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NM Legalizes Marijuana, Criminal Justice Reformer Named DEA Chief, More... (4/13/21)

A simple policy change causes a massive drop in pot arrests in San Antonio, the Maryland legislature has approved the legalization of drug paraphernalia, Vancouver sets proposed drug decriminalization quantities, and more.

New Mexico becomes the latest state to legalize marijuana, and the third in the past few weeks. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances Again. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, passed a fifth House committee Monday. The bill was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee on an 11-7 vote. It now heads to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, which is scheduled to take up the measure on Wednesday.

New Mexico Legalizes Marijuana. With the signature Monday of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2, New Mexico has legalized marijuana, becoming the 17th state to do so, the third to do so in the past few weeks, along with New York and Virginia, and the seventh to do since last November's elections.

San Antonio Pot Prosecutions Down 99% Since 2018. Under a cite and release policy instituted by Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales (D), the number of people arrested for marijuana possession has dropped dramatically. In 2018, the DA's office prosecuted 4,515 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, but in 2020, that number had dropped to 15. That's a 99.6% decrease.

Drug Policy

Biden Names Criminal Justice Reform Advocate Anne Milgram to Head DEA. President Joe Biden (D) has selected former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, a longtime criminal justice system reform advocate, to head the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the White House said Monday. The agency has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since the Obama administration.

Maryland Legislature Approves Bill to Legalize Drug Paraphernalia. The General Assembly on Monday approved a bill to legalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, Senate Bill 420. The bill has already passed the Senate, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The House passed the bill by a veto-proof margin, but the Senate tally was one short of the number needed to override a veto.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses Passes Senate. A bill that seeks to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, Senate Bill 73, passed the Senate Monday on a 25-10 vote. The bill now heads to the California State Assembly.

International

Vancouver Outlines Personal Possession Amounts for Drug Decriminalization Proposal. As part of its application to Health Canada for a federal exemption from federal drug laws to decriminalize drug possession in the city, Vancouver has outlined its recommendations for what amounts should be decriminalized. The city is recommending 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. Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Monday the goal is remove criminal penalties and reduce stigma by focusing on a health-centered approach.

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill [FEATURE]

Mexico took a giant step toward ending marijuana prohibition Wednesday night as the Chamber of Deputies approved a legalization bill on a vote of 316-129. The Senate approved the bill late last year, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has signaled he will sign it into law.

But it's not quite a done deal yet. Because the bill was amended in the Chamber of Deputies -- and lawmakers were still debating possible amendments late Wednesday night -- it must now go back to the Senate for approval of the changes.

Still, Mexico, a country legendary for marijuana production since the days of the hippies, is now on the verge of becoming the world's largest legal marijuana market. In the United States, federal marijuana prohibition still obtains despite state-level legalization in an ever-increasing number of states, potentially (and ironically) leaving the US as the odd man out in North America, sandwiched between legal pot pioneers Canada and Mexico.

The legislative move to legalize marijuana is the outgrowth of a Mexican Supreme Court decision three years ago that held marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and gave the congress a limited amount of time to bring the law into compliance with the constitution. Deadlines were repeatedly bumped back, though, especially as the coronavirus took hold, but now the congress was up against another deadline next month. And this time, it beat it.

Mexico uses the military to fight its drug wars. (Creative Commons)
Under the bill, people 18 and up will 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 creates a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. In another change from the Senate bill, this bill would give regulatory control over the new legal industry to the National Commission Against Addictions instead of the independent regulatory body envisioned by the upper house.

Activists bemoaned aspects of the bill, with Mexico Unido Contra la Delinquencia (MUCD) complaining that it represented a "lost opportunity to end the criminalization of users" because it maintains penalties for possession of larger amounts and that it "did not eliminate the crime of cultivation for persons of scarce resources and extreme economic necessity who have dedicated themselves to this as a primordial activity." This would "perpetuate the marginalization and criminal punishment of our peasants, the people most affected by prohibition, who we want to integrate into the market, not maintain in illegality."

