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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: Portland Decriminalize Nature Signature Gathering Gets Underway, More... (12/24/19)

Portland, Oregon, sees a psychedelic decriminalization initiative begin signature gathering, and more.

Decriminalize Nature movement logo
Psychedelics

Portland, Oregon, Activists Begin Gathering Signatures for Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure. The activist group Decriminalize Nature Portland has begun the task of gathering some 38,000 valid voter signatures by July 6 to put a municipal initiative on the ballot to decriminalize a number of psychedelics, including magic mushrooms and ayahuasca. The measure would bar the use of city funds to enforce any laws against the personal use and cultivation of natural psychedelics.

International

Dublin Takes a Step Toward Opening a Safe Injection Site. What could be Ireland's first safe injection site has moved a step closer to reality as a Dublin planning appeals tribunal has overruled city council planners and approved a facility on the city's inner south side. The NGO Merchants Quay Ireland had moved to set up the first such site in the country after a 2017 law allowed drug users to be exempt from drug possession charges at a designated safe injection site, but Dublin city planners had blocked the move, citing NIMBY concerns from local residents and businesses.

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

As the clock ticks down toward 2020, it's worth taking a moment to look back and reflect on what has gone on in the world of drug policy this year. From marijuana to psychedelics to the lingering overdose crisis to the emergence of a new vaping-related illness, a lot happened. Here are ten of the biggest highs and lows of 2019, in no particular order:

It was a big year for marijuana in Congress. Less so in the states.
1, For the First Time, Marijuana Legalization Wins a Congressional Vote

In November, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3384). The bill would effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substance Act's drug schedules. It would also require federal courts to expunge prior convictions and conduct resentencing hearings for those still doing federal marijuana time. And it would assess a five percent tax on marijuana sales to create a fund to aid to people and communities most impacted by prohibition.

There's a good chance the MORE Act will get a House floor vote before the end of this Congress, but even if it does, its prospects in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate are dim at best. Still, step by step, Congress by Congress, the end of federal marijuana prohibition is drawing nearer.

2. Marijuana Banking Bill Passes the House

In September, the House passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking and other financial services. The vote was 321-103, with near unanimous support from Democrats, as well as nearly half of Republicans.

The vote came although some civil rights and drug reform groups had called for it to be put off until more comprehensive marijuana or criminal justice reform, such as the MORE Act (see above) could be enacted. They argued that passage of a narrowly targeted financial services bill could erode momentum toward broader reforms. The MORE Act did win a House Judiciary Committee vote, but has yet to get a House floor vote.

And while SAFE passed the House, it must still get through the Senate, where it is not clear whether it will be allowed to a vote, much less whether it can pass. A companion version of SAFE, S.1200, was introduced in April by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of 21 original cosponsors. It currently has 33 total cosponsors. In September, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said his committee would take up the cannabis banking issue this year and is working on preparing a new bill, but now it's December and little has happened.

3. Legalization in the States Didn't Have a Great Year

At the beginning of 2019, prospects looked good for as many as a half-dozen states to get legalization bills passed, but the year turned out to largely be a dud. Hopes were especially high in New Jersey and New York, where Democratic governors supported legalization, but it didn't come to pass this year in either state. In Albany, they'll be back at it next year, but in Trenton, it looks like the legislature is going to punt, opting instead to put the issue directly to the voters next year in a legislative referendum.

One state did make it all the way to the finish line: Illinois. After a legalization bill sailed through the legislature in the spring, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in late June. With that signature, Illinois became the first state to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process, rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

Getting bills through a state legislature is hard work, and it sometimes takes years. Still, that hard work that didn't quite make it over the top this year, is laying the groundwork for legalization in places like New Jersey and New York -- and maybe more -- next year. And next year is an election year, which means initiative campaigns that can bypass legislative logjams will be in play. There are already active campaigns in Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and South Dakota, although none have yet qualified for the ballot. Look for 2020 to be a better year when it comes to freeing the weed.

