Prosecution

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Russian Court Sentences American Basketball Star Brittney Griner to Nine Years in Prison

A Russian judge sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases.

This is what got Brittney Griner a nine year sentence.
Russian authorities detained Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, and she is widely viewed as having become a pawn in the conflict between Washington and Moscow over the war. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict.

President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue to make every effort to free her.

The US has offered a prisoner swap of Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, in return for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's leftist rebels, the FARC. But the Russians have so far demurred, first saying that Griner's trial had to finish and, more recently, showing littler interest in the matter.

While Griner's sentence seems stiff to Western sensibilities, it is in line with Russia's draconian, zero-tolerance drug laws. Drug offenders make up a quarter of the country's prison population. As Penn State University law professor William Butler noted: "To many in the US, nine years' imprisonment may seem like a harsh penalty for cannabis possession. But in Russia, it is par for the course for this crime."

Another American citizen, 61-year old Marc Fogel, is currently serving a 14-year sentence in Russia for marijuana possession. Fogel and his wife were returning to Russia for the last year of a ten year teaching stint, when he was caught. According to family, Fogel uses marijuana to treat chronic back pain.

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Fatal Breonna Taylor Drug Raid, Thai Cannabis Tourism, More... (8/4/22)

Arkansas election officials knock a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot -- at least for now -- San Francisco's new DA cracks down on drug dealers, and more.

Kentucky did not do it, but maybe the federal government can obtain justice for Breonna Taylor.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Panel Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday blocked a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas from appearing on the ballot in November. The board rejected the popular name and ballot title for the measure, which has already accumulated enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The board said it rejected the measure because members believed the ballot title didn't fully explain the measure's impact, but Responsible Growth Arkansas said the amount of detail demanded would make the ballot title "thousands and thousands of words long."

Law Enforcement

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Breonna Taylor Case. The FBI has charged four Louisville police officers for their actions leading up to and during a March 2020 drug raid on the apartment of medical worker Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police gunfire after her boyfriend shot at what he believed to be intruders trying to break into the residence. Those charged include former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankison, and Kelly Hanna Goodlett, as well as current LMPD sergeant Kyle Meany was also arrested Thursday by the feds. The feds are charging the four with civil rights violations, which include charges of obstruction of justice for actions they took after the raid. The four officers largely escaped justice at the state level, with only one charged, and later acquitted -- not for shooting Taylor but for endangering the lives of neighbors by wildly shooting several rounds into the building. The killing of Taylor became a major rallying cry in the summer of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

San Francisco DA Cracks Down on Drug Dealers. Newly-elected District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Wednesday announced tougher new policies to hold drug dealers accountable, saying anyone caught with more than five grams of drugs would no longer be referred to the city's drug court, that she will make use of sentencing enhancements for drug dealing within a thousand feet of a school, and will seek pretrial detention of fentanyl dealers in "extreme" cases. The move comes as Jenkins replaces former progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin, who was recalled amidst rising public concern over crime and squalor in the city. But the city's Public Defender called Jenkin's approach "regressive," saying it will disproportionately affect communities of color. "If District Attorney Jenkins truly wants to address the issues facing our city, she should not be relying on outdated and politically expedient soundbites about harsher enforcement," said Public Defender Mano Raju.

International

Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Penal Colony for Possessing Small Quantity of Cannabis Oil. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases. Griner was detained by Russian authorities just a week before it invaded Ukraine, and her case is widely seen as part of the broader conflict between Russia and the United States over that conflict. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict. President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue all-out efforts to get her home.

Cannabis Cafes Emerge in Thailand. "Several" cannabis cafes have opened in Bangkok since the country decriminalized cannabis in June, despite the government's warning that the law's relaxation did not include recreational marijuana use. Recreational use has exploded under the new law, something that government officials have tried to discourage. Now, a parliamentary committee is working on a bill that could rejigger the rules and possibly impact the cannabis cafes. In the meantime, one café owner said his place had "hundreds" of customers every day. "Europeans, Japanese, Americans -- they are looking for Thai sativa. Cannabis and tourism are a match," he said.

MA Drug Decrim Bills Move to Study Phase, New San Francisco DA Pledges Drug Crackdown, More... (7/13/22)

DC's congressional delegate files an amendment to allow marijuana use in public housing in places where weed is legal, Connecticut hands out its first social equity marijuana growing licenses, and more.

