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NJ Assembly Passes Criminal Justice Reform Package, MT Pot Legalization Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/19/20)

Montana campaigners handed in what should be enough signatures to get marijuana legalization measures on the ballot, the New Jersey Assembly quickly passed a package of criminal justice reform bills, Houston's police chief is facing mounting pressure to release a report on a deadly drug raid, and more. 

Montana has a good shot at getting a chance to vote on marijuana legalization in November. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the CI-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, announced Friday that it had turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 50,000 valid voter signatures). Now it's nail-biting time as organizers wait for the state to see if they came up with enough good signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Counties Can Ban Probationers from Using Medical Marijuana. The State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that counties may not ban people on probation or parole from using medical marijuana if they are registered in the state medical marijuana program. In a unanimous decision, the court noted that people in the program are immune from “arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner” under state law, even if they are under a court’s supervision. “In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, the political branch has decided to permit patients — including probationers — to use medical marijuana for specified, serious medical conditions, upon a physician’s certification,” the court said in its opinion.

Criminal Justice

New Jersey Assembly Passes Package of Eight Criminal Justice Reform Bills. During a 90-minute teleconference vote Thursday, the Assembly passed eight bills dealing with criminal justice reform, all by unanimous or near unanimous votes. The subject matter of the bills ranges from increased transparency for police personnel files, improved data gathering, making a racially based false police report a crime, minority recruitment, heightened diversity training, ending the use of chokeholds, and easing identification requirements for juror lists. Now, it's up to the Senate to act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Chief Faces Growing Pressure to Release Internal Audit of Deadly Drug Raid. Police Chief Art Acevedo is under pressure from a growing chorus of elected officials to release the findings of an internal audit on his department’s narcotics division, arguing that the chief’s refusal to do so contradicts his vows to be transparent and accountable. Acevedo ordered the probe in the wake of 2019 raid that left two innocent homeowners dead and four officers wounded. The officer in charge of that raid, Gerald Gaines, was accused by investigators of lying to get the warrant use in the raid and now faces murder charges. Now, in the wake of the George Floyd killing, elected officials are demanding to see that audit.

Is the Era of the No-Knock Drug Raid Coming to an End? [FEATURE]

In the mass protests over out-of-control and racially biased law enforcement ignited by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin, Floyd's name isn't the only one being chanted by the crowds. There's also Ahmaud Arbery, the Georgia jogger gunned down by white vigilantes. There's Rayshard Brooks, the Atlanta man shot and killed by police after falling asleep in his car in the Wendy's drive-through lane and them tussling with and fleeing from them as he sought to avoid arrest.

And then there's Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old black EMT and Louisville resident was killed on March 13 as police executing a midnight no-knock drug search warrant at her apartment were greeted by gunfire by her boyfriend.. As the circumstances of her death emerged, she has become the face of the burgeoning movement to radically restrict the police resort to no-knock warrants, which could just as aptly be referred to as home invasion warrants.

That's what it felt like to Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker. Although Louisville police claimed they knocked and announced their presence, they were operating with a no-knock warrant, and that account is disputed by Walker and Taylor's relatives. Walker said he and Taylor were in bed together when the door crashed in and he thought someone was breaking into their home. He said he fired in self-defense. (Here is that fraught zone where the war on drugs encounters the 2nd Amendment.)

Walker's single shot wounded one officer, who returned fire along with two other officers. Breonna Taylor was hit by at least eight bullets and died at the scene. Walker was charged with attempted murder, although those charges have now been dropped. No drugs were found at the apartment. To make matters even worse, the drug suspect the police were looking for was already in custody when the raid went down.

"They executed this innocent woman because they botched the search warrant execution," attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Taylor family in a lawsuit filed over the killing told the New York Times. "They had the main person that they were trying to get in their custody, so why use a battering ram to bust her door down and then go in there and execute her?"

Outrage over the killing of Breonna Taylor quietly festered as the country hunkered down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, but when the iconic killing of George Floyd finally galvanized the streets, the pain and anger over Taylor's killing became a rallying cry not just in Louisville but across the land. And it's bringing a laser-like focus on a practice more akin to raiding terrorist hideouts in the Middle East than to serving and protecting American citizens, which in turn is leading to a renewed focus on the role of the drug war in all of this.

The war on drugs provided the impetus for no-knock raids from the beginning, and the courts were all too willing to help. The 1963 US Supreme Court case Ker v. California, which gave constitutional imprimatur to forcible police entries, was a drug case where the possibility that evidence could be destroyed carried the day for the cops. When the Supreme Court revisited and refined its no-knock doctrine in the 1990s, the impetus once again was enforcing drug prohibition.

In a case involving small-scale sales of marijuana and meth to an informant, the court ruled in 1995 in Wilson v. Arkansas that police must generally "knock and announce" before kicking in a door with a search warrant, although it allowed for exceptions as per Ker. In another small-time drug sales case, 1997's Richard v. Wisconsin, the court held that police needed to demonstrate "a reasonable suspicion" that announcing their presence before bashing in the door would be dangerous or allow for the destruction of evidence for a no-knock warrant to be permitted.

