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The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

With 2021 now receding in the rear view mirror, we look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the arena of drug policy around the world.

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

Protestors denounce Duterte's bloody drug war. (hrw.org)
Rodrigo Duterte's term as Filipino president may be coming to an end, but his bloody legacy of drug war murders is going to haunt him. For us, last year actually begins in December 2020, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced its preliminary examination of the Filipino drug war showed evidence of crimes against humanity, clearing the path toward a formal investigation into what are estimated to be more than 30,000 killings. At that point, the ICC had to determine whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines couldn't or wouldn't hold perpetrators accountable, the court could take the case.

ICC attention was only one piece of the mounting international pressure over the Duterte killings. For example, in February, US Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for the full exoneration and release of Philippines drug war critic Senator Leila De Lima, who had then been detained on bogus, politically-motivated charges for four years. Now, it's been nearly five years, and she is still behind bars.

In May, a blustering Duterte vowed he would not open up police records about the killings and warned drug dealers that: "If I am there, I will really kill you. I don't care if there's TV around. I will really kill you."

In June, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded its preliminary investigation and announced there was sufficient evidence to request authorization to proceed with an official investigation, which prompted the Duterte administration to say it would not cooperate with the ICC investigation.

In August, Duterte again resorted to bluster, this time taunting the ICC during his last State of the Nation address and daring the court to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country."

But while Duterte blustered, his Justice Department was attempting to blunt the ICC investigation by announcing it had finished a review of 52 drug war killing cases. It was a weak effort though: The cases represented only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 killings for which the Philippines National Police took responsibility. And it wasn't enough to stop the ICC, which announced in September that it would open an official investigation into the killings, setting the stage for summonses and possible arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan.

In October, once again moving to blunt the investigation, the Justice Department announced that 154 police could be liable for drug war misconduct and then announced it would review thousands of drug war killings. The government also invoked a provision of the ICC's Rome Treaty to suspend the investigation while its request to defer it got considered. The following month, the ICC temporarily did suspend its official investigation, as per the treaty. "The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote.

The year ended with human rights groups urging the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

Afghanistan has been the world's largest producer of opium since the 1990s, except for one year when the Taliban banned it the first time they held power. Opium never went away during the nearly two-decade long occupation by the US and NATO forces, and despite Taliban declarations to the contrary, it does not look like the trade is going anywhere.

When the Taliban completed their conquest of the country by seizing Kabul in August, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced," Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

By October, the price of opium was rising in local markets, having tripled since the Taliban took power as buyers anticipated an opium shortage because of the possible ban, but the ban has yet to materialize.

And a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report that same month made it clear why the ban is unlikely to materialize. In a country now in economic crisis because the foreign spending that propped up the previous regime has vanished, UNODC reported that the spring opium crop had generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, also noting that "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan."

The 2021 crop was some 6,800 tons, up 8% over 2020. Given the devastation of the Afghan economy and the unlikelihood that the Taliban will move against a crop that supports hundreds of thousands of Afghan families, it's entirely possible that the crop next spring will be even larger. As one farmer told the UNODC, "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium."

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

Sixteen years after then-President Felipe Calderon called out the military to combat rising violence, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence continued unabated in 2021, with more than 25,000 killed by the end of November.

Amidst the quotidian violence, some notable incidents stand out: in March, an attack on a police convoy in Mexico state left 13 officers dead; in May, presumed cartel gunmen ambushed Joel Ernesto Soto, director of the Sinaloa State Police, on Monday, killing him on the outskirts of Culiacan, the state capital; in June, gunmen in SUVs representing warring factions of the Gulf Cartel ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead; in August, masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. And on and on.

The west central state of Michoacan was particularly plagued by cartel violence in 2021, beginning with an April massacre by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla. In May, warring cartels blocked highways and burned vehiclesin Aguililla and neighboring municipalities.

