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Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

Australia's First Drug Checking Site Opens This Week, TX Bill Would Make Legal Pot a Local Option, More... (7/19/22)

There are marijuana reform rumblings in the Lone Star State, Ohio becomes the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip decrim bill, and more.

Texas State Capitol (Daniel Mayer, Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill Would Let Cities, Counties Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) has filed a bill, House Bill 3248, that would let cities and counties the option of locally legalizing recreational marijuana use, possession, and sales. The bill would also impose a 10 percent tax on marijuana products, with 10 percent of that going to pay for regulation, another 10 percent to pay for marijuana testing and quality control, 20 percent to participating local governments for oversight, and the rest would go into the state school fund. "While Texas has made progress with the Compassionate Use Act, we have been left behind on a potential revenue source that would increase investments in public education, stop the unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession and create jobs in our state," González said. "We should allow our local communities to make the best decision for themselves in regards to cannabis legalization, and HB 3248 would allow that for adults 21 years or older." The bill faces long odds in the GOP-dominated legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Calls for Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) says he supports the expansion of medical marijuana access and nodded toward other conservative states that have fully legalized medical use. Governments should only be able to make something illegal "for a powerful reason or set of fact," he wrote in a letter, comparing pot prohibition to the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s. "As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable,"he wrote. It is time for all of us, including the Governor, members of the Texas Legislature and others to come together and set aside our political differences to have an honest conversation about cannabis: where we have been, where we are going and what role government should properly play," Miller ended his letter. "We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas."

Harm Reduction

Ohio Bill Would Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Ohio could become the latest state to decriminalize or legalize fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction measure aimed at reducing overdose deaths. State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) has filed House Bill 456 would decriminalize fentanyl drug testing strips. They are currently classified as drug paraphernalia, but that hasn't stopped them from beginning to pop up in bar bathrooms in Cincinnati. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is increasingly adulterating other illicit drugs or appearing as counterfeit prescription opioids. In Ohio, nearly two-thirds of 1,497 cocaine overdose deaths last year were caused by drugs laced with fentanyl. The bill has just been filed, but has garnered no opposition so far.

International

Australia's First Fixed Drug Checking Site to Open This Week in Canberra. Beginning on Thursday, Australia's capital city, Canberra, will host the country's first fixed location drug checking site. Previously, drug testing has twice been done at music festivals. The move comes as the Australian Capital Territory prepares to implement drug decriminalization. "This Australian-first program will help people who use drugs better understand or avoid unknown and potentially dangerous substances in illicit drugs," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

"We know the safest option is not to take drugs and this will always be our advice to the community. However we recognize some people will choose to use drugs and there is a need for initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use."

Big Increase in Injection Drug Use, House Passes Another Spending Bill with SAFE Banking, More... (7/18/22)

British Tories audition a new scheme for punishing drug users that effectively decriminalizes somebody's first two drug busts, a new study finds racial disparities in Pennsylvania marijuana arrests are increasing, and more.

The number of Americans injecting drugs increased five-fold in the past decade. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Defense Spending Bill with Marijuana Amendments. The House last Thursday approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes nine amendments pertaining to marijuana and other drug policies. Included in the House version of the bill is language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, language allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to allow medical marijuana recommendations, and two psychedelic research amendments. The SAFE language, which the legal marijuana industry is clamoring for, has been passed in the House as part of several earlier omnibus spending bills, only to be killed in the Senate by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his allies, who have been holding out for passage of a full-blown marijuana legalization bill. We shall see if it turns out any differently this time.

Black Pennsylvanians See More Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests. A new study from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) finds that racial disparities in marijuana arrests jumped upward in 2020, even though overall pot arrests declined. Black Pennsylvanians were five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana statewide. The largest disparity was in Cumberland County, where Blacks were 18 times more likely to be arrested for pot than Whites. "I will say that the numbers moving in the wrong direction is certainly a concern," said Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Meredith Buettner. "This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians." The Republican-controlled state legislature has so far blocked any moves toward legalization.

