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KY Governor Signs MedMJ Executive Order, AMA Endorses Fentanyl Test Strips, More... (11/16/22)

A congressional committee takes up marijuana legalization, Pennsylvania's governor signs a fentanyl test strip bill into law, and more.

Marijuana got a hearing on the Hill Tuesday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committee Holds Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing Tuesday on marijuana legalization. Led by Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the committee examined "Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level," using a joint memo published last Friday to lay out the main points of discussion.

Witnesses included Woodfin (Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama), Paul Armentano (Deputy Director of NORML), Andrew Freedman (Executive Director of Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation [CPEAR]), Eric Goepel (Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition), Keeda Haynes (Senior Legal Advisor of Free Hearts), Amber Littlejohn (Policy Advisor of Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce), and Jillian Snider (Policy Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties). Among topics covered were the failed war on drugs, the need for state-level action to accompany President Biden's marijuana pardon announcement, veterans' access to medical marijuana, and hemp's potential as a building material. No votes were taken.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Governor Signs Executive Order Allowing Some Residents to Use Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) on Tuesday signed an executive order allowing patients who meet certain requirements to use and possess medical marijuana. Those eligible must suffer from one of 21 specified medical conditions. The medicine must be purchased in a state where it is legal (and keep your receipt!) and will be limited to eight ounces. Patients must get a letter from a physician certifying that they suffer from one of the specified conditions. The plan goes into effect on January 1.

Harm Reduction

AMA Reiterates Call for Harm Reduction Measures to Attack Overdose Problem. At its annual interim meeting this month, the American Medical Association passed a resolution encouraging the use of harm reduction practices to reduce overdose deaths in the county. The resolution called on city and state medical societies to advocate for harm reduction policies that create immunity for "drug paraphernalia" used in harm reduction, such as fentanyl test strips. "Fentanyl test strips are a point-of-care test that identifies fentanyl contamination in a drug supply with a specificity of 87.5% and a sensitivity of 95.2%," the resolution notes, but also notes that "possession of fentanyl test strips is explicitly legal in only 22 states."

But it is not just fentanyl test strips that the AMA wants to see: "The AMA has strongly supported increased use of a broad array of harm-reduction efforts to reduce death and other harms from nonmedical use of drugs, including for people who inject drugs," the group said. "These efforts include greater access to naloxone, syringe services programs and pilot programs for overdose prevention sites/supervised injection-use facilities. Fentanyl strips are part of this effort, and we urge states to take steps to help a vulnerable population."

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Legislation in Bid to Reduce Overdoses. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) held a ceremonial signing Wedmesday for a new law (Act 111) that legalizes the use of fentanyl test strips and other forms of drug checking to prevent overdose deaths. The legislation passed the state House and Senate unanimously before going to the Governor's desk. The most recent data show Pennsylvania had the third highest number of overdose deaths of any state in the country for the 12-month period ending May 2022. Fentanyl test strips allow people who use drugs to easily test the drugs for the presence of fentanyl.

Global Commission on Drug Policy Calls for Colombia Legalization, More... (11/11/22)

A federal judge throws a wrench in the works as New York tries to get legal pot shops open, Houston cops and prosecutors have dozens of tainted drug cases but still want to keep seized money from them, and more.

Asset forfeiture remains tempting for cops. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Blocks Marijuana Licenses for Several New York Regions. Marijuana retail licenses are on hold in several regions of the state after a federal judge temporarily blocked the state from issuing them in response to a lawsuit from a Michigan company that had been denied approval to operate in the state. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe issued the injection after the company, Variscite, challenged the social equity provision in the state law that requires that licenses be awarded to people who have been affected by drug laws in the state. The primary owner of Variscite was convicted of a marijuana-related offense, but in Michigan, not New York. The injunction impacts five regions where Variscite had sought a license to operate: Finger Lakes, Central New York, western New York, the Mid-Hudson and Brooklyn. The injunction comes as the state Office of Cannabis Management was preparing to issue an initial round of licenses by the end of the year.

Asset Forfeiture

New York's Albany County Comptroller Finds Sheriff's Use of Seized Funds Violated State Law. County Comptroller Susan Rizzo has released an audit that finds that Sheriff Craig Apple's use of asset forfeiture funds violates the state comptroller's opinion guiding how the money should be spent. This is the second audit in a year to find problems with how forfeited funds are being used in the county. The new audit finds that "state and federal forfeiture funds were donated to community based organizations, sports programs and town events which do not meet the criteria for law enforcement or criminal prosecution purposes." The sheriff defended his spending decisions saying, "I see the need to fund youth sports, programs and organizations that promote positive youth engagements."

