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DHS Rolls Out Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids, UN Report Calls for Decriminalization, More... (9/20/23)

The Seattle city council voted to criminalize public drug use, the Czech drug czar suggests legalizing cocaine, and more. 

Drug Policy

DHS Rolls Out Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids. The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday rolled out its plan to combat illicit opioids, releasing its Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids.

"Our nation continues to face an unprecedented epidemic of deaths from illicit synthetic opioids -- our citizens are dying every year at an unimaginable rate," said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger. "This is a bold and innovative strategy to stem the flow of dangerous narcotics and directly addresses the public health emergency this opioid crisis has become.

The "bold and innovative strategy" is heavy on law enforcement, which is no surprise for a law enforcement agency. Primary elements of the strategy include reducing the international supply of opioids, reducing the supply of opioids in the US, targeting "enablers" of drug trafficking organization, and working with private sector actors to better block drugs from entering the country.

The agency said it hopes to work with international partners to reduce the illicit importation of drugs into the country and that it will increase the number of HIS task forces targeting drug traffickers.

Seattle City Council Approves Ordinance Criminalizing Drug Posssession and Public Drug Use. The city council on Tuesday approved its own municipal version of the state's law barring public drug use, CB 120645. The measure creates the crimes of knowing possession of a controlled substance and use of a controlled substance in a public place.

A 2021 state Supreme Court decision threw out the state's felony drug possession law, but the legislature this year approved a bill making public drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor, allowing city attorneys to prosecute the drug charges. City Attorney Ann Davison proposed a bill for the city to confirm with state law, but the city council rejected that in June.

Mayor Bruce Harrell then formed a task force to draft a new proposal, which is what the city council approved this week. But the vote was not unanimous, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting no because it did not pay enough attention to diversion efforts.

"I want people to get access to public health services just as much as the people who testified in support of this legislation say they want," Mosqueda said. "But that is not what this legislation does. And without the funding that is purported to come with this bill, we have no assurances that there will be alternative structures and programs and diversion strategies to prevent people from going to jail. We do not have to pass this legislation."

International

UN Human Rights Office Report Calls for Shift from Punitive Drug Policies. A UN human rights report released Tuesday calls for a shift from punitive measures to address the global drugs problem to the use of policies grounded in human rights and public health, arguing that disproportionate use of criminal penalties is causing harm.

The report urges states to develop effective drug policies, including by considering decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. "If effectively designed and implemented, decriminalization can be a powerful instrument to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are protected," it says.

"Laws, policies and practices deployed to address drug use must not end up exacerbating human suffering. The drugs problem remains very concerning, but treating people who use drugs as criminals is not the solution," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk.

"States should move away from the current dominant focus on prohibition, repression and punishment, and instead embrace laws, policies and practices anchored in human rights and aimed at harm reduction."

There has also been an increase in the use of the death penalty for drug-related convictions worldwide, contrary to international human rights law norms and standards. The recorded number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021, amounting to 37 percent of all executions recorded globally, the report states.

"The current overemphasis on coercion and control to counter drugs is fanning an increase in human rights violations despite mounting evidence that decades of criminalization and the so-called war on drugs have neither protected the welfare of people nor deterred drug-related crime," Türk said.

The report shows that an increasing number of countries across regions are adopting policies and practices that decriminalize drug use and treat drug usage as a public health and human rights issue, and applying evidence-based, gender-sensitive and harm reduction approaches. The High Commissioner called on states to build on this positive trend.

Czech Drug Czar Proposes Cocaine Legalization. National anti-drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril has suggested that cocaine could be the next drug, after marijuana, to be handled in a regulated, legal market. He emphasized the importance of tailoring drug policies to the risks of individual substances and argued that cocaine ranks lower in inherent risks than some other illicit substances.

But government officials were not in accord. Deputy Prime Minister Marian Jurečka, who serves as the chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), unequivocally rejected the idea of cocaine liberalization, declaring it unacceptable.

OH Legal Weed Initiative Hands in Final Signatures, Brazil Drug Raids Leave 45 Dead, More... (8/3/23)

It looks like Ohioans will get to vote on marijuana legalization this year, Singapore hangs yet another drug offender, and more.

Cocaine -- an Australian lawmaker says legalize it. Black market cocaine also finances conflict in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Final Signatures. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has handed in an additional 6,545 raw signatures after it came up 679 valid voter signatures short in its initial round of signature gathering. That should guarantee that their proposed marijuana legalization initiative will be on the November 2023 ballot.

"Today, our Coalition submitted 6,545 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State, well above the 679 required to get on the ballot this November. I cannot express our thanks enough to everyone who came out to support this effort," said coalition spokesperson Tom Hare. "This submission validates what we've said all along: Regulating marijuana is popular in Ohio," he said. "We're looking forward to giving Ohio voters a chance to make their voices heard at the ballot this fall."

