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Philippines Drug War and Human Rights Solidarity Campaign

EVENT: Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War
Thursday July 14, 2022, 7:45-9:00am ET / 1:45-3:00pm CET / 7:45-9:00pm PT

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeigrD0pHd3j2AKnGpgt56EBOqaVIFbJ

EVENT VIDEO: Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC

EVENT ARTICLE AND VIDEO: How the Global Drug War's Victims Are Fighting Back

No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever

 

 

 

 
 
Logo created for our Philippines campaign by
artist Cesar Maxit. It combines the universal
human rights logo with imprisoned Senator
Leila de Lima's famous hand gesture.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our global advocacy program on the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. Below you will find detailed discussion of work through s, with video and links to statements or news articles, but only updated through July 2018.

Work done since then, about which we'll be adding in detail to this page soon, includes:

  • February 2019 "soft launch" of  "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines";
  • March 2019 forum at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna;
  • July 2019 forum at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York;
  • December 2019 forum at the International Criminal Court's Assembly of States Parties in The Hague;
  • March 2020 forum at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs;
  • speeches and other participation in allied groups' events in Washington;
  • community meeting on International Human Rights Advocacy at the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform;
  • work we are doing in the US Congress; and
  • other help we are providing to allies.

Material we will be posting from these activities includes but is not limited to:

  • highlights from February campaign events;
  • video footage of the three forums (which bring our total number of events to date to six);
  • presentations on the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns that underpin Duterte's drug war and moves toward autocracy; and
  • photos from various events.

One particular highlight we will mention here is that our March 2019 event drew significant media in the Philippines, due to the participation by Skype of Law School Dean and then senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, who criticized the "erosion of the Philippine justice system." This in turn drew a public response from the government's Justice Secretary, their equivalent of Attorney General.

As noted above, the video and other resources we will be posting broadens our efforts to include exposing the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns being carried out by President Duterte and his allies, which are a key plank of his drug war and moves toward authoritarianism. Presentations done for our events including cutting edge academic research and journalism on how appearances are being manipulated through concerted paid online efforts by "trolls" and others.


While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards.

Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to a likely 30,000 or more since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

 
 
funeral for victim of Duterte's drug war killings

Other abuses in have affected hundreds of thousands, and killings of activists, priests, even mayors are growing as well. In July 2019, the administration filed sedition cases against 35 opposition figures, including Catholic priests and Bishops, current and former Senators and candidates, even Vice President Leni Robredo. After the International Criminal Court announced a preliminary examination of allegations about the Philippine drug war, the administration withdrew the Philippines from the ICC's Rome Treaty.

Duterte is aggressively attacking his critics and the nation's democratic institutions as he seeks to bring about dictatorship. If he succeeds, there's no knowing where or how far the killings may go.

 

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]


Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016(source: Reuters)

 

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this tragedy, and the threat it represents to democracy and international institutions.

Our Philippines efforts to date include a series of events at important international meetings, mainly of the United Nations; a "soft launch" as well as behind the scenes development for "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines"; and other pending efforts.

Our UN events have been high-profile. The first, in March 2017, triggered a major political incident in the Philippines, after Vice President Robredo, a human rights lawyer and opposition leader, sent us a speech by video which criticized the President's drug policies. Our March 2019 event drew headlines in the Philippines and forced a response from the nation's Justice Secretary. Full information on the series appears below.

The "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy" campaign links drug policy reform in general terms to big issues of the day including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and the fight against internet-powered disinformation and authoritarianism.

Our work in this area grew our of advocacy we've done at the United Nations since late 2014. As part of a global community of reform-minded NGOs, we call for people-centered approaches to drug policy governed by human rights. Initially this aimed at the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). When Duterte was elected and the Philippine slaughter began, we turned our attention there.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo recorded
a powerful video for our March 2017 UN event.
 

The pro-Duterte forces have noticed us. Duterte allies including the (now former) Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives have attacked Philippine opposition leaders for working with us. Orchestrated online troll armies have descended on our videos. One of our events even prompted fake news stories.

We are currently crafting plans for moving forward in this campaign in an even bigger way. Please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don't miss any announcements about it. If you have a particular interest in the Philippines and want to be in touch about this, please email us.

 

Our accomplishments to date have included:

 


UN Events

Under the auspices of our UN-accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, we have organized events in conjunction with the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meetings in Vienna, the 2018 and 2019 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development meetings in New York, and the 2019 Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vienna 2017: Our March 2017 event, coorganized with the Manila-based Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, drew massive attention in the Philippines, due to a speech by video from Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo that led to unfair attacks on her by Duterte allies and an (ultimately unsuccessful) impeachment drive. The video also garnered US and international coverage. Robredo's video strongly criticized Duterte's drug war, as well as Duterte-led moves in the Philippines Congress (also so far unsuccessful) to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses, and to lower the age of criminal liability to nine.

We released the video on Monday March 13, three days before our event, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Along with extensive coverage in Philippine mainstream media, discussion of the video trended on Twitter, and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video, as well as a resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events for the CND nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to the Liberal Party's media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. CNN Philippines, on which the president's spokesperson had first made the false claim about the role of the video, published the most extensive story about our debunking of it. (See news links below.)

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

While our statement helped to defuse the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president, Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

The political heat that Robredo, a human rights lawyer, took for participating in our event is unfortunate. But she has continued to speak out against the killings, and remains a popular figure.

News reports on our event, the vice president's video, and its fallout, are too numerous to link here, and media continued for a long time to refer to them when discussing the vice president's political trajectory. One example is this analysis in the prominent Philippine news outlet Rappler, as of late 2019 ranked as the 10th more read web site in the Philippines. We post here a selection of key news links, as well as links for video footage of our entire event and other resources.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Event footage is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty International video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Following are some key news article and related links:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country as of this writing, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

 
 
Senator Trillanes displays copy
of Duterte administration's 2017
report, listing 20,000 killings
among its accomplishments

(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Vienna 2018: A year almost to the day after our 2017 event (and in the same room at the UN), we held another event featuring outspoken opposition Philippine Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV. (Duterte has said of Trillanes, "I [will] destroy him, or he will destroy me.")

In a sign of the times, the day before our event when Senator Trillanes arrived at the UN, President Duterte transmitted one-year notice of the Philippines withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, in retaliation for the ICC's preliminary investigation of his drug war. The night before our event, prosecutors in the Philippines indicted the senator on a spurious sedition charge.

