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GOP Rep Wants to Use Military Force Against Mexican Cartels, MN Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (1/12/23)

A North Dakota bill would increase monthly THC limits for medical marijuana patients, a South Dakota bill would bar pregnant or breast-feeding women from getting medical marijuana cards, and more.

The Mexican military can't handle the cartels and the US military should help, a GOP congressman says. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A Democratic marijuana legalization bill, House File 100, was approved on a voice vote in the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday and has now been referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, the second of what could be as many as a dozen committee hurdles. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces in public and up to five pounds at a residence, as well as allowing the gifting of amounts up to those limits. It also allows for the home cultivation of four mature and four immature plants, and it would set up a system of taxed and licensed marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Senate Approves Bill to Raise Patients' 30-Day THC Limit. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2068, which increases the amount of THC in products such as tinctures and lotions that patients may purchase in a 30-day period. The limit is currently 4,000 milligrams, and the bill originally would have doubled that to 8,000 milligrams, but bill sponsor Sen. Kristin Roers (R-Fargo) amended it down to 6,000 milligrams after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 for a "do not pass" recommendation. The measure now heads to the House.

South Dakota Bill Would Bar Pregnant or Breast-Feeding Women from Access to Medical Marijuana. Anti-marijuana and anti-abortion zealot Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) has filed a bill that would block the Health Department from issuing medical marijuana cards to pregnant or breast-feeding women, House Bill 1053. The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. Deutsch served as treasurer for Protecting South Dakota Kids, a ballot measure committee that successfully opposed the 2022 marijuana legalization initiative and he also is a past president of South Dakota Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.

Foreign Policy

GOP Congressman Will File Bill to Authorize Use of Military Force Against Mexican Cartels. US Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) said over the weekend that he plans to introduce a bill that would authorize the use of certain US military capabilities against drug trafficking organization in Mexico. "They are defeating the Mexican army. These are paramilitary entities with billions and billions at their disposal," he said during an appearance on Fox's Sunday Morning Futures. But he specified that his proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Forces would not include placing the US military in combat in Mexico: "I'm not talking about US troops. But I am talking about cyber, drones, intelligence assets, naval assets." Former president Donald Trump also recently called for using US special forces, cyber warfare and other capabilities to "inflict maximum damage on cartel leadership, infrastructure, and operations." The Trump administration also considered designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, and a bill to the effect has been filed in the Senate.

FL Doc Gets Twenty Years in Unnecessary Drug Test Scheme, IN Marijuana Bills Filed, More... (1/11/23)

Legal adult marijuana sales have begun in Connecticut, a marijuana legalization bill is filed in Tennessee, and more.

Insurance companies were fraudulently billed more than $125 million. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

It's Official: Connecticut Legal Adult Use Marijuana Sales are On. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced the start of adult-use marijuana sales in a Tuesday news release: "The opening of the adult-use cannabis market in Connecticut marks the start of an expanded cannabis industry that prioritizes the safe and equitable regulation of adult-use cannabis, as well as the preservation of the medical marijuana market, which continues to serve nearly 50,000 patients in the state," the statement said. "Today marks a turning point in the injustices caused by the war on drugs, most notably now that there is a legal alternative to the dangerous, unregulated, underground market for cannabis sales," Gov. Lamont said. "Together with our partners in the legislature and our team of professionals at the Department of Consumer Protection, we've carefully crafted a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. I look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure that this industry remains inclusive and safe as it develops."

Indiana Marijuana Bills Filed. The state's legislative season is just getting underway and at least four marijuana reform bills have already been filed. Senate Bill 70, introduced by Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-District 8), would decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Bohacek also introduced Senate Bill 82, which "establishes a defense to operating a vehicle or motorboat with a controlled substance in the person's blood if: (1) the controlled substance is marijuana or a metabolite of marijuana; and (2) the person was not intoxicated." Meanwhile, State Rep. Jake Teshka (R-South Bend) filed House Bill 1039, which would allow for medical marijuana after the drug is removed as a federal Schedule I controlled substance. And House Bill 1065, authored by Rep. Sue Errington (D-District 34), would establish the cannabis compliance advisory committee to review and evaluate certain rules, laws and programs. Last year, 13 marijuana-related bills were filed. None of them went anywhere.

