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FL Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Pot Initiative, ME Legislature Passes Drug Trafficking Reform Bill, More... (6/21/21)

Possession of more than two grams of heroin or fentanyl would no longer be considered prima facie evidence of drug trafficking in Maine after the legislature passes a reform bill, the Decriminalize Nature movement gets a Vermont chapter, and more.

Maine lawmakers move to rein in the state's harsh drug trafficking law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative; Only One Remains Alive. The state Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Sensible Florida, the second time it has blocked a proposed 2022 initiative. The court held the initiative's ballot language was misleading because it said recreational use would be limited, but the actual language would allow for state and local governments to remove those restrictions. The state's Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, petitioned the court to block the initiative. An earlier initiative was struck own because it failed to mention marijuana would remain illegal under federal law. A third initiative, from Floridians for Freedom, remains alive. It includes language about marijuana remaining federally illegal and it is very short, leaving less room for the Supreme Court to rule it deceives voters. It needs a million valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Drug Policy

Maine Bill to Restrict Drug Trafficking Law Passes Legislature. A bill that would amend the state's harsh drug trafficking law to require that the state actually prove drug trafficking instead of charging a person with trafficking for merely possessing an amount of drugs above a certain limit, LD 1675, won final floor votes in the House and Senate last Friday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D) . Current law makes possession of more than two grams or 90 wraps of heroin or fentanyl evidence of drug trafficking. The bill would also end the 3.5-to-1 state sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Psychedelics

Vermont Decriminalize Nature Chapter Forms Amid Push to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. As the state legislature ponders a bill to decriminalize natural entheogens, House Bill 309, psychedelics advocates have formed a state chapter of the nationwide group Decriminalize Nature to help prod lawmakers to act. And they need the prodding: The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee since it was filed in February. "People are all about nature in Vermont and healing with beautiful nature," Decriminalize Vermont leader Carly Nix said. "And also, I already believe that people should be able to grow their own cannabis and heal with cannabis so this seems like a pretty natural next step."

International

Mexican Border Town of Reynosa Sees 14—Or is it 18?—People Killed by Presumed Cartel Gunmen. Gunmen in SUVs 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. The likely perpetrators were warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, which has long dominated drug trafficking in Reynosa but has recently been riven by splits. The last two years have been the bloodiest yet in Mexico's drug war, with more than 34,000 people being killed in both 2019 and 2020, and the toll this year shows no signs of slowing. By contrast, when Mexico's prohibition-related violence earned sustained international attention during the 2012 presidential election year in the US and Mexico, the death toll was around 15,000. It has steadily increased ever since.

CT Senate Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill, CA Bill to End Drug Mandatory Minimums Advances, More... (6/16/21)

Connecticut edges ever closer to marijuana legalization, Texas sees a modest expansion in its medical marijuana program, and more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will, unsurprisingly, not cooperate with an ICC investigation into drug war killings. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, But Governor Threatens Veto Over Equity Provision. The state Senate on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, but it faces a veto threat from Gov. Ned Lamont (D) over a social equity provision that allowed anyone with a prior marijuana arrest or conviction priority for a marijuana business license. Lamont's office objected because even wealthy people with a past conviction would get priority. The Senate subsequently amended the bill to set an income limit, but it's unclear if that will satisfy the governor. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Governor Signs Bill Modestly Expanding Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Greg Abbott ® on Tuesday signed into law a bill, House Bill 1535, that adds cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients to legally access cannabis and doubles the amount of THC concentration that is allowed, from 0.5 percent to one percent.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Non-Violent Drug Offenses Wins Assembly Committee Vote. The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 73, which would end mandatory jail and prison sentences for people get convicted of drug possession for a second or subsequent time. This restriction also applies for the sentencing of probation for first-time offenders for a number of nonviolent drug charges. The bill now heads for the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

International

Philippines Will Not Cooperate in International Criminal Court Investigation of Drug War Killings. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into thousands of killings committed in the course of his bloody war on drugs and drug users, a presidential spokesman said Tuesday. The comment comes a day after the ICC prosecutor asked the court to order a full investigation of the killings, which Duterte unleashed when he took office back in 2016.

Duterte Issues More Death Threats to Drug Dealers, AL Law Applies "Implied Consent" to Saliva Tests, More... (6/1/21)

Myanmar may see a rebound in opium production in the wake of the coup and the pandemic, Philippines President Duterte stays true to thuggish form, and more.

