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NJ Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills, Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana, More... (1/18/22)

It's January, and the marijuana bills are coming fast and furious, a Utah bill would create a psychedelic therapy task force, and more.

Louisiana US Senate candidate Gary Chambers fires up for his first campaign ad. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Democrats are back once again with a marijuana legalization bill. State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) has filed House Bill 150, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but bans people from growing their own. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce and includes a small social equity provision that would earmark a portion of pot taxes for aiding communities most hard hit by the war on drugs. But the bill's prospects are cloudy since it would need a supermajority to pass the legislature and would then face a governor reluctant to sign it.

Louisiana US Senate Candidate Smokes Blunt in Campaign Ad. Democratic US Senate candidate Gary Chambers on Tuesday released his first campaign ad, a video showing him smoking a marijuana blunt and calling for its legalization. "Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana," said Chambers in the video. "States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren't dealers but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me," he goes on. In a tweet accompanying his ad, Chambers added: "I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology." He is running to challenge sitting US Senator John Kennedy (R).

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment Bill Filed. Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) has filed House Bill 1, a marijuana legalization bill with a twist: It takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which would have to win a supermajority of both the House and Senate before going to voters at the polls during a general election. The measure would legalize marijuana possession for people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. If it gets past the legislature, voters would be asked: "Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the State of Maryland?" Recent polls show roughly two-thirds of Marylanders are ready to free the weed.

Psychedelics

Utah Bill Would Create Psychedelic Task Force. Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Highland) has filed House Bill 167, which would create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force that would "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The task force would be co-chaired by the head of the state Health Department and the head of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and would also include a licensed psychiatrist; a licensed psychologist; a representative from the Utah Medical Association, someone who researches and studies neuroscience and mental health; a health system representative; and a patient who is knowledgeable about using a psychotherapy drug, among others. Although not mentioned specifically in the bill, supporters say psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, is the drug most likely to be considered by the task force.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills into Law. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday signed into laws a pair of bills that will ease access to syringes. The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) removes authority to approve and close syringe access programs (SAPs) from local municipalities and places that authority with the New Jersey Department of Health, aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions. By shifting authority from municipalities to the New Jersey Department of Health, this legislation effectively prevents the Atlantic City SAP, called the Oasis Drop-In Center and operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, from being closed by the Atlantic City Council. In July 2021, the Atlantic City Council voted to remove municipal approval from the SAP over the objections of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, local and statewide advocates, and the Murphy administration.

International

Canadian Harm Reductionists Sue Alberta Over Policy to Require Safe Injection Site Users Show Health ID Cards. Harm reduction groups are taking legal action to try to block the province of Alberta from requiring that people using a safe injection site show their Health Canada identification cards. The policy is set to go into effect on January 31, and harm reductionists say it will create a barrier to using the service and increase the risk of fatal overdoses. The Alberta Court of Appeal has agreed to an emergency hearing on January 27. This latest move comes after a provincial judge earlier this month dismissed an injunction that would have blocked implementation of the new rule.

Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana. The Thai Food and Drug Administration is set to propose removing marijuana from the country's list of proscribed drugs on Wednesday, clearing the way for Health Minister Anutin Charmvirakul to grant final approval. "While the law change will allow all parts of cannabis to be bought, sold and used, recreational use will likely remain controlled as marijuana extracts with higher tetrahydrocannabinol levels that get people high will still be regulated," said Chaiwat Sowcharoensuk, an analyst at Krungsri Research. "Producers of soaps, beauty products and cosmetics from marijuana will likely be the ones to benefit the most from the decriminalization."

Global Coalition to Internationally Reschedule Psilocybin, Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill, More... (1/12/22)

A Florida bill seeks to make it easier to prosecute drug overdoses as murders, an Austin initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession has enough signatures to qualify for the May ballot, and more.