Tennessee Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) has filed House Bill 0085, also known as the "Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act." The bill would legalize the possession and transfer without remuneration of up to 60 grams (slightly more than two ounces) of marijuana by adults and allow the home cultivation of up to 12 plants, as well as creating a system of licensed and regulated commercial marijuana production and sales.

Drug Testing

Florida Doctor Sentenced to 20 Years for Urine Testing Fraud Scheme. Delray Beach osteopathic physician Michael Ligotti has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for approving medically unnecessary urine tests and treatment for alcohol and drug-addicted patients that cost private insurance companies more than $125 million over a decade. Ligotti, who owned a medical clinic in Delray Beach that profited from the scheme, had pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to commit healthcare and wire fraud and was ordered to surrender his Florida medical license.

The 48-year old physician admitted authorizing "fraudulent" urine drug tests for patients at about 50 drug treatment centers, sober homes, and labs in South Florida. In exchange, many of those same patients were recycled through his Delray Beach medical facility, allowing his practice to bill for and profit from redundant drug treatment and testing services. Ligotti also admitted to signing "standing orders" for expensive and unnecessary urine drug tests for patients at the various treatment facilities, including his own clinic.

In turn, the patients' urine specimens were sent to testing laboratories, which then billed private healthcare insurers for the unnecessary urine drug tests. A single test cost thousands of dollars. As a result, between 2011 and 2020, the healthcare insurers were billed more than $746 million for unneeded addiction treatment and urine testing, according to Justice Department prosecutors. In total, the insurers paid about $127 million for fraudulent drug tests and addiction treatment.

Psychedelic Reform Bills Popping Up, No Federal Pot Possession Prisoners, More... (1/10/23)

The Wisconsin GOP may finally be ready to embrace medical marijuana, the US Sentencing Commission says there are no more federal pot possession prisoners, and more.

President Biden met with Mexico's president Monday. Fentanyl was one of the issues on his mind. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Move Closer to Legalizing Medical Marijuana. For years, the Republican-controlled legislature has fended off any and all efforts to advance marijuana reforms, but it could be different this year. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has said that he thinks a bill to create a medical marijuana program in the state could be passed this legislative session as long as regulations are put forward to ensure it's for those in serious pain. "Our caucus is getting pretty close on medical marijuana," LeMahieu said, marking the first time the Republican Senate leader has expressed support for the notion. Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos has in recent years expressed support for medical marijuana, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long called for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Two-thirds of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana and a super-majority of 80 percent support medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Lawmakers in Nearly a Dozen States Have Already Filed Psychedelic Bills. With the legislative season just getting underway this year, lawmakers in nearly a dozen states have already filed psychedelic reform bills, with measures ranging from legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic purposes to broadly decriminalizing natural plants and fungi. The states with psychedelic reform efforts already underway are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Virginia. Click on the link above for details on efforts in each state.

Foreign Policy

White House Readout on Biden's Meeting with Mexican President Vows Cooperation on Fentanyl. As well as general language about strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the White House readout of Monday's meeting between President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also containing language directly pertaining to the smuggling of fentanyl across the US-Mexico border: "The two leaders also reviewed security cooperation under the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities and discussed increased cooperation to prosecute drug traffickers and dismantle criminal networks, disrupt the supply of illicit precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, shut down drug laboratories, and prevent trafficking of drugs, arms, and people across our shared border."

The relationship between US and Mexican drug law enforcers remains fraught in the wake of the October 2020 arrest of former Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos by DEA agents in Los Angeles and his elease two months later in the face of intense pressure from Mexico, with Lopez Obrador accusing the DEA of "fabricating" charges against him.

[Ed: Whether it's possible to interdict cross-border fentanyl shipments in sufficient quantities to affect the prevalence of the substance is not clear, and the history of interdiction is not encouraging. Whether doing so would ultimately reduce prevalence in the US is also not clear, as much of the fentanyl comes from China, and it can be manufactured anywhere including the US.]