Under the initiative, people 21 and over can purchase and possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants, or 12 plants per household. The initiative also envisions a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with a 10 percent tax on sales.

The initiative would need 50 percent of the vote plus one to win. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll last month had support at 58.6 percent.

International

Australia New South Wales Lawmaker Calls for Cocaine Legalization. In the wake of a series of high-profile shootings and killings in Sydney in the past month, a New South Wales Green member of the state parliament is calling for cocaine legalization.

"The worst thing for the drug lords right now would be a legal market, that's what they would fear the most," MP Cate Faehrmann said on Tuesday. "The war on drugs has well and truly failed. We're just doing the same thing day in day out. I think the only people who think that what we're doing is good is the criminals themselves."

The comments come as the Labor Party plans to hold a drug summit in the near future. In the meantime, NSW Liberal Party Shadow Health Minister Matt Kean said calls for legalization undermined the efforts of police and argued that policymakers' focus should be on "strong law and order policies."

Brazil Police Raids Kill At Least 45 People in Past Week. In a series of raids against drug trafficking gangs carried out after the killing of a police officer a little more than a week ago, police have killed at least 45 people. Ten were killed in the Complexo da Penha favela in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, 19 were killed in clashed with military police between Friday and Monday in Salvador, and the death toll has risen to 16 in an ongoing operation in the Baixada Santista region of Sao Paulo.

Human rights groups denounced the action in Baixada Santista as a revenge-motivated massacre, with residents also reporting threats and cases of torture.

"What happened in Guarujá was a massacre. The deaths were deliberate… The state of São Paulo must contain this wave of violence," said Dimitri Sales, president of the state council on the defense of human rights (Condepe).

The raids are all part of something called Operation Shield, which is aimed at the drug trade. The governor of Sao Paulo has said the operations were "clean" and that all the victims were suspected criminals, sparking even more concern from human rights groups.

"It is extremely concerning that the governor and security secretary declare that there were no [human rights] abuses before an investigation is even held… [This] is effectively an endorsement of arbitrary practices," said Oscar Vilhena, a lawyer and member of the Arns Commission, a human rights organization.

Colombia Signs Truce Agreement with National Liberation Army. The left-leaning government of President Gustavo Petro and the leftist guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional -- ELN) began a six-month truce Thursday, marking the beginning of an effort to reach a permanent peace agreement with the country's last remaining rebel group.

The government reached a peace agreement with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC, a much larger force, back in 2017, but FARC dissidents remain in the field. Like the ELN and rightist paramilitaries, all of the groups are involved in the lucrative cocaine trade.

More than 450,000 Colombians are estimated to have been killed in the multi-sided conflict that has gone on since the 1960s, much of it financed by the cocaine trade. The ceasefire is supposed to end attacks between guerrillas and Colombian security forces and can be extended in January if progress is made during peace negotiations.

Singapore Executes Third Drug Offender in Little More Than a Week. For the third time in less than 10 days, Singapore has executed a person convicted of a drug offense. Mohamed Shalleh Abdul Latiff, 39, was hanged at Changi Prison for trafficking under two ounces of heroin.

Mohamed Shalleh's hanging comes only days after authorities in the city-state executed Saridewi Binte Djamani, 45, and Mohd Aziz bin Hussain, 57, for drug trafficking, prompting an outcry from the United Nations and human rights organizations. At least 16 people have been hanged for drug offenses since Singapore ended a pandemic-related moratorium on the death penalty.

FDA Approves Second OTC Nasal Naloxone Spray, Singapore Hangs Another Drug Offender, More... (7/28/23)

GOP senator files bill mandating social media cooperation with law enforcement against drug trafficking, bipartisan senators file bill to ease access to fentanyl test strips, and more.

RiVive naloxone nasal spray has been approved by the FDA. (Harm Reduction Therapeutics)
Drug Policy

Rick Scott Files Social Media Act to Combat Online Drug Sales. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) on Friday introduced the Stopping Online Confusion for Investigative Agencies and Law Enforcement by Maintaining Evidence Determined Interparty Arrangements (SOCIAL MEDIA) Act to combat the sale of fentanyl and other illicit drugs on social media platforms. The SOCIAL MEDIA Act will allow for better law enforcement coordination in criminal cases with social media platforms by requiring 24/7 staffed-in-the-USA call centers for fielding information requests with clear guidelines for agencies to best expedite the process. This bill will promote enhanced data collection, transparency in the data collected, and uniformity in data presented to better compare platform to platform on their efforts to combat illegal drug sales.

