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The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 feature here.)

We're looking at 2019 through the rearview mirror now, but before we turn our sights to 2020, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at the last year in international drug policy. From marijuana law reform to the push for drug decriminalization, from the coca fields of Colombia to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and from the killing fields of Mexico and the Philippines, there was a lot going on. Here are ten of the biggest international drug policy stories of 2019, in no particular order.

Medical marijuana was on the move in 2019 -- sort of -- at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
1. Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Advances

The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace.

A lot of the activity was in Europe. In March, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.

In the Netherlands, the government finally moved in August to address the longstanding "backdoor problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. It announced a pilot program to begin in 2021 in which cannabis cafes in ten Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana. The big cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out because of worries that problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

In Denmark, the city council in Copenhagen, the country's capital and largest city, voted overwhelmingly in August to support a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The council has long pushed for this, but now there is a new left-wing government, so perhaps it will be allowed to happen.

Also in August, Luxembourg looked set to become the first European country to free the weed, as the government confirmed plans to legalize it, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. In December, though, the government said it will still be at least two years, citing "delays in working on policy related to the legislation."

And just at year's end, in Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that the small-scale personal cultivation of marijuana is legal, triggering calls for further legalization. The court declared that laws against growing drug crops should not apply to "small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower."

And Israel decriminalized marijuana possession as of April 1. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes is no longer to be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise, while public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only people who commit a third public possession offense within seven years will face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In Australia, Canberra, the national capital, became the first city in the country to legalize marijuana personal use and cultivation. The law legalizes up to 50 grams and two plants per person, but not sales. It is set to go into effect on January 31, 2020, but conflicts with national marijuana prohibition, so stay tuned. And in nearby New Zealand, the governing coalition announced in May it would hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the 2020 elections. In December, it unveiled a government web site with information on the proposed legalization bill that will be put before the voters.

In the Western hemisphere, Uruguay and Canada have led the way on marijuana legalization, but Mexico looks set to be the next over the line. After legislators there failed to pass legalization by a Supreme Court-imposed deadline at the end of October, the court gave them an extension until June 1 to get it done. Lawmakers got very close late in 2019 but were unable to close the deal because of disputes among competing business interests. There was action in Colombia, too, where an opposition senator filed a legalization bill in August. That bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether it advances.

There was progress in the Caribbean, too. In Trinidad & Tobago, non-commercial marijuana legalization went into effect in December, allowing people to possess up to 30 grams and grow four plants. A regulated marijuana marketplace is likely coming in 2020. In St. Kitts and Nevis,the government in midsummer filed a bill to legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes." It remains pending at year's end. A similar effort is underway in the British Virgin Islands, where a draft bill to legalize marijuana is being reviewed by government officials.

2. Medical Marijuana on the Move

Acceptance of medical marijuana on the global stage continued to increase in 2019, and the year got off to a good start in January when the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to exports, making it the third country, after Canada and the Netherlands, to do so. The following month, the European Parliament approved a resolution to advance medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union.

Meanwhile, Thailand formally embraced medical marijuana when King Maha Vajirlongkorn signed a decree legalizing it and kratom; and later in the year, a member of the country's ruling coalition government filed a bill that would allow people to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal use. And in the Philippines, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was reintroduced in 2019. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2014. Last year, the bill passed the lower house but failed to get out of the Senate.

In Latin America, Peru joined the ranks of medical marijuana countries more than a year after it became law when the government finally approved regulations to cover its production and use. In Mexico, the Supreme Court in August gave the federal health ministry until January to issue regulations on medical marijuana.

In the Caribbean, in August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving marijuana cultivation.

Medical marijuana was sort of on the move at the United Nations too. In late January, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of marijuana from Schedule IV of the global drug treaties, the most restrictive category, along with other related reclassifications of substances involving marijuana's components or synthetic substitutes for them. This would stop short of the kind of full stamp of approval WHO gives to many drugs -- marijuana would not become an "essential medicine" -- but it would eliminate a designation that some governments might find constraining in terms of allowing medical use in their own countries. Most importantly, it would be widely seen as recognition by the UN of marijuana as a medicine (though international law does not ban medical use of marijuana now).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs -- the subset of UN member states that sets drug policy for the UN -- was supposed to vote on the WHO recommendations during its March meeting, but that didn't happen because the recommendations were delayed at the end of 2018, leaving several countries to complain that they needed more time to study them.

"You can't arrest your way out of a drug problem." So why not try decriminalization? (Creative Commons)
3. Drug Decriminalization on the Move

Beyond marijuana legalization, the decriminalization of drug use and possession is probably the most significant means within current political striking range for reducing the criminal justice harms of drug prohibition. Portugal, which decriminalized in 2001, remains a shining example to emulate.

