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MI Police Admit Pot Driving Drug Tests Are No Good, CA Pot Bills Go to Governor, More... (9/1/22)

Indonesia has more than 200 people on death row for drug offenses, an effort by a Nebraskas medical marijuana campaign to block part of the state's signature-gathering requirements is rejected by an appeals court, and more

Michigan State Police alerted prosecutors that their drug tests for THC instead alerted for CBD. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Has a Pile of Marijuana Bills on His Desk. Lawmakers were busy as the legislative session came to an end Wednesday, sending another batch of marijuana-related bills to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Now, there are more than a dozen bills awaiting his signature. One would bar localities from banning medical marijuana deliveries, another provides employment protection for off duty marijuana-using workers, another streamlines record-sealing procedures for past marijuana offenses, another would allow the state to set up interstate cannabis commerce, another would authorize medical marijuana for pets, another would protect the rights of marijuana-using parents, another would allow for insurance coverage for marijuana businesses, another changes the state's cannabis tax policy, another would bar doctors from discriminating against registered patients for a positive THC test, another amends the state law requiring medical facilities to accommodate medical marijuana use, another would allow cannabis beverages to be packaged in clear containers, another would add advertising and labeling requirements for vape products, another would bar marijuana regulators from denying temporary event license applications solely because the licensee also has a liquor license, and, last but not least, one would require reporting on marijuana tax revenues distributed to a youth education and prevention program.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Attempt by Medical Marijuana Campaign to Block Nebraska Ballot Process. As medical marijuana campaigners ran into problems with signature gathering earlier this summer, they sued, arguing that the state's requirement that initiative campaigns not only reach a certain statew0ide signature threshold but also get signatures from at least 5 percent of voters in at least 38 of the state's 93 counties violated free speech and equal protection rights. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the ACLU prevailed in district court in June, winning a temporary injunction suspending the 5 percent requirement. But state officials appealed, and the US 8th Circuit quickly put a hold on the judge's order pending an appeals court ruling. That ruling came Wednesday, when a split panel of the court ruled for the state. "The district court abused its discretion by granting the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction,” Judges Raymond Gruender and David Stras ruled. Judge Jane Kelly disagreed, writing that "if the right to vote is fundamental, I see no reason why it should not apply equally to the initiative process at the heart of Nebraska’s electoral and legislative system." The campaign and the ACLU said the effort would continue and that they may seek a ruling from the full 8th Circuit.

Drug Testing

Michigan State Police Say Tests for THC in Drivers Actually Showed CBD; Thousands of Cases Could Be Impacted. State police notified prosecutors late last month that drug tests designed to detect THC in the blood of drivers instead alerted to the presence of non-psychoactive CBD and that they have now halted the blood toxicology testing program. "After further review, we now believe this discrepancy may impact cases that occurred on or after March 28, 2019, where the alleged violation is based on the finding of THC alone and there is insufficient evidence of impairment, intoxication, or recent use of marijuana to otherwise support the charged offense," state police said Wednesday. "Laboratory data indicates there are approximately 3,250 laboratory reports that may be impacted," state police said. "These are reports in which there was a THC-confirmed result without other drugs present or alcohol detected above the 0.08% blood-alcohol content legal threshold." March 28, 2019, is when CBD became legal in the state.

International

Indonesia Has More Than 200 People on Death Row for Drug Offenses. There are 404 death row inmates in the island archipelago, and more than half of them are there for drug offenses. It has already executed another 80 drug offenders since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic out of 94 executions overall. Those executed include seven foreign nationals. The resort to the death penalty comes even as the country has since 2009 softened its drug laws, allowing judges to impose rehabilitation instead of prison for drug users and health authorities established guidelines for rehabilitation and treating drug use. 

