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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.

ND Legal Pot Initiative Can Start Signature-Gathering, Honduras Ex-Prez Extradited on Drug Charges, More... (4/22/22)

Kentucky's governor announces plans for executive actions to make medical marijuana available in the state,  a pair of US senators go after a methamphetamine precursor chemical, and more.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is now in custody in the US on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Can Begin Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jager (R) announced Thursday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach North Dakota has been approved for signature-gathering. The measure would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and direct the legislature to establish rules and create a legal marijuana program by October 2023. The campaign now needs to gather 15,582 valid voter signatures by July 11 to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. Kind Idaho, the group behind an effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, says it is not going to make it. "We aren't going to meet numbers," the campaign's treasurer said. The campaign needs 70,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot but has only come up with a tenth of them, and the deadline is one week from today. "We ran into some issues along the way with basically starting up a grassroots organization without any sort of financial backing or assistance," he said.

Kentucky Governor Announces Plan to Allow Medical Marijuana. In the wake of the legislature's failure to pass a marijuana bill (again), Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced Thursday a process that could lead to executive actions to allow medical marijuana in the state. "Most of these steps are about hearing from you, the public, so that your voice is heard by the executive branch — even if it's ignored by the legislative branch," Beshear said. Without naming names, Beshear went after Republican senators who blocked the bill, saying that "it's time that a couple of individuals that are out of touch with the vast majority of Kentuckians on this issue stop obstructing it and we're able to move forward."

Methamphetamine

Senate Drug Caucus Chairs Call on International Panel to Push for Scheduling of Methamphetamine Precursor Chemical. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, in a letter Thursday urged the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to recommend the scheduling of methylamine—a precursor to methamphetamine. On the INCB’s recommendation, the most recent session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted unanimously to control three fentanyl precursor chemicals, but did not act on methylamine. Whitehouse and Grassley encourage the INCB to back the scheduling of methylamine, which would help to save lives across the globe, they said. "In 2020, 24,576 Americans died from an overdose involving psychostimulants, a class of drugs that includes methamphetamine," Whitehouse and Grassley wrote. "As the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control has expressed to INCB in the past, international action is necessary to stop methylamine sales that enable criminal groups to produce methamphetamine. Recommending that CND schedule methylamine under the 1988 UN Convention will help save lives across the globe, including in the United States."

International

Mexican President Confirms Closure of Elite Anti-Drug Unit That Worked with DEA. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that an elite anti-drug unit that worked on drug investigations with the DEA was shut down last year, confirming a Reuters report from Tuesday. Lopez Obrador said the unit was shut down "over a year ago" and charged the unit had been infiltrated by criminals. "That group, which was supposedly a high-level strategic group, was infiltrated (by criminals),"he said. The Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) police were considered among the country's law enforcement elite and had worked on major investigations, such as the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but one of its former leaders, Ivan Reyes Arzate, has pleaded guilty in US federal court to taking bribes from a drug gang. The unit was seen as vital by US drug agents, who needed Mexican police to help with investigations there.

Honduras Ex-President Extradited to US to Face Drug Charges. Former President Juan Orlando Hernandez was extradited from Honduras Thursday to face drug charges in the US. He is accused of taking massive bribes from Mexican drug traffickers to abet a cocaine-importing conspiracy and related gun trafficking offenses. Hernandez was president from 2014 to January 2022 and was a Washington ally despite rumors of corruption surrounding him for years. "Hernandez abused his position as president of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state,"said US Attorney General Merrick Garland. "Hernandez worked closely with other public officials to protect cocaine shipments bound for the United States." Hernandez's brother Tony, a former Honduran congressman, has already been sentenced to life in prison in the US after being convicted earlier on drug trafficking charges. 

The Taliban Announces a Ban on Opium. Really? [FEATURE]

On April 3, the Taliban announced a ban on drug cultivation in Afghanistan, for years the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global supply of the substance, from which heroin is derived, throughout this century. But the ban announcement raised as many questions as it answered and has been met with a degree of skepticism, not only around the motives of the Taliban but also because opium plays such a key role in an Afghan economy that is now in especially dire straits.