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Reports No One in Federal Prison for Simple Marijuana Possession. In a report released Tuesday, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) notes that: "As of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana remained in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons." The USSC also found that the number of people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law has declined from 2,172 in fiscal year 2014 to only 145 in fiscal year 2021. It also found that one state -- Arizona -- largely drove the federal pot possession arrest numbers, accounting for 1,916 convictions in 2014 but dropping to just two in 2021. Those Arizona arrests appear to be linked to anti-immigration campaigns in the state: Federal marijuana possession offenders in the past five years were 71 percent Hispanic and 60 percent non-citizens.

CT Legal Adult Pot Sales Begin Tomorrow, OH Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decrim Bill, More... (1/9/23)

A Mexican judge has blocked the extradition of El Chapo's son to the US, you can now get a license to grow your own marijuana in Missouri, and more.

You can grow your own pot plants in Missouri -- if you get a license from the state. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Adult Marijuana Sales Begin Tomorrow. Adult legal marijuana sales are set to begin tomorrow, January 10. At least nine existing medical marijuana dispensaries have undergone the bureaucratic steps necessary to transition to adult sales tomorrow, with up to another 40 that could open by the end of the year. Initial sales will be limited to a quarter ounce of buds or its equivalent per transaction. The restrictions are in place to ensure adequate supply for medical marijuana patients and will be reviewed over time. Dispensaries in New Haven, Branford, Torrington, Newington, Stamford, Willimantic, Danbury, Montville and Meriden successfully completed the necessary steps to convert to a "hybrid license" and will be allowed to sell to all adults beginning tomorrow.

Missouri Home Cultivation Licenses Now Available. People who want to grow their own under the state's new marijuana legalization regime will have to be licensed to do so, and those licenses are now available. Personal cultivation application forms and instructions are available from the Missouri Cannabis Regulation Division. The license costs $100 and must be renewed annually. People can grow up to six clones, six nonflowering plants, an six flowering plants at the same time. Missouri is the only state to impose a licensing requirement on home growers.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill into Law. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has signed into law House Bill 456, which decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl test strips as part of an effort to reduce overdoses. The new law exempts the test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia. The move makes Ohio the 32nd state to move to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, with a half dozen doing so last year.

International

Mexican Judge Halts Extradition of El Chapo's Son to US. A day after 29 people, including 10 soldiers, died in a wave of violence following his arrest in Culiacan, the extradition of Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, to face charges in the United States has been blocked by a Mexican judge. In the ruling last Friday, the federal judge also suspended a ban on Guzman from communicating with his legal team and family. Guzman faces charges on a US warrant dating back to September 2019. He had been arrested in Culiacan in October 2019 but was quickly released on orders of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador because of violent cartel retaliation.

SC MedMJ Bills, Violence Rocks Mexican City as El Chapo's Son Arrested, More... (1/6/23)

The Mexican cartel leader who escaped during Sunday's Tijuana prison attack has been shot dead, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rejects hair testing for drugs, and more.

No hair testing for truck drivers, the federal regulator says. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Sees Two Medical Marijuana Bills Pre-Filed. With the legislative session set to begin next week, lawmakers in Columbia have already pre-filed two separate medical marijuana bills. The Put Patients First Act (House Bill 3226) is cosponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and freshman Republican Rep. Jay Kilmartin. It would make marijuana available to registered patients with a doctor's recommendation. The bill would allow caregivers and dispensaries to "cultivate, grow, and dispense marijuana for medical use." The other bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3486) also has bipartisan sponsors and would "authorize the use of cannabis products by patients with debilitating medical conditions who are under the care of a physician, with exceptions."

Drug Testing

Federal Regulator Rejects Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has denied a petition calling on the agency to recognize hair samples as an alternative drug-testing method for truckers. The FMCSA was responding to request from an industry association, the Trucking Alliance, to recognize hair testing as a valid form of drug testing. But federal regulations require that truck drivers be tested by urinalysis, and the FMCSA pointed to that language to restate its longstanding position that it has no statutory authority to accept hair testing. Hair testing detects the presence of drugs for months, as opposed to days for urinalysis.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Sees Deadly Clashes as Troops Arrest El Chapo's Son. Mexican Army and National Guard troops successfully arrested Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacan, on Thursday (as opposed to 2019, when they arrested and then released the younger Guzman in the face of cartel threats). But the arrest came at a high cost, as subsequent clashes between Sinaloa cartel forces and the military left 10 soldiers and 19 cartel gunmen dead. The reaction to the bust also included attacks on the Culiacan airport and military helicopters by cartel gunmen, as well as burning buses and private vehicles used to blockade city roadways. The bust comes just days before President Biden is set to visit Mexico and the US-Mexico border.

