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Chronicle AM: TX GOPers Pronounce Pot Decrim Bill Dead, Oakland Psychedelic Resolution Coming, More... (5/1/19)

Texas Republican leaders move to squash a cannabis decriminalization bill, the Oakland city council will consider a resolution to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelics, global NGOs use the International Harm Reduction Conference to launch a call for human rights, health, and drug decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Key Senator Won't Commit to Considering Marijuana Banking Bill. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, said Tuesday he would not commit to the SAFE Banking Act, which would provide protections for banks and other financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill is moving in the House, where a floor vote is expected by next month.

Texas Republicans Announce They Are Killing Decriminalization Bill. A day after the House passed HB 63, which would end the possibility of jail time for the possession of small amounts of marijuana but keep possession as a misdemeanor, key Republicans pronounced the bill dead. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire (R) told reporters there was not "an appetite" for reform in the Senate, and Senate President and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) flatly declared the bill was dead.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Instead of Opioids Passes House. A bill that would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana in lieu of opioid pain medications passed the House Tuesday. SB 13 was approved by the Senate in February but needs to go back to the upper chamber for approval of changes made in the House before going to the office of Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Psychedelics

Oakland Could See City Council Take up Resolution of Psychedelics This Summer. Activists with the Decriminalize Nature campaign say they have found a city council sponsor for a resolution that would bar city police and other officials from participating "in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of "psychedelic drugs. The group says it has already met with the offices of four of the eight council members, with more meetings scheduled for coming weeks. Councilmember Noel Gallo (D) has agreed to sponsor the resolution.

International

NGOs Call for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalization. More than 300 non-governmental organizations have used the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Portugal to call on the international community to address the ongoing global health and human rights crisis among drug users. In a sign-on letter released Wednesday, the groups called for reconsideration of the role of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), given its law enforcement approach and its lagging behind other UN agencies in embracing harm reduction. They also called for national governments to embrace increased harm reduction interventions, the inclusion of communities and civil society in drug policy decisions, "proportionate" sentencing for all drug offenses, and the decriminalization of drug use and possession of personal use amounts of drugs.

Chronicle AM: China Bans All Fentanyl Variants, DC Gets 76,000 Naloxone Kits, More... (4/2/19)

China bans all fentanyl variants, Sri Lanka is to resume drug executions, marijuana sentencing reform bills advance in Iowa and Texas, and more.

A lethal dose of fentanyl (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States. For the fifth consecutive congressional session, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) has filed a bill to block the federal government from going after states that have legalized marijuana. The Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt states with legal marijuana from federal intervention. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Arkansas Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock) and cosponsors filed HB 1972 on Monday. The measure would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a maximum $200 fine. Currently, possession of up to four ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Iowa Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Advances. A bill that would reduce penalties for possessing five grams of weed or less passed the Senate Monday on a 40-8 vote. SF 378 would move possession of five grams or less from a serious misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor. The bill now heads to the House.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday. HB 63 would reduce criminal penalties for low-levels of marijuana possession, allowing a person carrying cannabis to receive two civil penalties before facing misdemeanor charges. The next step is a House floor vote.  

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Speeds Access to Opioid Addiction Medication. The state's Human Services Commissioner announced that beginning this week, Medicaid recipients will no longer have to wait for approval from an insurance company before a doctor can prescribe them medication-assisted treatments. Previously, people faced delays as doctors submitted paperwork and waited for an okay from the patient's Medicaid managed-care plan.

DC Police, Community Groups Will Get 76,000 Naloxone Kits. The city of Washington, DC, has purchased 76,000 kits of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The kits will be distributed to police officers and community health organizations by September 30. Last year, the District saw more deaths from drug overdoses than from homicides.

International

China Bans All Types of Fentanyl. Chinese officials said Monday that the country is banning all variants of fentanyl by declaring them controlled substances under Chinese law. The move makes good a pledge Premier Xi Jinping made to President Trump late last year. The move could slow the supply of the drug and its variants to the US, where it is implicated in tens of thousands of overdose deaths. But the ban does not cover precursor chemicals, which are often sent to Mexico, where traffickers use them to produce fentanyl.