More trouble down Mexico way. It's getting hot in the Michoacan's Tierra Caliente.
Drug Testing

Alabama Law Increases Use of Saliva Tests to Catch Drug-Impaired Drivers. Governor Kay Ivey (R) has signed into law a bill that will treat saliva tests the same as breath and blood tests, meaning drivers in the state will have given "implied consent" to be tested and will lose their driving privileges for three months if they refuse. Previously, saliva tests did not carry that "implied consent" provision and drivers accused of driving under the influence could refuse them without sanction.

International

Mexico Cartel Violence Flares in Michoacan. After confrontations with National Guard members last week, warring cartels burned vehicles and blocked highways in the Tierra Caliente region of the state of Michoacan. Eleven roads were reported blocked in five municipalities: Apatzingán, Buenavista, Parácuaro, Tepalcatepec and Aguililla. In Aguilla, gunmen from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel burned vehicles to block more security forces from entering, while in Buenavista guardsmen and state police were attacked with sticks and rocks by local residents. Meanwhile, members of the rival United Cartels blocked roads in Apatzingan, Buenavista, and Paracuaro. No word on any casualties.

UN Warns of Likely Bump in Myanmar Opium Production After Pandemic, Coup. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is warning of a potential rise in opium production because of economic dislocation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the February 1 military coup. Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer, behind Afghanistan. Production had been trending down since 2014, but the twin threats could reverse that: "The opium economy is really a poverty economy; it functions in a sense the opposite of what the licit economy does. As people exit that economy and they need to make money, they are going to be looking at places they can make it, and often people that are in poor areas and poverty-stricken areas look to make money from the opium economy," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "Probably 12 months out, 18 months out, we're going to be looking at an expansion unless past history is wrong. There's a cycle of this happening in the country over its history," he added.

Philippines President Rejects Providing Full Details on Drug Crackdown, Threatens to Kill More Drug Dealers. President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised speech Monday that he would not open up police records about killings in his bloody anti-drug crackdown, comparing the campaign to the government's war against the communist New People's Army. "This is a national security issue like the NPA," he said. The Supreme Court disagrees, noting in a 2018 resolution that anti-drug operations do not usually "involve state secrets affecting national security" like those dealing with "rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers." Duterte also 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."

IL House Passes Marijuana Equity Bill, Mexican State Police Commander Gunned Down, More... (5/26/21)

A new poll shows strong support for marijuana legalization in the Mountaineer State, a Louisiana bill to end the threat of jail time for pot possession advances, and more.

Minnesota medical marijuana patients will soon be able to smoke their medicine. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois House Passes Marijuana Equity Bill. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 1443, which would revamp the state's system for awarding marijuana dispensary licenses with an eye toward increasing minority participation in the legal industry. The bill would create two new lotteries for dispensary licenses creating 110 new licenses in addition to the 75 already licensed. The bill now heads to the Senate, which has until Monday's legislative deadline to pass it with a simple majority.

Louisiana House Panel Advances Bill to Lower Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Judiciary C Committee voted on Tuesday to approve House Bill 652, which would remove the threat of jail time for low-level marijuana possession offenses. Pot possession would remain a misdemeanor, but punishable only by a $100 fine. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a final Senate floor vote.

West Virginia Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Change Research finds strong support for marijuana legalization in the state. Some 70% of registered voters supported marijuana legalization, 77% supported Congress doing it this year in light of legalization in other countries, and 89% supported allowing medical marijuana to be dispensed in VA facilities.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs into Law Bill Legalizing Smokable Medical Marijuana. Governor Tim Walz (D) on Tuesday signed into law a medical marijuana expansion bill that includes allowing adult patient to use smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state's cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Mississippians Rally to Demand Special Session to Pass Medical Marijuana. Protestors marched Tuesday from the Supreme Court to the governor's mansion calling for a special session of the legislature after the state Supreme Court last week threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana law. The measure had passed with 74% of the vote, but the court tossed it because the state constitution requires signature gathering requirements in five US representative districts and the state has only had four of them since 2000.

International

Mexico's Head of State Police in Sinaloa Gunned Down. Presumed cartel gunmen ambushed Joel Ernesto Soto, director of the Sinaloa State Police, on Monday, killing him. He was found dead in his bullet-riddled car on the outskirts of Culiacan, the state capital. Sinaloa is the home of the Sinaloa cartel, which is now embroiled in internecine violence as well as armed conflict with the rival Jalisco New Generation cartel.

