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The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 feature here.)

We're looking at 2019 through the rearview mirror now, but before we turn our sights to 2020, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at the last year in international drug policy. From marijuana law reform to the push for drug decriminalization, from the coca fields of Colombia to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and from the killing fields of Mexico and the Philippines, there was a lot going on. Here are ten of the biggest international drug policy stories of 2019, in no particular order.

Medical marijuana was on the move in 2019 -- sort of -- at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
1. Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Advances

The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace.

A lot of the activity was in Europe. In March, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.

In the Netherlands, the government finally moved in August to address the longstanding "backdoor problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. It announced a pilot program to begin in 2021 in which cannabis cafes in ten Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana. The big cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out because of worries that problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

In Denmark, the city council in Copenhagen, the country's capital and largest city, voted overwhelmingly in August to support a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The council has long pushed for this, but now there is a new left-wing government, so perhaps it will be allowed to happen.

Also in August, Luxembourg looked set to become the first European country to free the weed, as the government confirmed plans to legalize it, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. In December, though, the government said it will still be at least two years, citing "delays in working on policy related to the legislation."

And just at year's end, in Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that the small-scale personal cultivation of marijuana is legal, triggering calls for further legalization. The court declared that laws against growing drug crops should not apply to "small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower."

And Israel decriminalized marijuana possession as of April 1. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes is no longer to be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise, while public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only people who commit a third public possession offense within seven years will face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In Australia, Canberra, the national capital, became the first city in the country to legalize marijuana personal use and cultivation. The law legalizes up to 50 grams and two plants per person, but not sales. It is set to go into effect on January 31, 2020, but conflicts with national marijuana prohibition, so stay tuned. And in nearby New Zealand, the governing coalition announced in May it would hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the 2020 elections. In December, it unveiled a government web site with information on the proposed legalization bill that will be put before the voters.

In the Western hemisphere, Uruguay and Canada have led the way on marijuana legalization, but Mexico looks set to be the next over the line. After legislators there failed to pass legalization by a Supreme Court-imposed deadline at the end of October, the court gave them an extension until June 1 to get it done. Lawmakers got very close late in 2019 but were unable to close the deal because of disputes among competing business interests. There was action in Colombia, too, where an opposition senator filed a legalization bill in August. That bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether it advances.

There was progress in the Caribbean, too. In Trinidad & Tobago, non-commercial marijuana legalization went into effect in December, allowing people to possess up to 30 grams and grow four plants. A regulated marijuana marketplace is likely coming in 2020. In St. Kitts and Nevis,the government in midsummer filed a bill to legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes." It remains pending at year's end. A similar effort is underway in the British Virgin Islands, where a draft bill to legalize marijuana is being reviewed by government officials.

2. Medical Marijuana on the Move

Acceptance of medical marijuana on the global stage continued to increase in 2019, and the year got off to a good start in January when the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to exports, making it the third country, after Canada and the Netherlands, to do so. The following month, the European Parliament approved a resolution to advance medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union.

Meanwhile, Thailand formally embraced medical marijuana when King Maha Vajirlongkorn signed a decree legalizing it and kratom; and later in the year, a member of the country's ruling coalition government filed a bill that would allow people to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal use. And in the Philippines, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was reintroduced in 2019. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2014. Last year, the bill passed the lower house but failed to get out of the Senate.

In Latin America, Peru joined the ranks of medical marijuana countries more than a year after it became law when the government finally approved regulations to cover its production and use. In Mexico, the Supreme Court in August gave the federal health ministry until January to issue regulations on medical marijuana.

In the Caribbean, in August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving marijuana cultivation.

Medical marijuana was sort of on the move at the United Nations too. In late January, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of marijuana from Schedule IV of the global drug treaties, the most restrictive category, along with other related reclassifications of substances involving marijuana's components or synthetic substitutes for them. This would stop short of the kind of full stamp of approval WHO gives to many drugs -- marijuana would not become an "essential medicine" -- but it would eliminate a designation that some governments might find constraining in terms of allowing medical use in their own countries. Most importantly, it would be widely seen as recognition by the UN of marijuana as a medicine (though international law does not ban medical use of marijuana now).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs -- the subset of UN member states that sets drug policy for the UN -- was supposed to vote on the WHO recommendations during its March meeting, but that didn't happen because the recommendations were delayed at the end of 2018, leaving several countries to complain that they needed more time to study them.

"You can't arrest your way out of a drug problem." So why not try decriminalization? (Creative Commons)
3. Drug Decriminalization on the Move

Beyond marijuana legalization, the decriminalization of drug use and possession is probably the most significant means within current political striking range for reducing the criminal justice harms of drug prohibition. Portugal, which decriminalized in 2001, remains a shining example to emulate.

In Canada, in May, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The following month, British Columbia nurses called urgently for decriminalization, but in September, as he campaigned for reelection, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said decriminalization was not on the agenda, even though the national Liberal Party caucus in 2018 passed a resolution calling to "reclassify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones. The conversation is advancing north of the border.