Tania Ramírez and Natalie Ginsberg
read Senator de Lima's statement.
Alessandro de Luca also pictured.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)
 

Senator Leila de Lima contributed a written statement to our event as well. Joining Senator Trillanes as featured speaker was Ellecer Carlos, well-known spokesperson for the iDEFEND Philippine human rights coalition. The event was again co-moderated by David Borden and Marco Perduca.

 
 
speaker meeting before the forum
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Roughly 70 people attended, many forced to stand outside the 30-person capacity meeting room. Attendees represented a range of governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and members of the local Filipino community.

While the sedition charge became the main news story, driving out much of the coverage our event might otherwise have gotten, we did get some media including television:



 

 

 

 

 


- After Robredo, Trillanes Turn to Blast EJKs in war on drugs, Inquirer article published in advance of our event

State of the Nation with Jennifer Soho

News 5 Aksyon Tonite

Philtizen article noting State of the Nation report (over 9,700 shares on Facebook)

Trillanes not backing down on sedition case (The Philippines' top news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed for this report at our event. The sedition indictment, which was issued the night before, became the main story.)

How many more Filipinos will suffer under Duterte? De Lima asks (Inquirer article -- over 7,700 shares)

Rights Reporter interview with Senator Trillanes

 

 
 
fake news story with fabricated
statement attributed to us

In another sign of the times, Filipinos working in Vienna attended our event, including both supporters and critics of President Duterte. One member of the "Die Hard Duterte Supporters contingent (DDS -- a play on the infamous "Davao Death Squad" Duterte operated as mayor) challenged Senator Trillanes on the number of killings during the discussion time, while others videorecorded. The pro-Duterte media forces selectively edited the video in order to create an appearance that Trillanes didn't have an answer for him (as the senator and his staff had predicted). An example from a local newspaper in the Philippines appears here. Our Facebook Live video shows that Senator Trillanes did respond, however, and that the encounter was a civil one. The two spoke at length following the event.

Our visit to the UN cafeteria the day before the event led to a series of misleading and fake news stories. A Filipino cashier noticed Senator Trillanes was wearing an NGO badge, rather than one issued by the Philippines' Mission to the UN, and sent a picture to a pro-Duterte blogger. The blogger's post, which misidentified us as a Filipino American NGO, is online here, and has over 7,700 shares. An article posted on two Philippines-focused sites (here and here) "confirmed" that the senator had entered the UN through our auspices.

This information in these pieces isn't fake per se, but they attempt to imply a scandal or problem where there was none. A fake news story followed on the blog post, includes a photo of us on the lunch line with Trillanes, but claims falsely that the senator was "scolded" by a UN security guard who told him to "eat last." A follow-up fake news piece features a fabricated statement attributed to our organization. >A third piece by the same writer provided video from our event of a Filipino Duterte supporter contesting Trillanes' information, but implied falsely that the senator fell silent instead of responding to him.

The Facebook Live video stream from this event follows below. We will post an edited playlist copy and transcript in the near future. In the meanwhile, a realtime transcript from the CND Blog can be read here, and individual speeches can be accessed by going to the following points in the video. (We're not able to link to specific times within Facebook videos.)

  • Statement of Senator Leila de Lima, read by Tania Ramírez and Natalie Lyla Ginsberg (13:38)
  • David Borden (20:17)
  • Marco Perduca (21:03)
  • Senator Antonio Trillanes (26:42)
  • Ellecer Carlos (27:12)
  • Discussion (59:20)

See our September 2018 statement regarding another attempt by the Duterte administration to imprison Trillanes, their most serious one yet.

New York 2018: On July 16, we hosted the third event in the series, "Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Killings in a Time of Authoritarianism," expanding the scope of the discussion to include the death penalty for drug offenses. The event was held at the Church Center of the United Nations, in conjunction with the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

Prominent opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines provided a video for our event, calling for international solidarity for human rights and an end to Duterte's drug war. The two hour event also featured Professor Jason Wright of the Washington & Lee Law School, speaking on behalf of the California-based group Death Penalty Focus; and Justine Balane, International Secretary for Akbayan Youth in the Philippines, via Skype.

The largest Philippine news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed the event, and a report ran on their US station, Balitang America.

Following is the Balitang America's YouTube copy of the TV report:

Following is full video of the event. An edited playlist copy and transcript will be posted in the near future. In the meanwhile, individual sections can be accessed by clicking on the time indications in this list:

  • Welcome and Acknowledgments by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (0:00)
  • Video message from Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (4:16) | (original copy of Hontiveros video here)
  • Remarks by David on Borden on the UN Sustainable Developments Goals, and Background for This Event (7:47)
  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth (14:11)
  • Professor Jason Wright, Washington & Lee School of Law, representing Death Penalty Focus (25:55)
  • David Borden remarks (48:34)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Shilpa Nandwani, Northeast Coordinator, International Coalition for the Philippines US Chapter (53:50)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Terrenze Rienton (1:01:18)
  • General Discussion (1:06:43)
  • audience remarks by Rev. Levi Bautista (1:12:57)
  • General Discussion (1:17:23)

 

In March 2019, we returned to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, where we were joined via Skype by Chel Diokno, Dean of the De La Salle University School of Law, and at the time a candidate for the Philippine Senate. Attorney Diokno's keynote speech garnered strong media attention in the Philippines, and a comment he made about the "erosion of the Philippine justice system" drew a response from Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

With this event we also began to address the role of social media manipulation and disinformation in the Philippine crisis. The program included a presentation by video from a scholar of online disinformation campaigns, Pamela Combinido, whose group had interviewed the organizers and rank-and-file "trolls" who carry them out; and a video from BuzzFeed News on Facebook's role in fueling Duterte's drug war, which accompanied an award-winning article on the topic by technology reporter Davey Alba.

videos:

    1

news articles about Diokno's speech:

    1

news stories about the Justice Secretary's response:

    1

HLPF 2019

ASP

 


 

Protest at Philippines Embassy, Washington, DC

  

For the one-year mark of the jailing of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima on spurious drug charges, we organized a protest at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. The event featured street theater with Duterte and Philippine National Police figures arresting Senator de Lima and pretending to shoot attendees.

Allies in the Philippines helped to promote the event's Facebook Live video stream, and it went viral in the Philippines, with nearly 470,000 views as of this writing. Among our cosponsors in the action were Amnesty International, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance and the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines.