Mexico Cartel Leader Who Escaped Tijuana Prison During Attack Sunday Killed in Shootout with Cops. Ernesto Alfredo "El Neto" Pinon, the long-imprisoned leader of the Sinaloa cartel affiliate the Mexicles, who escaped prison in Juarez during a deadly attack and breakout on Sunday, was tracked down by intelligence agents and shot and killed in Tijuana on Thursday. At least 19 guards and prisoners were killed in the assault, with another seven people, including police killed in another confrontation Monday. El Neto's killing brings the overall death toll now to 27.

Detroit Legal Adult Marijuana Sales Begin, MN DFL Files Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (1/5/23)

The legislative season is getting underway, here come the marijuana legalization bills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Lawmaker Files Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment. After years of the Republican-dominated state legislature blocking all efforts at marijuana reform, state Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) has filed a constitutional amendment (House Bill 48) that would let the state's voters decide directly whether to legalize marijuana. The amendment would ask voters whether they want to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce and allow for the home cultivation of up to five plants. It does not include provisions for a regulated marijuana market. She has also filed a measure, House Bill 47, that would simply decriminalize possession.

Minnesota DFL Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Nineteen Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL) members of the House filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Fill 100, on Thursday. The measure is largely similar to the legalization bill passed by the House last year, which never got a vote in the Senate. The bill include social equity provisions, expungement provisions, provisions allowing local governments the power to restrict marijuana sales, and an 8 percent sales tax. The bill now heads to the House Commerce Finance and Policy committee, and will likely be put to discussion in various committees.

Virginia GOP Lawmaker Files Bill to Create Regulated Marijuana Market. Del. Keith Hodges (R) has filed a bill to create a regulated marijuana market, House Bill 1464. But some advocates say the measure would gut social equity provisions in favor of providing incentives to corporations to invest in low-income communities. The state currently allows adult-use marijuana possession and home cultivation, but a legal market will not come into being for several years, and the law does not allow the state's existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to adults.

Detroit Adult-Use Marijuana Sales Have Begun. Recreational marijuana sales in Michigan's largest city began on Wednesday, when the House of Dank medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors to recreational buyers. Just hours later, another dispensary, DaCut, similarly opened its doors to recreational buyers. "Going recreational in Detroit is a huge milestone for us," Crystal Jamo, general manager of House of Dank, said. "Just because we've been waiting for it for so long that, like, 'Pinch me, is it real?'"

MD Pot Decrim Now in Effect, CO Natural Psychedelic Decrim Now in Effect, More... (1/3/23)

The Justice Department is suing a major pharmaceutical distributor over its role in the opioid crisis, a Virgin Islands marijuana legalization bill goes to the governor, and more.

Magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics are now decriminalized in Colorado. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Marijuana Possession No Longer a Crime. With the advent of the new year, possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana is no longer a crime in the state. People who possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, however, face a maximum $100 fine, while those caught with up to 2.5 ounces face a $250 fine. The reduced penalties are the results of voters approving a referendum in November that directs the legislature to create rules for legal adult sales. That referendum also triggered the implementation of a bill decriminalizing pot possession, which is what went into effect on January 1.

US Virgin Islands Marijuana Legalization Bill Goes to Governor. The US territory's Senate last Friday approved a marijuana legalization bill on a an 11-1 vote, as well as passing separate expungement legislation. The bill has already passed the House. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who has repeatedly called on lawmakers to pass such a bill, is expected to sign both bills into law.

Opiates and Opioids

Justice Department Sues Pharmaceutical Distributor for More Than $1 Billion for Role in Opioid Epidemic. The Justice Department last Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen, which Justice alleges "fueled" the country's opioid epidemic. The complaint claims the company, one of the country's largest drug distributors, failed to fulfill its legal obligation to report suspicious orders or to report suspicious customer behavior to the DEA. The complaint also alleges that AmerisourceBergen constantly violated the Controlled Substances Act by failing to follow the proper steps for distributing opioids under the Act. The DOJ filed the complaint in civil court and seeks over $1 billion in damages.