Houston PD Drops Cases Tainted by Corrupt Narcotics Officers but Decides It Can Still Keep Seized Cash. In the wake of a notorious 2019 drug raid that left two innocent homeowners dead and resulted in the indictment of 11 narcotics officers, Houston prosecutors dropped dozens of cases and prosecutions, but they are refusing to return seized cash from the questionable raids and arrests. "Prosecutors are currently reviewing several cases related to Squad 15 to determine if they involve assets that should be returned to members of the community," said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office. These include cases where the charges have been dropped but police have refused to return money to the victims of police misconduct. The city has retained at least $75,000 seized in operations that are now viewed as too problematic to allow criminal prosecutions to go forward, but that figure represents only a fraction of the monies seized by tainted dope squad members.

International

Global Commission on Drugs Report Calls for Decriminalization and Regulation of All Drugs in Colombia. At a forum in Bogota Thursday, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released its new report, "Drug Policy in Colombia: The Path to Fair Regulations," which calls for drug legalization in the country and lays out five recommendations for getting there: move to legal regulation of currently illicit drugs, prioritize human rights, decriminalize drug possession and consumption, decrease funding for military budgets and increase funding for civil authorities, and strengthen institutions to create a strong human rights approach.

NY Legal Pot Shops Set to Open by Year's End, Irish Decrim Recommendation, More... (11/7/22)

A federal judge throws out a lawsuit seeking gun ownership rights for medical marijuana patients, competing Bolivian coca grower factions prepare to clash again this week, and more.

marijuana seized in New York City (NYPD)
Marijuana Policy

New York Recreational Marijuana Sales Licenses Coming Soon. The chief of staff of the state's Cannabis Control Board said last Thursday that the first set of Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses will likely be issued at the board's next meeting on November 21. Axel Bernabe said the state was "in position" to issue the licenses then. He said the board had scored applications and will recommend that applicants representing the "top of the class" will be recommended for approval. Bernabe's comments were echoed by board chair Tremaine Wright, who said "we are on target" to open the first shops before year's end.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Dismisses Florida Agriculture Commissioner's Lawsuit on Medical Marijuana Patients' Gun Rights. A federal judge last Friday rejected a lawsuit from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) that challenged the federal ban on medical marijuana patients' ability to buy and possess firearms. The Biden Justice Department had moved to dismiss the case last month, arguing that people who use medical marijuana are violating federal law and thus can be denied the right to have guns.

Judge Allen Winsor agreed, telling plaintiffs they "have standing but their claims fail on the merits." The judge acknowledged a congressional rider blocking federal prosecution of state-legal medical marijuana patients, but said that does not alter his decision. "Regardless of whether Plaintiffs are prosecuted (or whether Congress allocates funds for their prosecution), possession of marijuana remains a federal crime," Winsor held. "The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment at best precludes prosecution now; it does not forever bless Plaintiffs' actions."

International

Bolivia Coca Conflict Continues. A coca grower union faction that is demanding the closure of an unofficial coca market linked to a different, government-backed grower faction has announced plans to stage street demonstration and roadblocks in various areas of La Paz beginning today. The faction said the protests would continue indefinitely and that it would not announce roadblock locations in advance. The conflict has festered for months and has resulted in various bouts of street fighting between the factions and between the factions and security forces. In one incident, the "parallel" market linked to the pro-government faction was burned to the ground by the anti-government faction.

Irish Task Force Recommends De Facto Decriminalization for Addicts, Mentally Ill. A high-level task force examining mental health and drug addiction has recommended that police be given the discretion to ticket some drug users instead of arresting and jailing them. People who are addicted to drugs or who suffer from mental illness would be eligible for the diversion from the criminal justice system provided their drugs are for personal use.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the government is willing to work through the plan, but warned it could be tricky to implement. "We have, as a government and not just this governmengovernments, agreed to look at this from a public health perspective in trying to work with and support people who have addiction problems," said McEntee. "Really this is just another iteration of that. It is not straightforward. "How do you differentiate and how do you look at people who have addiction problems and then other issues as well? But it is something we will work through as part of the recommendations."