4. Pot Prohibition Isn't Dead Yet: Despite Legalization, Marijuana Arrests Up in Latest FBI Crime Report

In late September, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2018, and once again, marijuana arrests were on the rise -- despite legalization in 11 states and DC, and decriminalization in 15 more states. There were some 663,367 marijuana arrests in 2018, up from 659,700 in 2017 and 653,249 in 2017. In all three years, simple possession cases accounted for about nine out of ten pot busts. Before 2016, marijuana arrests had been going down for more than a decade. Clearly, there is still work to do here.

5. US Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Asset Forfeiture

In a February victory for proponents of civil libertarians, the US Supreme Court ruled in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government's punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. The case involved the seizure of a $42,000 Land Rover over a drug sale of $225.

There was more progress on the asset forfeiture front on the state level, too: Bills to either end civil asset forfeiture entirely or to restrict it passed this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, and North Dakota, and in September, a South Carolina circuit court judge ruled civil asset forfeiture unconstitutional, setting up a fight in state appeals courts there.

6. Thousands of Federal Drug Prisoners Go Free Under First Step Act

President Trump signed the First Step Act into law at the end of last year, but the sentencing reform measure's true impact was felt in July, when the Bureau of Prisons released more than 3,000 prisoners and reduced the sentences of nearly 1,700 more. Almost all of those released were drug offenders. The First Step Act was aimed at redressing harsh sentences for federal prisoners excluded from the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the infamous crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, but which did not include prisoners sentenced before its passage. Three states -- Florida, South Carolina and Virginia -- accounted for a whopping 25 percent of sentence reductions, and more than 90 percent went to African-American men.

A movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics emerged this year. (Greenoid/Flickr)
7. Psychedelic Decriminalization Becomes a Movement

After emerging in 2018, the movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics mushroomed this year. In May, voters in Denver narrowly approved the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, making clear that they wanted to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

That surprise victory sparked interest across the country, and the following month Oakland followed suit, only this time it was the city council -- not the voters -- who decriminalized magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. In September, Chicago became the next city to get on board, with the city council unanimously passing an advisory resolution expressing support for research on the potential use of psychoactive plants and pledging support for adult use of the substances. Meanwhile, activists in three more major cities -- Berkeley, Dallas, and Portland -- were pushing psychedelic decriminalization measures, either through ballot initiatives or city council actions. By December, Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the movement, reported that more than 100 cities across the country are now seeing efforts to open up to psychedelics.

And it's not just cities. In two states, psychedelic reformers have filed initiatives aimed at the November 2020 ballot. In the Golden State, the California Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative, which would decriminalize the possession, use, and gifting of magic mushrooms and the chemical compounds -- psilocybin and psilocin -- has been cleared for signature gathering. It has until April 21 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Just across the border to the north, the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin, is in the midst of signature gathering. It needs 112,020 valid voter signatures by July 2 to make the ballot. The Oregon measure in October got a nice $150,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

8. Overdose Deaths Decline Slightly, But Are Still Way Too High

In July, the CDC reported 2018 drug overdose death numbers and found that they had declined from 2017's record high of more than 70,000 to just under 68,000, a five percent decrease. The latest data from CDC, which measured drug deaths in the 12-month period ending in April 2019 showed deaths at 67,000, suggesting that the decline continues, but at a glacial pace. Still, the number of overdose deaths is about seven times higher than it was in 1995, at the start of the prescription opioid epidemic.

The recent decline has been driven by a decrease in heroin and prescription opioid overdoses, although overdoses involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl increased, as did those involving the stimulant drugs cocaine and methamphetamine. Many overdoses involved more than one drug, with benzodiazepines often implicated.

If some researchers are right, fentanyl overdoses could balloon to an even higher level, if distribution of the highly potent substance takes hold in the western US. Most users take fentanyl unknowingly, after it's been used to cut street heroin or counterfeit pills.

9. Vaping-Linked Illness Emerges, Sparking Broad Anti-Vaping Backlash

In the summer, reports of vaping or e-cig users being struck down by a mysterious, lung-damaging condition began to emerge. By the end of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 1,600 cases of lung-damaged vapors, with the death toll rising to 34. (That number has since risen to 47.) The CDC also gave the condition a name: e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

A likely culprit soon emerged: black market THC vaping cartridges contaminated with new additives, particularly thinners including propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG), vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The FDA has begun investigating vitamin E acetate, while public health officials in New York have found the substance in a majority of seized vape cartridges there. The FDA also announced in August that it is proposing adding propylene glycol as a "respiratory toxicant" in its list of harmful tobacco product ingredients.