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United States

CO Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway; US, Russia Clash at CND, More... (3/16/22)

Georgia cops will pay for a misbegotten massive pot bust, the US and Russia criticize each other in remarks at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, and more.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists Finalize Decision on Psychedelic Reform Initiative. New Approach PAC and state-level activists have decided which of four psychedelic reform initiatives they filed will actually be the subject of a 2022 signature gathering campaign. They have requested permission from the state to begin signature gathering for Initiative 58, the Natural Medicine Health Act. The measure would legalize psilocybin, as well as creating "healing centers" where people could use the drug for therapeutic forces. The campaign will need 124,632 valid voter signatures by August 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Law Enforcement

"Cartersville 64," All Busted for Less Than an Ounce of Weed, Win Settlement with Cops. Police in Cartersville, Georgia, went to a house on a report of gunshots on New Year's Eve 2017, claimed they smelled marijuana, entered the house without consent or a warrant, found less than an ounce of marijuana, then arrested all 64 people in the house, most of them people of color, for marijuana possession because it within "everyone’s reach or control." Prosecutors dropped the charges within days, but that wasn't the end of it. The Southern Center for Human Rights and a local law firm filed a lawsuit over the bust, and it has now been settled. The defendants — the Cartersville Police Department, Bartow County Sheriff’s Office and the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force — will pay $900,000 as part of the settlement.

International

US Uses CND Session to Blast Russia, Reiterate Drug Policy Stance. In remarks delivered Monday by Todd D. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the US criticized Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as well as reiterating the US position combining public health and law enforcement approaches to the drug issue.

"For decades," said Robinson, "the UN Charter has stood as a bulwark to the worst impulses of empires and autocrats. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is an attack on Ukraine as a UN Member State, on our Charter, and on the UN itself, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Russia’s choice for premeditated war is bringing catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. These actions contravene our commitments to protect the health and welfare of mankind, our single greatest purpose in the CND.

"Here, we speak together against those who believe they can violate the law for their own benefit – criminals, corrupt actors, and drug traffickers. How can we continue to speak against these bad actors when one among us is operating with similar lawlessness? We have lost trust in Russia as a UN Member State and CND member, and we will approach its participation in this and other UN bodies with serious skepticism. We must hold Russia accountable. In so doing though we cannot allow our critical work in the CND to be deterred."

Robinson added that the Biden administration's approach to drug policy "includes a focus on primary prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support, and calls for public-private collaboration to remove barriers to high quality care, reduce stigma, and invest in evidence-based public health and public safety approaches," but added that " public health-focused efforts must also be complemented by effective international cooperation and law enforcement measures to reduce illicit manufacture and trafficking of drugs."

Russia Uses CND to Criticize West for Marijuana Legalization, Afghan Heroin, and Complain of Political Attacks. In remarks delivered Monday by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleg Syromolotov at the 65th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Russia criticized its critic for criticizing its invasion of Ukraine and lambasted Western countries that have embraced marijuana legalization.

Referring to criticism from the US, Syromolotov said, "We are bewildered at the insistent attempts of some Member States to politicize the work of the current session. We are adamantly opposed to such black PR campaigns, which are not related to the mandate of the Commission. This approach damages the reputation of this important international body and could erode the trust of the world community in it. Russia is always committed to a constructive, substantive discussion in the Commission."

On marijuana: "It is unfortunate that today we see attempts to shatter this foundation and distort its essence, "said Syromolotov. "Legalization of free distribution of cannabis in such countries as the United States of America and Canada is a matter of serious concern for us. It is worrisome that several Member States of the European Union are currently considering violating their drug control obligations. Such approach is unacceptable. Strict compliance of all State Parties with their obligations under the conventions is the precondition for the smooth functioning of the global drug control regime. Russia is consistently advocating that only those States that are implementing the provisions of the conventions in good faith have the moral right to participate in the activities of the Commission. By applying a different approach, we risk undermining the authority of the Commission which is the policy-making body of the United Nations with prime responsibility for drug control matters."

On Afghanistan, whose opium production supplies a massive wave of heroin addiction in Russia: "Another matter of serious concern to us is the situation in Afghanistan," Syromolotov said. "Freeze on the national financial resources of Afghanistan made illicit opium poppy cultivation and production practically the only viable income source for the population."

NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

Drugs and the Year from Hell: The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

What a year! Pandemic, civic unrest, national elections -- 2020 has been a year of tumult that can't be done with soon enough. But when it comes to drug policy, it wasn't all bad; in fact, a lot of it was pretty darned good. Some of it however was quite tragic Here's our year-end round up of the biggest drug policy stories of the year.

Update: The 2020 top ten list now goes to eleven, with Congress removing the drug conviction question from the federal financial aid for college form. See below.