PA Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Bill, Ecuador Drug Gang Violence Spikes, More... (11/4/22)

A late poll has good news for the Missouri marijuana legalization initiative, drug gangs rampage in Ecuador, and more.

Sen. Tom Hickenlooper (D-CO) files a bill to set up a framework for federal marijunana legalization. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sen. Hickenlooper Introduces Bill to Develop Federal Marijuana Legalization Framework. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) on Thursday announced a plan to roll out legislation to create a framework for federal marijuana legalization. His proposed bill, the PREPARE Act, would create a "Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis," which would make recommendations related to marijuana policy, but would not be empowered to set policies itself. "This bill will provide lawmakers across the ideological spectrum the opportunity to engage on cannabis reform by creating a fair, honest, and publicly transparent process for the federal government to establish effective regulation to be enacted upon the termination of its 85-year prohibition of cannabis," Hickenlooper's office wrote in a summary of the bill.

New Missouri Poll Has Marijuana Initiative Winning. Polling on the fate of the Amendment 3 marijuana legalization initiative has been all over the place, with two recent polls showing it losing with 43 percent and 48 percent of the vote. But a third recent poll had it winning with 62 percent of the vote. That poll was from SurveyUSA, and now that polling organization is out with a new poll, again having the initiative winning, this time with 61 percent of the vote. Twenty-eight percent were opposed and 11 percent were undecided, with those undecideds evenly split between potential supporters and opponents.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Bill Decriminalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Thursday signed into law House Bill 1393, which decriminalizes fentanyl test strips. It does so by no longer defining the test strips as drug paraphernalia under the state's Controlled Substance, Drug, Devices, and Cosmetic Act of 1972. Pennsylvania thus becomes the latest of a number of states that have passed similar legislation this year in a bid to reduce the rising incidence of fentanyl-involved fatal drug overdoses. "Fentanyl is undetectable through sight, taste, and smell. Unless a drug is tested with a fentanyl test strip, it is nearly impossible for an individual to know if it has been laced with fentanyl," said Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith. "We continue to encourage all Pennsylvanians to equip themselves with the life-saving drug naloxone and now with the legalization of fentanyl test strips, individuals have an additional tool to fight the overdose crisis. This legalization is a big win in the harm reduction space."

International

Ecuador State of Emergency Declared as Drug Gang Violence Spikes. President Guillermo Lasso declared a new state of emergency Tuesday and a 9:00pm curfew in the Guayas and Esmeraldas regions of the country after an outbreak of gang violence that included two headless bodies hanging from a pedestrian bridge, prison guards taken hostage by inmates, a series of nine car bomb explosions in two coastal cities, and the shooting deaths of five police officers. President Lasso said the violence was "a declaration of open war" and that he was "prepared to act harshly" to suppress it.

Lasso added that soldiers and police had raided jails and seized weapons, included thousands of explosive and dynamite sticks, and arrested 28 people. Still, fresh clashes were reported in prisons in Guayaquil. Analysts say the local gangs are emboldened by lucrative links to Mexican drug trafficking organizations and are resorting to violence in a bid to intimidate authorities.

"In certain areas, the state has been displaced," said Col Mario Pazmiño, the former director of Ecuador's military intelligence, referring to parts of Guayaquil and Ecuador's Pacific coast. "We are talking about criminal rule with this new escalation in the level of violence."

Medical Marijuana Update

A Pennsylvania doctor who is also a medical marijuana patient is suing to be able to purchase a handgun, Oklahoma is prosecuting pregnant women who use medical marijuana, and more.

Louisiana

Louisiana Lawmakers Create Medical Marijuana Task Force. Lawmakers have created a special task force on medical marijuana with a special emphasis on ways to prevent employment discrimination against medical marijuana patients. The task force will also examine options for drug testing workers who use the drug. The task force's first meeting in set for a week from today.