While the CDC and the FDA responded to the outbreak with recommendations targeting the suspect products, elected and public health officials in a number of states responded by going after not black market marijuana vaping cartridges but legal flavored tobacco vaping products.

Massachusetts banned all vaping products, Michigan banned flavored nicotine products, New York banned flavored e-cigarettes, Oregon banned all flavored vaping products for six months, as did Rhode Island, while Washingtonissued a four-month ban on flavored vaping products. President Trump threatened to move toward a national ban on flavored vaping products, but has since changed course, even making an anti-prohibitionist argument to do so.

In its latest update, the CDC reports the number of EVALI cases has risen to nearly 2,300 and the death toll has climbed to 47. But unlike those state governments that reacted with flavored vaping bans, the CDC takes a different approach: It points the finger strongly at vitamin E acetate, recommends that people not use THC vaping products at this point -- especially if obtained informally or in the black market -- and also warns people not to add any products to vaping cartridges that are not intended by the manufacturer.

10. Safe Injection Sites Win an Important Preliminary Legal Battle

In a case involving a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, a federal judge ruled that it would not violate federal law. With the backing of city officials and former Gov. Ed Rendell (D), the nonprofit group Safehouse pressed forward with plans for the facility even though the Justice Department had warned that it would not allow any safe injection sites to move forward. The Justice Department sued in February to halt the project, arguing that it violated the federal "crack house law."

But US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

While the Justice Department has appealed the ruling, it is a good omen, and the case is being carefully watched in cities such as Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, all of which are pursuing similar plans.

Chronicle AM: Senate Extends Protections for State MMJ Programs, PA Pot Poll, More... (11/1/19)

New South Wales ponders drug decriminalization, the Senate extends protections for state medical marijuana programs, and more.

Ice (methamphetamine). Australia's New South Wales is pondering drug decriminalization as it looks at meth use. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization, Less for State-Run Stores. A new Franklin & Marshall College poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, but 40% are much less likely to support it if pot would be sold in state liquor stores.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States from Federal Intervention. The Senate on Thursday approved a "minibus" appropriations bill covering several agencies that extends a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The House has passed a version of the bill with even broader protections for all state marijuana programs, so the question now is whether the House language will be adopted in the final bill.

International

Australia's New South Wales Ponders Drug Decriminalization. The New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) will release its recommendations next week, but there are already indications that the commission will lean in the direction of harm reduction approaches, as well as drug decriminalization. The commission will reportedly also recommend pill testing at a fixed site and possibly music festivals and expanding the use of safe injection sites.

Chronicle AM: Bernie's Pot Policy, Beto's Drug Policy, Castro's Drug Policy, More... (10/25/19)

Democratic presidential contenders talk drug policy, a new California marijuana legalization initiative is approved for signature gathering, a Massachusetts judge partially lifts a pot vaping ban, and more.

Democratic candidates are rolling out far reaching plans for drug policy reform. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Investment in Communities Harmed by Drug War. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders on Thursday released a sweeping plan for marijuana legalization that includes a $20 billion grant program for entrepreneurs of color, legalization by executive order within 100 days of taking office, and the expungement of past convictions. The proposal also envisions restricting marijuana businesses to be more like nonprofits and less like corporations, and bans tobacco companies from participating in the industry.

California Marijuana Legalization Expansion Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would broaden and deepen the legalization of marijuana in the state has been approved for signature gathering. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative would free some state marijuana prisoners, protect personal users from regulatory and licensing requirements, limit commercial regulation to that imposed on liquor and wine, and limit retail sales tax to 10%. State analysts estimate that passage would result in reduced state and local tax revenues to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Massachusetts Judge Partially Lifts Vaping Ban to Allow for Vaping Buds. A state district court judge has altered Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) van on vaping to allow for the sale of crushed marijuana buds to resume. The move came after hearing testimony from medical marijuana patients and advocates.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Drug Decriminalization and Safe Injection Sites In New Plan. Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke on Thursday rolled out a drug policy plan calling for the embrace of harm reduction strategies, including safe injection sites, and decriminalizing drug possession. He said the country needs to move away from a criminal justice model and toward a public health model to deal with substance use and addiction.