In Canada, in May, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The following month, British Columbia nurses called urgently for decriminalization, but in September, as he campaigned for reelection, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said decriminalization was not on the agenda, even though the national Liberal Party caucus in 2018 passed a resolution calling to "reclassify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones. The conversation is advancing north of the border.

The conversation is also advancing in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish National Party formally endorsed drug decriminalization, as did the British Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee. Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, came out hard for decriminalization in a special drugs issue released in October. The following month, Britain's largest drug treatment providers called for radical drug policy reforms, including decrim. But the ruling Conservative Party with Boris Johnson freshly installed as prime minister, remains opposed -- for now.

It's not just Canada and Great Britain, either. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in May submitted a decriminalization plan to Congress, while in Malaysia, the government announced in June that it planned to drop criminal penalties for drug use and possession. The following month, in Colombia, the legislative opposition and the center-right block filed a bill to decriminalize there.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) released recommendations in October calling for harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. In the United States, an effort to put a decrim initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot got underway in the fall, and a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics got underway.

The push to decriminalize is also working its way through the global drug control bureaucracy, as was evident in March when a key UN organization called for global drug decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy -- namely decriminalization. The policy shift -- or rather, recognition of what the policies of UN agencies on this already were -- came in January but was not publicly announced.

4. Harm Reduction and Human Rights

Along with decriminalization, harm reduction and concern about human rights gained momentum in 2019.

In March, a coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna launched a landmark set of international legal standards around drug policy: the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The following month, more than 300 NGOs called for harm reduction and drug decriminalization at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Lisbon.

In the United Kingdom, both the British Labour Party and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee called for safe injection sites, while in Ireland, a Dublin safe injection site was moving closer to reality at year's end.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) recommended harm reduction approaches in October, and the New Zealand government in December announced a pilot program to examine pill-testing at festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country.

5. Mexico Ravaged by Prohibition-Related Violence for Another Year

In January, Mexican authorities reported that the number of murders in 2018 hit an all-time high with more than 33,000, many of them directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. A lot happened between then and now, but at the end of 2019, this year's death toll was at just under 32,000. At least it didn't get worse, but those numbers are still horrifying, and the year-old administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn't been able to turn the corner yet. It's not for lack of trying or willingness to embrace new ideas.

In February, the Mexican Senate approved a plan for a new National Guard to fight crime and drug trafficking, but only after amending it to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

In May, Lopez Obrador called for an end to Plan Merida, under which the US provided security assistance to fight the drug war, with the president saying he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. Saying the plan "hasn't worked," Lopez Obrador added that, "We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative."

In June, the murder rate topped 2,000 a month for this first time, a toll linked to the rise of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is seeking to supplant the Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is now serving a sentence in the US. In north-central Guanajuato state, the JNGC has been duking it out with yet another faction, the Santa Rose de Lima cartel, leaving more than 3,200 dead in that state alone by year's end.

By August, a Catholic bishop issued a call for dialogue between the government and armed groups, including drug cartels. That was Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state), a key opium-growing region. Responding to the government's announcement that it was in talks with so-called community police groups and self-defense militias, but not the cartels, the bishop chided the government, saying, "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace."

As cartel clashes raged through the summer and fall, the government tentatively explored alternatives to continuing drug war. In September, Lopez Obrador said he was considering a referendum on drug legalization, and in October, the ruling MORENA Party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Mario Delgado Carrillo, proposed legalizing all drugs to combat cartel violence. His comments were in response to one of the more brazen cartel actions in 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced the release of El Chapo's son after he was captured by security forces in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan and they turned the city into a war zone until Ovidio Guzman was freed, greatly embarrassing the government.

That same month, in another brazen attack, gun men from the JNGC ambushed police in Michoacan, killing more than a dozen and leaving signed placards on their bodies warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

In yet another act of gruesome violence -- and one that caught the attention of Americans long bored with the violence south of the border -- in November, cartel gun men killed nine women and children with dual US-Mexico citizenship, prompting President Trump to suggest he could use the US military to "wage war" against the cartels. Lopez Obrador declined that offer [Ed: wisely, for them and for us].

6. Coca, Cocaine and Chaos in Colombia

According to both the UN and the US, Colombia accounted for around 70% of global cocaine production in 2017, when the country produced 1,275 tons of cocaine, the most ever. In 2018, production declined by a tiny percentage, but remained near record high levels. There are no figures available yet for 2019, but there is no reason to suspect much has changed.