As violent clashes and blockades continued through the year, residents of those municipalities took to the streets in September took to the streets in Septemberto excoriate the military for staying in its barracks and demand military intervention to fight the cartels. It didn't work. That same month, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel beheaded five men manning a checkpoint on the edge of Tepalcatepec designed to keep the drug gangs out. And in November, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel struck again, killing five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco as it pursued its war with local criminal gangs.

When it comes to US-Mexico cooperation in the war on drugs, 2021 was not a good year. It began with a huge diplomatic spat around the DEA's arrest in late 2020 of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was subsequently released after loud protests from Mexico, with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who personally accusing the DEA of making up the case against Cienfuegos. The US retorted with the Justice Department sharply rebuking Mexico for releasing a massive trove of evidence in the aborted drug trafficking case against Cienfuegos. Mexico then countered with a call for a DEA internal probe of the "fabricated" case.

Amidst the controversy, US investigations into the cartels were paralyzed as a law enacted in December requiring US officials to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom they view as largely corrupt, went into effect. In May, US and Mexican officials told Reuters the fight against Mexican drug trafficker had "ground to a halt"because of strained relations between the two counties.

But in October, there was a glimmer of hope for fans of continued anti-drug coordination between the two countries. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting came after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations.

4. Mexico Didn't Get Marijuana Legalization Done (Again)

Two years after the Mexican Supreme Court found marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and ordered the government to legalize it, the Senate finally passed a legalization bill in late 2020. The measure appeared to have momentum on its side, especially after the Chamber of Deputies approved it in March. Under the bill, people 18 and up would be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also created a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce.

The momentum appeared to hold through April, when the bill won two Senate committee votes in as many days but then hit a last-minute snag when it ran into opposition from unhappy with the revised version of the bill. With that, the bill was dead in the water until the congress returned to work in September.

Progress remained slow when lawmakers returned. It was only in November that a draft legalization bill was being circulated among senators, and while there were hints that a vote could happen in December, it didn't. Maybe in 2022.

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

In May, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved an anti-drugs campaign aimed at methamphetamines, and by mid-month police had killed 86 people and arrested 7,000. About the killings, police claimed they were only defending themselves in confrontations with drug traffickers, but family members and activists claimed they were executions. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also said the anti-drug campaign was part of an effort to target and intimidate it.

By the end of May, the toll had risen to 115, with more signs of extrajudicial killings and complaints from the BNP that some party workers had been killed during the campaign despite no connection to the drug trade. Authorities continued to claim that dead dealers had died in crossfire or in gunfights with police, but more families complained that their relatives had been arrested and then killed in custody. Most of the raids were carried out by the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), a controversial force that human rights groups have repeatedly accused of abuses, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

By June, the United Nations was responding, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein saying the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers must be "immediately halted" and the perpetrators brought to justice. "Every person has the right to life and they do not lose their human rights because they sell drugs," he added. At that time, the toll stood at 130 dead and 13,000 arrested.

After that, the campaign quieted down, but there is no sign of any Bangladeshi investigations into the killings and human rights abuses in in the late spring. The United States, however, was paying attention, and in December, imposed sanctions on the RAB for human rights abuses, abductions, and hundreds of extrajudicial killings going back to 2018, targeting not only drug dealers, but also opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

Canadian cities, provinces, and activists pressed the Liberal federal government on drug reform issues throughout the year, with important struggles being waged around drug decriminalization and the vanguard issue of a safe drug supply, as well as a noteworthy milestone reached in opioid maintenance therapy.

The Liberals started the year off by introducing a sweeping criminal justice reform billthat would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But critics who demanded deeper reforms scoffed that it was too little, too late.

In April, British Columbia showed what deeper reforms might look like when it formally requested permission from the federal government for provincial drug decriminalization. That same month, saying the Liberal's reform bill didn't go far enough, the New Democratic Party's health critic, MP Don Davies filed a federal drug decriminalization bill.