Drug Policy

CDC Finds Huge Increase in Number of People Injecting Drugs. A new study from the Coalition for Applied Modeling for Prevention (CAMP) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a rapid increase in the number of people shooting up drugs in the past decade. The most recent data, from 2018, put the number of injection drug users at about 4 million, five times the number in 2011, the last previous estimate. The study also found that overdoses -- both fatal and non-fatal -- had also increased dramatically, with deaths related to injection drug use rising threefold during that period, which was before the current spike in overdose deaths, now around 100,000 a year. For every fatal injection drug overdose, there were 40 non-fatal ones, the study found. The CDC estimates that a third of people who inject drugs share syringes, needles or other drug injection equipment.

International

British Tories Plan to Punish Drug Users, Could Seize Their Drivers' Licenses, Passports. The Home Office has announced a scheme to punish drug users in a bid to "tackle the scourge of drug abuse in society." Under the "three-strikes" proposal, first-time illicit drug offenders, including marijuana offenders, would have to pay for and attend a drug awareness course. A second offense would merit a formal warning, another drug awareness course, and up to three months of mandatory random drug testing. For a third offense, people would be criminally charged and, upon conviction, could be banned from nightclubs and other entertainment venues and could have their drivers' licenses and passports confiscated. But, hey, that is effectively decriminalization for the first two offenses. The proposal will now undergo a three-month consultation period before being amended or implemented as is.

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

Another Push for the SAFE Banking Act, NJ Magic Mushroom Legalization Bill Filed, More... (7/1/22)

The Ohio Supreme Court rejects a police backpack search for marijuana, the Massachusetts Senate has approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. It could be legal to grow, possess, and share them under a New Jersey bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Marijuana Banking Amendment to Must-Pass Defense Bill in Latest Reform Push. Led by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-OR), sponsor of the House-passed version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996), a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to attach that legislation to the must-pass bill. This is the second year Perlmutter has tried to get the SAFE Banking Act language into the defense spending bill. Passage of the bill in the Senate has been stymied by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been blocking the incremental bill as he continues to push for a full-scale marijuana legalization bill. Perlmutter's amendment will be taken up in the House Rules Committee, and if approved as part of the spending bill in the House, would be subject to conference committee approval with Senate leaders.

Ohio Supreme Court Finds Marijuana Backpack Search Unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a woman for marijuana possession, ruling that a warrantless search of her backpack in her home violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Police came to the woman's home with an unrelated arrest warrant and searched her backpack while she was already handcuffed and sitting in a patrol car. They found 391 grams of mostly marijuana edibles and charged her with felony marijuana possession. Police and prosecutors argued that they had the right to search the backpack for weapons, but the justices held there was no rationale for a weapons search once the woman was detained. Police and prosecutors also argued that a bit of plastic baggie protruding from the backpack justified the search, but the justices rejected that as well. "When police search a bookbag in a home under circumstances that do not give rise to any exigency, they must follow the command of the Fourth Amendment: get a warrant," wrote Justice Patrick DeWine. The case goes back to lower courts for reconsideration.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Senate President Files Bill to Legalize Magic Mushrooms for Personal Use. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2934, that would allow people 21 and over to "possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport, deliver without consideration, or distribute without consideration, four grams or less of psilocybin," the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms. People could legally grow, cultivate, or process the mushrooms capable of producing psilocybin on private property. The bill would also expunge past criminal offenses for magic mushrooms. "This bill is a recognition of evolving science related to psilocybin and its medical uses related to mental health, and if science can provide relief in any fashion with this natural substance under a controlled environment then we should encourage this science," Scutari said. In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill downgrading psilocybin possession from a third-degree crime to disorderly persons offense with a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Asset Forfeiture

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would raise the evidentiary standard for prosecutors to be able to pursue civil asset forfeiture. The bill, Senate Bill 2671, would raise the standard from the lowest legal standard -- probable cause -- to the "preponderance of evidence." The bill also bars asset forfeiture prosecutions for less than $250 and provides the right to counsel for indigent people in asset forfeiture cases. "We view ourselves as a socially progressive state with strong protection for civil liberties. But our current laws on civil asset forfeiture are anything but, and reforming in this area is long overdue," said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Nears Final Passage, PA MedMJ DUI Bill Advances, More... (6/30/22)

North Carolina permanently legaizes hemp at the last minute, a Missoula, Montana, entheogen decriminalization resolution is withdrawn for lack of support, and more.