Sri Lanka Burns Cocaine Haul as President Announces First Executions in Decades. President Maithripala Sirisena used the public burning of seized cocaine to announce the first executions in decades as part of a crackdown on drugs. ’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. The move toward a drug crackdown has been criticized by human rights groups and the European Union. 

Transforming Global Drug Policy: From A Punisher Paradigm to Embracing Human Rights [FEATURE]

By its very nature, the global drug prohibition regime relies on the repressive apparatus of state actors to enforce compliance, and that has severe implications for human rights. Now, a coalition of United Nations member states, U.N. bodies, and leading human rights experts has launched a landmark set of international legal standards aimed at putting human rights concerns at the center of drug policy.

Drug execution in Iran, 2017. The Islamic Republic has greatly reduced the use of the death penalty for drugs. (handsoffcain)
The human rights implications of the global war on drugs cover a dizzying array of governmental abuses of their citizens. Whether it's the mass imprisonment of drug users in the US, the death squad-style atrocities of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-drug campaigns, the spraying of herbicides on coca-growing peasants in Colombia, forced drug treatment camps in Southeast Asia, or the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses in any number of countries, the quixotic global effort to eradicate drugs has left a trail of human rights abuses.

For years, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have championed the need to put human rights front and center when it comes to drug policy. But with the issuance this week of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy recognition of the necessary centrality of human rights moves from the sidelines to the very center of the global drug prohibition regime. Released under the aegis of the U.N. Development Program and the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) with the endorsement of key member states, the guidelines create a comprehensive set of human rights standards to guide governments in developing drug policies that comply with basic standards of universal human rights.

They also come at a key juncture in the global drug policy-formation process. The guidelines are being released as high-level governmental representatives are gathered at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna to shape a new global drug strategy. With decades of evidence showing the systemic failures of the punitive paradigm, including widespread human rights violations, the U.N. and member states are facing a rising clamor for a shift in policy -- one that not only respects human rights but also places global drug policy in line with broader U.N. objectives.

"Drug control policies intersect with much of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the pledge by Member States to leave no one behind. Approaches that violate human rights and fail to curb the illicit drug trade are leaving a trail of human suffering," said Mandeep Dhaliwal, director of UNDP's HIV, Health and Development Group. "For countries who are ready to place human dignity and sustainable development at the heart of their drug control policy, these guidelines offer valuable guidance to promote more effective and humane drug control policy."

universal human rights logo
One focus of the guidelines is criminal justice and the rule of law, and they feature recommendations across the realm of the administration of justice. Whether it's arbitrary arrest and detention, discriminatory policing practices, or drug decriminalization, the guidelines bring the global state of human rights law regarding drug policy into full view, including ending the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

Drug decriminalization gets particular attention. The guidelines note that at least 25 national governments have decriminalized the possession of drugs for personal use and that the U.N. system has jointly called for drug decriminalization as an alternative to arrest, conviction, and punishment of drug users.

"Punishment and exclusion have been instrumental to the war on drugs" said Judy Chang, Executive Director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs. "The time has come to privilege human dignity over social isolation and champion human rights, putting an end to the shameful legacy of mass incarceration."

But the guideline encompass more than criminal justice; they also make clear that a human rights emphasis is key in improving people's rights to health, an adequate standard of living, and to be free from torture. The guidelines say that states are obligated by their health obligations to ensure the availability and accessibility of harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and safe consumption spaces. Those services must be adequately funded, appropriate for the needs of vulnerable groups, and respectful of the human dignity of their clients, the guidelines say.

"Ninety-nine percent of people who inject drugs do not have adequate access to harm reduction services and are left behind in progress against HIV," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "More than 12 percent of people who inject drugs are living with HIV and over half have hepatitis C. The only way to advance progress is to put people at the center, not drugs."

The guidelines also emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of farming communities -- especially women -- even to the extent of urging governments to temporarily permit the cultivation of illicit drug crops to allow farmers the chance to make a smooth transition to alternative crops. They cite Thailand's success in helping farmers move from opium production to alternative livelihoods.

Issuance of the guidelines will help member states, multilateral organizations, and civil society in their fight to help the rights-supporting U.N. Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights assume their deserved central role in the formulation of both international and national drug policies. For too long, globally accepted human rights standards have been sidelined by repressive approaches.

