Decriminalization

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SD Activists Begin 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Drive, Report on Racial Disparities in State Prisons, More... (10/13/21)

A pair of GOP Ohio lawmakers prepares a marijuana legalization bill, the Sentencing Project releases a new report on differential racial incarceration rates in the states, and more.

A new Sentencing Project report finds Blacks are imprisoned in state prisons at a rate five times that of Whites. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill. In a sign of changing times, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced Tuesday they were preparing a marijuana legalization bill. For years, Democrats have led the fight for marijuana legalization, but in recent days, first Pennsylvania and now Ohio are seeing signs of Republican interest in moving forward on legalization. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) rolled out a bill that would allow people 21 and over to buy and possess marijuana, with limited home cultivation allowed. The bill also envisages a 10 percent tax on retail marijuana sales, with half going to the state's general fund and half going to law enforcement and mental health and addiction treatment and recovery services. Callender and Ferguson are circulating a cosponsorship memo to build support for the forthcoming legislation and are aiming to formally file the bill within the next six weeks or so.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Although state voters already approved a marijuana legalization initiative last year, it was challenged in court by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and two law enforcement officials, and the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on its constitutionality. The people behind the successful initiative, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, is not waiting on—or counting on—a favorable Supreme Court ruling and is moving ahead with plans for a 2022 initiative designed to get around the issue that has the 2020 initiative stuck in the courts: the claim that it unconstitutionally encompasses more than one subject. This new initiative simply legalizes marijuana possession and cultivation for people 21 and over. The secretary of state on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for signature gathering to begin. Campaigners have until May 8, 2022 to come up with 16,691 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Sentencing Policy

New Sentencing Project Report Finds Blacks Imprisoned in State Prisons at Rate Five Times of Whites. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of Whites, and Latino Americans are 1.3 times as likely to be incarcerated than non-Latino whites, according to a new report by The Sentencing Project, The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.The report, authored by Senior Research Analyst Ashley Nellis, documents the rates of incarceration for white, Black, and Latinx Americans for each state. Although Black Americans are not a majority of the general population in any of the 50 states, they make up more than half of the prison population in a dozen states: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. New Jersey tops the nation in terms of disparity in its incarceration rates, with a Black/white ratio of more than 12 to 1. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Connecticut follow closely behind, incarcerating Black Americans at about 10 times the rate of white people. Latino individuals are incarcerated nationally in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the rate for non-Latino whites, but at a much higher rate in Massachusetts (4.1), Connecticut (3.7), New York (3.0), and North Dakota (2.4). In raw numbers, Latino incarceration is highest in border and southwestern states. The report makes several policy recommendations: eliminate all mandatory minimums, enact racial impact statements that require crime bills to be accompanied by an estimate of the policy’s impact on demographic groups, and discontinue arrest and prosecution for low-level drug offenses that often lead to accumulation of prior convictions

Seattle Psychedelic Decriminalization, OH Towns to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, More... (10/5/21)

The Philippine government tries to look like it is doing something about human rights abuses in its drug war, Bolivian coca grower factions continue to clash, Seattle decriminalizes natural psychedelics and more.

Not only the cultivation and possession but also the sharing of natural psychedelics is decriminalized in Seattle. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Towns Will Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Measures Next Month. Activists with NORML Appalachia of Ohio and the Sensible Marijuana Coalition have qualified marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives for next month's ballot in more than a dozen municipalities, even as efforts to qualify in more communities continue. Voters in Brookside, Dillonvale, Laurelville, Martins Ferry, McArthur, Morristown, Mount Pleasant, Murray City, New Lexington, New Straitsville, Powhatan Point, Rayland, Tiltonsville, and Yorkville will have the chance to vote on the initiatives. Some of the 14 local measures read simply: "Shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Others are longer and more specific, but all aim to further undermine marijuana prohibition in the Buckeye State.