New York

New York Regulators Set Rules for Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation. The state's Cannabis Control Board on Tuesday adopted regulations for home grows for medical marijuana patients, opening the way for home cultivation to get underway. Under the regulations, patients can grow up to six plants and caregivers, who can grow for up to four patients, can grow up to 12 plants. The regulations specify that landlords cannot penalize or refuse to lease to patients who grow their own. The regulations came after a public comment period where some advocates argued for higher plant limits to no avail. The board also approved conditional licenses for 19 cultivators and 10 processors.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Is Arresting Pregnant Women for Using Marijuana. At least 26 women have been charged with felony child neglect since 2019 for using medical marijuana. That offense carries a sentence of up to life in prison, although defendants have typically pleaded guilty and received probation. At least eight of those women were registered medical marijuana patients. According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, this is the only state to prosecute pregnant women for medical marijuana use. The prosecutions involving medical marijuana are "inconsistent with state law," said Ryan Kiesel, a civil rights attorney and former Oklahoma lawmaker. "Those women are protected as medical marijuana patients under the law," Kiesel said. "It's important to remember, if you have a medical marijuana license, you are under the care of a physician."

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Doctor Who Is Medical Marijuana Patient Sues ATF, FBI After Being Denied Right to Purchase Handgun. Dr. Matthew Roman, a registered medical marijuana patient, was turned down for a handgun purchase after truthfully telling the clerk that he had a medical marijuana card. The clerk, in compliance with federal law, refused to make the sale. Roman has now filed a federal lawsuit against the ATF and the FBI. In 2011, ATF issued a statement clarifying that a 1968 law barring anyone who uses an "unlawful" substance indeed applies to medical marijuana users even in states where it is legal. Roman's suit argues that "this strict, rigid, blanket prohibition violates the fundamental constitutional rights of tens of thousands of nonviolent, law-abiding citizens, and thus violates the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution." In 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiff in a similar case.

Trump Again Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Peru Coca Crop Up, More... (9/19/22)

California's governor signs another batch of marijuana bills, a Pennsylvania doctor and medical marijuana patient sues over the ban on medical marijuana patients buying handguns, and more.

Peyote buttons. The Native American Church is asking Congress for help to preserve the psychoactive cactus. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Another Batch of Marijuana Bills. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sunday signed into law 10 marijuana bills, including a bill to allow interstate marijuana commerce, a bill to provide employment protections for marijuana users, a bill to make it easier to seal records of prior marijuana convictions, and a bill barring localities from banning medical marijuana deliveries. For too many Californians, the promise of cannabis legalization remains out of reach," Newsom said. "These measures build on the important strides our state has made toward this goal, but much work remains to build an equitable, safe and sustainable legal cannabis industry. I look forward to partnering with the legislature and policymakers to fully realize cannabis legalization in communities across California."

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Doctor Who Is Medical Marijuana Patient Sues ATF, FBI After Being Denied Right to Purchase Handgun. Dr. Matthew Roman, a registered medical marijuana patient, was turned down for a handgun purchase after truthfully telling the clerk that he had a medical marijuana card. The clerk, in compliance with federal law, refused to make the sale. Roman has now filed a federal lawsuit against the ATF and the FBI. In 2011, ATF issued a statement clarifying that a 1968 law barring anyone who uses an "unlawful" substance indeed applies to medical marijuana users even in states where it is legal. Roman's suit argues that "this strict, rigid, blanket prohibition violates the fundamental constitutional rights of tens of thousands of non-violent, law-abiding citizens, and thus violates the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution." In 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiff in a similar case.

Drug Policy

At Ohio Campaign Rally, Trump Again Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. The defeated former president used a campaign rally for Ohio Republicans in Youngstown Saturday to reiterate his call to execute drug dealers. Painting an oratorical portrait of a country awash in crime, he said that "much of the crime wave is caused by drug dealers who during the course of their lives, will kill an average of 500 American citizens not to mention the destruction of millions of American families who are so devastated by drugs. It's an invasion of crime," he added. "And remember much of the crime that we talk about is caused by drugs. And I'm calling for the death penalty for drug dealers and human traffickers." Trump falsely claimed that the death penalty for drug dealers would "reduce drug distribution and crime in our country by much more than 75 per cent. That's in one day

"Every place that has a real death penalty ... they don't have any people dying of drugs. I mean, literally nobody, because these drug dealers are smart," he said. "They say ‘you know what, if I want to keep doing drugs, if I'm going to continue to sell them, I'm not doing them in China. I'll go someplace else like how about the United States of America where nothing happens?’ We would reduce crime in our country by much more than 75 per cent in one hour. In one hour, the day it's passed, it's got to be meaningful, but you would reduce it in one hour," he claimed. "I say it because it's very hard. Nobody ever talks this way. Nobody talks about the death penalty. It's a horrible thing to say. Even for me, it's a horrible thing."

