2020

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NM Legalization Bills Filed, PA Bill Would Restrict Buprenorphine, More... (2/2/21)

Kansas's governor wants medical marijuana approved to pay for Medicaid expansion, the Mississippi Supreme Court has set a date for oral arguments in a case challenging that state's voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have filed marijuana legalization bills this week. Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D) has filed SB 13, which would have private enterprise control the sale of marijuana and would tax it at 21%. Meanwhile, Senator Cliff Pirtle (R) has filed SB 288, which would also provide for the regulated, taxed sale and manufacturing of retail cannabis. The retail tax would be shared among municipalities, counties, and state governments for law enforcement and behavioral health and substance abuse programs. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is calling for marijuana legalization to pass this year.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor Pushes for Medical Marijuana to Pay for Medicaid Expansion. Governor Laura Kelly (D) called Monday for lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana as a means of paying for the expansion of Medicaid in the state. The move comes after Republican legislators blocked Medicaid expansion last year. You have heard many of the comments coming from the opposition have been we can't afford it," Kelly said. "We have just designed a bill that pays for itself and more. There's never been any good argument against expansion other than we can't afford it."

Mississippi Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Arguments in Medical Cannabis Case. The state Supreme Court has set a date of April 14 to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate the will of the voters because the state's initiative law is outdated. Under the state constitution, initiative petitioners must collect an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts, but the state now has only four congressional districts, which, Butler argues, makes the initiative vote invalid.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Bill Would Restrict Buprenorphine Access. State Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Crawford County) has refiled Senate Bill 675, which would impose new requirements on buprenorphine prescribers and create new barriers for buprenorphine patients. Buprenorphine is used to maintain opioid-dependent patients. Brooks' bill would require doctors prescribing buprenorphine to pay a fee of up to $500 to get a license from the state. It would also bar opioid use disorder (OUD) patients from being prescribed the drug unless they are enrolled in drug treatment programs licensed by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Brooks introduced the same bill in 2019, where it passed the Republican-controlled Senate only to die in the House.

OR Decrim In Effect, Senate Leadership Marijuana Legalization Plan, More...(2/1/21)

Oregon becomes the first state to implement drug decriminalization, Virginia marijuana legalization bills are moving, a New Jersey bill could help break the marijuana legalization impasse there, and more.

Drug arrests are expected to drop by more than 90% after decriminalization went into effect today in Oregon. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Leadership Coalition Announces Intention to Release Comprehensive Legislation to End Marijuana Prohibition. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday (D-NY) issued a joint statement declaring their intention to release a draft discussion bill outlining how best to legalize and regulate cannabis and cannabis commerce in a post-prohibition America. "The War on Drugs has been a war on people -- particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs," the senators said. "We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority. In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation."

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) filed a marijuana legalization bill, HF 600, on Monday. "This bill is ready to go from the Minnesota House," Winkler said at a press conference. "Our priorities are to end the black market" and provide a "safe, regulated marketplace." The bill includes social equity components, expungement of marijuana arrest records, on-site consumption, delivery services, and a ban on local prohibitions. It also allows for the home cultivation of up to eight plants, up to four of which can be flowering.

New Jersey Assembly Committee Approves Bill on Teen Pot Possession. The Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee last Friday approved A5342, which sets penalties for minors caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Disagreements between Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and key legislators on the issue have delayed final passage of marijuana decriminalization and legalization implementation bills that passed weeks ago. It is hoped that once the bill passes, those measures can now get the governor's signature.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bills Moving Fast as Deadline Approaches. The House version of the marijuana legalization bill, HB 2312, passed out of the House Courts of Justice Committee on Sunday and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. If approved there, it would then head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approved the Senate version of the bill, SB 1406. It now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and, if passed there, to a Senate floor vote. Since last Friday, the bills have passed through a total of five committees and subcommittees.

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Goes into Effect. A drug decriminalization initiative approved by voters in November went into effect effective Monday. Now, possession of small amounts of illicit substances is punishable only as a citation with a fine. The fine can be avoided by undergoing a chemical dependency assessment. Possession of less than a gram of MDMA or heroin, two grams of meth or cocaine, 12 grams of psilocybin, and 40 units of LSD, methadone, or oxycodone, is now decriminalized. The measure also includes funding for increased drug treatment access.

