spending Package. The final appropriations package released Wednesday dramatically shrinks the amount of funding lawmakers will send to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight HIV/AIDS and drug overdoses. The House last July approved $69.5 million for the CDC's Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, which provides grants to private harm reduction programs. Then, last September, Senate Democrats released their version of the bill, cutting the funding down to $30 million. But now, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise that is even lower yet, $18 million. That's more than the $13 million allocated in the last year of the Trump administration, but only about one-quarter of what the House originally approved. 

DOJ Signals Openness to Safe Injection Sites, Congressional Commission Issues Overdose Strategy Report, More... (2/8/22)

Pennsylvania sees its first ever legislative debate on marijuana legalization, Tennessee sees a slew of marijuana-related bills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Sees First Legislative Debate on Marijuana Legalization. For the first time ever, Keystone State lawmakers took up the topic of marijuana legalization as the Senate Law & Justice Committee held a hearing on Monday. The hearing was on a proposal from committee Chair Sen. Mike Regan (R-York County), but focused largely on unsafe practices in the industry and products going through existing black markets. The committee heard from lawmakers, medical marijuana industry representatives, and law enforcement officials. Another, bipartisan marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 473, which includes expungement and social equity provisions, is also before the committee. No votes were taken. Regan said the committee would hold another hearing in coming months to see what "trials and tribulations" other states had endured.

Tennessee Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Lawmakers in the Volunteer State are facing a slew of marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana bills filed this session. So far, the legislative web site shows at least 28 bills, most of them addressing legalization. The state is one of seven that have allowed for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but that is as far down the road as the legislature has gone so far. An attempt to decriminalize marijuana possession was killed last session, as was a broader medical marijuana bill.

Opioids

Congressional Commission Urges Five-Pronged Strategy to Confront Overdose Crisis. A bipartisan congressional commission. the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking released a report Tuesday calling for a multipronged strategy to confront the nation's overdose crisis. The commission called for the strategy to be based around five pillars: Restoring the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to cabinet rank, disrupting the drug supply through better coordinated law enforcement, demand reduction through treatment and harm reduction measures, using diplomatic means to cut off the supply of fentanyl precursor chemicals, and developing surveillance tools to monitor new drug trends. In other words, new, improved drug war, albeit with a slightly gentler touch regarding harm reduction.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Signals It Could Allow Safe Injection Sites. In a statement to the Associate Press, the Justice Department said it is "evaluating" the harm reduction intervention and seeking guidance from regulators on "appropriate guardrails." That is a drastic change from the Trump administration, under which the department successfully sued to block a Philadelphia safe injection site, and is the first hint, after months of silence, that DOJ is open to safe injection sites. "Although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety," DOJ said in the statement last Friday.

DOJ isn't the only federal government entity to edge closer to supporting safe injection sites. In December, the National Institutes of Health mentioned them in a call for harm reduction research, and that same month, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta said he was "interested in looking at the science and data behind all of the emerging harm reduction practices."

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin, More... (1/11/22)

The nation's top spook announces an easing of rules around past marijuana use and national security clearances, the New Jersey legislature approves needle exchange expansion and syringe decriminalization bills, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Director of National Intelligence Gives Clarification on Marijuana Issues and Clearance Holders. In guidance released late last year, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines clarified the intelligence community's policy regarding security clearances for people who have used marijuana. Under previous policy, people needed to have not used marijuana for one to two years before applying for a national security position, but now the policy is that past marijuana use should not be determinative, but that they needed to stop using if they were being considered for a position: "In light of the long-standing federal law and policy prohibiting illegal drug use while occupying a sensitive position or holding a security clearance, agencies are encouraged to advise prospective national security workforce employees that they should refrain from any future marijuana use upon initiation of the national security vetting process, which commences once the individual signs the certification contained in the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions."

The new guidance also addresses investing in marijuana businesses, warning that people seeking clearances should not do so, and it warns people seeking security clearances to be wary of using CBD products -- although it doesn't forbid it. "With respect to the use of CBD products, agencies should be aware that using these cannabis derivatives may be relevant to adjudications in accordance with SEAD 4." In other words, it could show up on a drug test.