MUCD is calling on the Senate to rectify the bill to address such issues. "Above all, we must not create a legal market that only prioritizes the economic benefit of those who participate in sales while we exclude other, less advantaged actors," the group said. "For this, we call on the Senate of the Republic to correct the bill to comply with the mandate of the Supreme Court to eliminate the absolute prohibition of the consumption of cannabis."

The bill would remove one drug from Mexico's lucrative and bloody black markets (DEA)
Still, despite the objections raised by MUCD and others, Mexico is on the verge of shifting from a prohibition regime to legal marijuana regime, and that is a big deal, and a recognition that the country has bigger problems to deal with.

"The damage caused by the prohibition and the war on drugs in Mexico has caused more harm than the health conditions attributed to drug consumption," said Dep. Rubén Cayetano García. "Cannabis is not considered one of the serious public health problems in Mexico."

"For Mexico, given its size and its worldwide reputation for being damaged by the drug war, to take this step is enormously significant," said John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America. "North America is heading toward legalization."

With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Canada Seeks an Off-Ramp from the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

On February 16, Canada's governing Liberal Party finally moved to enact long-promised reforms to criminal justice by introducing a sweeping new bill that 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 is it enough?

Canadian parliament building, Ottawa (Creative Commons)
The government's move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces mounting pressure for reform on two fronts. First, Canada is facing an unprecedented drug overdose crisis, with the province of British Columbia especially hard-hit. Last year, the provincial Coroners Service reported, BC saw a whopping 1,716 drug overdose deaths, up a startling 74 percent over 2019. The province has always been on the cutting edge of drug reform in Canada, and spurred by the crisis, BC formally asked the federal government in early February for an exemption to the country's drug laws to allow it to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs. That request is still being considered by Ottawa.

But the pressure for drug decriminalization isn't just coming from British Columbia, it's coming from inside the criminal justice system. In July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for drug decriminalization, recommending the "current enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system." The following month, the federal prosecution service issued a directive permitting prosecution of drug cases only in the most serious cases.

And public opinion supports decriminalization. An Angus Reid poll released after the government announced the new bill found that seven out of 10 Canadians felt the country's opioid crisis had worsened in 2020, and 59 percent supported the decriminalization of all illegal drugs.

Second, just as last summer's massive protests in the United States channeled and amplified long-standing demands for racial and social justice here, so they echoed north of the border. Canada has its own not-so-noble history of racism and discrimination, and the number of Black and Indigenous people swept up in the country's criminal justice system demonstrates that the legacy of the past continues to this day.

Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population but accounted for 25% of all federal prisoners in 2019. Similarly, Black Canadians accounted for about 3% of the population but more than 7% of prisoners that year. As the Justice Ministry noted in a 2017 report, after Conservatives passed tough anti-crime measures early this century, Black and Indigenous were disproportionately targeted for mandatory minimum sentencing in the decade ending in 2017. And as the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported, non-white inmates are more likely to sent to maximum security prisons, have forced used against them, and be denied parole.

As the government rolled out the bill, C-22, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," Justice Minister David Lametti made clear that not just public health but also racial justice was on its mind.

Trudeau had asked him to "address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system," he told a press conference. "We are turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy," he added. "It was an approach that did not make our communities safer. It did not deter criminals. It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair. Its singular accomplishment has been to incarcerate too many Indigenous people, too many Black people and too many marginalized Canadians."

The bill envisions reforms in policing, prosecuting, and sentencing drug offenders and sets out statements of principle for dealing with drug offenses, including "problematic drug use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue," state actors should recognize human rights and harm reduction imperatives, and criminal sanctions are stigmatizing and not consistent with public health practice.

Under these principles, when encountering people using or possessing drugs, police would be granted the discretion to "consider whether it would be preferable... to take no further action, or warn the individual, or, with the consent of the individual, to refer the individual to a program or to an agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual."