San Francisco's Tenderloin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Amendments to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing in Jurisdictions Where It Is Legal. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced Wednesday that she has filed two amendments at the House Rules Committee to the fiscal year 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to allow marijuana in public housing in jurisdictions where marijuana is already legal. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. The other would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. The amendments are co-led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Connecticut Social Equity Council Awards First Commercial Marijuana Licenses. The state took another step toward getting retail marijuana sales up and running Tuesday as the Social Equity Council awarded its first commercial marijuana licenses. The 16 licenses are for marijuana growers. The marijuana grows must be located in areas "disproportionately impacted" by the war on drugs. "Our actions today will be transformative for social equity applicants, but more importantly will bring change to communities most harmed by the war on drugs," said Andrea Comer, Connecticut Social Equity Council chair. It's not quite a done deal, though: Licensees must still pass a background check and pay a $ 3 million (!) fee before being officially licensed.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bills Move to Study Phase. After the legislature's Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery approved a pair of companion drug decriminalization bills, Senate bill 1277 and House bill 2119, last month, the legislation has now advanced to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. That committee has now referred the measures for further study, with a report issued at an unspecified later date. Most bills referred to study die there, and bill sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D) has expressed doubts about its future. Still, a decriminalization bill has advanced in the state legislature.

Law Enforcement

New San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins Announces Large Reversal of Boudin Policies Over Drug Arrests. After progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin was recalled by voters last month, incoming District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is now working to undo his policies. She announced that she would be going after drug dealers in the city, singling out the Tenderloin district as areas that need the most help. She also singled out fentanyl as the big drug to crack down in the city. "The days of giving dealers a free pass to flood the streets with fentanyl are over," said Jenkins during a press conference in the district on Tuesday. "I told the public that on day one I will begin enforcing drug crime law. I mean what I say and I am focused on delivering on my promise to hold serious and repeat offenders accountable for wreaking havoc in our communities like the Tenderloin." Jenkins said she would offer more details on policy changes soon.

NJ AG Says Cops Can Smoke Pot (But Not on Duty), ME Good Samaritan Improvement Bill Advances, More... (4/18/22)

New York issues its first marijuana grower licences, a Florida drug treatment provider is convicted of a massive drug testing fraud, and more.

There's money to be made growing weed, and in New York, equity applicants are getting the first crack at it. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Police Can Use Marijuana Off-Duty. Marijuana use is now legal for adults in the state, and that includes police officers, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin wrote in a memo last Thursday. The memo said it is critical for police to be clear-headed on the job, but they cannot be punished for engaging in a legal activity as long as it does not affect their work. Maybe we will see cops in line at pot shops later this week; retail sales begin on Thursday.

New York Issues First Marijuana Grower Licenses. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced last Friday that the state's Cannabis Control Board has approved the first legal marijuana grower licenses in the state. The state has approved 52 Adult-Use Cannabis Conditional Cultivator licenses out of a pool of 150 applicants since March 15. The Office of Cannabis Management will continue to review applications and issue more licenses as quickly as possible. These first licenses went to "equity entrepreneurs" who qualify by having either a past marijuana conviction or one in their family and who have experience operating a successful business in the state.

Drug Testing

Florida Drug Rehab Facility Owner Guilty in Multimillion Dollar Drug Testing Fraud. Carie Lyn Beetle, the owner of Florida drug treatment center, was found guilty last Friday of running a $58 million insurance fraud scheme in which she recruited patients by offering free or discounted rent and free travel to Florida to stay in her sober houses, then tested them as often as three times a week, for which she would submit insurance claims. The frequency of the testing, for which she could bill as much as $5,000 each time, was considered unnecessary, and the results were not studied by treatment professionals. Sometimes the tests were never even conducted, but still billed for. Her center, Real Life Recovery, would also often bill for counseling and treatment services that were not actually conducted, and employees testified that they would regularly forge patient signatures to show they had attended counseling when they had not. For turning her treatment program into a racket, Beetle is now looking at up to 30 years in prison.

Harm Reduction

Maine Senate Approves Strengthened Good Samaritan Law. The Senate last Friday approved a bill to strengthen the state's Good Samaritan law, which is designed to protect people suffering from overdoses and those seeking to help them from prosecution. The bill, LD 1682, would change the existing law so that any person at the scene of an overdose who makes a good faith effort to call for assistance is protected from arrest or prosecution. The bill would include immunity for bail and probation violations, while exempting sex crimes, crimes involving children, and arson, among other crimes. It now heads to the House. 