Virginia Republican Files Bill to Eliminate Social Equity Funding in Marijuana Program. State Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. has filed a bill, Senate Bill 107, that would eliminate social equity funding for the state's recreational marijuana program. The bill would delete the line in last year's marijuana legalization law that channels 30 percent of revenues into a marijuana equity investment fund. Although Democrats still control the state Senate, minority business advocates worry that the bill could still pass and are calling it an effort to dismantle provisions in the law that have strong public support. If the bill does not pass, the funding will go supporting licensing opportunities for small and minority-owned marijuana businesses.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Legislature Approves Bills Ending Requirement for Municipal Approval for Needle Exchanges. The legislature has passed the Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) and the Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458), a pair of bills whose aim is to address the state's opioid overdose epidemic by easing access to clean needles, legalizing possession of needles, and expanding access to addiction services. The first pair of bills ends the requirement that municipalities pass an ordinance to okay local needle exchanges, while the second pair of bills legalized needle possession.

International

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin. Health Canada has amended federal regulations to allow doctors to request access to restricted drugs, such as MDMA and psilocybin, for patients undergoing psychedelic therapy. The regulatory change will allow physicians to use the Special Access Program, which allows healthcare practitioners to access drugs that have shown promise in clinical trials, or are approved in other countries, to seek permission to employ the drugs as therapeutics. The amendment to the Food and Drug Regulations was published in the Wednesday edition of the Canada Gazette, Canada's version of the federal register.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it is increasingly not just the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it is time.

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

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

full event video (YouTube playlist):

full event video (single file):

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

Washington Post Endorses Safe Injection Sites, NIDA to Look at Ibogaine Derivative, More... (12/8/21)

The Canadian federal government has again filed a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses, WHO declines to recommend a "critical review" of kratom, and more.

kratom (Creative Commons)
Kratom

WHO Declines to Recommend "Critical Review" of Kratom. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) has recommended that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review. WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

Drug Treatment

US Government Will Test Ibogaine Derivative as An Addiction Treatment. A private startup will work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test its patented version of ibogaine as a potential treatment for drug addiction. "The therapeutic potential for ibogaine is huge," says David Olson, cofounder of the company, Delix. "There are some indications that a single dose can keep people with opioid use disorder drug-free for months." Derived from the iboga shrub in West Africa, ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that has been found to help people get off heroin and other opioids, but the Delix version is non-psychedelic and does not cause cardiac arrhythmias.

"We started with the ibogaine structure because of its fantastic efficacy, and we whittled it down to its essential feature," says Olson, describing how he modified ibogaine to remove the psychedelic-inducing properties. "By cutting it down, we got rid of these undesired side effects." NIDA's Addiction Treatment Discovery Program is set to contract a lab to do preclinical tests on the Delix compouond. If the preclinical data finds the drug could be a safe and effective potential addiction treatment, the company will apply to the Food & Drug Administration to launch human clinical trials.

Harm Reduction

Washington Post Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "Tough-on-drugs policies have failed. Supervised injection sites will save lives," the Washington Post editorial board has come down firmly in favor of the harm reduction intervention. Noting that New York City has just become the first in the US to officially allow safe injection sites, the Post notes that "this strategy may seem counterintuitive as US drug overdose deaths reach unprecedented levels. In fact, a smart and compassionate approach, which other countries have already tested, will save lives where tough-on-drug policies have failed."

After examining New York City's approach and noting questions about the legality of allowing supervised drug use, the Post editorial concludes thusly: "There is no magic bullet to combat drug addiction, but one thing is clear: A trained person on-site to respond to someone in the throes of an overdose can save that life. More US cities should embrace the opportunity to prevent needless death; the Biden administration should stay out of the way; and Congress should change federal law to clarify that local governments can authorize this lifesaving work. No more people should have to die before attitudes finally change."

International

Canada's Liberal Government Files Bill to Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses. The federal government filed a bill in the House of Commons Tuesday that would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, as well as some gun-related offenses. The bill would return sentencing discretion to judges and would also allow for the greater use of probationary sentences, as well as house arrest, counseling, or drug treatment. The bill revives legislation that was introduced in February but was not approved before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election in August. Mandatory minimum sentences "simply did not work," Justice Minister David Lametti said as the bill was rolled out.

