Decriminalization

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NY Marijuana Arrests Up in Smoke, TX MJ Poll, First SD MedMJ Patient Card, More... (11/23/21)

St. Louis aldermen move to end fines for marijuana possession and allow personal cultivation, New York marijuana arrests are declining dramatically, and more.

The medical marijuana program is up and running in South Dakota. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York State Marijuana Arrests Nearly Vanish After Legalization. Since marijuana became legal in the state in March, marijuana arrests have shrunk to extremely low levels. According to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, only 116 people were arrested on marijuana charges from April through October. In 2017, there were more than 28,000 pot possession arrests alone. By 2020, after lawmakers moved to reduce marijuana penalties, there were only 2,720 arrests. And now the state is on track to reduce that number by 90 percent this year.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization, Even Majority Support Among Republicans. A new poll from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has support for marijuana legalization at 67 percent, with even 51 percent of Republicans in support. That Republican support number is important since Republicans control the state legislature, and polling like this could prod the party to get on board with the public. The poll also asked about legalizing other substances, such as meth and heroin, but found little support with only 16 percent in favor.

St. Louis Aldermen Move to Decriminalize Pot Possession, Cultivation. The city's Board of Aldermen voted last Friday to give preliminary approval to a measure to decriminalize marijuana in the city. The measure needs one more vote by the board to go into effect. Under the proposed ordinance, people 21 and over could possess up to two ounces without any penalty. The ordinance also mandates that "no resources" be spent to punish adults for growing up to six plants. The measure also has the support of Mayor Tishaura Jones (D), whose office said the "intention is to free up police resources so they don't even have to worry about arresting someone for a victimless crime." In 2018, the board voted to make pot possession a civil infraction with a maximum $25 fine.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Program Issues First ID Cards. The state has issued its first medical marijuana ID cards, the state Health Department's Medical Cannabis Program announced last Friday. The first card issued went to a resident of Day County. "Today marks the culmination of months of hard work in preparation for the kickoff of a responsive and efficient medical cannabis program for eligible South Dakotans," said Geno Adams, Medical Cannabis Program Administrator. "In the months ahead, we will continue to ensure that patients and their caregivers, can continue to obtain medical cannabis permits in accordance with their written certifications."

Patients, caregivers, and medical providers who wish to get more information on how to participate in South Dakota's medical cannabis program can visit: MedCannabis.sd.gov. The site features a "Frequently Asked Questions' section, as well as a section for establishments, that is continuously updated by the Department. All patients and caregivers who apply and are issued a medical cannabis card will also receive a flyer with helpful tips on the importance of safe and responsible storage of their medical cannabis at their homes. To view the flyer, click here.

OR Has Another $270 Million for Drug Treatment Programs, Germany to Legalize Marijuana, More... (11/19/21)

Germany is moving to legalize marijuana, DC is moving to legalize marijuana sales, and more.

Employers are beginning to move away from drug testing workers and job applicants, a new survey finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC Council Holds Hearing on Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. The DC Council on Friday held its first public hearing on a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana in the District. Marijuana has been legal in the District since voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014, but not sales, which has instead emerged as a sort of gray market via the practice of "gifting" marijuana. There is widespread support for legalizing sales, from Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to members of the Council. That would require ending a six-year-old congressional prohibition on sales, which Democrats are already moving to repeal, but which may not happen this year. And then there's the possibility that Republicans can take back control of the House next year and reinstate the ban. But at the Council, the debate is now underway.

Drug Testing

Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Employers Dropping Drug Testing Requirements to Attract Workers. A survey of some 45,000 employers in North America and Europe finds that about one out of 10 are dropping drug testing requirements as a way to attract new hires and keep current employees. Nine percent of those responding said they had "eliminated job screenings or drug tests" as a way to either attract or keep their employees. Sixty-nine percent of respondents acknowledged experiencing "difficulty" in filling staffing positions in the current job market, a 15-year high. The increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana is also having an impact, with Amazon dropping pre-employment marijuana testing in June, and a number of cities and states have enacted policies restricting testing for marijuana.