VANDU is the vanguard.
The city of Vancouver also sought an exemption from federal drug laws to enact decriminalization.The city recommended the decriminalization of one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine, 1.5 grams for amphetamines, two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, and three grams for cocaine. That did not sit well with the city's vanguard drug user activists, who harshly criticized the possession limits. At that point, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) announced that it is withdrawing from talks with the city, and it and other drug policy advocates complained that drug users were largely excluded from the decriminalization process and that police have too large a role.

The push for decriminalization continued throughout the year. In October, nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, urged Prime Minister Trudeau to decriminalize drug possession. And in November, Toronto moved toward decriminalizationas the city's top health officer, Dr. Eilenn de Villa, recommended that the board of health approve a request to the federal government to exempt city residents from criminal charges for small-time drug possession.

But even though decriminalization is in the Liberals' platform, the party under Justin Trudeau is not ready to go there yet. After calling elections in August, necessitating a restart on January criminal justice reform bill, and despite the rising clamor for decriminalization, the Liberal government refiled the bill anyway.

In the summer, an even more direct challenge to drug prohibition was underway as British Columbia moved toward providing a "safe supply" of illicit drugs to street users.A provincial policy directive in British Columbia requires all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths.

A Vancouver elected official and local activists got in on the action, too, when Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the Downtown Eastside in a bid to dramatize the need for a safe drug supply. They also wanted to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

The following month, they were at it again, handing out a "safe supply" of drugs to mark International Overdose Awareness Dayto show the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. And in September, DULF and VANDU formally asked the federal government to allow buyers' clubs for hard drugs. They requested a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs.

And in October, the province of Alberta expressed interest in a safe drug supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them.

Meanwhile, magic mushroom shops were sprouting in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in in the city even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said.

And last but not least, in September, a Vancouver clinic began providing take-home prescription heroin,a North American first. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days, but now the patients can take it home themselves.

7. Malta Becomes First European Union County to Legalize Marijuana -- Germany, Luxembourg Next?

The Maltese parliament approved a bill legalizing marijuanaon December 14, and President George Vella signed it into law four days later, making the country the first member state of the European Union to do so. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law does not envision commercial sales but allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500.

Either Germany or Luxembourg could be next. In October, the government of Luxembourg unveiled its marijuana legalization proposal, which would allow people 18 and over to grow up to four plants and possess up to three grams in public. Like Malta, the Luxembourg law does not envision commercial sales, but people would be allowed to buy and trade marijuana seeds for their home gardens. The proposal still has to be approved by parliament.

And in November, the three parties who have formed Germany's new governing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats -- agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The coalition is prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

8. Italy's Pending Referendum on Marijuana and Plant Psychedelics

Italy is on the cusp of a bold drug reform move. A number of pro-reform activist groups and political parties including the Radicals launched a ballot campaignin for a referendum to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and other psychoactive plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms. They faced several challenges: First, they had to obtain half a million valid voter signatures by month's end and have the signatures validated by the Supreme Court of Cassation, then the Constitutional Court would have to rule that the measure is in line with the constitution, and only then, President Sergio Mattarella would set the date for the referendum, which would ask whether that portion of the country's drug law criminalizing the cultivation of marijuana and psychoactive plants should be stricken.

In October, activists met their first challenge, turning in some 630,000 raw signatures. They were able to meet their signature-gathering goals so quickly because a pandemic-related policy change allowed them to collect signatures online instead of only in person.

Now, after having staved off an attempt by rightist parties to block it, the fate of the referendum is before the courts. If it wins final approval from the Constitutional Court, which will determine whether it conflicts with the constitution, international treaties, or the country's fiscal system, voters could go to the polls on the issue sometime between April 15 and June 15.

There's tons of cocaine around these days. (Pixabay)
9. Cocaine Production Has Doubled in the Course of a Decade

In June, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its annual estimate of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, the three perennial coca and cocaine producing nations. What is at first glance most striking in the current report is that for the first time, one nation -- Colombia -- produced more than 1,000 metric tons of cocaine.