 

Other Philippines-focused groups such as Gabriela-DC and the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines-US were participated as well. The event represented a step for Philippines-focused groups with various different ideological roots working together. Video of the action went viral in the Philippines, and has garnered nearly 470,000 views. Since that time our executive director, David Borden, has been a go-to person about the drug war for demonstrations organized by Filipino American groups.

Facebook Live video:

 

      

(photos and video done by event cosponsor DCMJ)

 


Global Sign-On Statement

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

 
InterAksyon article

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered by four important Philippines news outlets:

The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.


Legislative Lobbying

 
 
April 2018 lobbying coalition

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress.

In April 2018, StoptheDrugWar.org's executive director David Borden was invited to join a lobbying group that included advocates visiting from the Philippines as part of the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour 2018 of the Caravan for Peace and Justice for the Philippines, as well as representatives of Filipino American organizations, faith groups participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days the weekend before, and others. Key organizers of the lobbying effort were the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines US Chapter. Borden is regularly asked by Filipino American advocates to address the drug war in meetings and demonstrations.

An update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

  

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Department has raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate. Duterte has recently claimed that a White House visit is in the works, pending scheduling.


Coalition Building

As the above sections show, we have actively sought partners in this campaign, both in the Philippines and in the Filipino American community, including groups spanning a range of the ideological spectrum. But we have also sought to bring others in to the effort -- from drug policy reform, international criminal justice advocacy, the anti-death penalty movement and others.

 

In March before heading to Vienna for our event with Senator Trillanes, we organized a panel for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Baltimore, "Human Rights Challenge, Responding to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines." Our panel featured Eric Lachica of US Filipinos for Good Governance; and Shamah Bulangis and Justine Balane, National Secretary General and International Secretary respectively of Akbayan Youth, who are also SSDP Ambassadors for the Philippines.

The panel was well attended, and following it, we brought signs from Philippines-related demonstrations (our 2/28 embassy protest and others) to the plenary hall, where conference attendees, following a group picture, took a second group pictures with the signs, while holding hands up in a Philippines protest symbol. The photo, posted to Facebook by an attendee, went viral in the Philippines.

The energy of the event and level of interest in this campaign that was shown there, following our successful protest a week earlier, makes us believe that a larger movement can be built on this issue, capable of bringing greater pressure on the Duterte administration over the killings. Please subscribe to our email list to be updated as plans progress, and feel free to contact us directly in the meanwhile.

David Borden met with members of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance San Francisco chapter in July 2018. In this video, filmed by FAHRA leader Ago Pedalizo, Borden remarks on the recent awarding of the prestigious "Prize for Freedom" award to Senator de Lima:


These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform program StoptheDrugWar.org has pursued decisively since fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy program is headed by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in the near future will tweet on Philippines matters as @BordenUNEventPH. In the near future our organization's blog and newsletter will have a significant focus on the Philippines as well. Our Philippines-related content can also be accessed through our category archive at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines.

– END –


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AR Legalization Init Has Enough Signatures, UN Experts Criticize Singapore Drug Executions, More... (7/29/22)

Marijuana seizures at the US-Mexican border are down again, Colombia's Gulf Clan is escalating its attacks on police as it jockeys for position in upcoming negotations, and more.

San Francisco could become the largest US city to decriminalize psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Feds Report Significant Year-Over-Year Decline in Marijuana Seizures at the US Border. The amount of marijuana seized at the US-Mexico border has dropped dramatically this fiscal year, with seizures averaging 408 pounds a day, down from an average of 874 pounds a day during FY 2021, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Other drug seizures at the border are up, but the decline in marijuana seizures is part of a consistent downward trend in recent year. As the DEA has noted, "In US markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana."

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Set to Qualify for Ballot. State officials have confirmed that a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas has submitted enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But the state Board of Election Commissioners must first approve the popular name and ballot title of the measure. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but not home cultivation. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Psychedelics

San Francisco Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Filed. Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D) have filed a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution also calls for broader statewide reform. If the resolution is passed, San Francisco would be the most populous city in the country to decriminalize psychedelics.

International

Colombia's Gulf Clan Trafficking Group Stepping Up Attacks on Police. The Gulf Clan, the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, is stepping up a campaign of violence against police that began in May, when its leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, known as "Otoniel," was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges. But now, as the country approaches the transfer of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, is ratcheting up the violence, apparently in a bid to bolster its prospects in potential negotiations with the new government. At least 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf Clan, 12 of them in the last month, and three in just the past week.

UN Experts Call for Immediate Moratorium on Singapore Executions for Drug Offenses. UN experts have condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug-related charges. There has been a sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore this year.

Nazeri Bin Lajim was arrested in April 2012 and convicted for trafficking 33.39 grams of diamorphine under the 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act in September 2019. The mandatory death penalty was subsequently imposed in his case and enforced on 22 July 2022. "Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes', involving intentional killing," the experts said. "Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold."

The experts reiterated that, as per the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's report on arbitrary detention relating to drug policies andits subsequent jurisprudence, imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses is incompatible with international standards on the use of the death penalty.

What Comes Next in the Philippine Drug War and Will Duterte Pay for His Crimes? [FEATURE]

As the month of June came to an end, so did the term in office of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, notorious for presiding over a bloody and still-continuing "war on drugs" that has left more than 30,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilantes, according to Filipino and international human rights organizations. Duterte's human rights violations sparked the interest of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened an investigation into the matter last year.

ICC headquarters, The Hague, Netherlands
Following a formal request by the Duterte administration in November, OTP paused the investigation in order to reevaluate whether government's accountability efforts touted by the administration were sufficient and credible. Late last month OTP requested court authorization to resume it.

Replacing Duterte is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., known as "Bongbong." Marcos comes with his own baggage; he is the son of former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, infamous for her shoe collection. And his vice president is none other than Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte. Between them, the pair provide a double dose of strongman genes for a population that has proven eager to embrace them.

With the Duterte government now in the rear view mirror, the question now are what happens next in the Philippine drug war and will there ever be justice for the crimes of the past six years?

In a parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on Thursday, "Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC, and the Philippine Drug War," took on those issues. Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (also known as StoptheDrugWar.org -- publisher of this newsletter), a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and the Italy-based Associazone Luca Coscioni, the event was moderated by StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden and Italian former senator Marco Perduca of the Associazone. The event focused on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, "Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions."