Move to Ease Research Burdens on Schedule I Drugs Gains DEA Support, Colombia Pill Testing, More... (12/7/21)

Language protecting banks doing business with state-legal marijuana firms has been removed from a defense spending bill, Canada's Alberta province is looking into establishing a safe drug supply, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Language Now Not Included in Defense Bill. The House included language to protect financial institutions that deal with state-legal marijuana businesses in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which it passed in September, but now, after negotiations between the House and Senate, that provision has been stripped out. There is still, however, a chance it good be added back in before final votes in both chambers are taken. The House Rules Committee is meeting Tuesday, and Safe Banking Act sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is a member of the committee, said he will file an amendment to restore banking language to the bill.

Drug Policy

DEA, NIDA Back White House Black to Ease Research Barriers on Marijuana, Psychedelics, and Other Schedule I Drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has proposed a plan to ease barriers to research for Schedule I drugs, and now both the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have said they are on board with the plan. In written testimony before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last Thursday, DEA said that "expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA's mission to protect public safety and health. DEA supports the administration's legislative proposal's expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research." NIDA Director Nora Volkow echoed the DEA support, saying existing procedures are "time consuming" and "cumbersome."

International

Canada's Alberta to Study Safe Drug Supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government has proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them. "I want to look at objective evidence so both for and against," said Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions. "I want evidence to be presented at this committee, and I look forward to seeing their findings." The committee will be required to submit a report with recommendations by the end of April. Both the province of British Columbia and the city of Toronto are already moving forward with efforts to win a federal exemption to allow for the distribution of controlled substances in a bid to reduce drug overdoses from an unsecured supply.

Colombia Party Scene Has Pill Testing. A group that originated seven years ago with university students demanding pill and powder testing at parties is now actually doing drug purity testing at clubs and festivals -- without government support but also without government interference. The group, Echele Cabeza, is now doing about 250 tests a month. The costs are covered by event organizers, with additional funding from an NGO that helps drug users. New Zealand recently became the first country in the world to formally legalize pill testing.

Mexico Supreme Court Throws Out Law Making Growing Low THC Marijuana Illegal. Even as the Mexican congress stumbles toward Supreme Court-mandated marijuana legalization, the Supreme Court has now thrown out a law that made growing low-THC marijuana illegal. The law barred the cultivation of marijuana with less than 1 percent THC, but the court held that law unconstitutional. The national health agency, COFEPRIS, had interpreted the law to bar all marijuana cultivation except for medical and scientific purposes, but now companies will be able to cultivate the crop to produced low-THC CBD products such as tinctures, oils, and beverages.

Groups Call on Congress to Reject Biden Fentanyl Scheduling Proposal, FL MedMJ Privacy Protection Bill Filed, More... (12/3/21)

A new bipartisan federal bill aims to help states and localities with marijuana expungement efforts, New York state adjusts its COVID quarantine policies for drug treatment facilities, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogs are the subject of a battle over draconian emergency scheduling. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Bill to Incentive State-Level Expungements Filed. Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed a bill Thursday that would provide incentives for state and local governments to expunge marijuana arrest and conviction records in their jurisdictions. The bill is the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act. It would create a State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program that would help fund administrative costs in identifying clearing eligible cases at the rate of $2 million a year through 2032.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Protect Patient Privacy Filed. A bill to protect patient privacy by blocking the scheduled repeal of an exemption from public records requirements for certain information held by the state Department of Health relating to patients, caregivers, & qualified physicians for medical use of marijuana was filed Thursday. HB 7005 was filed by the House Government Operations Subcommittee. A companion bill is pending in the Senate.