Psychedelics

Seattle Becomes Largest City to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The city council on Monday approved a resolution to decriminalize not just the cultivation and possession but also the noncommercial sharing of a wide range of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and non-peyote derived mescaline. The non-inclusion of peyote is a nod to concerns voiced by the indigenous community, where members of the Native American Church consume the cactus as a sacrament. Seattle police already have a policy of not arresting or prosecuting people for drug possession, but this ordinance extends that protection to people growing and sharing psychedelic plants and fungi for open-ended "religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices." The ordinance passed on a unanimous vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Killed in Drug Sweep of Amtrak Train in Tucson. A DEA agent and a person on an Amtrak train stopped in Tucson were killed in an outburst of gunfire that broke out Monday morning as members of a joint drug task force conducted a drug sweep of the train. Another DEA agent was critically wounded, while a city police officer was also shot and is in stable condition. Two people on board the train reacted to the police presence, with one opening fire. "They were checking for illegal guns, money, drugs," Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said. "This is something they do, as I said, routinely at pretty much all transit hubs." Magnus said he did not know whether any guns or drugs were found by officers. One person is now in custody.

International

Bolivian Anti-Government Coca Growers Storm La Paz Coca Market. Following more violent clashes with security forces, thousands of anti-government coca growers stormed the Adepcoca market in La Paz on Monday. For more than a week, pro- and anti-government coca grower factions have clashed over control of the market, through which 90 percent of the country's legal coca passes, after pro-government coca unions ousted an opposition leader to take control of it. The anti-government faction is centered in the Yungas region, which is the traditional center of Bolivian coca production. Yungas growers have been upset with the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party since 2017, when then-President Evo Morales ended the Yungas monopoly on coca growing by legalizing coca production in his region of Cochabamba.

In Bid to Blunt International Criminal Court Investigation, Philippines Says 154 Police Could Be Liable for Drug War Conduct. Faced with a formal International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into rampant human rights abuses -- including thousands of killings -- during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, Filipino Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced Sunday that 154 police officers could be criminally liable for their conduct in the drug war, including 52 cases of killings. The Philippine government is refusing to cooperate with the ICC probe, arguing that it is capable of policing itself, but the 154 officers who are listed as facing potential criminal liability represent only a tiny fraction of the killings that have taken place, of which the government officially acknowledges more than 6,000. Human rights groups have put the figure north of 30,000.

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Bolivia Coca Growers Clash, More... (9/29/21)

Grand Rapids, Michigan, endorses a symbolic psychedelic reform, the House votes to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. 

A crack cocaine user. Harsh federal crack penalties fell disproportionately on the Black community. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Grand Rapids is Latest Michigan City to Endorse Psychedelic Decriminalization. The Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution says "those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi should have the freedom to explore these healing methods without risk of arrest and prosecution." It passed 5-2, but activists were disappointed because the resolution merely expresses support for future reforms and does not make psychedelics a lowest law enforcement priority. Still, Grand Rapids joins a growing number of Michigan communities that have endorsed psychedelic reform, including Ann Arbor, and Detroit voters will have a chance to endorse psychedelic decriminalization with a measure that will appear on the ballot in November.

Sentencing Policy

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The House on Tuesday passed HR 1693,  the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act of 2021or the EQUAL Act of 2021. The bill seeks to redress one of the gravest injustices of the drug war by eliminating the federal sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The vote was 361-66, with all 66 "no" votes coming from Republicans. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The overwhelming majority of people federally prosecuted under the crack provision were Black, even though crack use was enjoyed by people from all races. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced that disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and a 2018 criminal justice reform bill signed by Donald Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate version, S. 79, will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass. It currently has three GOP cosponsors: Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). Look for our feature article on the bill later today.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Conflict Turns Violent. A power struggle among coca grower factions in La Paz has seen street fighting, volleys of tear gas and slingshot, clashes among grower factions and between growers and police. On Monday, a building near the central coca market in La Paz, control over which is being contested by the factions, went up in flames amid the clashes. Last week, several police vehicles were burned during similar protests. One grower faction, led by Arnold Alanes, the head of the coca management agency Adepcoca, is aligned with the governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, while the other faction, led by government critic Armin Lluta, says MAS and former President Evo Morales are trying to seize greater control of the trade. But Alanes says he is being attacked because he is trying to eradicate corruption.

House Marijuana Legalization Bill to Get Judiciary Committee Vote This Week, Seattle Psychedelics, More... (9/27/21)

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts lawmakers take up safe injection site and drug decriminalization bills during a virtual hearing today, Connecticut medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own beginning this Friday, and more.