The conversation is also advancing in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish National Party formally endorsed drug decriminalization, as did the British Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee. Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, came out hard for decriminalization in a special drugs issue released in October. The following month, Britain's largest drug treatment providers called for radical drug policy reforms, including decrim. But the ruling Conservative Party with Boris Johnson freshly installed as prime minister, remains opposed -- for now.

It's not just Canada and Great Britain, either. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in May submitted a decriminalization plan to Congress, while in Malaysia, the government announced in June that it planned to drop criminal penalties for drug use and possession. The following month, in Colombia, the legislative opposition and the center-right block filed a bill to decriminalize there.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) released recommendations in October calling for harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. In the United States, an effort to put a decrim initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot got underway in the fall, and a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics got underway.

The push to decriminalize is also working its way through the global drug control bureaucracy, as was evident in March when a key UN organization called for global drug decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy -- namely decriminalization. The policy shift -- or rather, recognition of what the policies of UN agencies on this already were -- came in January but was not publicly announced.

4. Harm Reduction and Human Rights

Along with decriminalization, harm reduction and concern about human rights gained momentum in 2019.

In March, a coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna launched a landmark set of international legal standards around drug policy: the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The following month, more than 300 NGOs called for harm reduction and drug decriminalization at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Lisbon.

In the United Kingdom, both the British Labour Party and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee called for safe injection sites, while in Ireland, a Dublin safe injection site was moving closer to reality at year's end.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) recommended harm reduction approaches in October, and the New Zealand government in December announced a pilot program to examine pill-testing at festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country.

5. Mexico Ravaged by Prohibition-Related Violence for Another Year

In January, Mexican authorities reported that the number of murders in 2018 hit an all-time high with more than 33,000, many of them directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. A lot happened between then and now, but at the end of 2019, this year's death toll was at just under 32,000. At least it didn't get worse, but those numbers are still horrifying, and the year-old administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn't been able to turn the corner yet. It's not for lack of trying or willingness to embrace new ideas.

In February, the Mexican Senate approved a plan for a new National Guard to fight crime and drug trafficking, but only after amending it to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

In May, Lopez Obrador called for an end to Plan Merida, under which the US provided security assistance to fight the drug war, with the president saying he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. Saying the plan "hasn't worked," Lopez Obrador added that, "We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative."

In June, the murder rate topped 2,000 a month for this first time, a toll linked to the rise of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is seeking to supplant the Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is now serving a sentence in the US. In north-central Guanajuato state, the JNGC has been duking it out with yet another faction, the Santa Rose de Lima cartel, leaving more than 3,200 dead in that state alone by year's end.

By August, a Catholic bishop issued a call for dialogue between the government and armed groups, including drug cartels. That was Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state), a key opium-growing region. Responding to the government's announcement that it was in talks with so-called community police groups and self-defense militias, but not the cartels, the bishop chided the government, saying, "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace."

As cartel clashes raged through the summer and fall, the government tentatively explored alternatives to continuing drug war. In September, Lopez Obrador said he was considering a referendum on drug legalization, and in October, the ruling MORENA Party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Mario Delgado Carrillo, proposed legalizing all drugs to combat cartel violence. His comments were in response to one of the more brazen cartel actions in 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced the release of El Chapo's son after he was captured by security forces in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan and they turned the city into a war zone until Ovidio Guzman was freed, greatly embarrassing the government.

That same month, in another brazen attack, gun men from the JNGC ambushed police in Michoacan, killing more than a dozen and leaving signed placards on their bodies warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

In yet another act of gruesome violence -- and one that caught the attention of Americans long bored with the violence south of the border -- in November, cartel gun men killed nine women and children with dual US-Mexico citizenship, prompting President Trump to suggest he could use the US military to "wage war" against the cartels. Lopez Obrador declined that offer [Ed: wisely, for them and for us].

6. Coca, Cocaine and Chaos in Colombia

According to both the UN and the US, Colombia accounted for around 70% of global cocaine production in 2017, when the country produced 1,275 tons of cocaine, the most ever. In 2018, production declined by a tiny percentage, but remained near record high levels. There are no figures available yet for 2019, but there is no reason to suspect much has changed.

The high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production have made a return to aerial spraying of coca crops a key goal of the rightist government of President Ivan Duque, who in March asked the Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying, which President Juan Manuel Santos banned after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a likely carcinogen. That position won the support of US Secretary of State Pompeo in June, when, ignoring the global criticism of glyphosate and any other strategies for reducing cultivation, he called spraying "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

But in July, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban, although it also said spraying could resume if the government met certain conditions. At the end of December, the government announced plans to resume spraying, publishing a draft law that would allow fumigation flights under supervision of the national police. The proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Meanwhile three years after a peace deal between former President Santos and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC was signed, violence and chaos in the countryside are increasing. In March, coca farmers clashed with police in Cordoba, saying they were returning to coca after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived. In April, a UN report found massacres on the increase, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country.