In the virtual event conducted via Zoom, participants heard from three Filipino experts: human rights activist Justine Balane, Ruben Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Dr. Aurora Parong of the Philippine Coalition for the ICC and the Philippines branch of Amnesty International.

"One of the goals is #16, is peace, justice, and strong institutions. Issues like human rights, accountability and so forth fall within that topic," said Borden, who noted, "Our first event held in March 2017 at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, where we were privileged to present a video from then Vice President Leni Robredo, a video which became controversial in the Philippines due to attacks being made on her for it by political opponents. Robredo was in the first year of her term as vice president, having narrowly defeated Bongbong Marcos to win that post."

"I will lastly note it's nearly 5 ½ years since then Senator Leila de Lima was jailed [on bogus charges for criticizing Duterte's drug war], and we share the widespread hopes in the international community that she will be released soon, particularly since... three of her key initial accusers have recanted their accusations and stated that they were made under pressure."

Perduca followed with a short history of the ICC, explaining that the core crimes with which it is concerned are war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, with the crime of aggression added later.

"The court has jurisdiction over countries that have signed and ratified or have acceded to the treaty, and have... put in place all the necessary measures to... allow the court to take action if local authorities are unwilling or unable to pursue alleged criminals, at any level of the state hierarchy," he explained. "[W]e have made the case before competent authorities at the ICC... that the way in which the war on drugs in the Philippines had been waged amounted to crimes against humanity. It was massive and systematic, and it was the result of a specific order given by someone in charge... The Philippines was party to the treaty until a few years ago [when Duterte withdrew from it], so some of those heinous actions still fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC."

The new boss looks too much like the old boss, according to Balane, who in his day job serves as Secretary General of the organization Akbayan Youth.

"In the first half of the year, during the campaign season, the streets were blaring with the jingle of the new president and vice president, which started with the lines "Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Mukha." It roughly translates as new Philippines and new faces," he said. "But in reality, it's not. In the first half month under Marcos and Duterte, we're been shown the same drug war tactics and the same level of government oppression... The killings haven't stopped with Duterte leaving... and how the killings have remained largely uninvestigated, and the killers let loose under Duterte and possibly Marcos."

"Data from the University of the Philippines (UP) Third World Study Center show that there have been 155 deaths for the first half of the year," Balane noted. "Even in Duterte's final year in office, the killing of children in the drug war continued... [including] two children in the last month of Duterte in Malacanang (the Philippines' executive branch headquarters)." In UP's research, from January to July 2022, 68 of the deaths were carried out by state agents... I'm relying on this UP data because there is a huge underreporting crisis on drug war numbers... This year, before Duterte left office, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that there have been a total 6,248 drug war deaths since Duterte took office. This is a figure that is at least 24,000 lower than the estimates of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and other human rights groups... [I]t's even lower than the figure provided by the office of Duterte... [I]n 2017... the presidential office... admitted... that the drug war killed 20,000 people and listed in its annual accomplishments report, under the section 'fighting illegal drugs in 2017.' This... report became the basis of the Supreme Court order to the Duterte government to explain and release data on the 20,000 deaths which could be state sponsored," Balane said.

Balane was critical of the Duterte government's claim that it would investigate the killings, obviating the need for the ICC to step back in.

"Last year... the Philippine Department of Justice vowed to the international community that they are able and willing to conduct a domestic review of the drug war cases, just to show that the justice system is still working... But this year, the Department of Justice announced to the United Nations that only four cases have led to actual new prosecutions. Imagine that!" he exclaimed. "Four cases out of more than 30,000 reported or suspected cases under the drug war... [T]hat's showing this government has been noncommittal and not... serious about its obligations to the international community, not upholding its human rights obligations."

The Duterte government clearly failed to pursue the police and shadowy vigilante groups behind the killings, Balane said.

"To date, there remains only one case that has led to a guilty verdict against killer cops, and that was in 2018... That's because the norm is of acquitting and letting killer cops go scot-free... Seriously, the prospects of investigation bringing to justice the cases and the killings that happened under the Duterte admnistration remain bleak."

Balane was not optimistic about the prospects under the new Marcos administration.

"As we enter Bongbong Marcos's presidency, one person a day is killed, approximately. This is according to [UP data]... An official of the Marcos government also vowed that the drug war will be as intensive as before. Even President Marcos himself during the campaign trail said that he would continue the drug war with the same vigor but a different approach. But we continue to question the government's seriousness to put into law any program that is an alternative to what the law enforcement agencies have already been accustomed to under Duterte, because they have already been so comfortable with getting away with their crimes," he charged.

As early as 2017, Senator Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan already filed a bill in the Senate providing a framework for a public health approach on the drug problem. But until now there has been no push from others in the Senate or anyone else in the legislative chamber or the executive to pass it or adopt elements of it highlighting harm reduction instead of the punitive, violent and largely failed approach of the Duterte administration."

Balane concluded by noting, "Marcos Jr., who sits in the office of the president, refuses to be accountable for the extrajudicial killings that happened under his family's regime in the '70s.

"It's important to note that the drug war is not over," said Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice. "There's this famous quote from The Wire, that TV show about drug wars, that 'drug wars are not actual wars, because drug wars never end.'

Carranza explained, "On the first day of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as president... there were drug war killings in the University of the Philippines... involving two brothers who were... from a very poor family... The brothers were invited by a supposed friend to help fix a car, but instead they were taken by plainclothes armed men in a car that was unmarked, taken from the university, and then their bodies were found two days later," he noted.

"I mention this because... part of what Duterte unleashed has been the creation of a national death squad that has now come to exist apart from Duterte himself... [So] I don't think we can reckon with accountability in the drug war based on who the president of the Philippines is. It's important to look at the institutions that enforce the drug war, both the formal state institutions, the Philippine National Police, and the non-institutional and yet much more powerful creations that the drug war has led to. A death squad that used to be local -- Davao City -- has become national under Duterte, and this national death squad continues." "Vicente Danao, the current police chief, was Duterte's former police chief in Davao City. Vicente Danao has a record, not just of being involved in the drug wars in Davao, but also domestic abuse, for which he was exposed by his wife and had to take a leave from his police duties in Davao -- until Duterte, of course, forgave him and said that he will back him up," Carranza explained.