The high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production have made a return to aerial spraying of coca crops a key goal of the rightist government of President Ivan Duque, who in March asked the Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying, which President Juan Manuel Santos banned after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a likely carcinogen. That position won the support of US Secretary of State Pompeo in June, when, ignoring the global criticism of glyphosate and any other strategies for reducing cultivation, he called spraying "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

But in July, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban, although it also said spraying could resume if the government met certain conditions. At the end of December, the government announced plans to resume spraying, publishing a draft law that would allow fumigation flights under supervision of the national police. The proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Meanwhile three years after a peace deal between former President Santos and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC was signed, violence and chaos in the countryside are increasing. In March, coca farmers clashed with police in Cordoba, saying they were returning to coca after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived. In April, a UN report found massacres on the increase, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country.

In June, the government reported a jump in murders, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist the FARC, leaving FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups fighting over who will control the fields. And in August, a new report from Human Rights Watch found that renewed fighting over control of the cocaine trade in the Catatumbo region had forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

And speaking of the FARC, they're back. In June, a military intelligence report said as many as a third of FARC fighters had picked up their guns again. They were joining dissident FARC groups operating in coca-growing regions. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming.

A couple of month later, FARC dissidents made it official. In August, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, the dissidents said that the rightist government of President Ivan Duque had betrayed the peace accord. Led Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin), they said they were ready for a "new stage of fightingm," citing the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Marquez. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2,000-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

President Duque also faces challenges to his hardline approach to drug policy in both the courts and the congress. The Constitutional Court threw out his ban on public pot smoking and drinking, meaning police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke marijuana and drink beer in public. But it's unclear whether Duque will abide by the ruling.

And in June, the legislative opposition and a center-right bloc filed a package of four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Bolivia's coca grower president, Evo Morales, was forced from office late in 2019. (Creative Commons)
7. Farewell to Bolivia's Coca Grower President

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to quit after weeks of sometimes violent protests.

As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, through heavy investments in public works projects. He began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, which had followed a series of controversies and scandals. Chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor. The country is now ruled by an interim hard right regime, but elections are supposed to happen in the next three months.

8. Philippines Drug War Faces International Pushback

The international community turned up the heat on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug war in 2019, but Duterte was undeterred.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into human rights abuses in the drug war, and that March, Duterte responded by quitting the ICC. But the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue. In December 2019 the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the examination was in the "very late stages," and that a decision on whether to open an investigation would be made during 2020.

In April, human rights advocates and harm reductionists rallied against the Philippine drug war at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

In June, the Philippines National Police put the drug war's official death toll at 6,600, up from just under 5,000 seven months earlier. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

That same month, UN experts called for a human rights probe of the Philippines drug war. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called or the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The call gained momentum when a group of two dozen countries called for a UN investigation of drug war killings. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urged the government to halt extrajudicial executions and called on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis. And a major report from Amnesty International on drug war atrocities added fuel to the fire.

In July, the full UN Human Rights Council voted to begin an investigation into the mass killings. The Duterte government responded by refusing to grant the UN access to the country to investigate the killings and other human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin called the UN experts "bastards."

In November, representatives from 51 countries called for the Philippines to "STOP THE KILLINGS" at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country's president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

Also in November, Duterte engaged in some political flim-flam when he named strong drug war critic Vice President Leni Robredo as drug czar, then fired her less than three weeks later. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. But Robredo vowed to carry on the fight. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting," Robredo said.

"They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Meanwhile, another prominent political figure and drug war critic, Senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars, where she has been since arrested on bogus drug charges in February 2017. But she got some support from the US Congress late this year. In two separate moves in December, the Senate approved a Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 42) and approved a State Department spending bill that includes a provision barring entry "to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima."

The Duterte government has responded in typical fashion: It has now denied entry to three US senators, Ed Markey (D-MA), who authored the de Lima resolution, and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

9. Sri Lanka and the Death Penalty for Drugs

Under the baleful influence of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, now former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena early in the year announced plans to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty so drug offenders could be executed, kicking off his campaign with an advertisement announcing job vacancies for executioners. In April, Sirisena announced the first executions would be coming soon as he presided over the burning of seized cocaine.

"To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too."

But with the country in shock after the Easter Islamic terror attacks that left more than 200 people dead, Sirisena had other issues on his mind -- although in July, Sirisena falsely blamed drug gangs for the attacks, saying they were designed to discredit his anti-drug drive.

Sirisena's blood lust has so far been thwarted by the courts. In June, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of four people set to be hanged in October for drug offenses.

In October, as Sirisena's term was running out, his plans to make the executions his last act of state was again thwarted, with the Supreme Court again staying the executions until March 20, 2020. Now it will be up to newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaska to decide whether to continue Sirsena's aberration.

10. The Extent of the US's Drug War Fiasco in Afghanistan Becomes Achingly Apparent

In late October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued its latest report on the seemingly endless US occupation of Afghanistan, and its analysis of American anti-opium efforts was particularly devastating. SIGAR found that although we've spent nearly $9 billion trying to suppress the opium poppy, Afghanistan remained far and away the world's largest opium producer throughout the US occupation.