In June, the government reported a jump in murders, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist the FARC, leaving FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups fighting over who will control the fields. And in August, a new report from Human Rights Watch found that renewed fighting over control of the cocaine trade in the Catatumbo region had forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

And speaking of the FARC, they're back. In June, a military intelligence report said as many as a third of FARC fighters had picked up their guns again. They were joining dissident FARC groups operating in coca-growing regions. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming.

A couple of month later, FARC dissidents made it official. In August, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, the dissidents said that the rightist government of President Ivan Duque had betrayed the peace accord. Led Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin), they said they were ready for a "new stage of fightingm," citing the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Marquez. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2,000-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

President Duque also faces challenges to his hardline approach to drug policy in both the courts and the congress. The Constitutional Court threw out his ban on public pot smoking and drinking, meaning police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke marijuana and drink beer in public. But it's unclear whether Duque will abide by the ruling.

And in June, the legislative opposition and a center-right bloc filed a package of four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Bolivia's coca grower president, Evo Morales, was forced from office late in 2019. (Creative Commons)
7. Farewell to Bolivia's Coca Grower President

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to quit after weeks of sometimes violent protests.

As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, through heavy investments in public works projects. He began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, which had followed a series of controversies and scandals. Chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor. The country is now ruled by an interim hard right regime, but elections are supposed to happen in the next three months.

8. Philippines Drug War Faces International Pushback

The international community turned up the heat on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug war in 2019, but Duterte was undeterred.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into human rights abuses in the drug war, and that March, Duterte responded by quitting the ICC. But the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue. In December 2019 the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the examination was in the "very late stages," and that a decision on whether to open an investigation would be made during 2020.

In April, human rights advocates and harm reductionists rallied against the Philippine drug war at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

In June, the Philippines National Police put the drug war's official death toll at 6,600, up from just under 5,000 seven months earlier. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

That same month, UN experts called for a human rights probe of the Philippines drug war. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called or the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The call gained momentum when a group of two dozen countries called for a UN investigation of drug war killings. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urged the government to halt extrajudicial executions and called on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis. And a major report from Amnesty International on drug war atrocities added fuel to the fire.

In July, the full UN Human Rights Council voted to begin an investigation into the mass killings. The Duterte government responded by refusing to grant the UN access to the country to investigate the killings and other human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin called the UN experts "bastards."

In November, representatives from 51 countries called for the Philippines to "STOP THE KILLINGS" at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country's president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

Also in November, Duterte engaged in some political flim-flam when he named strong drug war critic Vice President Leni Robredo as drug czar, then fired her less than three weeks later. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. But Robredo vowed to carry on the fight. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting," Robredo said.

"They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Meanwhile, another prominent political figure and drug war critic, Senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars, where she has been since arrested on bogus drug charges in February 2017. But she got some support from the US Congress late this year. In two separate moves in December, the Senate approved a Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 42) and approved a State Department spending bill that includes a provision barring entry "to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima."

The Duterte government has responded in typical fashion: It has now denied entry to three US senators, Ed Markey (D-MA), who authored the de Lima resolution, and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

9. Sri Lanka and the Death Penalty for Drugs

Under the baleful influence of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, now former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena early in the year announced plans to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty so drug offenders could be executed, kicking off his campaign with an advertisement announcing job vacancies for executioners. In April, Sirisena announced the first executions would be coming soon as he presided over the burning of seized cocaine.

"To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too."

But with the country in shock after the Easter Islamic terror attacks that left more than 200 people dead, Sirisena had other issues on his mind -- although in July, Sirisena falsely blamed drug gangs for the attacks, saying they were designed to discredit his anti-drug drive.

Sirisena's blood lust has so far been thwarted by the courts. In June, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of four people set to be hanged in October for drug offenses.

In October, as Sirisena's term was running out, his plans to make the executions his last act of state was again thwarted, with the Supreme Court again staying the executions until March 20, 2020. Now it will be up to newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaska to decide whether to continue Sirsena's aberration.

10. The Extent of the US's Drug War Fiasco in Afghanistan Becomes Achingly Apparent

In late October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued its latest report on the seemingly endless US occupation of Afghanistan, and its analysis of American anti-opium efforts was particularly devastating. SIGAR found that although we've spent nearly $9 billion trying to suppress the opium poppy, Afghanistan remained far and away the world's largest opium producer throughout the US occupation.