"Human rights should not just inform critiques of the response to drugs worldwide, they should also be the main drivers of its reform, underpinning checks and balances to break cycles of abuse" said Julie Hannah, Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, University of Essex "Fighting inequality and injustice is a more effective way of addressing the global drug problem than prisons and police."

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Bill This Week in NJ, Global Drug War Human Rights Guidelines Issued, More... (3/18/19)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill dies and the governor says she will take it up next year, Minneapolis will quit charging small-time pot offenders, UN bodies and member states issue drug war human rights guidelines, a federal prisoner sues for access to methadone treatment, and more.

The state of New Jersey is banking on marijuana tax revenues. Now, to get that bill passed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Unveil Legalization Package. A group of House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday to unveil a proposed package go bills to allow marijuana to be grown, processed, and sold to consumers in the state. The draft bills include a pilot plan for adult sales, but do not include letting people grow their own.

New Jersey Legalization Committee Votes Begin Today. The compromise legalization bill agreed to by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders is due for committee votes Monday, with an eye toward final passage next Monday if all goes well. The bill would allow adults to possess up to an ounce, but not grow their own. It would also expunge records of past pot offenses and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Goes to Governor, But Legalization Bill Dies. In last minute action this past weekend, the legislature passed a pot decriminalization bill, SB 323, and sent it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). That’s some small consolation for the failure of a legalization bill, HB 356, which passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

New Mexico Governor Adds Marijuana Legalization to 2020 Agenda. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday she will add marijuana legalization to the agenda of next year’s 30-day short session. The move comes after a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill managed to pass the House this session, only to be stalled in the Senate until the session expired on Saturday.

Minnesota’s Most Populous County Won’t Charge Small-Time Pot Offenders. Prosecutors in Hennepin County, the home of Minneapolis, will no longer prosecute people caught with small amounts of pot, County Attorney Mike Freeman said last Thursday. Under state law, possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor, but possession of as little as 45 grams can be charged as a felony. Freeman said he will no longer charge anyone caught with less than 100 grams; instead, defendants will be considered for a diversion program.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Posts Draft Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Health and Senior Services released more drafts of rules for the state's emerging medical marijuana system last Thursday. The rules cover marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana establishments in general. Click on the link for a detailed analysis of the proposed regulations.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Rules into Law.  Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last Thursday signed into law new regulations for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. The legislation sets guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, and packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain safety-sensitive positions, such as fire fighters and heavy machinery operators.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Moving. A bill to legalize hemp production, HB 122, passed out of a pair of committees last Thursday and is now headed for a House floor vote. The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, and 41 other states have already legalized hemp production.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative in Planning Stages. A coalition of advocacy groups in hosting a series of meetings in coming months aimed at building support for an initiative to decriminalize not only magic mushrooms but all “entheogenic plants, fungi, and natural sources.” The campaign is called Decriminalize Nature.

Drug Treatment

Incoming Federal Prisoner Sues Over Policy Banning Methadone Treatment. A Massachusetts woman who is about to enter federal prison and will not be permitted to continue methadone treatment for opioid addiction under prison rules has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the policy. Stephanie DiPierro has to do a year for collecting disability benefits and food stamps without reporting income from a job and has been on methadone since 2005.

Massachusetts Bill Would Block Courts from Jailing Defendants in Treatment Who Fail Drug Tests. After the state’s highest court ruled last year that judges could order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, legislators have responded with S. 397, which would bar judges from incarcerating people who are in treatment and fail mandatory drug tests while on probation. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Human Rights

UN Member States, UN Bodies, and Human Rights Groups Launch International Legal Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. A coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday launched a landmark set of international legal standards to transform and reshape global responses to the world drug problem. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy introduces a comprehensive catalogue of human rights standards. They are a guide for governments to develop human rights compliant drug policies, covering the spectrum of cultivation to consumption. Harnessing the universal nature of human rights, the document covers a range of policy areas from development to criminal justice to public health.  

International

Philippines Quits International Criminal Court Over Drug War Investigation. A year after the Philippines told the United Nations it was quitting the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal because it is investigating human rights abuses in the bloody war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte it has now officially withdrawn from the International Criminal Court. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure. However, the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue.