The country produced a record high nine tons of opium in 2017, and although drought reduced last year's crop, SIGAR noted that "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan. Interdiction activities -- drug busts -- have "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production," SIGAR found, while eradication efforts "have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation." Alternative development was funded at low levels, and SIGAR found it "ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

Whew, that's pretty bad, but it gets worse. This month, the Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, an extensive piece of investigative reporting that showed US officials consistently lied about making progress in the war even though they knew they weren't. The papers contain a section on opium, "Overwhelmed by Opium," that makes a thoroughly depressing read as it documents the myriad ways US anti-drug policy imploded. "Of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless," the Post noted. That's saying something.

Chronicle AM: Northeastern Governors Hold Legalization Summit, SC Judge Throws Out Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (10/17/19)

At least five governors have marijuana on their minds this week, Canada allows marijuana edibles and vapes to go on sale, a South Carolina judge rules the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, and more.

Marijuana is on the minds of governors in the Northeast -- and New Mexico, too. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Governors of Four Northeastern States Hold Summit to Coordinate Marijuana Legalization Plans. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) have been joined at a Thursday meeting by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) as the state chief executives discuss how best to move forward with marijuana legalization. The governors' marijuana summit is divided into five sessions: on vaping and related issues, market regulation and social justice issues, public health consequences of cannabis, public safety issues and a "best practices" panel led by Colorado representatives.

New Mexico Governor's Working Group Releases Marijuana Legalization Proposal. A working group on marijuana legalization appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) released its recommendations Wednesday. The group is recommending, among other things, the automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions, exempting medical marijuana patients from taxation, a low-income subsidy program for patients, and either a ban or a licensing requirement for home cultivation. The state will see a 30-day legislative session early next year, and the release of the recommendations could pave the way for passage of a legalization bill then.

Asset Forfeiture

South Carolina Judge Rules Civil Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional. A South Carolina circuit court judge in Horry County has ruled the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, in violation of the US Constitution's 4th, 5th and 14 amendments. 15th Circuit Court Judge Steven H. John found that South Carolina's forfeiture laws violate both the federal and state constitutional protections against excessive fines by allowing the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and property that aren't proportionate to the alleged crime. The ruling sets the scene for an appeals court ruling down the road.

International

Australian Plan to Drug Test Welfare Recipients Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle. A government bill to begin a pilot program requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug tests has been approved by the lower house and is now on its way to the Senate -- where it is likely to be defeated.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana Derivatives. One year after legalizing marijuana, Canada has now finalized regulations for marijuana products such as edibles, marijuana-infused beverages, and vape products, and those products will now be available to Canadian consumers as the country moves to "Legalization 2.0."

Chronicle AM: MA Will Get Cannabis Cafes, Australia's Capital City Legalizes Weed, More... (9/25/19)

Massachusetts regulators approve cannabis cafes and home delivery, a key congressman pledges continuing support for broad marijuana reforms, Australia's capital city legalizes pot possession, and more.

Cannabis cafes are coming to Boston. (RegulateMass)
Marijuana Policy

Judiciary Committee Chairman Pledges Broader Marijuana Reform After Banking Vote. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that a vote set for Wednesday on the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595) would only be the first step in a broader push toward marijuana policy reform. "The House is expected to consider the SAFE Banking Act on the floor tomorrow and I will vote for it," Nadler said. "This bill will address one of the many serious problems that results from the criminalization of marijuana at the federal level. "As the sponsor of the MORE Act (HR 3884), I also strongly support additional marijuana reform -- to deschedule marijuana federally and to provide critical assistance and relief to individuals and communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the racially biased war on drugs," Nadler said. "I am therefore committed to marking up this bill and look forward to working with reform advocates and my colleagues in this important effort going forward." The statement comes amid division among reform advocates over whether to seek broader reforms before passing the SAFE Act.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Gets Updated, Begins Signature Gathering. The Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative has been amended to allow more people to expunge past pot convictions and to allow for 26 retail licenses to be issued to "individuals from communities disproportionately impacted" by marijuana prohibition. Now, signature gathering gets underway. Organizers have one year to come up with some 237,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Cannabis Cafes, Home Delivery. The state Cannabis Control Commission on Tuesday voted to approve regulations that will allow for cannabis cafes where people can eat, vape, or smoke marijuana legally and for marijuana home delivery services. "We feel like we have got a good balance between trying to meet the will of the voters but recognizing that there are concerns from a public health and a public safety standpoint," said Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman. Both new types of licenses will be reserved for the first two years for social equity and economic empowerment applicants, which are categories of businesses owned by minorities, people with drug convictions and people who have lived and worked in communities disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition.