The country produced a record high nine tons of opium in 2017, and although drought reduced last year's crop, SIGAR noted that "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan. Interdiction activities -- drug busts -- have "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production," SIGAR found, while eradication efforts "have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation." Alternative development was funded at low levels, and SIGAR found it "ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

Whew, that's pretty bad, but it gets worse. This month, the Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, an extensive piece of investigative reporting that showed US officials consistently lied about making progress in the war even though they knew they weren't. The papers contain a section on opium, "Overwhelmed by Opium," that makes a thoroughly depressing read as it documents the myriad ways US anti-drug policy imploded. "Of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless," the Post noted. That's saying something.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Referendum Set to Advance, Dirty Detroit Narcs, MA Pot Vaping Resumes, More... (12/13/19)

Italy legalizes hemp and CBD products, Trinidad and Tobago moves toward marijuana decrim, New Jersey legislators are busy on two fronts, and more.

New Jersey legislators are making progress on two different fronts this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Demand Update from DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have sent a letter to the DEA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding that they provide an update on efforts to expand the number of authorized marijuana grows for research purposes. The letter notes that DEA announced more than three years ago that it would begin approving additional research grows, but has yet to issue any new licenses. The agency says the volume of new applications requires that it develop alternate rules before issuing any new licenses.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Okayed to Resume Sales of Some Vaping Products. The state's Cannabis Control Commission has amended a November ban on marijuana vaping products, now allowing stores to sell them but only if they are manufactured after this date and have been tested for contaminants.

New Jersey Legislature Holds Hearing on Marijuana Referendum. Legalization supporters outnumbered foes Thursday as the legislature held hearings in both chambers on whether to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot letting voters decide on whether to free the weed. Votes on the measure are expected in both houses on Monday.

Expungement

New Jersey Drug Expungement Bill Headed for Monday Vote. After an Assembly committee passed a bill, A-5981, Thursday without hearing any testimony, the measure heads for floor votes in both houses on Monday. The bill would make it easier for people to rid their records of minor drug and other offenses. Under its "clean slate" provision, all prior non-serious crimes could be sealed after a decade, while those involving smalltime marijuana or hashish possession could be expunged immediately. For minor drug offenses that occur after the bill is passed, a judge would immediately remove them from a person's record.

Foreign Policy

Senate Committee Passes Resolution for Sanctions Against Philippine Officials Involved in Imprisonment of Drug War Critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 142), which calls for the applications of sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against Philippines officials responsible for "orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention" of Filipina drug war critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The resolution also calls for sanctions against members of the security forces and Philippine officials responsible for extrajudicial killings during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. The resolution is non-binding but signals strong revulsion toward the behavior of the Duterte government.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Accused of Corrupt Policing. A raid on the Detroit Police Department's narcotics unit in August has uncovered dirty dealing there. Investigators have found a half-dozen instances of narcs stealing money from alleged drug dealers and two where drugs were planted on suspects. One former narc was arrested the day of the raid on federal charges he took bribes from a drug dealer, and Chief James Craig said he's looking at the unit that the officer was assigned to. "Sadly, as we continue our probe, we think it's going to grow in terms of magnitude," Craig said.

International

Italy Legalizes Hemp, CBD Products. Parliament this week legalized the production and sale of cannabis products containing less than 0.5% THC. The law will go into effect January 1. Former rightist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had vowed to shut down shops selling what the Italians call "cannabis light," but now parliament has thwarted that effort.

Trinidad and Tobago Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. People caught with more than 30 but less than 60 grams would pay a fixed fine. The bill would also allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants and provide a pathway for expungement of previous small-time marijuana offenses. The bill now heads for a Senate vote later this month. But it also contains provisions that would impose new penalties against possession and distribution of other substances, such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine.

Chronicle AM: Biden Walks Back Pot "Gateway Theory" Remarks, Philippines VP Warns Duterte on Drug War, More... (11/26/19)

Facing criticism, Joe Biden walks back his marijuana "gateway theory" remarks; the FDA designated psilocybin therapy a "breakthrough therapy" for the second time, and more. 

Filipino President Duterte is being called out on his drug war by Vice President Robredo. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Walks Back Marijuana ‘Gateway Drug’ Comment After Week of Criticism. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden now says there "no evidence" marijuana is a gateway drug. That's a retreat from his widely criticized comments last week suggesting that it was a gateway drug. "I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that," Biden said Monday in response to a reporter's question.

Psychedelics

FDA Calls Psychedelic Psilocybin a 'Breakthrough Therapy' for Severe Depression. For the second time this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated therapy with psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy," which will help accelerate the typically slow-moving process of drug development and review. Such a designation is only granted when preliminary evidence suggests it may be a significant improvement over existing therapies.

International

Philippines VP, Fired as Drug Czar, Warns Duterte. Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war who he hired and then fired as head of an inter-agency anti-drug panel, has vowed to carry on her fight against Duterte's draconian drug policies. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting", Robredo said. "They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Trinidad and Tobago Marijuana Reform Bills Filed. Two government-backed marijuana reform bills were filed in parliament last Friday. One bill would decriminalize possession of up to 30 grams of weed but would also include new penalties for possession and sale of other drugs, such as LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. It also allows for the growth of four plants for personal use but specifies they must be male plants, which do not produce buds. The second bill would legalize the use, sale, and distribution of marijuana for medical, research, and religious purposes.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: UN Criticizes US Afghan Drug Lab Airstrikes, SD Moving on Hemp, More... (10/9/19)

Two UN agencies report that US airstrikes on Afghan drug labs were illegal and killed civilians, a Michigan roadside drug testing pilot program has now gone statewide, and more.