LA House Passes Legal Pot Study Resolution, Peru Coca Zone Massacre, More... (5/25/21)

An Illinois marijuana equity bill heads for a House floor vote, a loosening of medical marijuana regulations during the pandemic may be made permanent in Pennsylvania, the Texas legislature advances bills to reduce penalties for pot concentrates and to study the therapeutic use of psychedelics, and more.

The Shining Path is suspected of massacring villagers in a coca-producing region of Peru. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Marijuana Equity Licensing Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill designed to get more people from drug war-ravaged communities involved in the legal marijuana industry, House Bill 1443, has passed out of the House Rules Committee and is now headed for a House floor vote.

Louisiana House Passes Marijuana Study Resolution. The House on Monday approved House Resolution 1, which directs the House Criminal Justice Committee to conduct a study of the impact of the use and legalization of marijuana. The move comes after efforts to approve legalization stalled in the legislature last week.

Texas Legislature Approves Bill to Lessen Penalties for Marijuana Concentrates. The Senate has approved House Bill 2593, which would reduce the penalty for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana concentrates to a class B misdemeanor. The measure has already passed the House and now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Make Pandemic-Era Lessening of Delivery Restrictions Permanent Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health Committee on Monday approved a proposal to make permanent pandemic-related loosening of the state's medical marijuana rules permanent, House Bill 1024. The state Health Department allowed curbside pickups and the purchase of three-month supplies during the pandemic, and this bill would retain those changes. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Texas Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted Monday to approve House Bill 1535, which would expand the state's medical marijuana program to include all forms of PTSD and cancer, but not chronic pain. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, and if it does, then go back to the House for approval of changes made in the Senate.

Methampheamine

Oregon Bill Would Re-Legalize Over-the-Counter Pseudoephedrine Sales. In 2006, Oregon became the first state to ban OTC sales of cold and allergy remedies because they contain pseudoephedrine and could be used in home meth manufacture. Now, a new bill, House Bill 2648, would end the ban and allow anyone over 18 to buy products containing pseudoephedrine without a prescription, has been filed. It is currently before the Senate Health Care Committee.

Psychedelics

Texas Senate Approves Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill. The Senate has approved House Bill 1802, which would require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA. The bill now goes back to the House for approval of a budget-neutrality amendment passed in the Senate.

International

Peru Coca Zone Massacre Leaves 14 Dead. At least 14 men, women, and children were killed in a massacre in the Ene River Valley, one of the country's most important coca-growing areas. Pamphlets from a Shining Path splinter group were left at the scene, and authorities were pointing the finger at the group. Shining Path, a Maoist-inspired guerrilla group, led a brutal insurgency that left 70,000 dead in the 1980s, but had largely been eliminated since 1992. But remnants remain in the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), where they have morphed into coca and cocaine traffickers.

Philippines Senator Lobbies for Death Penalty for Drug Offenses. Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who once led the Duterte administration's bloody war on drugs, argued that the death penalty for drug offenses should be reinstated Tuesday during a hearing on a bill that aims to toughen the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. He complained that imprisoned Chinese drug lords were still running their businesses from behind bars, saying "the frustration of law enforcement is that had these drug lords been executed, we would not have these problems now." But drug reform advocate Dr. Lee Edson Yarcia pointed out that under the proposed bill, the death penalty is not imposed on top drug lords or syndicates: "This was included in the provision about persons who are in possession of dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings," he noted. The House passed a reform bill last year, but the Senate has yet to file one. This was a preliminary hearing.

Rio de Janeiro Drug Raid Massacre, AZ Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill, More... (5/7/21)

Medical marijuana bills are moving in several states, a Minnesota marijuana legalization bill has just won its 11th committee vote (!), the Texas House passes a psychedelic therapeutic study bill, and more.

A favela in Rio de Janeiro. A police raid on a Rio favela left 25 dead this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Law Enforcement Arrested Nearly 5,000 People on Marijuana Charges Last Year. Despite spreading legalization at the state level, federal marijuana prohibition remains in full force, with the DEA reporting seizing over 4 ½ million pot plants and making nearly 5,000 marijuana arrests. The number of plants seized was up by 20% over 2019, while the number of arrests was up only slightly from 2019. Both figures, though, represent substantial decreases from a decade ago, when the DEA seized nearly nine million plants and made 8,500 pot arrests.