The opium poppy is an economic mainstay in Afghanistan. Can the Taliban really suppress it? (UNODC)
"As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," said an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order said.

The order also banned the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, or use of other drugs. (Afghanistan is also one of the world's leading cannabis producers and is seeing rapidly increasing methamphetamine production.)

The Taliban presided over the only other opium ban in modern Afghan history back in 2000, but that effort faltered amidst a popular backlash against repressing a crop that provided incomes for hundreds of thousands of families, and eventually withered away before the Taliban were overthrown by the invading Americans late in 2001.

During two decades of foreign occupation, repressing the opium trade largely played second fiddle to the war on terror, and the Afghan opium economy prospered. By the end of 2021, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that the opium trade was worth between $1.8 and $2.7 billion, constituting as much as 11 percent of the country's Gross National Product (GNP). UNODC also noted that the departure of Western development assistance after the Taliban takeover in August, which accounted for 22 percent of GNP, will only make drug markets a larger share of the economy.

So, is the ban for real? And if the Taliban are serious, can they actually do it, given the crucial role the crop plays in the devasted national economy? The Chronicle consulted with a couple of experts on the topic, and opinions were divided.

Sher Jan Ahmadzai is director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is skeptical.

"If you look at the Taliban's historical approach to opium, they only banned it when prices went down to increase demand," said Ahmadzai. "A second goal has been to respond to international pressure that opium should be banned. But looking strategically at opium, where their funding comes from, it doesn't seem to me that they will really pursue this."

"There are a couple of reasons for that," Ahmadzai continued. "One, they have been dependent on the income from opium. Although opium production is haram, they didn't ban it for religious reasons. Instead, they taxed it, and many of their leaders have been involved in drug trafficking and depend on this. To me, it seems very difficult to accept the ban as a fact.

"Second, most of rural Afghanistan, especially the southwest, has traditionally been dependent on opium production, and it will really hurt them economically, which will create political problems among the Taliban. Their support base is opium-growing farmers, and a ban will attract their anger," he argued.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institute. She thinks the ban is for real but will come with a high price.

"For several years, Taliban interlocutors were saying they were moving toward the ban," said Felbab-Brown. "It didn't work out for them in 2000, and later they were deeply engaged in poppy cultivation, but the leadership now is very conservative, very inward-looking, very doctrinaire, and is trying to restore 1990 policies. The more internationalist factions within the Taliban are much weaker and have not been successful in implementing policies.

"There is good reason to believe they will try to implement the ban, but that will have significant impacts on the implementers, including fighters, who have not gotten paid," she continued. "This will impact relations among the various factions and the ability of commanders to pay their fighters, which will be negatively affected by the ban.

"The question is how long will they maintain it, how long are they willing to squeeze the people and deal with compounding rifts within the Taliban. They don't want to alienate various factions, but in this case, we see a very conservative policy that will compound those rifts," she predicted.

Ahmadzai was not convinced that the ban reflected factional differences between conservatives and internationalists within the Taliban.

"I don't see any big differences in their policies," he said. "I haven't seen any breakups, so it's hard to say it's a power struggle between the factions. No one has spoken out against it; even those who were stationed in Doha have not spoken out against anything the conservatives have done. If there is a power struggle, it is not around differences over banning."

For Ahmadzai, the ban is little less than a publicity stunt, especially given harsh economic conditions and Afghanistan's desperate need to mollify the international community in order to get sanctions removed and assistance flowing again.

"The urban economy was already seeing its own share of destruction in the last eight months, and the rural economy is more or less based on opium," he said, "so more than anything this looks like another cosmetic step to let the international community know they are doing something. They want to make Iran or Russia happy. Russia is a huge market for Afghan drugs, and the Russians want them to come down hard on opium production."

Felbab-Brown disagreed.