Austin voters are nearly set to vote on a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative in May. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Austin Appears Headed for May Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Measure. The Austin city clerk verified Monday that a campaign to put a measure on the May municipal ballot to decriminalize marijuana and ban no-knock raids has collected enough signatures to qualify. But the city council must first vote to put it on the ballot. The measure, backed by Ground Game Texas, would bar Austin police from ticketing or arresting people for low-level marijuana or pot paraphernalia charges, or paying to test substances suspected of being marijuana. But possession would remain a misdemeanor under state law, and it is unclear whether Austin police would abide by such an ordinance.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Takes Up Medical Marijuana. More than a year after voters approved medical marijuana and months after the state Supreme Court nullified the will of the voters, the state legislature is ready to respond. On Tuesday, Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven) filed Senate Bill 2095, which has been referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and could see action as soon as this week. If it passes the committee, it would then head for a Senate floor vote. Then it would go to the House, but House Speaker Phillip Gunn (R) has said medical marijuana is not a big priority of his.

Sentencing Policy

Florida Bill to Ease Murder Prosecutions in Drug Overdose Cases Advances. A bill that would make it easier to prosecute fatal drug overdoses as first-degree murder cases was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Sponsored by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), Senate Bill 190 would lower the standard for bringing a murder charge from requiring that prosecutors prove the drug was the "proximate cause" of an overdose death to proving only that it was a "substantial factor."

Brodeur said prosecutors were complaining that they were having difficulty bringing murder charges because "very frequently victims have multiple substances” in their systems when they overdose. "In moving from proximate cause to substantial factor, what we're saying is, rather than getting a battle of the experts that have to prove that this (drug) was the actual cause of death versus something else in your system, as long as there was enough of this one by itself to cause death, that’s enough for prosecution. And that makes it much simpler," Brodeur said.

Public defenders warned that the measure could remove the incentive for people to report overdoses "if they know that there’s a possible death penalty prosecution" that could result. The bill also would add methamphetamine to the list of drugs that can be eligible for first-degree murder charges in overdose deaths. That list currently includes such substances as cocaine, opium and fentanyl. The proposal also would toughen penalties for selling controlled substances within 1,000 feet of facilities that provide substance abuse treatment.

A similar House Bill (HB 95) needs approval from the House Judiciary Committee before it could go to the House floor for consideration.

International

Global Coalition Launches Push to Reschedule Psilocybin Under International Rules. The newly formed International Therapeutic Psilocybin Rescheduling Initiative (ITPRI) has announced a new campaign to get psilocybin mushrooms rescheduled at the international level. The group says it is seeking the change in order to ease barriers to research. Member organizations include the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Beckley Foundation, Mind Medicine Australia, Drug Science and Open Foundation. The coalition wants psilocybin removed from Schedule I of the UN's 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, arguing that it is neither especially risky nor with only limited therapeutic uses, the two conditions required for drugs to be placed in Schedule I. As a first step, the coalition will attempt to find a UN member nation to ask for a formal review of the risks and benefits of the psychedelic.

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin, More... (1/11/22)

The nation's top spook announces an easing of rules around past marijuana use and national security clearances, the New Jersey legislature approves needle exchange expansion and syringe decriminalization bills, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Director of National Intelligence Gives Clarification on Marijuana Issues and Clearance Holders. In guidance released late last year, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines clarified the intelligence community's policy regarding security clearances for people who have used marijuana. Under previous policy, people needed to have not used marijuana for one to two years before applying for a national security position, but now the policy is that past marijuana use should not be determinative, but that they needed to stop using if they were being considered for a position: "In light of the long-standing federal law and policy prohibiting illegal drug use while occupying a sensitive position or holding a security clearance, agencies are encouraged to advise prospective national security workforce employees that they should refrain from any future marijuana use upon initiation of the national security vetting process, which commences once the individual signs the certification contained in the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions."

The new guidance also addresses investing in marijuana businesses, warning that people seeking clearances should not do so, and it warns people seeking security clearances to be wary of using CBD products -- although it doesn't forbid it. "With respect to the use of CBD products, agencies should be aware that using these cannabis derivatives may be relevant to adjudications in accordance with SEAD 4." In other words, it could show up on a drug test.