Similarly, the bill mandates the prosecutors open drug possession cases only when a warning, referral, or alternate measures are "not appropriate, and a prosecution in appropriate in the circumstances." And it gives judges much broader discretion to order probationary sentences instead of confinement.

C-22 looks as if it were designed to cut off inputs to the Canadian prison system at every level of the system. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented Toronto's Beaches-East York riding (district) since 2015 and is a longtime proponent of full drug decriminalization, says that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

He filed private member's bills this session for decriminalization (C-235) and for an evidence-based diversion model (C-236) to reduce drug arrests and prosecutions. It is that latter bill that the government has now largely adopted as C-22.

"I favor drug decriminalization because the war on drugs is an absolute failure that harms the people we want to help," he told the Chronicle. "Our opioid crisis has taken more than 16,000 lives since 2016, and there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including around drug charges."

"My goal was to call for full decriminalization, with a second bill to show the government if they weren't inclined to favor decriminalization, here's an alternative that would get us closer to the goal and would be more politically feasible. This bill seriously restricts the discretion of police and prosecutors to proceed, according to a set of principles that will ensure a stronger focus on human rights and harm reduction," he said. "It doesn't go as far as I want it to go, but it is unquestionably a step forward. It will be virtually impossible for the state to move forward with drug possession charges and prosecutions."

Donald Macpherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of Vancouver's groundbreaking Four Pillars drug strategy in the 1990s, has a more jaundiced view of both the Liberals and C-22.

"The things that are in this bill are all things the Liberals promised when they were elected in 2015, and if they had done this then it would have been seen as a good move, getting rid of egregious stuff the Harper government had implemented," he told the Chronicle. "But now, the discussion has moved so far that even police chiefs are calling for decriminalization. It's too little, too late."

Even the limited support he gave the bill was filled with caveats.

"Overall, though, it is a good thing, it is incremental progress, getting rid of the mandatory minimums is probably the most powerful aspect in terms of criminal law," McPherson conceded. "But the bill was supposed to deal with the disproportionate impact of drug law enforcement on people of color, and it won't do it. There will be more probationary sentences and more alternatives to imprisonment, but arrests and prosecutions will be 'at the discretion of' and Black and Indigenous people will now be caught up in kinder, gentler diversion programs."

Still, passage of C-22 would be a step in the right direction, Macpherson said.

"It is preparing the ground for the next step, full decriminalization, which I think is now inevitable. The harms of criminalization in Canada are now so evident to everyone that the question now is not whether to but how to," he said. "We saw this with cannabis -- at a certain point, the change in the discourse was palpable. We're now at that point with drug decriminalization."

Long-time Vancouver drug user activist Ann Livingston, cofounder of the pioneering Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and currently executive project coordinator for the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, had an even more jaundiced view than Macpherson, scoffing at more police discretion and expanded probationary sentences.

"I'm glad to see the mandatory minimums gone, but the Liberals want more police, and we say don't do us any more favors," she told the Chronicle. "And the police have always had discretion to not make drug arrests; they just never exercise it. And probation -- many of the people in jail are there for probation violations, even administrative ones, like missing appointments."

For Livingston, the cutting edge is now no longer criminal justice reforms or even decriminalization but creating a safe supply of currently illegal drugs. Limited opioid maintenance programs, including heroin, are available in the city, but they aren't enough, she said.

"Here in British Columbia, we had 900 COVID deaths last year and 1,700 overdose deaths. What we need is a safe drug supply," she argued. "We have to have clear demands and what we are demanding is a pure, safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. This is a crisis; this is the time to do this drug law stuff right. And to get serious. The feds tell us they place no barriers on heroin prescribing, but then they fight about who is going to pay for it."

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals think passing C-22 is going to quiet the clamor for more fundamental change in Canadian drug policies, they should probably think again.