"There is also a possible international dimension to this; the Taliban may be trying to curry favor with Iran or Russia, but that is not the principal reason," said Felbab-Brown.

Whatever the reason for the ban announcement, if it actually happens, it is going to make tough times in Afghanistan -- the UN last month reported that the country is facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis of "unparalleled proportions" -- even tougher.

"The Taliban are not promising help or advising people what to do; their attitude is just cope with it. But the country is already in a drastic humanitarian situation, and this will not just hurt farmers, there will be significant knock-on effects," said Felbab-Brown. "The economy has dried up since the Taliban took power, and heroin has been one of the sources of liquidity. As problematic as the bans and eradication were in 2000, eventually they were not enforced and eradication was not funded, and now the economy is so much worse. The economic impact of the Western withdrawal is already awful; this will make it just tragic."

LA House Passes No Pot Smoking in Vehicle Bill, Fight Over Drug Decriminalization Thresholds in BC, More... (4/7/22)

With a medical marijuana bill pending, a North Carolina poll show it has strong support; a Colorado bill to create a psychedelic review panel is dropped by its sponsor who says let voters decide at the polls in November, and more.

You might not want to do this in Louisiana if a bill that is moving through the legislature passes. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana House Passes Bill to Make Smoking Marijuana in a Vehicle a Stoppable Offense. The House on Thursday approved a measure, House Bill 234, that would make smoking marijuana in a vehicle a primary offense, meaning that police could use that to pull over anyone suspected of a violation. Bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metaire) said the bill was a highway safety measure, but opponents said they feared it would lead to unwarranted traffic stops and that police could mistake a cigarette or vaping device for marijuana and pull over vehicles. But the bill passed by a greater than two-to-one margin in the House and now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Not Quite a Majority for Legalization. A WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College poll has found that 68 percent of North Carolinians believe medical marijuana should be legal, but only 46 percent think recreational marijuana should be legal. The poll comes as the legislature is grappling with a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711, would legalize medical marijuana to help ease pain and nausea associated with several illnesses and diseases. The bill saw some action last year, but has yet to move this year.

Psychedelics

Colorado Bill to Legalize MDMA Prescriptions with Federal Approval Advances, But Psychedelic Review Panel Killed. The House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee voted Tuesday to advance House Bill 1344, which would adjust state statutes so that legal MDMA prescriptions could occur if and when the federal government allows such use. But the same committee voted down a bill that would have created a psychedelic review committee to make recommendations on possible policy changes, House Bill 1116, after its sponsor asked for it to "kill my bill" given that voters will have a chance of weighing in on psychedelic reform initiatives likely to appear on the November ballot.

International

Health Canada Proposes Lower Thresholds for British Columbia Drug Decriminalization; Activists Cry Foul. The province has applied with Health Canada for an exemption to the country's drug laws in order to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, and BC Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said Wednesday that the federal agency is considering a lower threshold for the amount of drugs a person can carry than what the province or activists say it proper. The province requested a cumulative threshold of 4.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but Malcolmson said Health Canada is considering a threshold of 2.5 grams. "Everybody who is an advocate was horrified by this," said Leslie McBain, cofounder of Moms Stop the Harm. "If the thresholds are too low, it exposes them to more increased police surveillance, it exposes them to having to buy smaller quantities and so accessing the illegal market more often," said Donald MacPherson, director of advocacy group the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Health Canada says no final decision has been reached. 

Amendments Fly as House Legal Pot Vote Looms, Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking, More... (3/30/22)

A Maryland marijuana legalization bill advances, New Mexico pot shops will open starting Friday, a Georgia therapeutic psychedelic study bill advances, and more.

The House is set to vote on the MORE Act this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers File Various Amendments to House Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a House floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) set for this week, proposed amendments are coming fast and furious. They will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Wednesday. Most of the proposed amendments seek to impose restrictions on the bill, such as requiring completion of various certain studies before legalization, limiting expungement provisions, or maintaining certain penalties. One, though, would provide relief for people denied security clearances because of past marijuana convictions.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 833, that would only take effect if voters approved a related ballot question in November. A slightly different version of the bill passed the House last month, so a conference committee will have to hash out the differences. The panel did not act on House Bill 1, which would establish the November referendum. The legislature faces a deadline at the end of the week. Lawmakers will only have the chance to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) if they get bills to his desk this week.