Virginia Republican Files Bill to Eliminate Social Equity Funding in Marijuana Program. State Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. has filed a bill, Senate Bill 107, that would eliminate social equity funding for the state's recreational marijuana program. The bill would delete the line in last year's marijuana legalization law that channels 30 percent of revenues into a marijuana equity investment fund. Although Democrats still control the state Senate, minority business advocates worry that the bill could still pass and are calling it an effort to dismantle provisions in the law that have strong public support. If the bill does not pass, the funding will go supporting licensing opportunities for small and minority-owned marijuana businesses.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Legislature Approves Bills Ending Requirement for Municipal Approval for Needle Exchanges. The legislature has passed the Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) and the Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458), a pair of bills whose aim is to address the state's opioid overdose epidemic by easing access to clean needles, legalizing possession of needles, and expanding access to addiction services. The first pair of bills ends the requirement that municipalities pass an ordinance to okay local needle exchanges, while the second pair of bills legalized needle possession.

International

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin. Health Canada has amended federal regulations to allow doctors to request access to restricted drugs, such as MDMA and psilocybin, for patients undergoing psychedelic therapy. The regulatory change will allow physicians to use the Special Access Program, which allows healthcare practitioners to access drugs that have shown promise in clinical trials, or are approved in other countries, to seek permission to employ the drugs as therapeutics. The amendment to the Food and Drug Regulations was published in the Wednesday edition of the Canada Gazette, Canada's version of the federal register.

Duterte Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Killings, Oklahoma MJ Legalization Init Filed, More... (1/6/22)

It's January and marijuana legalization efforts are winding up, Manhattan's new DA will refuse to prosecute some drug crimes, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Iowa Lawmakers Release Proposal to Put Marijuana Legalization on the Ballot. Three state Senate Democrats have filed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in the state. The proposal would put the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission in charge of regulations, would allow people 21 and over to possess and purchase marijuana, and set up a system of taxed and regulated production and sales. To become law, the amendment would have to be approved by two General Assemblies and then put on the next election ballot. Senators Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Windsor Heights), and Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) introduced the proposal.

New Hampshire House Refuses to Pass or Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Tuesday voted down an attempt to kill a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 237, but then also refused to pass it. The bill would have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years old and older, regulated its use and commercial sales, and tax those sales. The motion to kill the bill failed on a 171-158 vote, while a motion to pass the bill failed on a 170-163 vote. The House then decided on a 300-32 vote to table the bill.

New York Governor Announces $200 Fund for Social Equity Marijuana Businesses. The state will create a $200 million fund to assist social equity applicants trying to get marijuana business licenses, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced during her State of the State address Wednesday. But the funding mechanism -- a "public/private" model based on licensing fees and taxes -- has some minority industry members concerned that the funding will only be available after the industry has already been established, still leaving social equity applicants in an adverse position.

Oklahoma Activists File New Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Activists on Tuesday filed a new marijuana legalization initiative with state officials. This time, the local activists are being backed by the national New Approach PAC, which has backed a number of successful initiatives in other states. A different group of state activists has already filed its own legalization initiative. This newest measure would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce, grow up to six plants and six seedlings, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. If and when the initiative is approved for signature-gathering, the campaign will have 90 days to come up with 94,911 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Says Proposed Current Dosage Amount for Medical Marijuana is Too High. Governor Tate Reeves (R) is digging in his heels on concerns about how much marijuana medical marijuana patients could use under proposed legislation. "If 10 percent of the Mississippi population gets a marijuana card, that's 300-thousand Mississippians," he said. "At 11 joints a day, that's 3.3 million joints a day, 100 million joints a month,1.2 billion joints on the streets of Mississippi a year and I just think that's too much to be on the streets." Voters approved medical marijuana in the November 2020 elections, only to see it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. Both Reeves and the legislature have vowed to enact medical marijuana legislation, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

Prosecution

Manhattan DA Announces Office Will Not Prosecute Certain Offenses, Including Some Drug Offenses. New Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued a memo this week directing his prosecutors to seek jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses and not prosecute charges such as marijuana misdemeanors, fare-jumping, trespass, unlicensed vehicle operation, prostitution, or resisting arrest unless the offense is accompanied by another misdemeanor or felony. Also, small-time drug sellers will not be charged with felonies and will be eligible for diversion. Bragg is only the latest big city progressive prosecutor to embrace such an approach to prosecution; prosecutors in places like Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have been leading the way.