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in a fatally bungled no-knock drug raid in March. (Family photo)
Those rulings left "reasonable suspicion" up to state and local judges, and while little national or even state data exists on the rates at which judges rejected no-knock warrant requests, a pair of local studies suggests they essentially acted as rubber stamps. A recent PBS Newshour report cited a Denver Post analysis of no-knock warrant requests from Denver police in 2000, a year after Mexican citizen Ismael Mena was killed in a no-knock drug raid. The cops got 158 out of 163 requests approved. Similarly, a Washington Post analysis of no-knock warrant requests by policy in Little Rock, Arkansas, between 2016 and 208 had the cops getting 103 out of 105 approved.

Police resort to no-knock raids has gone through the roof in recent decades, according to a 2007 study done by Peter Kraska, a professor with the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. He found that while no-knock or announce and enter raids happened about 1,500 times in the early 1980s, that figure skyrocketed to about 40,000 a year by the turn of the century as the drug war deepened. Kraska estimated the number of such raids at about 45,000 a year by 2010.

The raids are mainly for drugs. A 2014 ACLU report looking at SWAT teams doing no-knock raids found that 62% of them were for drugs. In at least a third of those raids, no drugs were found. In nearly another third of those raids, it's not known if any drugs were seized because police did not report that information.

And they can be deadly -- both for their targets and for the officers undertaking them. The New York Times reported three years ago that between 2010 and 2016 alone, at least 13 police officers lost their lives on such raids, but so did more than seven times as many civilians. The Times put the civilian death toll at 94, with many hundreds more injured. They include such total innocents as 19-month-old "Baby Bou Bou" Bounkam Phonesavanh, who was severely burned by a flash bang grenade thrown by a Georgia SWAT officer in a 2015 no-knock raid.

But now, with the killing of Breonna Taylor in the context of mass mobilizations against police brutality and racial bias, no-knock raids are being challenged like never before. The Democratic congressional response to the upheaval in the streets, the Justice in Policing Act, directly targets no-knock raids. As the Democrats put it, the bill "[b]ans no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level." (Advocates are calling for amendments to strengthen the bill -- and then passage.)

Kentucky's libertarian-leaning US Senator Rand Paul (R) met with Taylor's family and then introduced the Breonna Taylor Act "to prohibit no-knock warrants." The bill would mandate that federal law enforcement officers must announce their presence and purpose before executing a search warrant and it would condition federal aid to law enforcement agencies to ensure they follow the same rules.

"After talking with Breonna Taylor's family, I've come to the conclusion that it's long past time to get rid of no-knock warrants. This bill will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States," said Paul.

Meanwhile, even Paul's Republican colleagues are climbing on the no no-knock bandwagon, although to a more limited degree than the Democrats. The just introduced Justice Act, largely crafted by the GOP's sole black senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. It would also increase penalties for false police reports.

It's unclear whether any of these bills will pass or whether compromise legislation will emerge, and it's unclear just how strong any language on no-knock raids will end up being. But what is clear is that Congress finally has the issue squarely in its sights.

But law enforcement is largely a state and local matter, and it's going to be up to state legislatures and governors and city councils and mayors to address the issue at the local level. Louisville has already done so. With protests raging in the streets, the city council early this month moved unanimously to ban no-knock raids. Only two states -- Florida and Oregon -- have banned no-knock raids, but that should be about to change, given the tumult in the streets over police misconduct. It should have happened a long time ago.

NM Primary Voters Remove Anti-Pot Lawmakers, UN Report Scorches Philippine Drug War Killings, More... (6/4/20)

A Democratic infrastructure bill includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider impaired driving policies, Switzerland is set to move ahead with marijuana legalization pilot projects -- but only if it's organic -- and more.

Filipino President Duterte's drug war is again drawing criticism from the UN. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrat Committee Leader Files Bill to Require Legal Marijuana States to Consider Impaired Driving Policies. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, filed an infrastructure bill Wednesday that includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider programs to curb marijuana-impaired driving and to educate the public about the dangers. The bill does not apply to states that haven't legalized medical or recreational marijuana. The bill is cosponsored by several subcommittee chairs on the panel. It's called the INVEST in America Act.

New Mexico Primary Voters Remove Anti-Marijuana Legalization Lawmakers. In state primary elections Tuesday, voters in at least four state Senate districts have replaced conservative Democrats who opposed legalization with progressive challengers who support it. This makes the prospects for legalization next year even greater. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supports the move.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Votes to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate Wednesday voted 32-17 to expand the state's medical marijuana program by increasing the amount of medical marijuana products patients can purchase to up to 25 grams of THC every 90 days. The bill now goes to the House.

International

UN Says "Near Impunity" for Drug War Killings in the Philippines. In a report released Thursday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill." Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability.