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

Philippine Democracy and Human Rights Face a Critical Test This Week

From our Facebook page today:

Our ally Senator Trillanes of the Philippines is facing possible jailing, maybe as soon as tomorrow, as a result of legal maneuvers that strain credulity in both their reasoning and their timing. It's not a given that Judge Soriano will go along with the administration in allowing the case against Trillanes to go forward. But even if he doesn't, there is a second case that could have the same result -- the judge in that case, Elmo Alameda, has used reasons that are farcical on their face to allow that one to move forward. He did at least allow for bail, but the case before Soriano would not. It's possible that the judges have been threatened.

If Trillanes joins Senator de Lima in the Camp Crame detention center, it will be even harder for political opponents of Duterte's drug war killings to oppose him, and the Philippines will be a big step closer to dictatorship. We would like the US government to make use of the Magnitsky Act to sanction Duterte administration officials who are responsible for these and other human rights violations. We also support legislation in Congress to cut off most funding to the Philippines National Police, and to fund the work of Philippine human rights advocates and health-based drug service providers. We prefer targeted measures of those types, for now at least, to pressure individual officials without harming the Filipino population as trade sanctions might. We would also like President Trump to retract his two disturbing statements that praised Duterte's drug policies.

In the meanwhile, we are hoping that Judge Soriano will do the right thing, and we commend the IPU for keeping a focus on this. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippinesto read about our work with Senator Trillanes and others.

Trillanes Gets Reprieve, for Now

Update: Senator Trillanes has had a reprieve, for at least a week.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of the Philippines, a high-profile critic of Rodrigo Duterte's murderous drug war, is likely to be jailed tomorrow morning, according to unconfirmed reports we've received. For those of watching this from the US, that means tonight. If you've followed this, you probably know that two days ago the Senator was arrested on a related charge, but released on bail. Unfortunately the charge that a second court is ruling on is not normally bailable, though one never knows what a judge's ruling will say until one sees it.

speaker meeting before our March UN event (photo by Joey Tranchina)
I spent two days with Senator Trillanes and staff members last March, when he keynoted our side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. Trillanes highlighted data released by the Duterte administration suggesting that the number of extrajudicial killings in Duterte's drug war may be as high as 20,000. Perversely, the administration included the killings in its "2017 Accomplishments" report, he pointed out, asking "what kind of president" would consider the killing of its own people to be accomplishment. By today, numbers over 25,000 are being floated, and human rights organizations are confident there have been at least 12,000 extrajudicial drug war killings in Duterte's first two years as president. (Follow the link above for more links to all this info.)

As far as the current cases against Senator Trillanes, an online news search on his name turns up countless articles for those who want more background. We have published two statements on the subject as well, on September 4th and yesterday. Our statement was featured in articles published by two news outlets in the Philippines as a voice of the international community, GMA News and Rappler.

Other than that, suffice it to say for now that the legal reasoning of both the Duterte administration and the judges enabling them seems pretty far-fetched and strained. I'm not a legal scholar, and of course I'm not neutral in this. But it's clear from the public discussion, on news and social media, that most legal thinkers in the Philippines feel the same way. The attack on Trillanes is just the latest in a series of moves against critics of the president. These include:

  • the jailing of Senator Leila de Lima two and a half years ago on unsupported drug charges;
  • the removal of the the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by a narrow majority of her colleagues;
  • attacks on Vice President Robredo for a video she made criticizing the extrajudicial drug war killings (for our 2017 UN side event), leading to a vigorous though unsuccessful campaign to impeach her;
  • a pending case against the last outspoken opposition Senator in the Philippines, Risa Hontiveros, for providing protection to teenagers who had witnessed the murder of a friend by Philippine National Police in a widely-publicized case (they're claiming that constituted kidnapping of the teens);

and the list goes on.

We got involved in the Philippines situation, as a US-based drug policy NGO, because the bulk of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines today are in the drug war, and because we've had an advocacy focus on foreign policy the last few years. Indeed, the drug war killings have spread now to Indonesia and Bangladesh, with high-ranking officials in Malaysia and Turkey also calling for killings or other extrajudicial violence by drug enforcers. And President Trump himself, not only has praised Duterte, but has specifically praised Duterte's drug war, and has done so twice.