International

Duterte Says He Will "Never Apologize" for Drug War Deaths. Outgoing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte remains unrepentant about the thousands of people killed in his bloody war on drugs. In a major speech Tuesday, he said police doing their duty had a right to fight back when their lives were endangered, and that he would not apologize for his actions. "I will never, never apologize for the deaths of those bastards," he said in English, before adding in Tagalog, "Kill me, imprison me, I will never apologize." Official government numbers put the death toll in Duterte's drug war at 6,200, but human rights groups say the real toll is more than 30,000. The Duterte administration is currently trying to fend off an International Criminal Court investigation of human rights abuses in its drug war.

Study Confirms Safety of Group Psychedelic Sessions, MS Lawmakers to Take Up MedMJ Again, More... (1/5/22)

Wyoming marijuana legalization activists are forced to turn their aim to 2024, a New Mexico bill to legalize fentanyl test strips is coming, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Activists to Focus on 2024 for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Having decided they cannot gather enough voter signatures in time to put marijuana decrim and medical marijuana initiatives on the 2022 ballot, reformers are turning their attention to 2024. They cited poor weather conditions, the pandemic, and slow action on their petitions by state officials for coming up short for this year. They would have needed 41,776 valid voter signatures by next month to make the 2022 ballot, and only have about 30 percent of that number at this point.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Convenes, Is Set to Take Up Medical Marijuana. The legislature is back in session, and medical marijuana is on the front burner. Voters approved medical marijuana at the polls in November 2020, only to have the results nullified by the state Supreme Court, and lawmakers have vowed to enact the will of the voters by passing a medical marijuana bill. It was supposed to have been done in a special session late last year, but Gov. Tate Reeves (R) never called it because he was unsatisfied with the proposed legislation. Now, the legislature will give it another try.

Psychedelics

Psilocybin Clinical Trial Confirms Safety of Group Psychedelic Sessions. A new study published in the The Journal of Psychopharmacology found no detrimental effects from administering psilocybin in a group setting. The study reported the results of a large clinical trial checking on both short- and long-term effects of administering the drug. While researchers in the 1960s studied the effects of psychedelics when administered in a group setting, since interest in medicinal applications of psychedelics rebounded in recent years, almost all research has focused on the administration of the drugs to individuals.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Attorney General to Push Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Faced with a 25 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) says he is getting behind pending legislation to make fentanyl test strips legal. Under current state law, they are considered drug paraphernalia. State Rep. Tara Lujan (D-Santa Fe) says she will file the bill this week and that it also has the support of the governor and the state health department.

International

Abu Dhabi Court Sentences Two Filipinos to Death for Drug Dealing. The Abu Dhabi Criminal Court has sentenced two unnamed Filipinos to death after convicting them of possessing and selling "narcotics and psychotropic substances."

The death sentences contradict the position of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as in this 2019 statement: "As part of the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does not support the use of the death penalty. Just last December [2018], more countries than ever before -- 121 Member States -- supported a General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The three international drug control conventions, which form the foundation of the global drug control system that has been agreed by nearly every country in the world, cannot be used to justify the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences alone. Application of the death penalty may also impede international cooperation to fight drug trafficking, as there are national laws that do not allow the exchange of information and extradition with countries which may impose capital punishment for the offences concerned. The dangers posed by illicitly-trafficked drugs are evident and lives are at stake. But use of the death penalty cannot provide durable solutions or protect people."

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

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

1. The International Criminal Court Eyes Philippines Drug War Killings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan's Government Falls, Opium Remains

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

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

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

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

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

3, Mexican Drug War Violence Just Keeps Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw Pushback

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

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

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

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

6. Pushing the Boundaries in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Global Drug War’s Victims Are Fighting Back [FEATURE]

Despite significant advances made by governments around the world in humanizing drug control systems since the turn of the century, human rights abuses still seem to be taking place in the course of enforcing drug prohibitions in recent years and, in some cases, have only gotten worse.