CA "Contingency Management" Meth Treatment Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess, More... (1/11/21)

Voter-approved marijuana legalization initiatives are running into problems with elected officials, federal prosecutors say the Honduran president was taking big bribes from drug traffickers, and more.

Can you pay people not to take meth? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legislature Refuses to Fund Implementation of Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. The state's Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to refuse to allocate funds to the Department of Revenue to implement the voter-approved marijuana legalization plan. The department had sought $1.35 million to hire 20 staffers and cover administrative costs of getting the program up and running. Now, that means implementation of a legal marijuana market could be delayed.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Legislation Hits Snag. Bills to decriminalize marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated legal marijuana industry are in limbo after the governor and legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on how to punish underage pot smokers. A floor vote set for today has been postponed indefinitely until Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Democratic leaders can reach some sort of agreement.

South Dakota Governor Uses Executive Order to Challenge Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) issued an executive order last Friday okaying a legal challenge to the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. She argued that the initiative "was not proper and violated the procedures set forth in the South Dakota Constitution." Her order also said Highway Patrol Superintendent Col Rick Miller, who earlier sued to block the initiative from being implemented, could do so because he is acting on her behalf.  At the same time, Noem's attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, is defending the initiative in court.  

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pre-Filed. Once again, state Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort County) has filed a medical marijuana bill, S 150, the Compassionate Care Act. Davis has filed similar bills for nearly a decade. This year could be the charm, he predicted. "The bill has been thoroughly vetted," said Davis. "It’s been looked at by the SC Medical Association. It has been looked at by law enforcement. We have a very good tightly regulated medical cannabis bill, and what it seeks to do is empower physicians."

Drug Treatment

California Lawmakers Seek to Expand Contingency Management Treatment for Meth. Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed legislation, Senate Bill 110 that seeks to expand contingency management as a treatment for methamphetamine addiction. Contingency management is controversial becomes it uses cash payments as incentives for users to stay off the drug, but it has been shown to be a proven treatment for meth and cocaine addiction. "We need to embrace this proven, effective approach to meth addiction, make it clearly legal and start reimbursing for it, so we can address this health epidemic," he said.

International

Amsterdam Mayor Wants to Ban Foreigners from Cannabis Coffee Shops. Mayor Femke Halsema has proposed allowing only Dutch residents to enter the city's famous cannabis coffee shops in what she said was an effort to blunt the flow of hard drugs and organized crime linked to the marijuana business. "The cannabis market is too big and overheated," Halsema said in emailed comments. "I want to shrink the cannabis market and make it manageable. The residence condition is far-reaching, but I see no alternative." She submitted her plan to the city council last Friday, setting the stage for an energetic political debate.

Honduran President Accused of Helping Drug Traffickers in US Court Filings. Federal prosecutors in New York City last week laid out evidence implicating Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in drug trafficking. They accused him of using Honduran armed forces to protect large cocaine shipments in return for bribes. Prosecutors quoted Hernandez as saying he wanted the DEA to think Honduras was fighting drugs while he was instead going to "shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos." Honduras has received hundreds of millions of dollars in US anti-drug aid.

 

 



DC Decriminalizes Drug Paraphernalia; Pot Possession, Cultivation Now Legal in MT, More... (1/4/21)

Illinois has expunged nearly half a million marijuana arrests years ahead of schedule, a New Mexico court rules that people under correctional control can use medical marijuana, and more.

Drug parapernalia is now decriminalized in the District of Columbia. (Creeative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Expunges Nearly Half a Million Marijuana Arrest Records Four Years Ahead of Schedule. State officials announced last Thursday that state police had expunged some 492,129 marijuana possession arrest records, four years ahead of a deadline set by the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized marijuana in the state. Governor J.B. Pritzker also announce another 9,219 pardons for marijuana possession, bringing the total number of pot pardon's he has issued to 20,000. "Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color," Pritzker said. "We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward."