Psychedelics

Colorado Psychedelics Decriminalization Takes Effect. Natural psychedelics including psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are now decriminalized after Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a proclamation that the voter-approved initiative that decriminalized them had received a majority of votes in the November election. "Coloradans voted last November and participated in our democracy," Polis said in a statement from the governor's office. "Officially validating the results of the citizen and referred initiatives is the next formal step in our work to follow the will of the voters and implement these voter-approved measures." The measure creates a state-regulated system for therapeutic access to natural psychedelics and it decriminalizes the possession, cultivation, and sharing of the naturally occurring psychedelic drugs.

New York Lawmakers File Bill to Legalize Natural Psychedelics. Assembly members Linda Rosenthal (D), Jo Anne Simon (D) and Karines Reyes(D) have filed a bill, A00114, that would legalize the use and possession of a number of natural plant- or fungi-based psychedelics, including DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocyn, recategorize them and eliminate their status as prohibited substances. The bill would: "Legalize adult possession and use of certain natural plant or fungus-based hallucinogens; Grant certain protections for individuals lawfully using such hallucinogens; Remove such hallucinogens from the list of Schedule I controlled substances; Make related provisions."

International

Mexico Prison Assault Leaves 14 Dead, 24 Escaped Prisoners. Presumed cartel gunmen in armored vehicles attacked a prison in Ciudad Juarez Sunday morning, opening fire on guards and other security personnel and leaving 10 guards and four prisoners dead. Another 24 prisoners managed to escape during the mayhem. This same prison also saw violence erupt last August where Mexican army troops had to intervene in a clash between prisoners from the rival Juarez and Sinaloa cartels that led to a riot and shootout with a death toll of 11 people.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2022 [FEATURE]

Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly in international drug policy developments in 2022. (Read about 2022's good, bad and ugly in domestic drug policy here.)

1. The Taliban Bans Opium

With the withdrawal of US and coalition forces and subsequent rapid collapse of the Afghan government in August 2001, the Taliban once again took power in Kabul. During its earlier rule, it banned opium cultivation in 1997 (with little impact) and again in 2000. But after the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, the country saw two decades of massive opium production, making Afghanistan the world's leading supplier of opium and heroin, accounting for more than 80 percent of global supply throughout this century.

Upon resuming its control of the country, the Taliban once again instituted a ban on opium cultivation, making a formal announcement of a ban in April 2022. Even now, at the end of the year, it is too early to tell how serious the Taliban are or how effective the ban will be, although UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva reported in December that there is evidence the ban is being implemented. "Fields planted before and after the declaration have been destroyed," she said. "We will not be able to verify the actual implementation of this ban until early next year but the intention behind it is commendable. Nonetheless, the ban will have a negative effect on the income of individual farmers as few alternative livelihood programs were put in place."

This year, though, the opium crop is "the most profitable in years," the UN reported in November, with cultivation up by nearly a third and prices soaring because of the looming ban. Sowing of the 2023 crop was supposed to be done by November, and it is unclear how much uncertainty about how the ban will be enforced has affected the sowing of the crop. The answer will come in the spring when it is harvest time for the poppy crop.

2. Colombia Elects a Former Guerrilla Drug War Critic as President

In an election that has overturned a decades-long status quo in Colombian politics and threatens to upend US-Colombia relations, former leftist guerrilla and Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro won the presidency in June. He beat his competitor, Trumpian businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%.

Petro is a harsh critic of the US-imposed war on drugs, which he says has cost a million Latin American lives even as the US has spent $20 billion since the days of Plan Colombia to wage a drug war entwined with a vicious counterinsurgency. That spending may have helped drive the leftist guerrillas of the FARC to the negotiating table -- a peace accord was signed in 2016 -- but it has not stopped the coca and cocaine trade, which is now undergoing a boom.

After Petro's election, but before he took office in August, a truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords called for the government to quit focusing on suppressing illicit drugs and instead take the global lead in moving to "strict legal regulation" of those substances. It recommended a new approach to illicit drug production that focuses more on sustainable development and less on the eradication of coca. The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but Petro has said he will follow them.