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

Global Coalition to Internationally Reschedule Psilocybin, Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill, More... (1/12/22)

A Florida bill seeks to make it easier to prosecute drug overdoses as murders, an Austin initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession has enough signatures to qualify for the May ballot, and more.

Austin voters are nearly set to vote on a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative in May. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Austin Appears Headed for May Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Measure. The Austin city clerk verified Monday that a campaign to put a measure on the May municipal ballot to decriminalize marijuana and ban no-knock raids has collected enough signatures to qualify. But the city council must first vote to put it on the ballot. The measure, backed by Ground Game Texas, would bar Austin police from ticketing or arresting people for low-level marijuana or pot paraphernalia charges, or paying to test substances suspected of being marijuana. But possession would remain a misdemeanor under state law, and it is unclear whether Austin police would abide by such an ordinance.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Takes Up Medical Marijuana. More than a year after voters approved medical marijuana and months after the state Supreme Court nullified the will of the voters, the state legislature is ready to respond. On Tuesday, Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven) filed Senate Bill 2095, which has been referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and could see action as soon as this week. If it passes the committee, it would then head for a Senate floor vote. Then it would go to the House, but House Speaker Phillip Gunn (R) has said medical marijuana is not a big priority of his.

Sentencing Policy

Florida Bill to Ease Murder Prosecutions in Drug Overdose Cases Advances. A bill that would make it easier to prosecute fatal drug overdoses as first-degree murder cases was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Sponsored by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), Senate Bill 190 would lower the standard for bringing a murder charge from requiring that prosecutors prove the drug was the "proximate cause" of an overdose death to proving only that it was a "substantial factor."

Brodeur said prosecutors were complaining that they were having difficulty bringing murder charges because "very frequently victims have multiple substances” in their systems when they overdose. "In moving from proximate cause to substantial factor, what we're saying is, rather than getting a battle of the experts that have to prove that this (drug) was the actual cause of death versus something else in your system, as long as there was enough of this one by itself to cause death, that’s enough for prosecution. And that makes it much simpler," Brodeur said.

Public defenders warned that the measure could remove the incentive for people to report overdoses "if they know that there’s a possible death penalty prosecution" that could result. The bill also would add methamphetamine to the list of drugs that can be eligible for first-degree murder charges in overdose deaths. That list currently includes such substances as cocaine, opium and fentanyl. The proposal also would toughen penalties for selling controlled substances within 1,000 feet of facilities that provide substance abuse treatment.

A similar House Bill (HB 95) needs approval from the House Judiciary Committee before it could go to the House floor for consideration.

International

Global Coalition Launches Push to Reschedule Psilocybin Under International Rules. The newly formed International Therapeutic Psilocybin Rescheduling Initiative (ITPRI) has announced a new campaign to get psilocybin mushrooms rescheduled at the international level. The group says it is seeking the change in order to ease barriers to research. Member organizations include the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Beckley Foundation, Mind Medicine Australia, Drug Science and Open Foundation. The coalition wants psilocybin removed from Schedule I of the UN's 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, arguing that it is neither especially risky nor with only limited therapeutic uses, the two conditions required for drugs to be placed in Schedule I. As a first step, the coalition will attempt to find a UN member nation to ask for a formal review of the risks and benefits of the psychedelic.

Duterte Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Killings, Oklahoma MJ Legalization Init Filed, More... (1/6/22)

It's January and marijuana legalization efforts are winding up, Manhattan's new DA will refuse to prosecute some drug crimes, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Iowa Lawmakers Release Proposal to Put Marijuana Legalization on the Ballot. Three state Senate Democrats have filed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in the state. The proposal would put the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission in charge of regulations, would allow people 21 and over to possess and purchase marijuana, and set up a system of taxed and regulated production and sales. To become law, the amendment would have to be approved by two General Assemblies and then put on the next election ballot. Senators Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Windsor Heights), and Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) introduced the proposal.

New Hampshire House Refuses to Pass or Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Tuesday voted down an attempt to kill a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 237, but then also refused to pass it. The bill would have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years old and older, regulated its use and commercial sales, and tax those sales. The motion to kill the bill failed on a 171-158 vote, while a motion to pass the bill failed on a 170-163 vote. The House then decided on a 300-32 vote to table the bill.