Montana Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of New Year's Day, the marijuana-legalizing Initiative 190 has gone into effect. It is now legal for adults 21 and over to use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants for personal use. The state is now working on setting up a system of licensed, taxed, and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Court Rules Inmates Can Have Access to Medical Marijuana. A district court judge in Albuquerque ruled last week that inmates at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center who are qualifying medical marijuana patients can use the substance while under correctional control. It is unclear whether other state and local jails would voluntarily comply with the ruling, but it has set a precedent for other state courts. The ruling came in the case of man serving a 90-day house arrest sentence.

Asset Forfeiture

Institute for Justice Issues New Edition of Asset Forfeiture Report. The libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice has released the third edition of its report on asset forfeiture laws in the states, "Policing for Profit." The report details each state's laws around civil asset forfeiture. The Institute handed out only one "A" grade in this edition. That went to New Mexico, which banned civil asset forfeiture in 2015.

Paraphernalia

Washington, DC, Decriminalizes the Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law B54, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Act of 2019. The bill decriminalizes the possession of drug paraphernalia and will also allow harm reduction and community groups to distribute harm reduction supplies that were previously criminalized under DC law.

International

Colombia Says It Manually Eradicated the Most Coca in a Decade. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announced last week that Colombia had eradicated 325,000 acres of coca crops, the highest figure in a decade. Eradicators had uprooted about 240,000 acres in 2019 and 150,000 acres in 2018. "These 130,000 hectares eradicated translate into an affectation of about US$301 million to drug trafficking organizations, if the average price of a hectare of coca is taken as a reference, and represents about 115,440 kilos of cocaine that were no longer produced," Trujillo said as he watched an eradication operation in the company of US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg. The Trump administration has pressed Colombia to do more to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production.

Year from Hell II: The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

As we wave an eager goodbye to 2020 in the rearview mirror, it's time to assess the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to drug policy and drug reform at the international level. As in other realms of human behavior, the coronavirus pandemic is inescapable, but even as the pandemic raged, drug policy developments kept happening. Here are the biggest world drug policy stories of 2020:

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the World of Drugs

As with virtually every other aspect of human affairs, the year's deadly coronavirus pandemic impacted the world of drugs, from disruptions of drug markets and anti-drug policing to drug trafficking groups as social distancing enforcers, fallout on efforts to reform drug policies, and beyond.

Early on, there were reports that Mexican drug traffickers were raising wholesale meth and fentanyl prices because of disruptions in the precursor chemical supply, and that pandemic lockdowns had disrupted the cocaine supply chain, driving down the farmgate price for coca and endangering the livelihoods of nearly a quarter-million coca-producing families in the Andes.

But some things couldn't be disrupted: Just a day after closing its famous cannabis cafes in response to the pandemic, the Dutch reopened them as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. In France, the price of hashish nearly doubled in a week as increased border controls due to the pandemic put the squeeze on. By midyear, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported pandemic-related border closures, lockdowns, and flight shortages were making drugs more expensive and difficult to obtain around the world.

Those same drug organizations struggling with the pandemic took on roles normally assumed by government in some countries. In Mexico, the Gulf Cartel and Los Viagras handed out food to poor families in Tamaulipas and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel did the same in Guadalajara, spurring President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to acknowledge their efforts and implore them to knock it off and just stay home. Instead, the Sinaloa Cartel locked down the city of Culiacan, its home base, and patrolled the streets in heavily armed convoys to enforce a curfew. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro drug gangs enforced social distancing and handed out cash and medications as the government of rightist authoritarian populist President Jair Bolsonaro was largely absent and in denial about coronavirus. In Colombia, with the government missing in action, drug gangs and armed groups enforced lockdown orders, even killing people who didn't comply, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some countries took positive steps to ameliorate these effects of the pandemic. In Great Britain, the government agreed to hand out methadone without a prescription to those already receiving it and shortly later began allowing monthly buprenorphine injections for heroin addicts. In Canada, British Columbia early on moved to increase a "safe supply" of drugs that registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. The province followed that move by lowering barriers to prescription medications, increasing the supply of opiate maintenance drugs and even dispensing some of them via a unique vending machine. By providing a safe supply of legal drug alternatives, the province hoped to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Not everybody let a measly little coronavirus get in the way of their drug war. In Colombia, President Ivan Duque ordered a nationwide lockdown in March, but exempted coca eradicators and launched a major offensive against small producer coca farms. And Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte let his drug war rage on in the midst of the pandemic despite imposing a national partial lockdown in March. At least nine people were killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." In September Human Rights Watch noted the pace of acknowledged drug war killings by police had doubled. Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