New York Governor Seeks Cooperation with Neighboring States on Vaping and Marijuana Legalization.Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday he will travel to Connecticut and New Jersey to try to create regional coordination on marijuana legalization. "For one state to do it, it makes no sense if the neighboring state has a different policy because then you just incentivize people to drive over the border and buy it there," he said. "When you start to discuss how to legalize marijuana it moves into the vaping space because a lot of the marijuana products can be vaped" Cuomo said. "When you start saying I want to outlaw flavored cigarettes well how about gummy bear marijuana products?"

International

Australian Capital City Legalizes Marijuana. Canberra, the national capital, has become the first ciaty in Australia to legalize marijuana. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory voted Tuesday to approve a bill allowing people 18 and over to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. The new law will go into effect on January 31, 2020. People will be able to legally possess up to 50 grams (just under two ounces) and grow up to two plants per person, or four per household. The new law, however, conflicts with national marijuana prohibition laws and could be overridden.

Canada's Trudeau Says Liberals Not Looking to Decriminalize Drugs. As he campaigns to keep his job, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the Liberal Party is not going to decriminalize drugs. "We're not looking at full decriminalization at all right now," Trudeau said. "There are other things that we are doing that (are) having a big impact and we're going to make decisions based on science," Trudeau said, pointing to the Liberal government's actions on safe injection sites and other harm reduction methods. Trudeau's stance contrasts with that of the national Liberal caucus, which approved a resolution last year to "re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Legalization Deadline Looms, State AGs Urge Support for Fed Marijuana Bill, More... (9/24/19)

More than 20 state attorneys general have urged congressional leaders to pass legislation to protect state-legal marijuana, Mexico faces a deadline to legalize marijuana, Canadian researchers recommend providing prescription heroin to hard-core addicts, and more.

Under a Supreme Court ruling, the Mexican congress has one month to pass a marijuana legalization bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

21 State Attorneys General Urge Congress to Protect State Marijuana Programs from Federal Interference. Attorneys general from 21 states sent a letter Monday to congressional leaders urging support for the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act (HR 2093), which would shield state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference. Attorneys general from Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, DC, signed the letter.

Pennsylvania Court Rules Odor of Marijuana No Longer Probable Cause for Traffic Searches. A Lehigh County judge has ruled that since medical marijuana is now legal in the state, the mere presence of a "strong odor" of marijuana does not provide probable cause for a vehicle search. Judge Maria Dantos ruled that because police lacked probable cause for a search, a small amount of marijuana and a weapon found during the search was inadmissible as evidence of a crime. The state is appealing to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

International

Canadian Research Group Recommends Giving Addicts Medical-Grade Heroin. Guidelines published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal recommend that health-care providers offer injectable medical-grade heroin or another prescription opioid to severely addicted users who have proven resistant to other treatment modalities. The recommendations call for the use of injectable diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin) or hydrocodone for patients who have not responded to the most effective oral treatments, methadone and buprenorphine.

Mexico Has One Month to Legalize Marijuana. A Supreme Court-ordered deadline to legalize marijuana is now only one month away, and the country's congress is now pondering 10 different bills that would do just that. One of those bills is drawing concern from activists. It would not change the legal status quo, but would instruct the health ministry to give permits for self-consumption, thereby complying with the Supreme Court ruling, but not completely legalizing marijuana. Mexico must act on one of these bills by Oct. 24.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Would Legalize Marijuana by Executive Order, CDC Says More Naloxone, More... (8/8/19)

That New Jersey legalization bill may yet rise from the dead, the CDC wants more naloxone access in rural areas, Ohio's largest city just quit prosecuting small-time pot busts, Bernie Sanders vows to use an executive order to federally legalize marijuana, and more.

Bernie Sanders stays in the marijuana legalization vanguard. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Says He Will Legalize Marijuana Via Executive Order. If elected president, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) will legalize marijuana by executive order, he told podcast host Joe Rogan in a recent interview. "When I ran for president for the Democratic nomination in 2016, I talked about a broken criminal justice system, which ends up having in the United States more people in jail than any other country," Sanders said. "And what I call for then, and I call for now, is the legalization of marijuana in America." It sounds like he wants to modify the Controlled Substances Act, which puts marijuana in the same category as heroin. "That is insane. Heroin is a killer drug," he said on the episode. "You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain't heroin. So we have to end that and that's what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that."

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Effort May Come Back at Year's End. Although lawmakers gave up on trying to get a legalization bill passed three months ago, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) saying it would likely be up to the state's voters at the 2020 election, Sweeney was singing a slightly different tune this week. "I'm not going to give up trying," he said. "I would love to do it. We'll make one more run at it."