New York Governor Announces $200 Fund for Social Equity Marijuana Businesses. The state will create a $200 million fund to assist social equity applicants trying to get marijuana business licenses, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced during her State of the State address Wednesday. But the funding mechanism -- a "public/private" model based on licensing fees and taxes -- has some minority industry members concerned that the funding will only be available after the industry has already been established, still leaving social equity applicants in an adverse position.

Oklahoma Activists File New Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Activists on Tuesday filed a new marijuana legalization initiative with state officials. This time, the local activists are being backed by the national New Approach PAC, which has backed a number of successful initiatives in other states. A different group of state activists has already filed its own legalization initiative. This newest measure would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce, grow up to six plants and six seedlings, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. If and when the initiative is approved for signature-gathering, the campaign will have 90 days to come up with 94,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Says Proposed Current Dosage Amount for Medical Marijuana is Too High. Governor Tate Reeves (R) is digging in his heels on concerns about how much marijuana medical marijuana patients could use under proposed legislation. "If 10 percent of the Mississippi population gets a marijuana card, that's 300-thousand Mississippians," he said. "At 11 joints a day, that's 3.3 million joints a day, 100 million joints a month,1.2 billion joints on the streets of Mississippi a year and I just think that's too much to be on the streets." Voters approved medical marijuana in the November 2020 elections, only to see it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. Both Reeves and the legislature have vowed to enact medical marijuana legislation, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

Prosecution

Manhattan DA Announces Office Will Not Prosecute Certain Offenses, Including Some Drug Offenses. New Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued a memo this week directing his prosecutors to seek jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses and not prosecute charges such as marijuana misdemeanors, fare-jumping, trespass, unlicensed vehicle operation, prostitution, or resisting arrest unless the offense is accompanied by another misdemeanor or felony. Also, small-time drug sellers will not be charged with felonies and will be eligible for diversion. Bragg is only the latest big city progressive prosecutor to embrace such an approach to prosecution; prosecutors in places like Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have been leading the way.

International

Duterte Says He Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Deaths. Outgoing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte remains unrepentant about the thousands of people killed in his bloody war on drugs. In a major speech Tuesday, he said police doing their duty had a right to fight back when their lives were endangered, and that he would not apologize for his actions. "I will never, never apologize for the deaths of those bastards," he said in English, before adding in Tagalog, "Kill me, imprison me, I will never apologize." Official government numbers put the death toll in Duterte's drug war at 6,200, but human rights groups say the real toll is more than 30,000. The Duterte administration is currently trying to fend off an International Criminal Court investigation of human rights abuses in its drug war.

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, NY GOP US Reps Back Bill to "Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites," More... (12/15/21)

A therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed in New York, the prosecutor in Arizona's second most populous county is at least temporarily not prosecuring drug possession cases, and more.

flag of Malta
Psychedelics

New York Assemblyman Files Bill to Allow Therapeutic Psilocybin Use. Assemblyman Pat Burke (D) has filed a bill that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and create facilities where the mushrooms could be grown and provided to patients. It is a set-up similar to what Oregon voters approved last year. The bill provides a list of qualifying medical conditions but also says psilocybin could be recommended "for any conditions" certified by a practitioner. The Department of Health would be responsible for providing a training course for practitioners and licensing the psilocybin centers.

Harm Reduction

New York GOP US Representatives Back Bill to Defund Safe Injection Sites. Republican members of the state's congressional delegation are lining up behind a bill from one of their own, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), that aims to cut funding for group and governments that open safe injection sites. The bill is a response to the opening this month of the first officially acknowledged safe injection sites in the US in New York City. Her bill, the Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites Act of 2021 is being cosponsored by New York Republican Reps. Andrew Garbarino, John Katko, Claudia Tenney. And Lee Zeldin. They argue that safe injection sites violate the Controlled Substances Act, citing an appeals court ruling in January that blocked the opening of such a site in Philadelphia. "Gifting money to heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life is an egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars," Malliotakis said, reprising a longstanding conservative position that does not recognize any benefit from such harm reduction practices.

Law Enforcement

Amidst Surging COVID Cases, Arizona's Pima County Will No Longer Prosecute Drug Possession Cases. Pima County (Tucson) Attorney Laura Conover (D) announced Tuesday that she will temporarily stop prosecuting drug possession cases because of pandemic-related risks. She said the policy will be in effect for at least 60 days "to protect both Pima County jail employees and people who are detained against the surging threat of COVID." Also included are people caught with drug paraphernalia or those in "related personal-use incidents."