The United States continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses and imposes state surveillance (probation and parole) on millions more. The Mexican military rides roughshod over the rule of law, disappearing, torturing, and killing people with impunity as it wages war on (or sometimes works with) the infamous drug cartels. Russia and Southeast Asian countries, meanwhile, hold drug users in "treatment centers" that are little more than prison camps.

A virtual event last summer, which ran parallel to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, shined a harsh light on brutal human rights abuses by the Philippines and Indonesia in the name of the war on drugs and also highlighted one method of combating impunity for drug war crimes: by imposing sanctions on individuals responsible for the abuses.

The event, "SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights," was organized by DRCNet Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charity operated by StoptheDrugWar.org, publisher of this newsletter. The "SDG 16" refers to Sustainable Development Goal 16 -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Event organizer and executive director of the organization David Borden opened the meeting with a discussion about the broad drug policy issues and challenges being witnessed on the global stage.

"Drug policy affects and is affected by many of these broad sustainable development goals," he said. "One of the very important issues is the shortfall in global AIDS funding, especially in the area of harm reduction programs. Another goal -- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions -- is implicated in the Philippines, where President [Rodrigo] Duterte was elected in 2016 and initiated a mass killing campaign admitted by him -- although sometimes denied by his defenders -- in which the police acknowledged killing over 6,000 people in [anti-drug] operations [since 2016], almost all of whom resisted arrests, according to police reports. NGOs put the true number [of those who were] killed at over 30,000, with many executed by shadowy vigilantes."

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has proposed a formal investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war, but the court seems hampered by a chronic shortfall in funding, Borden pointed out.

"Former prosecutors have warned pointedly on multiple occasions of a mismatch between the court's mission and its budget," he said. "Recent activity at the conclusion of three different preliminary investigations shows that while the prosecutor in the Philippines moved forward, in both Nigeria and Ukraine, the office concluded there should be formal investigations, but did not [submit] investigation requests, leaving it [up to the] new prosecutors [to decide]. The hope is [that the ICC] will move as expeditiously as possible on the Philippines investigation, but resources will affect that, as will the [Philippine] government's current stance."

The government's current stance is perhaps best illustrated by President Duterte's remarks at his final State of the Nation address on July 26. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to "record his threats against those who 'destroy' the country with illegal drugs," the Rappler reported. "I never denied -- and the ICC can record it -- those who destroy my country, I will kill you," said Duterte. "And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years," and again told police to kill drug users and dealers.

At the virtual event, Philippines human rights advocate Justine Balane, secretary-general of Akbayan Youth, the youth wing of the progressive, democratic socialist Akbayan Citizens' Action Party, provided a blunt and chilling update on the Duterte government's bloody five-year-long drug war.

"The killings remain widespread, systematic, and ongoing," he said. "We've documented 186 deaths, equal to two a day for the first quarter of the year. Of those, 137 were connected to the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the armed forces, and 49 were committed by unidentified assailants."

The "unidentified assailants" -- vigilante death squads of shadowy provenance -- are responsible for the majority of killings since 2016.

"Of the 137 killed, 96 were small-time pushers, highlighting the fact that the drug war is also class warfare targeting small-time pushers or people just caught in the wrong place or wrong time," Balane said.

He also provided an update on the Duterte administration's response to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's June 14 decision concluding her preliminary examination of human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war with a request to the ICC to open a formal investigation into "the situation in the Philippines."

In a bid to fend off the ICC, in 2020, the Philippine Justice Department announced it had created a panel to study the killings carried out by agents of the state -- police or military -- but Balane was critical of these efforts.

"[In the second half of 2020], the Justice Department said it had finished the initial investigations, but no complaints or charges were filed," he said. "They said it was difficult to find witnesses [who were willing to testify about the killings], but [the victims'] families said they were not approached [by the review panel]."

The Justice Department is also undercutting the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office whose primary mission is to investigate human rights abuses, Balane pointed out.