Canada

Norway Government Proposes Depenalization, ND House Approves MedMJ Edibles, More... (2/19/21)

Medical marijuana is receiving attention at various state houses, a trio of US senators warn the Philippine government on imprisoned drug war critic Sen. Leila De Lima, the Iowa Senate looks resolutely backwards, and more.

Medical marijuana is on people's minds in various state legislatures right now. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Edibles. The House has approved a measure, House Bill 1391, that would allow medical marijuana patients to use edibles. The bill would limit edibles to 10 milligrams of THC and allow patients to possess edibles with up to 500 milligrams.

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Licensing to Resume After Appellate Court Ruling. The state's appellate court ruled Thursday to uphold the denial of seven medical marijuana licenses, clearing the way for the state to begin dealing with nearly 150 license applications that have piled up while the case was being contested.

Virginia General Assembly Approves Sales of Buds for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to buy flowers, House Bill 221, has passed the General Assembly. Currently, only highly processed oils, tinctures and edibles are allowed to be sold. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Oklahoma House Approves Expanding Non-Resident Medical Marijuana Patient Licenses. The House voted on Thursday to approve House Bill 2022, which would extend the length of medical marijuana licenses granted to out-of-state residents. The bill would lengthen the licenses' period of validity from 30 days to two years. The bill also would open up licenses to resident of all 50 states, not just those with existing medical marijuana. The bill must still be approved by the Senate.

Drug Paraphernalia

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Crack Down on Meth Pipes. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved Senate File 363, which aims to crack down on businesses selling glass pipes for smoking meth by requiring them to pay a $1,500 licensing fee and charging a 40% surcharge tax on each pipe sold. The bill carries civil penalties for selling without a license and makes using the devices as drug paraphernalia a serious misdemeanor. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Make Using Synthetic Urine to Defeat a Drug Test a Crime. The Senate voted on Wednesday to approve House File 283, which would make it a criminal offense for an employee to use synthetic urine to "defraud" a workplace drug test. A first offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The bill now goes to the House.

Foreign Policy

US Senators Urge Full Exoneration and Release of Philippines Drug War Critic Senator Leila De Lima. On Thursday, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) top Democrat on the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), released a statement regarding the acquittal of Senator Leila de Lima in one of three bogus charges filed against her by the Government of the Philippines. Senator de Lima has been unjustly detained for four years next week on politically-motivated charges, widely condemned by human rights organizations and governments around the world as an illegitimate response meant to punish her for criticizing the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte. "While we are pleased that one of the three illegitimate charges against Senator De Lima has been dropped, it is clearly not enough." said the Senators. "The Duterte administration has wrongfully detained Senator De Lima for four years under false charges because she is willing to speak out and stand up to the egregious abuses of the government. President Duterte has tried to silence his critics and the independent press through false and politically motivated charges, but his disdain for human rights, free speech, and democracy is on clear display to the world. We will continue to hold the Duterte government responsible for its abuses until Senator De Lima is released, all of the fabricated charges against her and other prisoners of conscience are dismissed, and the victims of President Duterte's campaign of abuse against the Filipino people have obtained justice."

International

Norwegian Government Proposes Drug Depenalization. Norway's center-right government proposed Friday a dramatic restructuring of its drug laws to focus on treatment rather than jail or fines for people found in possession of small quantities of drugs. "Decades of criminal punishment has not worked," said Liberal Party leader and Education Minister Guri Melby. "We will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatised and called criminals when they are in fact ill." Drugs would remain illegal, but possession of small quantities would no longer be punished. Instead people would face mandatory drug counseling, and a fine for refusing to participate. The move comes as the government faces a rising challenge in the September parliamentary elections from the Center Party, which has criticized the plans as leading to more drug use, not less.

Biden IRS Doesn't Support Pot Shop's Tax Fight, Myanmar Opium Down But Meth Is Up, More... (2/15/21)

South Dakota's Republican attorney general won't defend the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment any further, a Michigan court rules people on probation can use medical marijuana, and more.