The safe injection site in Vancouver. Similar facilities could be coming soon to California cities. (vcha.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Protect Patients from DUI Charges Advances. The Senate Transportation Committee has approved Senate Bill 167, which would protect state medical marijuana patients from wrongful convictions for driving under the influence. The bill advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote. The bill would treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug, requiring proof of impairment that interferes with a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before he could be charged with DUI. The state currently has a zero-tolerance DUI law that could expose patients to such charges for taking their medicine. There are some 700,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

Hemp

North Carolina Approves Permanent Hemp Legalization. Just two days before a previous law temporarily legalizing hemp production was set to expire, leaving an estimated 1,500 state hemp farmers in the lurch, the legislature gave final approval to a bill to make hemp legalization permanent, Senate Bill 455 on Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the bill into law Thursday. The old law was set to expire Friday.

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Shelved. A pair of city council members, Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan, earlier this month introduced a resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants in the city, but they have now shelved it after failing to gain enough support on the council to move it. Other council members cited scarce research on the plants' benefits, unresolved questions about law enforcement, and the potential threat to youth as reasons to oppose the resolution. The sponsors now say they will now regroup and seek to build council support before trying again.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Passes Assembly. The Assembly has approved Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) bill to allow safe injection site pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. The bill foresees a five-year pilot program for each of those locales, all of which have formally requested to be included. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote after changes were made in the Assembly and then to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). "Every overdose death is preventable," said Sen. Wiener. "We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

No Drug Decrim Init in WA This Year, Colombia Truth Commission Calls for Legal, Regulated Drugs... (6/29/22)

A House committee has advanced an amendment to protect state-legal marijuana businesses, the DC city council votes to let adults "self-certify" for a medical marijuana card, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. The country's truth commission is calling for big changes. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Amendment to Protect Legal State Marijuana Programs. The House Committee on Appropriations voted Tuesday to approve an amendment that would prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with legal adult-use marijuana programs as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2023. The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH), with the non-committee support of past champions Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), would bar the DOJ from using resources to interfere with the ability of states, territories, tribal governments, or the District of Columbia to implement laws and regulations governing the legal and regulated production, sale, and use of cannabis by adults or to target people acting in compliance with those laws.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Ends Requirement for Doctor's Recommendation Before Buying Medical Marijuana. The DC Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill eliminating the requirement that people seeking to purchase medical marijuana first obtain a doctor's recommendation. The bill allows city residents 21 and over to "self-certify" they need marijuana for medicinal purposes when they register for a patient card. The bill now goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who has indicated she supports the measure.

Drug Policy

Washington Activists End Bid to Put Drug Decriminalization Initiative on November Ballot, Cite Cost of Signature-Gathering. Commit to Change WA, the people behind a proposed drug decriminalization initiative, said Monday that it was halting efforts to qualify for the ballot this year and would instead work with the legislature to try to pass a decriminalization bill next year. "We will not be moving forward to qualify Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922 to the November 8 general election ballot," the group said. "Signature gathering proved more challenging and prohibitively expensive than projected." The decision to quit comes even as new polling shows that two-thirds of state voters would have voted for the measure after reading the ballot language. "Though the proposed Initiative 1922 will no longer be on Washington ballots this November, legislators in the state must note that Washington voters are ready to end the War on Drugs and want to start treating substance use issues with compassion and data-backed policies," the pollsters said.