The SOCIAL MEDIA Act fhas been endorsed by the National Sheriffs' Association, the Partnership for Safe Medicine and the Major County Sheriffs of America.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Second Over-the-Counter Naloxone Nasal Spray Product. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved RiVive, 3 milligram (mg) naloxone hydrochloride nasal spray for over the counter (OTC), nonprescription use for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose. This is the second nonprescription naloxone product the agency has approved, helping increase consumer access to naloxone without a prescription. The timeline for availability and the price of this nonprescription product will be determined by the manufacturer.

"We know naloxone is a powerful tool to help quickly reverse the effects of opioids during an overdose. Ensuring naloxone is widely available, especially as an approved OTC product, makes a critical tool available to help protect public health," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. "The agency has long prioritized access to naloxone products, and we welcome manufacturers of other naloxone products to discuss potential nonprescription development programs with the FDA."

The FDA has taken a series of steps to help facilitate access to opioid overdose reversal products and to decrease unnecessary exposure to opioids and prevent new cases of addiction. The agency approved the first nonprescription naloxone nasal spray product in March 2023, the first generic nonprescription naloxone nasal spray product in July 2023 and over the last year has undertaken new efforts to expand opioid disposal options in an effort to reduce opportunities for nonmedical use, accidental exposure and overdose.

The FDA granted the nonprescription approval of RiVive to Harm Reduction Therapeutics.

Bipartisan Senate Bill to Increase Access to Fentanyl Test Strips Filed. A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday filed a bill to clarify that the federal drug paraphernalia statute excludes fentanyl test strips, which remain criminalized as drug paraphernalia under state laws in more than 20 states.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are all cosponsors of the Fentanyl Safe Testing and Overdose Prevention Act. Companion legislation, HR 3653 was introduced in May in the House.

"This legislation would help prevent deaths due to fentanyl poisoning by giving people the tools to identify it, and I urge my colleagues to pass it without delay," Cornyn said. His state, Texas, has experienced one of the nation's worst rates of fentanyl overdoses, which skyrocketed nearly 600% over the last year, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

The Fentanyl Safe Testing and Overdose Prevention Act would also apply to test strips for xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for veterinary use. Officials have warned the public that the sedative, which has been found to be mixed with fentanyl in several states, can create a deadly drug cocktail.

International

Singapore Hangs Woman Drug Offender for First Time in 20 Years; Second Drug Execution This Week. Singaporean national Saridewi Djamani was executed Friday in the first known execution of a woman in Singapore since 2004. She was found guilty of possession of around 30 grams of diamorphine (heroin) for the purposes of trafficking. A Singaporean Malay man, Mohd Aziz bin Hussain, was executed on Wednesday after being found guilty in 2018 for trafficking around 50 grams of diamorphine (heroin). Both had been sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2018.

Singapore has now executed 15 people for drug related offenses since March 2022, when executions resumed after a hiatus of two years. Four of these were known to have been carried out in 2023. Singapore's close neighbour Malaysia has observed an official moratorium on executions since 2018 and has recently repealed the mandatory death penalty, including for drug-related offences. The Transformative Justice Collective reported that a third execution has been set for 3 August, of a man convicted and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for possession of 54 grams of diamorphine for the purpose of trafficking.

Both the UNODC and the INCB -- two UN bodies in charge of developing and monitoring drug policies -- have condemned the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences and have urged governments to move towards abolition. Singapore is one of only four countries, alongside China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, where executions for drug-related offences were confirmed in 2022.

FL Supreme Court Marijuana Initiative Fight, Peru Coca Expansion, More... (7/26/23)

Singapore has executed one drug offender with another set for later this week, the Florida ACLU joins the fight for a marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

The gallows. Singapore's implement of choice for dealing with drug traffickers, even small-time ones. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Grants AG's Request for More Time to Challenge Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court on Monday granted a request from Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) for more time to challenge a marijuana legalization initiative from Smart & Safe Florida. She now has until August 2 to make her argument that the initiative does not meet state requirements to be on the November 2024 ballot.

Smart & Safe Florida opposed the seven-day extension, arguing instead for a two-day extension, but the Supreme Court gave Moody the whole seven days.

If the high court approves the initiative or fails to issue a ruling by April 1, 2024, would be set to appear on the November 2024 ballot. Since it takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it will need 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Florida ACLU Joins Fight Over Getting Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the Ballot. The ACLU of Florida filed a brief on Monday backing the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative and calling out the state Supreme Court for the way it has handled ballot initiatives in recent years, turning the process into an "acrobatic exercise."

"The ACLU is arguing that the Supreme Court now has a history over the last several years in Florida of striking down these initiatives," ACLU attorney Will Cooper said. "If the Supreme Court really does want to let the people speak and get out of the business of striking these initiatives down and acted by the people of Florida, I think they certainly have a sufficient basis to let it stand," he added.