The coronavirus also wreaked havoc with drug reform initiative signature gathering campaigns in the US, preventing several marijuana legalization and one drug decriminalization initiative from qualifying for the ballot this year, and played a role in delaying marijuana legalization in Mexico when its Senate shut down in the spring because of the pandemic.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Votes to Remove Cannabis from Most Restrictive Drug Schedule

In an historic move on December 2, the 53 member states of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN body charged with setting drug policy, voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the United Nations' drug classification system as they met in Vienna. Cannabis was both a Schedule I and a Schedule IV drug under the international drug treaties. Schedule I includes "substances that are highly addictive and liable to abuse or easily convertible into those (e.g. opium, heroin, cocaine, coca leaf"), while Schedule IV includes Schedule I drugs with "particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic value" (e.g. heroin, carfentanil).

The vote removing cannabis from Schedule IV means the global anti-drug bureaucracy now recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis and no longer considers it "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects." With medical marijuana legal in dozens of countries in; one form or another, the ever-increasing mountain of evidence supporting the therapeutic uses of cannabis, not to mention outright legalization in 15 American states Canada and Uruguay, with Mexico about to come on board, this decision by the CND is long past due, but nonetheless welcome.

The UN Common Position on Drug Policy Gains Traction

Change at the United Nations comes at a glacial pace, but it can and does come. The shift away from punitive, law enforcement-heavy approaches to drug use has been building for years and picked up steam at the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016 and advanced further with the adoption of the UN Common Position on Drug Policy in 2018.

That approach, which seeks to get all the UN agencies involved in drug policy, public health, and human rights on the same page, explicitly calls for the decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. Among the position's directions for action is the following: "To promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, and to promote the principle of proportionality, to address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes, to support implementation of effective criminal justice responses that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial, and to support practical measures to prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and torture."

At least 30 countries have instituted some form of drug decriminalization (although in many it is only marijuana that has been decriminalized), and the Common Position is providing breathing space for others that may be inclined to take the plunge. In 2020, the US state of Oregon broke ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the use and possession of all drugs, and just a few hundred miles to the north and across the Canadian border, the city council of Vancouver, British Columbia, voted to decriminalize and seek an exemption from the federal government to do so.

Decriminalization could also be around the corner in Norway, where a proposal first bruited in 2017 could pass some time next year. And Ghana (see below) has also effectively decriminalized drug use and possession. With a more consistent message from the UN, which the Common Position represents, we can expect further progress on this front in years to come.

The Philippine Drug War Faces Increasing Pressure

Four years into the government of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines remains embroiled in a bloody war on drug users and sellers, but is facing increasing pressure from human rights groups, domestic critics, and international institutions over mass killings that are believed to now total more than 30,000. In a June report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill."

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability. Two months later, during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet called for an end to the policies and rhetoric that led to abuse and killings. She acknowledged some small steps taken by the Duterte government but warned "there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

In October, Duterte said he accepted responsibility for drug war killings, but only those acknowledged by police, not the thousands committed by shadowy vigilantes. That same month, global civil society groups including StoptheDrugWar.org (the publisher of this newsletter) and Movement for a Free Philippines launched the Stand for Human Rights and Democracy campaign to keep the pressure on. The campaign launch included an "Autocrat Fair" demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC; and an accompanying video, "Trump and Duterte -- Allies in Violence." An event organized by StoptheDrugWar.org on December 22 discussed the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The pressure on the Duterte government only heightened at year's end, when the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor issued a report saying there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in Duterte's drug war. That leaves one stage left in the Office's "preliminary examination," admissibility. For the ICC to have jurisdiction, prosecutors must show that the Philippine justice system lacks a legitimate or capable response to the killings. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021, when her term ends, over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affects how cases are prioritized, and may affect whether the new prosecutor initiates cases.