International

Colombian Truth Commission Calls for "Strict Legal Regulation of Drugs, End to Drug War. A truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC called on Tuesday 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 offered a scathing critique of the country's drug war, backed by the United States. "The current drug policy is ineffective in preventing consumption," the panel writes in a nearly 900-page report. "The policy of the war on drugs and narcotrafficking has been a factor in the persistence of conflict and violence in Colombia." The commission is also calling for sweeping reforms of the criminal justice system and separating the National Police from the Ministry of Defense.

The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but incoming President Gustavo Petro has said he will follow them.

Germany Takes First Steps Toward Legal Weed, Australia's NSW AG Calls for Drug Decriminalization, More... (6/13/22)

Brazil's annual march for marijuana is back, a bill legalizing medical marijuana just landed in the Ukrainian parliament, and more.

Up to a gram of cocaine (and other drugs) could be decriminalized in Australia's New South Wales. (Pixabay)
International

Australia's New South Wales Attorney General Proposes Drug Decriminalization. Saying that the state's drug policies are "clearly not working," New South Wales Attorney General Mark Spearman has proposed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Reports list a threshold of one gram for amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as threshold amounts for Ecstasy, ketamine, and LSD, but not for opiates. It is unclear if opiates will be decriminalized as well. Under the proposal, police would the discretion to issue up to two fines to an individual, with the fine waived if the person undertakes counseling or some other health intervention. The move comes just days after the Australiana Capital Territory (Canberra) announced it was moving to decriminalization. The proposal comes more than two years after a special commission on methamphetamine addiction issued a report  calling for reforms, but the state government had yet to act on that report—until now.

Brazilians March for Marijuana Legalization. After a two-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil's annual "Marcha da Macohna" (March for Marijuana) returned over the weekend, with hundreds of people marching in Sao Paulo. Marijuana has been decriminalized since 2006, but remains illegal and use is allowed only for medical reasons. "We really need to have marijuana legalized because that way it will be accessible to anyone. It's not fair for a child to have 80 seizures a day and not have access to the treatment because the family can't pay for the treatment with cannabidiol. They don't have access to it, said demonstrator Barbara Gael. "Yes, legalize it, because all uses are medicinal, even smoking for those who have pain, for example, will relieve the pain. It’s past time to legalize. We’re way behind on this, it’s fundamental."

Germany Moves Toward Marijuana Legalization. The Health Ministry announced Monday that it will begin a series of expert hearings on marijuana legalization beginning Tuesday. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has promised to enact legalization, and the hearings will see more than 200 witnesses from the fields of law and medicine, as well as officials from various levels of government and international experts. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he planned to draw up legislation in the second half of the year, after the hearings finish up.

Ukraine Medical Marijuana Bill Goes to Parliament. The executive branch has filed a medical marijuana bill, No. 7457, with the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. The draft law regulates marijuana for medical, industrial, scientific, and technical purposes in order to create conditions for expanding patient access to the plant, including for post-traumatic stress disorders linked to the Russian invasion of the country. The bill does not legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Drug Possession, Malaysia Ends Mandatory Death Penalties, More... (6/10/22)

The State Department is looking for drones to spray Colombian coca crops, Thailand begins handing out a million marijuana plants, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. Are drones coming for his crop? (DEAmuseum.org)
Foreign Policy

US Wants to Use Drones to Kill Coca Plants in Colombia. The State Department is looking for drones to use to spray herbicides on farmers' coca crops, a newly released request on a government website reveals. "The Department of State, INL Bogota, has a requirement to purchase spray UAV systems to support eradication operations throughout Colombia," the request reads. The program would be under the control of the Colombian National Police. The State Department says drones would lessen threats to personnel involved in coca eradication in the country, one of the world's top cocaine producers. "Coca cultivation in Colombia remains at record highs and eradication operations in Colombia remain dangerous. INL Bogota is seeking to bolster the CNP’s capability to increase the coca eradication rates and minimize the risk for police personnel in the field."