Meth is making big bucks for Asian crime syndicates, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Administration Opposes Marijuana Dispensary's Tax Fight for Supreme Court Review. In one of the first actions regarding marijuana in the Biden administration, the IRS has argued against a Denver-based dispensary, Standing Akimbo LLC, having its case heard in the US Supreme Court. The dispensary is seeking to challenge an IRS rule that business tax deductions cannot be taken by marijuana businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Soon. State Rep Ed Osienski (D-Newark) says he plans to submit a marijuana legalization bill by the time lawmakers return from their February break on March 9 and that he is optimistic about its prospects. "It's close, it's close," he said. "We're talking one or two votes" away from approval in the House." Gov. John Carney (D) has consistently opposed legalization, but Osienski is suggesting Carney could let the bill become law without signing it.

South Dakota Attorney General Will Not Join Appeal of Ruling That Marijuana Legalization Amendment Is Unconstitutional. Although the attorney general's office generally defends state laws when they are challenged in court, SD Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's (R) office will not help appeal a state judge's ruling that the marijuana legalization amendment passed by voters last November is unconstitutional. Ravnsborg's boss, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) opposes marijuana legalization. A deputy attorney general defended the amendment in lower court, and Ravnsborg's office says that satisfies the state law's requirements. An appeal to the state Supreme Court by attorneys associated with the campaign is ongoing.

(The South Dakota code states that ""... the attorney general shall... appear for the state and prosecute and defend all actions and proceedings, civil or criminal, in the Supreme Court, in which the state shall be interested as a party.")

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Right of People on Probation to Use Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that judges cannot prevent people from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation. The ruling came after a Traverse County district court judge barred Michael Thue from using medical marijuana while on probation, saying it was a policy of circuit court judges in the county. But the appeals court ruled that anyone who has a state-issued medical marijuana card is immune to such penalties.

Criminal Justice

Key Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Gets Booker, Cotton as Chair, Ranking Member. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Sunday that the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, where issues extremely relevant to drug and sentencing policy are the focus, will be chaired Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) named ranking member. Booker is a criminal justice and drug law reform stalwart; Cotton is one of the most regressive members of the Senate on criminal justice.

International

UNODC Reports That Myanmar Opium Production Drops While Meth Surges. A UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released last Thursday finds that opium production has dropped in Myanmar, the world's second-larges poppy producer after Afghanistan has dropped to around 405 metric tons, about half the amount recorded in 2013. Instead, the Golden Triangle drug trade is now dominated by methamphetamine production. "Opium production is down 11 to 12% on the previous year," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Southeast Asia and the Pacific Regional representative. "This decline is intimately linked to the surge of synthetic drugs."

Canada Considers Decrim, DOJ Rescinds Sessions-Era Sentencing Guidance, More... (1/29/21)

State legislatures are dealing with marijuana bills, the Justice Department reverts to less harsh charging and sentencing policies, and more.

Faced with a spiraling drug overdose crisis, the Canadian federal government ponders drug decriminalization. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Idaho Bill to Amend Constitution to Bar Marijuana Legalization Advances. The measure, a joint resolution, would ban all psychoactive drugs not already legal in the state, but was inspired by fears of marijuana legalization. It was approved Friday in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a party line vote. To become law, the measure would have to pass both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority and then be approved by a simple majority of the electorate in the November 2022 general election.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization, Home Cultivation Bills Killed. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to retain a marijuana legalization bill, effectively killing it for the rest of the legislative session. The committee also voted to kill a bill that would allow home cultivation of marijuana.

New Jersey Home Cultivation Bill Filed. Even as the legislature and the governor continue to spar over bills decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana after voters approved it in November, Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) has filed S 3407 (not yet available on the legislative website), which would legalize the cultivation of up to six plants by individuals once a legalization bill is signed into law. "The people of New Jersey made it clear in November that they want to lift the prohibition on cannabis," Cardinale said in a statement. "Since then, the Legislature has spent three months fumbling around with what should have been a simple task, and complicated the legalization effort with countless fees, licensing and extra layers of bureaucracy."