But a closer reading of the report, which details coca cultivation and cocaine production going back to 2010, produces an even more striking finding: Over the decade that the report covers, the total amount of potential cocaine production in the three countries has more than doubled, from 914 tons in 2010 to a whopping 2,132 tons in 2020. In other words, Colombia alone produced more cocaine in 2020 than the whole region did a decade earlier.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does its own annual estimates of global potential cocaine production, and while they differ from those of the United Status, they outline the same massive expansion of cocaine. According to UNODC numbers compiled at Statista, beginning in 2004, 1,000 tons or more (slightly more in most years) was produced every year except 2012, 2013, and 2014, when it dipped down into the 900s. That series, which ended in 2019, has cocaine production topping out at 1,976 tons in 2017.

In the most recent edition of the UNODC's World Drug Report, that organization also reported that cocaine production had doubled, but put the period of doubling from 2014 to 2019, when it registered 1,784 tons.

Take your pick of the numbers. Either way, there is a lot more cocaine being produced these days than just a decade ago, tons more of it.

10. World Health Organization Declines Move Toward Labeling Kratom a Controlled Substance

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) recommended in November that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review.

WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine [the active alkaloid in kratom] has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

Washington Post Endorses Safe Injection Sites, NIDA to Look at Ibogaine Derivative, More... (12/8/21)

The Canadian federal government has again filed a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses, WHO declines to recommend a "critical review" of kratom, and more.

kratom (Creative Commons)
Kratom

WHO Declines to Recommend "Critical Review" of Kratom. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) has recommended that kratom not be subjected to a "critical review," which could have been a first step toward labeling it a controlled substance subject to international and national controls. The ECDD did a "pre-review" of kratom at its October meeting and found there was inadequate evidence to recommend a critical review. WHO had begun the "pre-review" based in part on a "country-level report indicating the potential for abuse, dependence and harm to public health from" the chemical compounds in kratom. But it found concerns about fatalities associated with kratom to be overstated: "Kratom can produce serious toxicity in people who use high doses, but the number of cases is probably low as a proportion of the total number of people who use kratom," WHO stated in the document. "Although mitragynine has been analytically confirmed in a number of deaths, almost all involve use of other substances, so the degree to which kratom use has been a contributory factor to fatalities is unclear."

Drug Treatment

US Government Will Test Ibogaine Derivative as An Addiction Treatment. A private startup will work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test its patented version of ibogaine as a potential treatment for drug addiction. "The therapeutic potential for ibogaine is huge," says David Olson, cofounder of the company, Delix. "There are some indications that a single dose can keep people with opioid use disorder drug-free for months." Derived from the iboga shrub in West Africa, ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that has been found to help people get off heroin and other opioids, but the Delix version is non-psychedelic and does not cause cardiac arrhythmias.

"We started with the ibogaine structure because of its fantastic efficacy, and we whittled it down to its essential feature," says Olson, describing how he modified ibogaine to remove the psychedelic-inducing properties. "By cutting it down, we got rid of these undesired side effects." NIDA's Addiction Treatment Discovery Program is set to contract a lab to do preclinical tests on the Delix compouond. If the preclinical data finds the drug could be a safe and effective potential addiction treatment, the company will apply to the Food & Drug Administration to launch human clinical trials.

Harm Reduction

Washington Post Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "Tough-on-drugs policies have failed. Supervised injection sites will save lives," the Washington Post editorial board has come down firmly in favor of the harm reduction intervention. Noting that New York City has just become the first in the US to officially allow safe injection sites, the Post notes that "this strategy may seem counterintuitive as US drug overdose deaths reach unprecedented levels. In fact, a smart and compassionate approach, which other countries have already tested, will save lives where tough-on-drug policies have failed."