"Vicente Danao is likely to be one of those that, if the prosecutor goes ahead with the investigation that has already been authorized previously by the pre-trial chamber of the ICC.. [will] be investigated," he continued. "It's difficult to say at this point whether Vicente Danao, or anyone else for that matter, will be charged. But obviously those who have been linked to the death squad in Davao, and now operate on a national scale, are likely to be those who will be investigated and potentially charged. This isn't only because of their links to the death squads in Davao and then nationwide. This is also because the ICC prosecutor, with the approval of the pre-trial chamber, has actually extended the coverage of the investigation of the Philippines drug war to the period when Duterte was mayor of Davao, in other words after the ICC treaty took effect for the Philippines in 2011, and years before Rodrigo Duterte became president... During this period, Rodrigo Duterte was mayor, but there were periods when his daughter was mayor of Davao because they took turns being mayor."

It's important to remember... that the International Criminal Court is not the only institution that can pursue accountability for the drug war. It's important to remember that prosecution is not the only measure by which extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity committed in the drug war, can be pursued and those behind them be held accountable. Justice doesn't only equate with courts; justice can be pursued elsewhere, outside of courts," Carranza argued.

"There are two ways in which I think accountability and justice for the drug war can be pursued even outside of the International Criminal Court process. One is through a truth-telling process that can be organized at the local level, perhaps at the community level in the Philippines among the urban poor communities that have been targeted by the drug war," he said. "Part of that work is being done now by priests like my friend Father Flavie Villanueva and the exhumations and the reburials and cremations of those whose bodies were buried in cemeteries whose families cannot afford to... pay for the burial plots. That process of removing remains and then having -- my friend as well, one of the forensic pathologists in the Philippines, Dr. Raquel Fortun -- exhume and examine the bodies, conduct autopsies -- is a truth-telling process. It's important for the international community to support that, because this not only empowers communities, empowers families of the victims into acting on their demands for justice, but gives them some hope that even if there's no formal state process that seeks accountability within the Philippines, even if the ICC prosecutor will take longer to actually conduct the investigation, and even if... the ICC as a court cannot proceed because the Philippines does not cooperate... that there are local processes going on that are outside of court processes," he said.

"The second approach to justice for the drug war involves reparations for families of the drug war victims. Reparations isn't new in the Philippines; the Philippines actually passed a law in 2013... to provide reparations for victims of the Marcos dictatorship."

Carranza pondered, "It is possible to give reparations to be given to victims of the drug war, but it is possible under Marcos? ... The sister of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a senator, Imee Marcos, actually supported a bill that became a law... that gave reparations for those who were victimized and displaced in the siege in Marawi City involving a conflict between a violent extremist group in the Philippine south and the government," Carranza continued.

"But will Marcos Jr. pursue the killings, pursue accountability of those involved in the killings in Duterte's drug war? That is a question that will be fully answered over time, but two things we need to take into account: Marcos Jr. is no stranger to maintaining impunity. He and his family have an interest in maintaining the impunity of Duterte, because any action that might open accountability of presidents past, and even further in the past, will obviously reopen questions around the accountability of the Marcos family," he argued. And "The Marcoses will defend their ill-gotten wealth for as long as they can."

Finally, Carranza argued, "Marcos Jr. will say what the global north's elites will want to hear, what the west, particularly the Europeans in the western part of Europe want to hear, that he will pursue accountability for human rights violations. He has said this... That he will pursue preventive health-related policies for drug users... This is, of course, appealing to Westerners, but does not deal with the root causes of drug use in urban poor communities in the first place, and the economic and social rights violations that then lead to drug use in the Philippines."

Parong and the Philippine Coalition for the ICC are not giving up on the international community.

"The [coalition] is calling on the UN to review and assess the effectiveness of its technical assistance, and review its decision not to probe into the war on drugs. Given the findings of Dr. Raquel Fortun, and of course also the statement of Prosecutor Khan of the ICC that there is no effective investigation, and looking into the systematic nature of the crimes... and therefore have called for the UN Human Rights Council to review its decision..." she said.

"There should be key result areas, or impact assessment of its assistance to the Philippines. Perhaps one would be effective prosecution of perpetrators of the killings in the war on drugs, and then a result that should be achieved. Because there should be changes in the behavior and values of those who are trained during this technical assistance. And then of course there should be the effort to really look at the enablers, those who made it possible that there are >massive killings in the tens of thousands," the humanitarian law expert suggested.

"We also believe that if President Marcos Jr. is really committed to high accountability and to pursue the control on drugs within the rule of law, they should develop a program against drug abuse that integrates a human rights and public health perspective," she continued. "And of course, the Philippine government has to really give complete results of what it says it will pursue the fight against drugs within the rule of law and make high accountability possible, then it should now come out with a very, very complete plan... There has to be specific, there has to be terms of reference, items on the plan, and concrete results in key result areas that can be measured, and not just those general commitments to the rule of law or accountability."

Parong had a specific suggestion for the Marcos-Duterte administration too: "If they really want unity as well as peace so that we can get out of this pandemic crisis... they should review the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, and consider the possibility of getting back, if they really want higher accountability."

But given the workload of the ICC -- the Office of the Prosecutor is looking at abuses in 16 countries right now, it lacks the resources to do all it needs to be doing," she said.

"We think that the internationally community, especially the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should in fact provide the resources which the court needs in order to be able to really act as a court of last resort and deliver justice. Faster also, rather than being at the back burner for investigation, and then it's only after some time that the court can act on them, because they have no resources that is adequate enough to pursue all these cases that they are either investigating, on preliminary investigations, or even those which are on trial. So there has to be more resources and support, not just from the state parties... because if other members of the UN really believe in international justice and support it, then they should support whatever is in the international court's purview to review and make decisions."

And it's not just funding but having the back of the ICC when it is attacked.

"The Philippine president has in the past attacked the ICC as an institution," she noted. "He also attacked UN officials and ICC personnel... During the campaign, the current presient said he would only allow the ICC personnel to come in as tourists, not as investigators... We think the UN members, as well as the Assembly of States Parties of the Rome Statute, should be giving political support to the ICC when there is an effort to attack them or diminish their capacities to do their work because they don't have access to the countries that need to be investigated."

For those seeking radical change away from Duterte's drug war, some of the early indicators -- especially the continuing killings -- are not good. And while Bongbong is talking about some limited reforms, it remains to be seen whether he will pursue even those modest goals. For those seeking justice and accountability for Duterte's crimes, the path remains arduous, but that has not stopped them.