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization in 2021 Agenda. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is calling for marijuana legalization as part of his 2021 agenda, which was released Thursday. "The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen our economy," Wolf said. "Additionally, a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Lawmakers Kill Home Cultivation for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would have allowed registered medical marijuana patients to grow their medicine was unanimously defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Sentencing Policy

Justice Department Rescinds Harsh Charging and Sentencing Policy, Reverts to Obama-Era Policy. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has revoked harsh Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors imposed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017. Wilkinson reverted to guidance issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010, which, in a bid to reduce imprisonment, directed prosecutors to do an individualized assessment of relevant facts in deciding what cases to charge and what sentences to seek. That guidance, though, does not include a 2013 Holder memo directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimum sentences in some drug cases.

International

Canada Ponders Drug Decriminalization in Bid to Fight Overdoses. The Canadian federal government is pondering whether to decriminalize drug possession in a bid to tamp down rising drug overdose numbers, a government official told Reuters this week: "A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that decriminalization was under consideration and that discussions with Vancouver were under way but would not comment further." Vancouver has already called on the federal government to let it decriminalize drugs inside the city limits.

NY Marijuana Legalization Bill Pre-Filed, UNODC Warns on Innovative Meth Production Practices, More... (1/6/21)

New Jersey lawmakers attempt to move forward with implementing voter-approved marijuana legalization, the UNODC warns of innovative meth production practices in Asia, and more.

Asian meth cooks are getting creative, the UNODC warns. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Lawmakers File Bill to Fine Underage Marijuana Users in Bid to Get Legalization Implemented. Legislators have filed a bill, A5211, that would fine underage pot smokers after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) refused to sign the bill that would implement the marijuana legalization referendum approved by voters in November. "The bill is largely a consensus between the Legislature and the governor’s office," said one source within the administration. "There’s some final technical edits that still need to be made. By and large, the governor’s office is working in good faith with the Legislature to get this finalized for next week." The bills will get Senate Judiciary Committee and Assembly Appropriations Committee hearings on Thursday, with floor votes likely on Monday.

New York Lawmakers Pre-File Marijuana Legalization Bill. Legislators representing nearly a third of the state Senate pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The bill was filed by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 cosponsors and is identical to a bill she filed last year. It would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and allow for the home cultivation of six plants, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated sales.

South Dakota State Bar Advises Lawyers Not to Represent Legal Pot Firms. A State Bar advisory committee has issued an opinion saying that attorneys cannot represent clients in the marijuana industry because the plant remains illegal under federal law.

International

UN Warns of Increasingly Creative Methamphetamine Producers. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned that meth producers are getting increasingly creative and that increasing seizures across Asia suggest that producers are finding new chemical means of manufacturing meth. The new meth-making abilities "suggest increased sophistication among illicit manufacturing facilities," the agency said. "The crime groups are using increasingly diverse sets of chemicals and increasingly diverse chemical sources, meaning from different countries," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC regional representative for southeast Asia and the Pacific. "If they can't get their hands on one chemical, they're getting their hands on other chemicals and then getting creative in terms of how they produce the meth. "Pseudoephedrine seizures aren't being made at all, even though there are indications that it is still in use," he said. "What we're seeing is diversity in chemicals, including some very unique chemicals pushing into the region. It's alarming because that indicates it is going to be even harder, given they're using potentially non-controlled chemicals."

Our Work on Medical Marijuana at the UN

This post is the first of a series explaining our organization's current work and strategy. One part of that is work at the United Nations. A volunteer team of advocates spearheaded work on the reclassification of cannabis (marijuana), during the past two years while the World Health Organization's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence worked on recommendations, and then while those recommendations went to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) for a vote. You may have seen our article in Drug War Chronicle about this.