Even as Drug War Violence Continues Unabated, Mexico is About to Become the World's Largest Legal Marijuana Market

There is no end in sight to Mexico's bloody drug wars. The year began with the announcement that 2019 was the most murderous year in recent history, with some 35,588 recorded homicide victims. As the year ends, 2020 appears on track to equal or surpass that toll, with the country registering about 3,000 murders a month.

As mass killing after mass killing took place throughout the year, the number of dead wasn't the only thing rising either. In January, the government announced that the number of "disappeared" people in the country was around 61,000, up from an estimated 40,000 in mid-2019. By July, the number of those officially missing had risen to 73,201 as prohibition-related violence ripped through the country.

While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came into office in 2018 critical of the role of the military in the drug war, and with a plan to reduce crime and violence by focusing on their root causes, in May he renewed orders keeping the military on the streets for another four years. "His security strategy is not working and that is why he has had to order with this decree for the Armed Forces to support public security," security specialist Juan Ibarrola told the Milenio newspaper at the time.

The following month, Lopez Obrador signaled that perhaps it wasn't security strategy that wasn't working, but drug prohibition. He released a plan to decriminalize drugs, and urged the US to do the same. Mexico's current "prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable," the plan said.

As the drug war chugged along, US-Mexico relations took a hit in October, when DEA agents arrested Mexico's former defense minister in Los Angeles on drug and money laundering charges. Loud protests from Mexico eventually resulted in his release, but in December, Mexican lawmakers chafing at US heavy-handedness voted to restrict the activities of foreign agents in the country.

Even as the drug wars rage, there is significant progress on another drug policy track. As the year comes to an end, Mexico is one vote in the Chamber of Deputies away from legalizing marijuana. The government-supported legalization bill, crafted in response to a ruling from the country's Supreme Court that said marijuana prohibition must end, passed the Senate in November after delays caused by political infighting and shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Under an order from the Supreme Court, the Congress had until December 15 to act, but the Chamber of Deputies delayed the vote, saying it needed more time to study the bill, and the Supreme Court agreed to grant one more extension, giving the Chamber of Deputies until the end of the next legislative session in April to get the job done. President Lopez Obrador downplayed the delay, calling it a matter of "form not substance." And Mexico is waiting to inhale.

Bolivia display at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Bolivia Returns the Coca-Friendly Movement to Socialism to Power

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice, was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November 2019. The self-appointed interim right-wing government worked to suppress Morales' Movement to Socialism and harassed harassed coca producers in the name of the war on drugs.

The coca growers stood firm, however mobilizing to blockade roads to protest delays in promised elections. When those elections finally came in October, voters returned the MAS to power, electing Morales' former economics minister, Luis Arce, without the need for a runoff election.

Arce said that while he has no problem with the United States, he will maintain Morales' coca policy, under which legal coca cultivation was allowed, and that he wants to expand the country's industrial coca production.

Colombia, Coca, Cocaine, and Conflict

Four years after the truce between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC was supposed to bring peace to the country, peace remains elusive as the rightist government of President Ivan Duque continues to wage war against other leftist rebels, drug traffickers, and coca-growing peasants.

Under pressure from the US, the Duque government began the year by moving to resume the aerial spraying of coca fields. This plan was rejected by state governors, who said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and wanted President Duque to actually implement the 2016 peace accords.

Instead, the government attempted to pull out of a crop substitution monitoring program with the UN, preventing a pending evaluation of the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, although it later backtracked. That prompted coca farmers to call "bullshit" on Duque's duplicity, not only around crop substitution and eradication, but on the government's efforts to downplay a campaign of assassination against coca substitution leaders.

Indeed, human rights remained a major concern throughout the year, as a UN peace mission condemned a spike in massacres in August, and a month later, the International Crisis Group demanded the government stop the killing of activists. The group said the government must prioritize communities' safety over military operations against armed groups and coca eradication efforts. Human rights were no concern for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, who promised Colombia more anti-drug aid the following month.

On another track, efforts to reform the country's drug laws continue. Bills to legalize marijuana were defeated late in the year, as right-wing factions aligned with Duque killed them. A bill to legalize cocaine was introduced in December, with cosponsor Senator Ivan Marulanda saying the bill would allow a legal cocaine supply for Colombian cocaine users -- use and possession is legal in Colombia -- and that the government could buy up the entire coca crop.