Ohio's Largest City Quits Prosecuting Misdemeanor Marijuana Cases. Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said Wednesday his office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor possession charges because current drug tests make it difficult to determine the exact amount of THC in the samples. This is a direct result of the legislature passing a law that legalizes hemp and CBD. Field drug tests cannot differentiate between hemp and recreational marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Says Naloxone Not Getting Where Most Needed. In a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said prescriptions for the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone doubled from 2017 to 2018, but rural counties, which are often hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, were far less likely to dispense the drug. The CDC is asking doctors and pharmacists to allow more access to the drug. "Efforts to improve naloxone access and distribution work most effectively with efforts to improve opioid prescribing, implement other harm-reduction strategies, promote linkage to medications for opioid use disorder treatment, and enhance public health and public safety partnerships," the CDC said.

Search and Seizure

Pennsylvania Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Doesn't Justify Car Search. Pennsylvania is a medical marijuana state and thus police cannot use the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle once the suspect has showed proof he is a medical marijuana patients, a Lehigh County judge ruled last week. It was "illogical, impractical, and unreasonable" for police to suspect illegal activity once the medical marijuana card was produced, he said. "Pennsylvania legislators did not contemplate that people with legal medical marijuana cards would be arrested and prosecuted for possession of marijuana in a package that is not clearly marked with a dispensary name on it. Such actions are merely means of hampering the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes," the judge wrote as he threw out the marijuana charge.

International

British Columbia Nurses Endorse Drug Decriminalization. British Columbia nurses collectively called for the province to save lives by decriminalizing drug possession. "[We] call on the B.C. government to take immediate steps to move toward the decriminalization of people who use drugs," reads a statement issued Thursday by the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of British Columbia (NNPBC), a professional organization with more than 3,800 members, and the Harm Reduction Nurses Association (HRNA), a national organization with members across Canada. "As nurses who work in B.C. and provide frontline care in the midst of this public health emergency, we see firsthand the impact of criminalization on our clients, on their families, on our practice and our communities," it continues. "As nurses, we see decriminalization as an essential step to remove barriers to care and support, reduce stigma and discrimination, improve health and socioeconomic outcomes, and work toward a more just and compassionate society."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Biden Criminal Justice Plan, Kamala Harris Pot Bill, Vancouver Call for Safe Drug Supply, More... (7/23/19)

Democratic presidential contenders stake out marijuana and criminal justice positions, a North Dakota legalization initiative is approved for signature-gathering, Vancouver wants a safe drug supply of illicit opioids, and more.

Joe Biden seeks to make political amends for his past criminal justice history. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kamala Harris, Jerry Nadler File Federal Decriminalization Bill. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have filed legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal law, impose a 5% federal marijuana sales tax, and use some of the proceeds to fund programs that help individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Attorney General Calls on Legislature to Legalize Marijuana in Bid to Avoid Initiative That Can't Be Altered by Politicians. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) wants the state legislature to enact marijuana legalization so that it can have a say in making any future changes to the law. Browder said he fears an industry-crafted measure winning at the ballot box. He is also concerned that if marijuana for adults is legalized by voters, it will be constitutionally protected against legislative fixes.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday he had approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for signature-gathering. Supporters of the effort will need to come up with 26,904 valid voter signatures by February 10 to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. A separate group is planning a statutory initiative to legalize marijuana. That group is expected to submit its petition to Jaeger late this month or next.

Criminal Justice

Joe Biden Unveils Criminal Justice Plan. Former vice president and current Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden rolled out a 21st Century criminal justice policy in a speech in New Orleans Tuesday. In it, he called for an end to the powder/crack cocaine sentencing disparity, and end to the federal death penalty, the creation of a $20 grant program to states to reduce incarceration as long as they eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, the expansion of the Justice Department's role in rooting out institutional misconduct by police departments, and more. His rivals say it doesn't make up for what they say is Biden's role in creating and perpetuating mass incarceration.

International

Vancouver Overdose Task Force Calls for Safe Supply of Drugs. The Canadian city's overdose emergency task force is calling for expanded access to a safe supply of illicit drugs for drug users. The task force is calling on the city council to approve a motion advocating for a regulated supply of "opioids or other substances." It also calls on the federal government to "expand access to safe supply by proactively supporting all doctors, health authorities, provinces and all relevant professional colleges, including physicians and surgeons across Canada, to safely provide regulated opioids or other substances through a free and federally available pharmacare program."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Drug ODs May Have Peaked, New Gallup Marijuana Poll, More... (6/12/19)

New data from the CDC suggests the overdose epidemic may have peaked, a new Gallup poll shows support for marijuana legalization remains strong, Oregon passes an interstate marijuana commerce bill, and more.

The latest Gallup poll has support for legalization at 64%, down two points from October. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 64% Nationwide. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 64%, down two points from the last Gallup poll in October. The poll also asked why people opposed or supported legalization. The top reason for opposition was concern about impaired driving, while the top reason for support was because of its medical value to patients.