Drug Treatment

Oregon Set to Spend $270 Million on Drug Treatment Centers as Part of Decriminalization Law. The state Oversight and Accountability Council, created as part of the successful Measure 110 drug decriminalization initiative passed last November, is set to distribute $270 million to groups treating people addicted to drugs. The council has now opened the grant process for groups to seek a share of those funds, which come from legal marijuana tax revenues as mandated by Measure 110. Meanwhile, the council is continuing to craft rules for the new Behavioral Health Resource Networks to increase access to treatment and other services. "Our vision is that by funding BHRNs, there will be a collaboration of networks that include culturally and linguistically specific and responsive, trauma-informed and gender affirming care that will meet the needs of anyone seeking services who have been negatively affected by substance use and the war on drugs," said Oversight & Accountability Tri-chair LaKeesha Dumas.

International

German Coalition Parties Agree to Legalize Marijuana. The three parties set to form the country's next governing coalition have agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats are prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. Legalization would ensure quality control, protect minors, and prevent the distribution of contaminated products, the paper said. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

New Gallup Poll Shows Continuing Strong Support for Pot Legalization, Mexico Michoacan Massacre, More... (11/4/21)

A Congressional Research Service report shows easy off-ramp for federal pot prohibition, a new Gallup poll shows marijuana legalization retains strong majority support, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Sees Continuing Strong Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Gallup poll released Thursday has marijuana legalization maintaining record-high levels of support with 68 percent of respondents in favor—the same percentage as when Gallup last polled in November 2020. Only 32 percent favored continuing marijuana prohibition, giving legalization two-to-one support. "As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana," Gallup said. "Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion." Support for legalization was highest among Democrats (83 percent), followed by independents (71 percent) and Republicans (50 percent).

Congressional Research Service Report Provides Pathway for Presidential Administration to Deschedule Marijuana. A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlines pathways for the Biden (or any other) administration to unilaterally end marijuana prohibition and issue a general amnesty for federal marijuana crimes by acting administratively to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). "The President could pursue the appointment of agency officials who favor descheduling, or use executive orders to direct DEA, HHS, and FDA toconsider administrative descheduling of marijuana," the CRS report advised. "The notice-and-comment rulemaking process would take time, and would be subject to judicial review if challenged, but could be done consistently with the CSA’s procedural requirements.The Biden administration has officials in place who are sympathetic to legalization, but the president himself has no sign of going further than decriminalization, not legalization.

Ohio Towns Split on Marijuana Reform Ballot Measures. More than a dozen Ohio cities had marijuana reform measures on the ballot Tuesday and seven of them voted to approve local measures to decriminalize marijuana. Before Tuesday, 22 cities and counties across the state had adopted similar marijuana reform measures. The most common initiative language was "shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Voters in Martins FerryMurray CityNew LexingtonNewStraitsville, RaylandTiltonsville and Yorkville approved the decriminalization proposals, while voters in BrooksideDillonvaleLaurelvilleMcArthurMorristownMount Pleasant and Powhatan Point rejected the reform measures.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees New Massacre, 11 Killed Near Tarecuato. Michoacan state prosecutors announced late Monday that police had found the bullet-riddled bodies of five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco. The area has been a hotbed of bloody conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local criminal gangs. Tarecuato is not from the municipality of La Barca, where clandestine mass graves have been unearthed, and also near to the avocado-producing regions of the state, which are the target of organized crime extortion efforts.

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Reform, Philadelphia Voters Approve Pot Legalization Measure, More... (11/3/21)

Election Day brought a pair of big city victories for drug reform, Mississippi's governor wants a more restrictive medical marijuana proposal before he will call a special session, and more.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is trying to tighten the screws on medical marijuana legislation. (nga.org)
Marijuana Policy

Philadelphia Voters Approve Referendum Calling for Statewide Marijuana Legalization. Voters on Tuesday approved a referendum calling for statewide marijuana legalization by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. The referendum adds a section to the city charter, saying "the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes." The referendum is non-binding but adds pressure on the legislature to act. Republicans control both houses of the legislature and have so far blocked action on marijuana legalization, but last month, a bipartisan legalization bill was formally introduced.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Wants Tighter Limits on Medical Marijuana Before He Will Call a Special Session to Pass It. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said Monday he wants to reduce the amount of medical marijuana that people can buy and reduce the allowable level of THC in it before he will move forward to call a legislative special session to create a medical marijuana program. "If we’re going to have a medical marijuana program, we need to get it done right," said Reeves. "I think getting it done right is more important than getting it done quick." Voters approved medical marijuana via an initiative a year ago, but the state Supreme Court threw out that victory, invalidating the state's initiative process as it did so. The legislature then failed to pass a make-up bill during the regular session. Reeves has said he will call a special session, but now is demanding these new restrictions.