After examining New York City's approach and noting questions about the legality of allowing supervised drug use, the Post editorial concludes thusly: "There is no magic bullet to combat drug addiction, but one thing is clear: A trained person on-site to respond to someone in the throes of an overdose can save that life. More US cities should embrace the opportunity to prevent needless death; the Biden administration should stay out of the way; and Congress should change federal law to clarify that local governments can authorize this lifesaving work. No more people should have to die before attitudes finally change."

International

Canada's Liberal Government Files Bill to Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses. The federal government filed a bill in the House of Commons Tuesday that would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, as well as some gun-related offenses. The bill would return sentencing discretion to judges and would also allow for the greater use of probationary sentences, as well as house arrest, counseling, or drug treatment. The bill revives legislation that was introduced in February but was not approved before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election in August. Mandatory minimum sentences "simply did not work," Justice Minister David Lametti said as the bill was rolled out.

NJ AG Extends Moratorium on Minor Marijuana Prosecutions, New Plant Medicine Coalition Eyes Congress, More... (1/26/21)

Delaware's auditor says marijuana legalization is a no-brainer, a second medical marijuana bill is filed in Kentucky, Bay State pot shop owners drop a lawsuit after getting their fingers burned, and more.

Peyote. A new activist group, the Plant Medicine Coalition, is eyeing psychedelic reform at the federal level. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

Delaware State Auditor Issues Report Recommending Marijuana Legalization. The Office of the Auditor of Accounts has issued an analysis that finds legalization would yield $43 million in marijuana tax revenues and create 1,400 new jobs in the state in the next five years. "Legalization done right in our view would allow Delaware to establish a policy framework to suppress the black market, curb usage through regulation for minors and collect revenue on a market demand that seems only to be increasing," the report concludes. "It would also provide a new revenue stream and new potential for economic growth. Additionally, it would eliminate arrests and keep people out of prison. Each year that we fail to capitalize on this opportunity means more money could flow to neighboring states instead of being invested here. It is time Delaware pursue legalizing marijuana."

Massachusetts Pot Shop Association Drops Lawsuit Over New Delivery Rules After Backlash from Members, Social Equity Advocates. The Commonwealth Dispensary Association announced Monday that it is dropping a lawsuit aimed at blocking new rules permitting home deliveries. The group has faced an exodus of members and criticism from social equity advocates over its challenge to the new rules, which will create new marijuana delivery and courier licenses. Those licenses will be available only to participants in the Cannabis Control Commission's social equity program.

New Jersey Attorney General Extends Order Halting Marijuana Prosecutions. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) has extended his order halting prosecutions for small-time marijuana possession offenses until the end of March. The move comes as a pair of bills that would launch a legal marijuana industry and decriminalize pot possession sit on Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) desk. "As we continue to await anticipated final action on the pending cannabis legalization and marijuana decriminalization legislation, I am instructing all New Jersey municipal, county, and state prosecutors to seek an additional adjournment, until at least March 31, 2021, of any juvenile or adult case involving any of the following charges, alone or in combination with each other, where there are no other pending charges," he said in a letter last Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Sees Second Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Steve West (R-District 27) has filed Senate Bill 92, which would allow a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. Earlier, Rep. Jason Nemes (R-33rd District) refiled House Bill 136, a separate medical marijuana legalization proposal that stalled in the legislative last year.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Reform Movement Takes Aim at Congress. After seeing success at the state and local level in recent years, the psychedelic reform movement is setting its sights on Congress. A newly formed Plant Medicine Coalition, headed by Melissa Lavasani, who led the DC campaign to effectively decriminalize plant-based psychedelics, will be prodding lawmakers to make federal funds available for research into the therapeutic potential of such substances.

AZ Poll Has MJ Init With Bare Majority, White House Releases Annual Drug Certification List, More... (9/16/20)

A new poll has the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, the natural psychedelic decriminalization movement comes to Ann Arbor, and more.