EVENT: Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War

International Criminal Court, The Hague
Building Back with Justice? Marcos, Duterte, the ICC and the Philippine Drug War

parallel event to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Thursday July 14, 2020 / 7:45-9:00am ET

online via Zoom, registration at https:/stopthedrugwar.org/global/ or https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeigrD0pHd3j2AKnGpgt56EBOqaVIFbJ

Following a formal request by the Duterte administration last November, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court paused its investigation into the Philippine drug war, to reevaluate whether the government's accountability efforts were sufficient and credible. Late last month OTP requested court authorization to resume it.

In the meanwhile, a new president and vice president were inaugurated -- Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte. The ICC's international profile has also ballooned to a greater level than ever before, due to its role investigating human rights abuses in Ukraine.

UN Sustainable Goal #16 logo
In "Building Back with Justice?", speakers will review the status of the Philippine drug war killings and the government's response, the ICC case in light of the Rome Statute and the court's current challenges, and ramifications of the Marcos family's return to power.

This is a parallel event coinciding with the 2022 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, focusing on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"Building Back with Justice?" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council that is also known as StoptheDrugWar.org, and is cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

speakers:

Justine Balane, Filipino human rights activists
Ruben Carranza, International Center for Transitional Justice
Aurora Parong, Philippine Coalition for the ICC

co-moderated by:

David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, Associazone Luca Coscioni and former Senator, Italy

-- END --

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of "Pill Mill" Docs, UN Human Rights Experts Call for End to Drug War, More... (6/27/22)

Drug charges account for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, Pakistan moves toward licensing medical and industrial cannabis production, Spain moves toward medical marijuana sales, and more.

The Supreme Court holds prosecutors to a high standard on charging doctors over prescribing. (Pixabay)
Opiates and Opioids

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Doctors Accused of Overprescribing Opioids. The Supreme Court on Monday set aside the convictions of two doctors accusing of running opioid "pill mills," making it more difficult for the government to prosecute doctors who overprescribe drugs. In seeking to distinguish between legitimate medical conduct and illegally overprescribing, the court held that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor knew or intended to prescribe drugs in an unauthorized manner. "We normally would not view such dispensations as inherently illegitimate; we expect, and indeed usually want, doctors to prescribe the medications that their patients need," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court. The cases involved a doctor in Alabama whose clinic dispensed nearly 300,000 opioid prescriptions over a four-year period and a doctor who practiced in Arizona and Wyoming who operated mostly on a cash-only basis, but who also accepted property as payment, including firearms.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Quarterly Report Shows Drugs Remain Most Common Federal Offense. Enforcing federal drug prohibition accounts for nearly one-third of all federal criminal prosecutions, according the US Sentencing Commission's latest quarterly report. Drug offenses accounted for 32.3 percent of all prosecutions in the last two quarters, with methamphetamine accounting for nearly half (48.6 percent) of all drug offenses and fentanyl continuing to increase, now accounting for 11.8 percent of all drug offenses. Immigration was the second largest category of federal prosecutions, accounting for 26.5 percent of all federal prosecutions, followed by firearms offenses at 14.9 percent. No other federal crime category accounted for more than 10 percent of federal prosecutions. A decline in prosecutions that took place during the coronavirus pandemic has now ended, with about 5,000 federal drug prosecutions every six months.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Use International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking to Call for End of War on Drugs. UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called "war on drugs"and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the following statement:

"Data and experience accumulated by UN experts have shown that the 'war on drugs' undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this 'war' has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labor, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law."

Click on the link above for the rest of the statement.

New Zealand Poll Shows Most Support Replacing Punitive Drug Laws with Health-Based Approach. A new poll produced by The Navigators on behalf of the NZ Drug Foundation finds that a solid majority of New Zealanders support replacing the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act with a health-based approach. Some 68 percent of respondents favored the change. A strong majority -- 61 percent -- also favored drug decriminalization and introducing more support for education and treatment. The poll also showed that there is strong support for more funding to be provided for treatment and education (82 percent) and harm reduction initiatives like drug checking (74 percent).

Pakistan Moves to Allow Cannabis Farming for Medical and Industrial Use. The Ministry of Science and Technology will form an authority to regulate and facilitate the farming and use of cannabis, or "Bhang," as it referred to in the country. The authority will issue 15-year licenses for industrial, medical, processing, research, and development purposes. The Department of Commerce will issue licenses for cannabis exports.

Spain Moving Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies. A subcommittee in the Congress of Deputies has accepted a draft bill to regulate medical marijuana sales and referred the bill to the Commission on Health for a vote this week. While the proposed bill has very tight distribution rules, it is being lauded as the first step toward providing greater access. Once the bill is approved by the Health Commission, the Spanish Medicines Agency will have six months to draft appropriate regulations. The draft bill will make THC-containing flowers available by prescription for the treatment of specified illnesses and conditions.

British Columbia to Become First Canadian Province to Decriminalize Drug Possession [FEATURE]

Faced with an unrelenting drug overdose crisis, British Columbia (BC) is now set to become the first Canadian province to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, effective for a three-year period beginning January 31, 2023, Health Canada announced Tuesday. The agency has approved a request from BC for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to remove criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

Vancouver, epicenter of British Columbia's drug overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
The move will decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 grams of cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamines, and opioids (including fentanyl and heroin). People found with these personal use amounts of drugs will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized. Instead of handcuffs, drug users will be offered information on health and social services available, as well as referrals. Provincial officials had sought a higher threshold of 4.5 grams.

"The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change. I have thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered both the public health and public safety impacts of this request," said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. "Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis."

"Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one," said Sheila Malcolmson, BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. "By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services."

The province faces a true public health emergency around overdoses, with the BC government reporting at least 2,224 overdose deaths in 2021, an all-time high and a 26 percent increase over 2020. The last two months of 2021 also saw record overdose numbers. Some 85 percent of the reported overdose deaths involved fentanyl.

"Over the past seven years, our province has experienced a devastating loss of life due to a toxic illicit drug supply," said Lisa Lapointe, BC's chief coroner. "This public health emergency has impacted families and communities across the province and shows no sign of abating. In the past seven years, the rate of death due to illicit drug toxicity in our province has risen more than 400%. Drug toxicity is now second only to cancers in BC for potential years of life lost. We cannot simply hope that things will improve. It is long past time to end the chaos and devastation in our communities resulting from the flourishing illicit drug market, and to ensure, on an urgent basis, access across the province to a safe, reliable regulated drug supply."