In the past five years, the Supreme Court has reviewed nine initiatives, striking down four of them, as well as refusing to review another initiative, effectively killing it. In the five year period before that, the high court reviewed seven initiatives and struck down none of them.

International

Peru's Surging Cocaine Trade is Overrunning Remote Indigenous Territories. In Ucayali department, which is a lowland jungle region bordering Brazil, coca has arrived, and the trade is threatening the reserves of the isolated tribespeople who inhabit the area. It is an area largely bereft of state services, including an anemic state security apparatus, a situation that has created "an open door" for the drug trade, say drug experts and indigenous communities.

Coca production has expanded from the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) to far Ucayali, where land under cultivation has spiked nearly five-fold in the past five years. Nearly 35,000 acres of coca was grown on land belonging to some 295 native communities. Nationally, coca cultivation increased by 18 percent from 2021 to 2022.

"Ucayali has practically wide open borders and strategic positioning," said Frank Casas, an expert on Peru's drug trade. "Within the last three years, the region has become a high production area, and not only in terms of coca, but also in the production and commercialization of cocaine to international markets."

Singapore Hangs Drug Offender, Another Hanging Set for Friday. Singapore authorities hanged a 56-year-old man, Mohammed Aziz Hussain, after he was sentenced to death in 2018 for trafficking less than two ounces of heroin. And it is set to hang a woman, Saridewi Djamani, 45, on Friday for trafficking slightly more than an ounce of heroin in 2018.

The local Transformative Justice Collective and international human rights groups called on the government to halt the pending execution and end the resort to the death penalty. It had been under a moratorium during the coronavirus pandemic, but has returned with a vengeance last year with 15 drug offenders executed since then.

"Singaporean authorities must immediately stop these blatant violations of the right to life in their obsessive enforcement of misguided drug policies," Adilur Rahman Khan, secretary-general of the International Federation of Human Rights, said in a statement.

A joint statement by Transformative Justice Collective and other groups noted that Law Minister K. Shanmugam reportedly acknowledged in a 2022 interview that Singapore's harsh policy on drugs has not led to the arrest of the so-called drug kingpins.

"Instead of disrupting drug cartels… the government of Singapore deliberately retains capital drug laws that, in practice, operate to punish low-level traffickers and couriers, who are typically recruited from marginalized groups with intersecting vulnerabilities," the statement said.

CA Psychedelic Research Initiative, Colombia Coca Price Crash Causing Misery, More... (7/24/23)

Ab Ohio marijuana legalization initiative needs more signatures but has the time to get them, Singapore is set to hang two more drug offenders, and more.

A Colombia coca farmer. It is hard times in coca land. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures, But Has Ten Days to Get More. A signature gathering campaign by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to put a legalization initiative on the November ballot came up 679 signatures short, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R). The campaign, though, has through August 4 to come up with more.

"It looks like we came up a little short in this first phase, but now we have 10 days to find just 679 voters to sign a supplemental petition -- this is going to be easy, because a majority of Ohioans support our proposal to regulate and tax adult use marijuana," coalition spokesman Tom Haren said in a statement.

The initiative would allow adults 21 and over to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and to grow plants at home. A 10% tax would support administrative costs, addiction treatment, municipalities with dispensaries and social equity and jobs programs.

Psychedelics

California Initiative Would Create State $5 Billion Psychedelic Agency. A campaign calling itself TREAT California is gearing up for a signature gathering campaign to put an initiative on the 2024 ballot that would create a $5 billion state agency to fund and promote psychedelic research to help speed the federal legalization of substances such as psilocybin and ibogaine.

The initiative would not legalize or decriminalize psychedelics in the state, but wants to create the Treatment, Research, Education, Access and Therapies (TREAT) Institute to look into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics to treat mental health conditions.

"The TREAT Institute will not be a typical government agency; it will be an innovative, effective, and lean organization that will provide a consistent, sustainable funding source," the text of the proposed initiative says. "TREAT California is not a direct decriminalization or legalization effort; and it is not an initiative driven by an elected official," it continues. "Rather, it is a path for citizens to authorize legislative change."

International

Colombia Coca Price Collapse Causing Rural Misery. Over the past two years, the farmgate price of coca has fallen by a third in Cauca department, while in neighboring Narino department, the price of coca paste has dropped from $975 a kilo to around $240.

As a result, a good number of the 400,000 coca-growing families in the country are facing collective impoverishment an acute social crisis. Food insecurity due to price inflation and forced displacements of people in search of brighter prospects are now common.

While there are multiple causes for the price drop, the most direct one appears the massive increase in coca cultivation between 2018 and 2021, which led to an oversupply that sank prices. In addition, cultivation has spread to other countries in South and Central America, and other synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl, have gained ground.