President Trump released the annual certification of other countries' compliance with US drug policies on Wednesday. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Initiative with Bare Majority. A new Monmouth University poll has the Prop 207 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 51% of registered voters, with 41% opposed, 6% undecided, and 3% who said they would not vote on the issue. That is an uncomfortably close margin, but at this late stage also a hopeful one. Traditionally an initiative campaign hopes to begin a campaign with 60% support, expecting to lose some voters as election day approaches and details of the initiative get debated.

Foreign Policy

White Houses Releases Annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2021. In an annual exercise in which the US grades other countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives, President Trump on Wednesday named 20 countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries." They are: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Although Venezuela is not a drug producing country, Trump named "the Venezuelan dictator, Nicholas Maduro" as "the most complicit kingpin in the Hemisphere." He also called on Colombia to "move forward with aerial spraying" of coca crops and Peru "to resume eradication operations in the country"s high yield coca producing regions, including the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers." He also warned Mexico that it must step up anti-drug operations if it wants to avoid being considered a country that "failed demonstrably to uphold its international drug control commitments."

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council to Take Up Natural Psychedelic Lowest Priority Ordinance. The Ann Arbor city council will take up a ordinance that would make enforcement of laws against plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs the lowest law enforcement priority next Monday. Those drugs include psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, mescaline, ibogaine and others. The move is being pushed by an activist group, Decriminalize Ann Arbor.

International

Brazil Fast-Tracks Legislation to Legalize Cultivation of Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian legislature is moving a bill that would legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana and hemp. While efforts have been underway since 2015 to revise the country's marijuana laws, this new version of the legislation calls for cultivation, processing, research, storage, transportation, production, industrialization, commercialization, import and export of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp be legalized.

House Spending Bills Include MedMJ Protections, DC Psychedelic Initiative Hands in Signatures, More... (7/7/20)

Mexico once again looks set to move forward with medical marijuana, House funding bills include protections for medical marijuana -- but not recreational marijuana -- and more.

Decriminalize DC has handed in signatures for its natural psychedelic lowest priority initiative. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

House Spending Bills Include Medical Marijuana Protections for States, Banking Systems, and Universities. The Democratically-controlled House unveiled its versions of funding bills this week, and they include provisions that would protect banking businesses and universities doing business with medical marijuana operations, as well as the states that oversee medical marijuana programs. The protections do not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Psychedelics

DC Activists Submit Signatures for Natural Psychedelic Initiative. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will make it official in 30 days.

International

Mexico to Implement Medical Marijuana Law as Marijuana Legalization Delayed. The Mexican Secretariat of Health has announced that it plans to finalize medical marijuana regulations within the next two months. Mexican law was amended to allow for medical marijuana in 2017, but the Health Secretariat has so far failed to issue them. Now it has until September 9 to issue them. The move comes as broader marijuana legalization has been delayed by political bickering and coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

NJ Supreme Court Protects MedMJ Patients' Employment Rights, SD Hemp Bill Deal, More... (3/10/20)

The New Jersey Supreme Court strikes a blow for medical marijuana patients' employment rights, South Dakota's governor and legislature reach a deal to legalize hemp, and more. 

Mississippi lawmakers couldn't agree on whether to ban or regulate kratom, so they did nothing. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi House Passes Medical Marijuana Measure as Alternative to Initiative Already on November Ballot. In a bid to head-off a medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the November ballot, the House on Monday approved HCR 39 as an alternative for voters. It's the brainchild of Rep. Trey Lamar (R), who claimed people who signed initiative petitions were duped and accused the initiative campaign of "taking advantage" of the state law allowing for citizen-sponsored initiatives. The measure now heads for the Senate.