A sizeable percentage of (society) has expressed disinterest in the vaccine, depriving us of the herd immunity that would have put this virus behind us," Conover wrote in a memorandum to law enforcement officials. "COVID is now spreading inside the jail, putting people there at risk. The health and safety of our community are paramount." The move comes as county officials prepare to fire hundreds of corrections officers who refused to get vaccinated.

International

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, First European Union Nation to Do So. Members of the Maltese Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill legalizing marijuana, becoming the first European Union country to make the leap. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law also allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500. President George Vella supported the measure and is set to sign it later this week.

NYC Opens Nation's First Official Supervised Injection Sites, Toronto Moves Toward Drug Decrim, More... (11/30/21)

A pair of supervised injection sites are now operating in New York City, NORML issues a report on marijuana legislative victories in the states, and more.

Blotter acid. The Bombay High Court has ruled that the blotter paper must be weighed along with the LSD for sharing purposes.
Marijuana Policy

NORML Issues Report Highlighting 2021 State Legislative Victories. "State legislators in 2021 enacted over 50 laws liberalizing marijuana policies in more than 25 states, according to a report issued Monday by the National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)," the group said in a blog post. "Specifically, legislatures in five states -- Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia -- enacted laws legalizing adult-use marijuana possession and regulating retail cannabis markets. These legislative victories mark a significant change from past years, when similar laws were primarily enacted via citizens' initiatives, not by legislative action. In total, 18 states -- comprising nearly one-half of the US population -- now have laws on the books regulating adult use marijuana production and retail sales. Many states also took actions facilitating the expungement or sealing of past marijuana convictions. Over the past several months, state officials have vacated an estimated 2.2 million marijuana convictions. Numerous states in 2021 also enacted legislation expanding medical cannabis access and stimulating greater diversity among licensed marijuana businesses."

Harm Reduction

New York City Opens Supervised Injection Sites. Supervised injection sites are now operating in East Harlem and Washington Heights -- a first for the city and the country. The two sites are already operating as needle exchanges. Mayor Bill de Blasio began calling for the harm reduction intervention in 2018, and on Tuesday, he and the city Health Department announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center services in the nation have commenced."

"New York City has led the nation's battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn't stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it," de Blasio said in a statement announcing the move. "Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I'm proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible."

The sites are not operated by the city but by two nonprofits, New York Harm Reduction Educators and the Washington Heights Corner Project. City officials said they have had "productive conversations" with state and federal officials and believe the federal government will not interfere becauwe of "a shared sense of urgency" around record overdose deaths.

International

Toronto Moves Toward Drug Decriminalization. Canada's largest city is preparing to take the first step toward municipal drug decriminalization after the city's top health officer, Dr. Eilenn de Villa, recommended Monday that the board of health approve a request to the federal government to exempt city residents from criminal charges for small-time drug possession. "The status quo approach to the drug poisoning crisis is not working," the report said. "There is an urgent need for a comprehensive public health approach to drug policy that removes structural barriers to health care and social services, provides alternatives to the toxic drug supply, and enhances and expands services to improve the health and well-being of Toronto's communities."

De Villa is recommending that the board of health direct her to apply for the exemption by year's end. If the board does so, she will not need city council approval to move forward. It will then be up to Health Canada to approve or deny the exemption. The city of Vancouver sought a similar exemption in March, but Health Canada has yet to rule on that request. The plan has the support of the police and Mayor John Tory.

Bombay High Court Rules Blotter Paper Should Be Included When Weighing LSD for Charging Purposes. The High Court in India's largest city has ruled that the weight of blotter paper is an integral part of contraband seizures and the paper should be included when weighing LSD for charging purposes. "I have held that having regard to the findings in Hira Singh's judgment passed by the Supreme Court and the objective of the NDPS Act, blotter paper forms an integral part of LSD and the blotter paper will have to be considered for taking weight of the LSD. The impugned order is quashed and set aside," Justice Dere pronounced.

A lower court had ruled that the blotter paper should not be included when weighing the drug. Indian drug law says that possession of more than a tenth of a gram of LSD indicates a commercial quantity, but the weight of a single blotter weighed by authorities came in at more than six tenths of a gram, signifying that the courts would consider a single hit of blotter LSD to be evidence of intent to deal drugs.

