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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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."

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.

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."

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.

Washington Post Endorses Safe Injection Sites, NIDA to Look at Ibogaine Derivative, More... (12/8/21)

The Canadian federal government has again filed a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses, WHO declines to recommend a "critical review" of kratom, and more.

kratom (Creative Commons)
Kratom

WHO Declines to Recommend "Critical Review" of Kratom. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) has recommended 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 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."

Drug Treatment

US Government Will Test Ibogaine Derivative as An Addiction Treatment. A private startup will work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test its patented version of ibogaine as a potential treatment for drug addiction. "The therapeutic potential for ibogaine is huge," says David Olson, cofounder of the company, Delix. "There are some indications that a single dose can keep people with opioid use disorder drug-free for months." Derived from the iboga shrub in West Africa, ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that has been found to help people get off heroin and other opioids, but the Delix version is non-psychedelic and does not cause cardiac arrhythmias.

"We started with the ibogaine structure because of its fantastic efficacy, and we whittled it down to its essential feature," says Olson, describing how he modified ibogaine to remove the psychedelic-inducing properties. "By cutting it down, we got rid of these undesired side effects." NIDA's Addiction Treatment Discovery Program is set to contract a lab to do preclinical tests on the Delix compouond. If the preclinical data finds the drug could be a safe and effective potential addiction treatment, the company will apply to the Food & Drug Administration to launch human clinical trials.

Harm Reduction

Washington Post Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "Tough-on-drugs policies have failed. Supervised injection sites will save lives," the Washington Post editorial board has come down firmly in favor of the harm reduction intervention. Noting that New York City has just become the first in the US to officially allow safe injection sites, the Post notes that "this strategy may seem counterintuitive as US drug overdose deaths reach unprecedented levels. In fact, a smart and compassionate approach, which other countries have already tested, will save lives where tough-on-drug policies have failed."

After examining New York City's approach and noting questions about the legality of allowing supervised drug use, the Post editorial concludes thusly: "There is no magic bullet to combat drug addiction, but one thing is clear: A trained person on-site to respond to someone in the throes of an overdose can save that life. More US cities should embrace the opportunity to prevent needless death; the Biden administration should stay out of the way; and Congress should change federal law to clarify that local governments can authorize this lifesaving work. No more people should have to die before attitudes finally change."

International

Canada's Liberal Government Files Bill to Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses. The federal government filed a bill in the House of Commons Tuesday that would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, as well as some gun-related offenses. The bill would return sentencing discretion to judges and would also allow for the greater use of probationary sentences, as well as house arrest, counseling, or drug treatment. The bill revives legislation that was introduced in February but was not approved before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a federal election in August. Mandatory minimum sentences "simply did not work," Justice Minister David Lametti said as the bill was rolled out.

Move to Ease Research Burdens on Schedule I Drugs Gains DEA Support, Colombia Pill Testing, More... (12/7/21)

Language protecting banks doing business with state-legal marijuana firms has been removed from a defense spending bill, Canada's Alberta province is looking into establishing a safe drug supply, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Language Now Not Included in Defense Bill. The House included language to protect financial institutions that deal with state-legal marijuana businesses in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which it passed in September, but now, after negotiations between the House and Senate, that provision has been stripped out. There is still, however, a chance it good be added back in before final votes in both chambers are taken. The House Rules Committee is meeting Tuesday, and Safe Banking Act sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is a member of the committee, said he will file an amendment to restore banking language to the bill.

Drug Policy

DEA, NIDA Back White House Black to Ease Research Barriers on Marijuana, Psychedelics, and Other Schedule I Drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has proposed a plan to ease barriers to research for Schedule I drugs, and now both the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have said they are on board with the plan. In written testimony before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last Thursday, DEA said that "expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA's mission to protect public safety and health. DEA supports the administration's legislative proposal's expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research." NIDA Director Nora Volkow echoed the DEA support, saying existing procedures are "time consuming" and "cumbersome."

International

Canada's Alberta to Study Safe Drug Supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government has 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. "I want to look at objective evidence so both for and against," said Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions. "I want evidence to be presented at this committee, and I look forward to seeing their findings." The committee will be required to submit a report with recommendations by the end of April. Both the province of British Columbia and the city of Toronto are already moving forward with efforts to win a federal exemption to allow for the distribution of controlled substances in a bid to reduce drug overdoses from an unsecured supply.

Colombia Party Scene Has Pill Testing. A group that originated seven years ago with university students demanding pill and powder testing at parties is now actually doing drug purity testing at clubs and festivals -- without government support but also without government interference. The group, Echele Cabeza, is now doing about 250 tests a month. The costs are covered by event organizers, with additional funding from an NGO that helps drug users. New Zealand recently became the first country in the world to formally legalize pill testing.

Mexico Supreme Court Throws Out Law Making Growing Low THC Marijuana Illegal. Even as the Mexican congress stumbles toward Supreme Court-mandated marijuana legalization, the Supreme Court has now thrown out a law that made growing low-THC marijuana illegal. The law barred the cultivation of marijuana with less than 1 percent THC, but the court held that law unconstitutional. The national health agency, COFEPRIS, had interpreted the law to bar all marijuana cultivation except for medical and scientific purposes, but now companies will be able to cultivate the crop to produced low-THC CBD products such as tinctures, oils, and beverages.

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