The Pandemic

Just as it has infiltrated just about every aspect of American life, the coronavirus pandemic has been felt in the world of drugs and drug policy. Social distancing requirements early in the pandemic, precisely at the time drug reform initiative campaigns were typically in the midst of signature-gathering drives proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

It has also infiltrated jails and prisons. One in five prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. 1,700 of them have died from it. Prison wardens have worsened the situation by blocking congressionally legislated compassionate releases for prisoners. Second waves are now hitting the nation's penal institutions. And most vaccinations in the prisons have been for staff, not prisoners. With drugs directly accounting for about one-in-four prisoners, COVID-19 in the prisons is partly a drug war story.

Amidst the layoffs, shutdowns, and social distancing imposed by the pandemic, drug use jumped. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

In September, a study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network found that drug test positivity rates for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine ha increased nationwide during the pandemic. That same month, in a new study, Millennium Health reported that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The pandemic almost certainly also has had an impact on fatal drug overdoses (see below).

One of the most striking impacts of the pandemic has been on policing. Early on, big cities began to forego drug arrests and prosecutions as a discretionary luxury they could no longer afford as they struggled with the coronavirus. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, police or prosecutors announced they would not arrest or would not prosecute small-time drug possession cases. In March, prosecutors from more than 30 cities, including Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis signed on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. They called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors." These were not intended as permanent moves, but perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will take the opportunity to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

Advocates for marijuana legalization folded the pandemic into their arguments for ending federal marijuana prohibition. More than 30 state attorneys general cited the pandemic in calling for Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services. The House HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, passed in May, included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms, mostly aimed at reducing the prison population during the pandemic, but also included that marijuana banking language.

COVID was also cited as making it even more imperative to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884). Over the summer, as the pandemic simmered, a coalition of justice and drug reform groups called on Congress to pass the bill, arguing that legalization was especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

That was followed by an even broader assemblage of 125 religious, human rights, and drug reform groups calling for passage of the bill. "[T]he circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said. The MORE Act passed in December.

The Long, Hot Summer Uprising Against Police Violence and Racism

It all started with that horrid video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer over an alleged miniscule offense, but as people took to the streets all over the country, the name Breonna Taylor also loomed large. The totally innocent 26-year-old black EMT was gunned down by Louisville police in a misbegotten "no-knock" drug raid (it might be more accurate to call them "home invasion raids") in March, and her killing not only powered months of street demonstrations in her hometown, it also engendered howls of outrage and promises of reform from politicians around the land. And it brought heightened scrutiny to business as usual in the war on drugs.

As the streets overflowed in May, nearly four dozen members of Congress called for an independent investigation of the raid, calling Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." That was followed by a bevy of bills in Congress, including the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. House Democrats pushed the bill through in three weeks in June. Republicans in the Senate responded with Sen. Tim Scott's Justice Act, which wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. But the GOP bill never moved in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate. As with so many measures passed by the House, McConnell's domain was where a congressional response to the crisis went to die.

But some states and localities actually enacted laws or ordinances aimed at reining in no-knocks. The Louisville Metro Council banned no-knock search warrants by unanimously passing "Breonna's Law" in June. Other cities, including Indianapolis, Memphis, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Santa Fe moved to either restrict or ban no-knocks. And while several states saw efforts to ban no-knocks, the only state where it's come to fruition so far is Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law House Bill 5099, which bars police from breaking into a home or business to conduct a raid without first announcing their presence.

In Historic Move, House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Breaking almost but not entirely along party lines, the House voted on December 4 to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (HR 3884). The MORE Act would effectively end federal pot prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's list of scheduled substances and eliminating federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation and sale.

The bill would not affect state laws that criminalize marijuana, but it would end the conflict between states that have already legalized marijuana and federal law. The bill also includes strong social equity provisions, including the creation of a fund to support programs and services for communities devastated by the war on drugs, a provision for expungement of past federal marijuana offenses, and a provision that bars the federal government from discriminating against people for marijuana use. The latter would protect immigrants from being deported for past marijuana convictions and would ensure that earned benefits are not denied to marijuana users.

The historic vote marks the first time either chamber of Congress has voted for legalization. But there is virtually no chance that the Republican-led Senate will take up -- let alone approve -- the measure in the remaining days of this session, meaning this is a battle that will continue in the next Congress.

Here Comes Psychedelic Drug Law Reform

Denver made history in May 2019 by becoming the first locality in the US to effectively decriminalize a psychedelic drug -- psilocybin-bearing magic mushrooms -- and as a psychedelic reform movement has spread across the land, this year saw more important advances. As the year went on, three more cities -- Ann Arbor, Oakland, and Santa Cruz -- passed similar ordinances.