A Michigan pilot roadside drug testing program has now gone statewide. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Roadside Drug Testing Program Now Statewide. A pilot program to test drivers for a range of illicit drugs has now gone statewide, the Michigan State Police have announced. The program had been underway in five counties for the past year. It uses check swab tests to detect the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates. During that first year, police arrested 89 people for impaired driving based on the test, most of them for marijuana.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Move to Legalize Hemp Over Governor's Objection. A legislative Hemp Study Committee met Monday to begin writing a bill to legalize hemp next year over the objections of Gov. Kristi Noem (R). The legislature passed a hemp bill last year, only to have Noem veto it, citing difficulties for law enforcement and fears it was a stalking horse for marijuana legalization. One issue for legislators now is whether to include CBD in hemp legalization.

Foreign Policy

UN Says US Airstrikes on Afghan Drug Labs Unlawful, Killed Civilians. A United Nations report Wednesday found that US airstrikes on Afghan drug labs killed or wounded at least 39 civilians, violating international humanitarian law since the victims were non-combatants. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Human Rights Office jointly issued the report. "UNAMA has assessed that the personnel working inside the drug production facilities were not performing combat functions," the report said. "They were therefore entitled to protection from attack, and could only have lost this protection if, and for such time, as they had been directly participating in hostilities."

Chronicle AM: Tentative Oxycontin Settlement, Philippines Says No to UN Investigators, More... (9/12/19)

It looks like the thousands of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma over Oxycontin are about to be settled, a new audit finds California's unlicensed pot shops greatly outnumber licensed ones, Florida's attorney general seeks to block a marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family will reportedly pay out billions to settle Oxycontin lawsuits. (Creative Commons)
California's Legal Pot Shops Are Outnumbered Three-to-One by Black Market Ones. According to an audit conducted by the United Cannabis Business Association, there are more than three times as many unlicensed marijuana shops as there are regulated ones. The audit found about 2,850 unlicensed dispensaries and delivery services, compared to only 873 licensed sellers in the state. The audit was based on Weedmaps listings. Fewer than 20% of California cities allow regulated pot shops, and though many large cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, do allow them, unlicensed dispensaries proliferate there as well. Earlier this year, Weedmaps showed 220 unlicensed pot shops in Los Angeles, compared to only 187 licensed ones.

Florida Attorney General Challenges Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) is challenging a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state… on the grounds that it is too detailed. The amendment is 10 pages long. "There is no way 10 pages of the law can be summarized clearly in 75 words or less and would adequately convey to the voters what exactly they will be voting on," the attorney general said. There are two significant legalization initiative campaigns underway in the state; the one Moody is challenging is the "Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions" initiative. Now it will be up to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the initiative comports with the legal requirements.

New Mexico Task Force Opposes State-Run Pot Shops. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's (D) Cannabis Legalization Working Group, which is looking at regulatory options for marijuana legalization, has come out against state-run marijuana stores. Instead, it is endorsing a system of licensing commercial entities. The working group also recommends barring local governments from banning pot shops, although they would be allowed to impose zoning and similar restrictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Board Rejects Anxiety, Autism as Qualifying Conditions. The State Medical Board voted Wednesday to reject adding anxiety and autism spectrum disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. Earlier this year, the state's Medical Marijuana Expert Review Committee recommended adding the conditions, but the board overruled them. It did say it might revisit the issue later "if additional studies or evidence are brought forth in the petition process."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma, Sackler Family Agree to Oxycontin Settlement. Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have reportedly agreed to a tentative settlement of thousands of lawsuits filed by states and other localities over the role of Oxycontin in the current opioid epidemic. According to news reports, Purdue will file for bankruptcy and effectively dissolve, while a new company will form and continue selling Oxycontin, with the revenues going to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit settlement. The deal is expected to be worth between $10 and $12 billion, including $3 billion from the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue.

International

Philippines Refuses to Grant UN Access to Investigate Bloody Drug War. The Philippines will not allow visits by the United Nations to investigate its brutal war on drugs, Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said Wednesday. He called the UN experts "bastards" who had already prejudged his country. Asked if UN investigators should be allowed to work in the country, he said: "No. Because they have already prejudged. I already said those bastards -- especially that woman acting like the queen in Alice in Wonderland -- first, the judgment, then the trial. No." That was a reference to Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, who has been a staunch critic of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

Chronicle AM: UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Killings, PA MedMJ Expansion, More... (7/12/19)

The UN will probe drug war killings in the Philippines, murders in Mexico hit a monthly high, the North Carolina Opioid Epidemic Response Act is now on the governor's desk, and more.