The year ended as it began, with the government still talking about plans to restart aerial fumigation even it claimed it would meet its coca eradication goal. Meanwhile, coca and cocaine production remain at world-leading levels.

Progress in Africa

Attitudes towards drugs and drug users are changing in Africa, and 2020 saw significant advances. It was in July 2019 that health, drug control and population ministers from member states of the African Union met in Cairo to forge a continental action plan for adopting more balanced policies toward drug use.

At that meeting, the Union's Department for Social Affairs called on member states to adopt master plans for drug policy by 2023. Such plans create a national framework for deciding which agencies should deal with illicit drug use in a way that deals with both drug supplies and demand reduction and ensure that not just law enforcement but also treatment and rehabilitation issues are addressed.

Zimbabwe had begun work on its own master plan years earlier -- back in 1999 -- but that effort had stalled until 2016 when, thanks to a civil society group, the Zimbabwean Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), the effort was reignited. The country hasn't passed a reformist master plan yet, but thanks to years of organizing and alliance-building, reform is coming.

In July, ZCLDN and regional ally groups worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to draft treatment and rehabilitation guidelines that formally incorporated harm reduction practices, a big step forward. In September, the group brought together civil society groups and the government's inter-ministerial committee charged with creating the master plan, helping to lay the groundwork for the plan to be adopted early in 2021. But first, it has to be approved by the cabinet, the attorney general's office, and then parliament. The work was not finished in 2020, but it is well underway.

Meanwhile in West Africa, Ghana actually passed a major drug reform law, the Narcotics Control Commission bill, in March. It only took five years from the time the bill was first introduced. Drafted with the intent of treating drug use as a public health issue, the law effectively decriminalizes drug possession, replacing prison terms of up to ten years with fines of roughly US $250 to $1,000. The new law also clears the way for the implementation of harm reduction services, which had previously been outlawed. And it allows for the production of low-THC cannabis products, such as industrial hemp and CBD.

The colonial legacy weighs heavy on Africa, but when it comes to drug policy, African nations are beginning to forge their own, more humane paths.

Thanks to a Plant, Afghanistan Becomes a Meth Producer

For years now, Afghanistan has been the world's number one supplier of opium poppies and the heroin derived from it, accounting for about 90% of global production. Now the war-torn country is diversifying, becoming a big-time player in the methamphetamine trade thanks to a plant common in the country and low-tech techniques for using it to make meth.

That plant is ephedra, from which meth's key ingredient -- ephedrine -- is created, and in a November report, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned that while its findings were provisional, "the data reported here on the potential scale of ephedrine and methamphetamine production emanating from this remote corner of Afghanistan, the income it generates and the speed at which it has emerged are both surprising and worrying." The report cited seizures of Afghan meth in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia, and tax revenues in the millions for the Taliban.

New Zealand Narrowly Rejects Marijuana Legalization

New Zealand had a chance to become the next country to legalize marijuana but rejected it. Early on, polling suggested that a referendum to legalize marijuana faced an uphill battle, and as early election results came in in October, the polls proved accurate, with the referendum faltering with only 46% of the vote. In the final tally, the margin narrowed, but the referendum still lost narrowly, garnering 48% of votes.

Kiwis were not ready to become the second commonwealth country to legalize marijuana, after Canada, On the other hand, voters approved a referendum to allow voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill by a margin of two-to-one.

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.

Congress Restores Financial Aid for Students with Drug Convictions, CA Fentanyl Task Force Bill Filed, More... (12/22/20)

Cook County's new State's Attorney is talking the progressive talk.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Bill to Create Law Enforcement Fentanyl Task Force Filed. State Senator Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) has reintroduced a bill, Senate Bill 75, that would establish a "Southern California Fentanyl Task Force" chaired by the attorney general to heighten law enforcement agency coordination, recommend changes to state laws and bring a state-wide caliber of expertise to the issue. The task force would focus on Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Cosponsors include one Democrat and two Republicans. The bill is also supported by Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

Psychedelics

Sheri Eckert, Co-Petitioner for Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Initiative, Dies Suddenly. One of the architects of the pioneering Oregon psilocybin therapy initiative, Measure 109, which was approved by voters last month, has died. Sheri Eckert and her husband Tom were the impetus behind the measure. She died last Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. She was 59.