"The Justice Department said the commission would be involved [in the investigation process by the panel], but the commission says [that the] Justice [Department] has yet to clarify its rules and their requests have been left unanswered," Balane said. "The commission is the constitutional body tasked to investigate abuses by the armed forces, and they are being excluded by the Justice Department review panel."

The Justice Department review is also barely scraping the surface of the carnage, Balane said, noting that while in May the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they would be granting the review panel access to 61 investigations -- which accounts for less than 1 percent of the killings that the government acknowledged were part of the official operations since 2016 -- the PNP has now decreased that number to 53.

"The domestic review by [the] Justice [Department] appears influenced by Duterte himself," said Balane. "This erodes the credibility of the drug war review by the Justice Department, which is the government's defense for their calls against international human rights mechanisms."

The bottom line, according to Balane, is that "the killings continue, they are still systematic, and they are still widespread."

In Indonesia -- where, like Duterte in the Philippines, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) also declared a war on drugs in 2016 -- it is not only extrajudicial killings that are the issue but also the increasing willingness of the government to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.

"Extrajudicial killings [as a result of] the drug war are happening in Indonesia," said Iftitahsari, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who cited 99 extrajudicial killings that took place in 2017 and 68 that happened in 2018, with a big jump to 287 from June 2019 through June 2020. She also mentioned another 390 violent drug law enforcement "incidents" that took place from July 2020 through May 2021, of which an estimated 40 percent are killings.

"The problem of extrajudicial killings [in Indonesia] is broader than [just] the war on drugs; we [also] have the problem of police brutality," Sari said. "Police have a very broad authority and a lack of accountability. There is no effective oversight mechanism, and there are no developments on this issue because we have no mechanisms to hold [the] police accountable."

Indonesia is also using its courts to kill people. Since 2015, Sari reported, 18 people -- 15 of them foreigners -- have been executed for drug offenses.

"In addition to extrajudicial killings, there is a tendency to use harsher punishment, capital punishment, with the number of death penalties rising since 2016," she said.

Statistics Iftitahsari presented bore that out. Death penalty cases jumped from 22 in 2016 to 99 in 2019 and 149 in 2020, according to the figures she provided during the virtual event.

Not only are the courts increasingly handing down death sentences for drug offenses, but defendants are also often faced with human rights abuses within the legal system, Sari said.

"Violations of the right to a fair trial are very common in drug-related death penalty cases," she said. "There are violations of the right to be free from torture, not [to] be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and of the right to counsel. There are also rights violations during trials, including the lack of the right to cross-examination, the right to non-self-incrimination, trial without undue delay, and denial of an interpreter."

With authoritarian governments such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines providing cover for such human rights abuses in the name of the war on drugs, impunity is a key problem. During the virtual event's panel discussion, Scott Johnston, of the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First, discussed one possible way of making human rights abusers pay a price: imposing sanctions on them individually, especially under the Global Magnitsky Act.

That US law, which was based on one enacted in 2012 to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, was expanded in 2016 to punish human rights violators around the globe by freezing their assets or denying them visas to enter the United States. A related law known by its spot in the US Code, "7031(c)," can also be used to deny visas to immediate familly members of the alleged abusers.

"In an era [when]... rising human rights abuses and also rising impunity for committing those abuses [are]... a hallmark of what's happening around the world, we see countries adopting these types of targeted human rights mechanisms [imposing sanctions] at a rate that would have been shocking even five or six years ago," said Johnston. "Targeted sanctions [like the Global Magnitsky Act] are those aimed against specific individual actors and entities, as opposed to countrywide embargos," he explained.

The Global Magnitsky program is one such mechanism specifically targeted at human rights abuses and corruption, and the United States has imposed it against some 319 perpetrators of human rights abuses or corruption, Johnston said. (The most recent sanctions imposed under the act include Cuban officials involved in repressing recent protests in Cuba, corrupt Bulgarian officials, and corrupt Guatemalan officials.)

"We've seen a continued emphasis on using these tools in the transition to the Biden administration, with 73 cases [of sanctions having been reported] since Biden took office," he noted.

And it is increasingly not just the United States.