Then on Election Day, voters in Oregon approved the groundbreaking Measure 109, the Psilocybin Services Act, with 56 percent of the vote. It will create a program to allow the administration of psilocybin products, such as magic mushrooms, to adults 21 and over for therapeutic purposes. People will be allowed to buy, possess, and consume psilocybin at a psilocybin services center, but only after undergoing a preparation session and under the supervision of a psilocybin service facilitator.

On the East Coast, Washington, DC, voters approved Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Policy Act of 2020, with 74 percent of the vote. The measure will have police treat natural plant medicines (entheogens) as their lowest law enforcement priority. The measure also asks the city's top prosecutor and its US Attorney to not prosecute such cases.

This string of psychedelic reform victories has generated momentum that is likely to result in more pushes in more places next year and beyond. Since Election Day, activists in San Francisco and Washington state have announced plans for decriminalization, a New Jersey state senator has filed a bill to downgrade the offense of magic mushroom possession, and a California state senator has announced he plans to file a bill. that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics. And that's before the new year even begins.

Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs

With the passage by voters of Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, Oregon broke new ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The quantities decriminalized are up to one gram of heroin, up to one gram of or five pills of MDMA, up to two gram of meth, up to 40 units of LSD, up to 12 grams of psilocybin, up to 40 units of methadone, up to 40 pills of oxycodone, and up to two grams of cocaine. That's thousands of drug arrests that now will not occur in Oregon -- and now Oregon can set an example for other states to follow.

Red State or Blue State, Voters Choose Legal Marijuana When Given the Chance

The November election saw marijuana legalization on the ballot in four states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two states. They all won. Evenly-divided Arizona saw Proposition 207: The Smart & Safe Arizona Act, cruise to victory with 60 percent of the vote, while in blue New Jersey, Public Question 1 garnered a resounding 67 percent.

The really surprising results were in two red states: In Montana, Constitutional Initiative 118 and its companion Initiative 190 won with 58 percent and 57 percent of the vote, respectively, while in South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote. Both those states are Trump country, with the president taking 57 percent in the former and 62 percent in the latter.

It was the same story with medical marijuana too, as Mississippi approved Initiative 65 with 74 percent of the vote, while South Dakota's Measure 26 won with 70 percent. Marijuana for adult use in now legal in 15 states and medical marijuana is now legal in 38.

Attack of the Progressive Prosecutors

The November elections didn't just end the reign of Donald Trump and bring drug reform victories at the state level, they also ushered in a new crop of progressive prosecutors who will have the ability to affect the conduct of the war on drugs at the local level. Led by George Gascon, who was elected prosecutor of the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles, and running on progressive platforms that included confronting police misconduct, ramping down the war on drugs, and shrinking prison populations, progressives won prosecutor races in Detroit (Oakland County), Orlando, and two large Colorado districts that had been held for decades by Republicans. Progressives didn't win everywhere they ran, but the shift from "law and order" district attorneys toward progressives that began with Kim Foxx in Chicago and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia really gathered momentum this year.

A Tough Year for Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites -- or supervised injection sites or safe consumption sites, take your pick -- are a proven harm reduction intervention with 120 in operation in 10 countries around the world, but no legal ones operating in the US. It looked like that would change in 2020, but it didn't. A proposed site in Philadelphia got the final go-ahead from a federal judge in February, but the local US Attorney then won a stay blocking it, with a hearing on that stay held in October and the decision from the bench still pending. Things were also looking good in San Francisco after the Board of Supervisors okayed a three-site pilot program in June, but the state-level bill that would have allowed the city to proceed, Assembly Bill 362, died in the Senate after passing the Assembly. A similar fate befell a Massachusetts safe injection site bill, House Bill 4723, which managed to win a committee vote but then stalled. Maybe next year.

Asset Forfeiture Reforms

Asset forfeiture, especially civil asset forfeiture (without a criminal conviction), is increasingly unpopular, with 35 states and the District of Columbia approving reforms between 2014 and 2019. A November poll found that only 26% support allowing police to seize cash or property from someone without a criminal conviction. Some 59% of respondents oppose "allowing law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property or its proceeds for their own use." Opposition to equitable sharing, a federal program that allows state and local police to evade state laws against civil asset forfeiture, was even higher, with 70% against the program.