Marijuana legalization is moving in the House. (Creative Commons)
Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill to Get House Judiciary Committee Vote This Week. The House Judiciary Committee announced last Friday that it will vote on on Chairman Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), this week. A committee press release said it will be among a dozen pieces of legislation taken up on Wednesday, including Nadler's bill to "decriminalize marijuana federally and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs." A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, however, Democrats control the Senate, so there is optimism the bill could actually pass this year. Whether President Biden would then sign remains in question.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Patients Will Be Able to Grow Their Own Beginning This Week. As of this coming Friday, medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own medicine at home as a provision of the state's marijuana legalization law goes into effect. That legalization law also drops the requirement that patients designate a dispensary for their purchases and sets up a committee of physicians to decide a variety of issues related to medical marijuana. Now (or very shortly), patients will be able to grow up three mature and three immature plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household. People who are not registered patients will have to wait for 2023 to be able to grow their own personal use pot.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Lawmakers Take Up Safe Injection Sites Today. Lawmakers are holding a daylong virtual hearing on a pair of bills, SB 1258 and SB 1272 that would pave the way for the introduction of safe injection sites in the state. During the hearing, lawmakers will also take up the topic of drug decriminalization. The idea of supervised sites has the support of groups like the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Hospital Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts but remains legally iffy in terms of federal law. When safe injection site supporters in Philadelphia tried to open a site during the Trump administration, a federal appeals court shut them down, citing a 1988 law aimed at crack houses. Those advocates have now appealed to the US Supreme Court, It remains to be seen whether the high court will take up that appeal.

Psychedelics

Seattle City Council Takes First Step Toward Decriminalizing Psychedelic Plants and Fungi. A city council committee last Friday took up a resolution to decriminalize the possession, cultivation, and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi by declaring such activities as among the city's lowest law enforcement priorities. The council's Public Safety and Human Services Committee held the hearing and heard from supporters, including Councilmember Andrew Lewis. The committee held no vote, but committee Chair Lisa Herbold said the full council will take up the resolution in coming weeks. "Hopefully the city—as tends to be the case on many impactful progressive issues in the state of Washington—can lead the way on setting the table for an important conversation many communities around the country are having," Lewis said.

Meth Deaths Were on Rise Before Pandemic, Scotland Moves Toward "De Facto" Drug Decrim, More... (9/23/21)

Violence continues in Colombia's coca producing regions, marijuana researchers appeal a US 9th Circuit Court dismissal of their rescheduling petition, and more.

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2015 and 2019, new research finds. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Researchers Ask 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Failed Classification Appeal. Researchers and veterans seeking to see marijuana federally reclassified have asked the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its dismissal of their petition last month. A three-judge panel in August held that plaintiffs Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Institute had not yet exhausted all administrative options to get the DEA to reschedule marijuana. But the plaintiffs argue that controlling Supreme Court precedent holds that federal judges cannot force litigants to pursue all administrative appeal avenues before turning to the courts for redress. The case is Suzanne Sisley et al. v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration et al., case number 20-71433.

Methamphetamine

Meth Deaths Tripled in Years Before Arrival of Pandemic. Methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled among adults aged between 18 and 64 from 2015 to 2019, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study pointed to more frequent meth use and mixing of drugs as possible reasons for the increases. The number of people using meth increased by 43 percent, but overdose deaths from stimulant drugs other than cocaine increased by 180 percent during the same period. While meth has traditionally been a drug associated with middle-aged white people, it is now spreading to other groups, such as Native Americans, and Black meth use disorder without injection increased 10-fold during that period.

International

Colombia Drug Traffickers Kill Five Soldiers. The Gulf Clan, Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking group, is being blamed for an attack Tuesday on the armed forces in a coca-growing region of Cordoba department that left five soldiers dead and tree more injured. Soldiers were patrolling in a vehicle when they were attacked with "explosive artifacts by presumed members... of the Gulf Clan." Leftist FARC dissidents, rightist paramilitaries, and criminal drug trafficking organizations all compete for control of the lucrative coca and cocaine business there.