DC Council Approves Bill to Aid Struggling Dispensaries. The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at helping the city's dispensaries, which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. The new bill allows patients whose cards have expired since March 2020 to continue using them through January 2022 and creates a two-year medical marijuana card, as opposed to the current one-year card. The bill also doubles the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase at one time from four ounces to eight.

Psychedelics

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Decriminalization Measure. Voters in Michigan's largest city approved a ballot measure to essentially decriminalize psychedelics by an unofficial tally of 61 percent to 39 percent. The initiativesays the city will "decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults." The new policy will also "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority." Detroit now joins the Michigan communities of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Grand Rapids in having approved psychedelic reform. Meanwhile, a bill to legalize the cultivation, possession, and delivery of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics is before the state Senate.

Opioid Makers Win One in California Court, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/2/21)

The DC council retreats from language that would have threatened a crackdown on the city's marijuana "gift economy," a California court rules in favor of opioid manufacturers in a rare victory for the industry, and more.

Marijuana Policy

JAMA Study Finds Legalizing or Decriminalizing Marijuana Reduces Race-Based Arrests. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds that states that legalize or decriminalize marijuana see "large reductions in race-based arrests among adults" while those states that do not continue to see "increases in arrest rate disparities." Legalization was associated with 561 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 185 fewer arrests per 100,000 White people, while decriminalization was associated with 449 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 117 for White people. On the other hand, "cannabis arrests for adults and youth increased over time in states that did not implement a cannabis policy change," the study concluded. "Overall, results revealed that states that implemented a cannabis policy change saw large decreases in arrests compared with states that had no policy reform," the researchers concluded.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Tim Egan (D-Grafton) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot and allow for home grows of up to three mature plants. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and licensed marijuana production and sales. While the House passed a similar bill last year, legalization efforts in the state face an obstacle in Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has historically opposed legalization.

DC Council Removes Marijuana Bill Language That Threatened Crackdown on Unregulated Market. A provision of a DC marijuana bill that could have led to a crackdown on the city's unregulated marijuana "gift economy," which skirts the ban on legal retail sales, was removed Monday as the council prepares to vote on the measure on Tuesday. The move came after strong criticism from activists, who argued that targeting those currently providing marijuana would perpetuate systemic racial inequalities that marijuana legalization is supposed to reduce. There are currently estimated to be dozens of grey market pot shops and more than a hundred delivery services operating in the city.

Opioids

California Judge Rules for Drug Makers in Lawsuit Over Opioid Crisis. A California state judge has handed a rare victory to opioid manufacturers by rejecting the legal argument successfully employed against the industry in thousands of cases charging that it substantially contributed to an opioid epidemic that has taken more than half a million lives since the late 1990s, when the appearance of OxyContin marked the beginning of the current wave. "There is simply no evidence to show that the rise in prescriptions was not the result of the medically appropriate provision of pain medications to patients in need," wrote Judge Peter Wilson of Orange County State Superior Court. The counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and Orange and the city of Oakland had sued four opioid manufacturers—Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Allergan, and Endo Pharmaceuticals—charging that their manufacturing and distribution of opioids constituted a "public nuisance, but Judge Wilson held that even if the companies were found to have created false or misleading marketing, "any adverse downstream consequences flowing from medically appropriate prescriptions cannot constitute an actionable public nuisance."

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction, Poll Shows Support for DC Drug Decrim, More... (10/27/21)

Arkansas could soon see two seperate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns, a new poll shows DC voters are ready for drug decriminalization, and more.

HHS says there were 840,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. And then there were two. Activists with Arkansas True Grass already have a marijuana legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase, and now, a former state House minority leader has announced the formation of a new advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, to push a second legalization effort. That former lawmaker, Democrat Eddie Armstrong, says his proposed initiative would "allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state." Armstrong has yet to file an initiative text with state officials but promised more information in coming weeks. Statutory initiatives require 71,321 valid voter signatures. If Armstrong's initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it would need 89,151 valid voter signatures. In either case, signature gathering must be complete by next July.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bills to Restrict Cultivation by Caregivers Advance. A package of bills that would limit the amount of medical marijuana that caregivers can grow is headed for the House floor. Under the package, caregivers would have to obtain a new specialty medical marijuana grower license and comply with a variety of new regulations. Under current rules, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants and must register with the state, but do not need a license. Under the bill package, caregivers could grow only 24 plants without a license. Because the package of bills alters the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana initiative, it must garner 75 percent of the vote in both houses to pass.