"The US was the first country to use this mechanism, but it is spreading," Johnston said. "Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, [and] the European Union all have these mechanisms, and Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are all considering them. This is a significant pivot toward increasing multilateral use of these mechanisms."

While getting governments to impose targeted sanctions is not a sure thing, the voices of global civil society can make a difference, Johnston said.

"These are wholly discretionary and [it]... can be difficult to [ensure that they are]... imposed in practice," he said. "To give the U.S. government credit, we have seen them really listen to NGOs, and about 35 percent of all sanctions have a basis in complaints [nonprofits]... facilitated from civil society groups around the world."

And while such sanctions can be politicized, the United States has imposed them on some allied countries, such as members of the Saudi government involved in the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and in cases of honor killings in Pakistan, Johnston noted.

"But we still have never seen them used in the context of the Philippines and Indonesia."

Maybe it is time.

In addition to the speakers quoted above, our event also included Marco Perduca, representing Associazone Luca Coscioni, who served in Italy's Senate from 2007-2013.

Our event elicited responses from the government on Indonesia, live during the Questions and Comments section; and from the government of the Philippines in writing later. We also had questions and comments from Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli of NGO FAAAT; iDEFEND Philippines Secretary General Rose Trajano; and Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines, who was a speaker on our 2021 HLPF event.

full event video (YouTube playlist):

full event video (single file):

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

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

Original invite:

Keeping It Real: Duterte's Drug War Slaughter and the ICC
side event on the online margins of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Treaty (ICC)

Wednesday 15 December 2021, 7:00am New York / 1:00pm The Hague / 8:00pm Manila

Zoom registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYrdeqoqTMiGda-kkne8zE-zA9LxojrGwz9
F
acebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/77796516946/videos/1743934149133434
Y
ouTube livestream: https://youtu.be/VCwxNrBDwXk

Since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has presided over a drug war extrajudicial killing campaign in which NGOs estimate more than 30,000 people have died. In response to the threat and now reality of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the Duterte administration has argued the ICC lacks jurisdiction because the Philippines has an accountability process underway. But the scope of the government's investigations, and of any results from them, both remain very small.

"Keeping It Real" will discuss the Philippine Department of Justice's Interagency Task Force, the continuing reality of government orchestrated extrajudicial killings, the administration's recent motion to suspend the ICC investigation, and the incarceration of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima as it approaches its five-year mark and as she runs for reelection from jail.

Famous human rights attorney Chel Diokno keynoted our forum.
Keynote: Atty Jose Manuel I. "Chel" Diokno is Founding Dean of the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law, where he served as Dean from 2010-2019; and is Chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the oldest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines. Already prominent in legal circles, Diokno gained greater fame while running for Senate in 2019, especially among Filipino youth, and he is a 1Sambayan coalition candidate for Senate in 2022.

Comments on ICC process by Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch

Other commenters to be announced.

co-moderators:
David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org
Marco Perduca, former Senator, Italy, 2008-2013

Organized by DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org, cosponsored by Associazone Luca Coscioni, Ecumenical Advocacy Network for the Philippines, Filipino American Human Rights Alliance, Forum Droghe, other cosponsors TBA.

Register here. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to read about our work in this area.

Yet Another Poll Shows Strong Marijuana Legalization Support, Canada Decrim Platform, More... (12/10/21)

Member states of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs block a human rights expert from presenting a report on arbitrary detentions, a Missouri bill would end police searches based solely on the odor of marijuana, and more.

Canadian civil society groups have a plan to decriminalize drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

National Poll: Marijuana Legalization Supported by Majorities of All Age Groups. A new YouGov America poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57 percent, with majority support in every age group. Support among Democrats was at 70 percent, while among Republicans it was only 40 percent. While the poll shows continuing strong support for marijuana legalization, it comes in a few points lower than other recent national polls on the issue.