New Mexico Recreational Pot Shops Can Open Their Doors on Friday. The state legislature legalized marijuana last year, and beginning on Friday, the first recreational marijuana sales in the state can begin. New Mexicans could legally possess and use marijuana since last June, but had no place to legally purchase recreational marijuana—until now. State officials have issued more than 200 licenses for retail pot shops. When they open later this week, adults will be able to purchase two ounces of weed at a time.

Opiates and Opioids

California Fentanyl Crisis Prompts Flurry of Bills. Lawmakers are responding to a surge in fentanyl-related overdoses with a number of bills, some punitive, but others embracing harm reduction interventions. Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) has filed Assembly Bill 2246, which would increase penalties for possession and distribution, including a sentence of 20 years to life for someone who sold fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose. Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland) has field Assembly Bill 1628, which would require companies such as Snapchat to implement policies that prohibit the sale of fentanyl and other controlled substances on their platforms. Senate Bill 864 would require hospitals to test drug screening urine samples for fentanyl, Senate Bill 1350 would require warnings to people convicted of drug distribution offenses that they could be charged with manslaughter of murder in the event of a fatal overdose, while Assembly Bill 1673 would set up a California Fentanyl Task Force to produce statewide statistics and ramp up public awareness. On the harm reduction side, Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 57 would authorize pilot safe injection site program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. That bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Psychedelics

Georgia Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill Advances. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee voted Tuesday to approve House Resolution 896, which would create a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and make recommendations for legislation. The bill is couched as an effort to address the need for effective treatments for depression and PTSD for military veterans. It now heads to the House Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee.

International

Colombia Coca Zone Battle Sees 11 FARC Dissidents Killed. The Colombia Army said Tuesday its soldiers had killed at least 11 FARC dissidents in open combat n Puerto Leguizamo municipality in Putumayo province near the borders with Ecuador and Peru. The area has extensive coca plantings and cocaine-producing laboratories and is contested by various armed actors. The FARC dissidents are former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected the FARC's demobilization under a 2016 peace deal with the government.

Mexico Attack Leaves at Least 20 Dead in Michoacan. Presumed cartel gunmen attacked spectators at a cockfighting pit in the town of Las Tinajas Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and several more wounded. "It was a massacre of one group by another," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference, expressing his regret at the deaths. The state of Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato have been plagued by cartel violence for years, with the most recent mass killing leaving 17 people dead only weeks ago. Earlier this month, the mayor of Aguilla, Michoacan, was gunned down, and days later, journalist Armando Linares was killed in Zitacuaro. Most of the violence is between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local gangs, but some of it is between different factions of that same cartel.

Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking. Closing its ears to pleas for leniency, including from the UN Human Rights Office, Singapore on Wednesday executed Abdul Kahar Othman, 68, for drug trafficking. The hanging marked the first execution in the country since it halted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last execution took place in November 2019. Kahar, from a poor family, had struggled with addiction all his life and spent much of his adult life behind bars. He was convicted of drug trafficking in 2013. Another execution may be looming. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, has been on death row since 2010 for trying to smuggle 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. He lost his final appeal on Tuesday. 

Chronicle Book Review: "Transforming the War on Drugs" [FEATURE]

Transforming the War on Drugs: Warriors, Victims and Vulnerable Regions edited by Annette Idler and Juan Carlos Garzon Vergara (2021, Oxford University Press, 584 pp., $34.95 PB)

If you have been watching the growing fissures and fractures in the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the United Nation's three-treaty international drug control regime (IDCR) and are expecting the whole thing to come crashing to the ground sometime soon, don't hold your breath. That is the message that comes through loud and clear in Transforming the War on Drugs, an essential collection that comprehensively analyzes the past and present of global drug policy and points the way to a different, better future.