Petro has been in office for less than six months, but he already held a first assembly of coca growers and called for a regional assembly to discuss hemispheric drug policy. He has also angered the US by vowing not to extradite drug traffickers, and threatening to move toward cocaine decriminalizationand ban the spraying of coca fields with herbicides.

Cocaine decriminalization is not happening yet, but marijuana legalization is. A legalization bill has passed the House and Senate, clearing the way for final votes early next year. Look for Colombia to continue to steer a course away from drug war orthodoxy as the Petro presidency continues.

3. Duterte Leaves Office but His Philippine Drug War Legacy Lingers

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte became ex-president Duterte in June, having finished his six-year term and leaving a legacy of bloody drug war killings. The Philippines National Police have officially admitted killing more than 6,200, but human rights groups put the total toll of dead in Duterte's drug war at around 30,000, with many killed by shadowy vigilantes.

The widespread drug killings under Duterte were condemned by Western governments and human rights groups and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.

Duterte's successor, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the deposed former dictator, is attempting to portray his own drug policies as distinct from Duterte's lethal efforts, but he's made clear that he is not planning to undertake a policy change, his claim to focus on rehabilitation has yet to substantially materialize, and the government's few current "drug rehabilitation" programs are involuntary, coercive, and expose drug users to further stigma.

And Philippines police are continuing to kill people in the name of fighting drugs, albeit at a lower level than during the Duterte era. In November, police tried to claim the death toll was "very minimal," saying only 46 people had been killed since June 30, when Marcos took office. But the government's habit of lying, obstructing, and obfuscating, so well developed under Duterte, appears to remain intact under Marcos. An independent estimate from the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center put the actual number of people killed in drug war incidents at 127, nearly three times the police number.

4. Mexico's Drug War Continues Unabated

Four years into his six-year term, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is having no more luck with his "kisses not bullets" approach to his country's violent drug trafficking organizations than his predecessors did with their various efforts to rein in the so-called cartels. After four years of AMLO, the country has seen 140,000 murders, most of them committed by the cartels. That is a 61 percent increase over the same four-year period under his immediate predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto.

AMLO has also scrapped the Federal Police, replacing them with the National Guard, which he wants to fold into the armed forces. In a worrying sign, the military is now shouldering more and more of the overall responsibility for dealing with violent.

And it is not working. The competing cartels periodically take a respite from trying to kill each other and go to work terrorizing the state and its agents, as was the case in August and September, when the cartels and allied gangs rampaged across four states, shutting down roads and businesses, burning vehicles and businesses, and attacking police and troops, including a stunning series of attacks in Tijuana.

Meanwhile, the cartels continue to work away assiduously at their main enterprise: exporting massive amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl into the United States.

5. Canada's British Columbia Wins Approval for Drug Decriminalization

Faced with an intractable drug overdose problem, British Columbia, long a leader in progressive approaches to drug policy, in October 2021 requested an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow it to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Health Canada granted that exemption in June 2022.

The new measure goes into effect on January 31, 2023 and will extend three years to January 31, 2026. Under the decrim plan, possession of up to 2.5 grams of those drugs (cumulatively) will not result in arrest or confiscation of the drugs. While decriminalization is a first in Canada, activists in Vancouver and throughout the province are critical of the low weight limits and of the fact that minors will continue to be arrested regardless of the weight of the drugs they are carrying.

British Columbia's pending drug decriminalization will be first for Canada, but it's not the first in North America. Mexico decriminalized drug possession in 2009 and Oregon voters decriminalized drug possession in 2020.

6. Saudi Arabia Resumes Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

After halting executions of drug offenders in January 2020, Saudi Arabia suddenly and without warning resumed them on November 10. Two weeks later, it announced that 20 men had been executed for drug offenses. Dozens of people remain on death row for drug offenses and face imminent execution.On November 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Saudi government to halt the imminent execution of one drug prisoner and called on the Saudi authorities to adopt an official moratorium on executions for drug-related offenses, commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and guarantee the right to a fair trial for all defendants, including those accused of committing such crimes, in line with the law and its international obligations.

Nearly three dozen NGOS led by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to act on urgent measures in response to the series of drug-related executions carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since November 10.