Missouri Bill Would End Warrantless Searches Based Solely on Odor of Marijuana. Rep. Ian Mackey (D-Richmond Heights) has filed legislation, House Bill 1867, that would bar police from using the odor of marijuana as justification for a warrantless search. Here's the bill language in its entirety: "Notwithstanding any provision of law, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle, home, or other private property." As Rep. Mackey noted: "Medicinal marijuana is legal in Missouri. It makes sense because of these new laws [the smell of marijuana alone] should not be a justifiable reason for a police officer to begin searching property or a particular individual."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Regulators Approve Provisional Licenses for 30 New Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Finally, state regulators have provided provisional licenses to 30 applicants seeking to run medical marijuana facilities. So far, there are only 23 such facilities in the state, leading to high prices and supply bottlenecks for patients, who are not permitted under state law to grow their own. Provisional licensees still have to pass background checks and win site approval before they can open for business.

International

On International Human Rights Day, UN Drugs Body Silences UN Human Rights Expert on Groundbreaking Report. In an unprecedented, last-minute decision, the lead UN drugs body has blocked the presentation of a report from a group of independent human rights experts that calls out governments for serious human rights abuses committed in the war on drugs. The UN's lead drug policy-making body has slammed the door on human rights expert Dr Elina Steinerte, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who was due to present a watershed study on how drug control policies drive an epidemic of arbitrary detention across the world. She has been blocked from addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs today, 10th December, which is coincidentally International Human Rights Day, and her statement has been merely published online.

The last-minute decision, which led to a contentious exchange during the session, was reached through an opaque, closed-door process that kept the human rights experts in the dark about their exclusion until today. The report sheds light on the arrest and incarceration of millions of people around the world for drug-related offences, including for drug use. People who use drugs are also routinely held against their will in so-called "rehab centers," where they are often subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, including forced labor.

With Thursday's decision, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs stands in defiance of the Human Rights Council - the main UN human rights body -- which had asked human rights experts to produce the very same report that now has been stonewalled.

Canadian Civil Society Groups Release Drug Decriminalization Platform.In the wake of almost 23,000 drug poisoning deaths since 2016, twenty-one civil society organizations across the country, including groups of people who use drugs, families affected by drug use, drug policy and human rights organizations, frontline service providers, and researchers, have collaborated to release Canada's first civil society-led policy framework for drug decriminalization in Canada.

Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy seeks to end the harmful and fatal criminalization of people who use drugs -- which has fueled unprecedented overdose deaths -- and protect the health and human rights of all people in Canada. The comprehensive platform, endorsed by more than 100 organizations calls for the full decriminalization of all drug possession for personal use -- as well as sharing or selling of drugs for subsistence, to support personal drug use costs, or to provide a safe supply -- by repealing or amending sections of Canadian drug laws, removing all sanctions linked to possession or "necessity trafficking," tighten rules around when police can stop, search, and investigate someone for drug possession, and shift resources away from law enforcement to non-coercive policies, programs, and services that protect people's health and human rights.

On International Human Rights Day, UN drugs body silences UN human rights expert on ground-breaking report

News release from our colleagues at the International Drug Policy Consortium:

Today, at the CND 64th Session Reconvened, the Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was meant to present a ground-breaking >study on drug policy and arbitrary detention, which includes recommendations to decriminalise use, cultivation and possession for personal use, inter alia.

The oral video presentation by the Chair of the WGAD was blocked as a number of Member States contested the Working Group's legitimacy.

This censorship of human rights experts, on International Human Rights Day (!), sets a dangerous precedent that should not go unnoticed.

We encourage you to share >this press release (also below) with your contacts, and share this information on social media. You can >retweet or use the following suggested tweets:

On #HumanRightsDay, @CND_tweets sets a worrying precedent by blocking the oral statement of the Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
We urge Member States and UN agencies to #StandUp4HumanRights! >https://idpc.net/media/press-releases/2021/12/on-international-human-rights-day-un-drugs-body-silences-un-human-rights-expert-on-ground-breaking-report

On #HumanRightsDay, @CND_tweets silences @UN #HumanRights expert's presentation of a study on the harmful impacts of punitive drug policies.
The Commission sends a worrying message by refusing to #StandUp4HumanRights! https://idpc.net/media/press-releases/2021/12/on-international-human-rights-day-un-drugs-body-silences-un-human-rights-expert-on-ground-breaking-report

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