As the contributors make clear, while the IDCR is suffering well-earned stresses, especially around its failure to succeed on its own terms -- reducing drug use and the drug trade -- and while the "Vienna consensus" may be fraying, the global reform movement that has been building since the failure of the 1998 UN General Assembly Session (UNGASS) on Drugs to meet its goal of eradicating drug use within a decade has yet to jell.

As Monica Serrano explains in "A Forward March Halted: The UNGASS Process and the War on Drugs," while Latin American nations such as Colombia and Mexico called for a reconsideration of the IDCR, paving the way for the 2016 UNGASS, they did not succeed in building alliances with other nations that could push the process forward. That was not only because of deficiencies in those countries' efforts, but also because, despite the ever-increasing calls for change, a majority of countries around the world still subscribe to the law enforcement-heavy tenets of the global drug prohibition regime.

That is despite the now quite clearly understood harms that the IDCR imposes on different countries and groups around the world. Whether it is enabling the rise of violent drug trafficking organizations, destroying the livelihoods of poor drug crop farmers, creating horrendous human rights violations, filling prisons around the world, or creating needless suffering for drug users, the international response to drug use and trafficking is creating real, calculable negative consequences.

As coeditor Annette Idler demonstrates in "Warriors, Victims, and Vulnerable Regions," the heedless harshness of the IDCR is embedded in its very DNA. From the beginning, the US "war on drugs" model and the rhetoric of drugs as "evil" and an existential threat to the security of nation-states has excused the sort of "state of emergency" measures -- criminalization, law enforcement crackdowns, militarization -- that, while not even managing to make countries more secure, manages to bring not security but insecurity to communities and drug using individuals.

Other contributors to the volume make that point in great detail in case studies of Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, West Africa, the Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan), the Golden Triangle, and Russia. How can one argue that drug prohibition has brought security to Mexico, with thousands of killings each year and police forces so corrupted you don't know which department is working for which cartel? Likewise, West Africa, where drug prohibition has so corrupted some governments that "the state becomes a threat to its own self"?

Given current events, the case of Russia is particularly interesting. It is one of the staunchest supporters of the current IDCR, but not just because of its inherent authoritarianism. Russia didn't really have a significant drug control regime until the post-Soviet era of the 1990s, and then it modeled its apparatus on that of the DEA. But even though it looked to the West for drug war expertise, its drug concerns were primarily domestic: It has one of the world's most serious heroin problems, one driven by supply rather than demand, contributor Ekaterina Stepanova explains. That supply is coming from Afghanistan, and Russian addicts account for about one quarter of all Afghan heroin production. One more reason for Russia to be unhappy with the US and NATO, who, in two decades of occupying Afghanistan, never effectively suppressed the poppy crop.

One of the more fascinating chapters is on rethinking the metrics of measuring success in drug policy. Instead of measuring "securitized" items such as acres of drug crops eradicated, the amount of drugs seized, the number of traffickers arrested -- all of which really measure repressive enforcement activity -- contributors Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre argue for new metrics for a new framework for evaluating drug policies. With broad goals of improving the health and welfare of the population and enhancing the safety and security of people who use drugs and the broader public, instead of measuring busts and seizures, we should be quantifying metrics for decriminalizing drug use (is it decriminalized, how many legislative measures are aimed at it, how many civil society groups are involved, how many people are being arrested and imprisoned) and curbing drug harms through public health measures (number of drug overdose deaths, number of other drug-related deaths, prevalence of drug-linked infectious disease). This really make sense if we are actually interested in improving lives as opposed to the quixotic quest to eliminate drug use.

There is a whole lot more to this volume. It is a comprehensive, systematic effort to theoretically, conceptually, and empirically investigate the effects of the IDCR and offer a more human alternative. Anyone seriously interested in working to understand and change the global drug prohibition regime need a well-thunbed copy of this on his bookshelf.

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

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

Psychedelics

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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