Singapore Set to Hang Two More Drug Convicts. The city-state is set to hang two people convicted of drug offenses this week, including a 56-year-old man convicted of trafficking under two ounces of heroin and a 45-years-old woman sentenced to death for an ounce and a half of heroin. She would be the first woman sent to the gallows in Singapore in nearly 20 years.

Singapore has some of the world's toughest drug laws, including the death penalty for more than 500 grams of marijuana or 15 grams of heroin. At least 13 people have been executed for drug offenses since the government ended a moratorium in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Amnesty International called on the government to halt the executions: "It is unconscionable that authorities in Singapore continue to cruelly pursue more executions in the name of drug control," Amnesty's death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio said in a statement. "There is no evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect or that it has any impact on the use and availability of drugs. As countries around the world do away with the death penalty and embrace drug policy reform, Singapore's authorities are doing neither," Sangiorgio added.

Psychedelic Science Conference Is On in Denver, Colombia Senate Rejects Weed Legalization, More... (6/21/23)

A marijuana legalization bill is rolled out in three Australian states, Donald Trump reiterates his call for the death penalty for drug dealers, and more.

Donald Trump was talking death penalty for drug dealers again, but apparently had not thought it through. (CC/Gage Skidmore)
Psychedelics

Largest Psychedelic Conference Ever Is On In Denver This Week. This year's Psychedelic Science conference is happening this week in downtown Denver. Sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and soap maker Dr. Bronner's, it is being billed as the "largest psychedelic conference in history." Some 10,000 people are expected to attend, as well as 300 exhibitors. guests include New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, musical artist Melissa Etheridge, co-founder of Whole Foods John Mackey, and National Institute of Mental Health director Joshua Gordon.

The five-day event includes dozens of panels pondering everything from the possibilities of psychedelics on mental health to new business opportunities, greater community impacts and how these substances fit into religion. Some researchers will announce results from their clinical trials.

MAPS founder and president Rick Doblin said Denver was a natural fit for the event. "Denver has been a pioneer in this whole area," he said, alluding to the city's status as the first major city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019 and Colorado's status as the second state (behind Oregon) to decriminalize them. "We felt mainly that the political environment and facilities were ideal."

Drug Policy

Trump Again Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Is Reminded it Would Have Applied to Woman He Pardoned. Former president and current criminal defendant and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reiterated his call for the death penalty for drug dealers in an interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier. Baier noted that the policy would have applied to Alice Johnson, who Trump granted clemency as she served a long sentence on cocaine distribution charges.

"But she'd be killed under your plan," Baier noted.

"Huh?" Trump responded.

"As a drug dealer," Baier replied.

"No, no, no. Oh, under that? It would depend on the severity," Trump added.

Trump also suggested that Johnson would not have committed her crime if the death penalty had been hanging over her.

"She wouldn't have done it, if it was death penalty," Trump said. "In other words, if it was death penalty, she wouldn't have been on that phone call."

International

Australia Sees Marijuana Legalization Bills Pushed Simultaneously in Three States. A marijuana legalization bill, the Regulation of Personal Adult Use of Cannabis Bill 2023, was introduced simultaneously in the state parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia on Tuesday. It was a nationally coordinated move by the Legalize Cannabis Party.

The bill is modeled on the law in the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra), which decriminalized pot possession and allowed adults to grow up to two plants in 2020, but are a bit more expansive.

"The Bill… will allow households to grow up to six plants, for that cannabis to be (gifted and) shared, and for the trade in seeds," said Legalize Cannabis NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham. It also allows for the possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana.

The bills will not pass in any of the states without major party support, which has so far been lacking.

Colombia Senate Rejects Marijuana Legalization in Final Vote. The Senate on Tuesday defeated a marijuana legalization bill on its final vote just as the legislative session came to an end. The bill won a majority of votes cast -- 47 to 43 -- but fell short of the 54 votes needed for final passage.

Bill backers vowed to bring it back: "I don't consider this a defeat; we have taken a giant step, four years of putting such a controversial issue at the top of the public agenda, of the public debate," Liberal Party Senator Juan Carlos Losada, who presented the bill, said, adding that it would be introduced again in the next legislative session. "Continuing to leave a substance that is legal in the hands of the drug traffickers and drug dealers is detrimental to the children of Colombia and detrimental to the country's democracy," Losada said.