The remarks were met with cheers from the crowd, which also cheered a Q-Anon anthem played at the rally's end and raised their arms in a one-finger Q-Anon salute to it. Trump was campaigning for Republican senatorial candidate JD Vance, who he said was "kissing my ass" to maintain his support It is not clear what Vance's position on the death penalty for drug dealers is.

Psychedelics

Native American Church Leaders Ask Congress for Money to Support Peyote Cultivation and Preservation. Leaders of the Native American Church, whose members can lawfully use the psychoactive cactus peyote, held multiple meetings with members of Congress last week in a bid to garner federal funding for efforts to preserve the limited habitats where peyote can be grown. The supply of peyote is limited and under strain, and Native American Church members want assistance to ensure that it remains available for future generations. Peyote is a slow-growing crop that takes 10 years to mature, and it is stressed by climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices, and increase non-Native use of the hallucinogen.Specifically, church leaders and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) are lobbying lawmakers to allocate $5 million in funding from USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program or Interior’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to provide compensation to landowners who agree to convert their property to protected peyote habitats.

International

Peru Reports Coca Crop Grew by 30 Percent Last Year. The area devoted to coca cultivation increased by more than 30 percent last year, reflecting rising coca cultivation in the country ever since 2015. Ricardo Soberon, head of the drug agency DEVIDA, said cultivation had reached 200,000 acres in 19 coca zones, up from 14 in 2020. Soberon said Peruvian producers were responding to high demand from the United States and Europe. "How can we act to reduce the supply if there is a growing demand to buy cocaine," he asked, pointing out that at a kilo of cocaine goes for $1100 in Peru, but nearly $45,000 in London or Paris. 

(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.)

White House Issues Annual Drug Countries List, CA Governor Signs Forced Treatment Bill, More... (9/16/22)

A federal appeals court shoots down yet another effort to move marijuana off Schedule I, new research finds prentant Black women are more likely to be tested for marijuana, and more.

The annual list of naughty and nice drug producing and trafficking nations is released. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Challenge to Marijuana's Schedule I Classification. A group of defendants who had been convicted on federal marijuana charges had their bid to have the substance removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act shot down by the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals at the end of August. They had argued that the scheduling of marijuana had no rational basis because it does not meet the criteria for a Schedule I drug and the court should "strike the offending statutory classification as unconstitutional"and leave reclassification to Congress. But the appeals disagreed, ruling that there is a "conceivable basis" for the classification.

Blacks Disproportionately Drug Tested for Marijuana During Labor, Analysis Finds. A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that patients ordered to undergo marijuana-specific drug screening during the labor and delivery process are disproportionately Black and are also likely to be on subsidized health insurance plans. The research assessed drug screening practices at one St. Louis hospital and found doctors ordered marijuana-related drug tests in 753 patients out of just under 4,000 deliveries. Seventy percent of those subjected to testing were Black. Marijuana tests were also more likely for those patients who were younger or on public insurance. Most subjected to testing came up negative, but of those who did positive, 90 percent were referred to child welfare authorities, even though there were no statistically significant differences between them and other mothers in terms of preterm birth rates or other indicators of natal health.

"Isolated marijuana use was a poor predictor of other substance exposure in our cohort, but a urine drug screening test result positive for marijuana exposed a historically underserved population that is already subject to pervasive systemic racism in the medical field to further stigmatization without changing outcomes. The utility of using isolated marijuana use as a criterion for urine drug screening appears limited in benefit but rife with inequitable potential to harm and should be carefully reconsidered in labor and delivery units for necessity," the authors concluded.

Drug Treatment

California Governor Signs Forced Drug Treatment Bill. To the dismay of drug reform and mental health advocates, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1338, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Court Act, which create a civil court system in all counties that would force people who are experiencing substance use disorder and other mental health issues to undergo an involuntary court process and treatment plan. Although the CARE Act sailed through the legislature, the proposal was opposed by a wide range of advocates who feel it is a huge step in the wrong direction. It will take away people’s basic right to make their own decisions and force them into court-mandated treatment programs, which have been shown to often exacerbate harms while worsening existing health disparities and the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal legal system. The CARE Act will fail to meet the urgent needs of our communities or offer a path to effective evidence-based treatment, recovery and other health services for Californians who are unhoused, struggling with substance use disorder, or experiencing other mental health issues, they argued.