California Appeals Court Rules Prisoners Can Possess -- But Not Use -- Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the convictions of five state prisoners for marijuana possession, ruling that Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana in the state, made possession of under an ounce of marijuana legal -- even in prison. But smoking or ingesting marijuana in prison is still a felony.

Oregon Legislature Approves Bill for Interstate Marijuana Commerce. The House on Tuesday approved SB 582, which would allow the governor to enter into agreements with other states for the import and export of marijuana. The Senate has already approved the bill, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Elaine Brown (D), who is expected to sign it. The bill moved in the House after a Republican representative from a prime marijuana-growing area urged its passage.

House Foe of DC Legalization Doesn't Bother to File Amendment Messing with City's Ability to Make Marijuana Policy. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) didn't bother to even propose his amendment to the DC appropriations bill on Tuesday, recognizing that it would go nowhere in the Democratically controlled House. For years, Harris has filed an amendment blocking the city from using its funds to implement marijuana commerce and taxation.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico to Expand Medical Marijuana Production. The state Health Department on Tuesday proposed new rules for marijuana production that would increase a 450-plant limit per grower to 1,750 mature plants per grower. The move is designed to ensure adequate supplies of medical marijuana without flooding the market.

Hemp

Texas Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law HB 1325, which will create a state-regulated hemp industry. The law will allow hemp products, including CBD, to be sold as long as it contains no more than 0.3% THC.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Data Suggests Overdose Epidemic Has Peaked. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Tuesday shows that the age-adjusted overdose mortality rate declined in the twelve months ending in the second quarter of 2018. The rate was 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 and increased steadily over the past two decades to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2017. Now, it has declined to 20.8 per 100,000. This isn't a final figure, but it is an encouraging sign.

International

Canadian Commons Committee Urges Government to Study Portuguese Model. The House of Commons Health Committee has called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The recommendation came in a committee report produced after members held hearings across the country on drug use and abuse. "Witnesses recommended that the federal government examine the implementation of the Portuguese model of decriminalization of the possession of illicit substances, which included a scaling-up of treatment programs and the creation of diversion programs for offenders who commit crimes related to their substance-use disorders," the report says.

Chronicle AM: Denver Votes for Mushroom Decrim, Ivanka Trump Comments on Colombia Policy, More... (5/9/19)

Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization initiative comes from behind to win, Ivanka Trump voices support for crop substitution in Colombia, the Alabama legislature is busy, and more.

magic mushrooms (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama House Committee Rejects Decriminalization Bill. The House Health Committee voted Wednesday to kill HB 96, which would have decriminalized the possession of five grams or less of marijuana. Several committee members worried that decriminalizing would let people get caught with pot multiple times and never have to go to drug court.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a restrictive medical marijuana bill, SB 236. The bill allows for medical marijuana use for specified conditions if other treatments are not working. At least two physicians must sign off on the recommendation, and patients must submit to random drug testing. The bill now goes to the House.

Psychedelics

Denver Decriminalizes Magic Mushrooms. Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results. With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

Foreign Policy

Ivanka Trump Is Interested in Supporting Crop Substitution Programs in Colombia, first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump is interested in US support for for a UN-monitored crop substitution program for coca farmers, according to Colombia's vice-president. Under Trump, the US has refused to support such programs, which are part of the peace treaty between the FARC and the Colombian government, because they employ some former FARC guerrillas. Even though the FARC transitioned from guerrilla army to political party in 2017, the US still labels it a terrorist organization. Trump officials have insisted on forcibly eradicating and fumigating coca crops, a strategy widely considered ineffective.

International

Canada Grants More Exemptions for Religious Groups to Import Ayahuasca. Health Canada has granted three more exemptions for religious groups in Ontario and Quebec to import the psychoactive brew ayahuasca. It had granted exemptions in 2017 to the Eclectic Centre for Universal Flowing Light and the Beneficient Spiritist Center Uniao do Vegetal. Now, Health Canada announces it has granted three more exemptions, to the Ceu da Divina Luz do Montreal, the Église Santo Daime Céu do Vale de Vida in Val-David, Quebec, and the Ceu de Toronto. "These exemptions provide these applicant's designated members, senior members and registrants with the authority to possess, provide, transport, import, administer and destroy Daime Tea (ayahuasca), as applicable, when carrying out activities related to their religious practice, subject to the terms and conditions of the exemption," said Health Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette.

Faced with Fentanyl, Is It Time for Heroin Buyers' Clubs? [FEATURE]

In the past few years, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary driver of the drug overdose death epidemic. A wave of addiction that began with prescription opioids two decades ago and morphed into one driven by heroin after the crackdown on pain pills one decade ago has now clearly entered a third phase: the era of fentanyl.