Drug Policy

DC Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds. Just a week after activists announced a push for drug decriminalization in the nation's capital, a new poll finds very strong support for the notion. The poll had 83 percent saying the DC Council should pass an ordinance to "remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use." That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform. The reform is being pushed by a coalition called DecrimPovertyDC, which includes groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Harm Reduction

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction Measures. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday outline the Biden administration's approach to reducing drug overdoses and committed to more federal support for measures such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. The strategy also includes expanding medication-based treatment, reducing "inappropriate" opioid prescribing (which could drive users into the more dangerous black market), and more support for drug treatment. Becerra even expressed some openness to safe injection sites: "When it comes to harm reduction, we are looking for every way to do that. … We probably will support the efforts of states that are using evidence-based practices and therapies." According to an HHS report released Wednesday, 840,000 people died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2019. Becerra's comments reflect a statement of priorities for the administration’s first year released in March by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Luxembourg Set to Legalize Marijuana, OH GOP Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, More... (10/25/21)

New Hampshire continues as the lone northern New England holdout on marijuana legalization, Luxembourg is now set to become the first European country to free the weed, and more.

Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Usuga, "Otoniel," under arrest this past weekend. (ENC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmaker to File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Lake County) is set to announce Tuesday that he will file a bill to legalize marijuana, including the growth, processing, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products. The move comes as activists work to put a marijuana legalization ballot measure before voters in November 2022.

New Hampshire House Committee Kills Marijuana Legalization Bills. The House Criminal Justice Committee last Wednesday killed bills that would legalize and tax marijuana and allow people to grow up to six plants at home. The vote fell mainly along party lines with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor. New Hampshire is the only northern New England state to yet approve marijuana legalization.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Town Becomes Fourth in State to Pass Psychedelic Reform Measure. The Easthampton City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for the decriminalization of certain psychedelics and other drugs. The resolution is non-binding but sends a message to local law enforcement that the status quo of criminalization is eroding. The cities of Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have also passed psychedelic reform measures in recent months, and there are both decriminalization and psychedelic study bills awaiting action in the state legislature.

International

Colombians Capture Most Wanted Drug Trafficker. Colombian police and military forces with assistance from the US captured, better known as Otoniel, at his jungle hideout near the Panamanian border Saturday. Otoniel is the leader of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Gulf Clan, taking control of the organization after Colombian police killed his brother nearly a decade ago. President Ivan Duque cheered the bust, saying it was the most significant blow to drug trafficking since the killing of Pablo Escobar in 1993. But analysts such as Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis warned that Otoniel's arrest "is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. Soon we'll have another kingpin and another drug lord who may be much worse."

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Country to Legalize Marijuana. The national government announced last Friday that the country will legalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. Under the proposed legislation, people will be able to grow up to four plants at home. In the meantime, fines for the possession of up to three grams will drop from $291 to $29. While the new legislation has the backing of the government coalition, a vote in parliament is still required to approve it. No word yet on when that will happen.

Canada's Trudeau Urged to Decriminalize Drugs, Spain's Socialists Reject Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/21/21)

Britain's Labor leader rejects drug decriminalization, Spain's ruling Socialists reject marijuana legalization, Peruvian coca growers protest, and more.

International

British Prime Minister Says He Will Examine Latest Advice on Legalization of Psilocybin. In response to a question in Parliament from Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who said the drug had "exciting potential" and urged him to review the law to allow more research into psilocybin's therapeutic qualities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he would: "I can say that we will consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recent advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs such as the one he describes, and we will be getting back to him as soon as possible." Psilocybin is currently a Schedule I substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which means it requires a Home Office license to conduct research, and Blunt and other campaigners want it moved to Schedule 2 to make it easier to conduct research.

British Labor Party Leader Says He Would Not Decriminalize Drugs. Asked if a Labor government would either decriminalize drugs, Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it would not. The comment comes after Scotland's Lord Advocate called for diverting from prosecution people caught with small amounts of drugs. Starmer criticized the notion even as he accused the Scottish National Party of having an "appalling" drug overdose death. When asked about the Lord Advocate's advice made sense, Starmer said: "The Lord Advocate has set up principles and we have not seen the detail yet, which will come out shortly. I do not think what happens in Scotland should be a general application across the UK. One of the benefits of devolution is to allow each of the nations to look separately in context to the challenges they have. But if I was prime minister of the UK I would not be introducing that."