Globally, 146 countries, including 20 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have abolished the death penalty. The United Nations does not consider drug offenses to be among the most "serious" crimes that would warrant the death penalty, and resort to the death penalty for such offenses contradicts the standards of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board.

7. Pakistan Moves to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

At year's end, Pakistan's lower house, the National Assembly, passed the Control of Narcotic Substances Amendment Bill 2022, which abolishes the death sentence for drug dealing and converts it into a life sentence. The bill comes as the country has seen a spate of executions for different sorts of offenses since 2014, when it lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of a terrorist attack on an army school that left 132 children dead.

The vote came just weeks after Saudi Arabia's execution of three Pakistani nationals when it suddenly resumed drug executions in November.

Earlier in the year, the Senate Standing Committee on Anti-Narcotics approved keeping the death penalty for certain trafficking offenses, but in September, President Arif Alvia approved the amendment allowing for life sentences instead.

8. Russia Weaponizes Its Draconian Drug Laws to Turn American Athlete Brittney Griner into a New Cold War Political Pawn

Russia has long used its draconian drug laws against its own citizens, including dissidents, but this year the Kremlin was able to deploy them as a means of pressuring the United States when Russian customs officials arrested American women's basketball star on drug trafficking charges as she entered the country to play off-season pro ball a week before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Russia has theoretically adopted the decriminalization of small-scale drug possession, but officers commonly find just enough of a drug to file criminal charges, as was the case with Griner. Although Griner was found with vape cartridges containing less than a gram of medically-recommended cannabis oil, she was charged not with drug possession but with smuggling "a significant amount" of proscribed drugs, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to ten years.

She was duly convicted in a Russian court and sentenced to 9 ½ years in a Russian prison, creating an embarrassment and distraction for the Biden administration, which faced mounting pressure to win her release. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, a prisoner swap was announced, and Griner was released in December in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison in 2011 (after already serving three years in pretrial detention).

9. European Countries Move Down Path to Marijuana Legalization

Late last year, Malta became the first European country to legalize marijuana, and this year, several other countries have been taking steps along the same path. In June, Luxembourg move to enact marijuana reforms, although it has retreated from "legalization" to "regulation," and is proposing the decriminalization of up to three grams of marijuana and allowing the cultivation of up to four plants at home. The government had originally proposed full-blown commercial legalization back in 2018 and says that still remains its goal.

In October, Germany unveiled its marijuana legalization plan. The health ministry rolled out a plan that includes the decriminalization of the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana as well as allowing for the sale of marijuana to adults in a regulated marketplace. The German government will also consult with the European Union's executive commission to ensure that the legalization plan complies with EU laws and will move forward "on this basis" only if the EU approves.

And in November, the Czech Republic began drafting a marijuana legalization bill. The country has already legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana for adult use, but the country's center-right governing coalition has now begun the process of a drafting a full marijuana legalization bill. The issue was pushed by the Czech Pirate Party, the smallest member of the governing coalition, which said legalization would "make the Czech Republic a freer country" and "bring billions into public budgets."

10. Thailand Kind of, Sort of Legalizes Marijuana

In June, the Thai government removed marijuana from the country's narcotics list, allowing people to grow all the weed they want and freeing more than 3,000 marijuana prisoners. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now.

But that has not stopped the use and sale of full-potency marijuana. What began as a flowering of edibles and tinctures shops in June has now morphed into a full-blown recreational marijuana scene, with thousands of dispensaries of dubious legality and the government impotently warning a tide of marijuana tourists they are not welcome.

The government's marijuana moves have been confusing and controversial, and the government is attempting to bring some order to the situation with a 95-article Marijuana Bill that seeks to regulate gray areas around cultivation, consumption, and sales. That bill is expected to be passed before the country's next general in May.

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Call on Biden to Deschedule Marijuana, Belize Coca Bust, More... (12/23/22)

There's a big payout for a Georgia woman falsely arrested on cocaine charges, British police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

Coca, traditionally grown only in the Andes, is popping up in Central America and Mexico. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Urge Biden to Deschedule Marijuana. After marijuana reforms failed to pass as the current Congress winds down, a bipartisan group of 24 lawmakers called on President Biden to "recognize the merits of full descheduling" of marijuana. Despite the spread of marijuana and marijuana legalization in the states, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, in the same schedule as heroin and LSD. They reminded Biden that he had launched the first formal review of marijuana scheduling back in October, which they called "a crucial and laudable step," but they called for more action.