Drug Policy

Illinois' Cook County State's Attorney Wants to Expunge Marijuana Dealing, Heroin & Cocaine Possession Convictions. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County (Chicago) State's Attorney Kim Foxx advocated for the automatic expungement of pot dealing convictions and, going a step further, for expunging heroin and cocaine possession convictions, too. Her office has already automatically wiped out the records of more than 2,200 pot possession convictions, and she said she wants to use that bureaucratic infrastructure to find and expunge pot dealing convictions. "No, they didn't have a license. And no, it wasn't legal. But it was the only economy that they had," she said, noting that legal marijuana firms are now "doing the exact same thing and making a ton of money." She also said she would advocate for expunging heroin and cocaine possession convictions as part of a progressive approach to handling problematic drug use. "If we recognize substance abuse disorder as a health condition, then we must modify our justice system to treat it as such," Foxx said. "Criminalizing health is not in the interest of public safety."

Higher Education

Congressional Spending Bill Restores Financial Aid for Students with Drug Convictions. The massive spending bill approved by both the House and Senate Monday would eliminate the provision that disqualifies some students from obtaining federal financial aid because of past drug convictions. It does so not with any new language, but simply by eliminating the clause in the law that created the drug provision and accompanying question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

Oregon's Largest County Ends Drug Possession Prosecutions, New Jersey MJ and Psilocybin Bills Pass, More... (12/16/20)

The DEA has published a rule that will finally allow for an end to the government monopoly on marijuana grown for research purposes, the Mexican congress slaps back at the US by limiting the activities of DEA agents inside the country, and more.

Meth arrest. You'll be seeing a lot less of this in Oregon as voter-approved decriminalization begins to bite. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

DEA Issues Rule Allowing Expanded Number of Marijuana Research Grows. The DEA on Thursday made public a rule that will allow researchers to be able to obtain marijuana from more than the one currently sanctioned grower, a farm at the University of Mississippi. The DEA began soliciting applications from potential growers in 2016, and 41 applicants have submitted requests to grow research marijuana since then. Those applications went unanswered during the Trump administration.

New Jersey Lawmakers Pass Marijuana Legalization, Decriminalization, and Magic Mushroom Bills. The Assembly and the Senate on Thursday approved three bills on marijuana and magic mushrooms. Senate Bill 21 would create a new, legal marijuana industry, while a second bill decriminalizes the possession of up to six ounces of marijuana, and the third bill reduces penalties for magic mushroom possession from a felony to disorderly persons offense. The bills now go to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who is expected to sign them into law.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Personal Home Grows. A bill introduced last week, HB 1019, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants for personal use and possess the fruits of the harvest. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2015 but have yet to pass.

Drug Policy

Oregon's Most Populous County to Halt Drug Possession Prosecutions Ahead of Looming Decriminalization. The drug decriminalization measure approved by voters in November doesn't go into effect until February 1, but prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) the state's most populous, aren't waiting to stop drug possession arrests. DA Mike Schmidt announced Thursday that, effective immediately, it will quit prosecuting drug possession cases. "Past punitive drug policies and laws resulted in over-policing of diverse communities, heavy reliance on correctional facilities and a failure to promote public safety and health," Schmidt said in a statement. "It's time to move beyond these failed practices, expand access to treatment and focus our limited law enforcement resources to target high-level, commercial drug offenses."

Sentencing Reform

California State Senator Files Sentencing Reform Bill. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) on Thursday introduced SB 73, a bill that gives judges more discretion to order probation and other alternatives to incarceration for certain drug offenses, as well as doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for some drug offenses.

International

Mexican Lawmakers Vote to Restrict Foreign Agents Despite US Pressure. The Chamber of Deputies of Mexico voted on Tuesday to approve a bill restricting the activities of foreign agents on national territory, despite the US voicing concerns that it could hamper cross-border drug investigations. The Senate already approved the measure last Wednesday. The bill came as a reaction to the arrest of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos by DEA agents in Los Angeles in October. Bowing to pressure from Mexico, US prosecutors dropped the charges, but it appears the Mexicans are still not mollified.