Pharmaceutical heroin. (Creative Commons)
Beginning in about 2014, fentanyl-related overdose death rates skyrocketed as Chinese chemical manufacturers and Mexican drug distribution gangs began flooding the country with the cheap, easily concealable narcotic—and not through unwalled borders but through points of entry and package delivery services, including the U.S. Postal Service. By 2017, fentanyl was implicated in some 28,000 overdose deaths, more than either heroin or prescription opioids, and involved in nearly half of all overdose deaths.

The responses have ranged from the repressive to the pragmatic. Some state and federal legislation seeks a harsher criminal justice system response, whether it's increasing penalties for fentanyl trafficking or charging hapless drug sharers with murder if the person they shared with dies. In other cases, the opioid epidemic has emboldened harm reduction-based policies, such as the calls for safe injection sites in cities such as Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Just a couple of hours up the road from Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, has been grappling with the same wave of opioid addiction and now, the arrival of fentanyl. And it has arrived with a real wallop: According to the British Columbia Coroner’s Service, fentanyl was implicated in 85 percent of overdose deaths in the province last year, up from only four percent just six years earlier. And with the arrival of fentanyl and, in 2016, its cousin, carfentanil, overdose deaths in B.C. jumped more than four-fold in that same period, from 333 in 2012 to 1,489 in 2018.

But while American cities are just now moving toward opening safe injection sites, Vancouver has had them for years, part of the city’s embrace of the progressive Four Pillars strategy—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—of dealing with problems around drug misuse and addiction. In fact, more than a dozen safe injection sites are now operating in the city, as well as a couple of programs that involve providing pharmaceutical grade heroin or other opioids to hard-core addicts who have proven unamenable to traditional forms of treatment.

Such harm reduction programs have not prevented all overdose deaths, but they have radically reduced the toll. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has estimated that without those programs, B.C. would have seen triple the number of fatal overdoses.

Vancouver has been on the cutting edge of progressive drug policy reforms for the past 20 years, and now, faced with the fentanyl crisis, some researchers are proposing a radical next step: heroin buyers’ clubs.

In a report published last week, the B.C. Center on Substance Use, which has strong ties to the provincial government, called for the clubs as part of a broader plan for "legally regulated heroin sales in B.C." to protect users from fentanyl-adulterated heroin and cut the profits of organized crime.

The proposal "is inspired by cannabis compassion clubs and buyers' clubs, both of which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic," the authors note.

"The compassion or buyers' club would function as a cooperative (or ‘co-op’), as an autonomous and democratic enterprise owned and operated by its members," the report explains. "A member-driven purchasing cooperative is an arrangement among businesses or individuals whereby members agree to aggregate their demand in order to purchase a certain product at a lower price from a supplier," it continues. "By aggregating their purchase orders and relevant resources, members are able to take advantage of volume discounts, price protection, shared storage and distribution facilities and costs, and other economies of scale to reduce their overall purchasing costs."

It wouldn't exactly be the Dallas Buyers Club, the 2013 film that portrayed unorthodox methods of obtaining AIDS medications in the 1980s. There would be some structure: To be accepted into the club, people addicted to opioids would have to undergo a medical evaluation, and once admitted to the club, they would still have to buy their own heroin, but with many advantages over buying black market dope. The main advantage would be that they would be receiving pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin (known as diacetylmorphine in countries where it is part of the pharmacopeia)—not an unknown substance that is likely to contain fentanyl.

Club members could inject the drug at a designated location—the report suggests that existing safe injection sites could be used—or take small amounts of the drug with them for consumption at home. The report also calls for each club to include related services, such as overdose response training, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and options for members to access social services such as detox, rehab, and other treatment options.

Not only could buyers' clubs create a safer, cheaper heroin-using experience for members, the report argues, but they could also erode the black market and its tendency to produce more potent drugs—the so-called Iron Law of Prohibition.

"Fentanyl adulteration in the illicit drug supply is a predictable unintended consequence of drug prohibition," the report concludes. "The same forces that pushed the market away from relatively bulky opium towards heroin, a more concentrated opioid that was easier to transport clandestinely, have continued to push the opioid market to increasingly potent synthetic opioids, including a range of fentanyl analogs. A cooperative could undermine the illegal market wherever it is set up."

Such a plan faces legal and political challenges in Canada, but those can be overcome if the provincial and federal governments get on board. Obstacles to such a plan being rolled out in the United States are even greater, especially given an administration hostile toward harm reduction in general that would most likely view legal heroin sales as anathema.

But here in the U.S., we're a decade or so behind Vancouver when it comes to progressive drug policies, so it's time to get the conversation started. After all, these sorts of approaches to the problem are likely to be more effective than throwing addicts in jail or building boondoggle border walls. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

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