Julián Castro Calls for Marijuana Legalization and Expungements in New Criminal Justice Plan. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Democratic presidential contender has called for marijuana legalization and expungement of prior pot arrests as part of his criminal justice plan. He is also calling to "end the War on Drugs" and "address the opioid crisis and other challenges of drug addiction as primarily public health issues, not seek to further harm the and communities suffering addiction."

Drug Testing

Oklahoma Court Holds That Positive Marijuana Drug Test Did Not Prove That Marijuana Caused Accident. A machine operator whose hand was crushed at work is entitled to workmen's compensation even though he tested positive for marijuana because that test does not prove that marijuana use caused the accident, a state court judge has ruled.

(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: Support for Drug Decrim at Dem Debate, PA Legalization Bill Filed, More... (10/16/19)

A pair of Pennsylvania state senators have filed a marijuana legalization bill, the Mexican Senate prepares to vote on marijuana legalization, Amnesty International rips the Philippine drug war, and more.

Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in support of drug decriminalization at Tuesday night's debate. (CNN screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Officials Move to Ban Three Marijuana Vaping Additives. The Marijuana Enforcement Division held a public hearing Tuesday as its moves to finalize a ban on three additives in marijuana vaping products that have been linked to the outbreak of lung illnesses among vapers. Those additives are Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E Acetate, and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil). The proposed rules will be sent to the State Licensing Authority for approval and signature. Provided the changes are approved, they would go into effect on January 1.

Pennsylvania Senators File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) have filed SB 350 to legalize marijuana. Under the bill, anyone 21 or over could consume the substance, consumption lounges would be allowed, and people would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants at home as long as they register and pay a $50 annual fee. Similar legalization legislation has already been introduced in the House.

Drug Policy

Two Presidential Candidates Voice Support for Drug Decriminalization at Democratic Debate. Democratic presidential contenders Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in favor of decriminalizing opioids during the Democratic debate Tuesday night. "We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing," Yang said in response to a panelist's question. "Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives." When O'Rourke was asked whether decriminalization is part of the solution to the opioid crisis, he responded: "Yes it is. For many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described."

Foreign Policy

White House Extends Long-Lived National Emergency on Colombia Drug Trafficking. President Trump has continued a 1995 executive order declaring a national emergency regarding Colombian drug trafficking for another year. "The actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and cause an extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm in the United States and abroad," he wrote in his notice. "Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia declared in Executive Order 12978."

International

Mexico Senate Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in Next Few Days. A key lawmaker has told Reuters the Senate will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in the next few days. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader for the ruling MORENA Party, said the bill would regulate personal use and marijuana sales, as well as research into the plant. The bill also contemplates the creation of marijuana growing cooperatives. "The end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country," Monreal said. Under a Mexican Supreme Court ruling, the government has until October 24 to legalize marijuana. If and when the measure passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, which is also controlled by the MORENA Party.

Philippine Drug War Should End Following Police Chief's Resignation, Amnesty International Says. Philippines National Police head Gen. Oscar Albayalde was forced to resign over corruption in the National Police, the lead agency prosecuting the country's bloody drug war, and now Amnesty International is calling for that campaign to end. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said: "General Albayalde's resignation is the last blow to the credibility of the so-called 'war on drugs'. The Philippines authorities must ensure that justice is done and that this lawless and murderous campaign ends now. President Duterte has said that due process of law will be afforded to Albayalde -- the very rights that his government has denied to thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, who have been unlawfully killed by the police acting as judge, jury and executioner. This scandal shows that impunity is entrenched in the institutions supposed to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The authorities must urgently expand their probe into General Albayalde to cover the wide-ranging police abuses that continue up to this day."