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules Workers Can't Be Fired for Failing Drug Test Because of Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that barring coming to work stoned, medical marijuana patients remain protected by the state's anti-discrimination and cannot be fired for testing positive for marijuana. The high court ruling came just days after an appellate court reached the same conclusion. "This protects hundreds, if not thousands of employees" who’ve faced the "stigma of marijuana," said Jamison Mark, a lawyer for the plaintiff.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers, Governor Reach Deal on Hemp Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has reached an agreement with lawmakers that should result in the quick passage of a bill legalizing hemp production in the state. Noem had been demanding $3.5 million to ensure the program started "responsibly," and now lawmakers have agreed to do that. The House has already passed a bill, and now the Senate has gutted and passed its version of a hemp bill, so the agreement can be ratified in conference committee.

Kratom

Mississippi Legislature Decides to Do Nothing About Kratom. Kratom will remain legal and unregulated in the state after legislators killed bills to regulate it and bills to prohibit it. The bills died Tuesday when committees did not consider them before the first big deadline of the legislative session.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Chronicle AM: Liz Warren Releases Marijuana Plan, WVA Bill Would Hike Meth Sentences, More... (2/24/20)

Elizabeth Warren rolls out a plan for a just and equitable marijuana industry, a Hawaii bill would protect medical marijuana patients from being fired or not hired because of positive drug tests, and more.

Elizabeth Warren. (Tim PierceCreative Commons) https://www.flickr.com/photos/qwrrty/815200
Marijuana Policy

Elizabeth Warren Releases Plan for Just and Equitable Marijuana Industry. Democratic presidential contender and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released her plan for a Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry. The plan calls for passage of a marijuana legalization bill similar to the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, the appointment of law enforcement agency heads who support legalization, the expungement of past marijuana convictions, and protections for immigrants, among other provisions.  

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Bill to Protect Patients' Employment Rights Advances. A bill that would protect medical marijuana cardholders from being fired or not hired because they tested positive for marijuana is advancing in the legislature. Instead of a drug test, cardholders could undergo a "fit-for-duty" test that measure impairment, not metabolites. The bill excludes law enforcement and prison guards, other public safety workers, and health care workers who administer drugs to patients. The state Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee and the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill Friday with some amendments. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Kratom

Missouri House Passes Kratom Regulation Bill. The House has approved House Bill 2061, which would require more regulation for kratom products. The bill creates the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which orders "sellers of kratom products to ensure that their products are not adulterated with dangerous substances." The bill would also ban the sale of kratom to people under 18. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Methamphetamine

West Virginia Bill Would Increase Meth Sentences. The Senate last Thursday approved Senate Bill 502, which would increase sentences for methamphetamine offenses to make them as severe as those for narcotics offenses. Under current law, meth possession can net up to five years, but under this bill that would rise to 15 years. Sponsor Sen. Sen. William Ihlenfeld (D), a former U.S. attorney, said that law enforcement and prosecutors told him that increasing sentences would have "a positive effect" in deterring meth-related crime. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is already being taken up in the House.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Moves, MD Kratom Ban Bill Moves, More... (2/3/20)

Vermont is moving toward full, commercial marijuana legalization, Maryland is moving toward banning -- not regulating -- kratom, and more.

A Maryland bill would make kratom a Schedule I drug. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Moves. The House Committee on Government Operations approved 11-0 a bill that would legalize commercial marijuana sales in the state. SB 54 now heads for a Tuesday hearing at the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill was already approved by the Senate last year, but with changes made in the House, would likely require a conference committee to come to agreement if it passes the House.

Kratom

Maryland Bill Would Make Kratom a Schedule I Dangerous Drug. Delegate Ken Kerr (D-Frederick) has filed HB 283, which would criminalize the use, possession, and distribution of kratom by making it a Schedule I controlled substance under state law. It gets a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A companion bill, SB 147, was reported out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings with a favorable vote Monday. Kratom is banned in six states and four cities in the United States but remains unrestricted under federal law. Kratom advocates call for regulation instead of prohibition, pointing to a model Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which has been passed in four states.