Here are some reasons why: In March, in Georgia,the Department of Revenue got caught spending millions of dollars in seized cash on "engraved firearms, pricey gym equipment, clothing, personal items, even $130 sunglasses." That same month, in Michigan, the Macomb County prosecutor was hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use, including a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. In July, in Chicago, the city agreed to a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. Also in Michigan, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office faces a similar lawsuit for seizing thousands of cars and other property belonging to residents without criminal convictions.

Such abuses helped New Jersey become the 36th asset forfeiture reform state when Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Unfortunately, the few remaining non-reform states are tough nuts to crack, as we saw with reform bills killed in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But, hey, at least Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a 2019 Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, finally got his Land Rover back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust.

America Keeps ODing

Amidst all the death in the pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of drug overdose deaths got short shrift this shift, but Americans are continuing to die by the tens of thousands. In July, the CDC reported preliminary data showing that after declining for the first time in decades in 2018, fatal ODs rose 4.6% in 2019. There's a lag in data for this year, but initial reports suggest bad news ahead. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug found large increases in the use fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That same month, the Washington Post reportedthat fatal ODs have jumped and keep jumping during the pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post pointed to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Update 12/22: This year the top ten domestic stories goes to eleven, with the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" of the Higher Education Act set for repeal, as part of the massive spending bill sent to the president on the night of Monday the 21st. The provision barred students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for college, for varying lengths of time. The spending bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

Our own organization campaigned for many years for the law's repeal, through the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform and the John W. Perry scholarship fund. Extensive media coverage made the law controversial, and in 2006 it was scaled back to be limited to drug offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving federal aid. In 2010 legislation to limit its reach further passed the House of Representatives.The provision stayed on the radar for members of Congress and their staffs, and yesterday it got done.

NJ to End Pot Possession Prosecutions, OR County to End Drug Possession Prosecutions, More... (11/27/20)

The impact of voters' choices earlier this month is beginning to be felt, a new poll has New Yorkers ready to legalize marijuana, Vancouver's city council votes to move toward drug decriminalization, and more.

Drug decriminalization begins to take hold in Oregon, so we're going to be seeing less of this. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. In a Wednesday letter to city, county, and state prosecutors, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered them to put a halt to small-time marijuana possession prosecutions until at least January 25. "It simply does not make sense or serve justice to proceed with prosecutions on charges that may be foreclosed soon through legislative action," Grewal said in a statement. "Fairness demands that we suspend prosecution of marijuana possession-related cases while we await direction from the Legislature.".

New York Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at All-Time High. A Sienna College poll released Tuesday has support for legalizing marijuana at an all-time high, with 60% saying it is time to free the weed. That's up five points from the same poll in February, when 55% supported it. Meanwhile, the number of people who opposed it dropped from 40% in February to 32% now.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Court Rules State Must Change "Unreasonable" System to Decide Who Can Sell Medical Marijuana. A three-judge appellate court ruled Wednesday that the state's system for determining who get can medical marijuana dispensary licenses was not transparent, created confusion in the industry, and was "unreasonable." The court threw out a 2018 decision awarding six licenses and ordered the health department to come up with a better rating system.

Drug Policy

Oregon County to End Low-Level Drug Possession Prosecutions. Prosecutors in Clackamas County, just outside Portland, sent a letter to local police chiefs Monday telling them that while they disagreed with voters' decision to decriminalize drug possession earlier this month, they will heed their wishes and drop drug possession cases. "Having officers investigate and submit cases for a prosecution in the weeks leading up to February 1, which will not lead to any sanction or court supervised treatment, is not the most effective use of criminal justice resources," the prosecutor's office said.

International

Canadian Government Gives Formal Response to Petition to Decriminalize Psychedelics. Responding to a petition presented to parliament signed by more than 15,000 Canadians calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics, government ministers formally replied that no such move would take place until psychedelics underwent further study. The ministers also pointed to ways some people could obtain exemptions to use them legally despite federal prohibition.

Vancouver City Council Unanimously Approves Motion to Seek Decriminalization of Drug Possession. The Vancouver city council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a motion asking the federal government to let it decriminalize simple drug possession. The motion was spearheaded by Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who cited high drug overdose death numbers. "On the same day that the B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that a person a day continues to die in our city due to drug overdose, Vancouver has once again decided to lead the way on drug policy in order to save lives," Stewart said. "If approved by the federal government, we will begin a robust process to determine how decriminalization will be implemented in Vancouver."