NJ Legal MJ Implementation Bill Advances, MS Health Dept Joins Lawsuit to Block MedMJ, More... (12/15/20)

Medical marijuana bills are coming in Kentucky and South Carolina, a bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization in New Jersey is advancing, and more.

Medical marijuana bills are coming next year in Kentucky and South Carolina. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved S21, a bill designed to set up the legal recreational marijuana market approved by voters in November, on Monday. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation in the Assembly is also expected to advance this week. The bill would send 70% of marijuana sales tax proceeds and 100% of proceeds from a new excise tax to communities most severely impacted by marijuana prohibition.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Lawmaker to Reintroduce Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) has said he will reintroduce a medical marijuana bill that passed the House this year but failed to get action in the Senate because of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. "The support in the House will be even stronger than it was last year," Nemes said. "We have replaced a number of 'no' votes with 'yes' votes in the Republican caucus due to retirement and defeating Democrats, so we will be stronger in the House. The whole question is what the Senate will do."

Mississippi Health Department Joins Lawsuit Against Medical Marijuana Initiative. The state Department of Health filed a friend of the court brief Monday in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the will of voters who resounding approved a medical marijuana initiative in November. The agency argued that it shouldn't have to perform the "Herculean feat" of creating a medical marijuana program in just the seven months mandated by the initiative. But the brief goes further, also arguing that citizens have no inherent right to amend the state constitution. And it argues that the initiative violates the state constitution because it contains multiple subjects, including taxation, changing the criminal code, and zoning issues. No indication yet on when the court may rule.

South Carolina Lawmakers Pre-File Bills to Legalize Medical Cannabis. Lawmakers in both the state House and Senate have pre-filed medical marijuana legalization bills, H 3361 and S 150, respectively. The bills are both titled the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. The bills are identical to legislation considered during the 2019 session, but not filed this year during a legislative session shortened by the pandemic.

Drug Policy

Activists Call on President-Elect Biden to Abolish the Drug Czar's Office. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is calling on the incoming president to abolish the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). "The ONDCP represents a bygone era," the group said in a blog post announcing a letter campaign to that end. "Today, most Americans now agree that the adult use of marijuana ought to be legal, and the majority of states have legalized the substance for either medical or recreational use. There is no longer any legitimate need for the Drug Czar's office or for a Drug Czar." NORML also called for the White House to not appoint former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), a foe of marijuana legalization, as drug czar. There is a letter than you can sign at the link.

Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges Over Oxycontin, House to Vote on Legal Pot This Week, More... (12/1/20)

It's now legal to possess and grow your own marijuana in Arizona, the House Rules Committee takes up the MORE Act on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma pleads guilty to three federal criminal charges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bill Tomorrow Ahead of Looming Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee takes up the MORE Act (HR 3884) tomorrow, paving the way for a House floor vote on the bill later this week. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) sent the bill to the Rules Committee with some modifications, the most significant of which revolve around taxation. The bill originally imposed a 5% tax on marijuana products, but Nadler has amended the bill to remove that language and replace it with a scheme that would allow increases in the tax rate until it reaches 8%.

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. Marijuana is now legal in the state. It became so after the state secretary of state certified the election results, affirming that Prop 207 indeed passed. It is now legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of concentrates and to grow up to six plants for personal use. The legal, regulated marijuana market won't be in effect until sometime next year.

Virginia Legislative Working Group Issues Report Outlining Path to Legalization. A working group on marijuana legalization requested by the legislature issued its report Monday and concluded that the end of pot prohibition "cannot be created quickly." First, the state needs to invest in data collection, craft new regulations, and undertake a public education campaign, the report said. That pushes legalization down the road: "Setting up an adequate regulatory structure will require a significant up-front investment, in time, patience, and budgetary resources," the report reads. The report sets an 18-24-month timeline for legalization and up to five years before there is a fully developed legal marijuana industry.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Oxycontin Role in Opioid Crisis. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as well as two counts of conspiracy to violate the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute. The move came after a plea deal agreed to in October that also includes a historic $3.544 billion fine and a $2 billion criminal forfeiture. The company will now be dissolved and its assets used to incorporate a "public benefit company" designed to serve the public, not the company's bottom line.

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