In the US, the US Sentencing Commission has weighed in on the issue and come to the opposite conclusion: "In the case of LSD on a carrier medium (e.g., a sheet of blotter paper), do not use the weight of the LSD/carrier medium. Instead, treat each dose of LSD on the carrier medium as equal to 0.4 mg of LSD for the purposes of the Drug Quantity Table."

Baltimore No Drug Possession Arrest Policy is Working; Naloxone Shortages, Price Hikes Amid Overdose Surge, More... (10/19/21)

The South Dakota legislature continues to tangle with marijuana policy, Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature is dithering on making fentanyl test strips legal, and more.

A manufacturing issue at Pfizer is contributing to naloxone shortages and price hikes. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon County Asks for National Guard Help to Fight Illegal Marijuana Grows. With unlicensed marijuana grows and marijuana grows disguised as hemp operations running rampant in southern Oregon, commissioners in Jackson County have asked Gov. Kate Brown (D) to send in the National Guard "to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis." The move came last week, the same day police near Medford raided a site that had 17,500 pot plants and two tons of processed marijuana. That was only the latest massive bust in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties this year, which act as a northern extension of California's Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. In both southern Oregon and northern California, marijuana cultivation has been entrenched for half a century. Gov. Brown has rejected the request for National Guard troops but could reconsider next year, her office said.

South Dakota Lawmakers Ponder Bill to Scrap Medical Marijuana Law but Legalize Adult Use. The legislature's Adult-Use Marijuana Committee on Tuesday is considering a bill that would undo the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law but would instead legalize the use and possession of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill was drafted by committee chair Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), who characterized it as a compromise between factions that oppose and support legalization. Voters also approved legalization last year but allied of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed suit to block it. That case remains before the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, local activists have begun a signature-gathering drive to put a new legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Under the Bartels bill, people 21 and over could possess up to an ounce of weed and up to 22 grams of waxes, oils, and edibles, but home cultivation would not be allowed. Bartels said the medical marijuana law would not be needed if his bill passed, but the Health Department would issue medical marijuana cards for patients under 21.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Price Soars, Shortages Occur Amid Overdose Surge. As the nation confronts all-time high overdose deaths, the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone is increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive. Harm reduction and other community groups are now paying as much as 30 times more for the life-saving medication—when they can obtain it at all. "Not having this life-saving medication to reduce overdose deaths, during a time when we’re seeing the greatest increase we’ve ever seen, is a public health crisis," said Amanda Latimore, director of the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions. "There hasn’t been a more important time than right now to have an overdose reversal drug available. And now that we’re seeing this shortage, we can expect even more fatal overdoses," she said. The shortages are a result of manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which has been providing the drug at low cost to harm reduction groups, and are expected to be resolved by year's end. But in the meantime, other pharmaceutical manufacturers could have ramped up production, but have not done so, no have they cut prices. The reason? "Profit. There’s no other way to put it," said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pennsylvania's Republican-Dominated Legislature Stalls on Allowing Fentanyl Test Strips. Under current state law, fentanyl test strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal, but even as the state and the nation face unprecedented numbers of opioid overdose deaths, the Republican-dominated state legislature is sitting on bills that would amend the law to allow people to use the test strips. House Bill 1393 and its companion measure, Senate Bill 845, are both languishing in committee. While the legislature dithers, the state attorney general, the Philadelphia DA, and the Philadelphia mayor have announced a commitment to not prosecute people for possessing fentanyl test strips.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore’s No-Prosecution Policy for Low-Level Drug Possession and Prostitution Finds Almost No Rearrests for Serious Offenses. A new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fewer new low-level drug and prostitution arrests, almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped, and fewer 911 calls. The findings suggest the new policies did not result in increased public complaints about drug use or sex work, and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug and drug paraphernalia possession and prostitution in March 2020, chiefly as an infection-reduction measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later she announced that the policy would remain in place—even after the pandemic winds down—as a way of reducing the burdens on city police and on the poorer, predominantly Black city residents who are traditionally arrested for such crimes. The report’s key findings, covering the 14 months following the policy change (April 2020 to May 2021), include:

  • An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community. This analysis was based on Baltimore Police Department arrest data.
  • Of the 741 people whose drug and prostitution charges were dropped, six—less than 1 percent—had new arrests for serious crimes during the study period. This analysis was based on Maryland Courts Judicial Information System data.
  • Calls to 911 about drug/paraphernalia and prostitution declined significantly in the post-policy change period.

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