One of our UN representatives, Michael Krawitz, is also the Executive Director of the group Veterans for Medical Cannabis (VMCA). Michael, while attending the CND early last March as a member of our delegation, secured a speaking slot and gave remarks on behalf of VMCA:

The UN medical marijuana project that Michael's a part of includes other members of our UN delegation, and there's information about it here. Along with accrediting the group to UN meetings in Vienna and Geneva, we also support them as the charitable sponsor that accepts 501(c)(3) donations for their work.

EVENT: International Responses to Extrajudicial Drug War Killings -- Leverage and Limitations

UPDATE:
News article about our event online here.
Full footage of event now online here
.

Fhillip Sawali slides online -- Powerpoint and PDF.

 

International Criminal Court, The Hague
International Responses to Extrajudicial Drug War Killings -- Leverage and Limitations

side event at the online margins of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Treaty (ICC)

Wednesday Dec. 23 2020
8:30-10:00am New York / 2:30-4:00pm The Hague / 9:30-11:00pm Manila

organized by DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org

speakers:

Fhillip Sawali, Chief of Staff, Office of Senator Leila de Lima, Republic of the Philippines
Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch
Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, Asian Legal Resource Centre

co-moderators:

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

Link for registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIkdOGrrj8pE9Tyj4AgGeO25tiXDgUdZiAs

Senate Approves Marijuana Research Bill, ICC Philippines Examination Progresses, More... (12/16/20)

A California bill would put an end to mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, Toronto is moving to open safe injection sites in select homeless shelters, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte may make it to the Hague yet. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Research Bill. With a favorable vote Tuesday night, the Senate has passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act (S.2302). It would ease the application process for marijuana researchers and would prod the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop medicines derived from marijuana. The House passed a separate marijuana research bill last week. The passage of bills in both chambers means there is still a chance that a marijuana research bill could still pass in the remaining days of the session.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Repeal Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) last week introduced Senate Bill 73, which would repeal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. "We are living with the consequences of bad, racist policies enacted in the 1970s and 80s, which disproportionately criminalize and harm Black and brown communities," Wiener said in a statement. "Our drug laws are a stain on California, and we must stop hurting communities and wasting valuable resources jailing people who have committed nonviolent drug offenses." The bill would give judges discretion to sentence such offenders to probation when appropriate. Under current law, a number of nonviolent drug charges come with mandatory sentencing provisions.

International

Toronto Plans to Open Safe Injection Sites in Homeless Shelters. Canada's largest city is moving to set up overdose prevention centers that include safe injection facilities in homeless shelters. The city will spend almost $8 million on a new "multi-pronged strategy" known as the Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative (iPHARE). More than $3 million of that money will go to expanded harm reduction services, including safe injection sites in selected shelters across the city. The sites will only be open to residents of the shelters. Between April 1 and September 30, at least 132 people died of drug overdoses in the city.

Mexico President Blames Small "Mistakes" for Delays in Marijuana Legalization Bill. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that small errors in drafting the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill were the cause of the delay in passing the bill this month. He said legislators had requested a delay in the bill's Supreme Court-imposed Tuesday deadline to deal with it. "The period was practically over but they are matters of form and not substance," he said. "It is nothing more than a matter of mistakes that were made, lack of precision on quantities and there can be no contradictions in the law itself," Lopez Obrador said, referring to how much marijuana citizens can possess legally.

International Criminal Court Says Preliminary Examination of Filipino Drug War Shows Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity. In a report released this week, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for the International Criminal Court (ICC) said a preliminary examination found there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drug users and sellers that has led to thousands of killings since 2016. While OTP noted that Philippines officials have claimed the deaths were justified, it said that "such narrative has been challenged by others, who have contended that the use of lethal force was unnecessary and disproportionate under the circumstances, as to render the resulting killings essentially arbitrary, or extrajudicial, executions."

The examination now moves to its final stage, admissibility, looking at whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines can't or won't hold perpetrators accountable, the court can take the case. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021 over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affect how cases are prioritized.

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