Colombia decriminalized the possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 20 plants in 1986 and legalized the use of medical marijuana more recently, but former President Alvaro Uribe put marijuana prohibition in the Constitution, which is why it needed eight debates over two years instead of the normal four. It got through seven of them this time.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

MN Set to Become 23rd Legal Marijuana State, Iran Hangs Three More Drug Offenders, More... (5/22/23)

A bill protecting medical marijuana patients advances in Louisiana, a bill broadening expungement and freeing some pot prisoners advances in Connecticut, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Approves Bill to Broaden Expungement, Release Prisoners on Some Marijuana-Related Charges. The House last Thursday voted to approve House Bill 5457, which would require court to reduce sentences or dismiss charges for a number of marijuana-related offenses and release from jail or prison people who are currently incarcerated on those charges. The legislation would make expungement or sentence reductions automatic for offenses such as possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia, distribution of up to four ounces of marijuana, possession of up to four ounces of marijuana, and cultivation of up to six plants.

Minnesota Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, State to Become 23rd to Free the Weed. Minnesota is set to become the 23rd legal marijuana state after the Senate on Saturday approved Senate File 73just two days after the House passed it. The bill was the result of a final conference committee negotiations after the two chambers earlier approved slightly differing versions of the legislation. Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), a proponent of legalization, has vowed to sign it into law. Beginning this summer, Minnesotans will be able to grow up to eight plants at home, though only four can be flowering. Once legal marijuana commerce is up and running, people will be able to buy up to two ounces of buds, eight grams of concentrates, and 800 milligrams of edibles at one time and possess those amounts in public. The retail tax rate for marijuana will be 10 percent, and home growers can legally possess up to two pounds of marijuana from their harvests.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill Protecting Patients Seeking Unemployment Benefits Wins Committee Vote. The House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations last Thursday narrowly approved House Bill 351, which would ensure that people with medical marijuana recommendations are not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. The bill's digest says it "provides that a qualifying medical marijuana patient who receives a recommendation from an authorized clinician to use marijuana for a therapeutic use shall not be disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits." The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

International

Iran Hangs Three on Drug Charges. Three men -- Shahab Mansournasab, Samad Geravand and Saeed Geravand -- were executed by hanging after they were caught with more than 39 kilograms of heroin and precursors. They were charged with "corruption on earth" after admitting they planned to sell the drugs in Tehran. Under Iranian law, anyone convicted of possessing more than 30 grams of heroin is eligible for a death sentence.

Iran used to execute hundreds of people annually, but in 2017 adjusted its laws and the number of drug executions dwindled. This year, however, the Islamic Republic has increasingly resorted to the death penalty as it faces a months-long civil uprising that began with the death of a woman at the hands of religious police for improperly wearing a hijab. It is unclear how many of this year's executions are for drug offenses, but Iran hung a man it described as the "sultan of cocaine" earlier this month. Last week, it hung a man for running a human trafficking network and prostitution ring and three men convicted of killing a police officer and two members of the paramilitary Basij during the unrest.

Ireland Drug Checking to Expand at Festivals After Successful Rollout of Pilot Program Last Year. After a pilot program to check drugs at the Electric Picnic festival last September successfully detected high-potency MDMA and new psychoactive substances, the Health Services Executive (HSE) has announced that drug checking will be expanded to more festivals this year. It is part of broader harm reduction effort by the HSE. Under the program, festival-goers can submit samples to be tested without fear of arrest and are then informed of the substances' content. HSE-trained volunteers will also be available to talk about drug treatment services, drug trends, and harm reduction practices with festival-goers.

Switzerland To Expand Marijuana Trials to More Cities. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has given the green light to expansion of ongoing trials on legal marijuana sales to include the cities of Bern, Biel/Bienne, Lucerne, and Geneva. Such programs have already been underway since last year in Basel and this March in Zurich. The trials are supposed to produce data that will inform the government's policy on marijuana. They aim to investigate the health and social effects of tightly regulated, non-profit marijuana sales in pharmacies and will involve a thousand participants -- only half of whom will be allowed to buy the regulated marijuana in pharmacies.

The FOPH has also approved a pilot program in Vernier, where a single authorized dispensary called the "Cannabinotheque" will sell marijuana under a membership model. It will last for three years and also includes a thousand participants. Currently, recreational marijuana remains illegal in the country, although it legalized medical marijuana last year.

MN Legal Pot Bill Ready for Final Votes, Singapore Hangs Another Man for Marijuana, More... (5/18/23)

A major civil and human rights group comes out against one federal fentanyl bill, bipartisan senators and representatives file another one, and more.

Fentanyl. The deadly drug continues to generate bills in Congress. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Ready for Final Votes This Week. House and Senate conference committee negotiators have resolved the remaining differences between the House and Senate marijuana legalization bills and ready to send the final bill to floor votes in both chambers this week. The final sticking points were on the marijuana tax rate and appropriating revenue. Negotiators agreed to the 10 percent retail sales tax in the Senate bill (the House had voted for 8 percent to be adjusted every two years) and agreed that 80 percent of marijuana revenues will go to the state and 20 percent to local governments to cover expenses related to implementing legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Activists File Papers for 2024 Medical Marijuana Initiative. The group Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has filed papers to mount petition drives to put a pair of medical marijuana initiatives on the 2024 ballot. One would set up the doctor/patient system, while the other would regulate the industry. Activists have been trying for eight years to get the legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill, to no avail. Last year, a signature-gathering effort for a medical marijuana initiative came up short because financial problems blocked the group from hiring professional petitioners.