International

Australian Capital Territory to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) announced Thursday that it will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamine. It will become the first jurisdiction in the country to do so. Under the new law, people in possession of less than the threshold amounts of the drugs will be fined, but not arrested. Some, though, can have their fines waived if they attend an informative session on harm reduction or enter drug treatment. "We know from research and evidence around the world that criminalizing drug users does not reduce drug use and that treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Malaysia to Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty, Including for Drug Offenses. The Malaysian government said Friday it will end the mandatory death penalty for various offenses, including drug offenses, and replace it with "alternative punishments" at the discretion of judges. "This shows the government's emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, reflecting the transparency of the country's leadership in improving the criminal justice system," Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said. The country had declared a moratorium on executions in 2018 but laws imposing the mandatory death sentence remained and courts were required to impose those sentences on convicted drug traffickers. The country currently has more than 1,350 under death sentences, including 925 convicted of drug-related offenses. More than 500 of those under death sentences are foreigners.

Thailand Begins Distributing a Million Marijuana Plants. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakulkicked off a marijuana plant giveaway in Bangkok Friday, handing out the first hundred seedlings of what is planned to be a million-plant distribution. The giveaway is designed to encourage marijuana production, which government officials say will help low-income farmers, especially in the northeast. Charnvirakul was cheered by a crowd of thousands as he took credit for legalizing marijuana. The government insists that, officially, only medical marijuana has been legalized, but there are no plans to monitor small-scale cultivation. 

Taliban Launch Opium Poppy Eradication Campaign, NY Safe Injection Site Bill Dies, More... (6/6/22)

Five Texas cities will vote on non-binding marijuana reform measures this fall, the New York legislative session ends without passing a safe injection site bill, and more.

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New York Bill to Crack Down on Illicit Marijuana Possession and Sales Dies. The Senate last week approved Senate Bill 9452, which would expand the state Office of Cannabis Management's authority to seize illicit marijuana and the Department of Taxation and Finance's authority to civilly penalize people for selling marijuana illegally. But the bill died without action in the Assembly as the legislative session came to an end. The bill aimed at "grey market" operators -- retail outlets that are selling weed without being licensed. No licenses for pot shops have been issued yet. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for distributors and retailers to sell weed without a license. Fines for possession of illicit marijuana would have doubled to $400 per ounce of flower and $1,000 for each illicit plant.

Five Texas Cities Will Vote on Marijuana Reforms. Ground Game Texas, which is pushing for marijuana reform across the state, announced last Friday that it had gathered enough signatures to qualify a non-binding decriminalization initiative in the Central Texas town of Harker Heights, bringing to five the number of towns in the state that will have a chance to vote on marijuana reform this year. The other cities are Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos in Central Texas and Denton in North Texas.

Harm Reduction

New York Safe Injection Site Bill Dies as Session Ends. A bill that would have paved the way for safe injection sites in the state, Assembly Bill 224, had died as the legislative session ends. The bill managed to win an Assembly committee vote, but went no further. Other harm reduction bills also died, including one that would require treatment providers to offer clients access to buprenorphine (Senate Bill 6746) and another that would have decriminalized buprenorphine (Assembly Bill 646). On the other hand, a bill that would eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance (Senate Bill 5690) passed.

International

Afghan Taliban Launch Campaign to Eradicate Poppy Crop. Two months after issuing an edict banning opium poppy cultivation in the country, the Taliban has announced it has begun a campaign to eradicate poppy production, with the goal of wiping out the country's massive yield of opium and heroin. For all of this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium and heroin producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of global output. People violating the ban "will be arrested and tried according to Sharia laws in relevant courts," said Taliban deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund. But with the country in profound economic crisis after the departure of Western troops and economic aid last summer, the ban threatens one of the country's most vibrant economic sectors and the livelihoods of millions of poor farm and day laborer families. "If we are not allowed to cultivate this crop, we will not earn anything," one farmer told the Associated Press. Nonetheless, "We are committed to bringing poppy cultivation to zero," said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor.

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