I hope, if you haven't already, that you'll take a few minutes to read about our work in this area. We have bigger plans in the works, that I hope to be able to write about here in the near future -- I had the honor of conversing with Senator Trillanes himself about them last Sunday, just hours before his first arrest was announced. If this work seems important to you, please consider making a donation to support it. One other small thing you can do, if you're a US voter, is write to Congress supporting current bipartisan legislation to place human rights conditions on some aid to the Philippines.

Thank you for reading this far, and please stay tuned and be ready to raise your voice in this -- a devolution into global barbarism will affect us here -- the time to take a stand is now.

Trump's Terrible, No Good Plan to Gin Up Worldwide Drug War [FEATURE]

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he's going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on "The World Drug Problem," and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, "The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to "participate in a group photo" with the president.

The president goes to the UN to try to push global drug policy backward. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
"The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already "collaborating" with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them -- China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions -- perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump's Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration's hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document "is not open for discussion."

In Trump's Global Call to Action, states agree to develop "action plans" based on a "four-pronged strategy" of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago -- not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for "a drug-free world." That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN's political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation -- language strikingly reminiscent of Trump's current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words "harm reduction" didn't make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present.

Trump's Global Call also reverts to the sort of "eliminationist" language regarding drug cultivation that many countries have been moving away from. The strategy wants to "reduce" drug demand, but "cut off the supply" of drugs by "stopping" their production. Such language implies the resort to repressive eradication measures aimed at poor peasants in the developing world, a policy that has failed for decade after decade.

Drug policy advocates are raising the alarm over the administration's moves.

"This Global Call to Action is a unilateral move orchestrated by the US government that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular UN processes of negotiation and consensus. This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Holding the event at the UN provides a "veneer of multilateralism and global accord, but these trappings of multilateralism should not be mistaken for a new-found global drug policy consensus," the International Drug Policy Consortium declared. "Far from an effort at achieving mutual understanding and genuine consensus, it is an instance of heavy-handed US 'with us or against us' diplomacy."

The world need not leave global drug policy to the tender mercies of Donald Trump. In fact, it would be better off listening to one of the men who will address the Monday meeting: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As president of Portugal, Guterres oversaw that country's groundbreaking decriminalization of drug use and possession in 2001.

Or it could listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of the former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. On Monday, the same day that Trump attempts to cement a repressive alliance, the commission is launching its new report, "Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs," which calls for reforming the prohibition-based global drug control system and examines how responsible regulation can take control of currently illegal drug markets.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy. From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law," warned Hetzer. "Governments should be very wary of signing on to this document and showing up for the photo op at Trump's event."

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Statement: Philippine Court Fails Crucial Test

(UPDATE: Our statement was covered by two Philippine news outlets, Rappler and GMA.)

Senator Trillanes at our March 2018 event (photo courtesy Joey Tranchina)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 25, 2018

The Philippine court system failed a crucial test today, and human rights may be the gravest casualty. Last night (mid-afternoon Philippines time) a court ordered the arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Trillanes is free on bail, but believes he is likely to be jailed in an upcoming court hearing in a related case.

Trillanes is the second opposition senator to face charges. In a similar situation, Senator Leila de Lima was incarcerated a year and a half ago on unsupported drug charges, half a year after President Duterte promised to "destroy" her. The case against de Lima was brought shortly after she had a confessed former member of Duterte's "Davao Death Squad" testify in the Justice Committee, one of two former DDS members to go public. Duterte promised a year ago to also "destroy" Senator Trillanes.

The legal pretexts for the administration's action against Trillanes have drawn broad criticism in the Philippine legal and human rights communities. Trillanes was the recipient with others of an amnesty grant in 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino (the equivalent of a presidential clemency or pardon in the US). He was a leader of a famous military mutiny in which soldiers in the "Magdalo" group occupied a building to protest corruption in the Gloria Arroyo administration, and less-covered issues including illegal military attacks on Filipino Muslims.

Trillanes served seven years before the amnesty, getting elected to the Senate the first time while still jailed. Arroyo turned out to be even more corrupt than the Magdalo soldiers had claimed, and was caught engaging in election-rigging in not one but two elections, but is now Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives.