"We have no choice but to keep petitioning our government," said group spokeswoman Crist Eggers. "The legislature refuses to act despite the will of over 80% of Nebraskans, from all parties, regions, ages, etc., supporting this."

Asset Forfeiture

New York Senate Committee Passes Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture and Opt State Out of Federal Forfeiture Program. The Senate Codes Committee on Monday approved a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture, Senate Bill 2192. Under the bill filed by Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D) forfeiture could only occur if the "prosecuting authority secures a conviction of a crime that authorizes the forfeiture of property and the prosecuting authority establishes by clear and convincing evidence the property is an instrumentality of or proceeds derived directly from the crime for which the state secured a conviction." The bill would also address "policing for profit" by requiring that forfeiture proceeds go to the state general fund. Currently, the seizing agency gets to keep up to 60 percent of the proceeds. And the bill would opt the state out of the federal "equitable sharing" program that allows law enforcement agencies to skirt state asset forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds, who then return most of the money to the seizing agency. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Drug Policy

Bipartisan Bill Aims to Counter National Security Threat of Illicit Drug Trafficking. US Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) are leading a bipartisan effort directing increased federal attention to fentanyl trafficking by utilizing the tools of the Department of Defense (DoD) and involving Mexico as an active partner to combat this crisis and disrupt drug cartel and trafficking activity.

The Disrupt Fentanyl Trafficking Act of 2023 would attempt to address cross-border drug trafficking by:

  • Declaring fentanyl trafficking a national security threat stemming from drug cartels and smugglers,
  • Directing the Pentagon to develop a fentanyl-specific counter-drug strategy, including enhanced cooperation with foreign nations,
  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense to increase security cooperation with the Mexican military, and
  • Addressing coordination efforts between the military and federal law .enforcement agencies.

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Opposes HALT Fentanyl Act. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Wednesday sent a letter to the House leadership to express its "strong opposition" to H.R. 467, the HALT Fentanyl Act.

"This bill permanently schedules fentanyl-related substances (FRS) on schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) based on a flawed class definition," the letter says. "Additionally, it imposes mandatory minimums and fails to provide an offramp for removing inert or harmless substances from the drug schedule. The class wide scheduling that this bill would impose would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. Under the class wide control, any offense involving a "fentanyl-related substance" is subject to federal criminal prosecution, even if the substance in question is helpful or has no potential for abuse."

The Leadership Conference represents more than 230 national organizations.

International

Singapore Executes Marijuana Offender for Second Time in Three Weeks. For the second time in three weeks, Singapore has hung a man for trafficking marijuana. The unnamed 37-year-old Malay Singaporean was executed at dawn Wednesday at Changi Prison for trafficking about 3.3 pounds of pot. On April 26, Singapore executed Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, for trafficking 2.2 pounds of pot despite an international outcry. Under Singapore law, trafficking more than 1.1 pounds of pot can garner a death sentence. The city-state halted all executions during the coronavirus pandemic, but hanged 11 people last year -- all for drug offenses.

"If we don't come together to stop it, we fear that this killing spree will continue in the weeks and months to come," said Kokila Annamalai of the Transformative Justice Collective, which campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty in Singapore.

SAFE Banking Act Gets Senate Hearing, Iran Hangs Three Cocaine Traffickers, More... (5/11/23)

Kansas becomes the latest state to legalize fentanyl test strips, the Arizona Senate folds psilocybin research funds into a budget bill, and more.

They were talking marijuana and banking on the Hill Thursday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

SAFE Banking Act Gets Senate Committee Hearing. The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss marijuana banking issues with a focus on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (S.1323). No votes were taken at the hearing, which was announced as "Examining Cannabis Banking Challenges of Small Businesses and Workers." Testifying before the committee were bill sponsors Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), as well as representatives of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), Dama Financial and Smart Approaches To Marijuana (SAM).

"The cannabis landscape looks far different than it did a few short years ago," Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said in opening remarks. "Cannabis has been legalized or decriminalized in almost every state. States and localities have established licensing and social equity programs to ensure that small businesses and communities impacted by the War on Drugs are part of the growing legal cannabis industry."

Harm Reduction

Kansas Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Legalization Bill into Law. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 174, which legalizes fentanyl test strips by removing them from the state's definition of drug paraphernalia. Last year, a similar bill passed in the House only to stall in the Senate.