Foreign Policy

White House Issues Annual List of Major Drug Trafficking and Producing Countries; Contains the Usual Suspects. The White House has released its annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2023 and has identified the following countries as major transit or drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. The annual exercise also designated four countries—Afghanistan, Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela—as "having failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts during the previous 12 months to both adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements." Notably, all four of these countries are political foes of the US, unlike major drug producing and trafficking countries such as Colombia and Mexico, which are US allies.

Grassley, Whitehouse Lead Senate Caucus in Issuing Report onStrategies to Combat Money Laundering By Drug Cartels. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RR), Chairman of the caucus, havereleased a bipartisan report entitled: Strengthening U.S. Efforts to Attack the Financial Networks of Cartels. The report offers recommendations for Congress and the Biden administration to reduce the supply of illicit drugs by closing loopholes in the U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) framework that enable narcotics traffickers to obscure and access their illicit proceeds.Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control members Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and James Risch (R-ID) have also endorsed the report.

Its recommendations include: Help partner nations strengthen their institutions to better defend against corruption and implement justice sector reforms; better track whole-of-government efforts to combat narcotics-related illicit finance;  deploy experts in narcotics-related illicit finance to assist partner nations; authorize innovative and effective programs to combat international money laundering, such as Trade Transparency Units; use regulatory authorities to close loopholes in the U.S. AML framework, including by: ensuring greater transparency in the cross-border transportation of stored value or prepaid access devices, and fully implementing the beneficial ownership requirements of the Corporate Transparency Act; aggressively investigate, prosecute, and pursue the maximum allowable criminal penalties for culpable banks, employees, and executives who fail to timely report suspicious transactions; and address vulnerabilities in the AML framework by swiftly enacting the Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Finance, and Counterfeiting Act. The report does not explain how these proposals to deepen the drug war would lead to any different result than decades of previous prohibitionist measures. 

Federal Bill to Help Small Pot Growers, UN Report on Philippines, More... (9/14/22)

Bolivia coca conflict continues, the back and forth over the Arkansas marijuaan legalization also continues, and more.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Huffman (D-OR) have a plan to help small marijuana producers. (Creative Commons)

Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Secretary of State Declares Marijuana Legalization Initiative "Insufficent." Secretary of State John Thurston (R) declared Tuesday that the Responsible Growth Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative is "insufficient" to appear on the ballot the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name of the measure. But the measure will appear on the ballot nonetheless because the state Supreme Court last month ordered its conditional placement on the ballot while it takes up the issue. It has yet to issue a final ruling on whether the vote will count.

California, Oregon Congressmen File Bill to Allow Small Growers to Sell Direct to Consumers Across State Lines. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have filed a bill to help small marijuana growers compete against large corporations by allowing them to ship and sell their product directly to consumers across state lines once marijuana is federally legalized. The bill is the Small and Homestead Independent Producers (SHIP) Act, which is yet to receive a bill number.
 

International

Bolivia Coca Conflict Continues. Last week, union coca growers opposed to an officially unsanctioned "parallel" legal coca market burned it to the ground, but this week union coca growers who supported the destroyed market sold coca leaves on its steps, demanded the government declare theirs is the only legitimate coca market, and announced another round of mass mobilizations to demand justice. The battle pits the government-allied coca growers of the Arnold Alanes bloc against growers from the Departmental Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca) led by Freddy Machicado. The conflict is now nearly a year old, dating from the election of Alanes as the leader of Adepcoca, but the Machicado faction rejects his authority.

UN Report Calls for Philippines to Take New Approach to Drug Policy. Amid continuing reports of human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines, including in the context of anti-drug operations, victims still face challenges in seeking justice, a UN report published Tuesday finds. In the report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acknowledges the Government’s commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, including through an innovative UN joint program on human rights that is being implemented with Government agencies, the national human rights institution and civil society. The report, mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 45/33, calls for the new Philippines administration to adopt a transformative approach that looks to rights-based solutions for critical issues, including drug law enforcement and counter- terrorism, and to end divisive rhetoric that puts human rights defenders at risk. While acknowledging some progress in a number of areas, the report notes that considerable challenges remain.

"The Government took some initiatives to advance accountability for human rights violations and abuses… However, access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses remained very limited. Institutional and structural shortcomings in law enforcement and the judiciary remained, despite efforts to address some cases," it says. The report highlights "limited oversight of human rights investigations, inadequate investigation capacity and inter-agency cooperation, limited forensic capacity and protracted judicial processes."