Drug Treatment

New York to Alter Covid-Related Policy That Hindered the Work of Drug Treatment Facilities. For months, the state's Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS) has had a policy requiring drug treatment admitting new patients for long-term care for 14 days after a COVID case was discovered on the property. Drug treatment providers say the rule has hindered their work, and OASAS has now responded to their complaints. Now, it is altering the policy to review COVID positives in those facilities on a "case by case" basis. "At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic this policy was issued consistent with CDC and DOH guidance. It is specific to OASAS congregate settings since the population we serve is high-risk because of high rates of co-morbidities, lower vaccination rates, and high turnover rates in these facilities. People with an SUD diagnosis are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, including hospitalization and death. We have since updated our policy to make these decisions on a case by case basis," OASAS said.

Sentencing

Groups Say Congress Should Reject Biden's Harmful Sentencing Proposal on Fentanyl-Related Drugs. A coalition of civil rights and drug reform advocacy groups called Thursday for Congress to reject the Biden administration's proposal to permanently reclassify fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs, calling the approach toward the synthetic opioids a dangerous continuation of the so-called war on drugs that will do little to quell what is a public health issue. The Biden proposal would a Trump-era policy would continue by permanently placing fentanyl-related substances, or fentanyl analogues, into Schedule I -- a designation that currently covers substances including ecstasy and heroin, is aimed at drugs with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," and can lead to stiffer penalties. "Congress must chart a new course to save lives," said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement noting the record number of drug overdose deaths, which have been driven in part by fentanyl. "The only way forward," she said, "is moving health-centered legislation that can provide lifesaving harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment for people who use drugs. Anything less is not a solution -- it's a cop-out for Congress."

MN MedMJ Patients to Get Access to Edibles, DEA Increases Research Quotas for Psychedelics, More... (12/2/21)

Georgia's parliament toughens that country's drug laws, the Rhode Island ACLU announces a settlement in a medical marijuana employment discrimination case, and more.

The DEA has set a whopping increase in research quotas for psilocybin, among other psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program to Add Edibles as New Option. The state Health Department announced Wednesday that its medical marijuana program is adding edibles as a new option for patients. The department said it is adding infused edibles in gummies and chews as approved delivery methods for marijuana. Other approved delivery methods are pills, vapor oil, liquids, topicals, powdered mixtures, and orally dissolvable products, like lozenges, but not smokeable flowers. Smokeable flowers will be allowed in March 2022, based on a law approved by the legislature this year.

Rhode Island ACLU Announces Settlement of Lawsuit Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Discrimination.The ACLU of Rhode Island on Thursday announced the settlement of a lawsuit dealing with the rights of medical marijuana patients in employment. The settlement comes four years after Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Richard Licht ruled in the case that a Westerly fabrics company discriminated against Christine Callaghan when consideration of a paid internship was rescinded because of her participation in the state's medical marijuana program and her acknowledgment that she therefore would not be able to pass a required pre-employment drug screen. In its decision, the court held that the state's medical marijuana law, which bars discrimination in employment against cardholders, applies to job applicants like Callaghan. Under the settlement agreement, the company has agreed to pay Callaghan $3,500 in back pay and compensatory damages, and to pay attorneys' fees. The company has also agreed to amend its drug use policy to consider applicants who are authorized medical marijuana cardholders.

Psychedelics

DEA Again Boosts 2022 Production Goals for Psychedelics Such as Psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT. In a notice in the Federal Register Thursday, the DEA has again increased the quota for the production for research purposes of illegal controlled substances such as psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT. The agency has repeatedly raised the quotas beginning with 2021 quotas in response to increasing scientific interest in psychedelics. In some cases, the increases are quite dramatic. With psilocybin, for instance, the DEA first set a 2021 quota of 30 grams. That quota is now set at 8,000 grams for next year -- a 26,567 percent increase.

International

Georgia Parliament Toughens Penalties for Illegal Drug Dealing. Parliament has adopted amendments to the criminal code, voting 84-1 to increase penalties for drug dealing. Sales of narcotic drugs will see penalties increase from a mandatory minimum of six years to 10 years, with the maximum penalty increasing from 11 years to 15 years. There a higher penalties for large quantities of narcotics. The penalty for selling psychotropic drugs (marijuana psychedelics) increases to a three-year mandatory minimum from what was a three-year maximum sentence. Again, there are more severe penalties for sales of larger quantities.

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