Idaho Senate Approves Bill to Ban Marijuana Advertising. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would bar commercial advertising for marijuana in the state, a move that could potentially impact ballot initiatives to legalize the drug in the state. The bill was only filed this week and had a public hearing earlier in the day that gave the public little chance to participate. The bill now goes to the House.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Yet Another House Committee Vote. The omnibus marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, was approved by the House Taxes Committee Wednesday. That was the 11th committee to approve the bill. It still must go before the House Ways and Means Committee before heading for a House floor vote. The bill face dim prospects, though, in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Strip Governor's Marijuana Legalization Proposal from Budget. The Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 on Thursday to delete Gov. Tony Evers' (D) marijuana legalization proposal from the budget. The move was no surprise, and has led to call from Evers for residents to put pressure on GOP lawmakers to support his agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. With final approval in the House on Thursday, and the Senate approving changes from the House that same day, a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, is now headed to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who has not indicated whether she will sign it. The bill would allow people suffering from a list of about 20 specified medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

Kansas House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday voted 78-42 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for SB158. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Tennessee Legislature Approves Limited Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would expand the state's limited CBD program and create a medical marijuana study commission has passed the legislature and now heads for the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who is expected to sign it. It would allow patients to possess CBD oil with no more than 0.9% THC but provides no legal means of accessing it within the state.

Psychedelics

Texas House Approves Psychedelic Therapeutic Study Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a bill, House Bill 1802, that would mandate the state conduct a study of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA. The measure passed on an overwhelming vote of 134-12. The bill was amended in the House to limit the study to veterans with PTSD instead of the broader study originally envisioned. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Governor Doug Ducey (R) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 2810, which reforms but does not eliminate civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill passed the legislature with strong support.

International

Brazil Drug Raid in Rio Favela Leaves 25 Dead. A massive police operation Thursday against drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro left one policeman and 24 favela residents dead. The bloody raid is drawing condemnation from human rights groups. "Who are the dead? Young black men. That’s why the police talk about ‘24 suspects.’ Being a young, black favela resident automatically makes you a suspect to the police. They just keep piling up bodies and saying, ‘They’re all criminals,’" said Silvia Ramos, head of the Security Observatory at Candido Mendes University. "Is this the public security policy we want? Shootouts, killings and police massacres?" This isn't the deadliest anti-drug police operation in the country's history: A 2005 raid in the Baixada Fluminense favela left 29 dead. Police in Rio have a reputation for deadliness, and Human Rights Watch reports that they killed 453 in the first quarter of 2021.

White House Staffers Hold Virtual Meeting with Ex-Incarcerated, Mexico Cartel Drone Attacks, More... (5/3/21)

A drug decriminalization bill is winning support in Maine, so is a buprenorphine legalization bill in Vermont, and more.

White House staffers held a virtual meeting with formerly incarcerated people to talk policy last Friday. (Whitehouse.gov)
Drug Policy

Maine Drug Decriminalization Bill Garners Support at Committee Hearing. A bill that decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs, LD 967, won support from medical and religious groups during a hearing before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last Thursday. Testifying in support of the bill were the Maine Medical Association and a coalition of religious groups. The bill would make drug possession a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. The fine could be avoided if people submit to an "evidence-based assessment for proposed treatment for substance use disorder." No vote was taken in committee, but the testimony suggested strong support for the move.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Committee Poised to Pass Buprenorphine Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health Committee heard testimony largely in support of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The bill, House Bill 225 , has already passed the House. The Judiciary Committee didn’t vote on the bill because it is currently before the House Rules Committee, but they did express unanimous support for it and expected to approve it once it reaches the committee. The Health Committee must also approve it before it goes for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

White House Officials Meet Virtually with Formerly Incarcerated Criminal Justice Reform Advocates. White House officials met virtually last Friday with a group of former drug war and other prisoners to listen to ideas about how to change criminal justice policies to advance prison and sentencing reform. Domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, public engagement director Cedric Richmond, and White House counsel Dana Remus heard recommendations on how "to reduce incarceration, end racial disparities, and facilitate successful reentry," they said in a White House readout of the event. The trio heard from 10 differerent advocacy groups, including Forward Justice and JustLeadershipUSA.

International

Mexican Drug Cartels Are Attacking Security Forces with Explosive-Laden Drones, Defense Minister Says. Mexican Defense Minister Luis Sandoval said last Wednesday that drug cartels are employing bomb-carrying drones to attack security forces. "We have found that there are some cartels using drones with explosives," the general said during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily news conference. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is among those using the drones, Sandoval said, pointing to an attack last Monday in Aguilla, Michoacan, where police clearing roads that had been blocked by cartel members came under attack, leaving two wounded. But the drones are big enough to carry more lethal loads, Sandoval said. "They cannot carry amounts (of explosives) that are harmful to personnel or to a facility," Sandoval said.

NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

SAFE Banking Act House Floor Vote Today, Texas Governor Wants Cartel Terrorist Designation, More... (4/19/21)

Another poll reaffirms marijuana legalization's popularity, the push for legalization in Connecticut has hit a roadblock over social equity, a bill to allow smokable medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, and more.

US Capitol (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Nine Out of Ten Americans Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew poll has 91% of Americans in favor of legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana or both. Sixty percent favored legalizing both, while another 31% said they supported legalizing only medical marijuana.

House to Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Today. House Majority Leader Stony Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, House Resolution 1996, will get a House floor vote on Monday. This will be the first floor action on any marijuana-related legislation this session.

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Hits Roadblock Over Social Equity. Efforts to legalize marijuana this year are in danger after Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and key lawmakers reached an impasse over social equity provisions that the legislators say Lamont's bill is lacking. They said last week they could not support Lamont's bill without stronger social equity provisions. Lamont, for his part, appears ready to wait until next year if necessary. "I think [legalization is] in the best interest of public health and I don't want to surrender this to the underground market and I don't want to surrender it to outside markets. That said, if you get a bill that you think doesn't meet some basic requirements, you'll put it off another year just like they have for many years in the past. You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said Friday.

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Rules Out Action on Marijuana Legalization. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said last Thursday that the Republican-controlled state legislature will not legalize recreational or medical marijuana. "We don't have support from the caucus. That's pretty clear, that we don't have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes [to] legalize it," LeMahieu said. He added that states should not pass laws that are "in conflict with the federal government."

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill to allow and tax smokable marijuana for medical marijuana patients, House Bill 514, passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last Friday. The measure would apply the state's 4.45% sales tax to such products. The bill is now ready for a House floor vote.

Foreign Policy

Texas Governor Demands Biden Add Cartels to Terrorist List but Didn't Demand the Same of Trump. Governor Greg Abbott (R) has accused the Biden administration of just "standing by" as Mexican cartels "terrorize" South Texas and is demanding that President Biden add the cartels to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. In doing so, he cited the November 2019 killing of nine US citizens in a cartel attack in northern Mexico, which occurred during the Trump presidency. Abbott never made any such demand of Trump, nor did he complain when Trump, who had threatened such a move, backed down under pressure from Mexico.

Biden's Drug Policy Priorities Are a Small Step in the Right Direction, But Old Attitudes Linger [FEATURE]

On April 1, the Biden administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. The result is a definite mixed bag: a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, along with an acknowledgement of harm reduction and a nod in the direction of racially-sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And nothing about the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The word "marijuana" appears not once in the heavily annotated 11-page document, and the word "cannabis" only once, in the title of an academic research paper about the onset of teen drug use in the footnotes. That's perhaps not so surprising, given that, in response to a reporter's question, Vice President Harris said last week the administration was too busy dealing with other crises to worry about making good its campaign pledges about marijuana reform.

What is on the administration's mind is "the overdose and addiction crisis." Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says "addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for [the] administration." But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that "President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead." (Underlying that seemingly humane approach is the errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts in need of treatment when, depending on the drug, only between one in five and one in 10 drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.)

Here are the Biden administration's drug policy priorities, all of which are gone into in detail in the statement:

  • Expanding access to evidence-based treatment;
  • Advancing racial equity issues in our approach to drug policy;
  • Enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts;
  • Supporting evidence-based prevention efforts to reduce youth substance use;
  • Reducing the supply of illicit substances;
  • Advancing recovery-ready workplaces and expanding the addiction workforce; and
  • Expanding access to recovery support services.

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices in Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR noted the administration's statement without comment.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration's failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction -- it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example -- is another indication that the administration is in no hurry no rush down a progressive drug reform path. And its prioritizing of supply reduction implies continued drug war in Latin America ("working with key partners like Mexico and Colombia") and at home, via support of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and "multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations." Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," issued on Biden's first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an "interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2020 Roadmap for the incoming administration released in November, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms ranging from ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counter-narcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the DEA. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA's politically attuned language "overdose prevention centers."

"We're glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis -- by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications -- especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it's clearly not enough. We need action," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement responding to the administration's statement. "Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police."

"And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job -- past drug convictions and arrests -- we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace," Perez continued. "It's time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms."

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration's priorities. In their own statement in response to the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities such as more access to treatment and more research on racial equity, it complained that the administration priorities "fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country" -- especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

"There are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs," SSDP said. "Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity."

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the Biden administration is looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step, and its policy prescriptions are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps they can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

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