Equipment to test controlled substances for contaminants would be decriminalized under a North Carolina bill. (SSDP)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Lawmakers Reject Plan to Explore Medical Marijuana Expansion. In a meeting Thursday, lawmakers rejected a plan to form a special committee to work on expansion of the state's limited medical marijuana program. This comes after the legislature passed an expansion bill earlier this year, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who objected to a provision allowing an increase in the amount of THC allowed in medical marijuana products.

Pennsylvania Adds Anxiety Disorders, Tourette's to List of Qualifying Conditions. Dept. of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Thursday that the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board had added anxiety disorders and Tourette's Syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. That brings the state's list of qualifying conditions to 23. The change goes into effect on July 20.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

North Carolina House Passes Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The House on Wednesday voted to approve HB 325, the Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate the state registration requirement for buprenorphine prescribers, decriminalize drug testing equipment used to identify contaminants in controlled substances, and removes restrictions on the use of state funds to purchase needles, syringes, or other injection supplies.

International

Mexico Murder Rates Tops 2,000 a Month for First Time. The Mexican news outlet Milenio reported 2,249 murders nationwide in June, the highest monthly tally since it began counting in 2007 and the first time the number killed in a month passed the 2,000 mark. The Mexican states with the highest death counts in June were Jalisco with 206, Mexico with 202, Baja California with 181, and Guanajuato with 176. In all four states, the Jalisco Nueva Generation cartel is playing either a direct or indirect role in the violence.

UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Deaths. The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to begin an investigation into mass killings undertaken as part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. The official death count is 6,600, but activists say it could actually be as high as 27,000. Eighteen countries on the council voted for the resolution and 14 against, including China. Fifteen others abstained, including Japan.

Philippine Drug War Killings Reach Level of Crime Against Humanity, Amnesty International Says [FEATURE]

Three years into the administration of Philippines strongman President Rodrigo Duterte and despite rising international condemnation, Duterte's bloody war on poor drug users continues unabated, with a pattern of unlawful executions under the guise of police sting operations, the human rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Monday.

Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines drug war is drawing the ire of Amnesty International. (Creative Commons)
The report, "'They Just Kill:' Ongoing Extrajudicial Executions and Other Violations in the Philippines' 'War on Drugs,' comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to vote on a resolution later this week calling for an investigation into the Philippines killings. Amnesty is calling on the council to approve that resolution.

"Three years on, President Duterte's "war on drugs" continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia. "It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable."

[Update: The Human Rights Council adopted the resolution on July 11.]

Philippines police accept responsibility for more than 6,000 killings, saying they came in raids in which armed suspects fought back against police, but the actual number of killings, many conducted by shadowy vigilante groups suspected of links to the police may be twice or three times that figure. Opposition legislators said in February 2018 the death toll had reached 20,000.

Amnesty said the true number may never be known because "deliberate obfuscation and misinformation" from authorities makes it impossible to get an accurate tally of the killings, which targeted poor and marginalized communities that lack the means to challenge police misconduct and abuses.

It's not just the number of killings that is in doubt, but the circumstances surrounding them. While police typically claimed self-defense, witness and other information developed by Amnesty suggests a pattern of "extrajudicial executions," a polite way of saying murders by police. The claim that police were only defending themselves "doesn't meet the feeblest standards of credibility," Amnesty concluded.

A Filipino forensic expert interviewed by Amnesty said that police reports of "buy-bust" operations she had examined did not meet the minimum standards of plausibility: "It's so consistent, it's a script. In fact, when you see the report, it looks like a template," she said.

As Amnesty reported:

In an all-too-typical case, police claimed Jovan Magtanong, a 30-year-old father of three, fired at them, and that they recovered a .38 caliber pistol and baggies of illegal drugs from the scene of the incident. Witnesses said he was sleeping alongside his children when officers knocked on his house door asking for another man. Jovan's family said he did not own a gun and had not used drugs for over a year.

"They killed him like an animal," a family member told Amnesty.

Amnesty's latest report builds on an January 2017 investigation showing police had systematically targeted mostly poor and defenseless people across the country, planting "evidence," recruiting paid killers, stealing from the people they kill, and fabricating official reports. That report centered on metro Manila, then the epicenter of the killings, but the new report follows the pattern of killings to Bulacan province in Luzon, the new hotbed of drug war atrocities.

Amnesty examined 27 killings there during 20 incidents, 18 of which were official police operations. Based on witness accounts and other information, it concluded that half were extrajudicial executions. Amnesty said it couldn't develop enough information to qualify the other deaths, but said they pointed broadly to previous patterns of executions.

Amnesty also highlighted the role of "watch lists" of people in communities suspected of using or selling drugs. The "watch lists" are compiled by local officials under pressure to show results in the war on drugs by collecting the names of suspected drug users and sellers. "These lists effectively serve as guides for police of people to arrest or kill," Amnesty said. Amnesty "views these lists as unreliable, illegitimate, and unjustifiable," the group said.