Scotland Moves Toward De Facto Drug Decriminalization. Scottish police can now issue a formal warning for possession of Class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, instead of arresting and prosecuting people caught with personal use amounts of such drugs, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain told members of the Scottish Parliament. Conservatives called the move "de facto decriminalization," but it's actually more like discretionary decriminalization since police could still file drug possession charges. Police already are able to issue warnings for possession of Class B and C drugs. Bain said she decided to expand that policy so "officers may choose to issue a warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs," and also refer people accused of drug offenses to "diversion," where they are handled by social work teams instead of the criminal justice system. The move comes as the country confronts Europe's highest drug overdose rate and saw more than 1,300 drug overdose deaths last year.

Houston Narc & Suspect Killed in Drug Raid, FL Marijuana Init Can Gather Signatures, More... (9/21/21)

A Houston drug raid proved deadly Monday, mass killings are on the rise in one of Colombia's cocaine conflict zones, and more.

Will Floridians ever get a chance to vote on marijuana legalization? Maybe next year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Activists Mount Third Effort to Get Legalization Initiative on 2022 Ballot. After the state Supreme Court quashed two previous marijuana legalization initiative attempts earlier this year, the group behind one of them, Regulate Florida, is trying again. The group has filed a new petition with the state and it has been approved for signature gathering. The measure would allow people 21 and over to use and possess marijuana and allow them to grow up to nine plants, but not allow retail sales. Now, campaign organizers must gather 222,898 valid voter signatures to prompt a judicial and fiscal impact review, and if they pass that hurdle, must then come up 891,850 total valid signatures by February 1 to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Law Enforcement

Houston Narcotics Officer, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid. A Houston Police narcotics officer was shot and killed and a second officer shot and wounded while serving a drug search warrant early Monday. A suspect was also shot and killed. William "Bill" Jeffrey, a nearly 31-year veteran of the force, was shot several times and succumbed to his injuries. Sgt. Michael Vance, who's been on the force for 20 years, was also wounded and was in surgery Monday. Police said the unnamed suspect came out firing when they knocked on the door. The only information police released about the suspect was his race, Black.

International

Colombia Sees Rising Number of Mass Killings in Drug Conflict Zone. The Colombian Defense Ministry has reported a 91 percent increase in mass killings -- defined as the killing of four or more people -- across the country between January and July compared to the same period last year. Hardest hit has been the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca, where at least nine mass killings have occurred this year. Using a slightly different metric, the think tank Indepaz reported 260 people killed in 71 mass killings of three or more people. Valle del Cauca is contested terrain for a number of armed actors involved in the drug trade, ranging from FARC dissidents to rightist paramilitary to international drug trafficking organizations such as La Oficina de Envigado and local drug trafficking groups. According the Medical Examiner's Office, at least 8,566 were murdered nationwide between January and August, which is 26% more than in the same period last year and the highest number since 2013. The rightist government of President Ivan Duque has announced various strategies to deal with violence and drug trafficking since taking office in 2018, but none have had much impact.

Italian Referendum to Decriminalize Marijuana, Psilocybin, Other Drug Plants Meets Signature Requirement. It took Italian activists only a week to come up with some 500,000 online signatures to qualify a ballot measure decriminalizing the use and possession of marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, and other psychoactive plants for the spring 2022 ballot. But they are calling on Italians to continue to sign the petition through the end of the month so they can build a buffer of surplus signatures in case some are invalidated. Once the signatures are formally submitted at the end of the month, the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court will then review the measure. If those two courts sign off, a vote would take place next spring.

White House Releases Annual List of Drug Producing & Transit Countries, WA Drug Decrim Initiative Organizing, More... (9/16/21)

Granite State lawmakers are looking at a voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, Washington activists are laying the groundwork for a 2022 drug decriminalization initiative, and more.

President Biden wags a finger at Bolivia and Venezuela over their failure to meet US drug war goals. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Lawmakers Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment. Stymied at the state house, three state representatives have separately filed requests with the Office of Legislative Services for help drafting a bill that would let the voters decide directly whether or not to legalize marijuana. The bill would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but for it to pass, it would require a supermajority of 60 percent in both the House and Senate. It would also require the support of 67 percent of voters once it made the ballot. Meanwhile, lawmakers will take up a legalization bill early next year. A legalization bill managed to pass the House last year but died in Senate committee.