Mexican City Rocked by Violence After Arrest of Cartel Leader. For the second time in recent months, the arrest of a leading cartel figure has sparked widespread violence in a Mexican city. When police detained a senior leader of the Los Viagras cartel, Luis Felipe "El Vocho" last Friday, armed men blocked roads and burned cars in the western city of Uruapan, and there were reports of multiple shootouts. Los Viagras have been involved in a gang war with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel over territory in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan.

Chronicle AM: NM & NH Legalization Bills Advance, Mexico Mayhem, Psychedelic Reform, More... (1/28/20)

It's getting busy, busy, busy as state legislatures get back into session; Philadelphia's DA ends prosecutions for buprenorphine possession, it was a bloody weekend in Mexico's drug wars, and more.

Marijuana is on the move at statehouses around the country. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Protect Workers from Dismissal for Off-Duty Marijuana Use. Lawmakers in Denver are considering a measure that would protect workers who use marijuana on their own time from being fired for it. House Bill 20-1089 would bar employers from firing workers "for the employee's lawful off-duty activities that are lawful under state law."

Indiana GOP Lawmakers Target Indianapolis Prosecutor's Decision to Not Prosecute Small-Time Marijuana Cases. A GOP-backed bill that seeks to effectively overturn Marion County (Indianapolis) Prosecutor Ryan Mears' recently announced policy of not pressing charges for small-time pot possession is moving in the Senate. The bill would let the attorney general's office step in if a county prosecutor announced a policy of not enforcing a law or was found to have "categorically elected" to not do so. The measure, SB 436, was approved by the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Affairs Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to approve SB 115, the Cannabis Regulation Act. The bill would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, as well as emphasizing social equity and local entrepreneurship. There would be a 9% excise tax on sales. The measure now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Meanwhile, the House version of the bill, HB 160 is headed for the Consumer & Public Affairs Committee and then the Judiciary Committee. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is pushing for the bill to be passed during the current 30-day legislative session.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 13-7 Tuesday to recommend that a bill legalizing the possession and home cultivation of small quantities of marijuana "ought to pass." The measure is HB 1648. It comes after a full marijuana legalization bill failed last year.

Kratom

Missouri Kratom Regulation Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. The House General Laws Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved HB 2061, the Kratom Consumer Protection Act. The bill would deal with the substance by regulating it, not prohibiting it. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Psychedelics

Oakland Activists Unveil Plan to Legalize Sale of Psychedelics This Year. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the national movement to decriminalize natural psychedelics, has announced a push to legalize the cultivation and sale of those hallucinogens in the city. The city already approved the decriminalization of such substances last year.

Santa Cruz City Council Approves Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure. The city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a resolution that would effectively decriminalize "entheogenic plants and fungi" such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ibogaine, and ayahuasca. The resolution says the city shouldn't spend money to investigate psychedelic use by adults 21 and over and that such possession and use "should be considered among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the City of Santa Cruz."

Criminal Justice

Philadelphia DA Will No Longer Prosecute Buprenorphine Possession. District Attorney Larry Krasner has announced that his office will no longer prosecute people for possessing buprenorphine, an opioid-based addiction treatment drug. Krasner said the new policy is aimed at reducing overdoses. Krasner's office has already been dropping possession charges for people who can show they're in a treatment program.

International

Bloody Weekend in Central Mexico Cartel Wars. At least 48 people were killed between Friday and Sunday in prohibition-related violence in the central state of Guanajuato, including a six-year-old. In one incident, five people were killed at a house in Leon; in another, eight people were shot and killed at a taco stand in Celaya; in yet another, nine people were executed at a highway service plaza in Villagran. Among the dead were one soldier and one police officer.

New Zealand Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in September. The country has set September 19 as the date for its next general election. On the ballot will be a simple question: "Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill?" A final draft of the bill is expected to be released soon, but the government has already published a draft bill. If more than 50% of ballots are in favor of the draft legalization bill, the incoming government would be responsible for formally introducing a bill to Parliament. The first draft of the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill is available here.

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