"The Duterte administration has created a deadly numbers game where officials must manufacture lists and monitor them, regardless of whether the individuals on it actually use or sell drugs. This insatiable and vicious system rewards blind compliance and murder," said Nicholas Bequelin.

And the police act with impunity. Of all the killings acknowledged by the police, only one, the murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August 2017, which generated global media attention, actually saw police officers punished. But the man in charge of the police there, Senior Superintendent Chito Bersaluna, suffered only a period of "administrative leave" and is now working the drug war in Bulacan.

"The transfer of senior police officials to regions where killings then surged is an alarming indicator of impunity," said Bequelin. "The Duterte administration's continuing efforts to deny and deflect responsibility are nothing short of mendacious."

The achingly callous attitude of Philippines drug warriors toward their fellow citizens was made clear last week when Ronald Dela Rosa, now a senator but earlier the metro Manila police chief and lead conductor of Duterte's drug war, defended the killing of a three-year-old girl in a drug raid near Manila.

"Shit happens," he said as he accused the girl's father of using her as a human shield.

"It is not safe to be poor in President Duterte's Philippines," said Bequelin. "All it takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys, or sells drugs. Everywhere we went to investigate drug-related killings ordinary people were terrified. Fear has now spread deep into the social fabric of society."

Duterte and his henchmen have reacted to the International Criminal Court by leaving it, and have stonewalled attempts by domestic watchdogs to investigate their drug war crimes. Now it's time for the UN to step up.

Chronicle AM: Call for UN Query on Philippines Drug War Deaths, TX Hemp-Pot Conundrum, More... (7/5/19)

There's good news on two fronts in the drug war in South and Southeast Asia, a new Texas hemp law is screwing up marijuana possession prosecutions, and more.

Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines drug war is once again in the human rights crosshairs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Hemp Legalization Screws with Marijuana Prosecutions. The legislature's passage of a law legalizing hemp this year is having unintended consequences. The new law changed the definition of marijuana, and prosecutors and crime labs don't have the resources to test if a substance is marijuana or legal hemp. That has led prosecutors across the state to drop hundreds of pot possession cases and to say they won't pursue new ones without further testing. "In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions… will not accept criminal charges for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over .3%," wrote the district attorneys from Harris, Fort Bend, Bexar and Nueces counties in a new joint policy released Wednesday.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Cuts Funding for Welfare Drug Testing. What a difference a governor makes! Under Republican Scott Walker, the state instituted a food stamp drug testing program, but now, under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, that program is seeing its funding cut. In budget moves this week, Evers not only slashed the drug testing funding, he also canceled plans for a new prison.

International

Two Dozen Countries Call for UN Investigation of Philippines Drug War Killings. More than two dozen countries formally called Thursday for a UN investigation into thousands of killings in the bloody war on drugs led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The government admits to some 6,000 deaths, but activists put the tool as high as 27,000. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urges the government to halt extrajudicial executions and calls on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis.

Philippines Drug Warrior on Death of Child Killed by Police in Drug Raid: "Shit Happens." Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a senator who once led the drug crackdown that has resulted in thousands of deaths, pooh-poohed the killing of a three-year-old girl by police during a drug sting, saying the world is not perfect, and "shit happens." Lawyers and activists rejected dela Rosa's stance: "This is not 'shit happens'. This happens when gov't dispenses justice from guns instead of courts," Jose Manuel Diokno, a lawyer who has mounted legal challenges to Duterte's crackdown, wrote on Twitter.

Sri Lanka Supreme Court Delays Executions of Drug Convicts. The Supreme Court has delayed the executions of four people set to be hung for drug offenses. They would have been the first death sentences carried out in the country since 1976. President Maithripala Sirasena ended a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty earlier this year when he signed the death sentences for the four. Now the killings are on indefinite hold, with a court hearing set for October.

Chronicle AM: MJ Banking Headed for House Vote, UN Experts Call for Philippines Probe, More... (6/10/19)

The full House could soon get its first chance to vote on a marijuana banking bill, New Yorkers still want to legalize marijuana, a group of UN human rights experts calls for a probe into the Philippine drug war, and more.

Phillipines President Durterte's bloody drug war is drawing renewed human rights concerns. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill Quietly Advances in House as Floor Vote Approaches. The SAFE Banking Act, HR 1595, now has an open path to a House floor vote after the House Financial Services Committee, which earlier approved the bill, issued a formal report on the legislation last week. The bill was then set to go before the House Judiciary Committee, but that panel opted to advance it last week without a report, in order to clear the path to a House floor vote.

New York Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. With the clock ticking down on lawmakers in Albany, a new Sienna poll could give some added momentum to the push to legalize marijuana this session. The poll had support at 55%, with 40% opposed, mirroring myriad other recent polls.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Lowering Patient Card Costs. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 1494, which will cut the cost of a medical marijuana patient card in half by making patients pay the $150 fee once every two years instead of once a year. The bill also requires medical marijuana facilities to test their products.