Drug Policy

Washington State Drug Reformers Announce Plan to Put Drug Decriminalization Initiative on 2022 Ballot. A group of drug reformers organized as Commit to Change WA has announced plans to try to qualify a drug decriminalization initiative for the 2022 ballot. The group has yet to release a draft of the proposed initiative but said they will file it in January. Still, the group identified three broad principles for the measure: Ending treating drug use as a crime, a robust commitment to incorporating the experiences of actual drug users, and an emphasis on public health approaches. Neighboring Oregon decriminalized drug possession at the ballot box last year, becoming the first state to do so.

Foreign Policy

White House Releases Annual List of Major Drug Producing and Transit Countries. President Biden on Wednesday released the annual list of drug producing and transit countries, as required by the 2003 Foreign Relations Act. "I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit 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," Biden wrote. Of the 22 countries, the president designated only two -- Bolivia 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 and to take the measures required by section 489(a)(1) of the FAA." It may be worth noting that the only two countries to be so designated have socialist governments. Biden did, however, waive the requirement that aid to the two countries be cut off, writing that "the United States programs that support Bolivia and Venezuela are vital to the national interests of the United States."

ICC Will Investigate Philippine Drug War Killings, KY Supreme Court Narrows Good Samaritan Law, More... (9/15/21)

Detroiters will vote on psychedelic decriminalization in November, the International Criminal Court takes a key step in the investigation of Philippine drug war killings, and more.

Filipino President Duterte is now in the International Criminal Court's hotseat. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Kentucky Supreme Court Narrows Good Samaritan Protections. In a decision late last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that a 2015 Good Samaritan law designed to protect overdose victims and the bystanders who seek assistance for them does not apply when the bystanders who call do not know for certain that a drug overdose has occurred. In the decision in Kentucky v. Milner, the court took up the separate cases of two people for whom assistance was called after they were found passed out in a car.

Both had indeed suffered drug overdoses and were revived, but they were then charged with various crimes, including possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Prosecutors argued that the Good Samaritan law did not apply because the bystanders did not see the people use drugs, did not know overdoses were occurring, and had no reason to believe the victims were at risk of arrest if authorities arrived.

The defendants' attorney said it would be unrealistic to expect bystanders to search an unconscious body for evidence of drug use before calling for help. "Requiring a Good Samaritan to be certain that an overdose was occurring before the exemption would apply would potentially expose both the person overdosing and the Good Samaritan to danger," attorney Steven Nathan Goens wrote in one of his briefs to the Supreme Court. But the court sided with prosecutors, effectively narrowing the scope of the law.

Psychedelics

Detroit Will Vote on Psychedelic Decriminalization in November. A proposed municipal initiative to decriminalize psychedelics has qualified for the November ballot in Detroit. The question voters will have to answer is: "Shall the voters of the City of Detroit adopt an ordinance to the 2019 Detroit City Code that would decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults and make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority?" Detroit is Michigan's largest city, but psychedelic reform has already taken place in the university town of Ann Arbor, which approved a lowest priority ordinance last year.

International

International Criminal Court Opens Official Investigation into Philippine Drug War Killings. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which finished a preliminary investigation into human rights abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs earlier this year, announced Wednesday that it has decided to open an official investigation not only into Duterte's drug war abuses but also into killings by death squads in Davao City when he was mayor and vice mayor. "For these reasons, the chamber hereby authorizes the commencement of the investigation into the Situation in the Philippines, in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 November 2011 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign," said the pre-trial chamber 1 of the ICC.

By deciding to move forward with an official investigation, the ICC is setting the stage for summons and arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan. Recently retired Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who led the preliminary investigation, had asked for authorization to open an official investigation, saying there was copious evidence of human rights abuses, and the chamber agreed. "On the basis of the above, the Chamber concludes that there is a reasonable basis for the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation, in the sense that the crime against humanity of murder appears to have been committed, and that potential case(s) arising from such investigation appear to fall within the Court's jurisdiction," said the judges.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Wednesday's announcement: "The International Criminal Court's decision to open an investigation into brutal crimes in the Philippines offers a much-needed check on President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly 'war on drugs,'" said Carlos Conde, the rights group's senior Philippines researcher. "Victims' families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice." The Philippines government has acknowledged some 6,000 police or military drug war killings, but human rights groups say the true number could be north of 30,000.