NJ Police Chiefs Warn on Marijuana Legalization, European Drug Tends, More... (10/13/20)

Mississippi's Republican governor tries to undermine a medical marijuana initiative, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has a new report out, and more.

Cocaine en route to Europe seized by Spanish police.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Police Chiefs Present Arguments Against Marijuana Legalization. In an open letter, the state Association of Chiefs of Police did not explicitly come out against the state's pending referendum on marijuana legalization, but instead presented several arguments designed to highlight its dangers. They wrote that marijuana is not "benign," warned of stoned drivers, claimed the black market is "stronger than ever" in legal states, and cited "unintended consequences" of legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Signs Bill Allowing FDA-Approved Cannabis Medications as Legalization Vote Looms. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) last week signed into law a bill that allows residents to use marijuana-derived medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The move comes as the state prepares to vote on a medical marijuana initiative and a watered-down version of it forwarded by the legislature. Reeves said he is "against efforts to make marijuana mainstream."

International

European Drug Report Shows Advances in Trans-Atlantic Drug Trafficking. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has released the European Drug Report 2020, which examines drug trafficking dynamics from 2018 to 2020. The big takeaways: Cocaine trafficking to Europe has boomed during the pandemic, greater quantities of higher quality cocaine are arriving, the cocaine market is expanding in Europe going back at least a decade, and European MDMA production keeps rising.

Democratic Platform to Call for Rescheduling and Decriminalizing Marijuana But Not Legalizing, Canada Police Chiefs Want Drug Decrim, More... (7/13/20)

Democratic task forces working on the party platform have settled on rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, the Justice Department rips a Massachusetts dope squad for its resort to excessive force, Canadian police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

The Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative has qualified for the ballot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Proposed Democratic Platform Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Descheduling. Task forces charged with drafting the Democratic Party platform are calling not for the total federal legalization of marijuana but for decriminalizing it and for rescheduling it for medical purposes. The recommendations will be provided to the platform committee, which will ratify it before the Democratic national convention next month. According to NJ.com, the proposals include allowing states to decide on whether to legalize marijuana, expunging past convictions, and calling on states that have legalized marijuana to reinvest revenues in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war.

Kansas City to Remove Marijuana Violations from City Code. The city council voted last Thursday to remove possession or control of marijuana as a violation within the city. The ordinance, introduced on June 18 by Mayor Quinton Lucas and four City Council members, passed by a 9-4 vote. Two years ago, the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with the exception of illegal sales, distribution and impaired driving.

Hemp

Hawaii Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize industrial hemp in the state passed the Senate last Wednesday after having already passed the House. The bill, HB1819 HD2 SD3, now goes to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns it was unenforceable, but this year, legislators worked closely with Ige's office to ensure it would get signed.

Law Enforcement

Democratic Progressives Announce BREATHE Act to Reform Policing. House Democratic members including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) are pushing for a wide-ranging bill called the BREATHE Act, which would transform the country's criminal justice system. Among its provisions are a call to eliminate life sentences, retroactively expunge drug convictions, shut federal prisons and immigration detention centers, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" for prisoners. The bill would also move to defund the DEA and ICE, end mandatory minimums, and decriminalize drug possession, among other provisions.

Justice Department Accuses Springfield, Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau of Using Excessive Force. In a report released last Wednesday, the Justice Department said an investigation has revealed that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect the Springfield Police Department's Narcotics Bureau regularly resorted to excessive force. "Our investigation of the Springfield Police Department over the last year revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record-keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct," said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling. The Justice Department said the bureau violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from the unreasonable use of force by the police. In the report, Justice said "our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries."

North Carolina Cops Confronted by Hostile Crowd After Drug Bust. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were swarmed by an angry crowd after police searched a home as part of a drug investigation. People kept arriving at the scene until "a hostile crowd of approximately 50 people had taken over the street in front of the residence," police reported. Police said the crowd blocked the roadway and swarmed a police vehicle, and police resorted to pepper spray to clear the area. Police seized 85 grams of heroin and 15 grams of marijuana and arrested two people.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Wednesday.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Faces Challenge from GOP Congressman. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of allowing Washington, DC, to move forward with drug reform efforts, says that he plans to force a vote in Congress to block the proposed natural psychedelic initiative. He said he plans to force a House Appropriations Committee vote next week.