International

Colombian Constitutional Court Throws Out President's Ban on Public Pot Smoking, Drinking. The Constitutional Court has overruled a ban on public alcohol and marijuana consumption favored by President Ivan Duque as part of his hardline anti-drug policies. Under the ruling, police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke pot and drink beer in public. But Duque appears to be ready to disobey the court, saying police would continue to confiscate drugs and impose penalties on people carrying or using drugs in public spaces. This isn't over.

UN Experts Call for Human Rights Probe of Philippines Drug War. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called Friday for the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders," they said in a statement. "We are extremely concerned over the high number of killings which are being carried out across the country in an apparent climate of official, institutional impunity," they added. To actually get the inquiry going would require a resolution supported by a majority of the council's 47 members.

Chronicle AM: Trump VA Rejects Vets' MedMJ Bills, Philippines Drug War Called Out, More... (5/2/19)

The Trump VA rejects medical marijuana bills for veterans, DC's mayor unveils a bill to allow for taxed and regulated marijuana sales, the Louisiana legislature is moving on medical marijuana issues, the Philippines is in the hotseat as global harm reductionists gather, and more.

sending a message to Duterte (Steve Forrest/HRI/Workers' Photos)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Approve Draft Changes for Onsite Consumption. The Marijuana Control Board has given initial approval to draft changes in the state's recently-approved onsite consumption regulations. The new draft would allow stores to seek an edibles-only endorsement, which would allow for onsite consumption without the business having to build a separate building for smoking marijuana.

Colorado Marijuana Delivery Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The legislature gave final approval Wednesday to HB 19-1234, which would allow deliveries for medical marijuana patients beginning in 2020 and for recreational users beginning in 2021. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Connecticut Legislative Panel Advances Marijuana Tax Proposal. The Finance Committee voted Wednesday to approve a measure setting taxes for a system of legal, regulated marijuana commerce. The tax proposal will be merged in coming weeks with an overall bill to legalize and regulate marijuana. The General Law and Judiciary committees have previously approved legalization in bills that focused on regulatory and legal aspects.

DC Mayor Unveils Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Thursday announced legislation that would legalize and regulate marijuana sales in the District, potentially setting up a confrontation with the federal government. The city approved the legalization of possession and cultivation in 2014, but has been blocked from full-on legalization by a federal budget provision that bars the city from enacting or enforcing full legalization. The mayor doesn't want to wait for Congress to remove that anti-marijuana language. The bill is the Safe Cannabis Sales Act and would impose a 17% sales tax on marijuana products, allow for expanded marijuana production in the city, and would allow regulators to okay onsite consumption at pot shops and hookah lounges.

Seattle Mayor Calls for Nationwide Evaluation of Marijuana Legalization. Mayor Jenny Durkin (D) wants a nationwide review of marijuana legalization and prohibition, she said Wednesday. "We need to have a real evaluation nationwide," she said. "We need to make sure we do it in a way that decriminalizes people, doesn't have a criminal justice intervention when its not appropriate, and focus those criminal justice resources on those things that are real threats to communities," she continued. She added that states need a "unifying force" to ensure consistency in state laws.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Administration Opposes Bills Easing Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. In testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency opposes three bills aimed at easing medical marijuana access for vets. The bills are the Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1647), the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (HR 712) and the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act (HR 2191).

Louisiana Bill Allowing Vaped Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to vape their medicine was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. HB 368 would also do away with the list of qualifying conditions and allow physicians to recommend it for any debilitating medical condition. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Louisiana Bill to Ease Access to CBD Advances. A bill that would ease access to CBD products by removing low-THC hemp from the state criminal code passed the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice Wednesday. HB 138 now heads for a House floor vote.

Kratom

Arizona Governor Signs Kratom Regulation Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Tuesday signed into law the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, HB 2550. The bill prohibits the sale of kratom to minors and creates requirements for product labels. Selling kratom products in violation of this law would be a class two misdemeanor.

International

Human Rights Advocates, Harm Reductionists Rally Against Philippine Drug War. Attendees at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal, gathered to send a message to the government of the Philippines: Stop the killings carried out in the country'' bloody anti-drug campaign. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

Philippines Rejects Call from Ex-New Zealand Prime Minister to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Malacanang palace on Thursday rejected a call from former New Zealand prime minister, former UN Development Program administrator, and current member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy Helen Clark for the country to decriminalize drug possession. "The suggestion of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to decriminalize the use of drugs as an alternative to the drug war, similar to the proposal by the European Union made two years ago, had already been thumbed down by the President," said a presidential spokesman. "The other countries' experiences in addressing illegal substances while educational relative to their method of solving their own drug menace, decriminalizing the use of drugs in the Philippines will not only aggravate but multiply the problem. Take out the criminal liability of those involved and you induce and encourage others to be a part of the dreaded evil," he added.

Drug War Issues

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