Canadian Prime Minister Urged to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, have written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking him he make drug policy reform a priority for his newly re-elected Liberal government. Even though  Trudeau's Liberal Party approved a decriminalization resolution in 2018, Trudeau has so far rejected the move, but pressure is rising along with the number of drug overdose deaths. The groups are calling for immediate drug decriminalization and a safe drug supply, saying that the overdose deaths are driven by "a contaminated drug supply and the stigma associated with drug use."

Costa Rica Congress Approves Medical Marijuana. The Congress on Tuesday approved the legalization of medical marijuana over opposition from President Carlos Alvarado. The law allows for the cultivation and processing of marijuana for medical use but does not allow for recreational use. Lawmakers are calling on Alvarado not to veto the bill. If he does, the bill would have to be passed again with a supermajority.

Peru Coca Farmers Protest Goverment Crop Eradication. Hundreds of coca leaf growers are in the fifth day of a highway blockade as they protest the destruction of their crops by the government. The protest began with the eradication of coca fields in Carabaya province, in the Puno region. Growing coca leaf is legal for farmers who are on a registered government list, but that list has not been updated since 1978. The demonstrators, who mainly voted for President Pedro Castillo, are calling on him to stop the eradication of unpermitted crops.

Spanish Socialist Party Votes Against Legalizing Marijuana. The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) joined with rightist opposition groups in opposing a bill to legalize marijuana that was sponsored by its coalition partner Unidas Podemos. In opposing the measure, the Socialists aligned themselves with the conservative Popular Party and the extremist right Vox Party. That tactical alliance was able to defeat the bill 263-75. "This is not a question of the right or the left, it is a question of public health," said PSOE lawmaker Daniel Vicente in Congress, adding: "We are a government party."

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll, UN Report on Arbitrary Detention in War on Drugs, More... (10/15/21)

Baltimore drug arrests are down dramatically thanks to a policy shift by the local prosecutor, Virginia has sealed the records of more than 64,000 small-time pot-dealing charges, and more.

More than 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period ending in March 2021. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Seals 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges. The state has sealed records of more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges, the legislature's Cannabis Oversight Commission heard Thursday. They have been scrubbed from the state's criminal records database, which is used by employers to screen job applicants. Another 333,000 simple possession convictions have also been sealed. The state was ordered to expunge the records as part of the marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll. Drug overdose deaths, primarily but not exclusively around opioid use, hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, but the number could go even higher because the numbers are only provisional, and the CDC has estimated predicted overdose deaths during this period would total more than 99,000. The big jump in fatal drug overdoses came as the country was in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and as fentanyl pervades ever more illicit drug markets—including being used as a cut in non-opioids, such as meth and cocaine—but also reflects a two-decade old trend of rising overdose deaths.

Baltimore Drug Possession Arrests Are Just About Extinct. Baltimore Police on Thursday released data showing that both felony and misdemeanor drug arrests are down, with the latter down dramatically. So far this year, police have arrested 796 people on drug felonies, down 19 percent from the 978 arrests during the same period last year. But when it comes to drug misdemeanors, police have arrested only 38 people so far this year, down a whopping 91 percent from the 445 during the same period last year. The declines are a direct result of a policy decision made last year by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to stop prosecuting certain drug offenses, including drug possession. Conservative local media is criticizing the policy, saying that it has allowed open-air drug dealing to flourish, but the police, the mayor's office, and Mosby's office all say open-air drug markets remain a priority.  

Recent UN Report on Arbitrary Detention and Drug Policies Underscores Urgent Need for Reform, Includes Call for Drug Decriminalization. A recent United Nations human rights report details the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the drug war in countries around the world. The report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) finds that arbitrary detention in drug cases is swelling jail and prison populations precisely as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to reduce prison overcrowding. Arbitrary detention can include people arrested without a proper warrant or detained in ways that do not respect procedural rights. The report notes that states are required to uphold human rights obligations under international law, but that relying on harsh drug war policies creates sustained violations of those policies. "People who use drugs are particularly at risk of arbitrary detention," the report said, pointing to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru, where people arrested on drug charges are automatically jailed pending trial, but also cited the use of torture, particularly in Mexico. The report ends with 17 recommendations, starting with a call to UN members to "decriminalize the use, possession, acquisition or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including the possession of associated paraphernalia." Other recommendations include calling for an end to drug courts, ending the participation of the military in drug enforcement operations, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to cultivate and use plants traditionally grown for spiritual, medicinal, and cultural purposes.

Drug War Issues

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