International

Canadian Chiefs of Police Call for Drug Decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended that simple drug possession should be decriminalized. The report by the association's special committee on decriminalization of illicit drugs calls for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. "Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives," association president and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement. "We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government."

Senate GOP Unveils Policing Reform Bill, Seattle Moves to End Drug-Related Loitering Charges, More... (6/17/20)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarifies that state officials can't order drug tests as part of child welfare investigations, Senate Republicans roll out their version of a police reform bill, and more.

Tennessee Rep. William Lamberth (R), who blocked a resolution honoring a murdered black girl because... marijuana.

Marijuana Policy

Sole Tennessee Lawmaker Blocks Resolution to Honor Murdered Teen Over Alleged Marijuana Sale. A resolution honoring the life of 17-year-old black girl Ashanti Posey, who was fatally shot in April, was blocked by a single Republican lawmaker, Rep. William Lamberth, who said he could not support the measure because she had allegedly been involved in a low-level marijuana deal before she was killed. The resolution required unanimous consent and had already passed the state Senate. Lamberth's one-man veto sparked angry cries of "black lives matter" in the chamber, and some lawmakers walked out in protest.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules State Officials Can't Order Drug Tests as Part of Child Welfare Investigations. In a case involving a Republican district attorney accused of child abuse, the state's highest court has ruled that state officials may not order drug tests as part of a child welfare investigation. The court held unanimously that the state's Child Protective Services Law does not "expressly or implicitly authorize collecting samples of bodily fluids, without consent, for testing." The child welfare agency in Fayette County had been requiring such tests despite the lack of a legal basis for doing so. Now, it has stopped.

Law Enforcement

Seattle City Council Takes Up Bill to End Loitering Charges Related to Drugs, Prostitution. Councilmember Andrew Lewis filed a pair of bills Monday to eliminate the charge of loitering when used to try to enforce drug or prostitution laws. Loitering laws, which emerged as part of the war on drugs in the last century, allow police to arrest people they merely suspected of being drug dealers or prostitutes. The bill has support from some other council members, as well as City Attorney Pete Holmes, who helped draft it. "This is an outdated, and frankly racist policy in our City's municipal code." Councilmember Tammy Morales said. "By repealing this part of the code we are assured that drug offenders and sex workers will be treated humanely and not criminalized." The bills go to a vote at the council's next meeting on Monday.

Law Enforcement

Senate Republicans Unveil Policing Reform Bill. Senate Republicans on Wednesday rolled out their version of a police reform bill, which is called the Justice Act. Democrats in the House last week filed their version of a police reform bill, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. The Republican bill would discourage but not ban tactics such as no-knock warrants or chokeholds, while the Democrats take a tougher approach. The Democratic plan mandates certain policing practices, while the Republican plan avoids such mandates, instead incentivizing law enforcement agencies to curtail such practices by withholding federal funding for departments that allow them or do no report on them.

Mexico Plan to Decriminalize Drugs, House Drug War/Policing Resolution Gaining Cosponsors, More... (6/8/20)

A pair of Democratic House leaders is pressing Attorney General Barr on marijuana legalization and drug rescheduling, a House resolution linking the war on drugs and police brutality is picking up cosponsors at a very rapid clip, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador is ready to push for drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Can Do Electronic Signature-Gathering, But the Clock is Ticking. Arkansas for Cannabis Reform, the group behind a marijuana legalization initiative, has won a victory in the state Supreme Court as the court has ruled it can collect signatures electronically. The group needs 89,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, but only has 23,000 raw signatures right now.

Drug Policy

House Lawmakers Press Attorney General Barr on Drug Rescheduling, Marijuana Legalization. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter last Friday to Attorney General Bob Barr criticizing a Justice Department move last week to allow the DEA to help police mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd. The two lawmakers also criticized the Trump administration's "counterproductive focus on non-violent drug offenses is a plain reminder that the DEA is out of touch with the Nation's shift from the drug war model to policies of substance abuse treatment, rescheduling drugs, legalizing marijuana, and reducing harsh drug sentences."

Law Enforcement

House Resolution That Cites War on Drugs as Factor in Police Brutality Rapidly Gaining Cosponsors. A House resolution citing the war on drugs as a major factor in police brutality was filed with 12 cosponsors little more than a week ago. By the end of last week, it was up to 50 cosponsors; now, as nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd morph into calls for structural reform, the number of cosponsors has more than tripled to 160.