(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: Philly Safe Injection Site Wins Legal Victory, Pot Companies Call for Descheduling, More... (10/3/19)

A federal judge hands a preliminary legal victory to proponents of a Philadelphia safe injection site, hundreds of marijuana industry figures call on Congress to deschedule marijuana as a means of grappling with the vaping crisis, and more.

At the InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. Could a similar facility be coming to Philadelphia? (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds of Marijuana Companies Sign Letter Calling for Descheduling to Prevent Vaping Injuries. Some 800 marijuana industry executives have signed onto a letter to Congress calling on that body to deschedule marijuana as a means of reducing the risks of vaping black market marijuana products. The letter was delivered to Congress Thursday.

Massachusetts Sued Over Marijuana Vaping, E-Cig Ban. The Vapor Technology Association, a national vaping industry trade organization, has filed suit in federal court seeking to block the state's recently instituted four-month ban on sales of marijuana vapes as well as e-cigarettes. Massachusetts last month became the first state to ban the sale of marijuana and tobacco vaping products.

Drug Policy

Majority of Americans Support Decriminalizing All Drugs, Poll Finds. A new poll from the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute finds a majority support decriminalizing all drugs. The poll of 1,700 adults found that 55% would rather treat drug offenses as infractions than as criminal offenses, with 44% opposed. Among Democrats, 69% favored decriminalization; among independents, 54%; among Republicans only 40%.

Harm Reduction

Federal Judge Rules Proposed Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Doesn't Violate Federal Law. US District Judge Gerald McHugh ruled Wednesday that a nonprofit group's plan to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia does not violate federal law. The judge ruled that the "crack house" provision of the Controlled Substances Act does not apply to the group's bid to assist opioid users. "No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress" when that body wrote the law in 1986 or amended it in 2003, McHugh wrote. "I cannot conclude that Safehouse [the safe injection site] has, as a significant purpose, the objective of facilitating drug use. Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment and connecting participants with social services."

Chronicle AM: House MJ Banking Bill to Get Floor Vote, Purdue Pharma Files for Bankruptcy, More... (9/16/19)

A bill to open up financial services for the marijuana industry will get a House floor vote this month, the maker of OxyContin files for bankruptcy, the marijuana industry places the blame for vaping deaths on marijuana prohibition, and more.

Is marijuana prohibition to blame for vaping deaths? The industry is pointing a finger. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote This Month on Marijuana Banking Bill. The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed that he intends to bring the SAFE Banking Act to the House floor for a vote this month. Hoyer announced the move at a whip meeting last Thursday. The bill passed out of the House Financial Committee in March on a 45-15 vote. It would provide protections for banks that work with marijuana companies since the substance is still illegal under federal law, despite several states having legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Marijuana Industry Blames Vaping Deaths on Failed Prohibition Policies.The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has blamed the recent wave of vaping deaths -- a total of six so far -- on "failed prohibition policies" and called on Congress to legalize and regulate marijuana. "These unfortunate illnesses and deaths are yet another terrible, and largely avoidable, consequence of failed prohibition policies," said NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith. "Current federal laws interfere with research, prevent federal regulatory agencies from establishing safety guidelines, discourage states from regulating cannabis, and make it more difficult for state-legal cannabis businesses to displace the illicit market. It is now the responsibility of Congress to end prohibition and regulate cannabis without delay," Smith added. "By removing cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances and instituting a clear regulatory framework through existing agencies, the federal government can provide helpful guidance to states that have or wish to establish regulated cannabis control systems while helping put irresponsible illicit market producers out of business for good."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawmakers Meet to Revise Medical Marijuana Law. Legislators returned to the state capitol Monday to once more amend the state's medical marijuana law. One issue is how and where patients will obtain medical marijuana products. The state had contemplated a central government-run pharmacy that would distribute the drug to a system of private pharmacies, but local leaders have balked at having government employees distributing a federally illegal drug.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma Files for Bankruptcy. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, the first step of a tentative agreement the company and its owners, the Sackler family, reached last week to settle thousands of lawsuits blaming it for its involvement in the opioid epidemic. The deal is estimated at between $10 and $12 billion, with $3 billion coming from the Sacklers' personal fortunes.