The Duterte administration issued a proclamation three weeks ago declaring Trillanes' amnesty to be revoked -- a wholly unconstitutional move, according to most observers -- claiming that he failed to submit an application or admit guilt. Despite news footage showing him turning in the application, an affidavit by the military official administering the amnesty process attesting that there was an application, and a certificate of amnesty granted by the government, Judge Elmo Alameda insisted that because Trillanes could not find a copy of the application, he couldn't prove that he had complied with the amnesty's conditions. Alameda was similarly unmoved by the point that it was the military that was obligated to keep track of the application, not Trillanes, and that it could have been removed from the files as part of a conspiracy by the administration.

StoptheDrugWar.org condemns the Duterte administration's blatantly political attack on Senator Antonio Trillanes. We further note that the day on which the president's arrest order was initially made public, was the same day Trillanes was leading a Senate hearing on government contracts issued to a firm owned by the family of Duterte Solicitor General Jose Calida. Evidence came out demonstrating that the amnesty revocation was initiated by Calida.

We are also concerned that the amnesty revocation threat can now be held over other members of the Magdalo movement, one of whom, Rep. Gary Alejano, is a likely candidate for the Senate as part of the opposition coalition, of which the Magdalo Party is an important plank. The congressional election in the Philippines is scheduled for May 2019, which is also when Trilllanes' term in the Senate expires.

Senator Trillanes joined our March 2018 event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting in Vienna, where he presented administration data suggesting that extrajudicial killings in President Duterte's drug war may exceed 20,000. Perversely, the Senator observed, the administration listed these killings among its "2017 Accomplishments."

"StoptheDrugWar.org is focused on the still-unfolding human rights crisis in the Philippines, and Senator Trillanes is one of a handful of leaders willing to aggressive confront that crisis. Whether he remains free to speak and campaign, or instead joins Senator de Lima as a symbol behind bars, we will continue to support his efforts," said StoptheDrugWar.org Executive Director David Borden.

"Trillanes told us in Vienna he expected political prosecutions to increase in pace during the second half of this year," Borden continued. "We are saddened that he is personally a victim of this. But it has already further mobilized the already energized Philippine opposition to Duterte, and it will also focus even greater world attention onto Duterte's crimes and depredations."

StoptheDrugWar.org is a US-based NGO with a focus on international drug policy, and which has advocated on the Philippines human rights situation since early 2017. Our educational nonprofit DRCNet Foundation has been in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2016.

Footage of Senator Trillanes' presentation in Vienna is online at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines#vienna2018.

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Statement: Duterte Moves Against Second Drug War Critic

Senator Trillanes at our March 2018 event (photo courtesy Joey Tranchina)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 4, 2018

StoptheDrugWar.org condemns the Duterte administration's blatantly political attack on Senator Antonio Trillanes, a fierce and brave critic of the President's human rights violations.

Senator Trillanes joined our March 2018 event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting in Vienna, where he presented administration data suggesting that extrajudicial killings in President Duterte's drug war may exceed 20,000. Perversely, the Senator observed, the administration listed these killings among its "2017 Accomplishments."

We note that President Duterte promised a year ago to "destroy" Senator Trillanes.

Senator Leila de Lima was incarcerated a year and a half ago on unsupported drug charges, half a year after President Duterte promised to "destroy" her. The case against de Lima was brought shortly after she had a confessed former member of Duterte's "Davao Death Squad" testify in the Justice Committee, one of two former DDS members to go public.

"Senator Trillanes told us in Vienna he expected political prosecutions to increase in pace during the second half of this year. But he also promised that while he remained free, he would continue to speak out," said StoptheDrugWar.org Executive Director David Borden.

"Undoubtedly the imprisoning of Senator Trillanes, if that happens, will further mobilize the already energized Philippine opposition to Duterte," Borden continued. "But it will also focus even greater world attention onto Duterte's crimes and depredations. I am saddened by this development, but I can't imagine a better gift to our international organizing efforts."

StoptheDrugWar.org is a US-based NGO with a focus on international drug policy, and which has focused on the Philippines human rights situation since early 2017. Our educational nonprofit DRCNet Foundation has been in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2016.

Footage of Senator Trillanes' presentation in Vienna is online at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines#vienna2018.

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