The Philippines has admitted to more than 5,000 drug war killing by police during the recently-ended term of Rodrigo Duterte, but human rights groups put the death toll in the low tens of thousands.

Philippines President Promises to Dial Back Deadly Drug War. Newly-installed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has vowed to pursue a less violent and punitive approach to drug problem after the drug war unleashed by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, left tens of thousands dead and little accountability. The war on drugs will continue, but we will have to do it a different way," Marcos said. "In fact, right now, we are trying to formulate what is the best way for the rehabilitation program. These are all being formulated." The new anti-drug campaign will emphasize "the upstream of the problem, the prevention," he added. While Marcos's remarks point to a break with tough Duterte-era policies, he stopped short of any explicit condemnation of his bloody policies. 

San Francisco DA's Misdemeanor Drug Crackdown, Philippine Rejects ICC Investigation into Drug War Killings, More... (9/9/22)

Seattle makes a move on marijuana equity, Bolivian coca growers get rowdy, and more. 

San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins is moving to crack down on open air drug use and selling in the Tenderloin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Council Approves Marijuana Equity Legislation. The city council has approved a package of marijuana equity legislation, including a measure that anticipates the city issuing new "social equity licenses" for city marijuana businesses. The package is the result of months of work by the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force to address the lack of diversity in the industry in the city. Mayor Bruce Harrell (D) called the package "historic," but also noted that "this is a first—but necessary—step toward equity long overdue in the cannabis industry." The program should put the city in line with forthcoming state rules that will require at least 51 percent ownership by individuals "who have resided in a disproportionately impacted area" where there have been factors like a high poverty rate or a "high rate of cannabis-related arrest, conviction or incarceration” to qualify for the special licenses.

Drug Policy

San Francisco DA Announces New Misdemeanor Drug Policy. New District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has announced a new misdemeanor drug policy that will require mandatory drug treatment for people who have five misdemeanor drug possession citations. The move of part of Jenkins' efforts to move against open-air drug use and drug selling, especially in the city's Tenderloin district. "What we are doing is SFPD has begun citing individuals that are engaged in public drug use," Jenkins said. "Both injecting and smoking, pipes, fentanyl, methamphetamines. When a person reaches five citations for that public drug use that is when we file a complaint that we forward to our community justice centers, so that we can connect that person with resources for treatment."

The ACLU of Northern California has some concerns: "One is that it seems to be a backtracking of the statement the DA made a few weeks back saying that she would not prosecute possession or paraphernalia cases. This is saying, you do this five times we’re going to arrest you. Then we’re going to put you through the criminal legal system, which we know and have seen in the past, it is not the best place to put people into recovery," said Yoel Haile, Criminal Justice Program Director for the group.

International

Bolivia's Coca Grower Conflict Continues as Yungas Growers Burn "Parallel" Market in La Paz. The conflict between pro- and anti-government coca grower union factions escalated Thursday as thousands of farmers from the Yungas region broke through police lines, marched into La Paz, and burned down a "parallel" coca market. The protestors attacked with dynamite, firecrackers, and Molotov cocktails. The country has only two officially sanctioned legal coca markets, in La Paz and Cochabamba, but a pro-government faction of a coca grower union opened the "parallel" market in La Paz last October. The coca growers that burned down the market say the government should have shut it down. "The government and its ministers are responsible for this," coca leader Esar Apaza said, adding that the Yungas coca growers would not go home until the government resolves the conflict.

Philippine Government Rejects ICC Request to Resume Investigation of Duterte's Drug War Crimes. The government of Ferdinand Marco Jr. on Thursday rejected a request from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to resume an investigation into thousands of drug war killings that took place under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. The ICC authorized a full investigation into Duterte's drug war last September but suspended the investigation after the Philippines said it would conduct its own review. In August, the ICC asked Manila to respond to its request to reopen the investigation, and now it has a response from the Philippines Office of the Solicitor General, which says that the international court "has no jurisdiction" over the Philippines. "The alleged murder incidents that happened during the relevant period do not constitute "crimes against humanity,'" the agency said in a statement. Philippine authorities have admitted killing roughly 8,000 people as part of Duterte's drug war, but human rights groups put the actual toll at three or four times that. Only three people have been convicted of killings in the drug war, and the government has conceded that in another 52 deaths, police may have used excessive force. 