Decriminalization is not quite safe drug supply, although Health Canada and BC are working on that, too, but it will help, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC's provincial health officer.

"This exemption is a vital step to keeping people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need," said Henry. "By removing the fear and shame of drug use, we will be able to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing harm reduction services and treatment programs."

"Decriminalizing possession of drugs is an historic, brave, and groundbreaking step in the fight to save lives from the poison drug crisis. Today marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors healthcare over handcuffs, and I could not be more proud of the leadership shown here by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia", said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

But while government officials were congratulating themselves on their bold move, critics such as the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said it was not nearly bold enough. In a statement released Tuesday they called for "decriminalization for all."

"The government of Canada's latest move to decriminalize drug possession should go further to protect everyone, in particular those most endangered by drug prohibition and the drug toxicity crisis," the coalition maintained. "We support policy that moves the needle forward; however, it is disappointing that decriminalization under the model announced on May 31st will not protect all people who use drugs from the harms of criminalization. We support progress, but we dream bigger. We want full decriminalization for all."

The coalition took special issue with the 2.5 gram threshold, calling it "a missed opportunity."

"A cumulative threshold quantity of 2.5 grams leaves many people who use drugs behind, namely those living in rural and remote communities who already bear the disproportionate brunt of drug prohibition and the drug toxicity crisis," the coalition protested. "People purchase larger quantities of drugs for myriad reasons: geographic restrictions, personal mobility reasons, and to limit interactions with the illicit drug market." Concerns over too-low threshold quantities were expressed repeatedly to BC and Health Canada by BC's own Core Planning Table for Decriminalization and the Board of the Vancouver Network of Drug Users (VANDU) -- to no avail.

The coalition also questioned the timing of the announcement, coming just one day ahead of a vote on a private member's decriminalization bill, Bill C-216, which was defeated Wednesday. "It is clear that the timing of the announcement is meant to hamper the progression of that bill through to committee stage, whereupon it could be further strengthened," the group noted.

The coalition called federal inaction on decriminalization "shameful," adding that "the piecemeal approach the government of Canada is now clearly taking does not adequately address the urgency of the drug poisoning crisis in the country."

Still, drug possession is about to be decriminalized in a Canadian province. Even with its shortcomings, that marks a striking conceptual shift in Canada's approach to drugs. And Toronto could be next. It has a similar exemption request pending.

Canada Allows BC to Decriminalize Drug Possession, VA Lawmakers Propose Marijuana Misdemeanor, More... (5/31/22)

British Columbia will decriminalize drug possession beginning next year, a new survey finds Americans are less concerned about drug addiction even as overdose deaths rise, and more.

Asian authorities seized 162 tons of meth last year, the UN reports. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Lawmakers Propose New Marijuana Misdemeanor. As part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's (R) two-year state budget package, lawmakers are proposing a new marijuana possession misdemeanor offense little more than a year after the then-Democratically controlled General Assembly approved marijuana legalization. Under the proposal, possession of more than four ounces of weed in public would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. A second offense would be punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The General Assembly will meet Wednesday in special session to consider the budget.

Drug Policy

Even as Overdose Deaths Rise, Public Concern About Drug Addiction is Decreasing, Pew Survey Finds. The number of Americans who see drug addiction as a "major problem" has declined in recent years, even as the country is in the midst of a sustained increase in drug overdose deaths, which are now at record highs. That decrease is evident even in regions of the country where overdoses have increased the most. Concern dropped in urban, rural, and suburban areas, and it dropped even in areas of high overdose death rates, from 45 percent to 37 percent. In low overdose death rate areas, concern dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent. As to why this is, Pew says: "It's not clear why public concern about drug addiction has declined in recent years, even in areas where overdose death rates have risen quickly. Surveys by the Center show that Americans have prioritized other issues, including the national economy, reducing health care costs and dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. The increase in overdose deaths may also be overshadowed, particularly amid the high number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus outbreak (though, as of this month, far fewer see the virus as a very big problem facing the country)."

International

Canada Allows British Columbia to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The federal government announced Tuesday that the province of British Columbia will be allowed to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs beginning next year. People 18 and over in the province will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, meth, and MDMA without criminal penalty or having their drugs seized beginning on January 31. The move is in response to a standing request from the province to grant it an exemption from the country's law criminalizing drug possession. British Columbia has seen more than 9.400 drug overdose deaths since 2016, and both the provincial government and activist groups have lobbied for the move. Activist groups go even further, calling for a "safe supply" of drugs.

UN Says More Than a Billion Meth Tablets Seized in East and Southeast Asia Last Year. Authorities in East and Southeast Asia seized 1.008 billion methamphetamine tablets last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. That was the first time more than a billion tablets were seized and is seven times higher than the amount seized a decade ago. That billion tablets translates to 91 tons of meth, but that was only slightly more than all the meth seized in all forms in the region, which totaled 172 tons. "I think the region is literally swimming in methamphetamine," said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the UN agency. "So there's going to have to be a radical policy shift by East Asia to address this problem or it's just going to continue to grow," Douglas said. "Production and trafficking of methamphetamine jumped yet again as supply became super concentrated in the Mekong (River region) and in particular Thailand, Laos and Myanmar," he added. He noted that the increased production is driving down prices, with a tablet now costing five or six times less than it did a decade ago.

RI Legislators Take Up Legal Pot Bills This Week, Montreal to See Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Clinic, More... (5/17/22)

Nebraska medical marijuana advocates and the ACLU sue over the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements, a Montreal clinic is about to become the first in Quebec to offer psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and more.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has formed a commission to study the benefits of marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislature Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bills This Week. One of the state's best positioned to legalize marijuana this year is finally taking up the issue this week. Committees in both chambers will be voting on legalization bills this week: The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430, and the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593. Both bills would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce under a Cannabis Control Commission. They also have social equity provisions and would impose a 10 percent sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska ACLU, Medical Marijuana Campaigners Sue State Over Signature-Gathering Requirements. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the ACLU of Nebraska said Monday they are filing a lawsuit challenging the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements as unconstitutional. State law requires that initiatives have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in 38 out of 93 counties, which the ACLU called a roadblock in the petitioning process. The group said the requirements skew the system in favor of rural counties, violating both the First and the 14th Amendments. The lawsuit comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana struggles to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group came up with enough signatures to make the ballot in 2020, only to have the measure thrown out by the state Supreme Court but lost significant funders this year.