"Overdoses caused by fentanyl have devastated communities across Kansas and the nation," Gov. Kelly said. "By decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, we are providing the resources needed to combat the opioid and fentanyl epidemic so that families and loved ones no longer have to feel the pain of a preventable death."

The bill also increases criminal penalties for those who manufacture or distribute fentanyl.

Psychedelics

Arizona Senate Approves Psilocybin Research Grants as Part of Budget. The Senate on Wednesday approved an appropriations bill that includes $5 million in funding for psilocybin research. A standalone bill introduced earlier this year would have also funded psilocybin research at a higher level, but Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) and top lawmakers agreed to slide the provision into the budget bill. Another budget measure that passed the Senate Wednesday contains detailed requirements for the clinical trials funded by those dollars. The House has already given initial approval to a companion version of the legislation, with a final vote coming soon.

International

Iran Hangs Three Cocaine Traffickers as UN Warns of Rising Number of Executions. Iranian state media reported that three men who were members of the "largest cocaine distribution cartel" were hung for cocaine trafficking on Wednesday. Their names are Hossein Panjak, Abdolhossein Emami Moghadam, and Babak Aghaei. They had been arrested in a 2014 raid in which 2.2 pounds of cocaine, methamphetamine, and opium were seized.

A day earlier, UN human rights chief Volker Turk criticized Iran's "abominable" record of executions this year, saying that it had hanged an average of 10 people a week so far this year. If the current rate of executions continues through the year, it would reach the highest number since 2015 when 972 people were hung. Back then, a large number of executions were for drug offenses, but Iran changed its drug laws in 2018, radically reducing the number of drug executions. It is not clear how many of this year's executions were for drug offenses, but the regime has been executing political opponents amid months of sustained civic unrest.

Singapore Hangs Man for Two Pounds of Weed, CO Senate Passes Psychedelic Regulation Bill, More... (4/26/23)

A bipartisan bill addressing xylazine gets filed, Texas Republican senators block a fentanyl test strip bill, and more.

Fentanyl test strips. Texas GOP senators are blocking a bill to decriminalize them. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Colorado Senate Advances Psychedelic Regulation Bill Without Local Ban Authority. The Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 23-290, which amends the regulatory framework created by the voter-approved Natural Medicine Act. The bill creates regulations for unlicensed psychedelic facilitators, restrictions on home mushroom and natural medicine cultivation, and criminal penalties for the unlicensed sale of those substances. Under the bill, the Department of Revenue, which already oversees the state's liquor, marijuana, and gambling industries, would regulate licensed psychedelic manufacturing, distribution, and other business activities. The bill does not include language allowing local governments to ban psychedelic businesses. The bill now goes to the House, where it first heads to the House Finance Committee.

Drug Policy

Senators Cruz and Welch File Bill Targeting Xylazine. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Peter Welch (D-VT) on Wednesday filed the Testing, Rapid Analysis, and Narcotic Quality (TRANQ) Research Act to address the rapid rise of the veterinary tranquilizer as a drug used in conjunction with street narcotics. The Office of National Drug Control Strategy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) designated xylazine mixed with fentanyl as an "emerging threat" earlier this month.

While xylazine has some opioid-like properties, it is not an opioid and is not responsive to opioid overdose reversal drugs. It is also linked to physical ailments such as necrosis, which can result in the loss of limbs.

The TRANQ Research Act "directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to take steps to enhance understanding of tranq and other novel synthetic drugs, develop new tests for detection, and establish partnerships with front-line entities that are often the first points of contact with new street drugs." It does not contain any criminal provisions. Companion legislation has also been filed in the House.

Harm Reduction

Texas Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill Stalled in Senate. Even as the state faces a fentanyl overdose crisis, Senate Republicans are blocking action on a bill to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, House Bill 362, that has already passed the House. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) said Republican members of the committee fear that the move will encourage drug use. "It's just illogical, but there's a belief by some members that it might safeguard the use," he said Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) supports the legislation, and the legislative session still has a few more weeks left, so supporters continue to hope it can still pass this year.

International

Singapore Ignores International Appeals, Executes Man for Two Pounds of Marijuana. Singapore hung Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, on Wednesday after he was convicted of conspiring to traffic two pounds of marijuana. The execution came despite an international campaign to spare his life, including an appeal from the UN Human Rights Commission and another from Global Drug Policy Commission member Richard Branson. While many other countries, including some of Singapore's neighbors are moving towards a more lenient approach to drugs and rejecting the death penalty, Singapore remains unmoved. "Tangaraju was accorded full due process under the law and had access to legal counsel throughout the process," the Central Narcotics Bureau said, adding without a hint of irony that the death penalty is "part of Singapore's comprehensive harm prevention strategy."

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