"Marijuana does not belong in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a classification intended for exceptionally dangerous substances with high potential for abuse and no medical use," the lawmakers wrote. "The decision to schedule marijuana was rooted in stigma rather than an evidence-based process, and it is time to fully remedy this wrong. While Congress works to send you a comprehensive legalization bill, the administration should recognize the merits of full descheduling." The signatories were 20 Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and four Republicans.

Law Enforcement

Federal Jury Awards Georgia Woman $1 Million After Wrongful Cocaine Arrests, Extended Jail Stay. A federal jury in Atlanta has awarded a Georgia woman $1 million in damages after an Atlanta police officer falsely accused her of drug possession and she was jailed for months -- even after testing showed she did not possess cocaine. The officer stopped her on the street for jaywalking and falsely accused her of hiding cocaine inside an exercise ball. She spent a month in jail before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed an analysis that found the substance in question was not cocaine and then inexplicably spent another four months in jail before being released. The arresting officer was initially ordered to pay the damages and his pay began to be garnished, but Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has since said the city will take responsibility for the costs.

International

Belize Armed Forces Destroy More Than 100,000 Coca Plants. The Belize Defense Force, the Coast Guard, and the national Police Department destroyed more than 100,000 coca plants in a joint raid southwest of Graham Creek Village this week. No arrests were made, and the plants were burned. Coca has traditionally been cultivated only in the Andes, but in recent years, the international criminal organizations that run the traffic have experimented with coca plantations in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, as well as Belize.

British Police Chiefs Call for Decriminalization of First-Time Drug Offenses. The National Police Chiefs' Council and the College of Policing are calling for the decriminalization of first-time drug possession offenses, with the use and possession of drugs by first-offenders treated as a public health -- not a law enforcement -- matter. Under the plan, people caught with illegal drugs would be offered drug education or treatment programs, but those who do not comply or complete the programs would be subject to criminal prosecution. Police in 14 of the country's 43 police forces have already adopted similar policies, but the plan is opposed by the Conservative government, which has been floating proposals to stiffen drug penalties, including for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana Update

A marijuana research bill becomes law, the SAFE Banking Act doesn't, and more.]

National

Marijuana Banking Reform Dead in This Congress. Efforts to provide state-legal marijuana businesses with access to banking and financial services have come to naught in this Congress. The push has been on to get the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) through the Senate after it passed the House on seven different occasions, most recently in July. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) never called it for a vote and he and his Senate allies repeatedly blocked it from being attached to various spending bills as they held out for a full-blown legalization bill. One last chance for the act was the omnibus spending bill passed Tuesday, but it didn't include the act, either. This time, though, it was blocked not by Schumer but by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

SAFE Banking Act Plus Effort Set for Next Year. Supporters of the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) struck out in this Congress, but are determined to get an enhanced version of the bill passed next year. The SAFE Banking Act Plus will contain "important expungement and second amendment rights provisions," said bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Although the last chance to get the bill passed this year was blocked by Republican Senate leaders, Merkley said, the SAFE Banking Act Plus was a "must pass" in 2023. "We've made so much progress on forging bipartisan consensus,"Merkley said, adding that he "won't rest until we get it done."

Kansas

Kansas Lawmakers Plan to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill at Start of Session Next Month. Since the end of the last legislative session, members of the Special Committee on Medical Marijuana have been meeting, compiling data, and evaluating research, and now they say they are ready to file a medical marijuana bill at the beginning of the session beginning next month. "I think what I'm going to do is -- and any member is more than welcome -- is to take this information and create the bill," said. Sen. Rob Olson (R-Olathe), chair of the medical marijuana committee. "And I'm going to work on a bill with a couple members and then if anybody wants to sign on in the Senate, they'll be more than able to sign onto that bill and introduce it at the beginning of session." He also called on House lawmakers to file similar legislation. "I think that's probably the best way forward," Olson said. Kansas is one of the 13 states that have still not legalized medical marijuana.

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