International

Canada's Quebec to See First Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Facility Open Soon. The Mindspace by Numinus Clinic in Montreal has received permission from Health Canada to become the first health care facility in the province to legally use psilocybin to treat depression. The first clinic in the country to offer such services opened last month in British Columbia. The advances are coming after Health Canada restored its Special Access Program, which allows health care practitioners to request access to restricted drugs that have not yet been authorized for sale in the country. That program was abolished under the Conservatives in 2013 but restored by the Liberal government in January. Health Canada said it is weighing 13 more requests to operate similar service around the country.

London Mayor Sets Up Commission to Study Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana. London, England, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the formation of a commission of independent experts to study the potential benefits of marijuana legalization. Under British law, marijuana remains an illicit Class B drug with severe criminal penalties still in place, especially for dealing. Khan's London Drug Commission will be headed by Lord Charlie Falconer, with research for the commission being led by University College London. Khan announced the formation of the commission during a visit to a marijuana retail shop in Los Angeles over the weekend. "The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drugs laws. That’s why I am here today in LA to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis." Establishing a commission to examine the benefits of legalization was a key campaign pledge for Khan during last year's reelection campaign. 

News Release: Philippine Magnitsky Coalition to Target De Lima Persecutors, EJK Perpetrators

For Immediate Release -- May 7, 2022

Contact: David Borden, [email protected], Eric Lachica, [email protected]

Whoever wins in the May 8 Philippine election, a coalition of prominent Filipinos and allies aims to tighten the screws on officials responsible for extrajudicial killings and the unjust imprisonment of Senator and reelection candidate Leila de Lima.

2018 DC protest of Senator de Lima's unjust incarceration
The coalition is preparing detailed submissions for agencies at the US State and Treasury Departments that implement individually-targeted sanctions against persons suspected of human rights violations or financial corruption. The laws authorizing these sanctions, of which the Global Magnitsky Act is the most well-known, allow for banning travel to the US by designated individuals and sometimes their immediate family members, and can be used to freeze assets held in US financial institutions.

The coalition will also submit the information to new Magnitsky programs in the UK, European Union and Canada, and will send recently-researched information to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Buoying the coalition's hopes is the recanting in recent weeks by two key witnesseswhose testimony led to charges against Senator de Lima. Both say their testimony was coerced. This week a bipartisan group of US senators called for Senator de Lima's release.

NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have been killed extrajudicially by Philippine police and by government-financed vigilante groups associated with the police, since Duterte took office in 2016. Late last year the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court commenced an investigation into the Philippine drug war killings, though currently on pause under a treaty action by the Duterte administration that requests the investigation be reconsidered.

The PH Magnitsky Coalition includes Loida Nicolas Lewis, Chair, US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG); Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA); international justice expert and former Marcos family corruption investigator Ruben Carranza; former Secretary for Filipinos Overseas Imelda Nicolas; USFGG Washington DC Coordinator Eric Lachica; StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden; Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP); with others being added.

Persons the coalition recommends for sanctions will range from top-level national officials and police brass; political figures who encouraged extrajudicial killings or provided political cover for them; legal officials who stymied the investigatory process; local killers and officials who arranged reward payments; and PNP officials at Camp Crame, where Senator de Lima has been imprisoned since February 24, 2017.

Evidence backing up the charges will range from reports by human rights NGOs, national, and international institutions; affidavits from confessed former death squad members; news articles; and speeches in which public officials including President Duterte called for killings and took credit for them.

Eric Lachica, Washington DC Coordinator for US Filipinos for Good Governance, said, "Magnitsky law sanctions on President Duterte and his corrupt enablers would hasten the freedom of Senator de Lima, and would mark a fitting end to his murderous regime."

David Borden, Executive Director of the NGO StoptheDrugWar.org and coordinator of the coalition's Magnitsky effort said, "Disinformation may sway an election, but facts still hold an edge in the international legal system."

After completing this submission, the coalition plans similar efforts related to the corruption and suspected money-laundering efforts involving ill-gotten wealth of the family of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and to the Duterte administration's persecution of media outlets such as Rappler, whose publisher Maria Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Oklahoma MedMJ Moratorium Bill Nears Passage, Ecuador State of Emergency Over Drug Trafficking Violence, More... (5/2/22)

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago is moving toward legal, regulated marijuana markets; an Oklahoma bill for an open-ended moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses nears passage, and more.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso. The center-right leader has imposed a state of emergency over drug violence. (unctad)
Medical Marijuana

Last Chance to Kill Oklahoma Bill to Put Moratorium on New Medical Marijuana Businesses. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is warning that time is running out to oppose a pending bill, House Bill 3208, that would impose a moratorium on processing and issuing new medical marijuana business licenses. The measure has already passed in both the House and Senate, but was amended in the Senate, and is now back before the House for a final vote. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, and the state then became the fastest in the country to implement new medical marijuana laws, but lawmakers have been concerned about the explosion of medical marijuana cultivation and businesses since then. The bill would allow the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to extend the moratorium indefinitely, for as long as it "deems necessary."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency over Prohibition-Related Violence in Three Provinces. President Guillermo Lasso announced last Friday that he was decreeing a state of emergency for the next two months in three provinces that have been wracked by violence related to the black market drug trade. "I have declared a state of exception in the (coastal) provinces of Guayas, Manabi, and Esmeraldas, effective from midnight tonight," he said then. Lasso also ordered 4,000 police and 5,000 soldiers deployed to the three provinces and declared an overnight curfew for some areas, such as the town of Duran, near the port of Guayaquil. Increased drug trafficking in the country has left 1,255 dead since the start of the year and has also been linked to a series of prison massacres among rival gangs that have left more than 350 dead. The country is not a significant cocaine producer but serves as a transit hub for its illicit transshipment.

Trinidad and Tobago House Approves Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Commerce. The House last Friday gave unanimous approval to a bill to regulate the legal marijuana industry, the Cannabis Control Bill of 2020. The bill will "provide for the regulatory control of the handling of cannabis for certain purposes, the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Licensing Authority and connected matters." Minister of Local Government and Rural Affairs Faris Al-Rawi said that while the earlier relaxation of the country's marijuana laws helped greatly to unclog the country's criminal justice system, this bill would people the chance to make some "serious money." Trinidad and Tobago has a parliamentary system of government, which means this bill has the support of the government. It must still pass the Senate, though.

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