International

Mexico President Releases Plan to Decriminalize Drugs, Push US to Do Same. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) last week released a new plan that calls for radical reforms on the country's drug laws and negotiations with the US to do the same. The plan calls for drug decriminalization and moving funding from waging the drug war to providing for drug treatment programs. "The 'war on drugs' has escalated the public health problem posed by currently banned substances to a public safety crisis," the policy proposal, which came as part of AMLO's National Development Plan for 2019-2024, read. Mexico's current "prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable," it argued. Ending prohibition is "the only real possibility" to address the problem. "This should be pursued in a negotiated manner, both in the bilateral relationship with the United States and in the multilateral sphere, within the UN," it explained.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Suggests UN Drug Treaties Are Out of Date, Houston Dope Squad Reforms, More... (2/28/20)

A top UN drug official suggests international drug treaties are out of step with the times, a hemp bill is moving in Idaho, Malawi legalizes hemp and medical marijuana cultivation, and more.

The House has voted to ban flavored e-cigs and tobacco, including menthol. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Plans for Special Marijuana Crimes Unit Sparks Outrage. The state plans to spend $649,000 in marijuana taxes to fund a four-person unit in the its Drug Enforcement Agency to deal with regulatory compliance and monitoring illegal marijuana activities, but the plan announced earlier this week isn't sitting well with some lawmakers and marijuana business owners. "We do not want to see one additional person incarcerated for marijuana," said Mark Barnett, a Portland coffee shop owner applying for a recreational cannabis license. "It’s a move in the wrong direction and counter to the very idea of legalization." Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell, co-chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, concurred: "I thought we legalized cannabis," she said. "If we have spent a total of $33.2 million over just the time I’ve been in the legislature, why are we adding more agents for something that we actually legalized?"

Hemp

Idaho Senate Passes Bill to Legalize Hemp Production. The Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 1345, which would allow farmers in the state to legally grow and process industrial hemp. The bill now heads to the House.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Chief Announces Reforms for Tarnished Narcotics Unit. Police Chief Art Acevedo announced a series of reforms for his department's Narcotics Division on Wednesday, just hours after Harris County DA Kim Ogg said 69 defendants convicted on the testimony of disgraced former drug cop Gerald Goines might have their cases overturned. Goines was the lead officer in a fatal raid last year that left two innocent homeowners dead. Among the changes announced by Acevedo are requiring more oversight and signoff from superiors for drug operations, tighter controls on informants and payments, and restating the already announced policy of requiring high-level approval for "no-knock" raids like the one Goines led.

Vaping

House Votes to Ban Flavored E-Cigs, Tobacco, Including Menthol. The House on Friday approved a bill, House Resolution 2339, that would ban the manufacture and sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes, including menthol. The vote divided House Democrats and drew opposition from Republicans. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus slammed the bill over its ban on menthol, which is popular with African-American smokers. The bill's fate is uncertain in the Senate.

International

Top UN Drug Official Questions Whether Drug Control Treaties Are Out of Date. International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) President Cornelius P. de Joncheere said Thursday the United Nations drug conventions may be outdated, especially when it comes to marijuana. "We have some fundamental issues around the conventions that state parties will need to start looking at," he said, adding, "We have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up 50 and 60 years ago." Joncheere said 2021 is "an appropriate time to look at whether those are still fit for purpose, or whether we need new alternative instruments and approaches to deal with these problems."

Australiana New South Wales Commission Calls for Drug Decriminalization. A government-commissioned special inquiry into drug use has called the criminalization of drug users "a profound flaw" in the state's criminal justice system and recommended the complete decriminalization of drugs in the state. The report called current state drug laws "tired" and "lacking in imagination." It calls for pill testing, ending the use of drug dogs at music festivals, and more safe injection sites. But the NSW state government has already rejected some of those recommendations.

 

. Malawi's parliament on Thursday approved legislation to allow the cultivation of medical marijuana and hemp. The country is looking at an alternative to its tobacco crop, its main earner of foreign exchange, which is under pressure from anti-smoking campaigns. "Legalization of this crop will contribute to economic growth as it will contribute in the diversification of the economy and boost the country’s exports, especially at this time when tobacco exports are dwindling," agriculture minister Kondwani Nankhumwa said. Marijuana for recreational use remains illegal.

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