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor Group Wants to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. A local group calling itself Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor is planning to ask the city council to decriminalize natural psychedelics, such as peyote and magic mushrooms. They are calling on the council to approve a resolution to prohibit the use of city funds to investigate, arrest, or prosecute anyone for use or possession of such plants.

International

British Labor Party Wants Royal Commission on Drug Policy, Would Follow Its Recommendation to Decriminalize Drugs. A Labor government would consider decriminalizing all drugs if that was recommended by a royal commission, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said. "There is nothing more important than preserving the life of our citizens," she said. "Our current approach to drugs is simply not doing that." Safe injection sites would also be considered, she added.

Thailand Bill Would Allow for Six Marijuana Plants for Personal Use. A member party in the country's ruling coalition government has proposed a bill that would let Thais grow up to six marijuana plants per household for medicinal use. "The principle is for medical use, you can have it at home for ailments, but not smoke it on the street," said Bhumjaithai Party lawmaker Supachai Jaisamut. The bill would also allow the sale of plants to institutions licensed by a Plant-based Drug Institute that would have the authority to purchase, extract, and export CBD.

Chronicle AM: NY Governor Faces Protest over Lack of Progress on NYC Safe Injection Sites, More... (8/29/19)

New York's reformed marijuana decriminalization, which will end arrests for public possession or smoking, is now in effect, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit by protest over stalled NYC safe injection sites. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York's Marijuana Decriminalization Reform Now in Effect. A bill deepening the state's decriminalization went into effect today. Now, people can publicly possess up to two ounces of marijuana or smoke it without criminal penalties. That's because the new law changes Marijuana Possession in the Fifth Degree from a low-level misdemeanor to a non-criminal violation, meaning police cannot arrest offenders, only ticket them. Although the state decriminalized possession in the 1970s, police in New York City arrested tens of thousands of people for public smoking or possession using that charge -- including people whose marijuana only went into public view after police ordered them to show it.

Harm Reduction

Protest at New York Governor's Manhattan Office Over Slow Progress on Safe Injection Sites. Dozens of harm reduction activists blocked entrances to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) midtown Manhattan office on Wednesday as they demanded he approve a city plan to open four "overdose prevention centers" (safe injection sites). The city had announced the plan more than a year ago but it seems stalled, and activists lay most of the blame on Cuomo, whom they accuse of intentionally delaying a mandated review of the program by the state Department of Health. Thirteen people were arrested amid chants of "Cuomo lied, people died."

Chronicle AM: Feds Okay Hemp Banking, Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Court Case, More... (8/20/19)

A federal financial institution has given the thumbs up to banking services for the hemp industry, a potential Philadelphia safe injection site is the subject of a court battle, and more.

Could a safe injection site like Vancouver's InSite be coming to Philadelphia? (vch.ca)
Hemp

Feds Give Guidance on Hemp Banking. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) released updated guidelines Monday for banking in the hemp industry. The NCUA said that providing financial services to hemp businesses is allowable because the crop and its derivatives were legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill. The NCUA also cheered the new guidelines: "Lawful hemp businesses provide exciting new opportunities for rural communities," NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood said. "I believe today's interim guidance keeps with the mission of the nation's cooperative credit system to serve people who have been overlooked and underserved."

South Dakota Governor Submits More Than 300 Questions to Panel Studying Hemp. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a hemp bill earlier this year, and she apparently still has a lot of questions -- more than 300 of them. On Monday, her office submitted 315 questions to the state House and Senate leaders who are doing a study of hemp legalization this summer. "As leaders, we must have answers to how any new law will be implemented effectively and how it will impact our state," Noem said. She added that it "could be reckless to introduce a product that has serious implications on the health and safety of the next generation."

Harm Reduction

Court Hearing on Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Underway. The legal battle over a potential safe injection site in Philadelphia has begun with a federal judge presiding over the opening salvos Monday. The judge is hearing a request from US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bill McSwain for a preliminary injunction to prevent the nonprofit group Safehouse from opening a site on the grounds that it would violate federal law. No ruling has been issued.

Drug War Issues

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