San Francisco Deprioritizes Natural Psychedelics, UK Blocks Bermuda Pot Legalization, More... (9/8/22)

Prisoners and advocacy groups call on the Bureau of Prisons to clean up its act, Colombia's new president has some words for the US, and more.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro continues to push against the war on drugs. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

San Francisco Effectively Decriminalizes Natural Psychedelics. The city's Boad of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a resolution that effectively decriminalizes natural psychedelics. The resolution includes the "full spectrum of plants, fungi, and natural materials that can inspire personal and spiritual well-being," and includes ayahuasca, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin. The resolution also allows for the "planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with" those substances and provides no limits on quantities that may be possessed. The resolution effectively decriminalizes these substances by designating them the lowest law enforcement priority, but they remain illegal under state and federal law. San Francisco now joins Arcata, Oakland, and Santa Cruz among California cities that have embraced such measures. A dozen other citizens around the country have, too.

Incarceration

Incarcerated People and Advocacy Organizations Urge Reform of US Bureau of Prisons. In a letter Tuesday to federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters, current and former federal prisoners and an array of sentencing, drug policy, and other advocacy groups called on her to "bring the Bureau into compliance with federal law and to lead the Bureau toward a more humane future grounded in transparency and accountability." The letter cited a number of issues and concerns, including unsafe and inhumane prisons, the need for the Bureau to use its power to seek compassionate release, the need for the Bureau to comply with the First Step Act (there are chronic delays in releasing people who qualify), and the pervasiveness of abuse, corruption, and misconduct. In addition to individual signers, the letter was endorsed by the ACLU, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), the Drug Policy Alliance, Fair and Just Prosecution, Federal Public and Community Defenders, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Council of Churches, and the Sentencing Project, which organized the campaign.

Foreign Policy

Colombian President Warns US Drug War Has Failed, Change Must Come. President Gustavo Petro warned the US on Wednesday the he believes the US-led war on drugs in his country is a failure and called for substantial changes in drug policy. The statement came after he met with the commander of the United States Southern Command, General Laura Richardson.  "We were now talking at length with General Laura Richardson … about the failure of the anti-drug policy. I think it should be called without fear: the policy that (Richard) Nixon had in the time It was called the War on Drugs, has failed here," said Petro from the presidential palace. "It is our duty before the United States, but also before the world, to not only say this, but to propose alternatives that will not kill more than a million Latin Americans."

Colombia is the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, and Petro said that his own country is "the biggest culprit" because rural poverty makes drug cultivation and trafficking an attractive livelihood. Petro has moved to restrict the aerial spraying of herbicides and limited the resort to forced eradication of coca crops, promoting voluntary crop substitution instead. He is also proposing changes in the extradition treaty between Colombia and the US to allow those who cooperate with Colombia to avoid extradition to the US.

International

United Kingdom Blocks Bermuda from Legalizing Marijuana. In a rare move, the UK's Governor for Bermuda, who, as the queen's representative typically provides pro forma assent to the Bermudan government's actions, has intervened to block marijuana legalization in the British Overseas Territory. Even as incoming British Prime Minister Liz Truss was vowing to "stand up for freedom and democracy around the world," her government was directing the governor to block the marijuana legalization bill. "I have now received an instruction, issued to me on Her Majesty’s behalf, not to Assent to the Bill as drafted," the governor said. "The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs concluded that the Bill, as currently drafted, is not consistent with obligations held by the UK and Bermuda"under international anti-drugs conventions dating back to 1961. Liz Truss was foreign secretary until Tuesday when she became prime minister. In a statement, the Bermudian government said the move was "disappointing, but not surprising, given the confines of our constitutional relationship with the UK government and their archaic interpretation of the narcotic conventions. The Bermudian government said it would continue to move forward on marijuana legalization, which could put the country on a collision course with the UK. "The people of Bermuda have democratically expressed their desire for a regulated cannabis licensing regime, following the strong endorsement at the ballot box and an extensive public consultation process. The Government of Bermuda intends to continue to advance this initiative, within the full scope of its constitutional powers, in keeping with our 2020 general election platform commitment." Bermudian Premier David Burt has not commented on this move, but warned earlier that: "If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda does not give assent to something that has been passed lawfully and legally under this local government, this will destroy the relationship we had with the United Kingdom."

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