Read more civil society reactions and other information on the web site of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC).

BOP Tells Certain Drug Prisoners to Apply for Clemency, Italy Marijuana Decrim Referendum, More... (9/13/21)

Italian activists and political parties are pushing a referendum on decriminalizing marijuana cultivation and possession, the Biden administration asks prisoners with certain drug offenses to apply for clemency, and more.

Some federal drug prisoners released to home confinement during the pandemic are urged to seek clemency. (Creative Commons)
Sentencing Policy

Biden Administration Asks Prisoners with Certain Drug Convictions to Apply for Clemency. As part of an effort to grant presidential relief to hundreds of federal drug prisoners now on home confinement because of the pandemic, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is now telling eligible individuals to start filling out applications for clemency. More than 8,000 federal inmates were let out on home confinement last year amid the pandemic, and the Trump Justice Department's position was that they would have to return to prison once the crisis was over. The Biden Justice Department appeared to agree with that position, but this move from the BOP is a strong signal that the administration is looking for ways to keep at least some people from going back to prison to finish their sentences.

International

Italian Push for Marijuana Decriminalization Underway. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties have launched a ballot campaign for a referendum to decriminalize domestic marijuana production and remove penalties for personal use. They have until September 30 to come up with 500,000 valid voter signatures and have gathered 100,000 since the campaign began last week. If the signature goals are met and verified by the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Constitutional Court will then rule on whether the question is in line with the Italian constitution. If yes, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing marijuana possession or cultivation should be stricken.

Uruguay Increases THC Limit in Legal Marijuana, Ponders Allowing Tourist Sales. Four years after the country became the first in the world to allow legal recreational marijuana sales, the government of President Luis Lacalle Pou is moving to increase the THC limit in legal marijuana and is studying whether to modify regulations to allow sales to foreign visitors. "It seems to me that if we come up with a good proposal," Uruguay could open its regulated marijuana market to tourists, said National Drugs Board head Daniel Radio. "For the upcoming tourism season, it's highly unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out." Under current law, adult citizens and foreign residents who sign up for a government registry can grow their own marijuana or buy 40 grams a month at registered pharmacies.

MD House Marijuana Legalization Working Group Meets, Italy Moves To Allow Home Pot Grows, More... (9/9/21)

A fire at an overcrowded Indonesian prison kills at least 41, mostly drug offenders; a Maryland House of Delegates working group is moving forward with plans for marijuana legalization, and more.

Coming soon to an Italian balcony? Italy is moving to allow home marijuana cultivation. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland House Marijuana Policy Working Group Meets, Lays Out Plans. A 10-member working group of House members that is studying how to legalize marijuana met for the first time Wednesday and laid out plans for the future. "The House of Delegates will pass a measure to put the question of legalizing on the ballot for the 2022 general election," said work group chair Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore). "This work group will continue meeting throughout the interim. This work group will establish the legal framework necessary to fully implement the legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us," Clippinger said. The working group will meet next on October 9. Maryland's neighbors Virginia and Washington, DC, have already legalized marijuana.

International

Indonesia Prison Fire Kills 41, Mostly Drug Prisoners. A fire that erupted in the overcrowded Tangerang prison outside Jakarta on Wednesday killed at least 41 inmates, the majority of them serving time for drug offenses. At least two foreigners serving drug sentences were among the dead. The fire broke out in the middle of the night in the prison's C2 Block, where 19 cells built to hold 40 inmates were packed with more than triple that number. Under President Joko Widodo, Indonesia has intensified its war on drugs, with extrajudicial executions, drug prosecutions, and death sentences all on the rise.

Italy Moves to Allow Personal Marijuana Grows. A measure to decriminalize the personal cultivation of up to four marijuana plants is advancing in the parliament after it was approved by the Lower House's Justice Committee on Wednesday. While the bill removes penalties for growing, it increases penalties for dealing and trafficking marijuana, increasing the possible maximum sentence from six to 10 years. The move comes almost two years after the Supreme Court ruled that small-time domestic marijuana cultivation is legal. In Europe, the only countries that currently allow for personal grows are Spain and the Czech Republic, which both allow up to five plants.

Drug War Issues

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