Switzerland Approves Legal Marijuana Pilot Programs -- But Only If It's Organic. The National Council has approved a plan to start marijuana legalization pilot programs, but the government says it must be organic and grown locally. Programs will be carried out in large cities such as Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva, and Zurich. "The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalize cannabis," said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Social Democrats), a spokesperson for the responsible committee. Only people who currently use marijuana and prove it via a hair sample will be able to participate.

House Progressives File Resolution Condemning Police Brutality, Racial Bias, War on Drugs [FEATURE]

As protests erupted across the country after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a dozen progressive Democratic House members filed a resolution May 29th condemning police brutality not only in the case of Floyd but also in the case of Breonna Taylor, the black, 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was gunned down in her own home by cops on a misbegotten no-knock drug raid.

George Floyd's death at hands of white Minneapolis police officers (Wikipedia)
Those House members leading the resolution are Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA. Additional cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

"For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers," Congresswoman Pressley said in a statement announcing the resolution. "We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability."

"From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries," said Congresswoman Omar. "The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown. The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem. As the People's House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them."

The resolution has broad support from racial and social justice organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ACLU, ACLU of Massachusetts, ACLU of Minnesota, the Justice Collaborative, Color of Change, the National Urban League, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Black and Pink, Boston Chapter, Center for Popular Democracy, Moms Rising, the Drug Policy Alliance, New Florida Majority, PolicyLink, the National Black Police Association, and The Vera Institute of Justice.

The unjustifiable deaths of African-Americans Floyd and Taylor at the hands of white police are, though, just the tip of an iceberg of official oppression and heavy-handed, militarized policing whose brunt is felt most keenly in the country's black and brown communities, but whose breadth encompasses almost all of us. And while protesters shout the names of Floyd and Taylor, the demand for unbiased, accountable policing goes far beyond these latest manifestations of cop culture run amok.

The prosecution of the war on drugs, with its racially biased arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of people of color and its devastating impact on minority communities, is a major driver of fear and loathing for and distrust of police, the resolution cosponsors argued.

"[T]he system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices," they wrote. "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive and militarized force are among the most serious ongoing human rights and civil liberties violations in the United States and have led to community destabilization, a decrease in public safety, and the exacerbation of structural inequities."

Contemporary police practice, with its emphasis on low-level enforcement (such as arresting more than a million people a year for simple drug possession), along with the militarization of police "has led to mass criminalization, heightened violence, and mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people," they note.

The toll from law enforcement malpractice is staggering, the representatives argued: "[P]olice brutality and the use of excessive force have robbed countless communities of precious lives, have inflicted intergenerational harm and trauma to families, and are intensifying our Nation's mental health crisis." And, they charge, the cops are literally getting away with murder: "[P]olice in the United States, through acts of brutality and the use of excessive force, kill far more people than police in other comparable nations and have been historically shielded from accountability."

The resolution "condemns all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement and calls for the end of militarized policing." It also "supports strengthening efforts to eliminate instances of excessive use of force, and conduct stringent oversight and independent investigations into instances of police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable."

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in a fatally bungled no-knock drug raid in March. (family photo)
To that end, the resolution calls on the Justice Department to return to its once proactive role in investigating incidents of police brutality, violence, and racial profiling and police departments that have a pattern of civil rights violations -- a feature of the Obama administration Justice Department that was overturned under Trump.

That would include having the DOJ actively challenge courts "to reconsider decisions that permit unreasonable and excessive police practices," effectively enforce consent decrees with police departments that have been caught misbehaving, and establish civilian review boards that are not mere paper tigers.

"Over the last few months, we have witnessed heightened violent acts of white supremacy, police brutality and targeted harassment because we were simply living while Black," said Congresswoman Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. "And over and over again, offenders go unpunished, allowing this vicious cycle to continue with impunity. We cannot move forward as a nation until what has broken is fixed."

"George Floyd's tragic murder shows how much work we have to fix the relationships between law enforcement and black and brown people," said Congresswoman Lee. "We have seen far too many young men and women of color murdered by police, for as little as driving their car, riding public transportation, having a cell phone, or just being in their own homes. Police officers are supposed to defuse violence -- not inflict it on black and brown communities. While the majority of police officers approach their job in a professional manner, we cannot allow black and brown bodies to be targeted, attacked, and killed with impunity. It's going to take a lot of work and a serious reckoning with our society's ingrained racial biases to stop this violence. We need to restore the proper role of police in our community -- as public servants who are here to protect everyone, not just those they deem worthy of protection. Being Black in America should not be a death sentence."

If the House adopts this resolution, it puts itself squarely on the side of the growing clamor to rein in out of control police. The resolution now has a number, House Resolution 988, and in the days since it was introduced, the number of cosponsors has jumped to 50. That's a start. Now, it's up to the House leadership to see that it moves -- and to show that Congress is finally beginning to grapple with an epidemic of racially-biased, drug war-fueled police thuggery.

Washington, DC
United States

Call for Independent Investigation of Fatal Louisville Drug Raid, LA MedMJ Expansion Bill Advances, More... (5/27/20)

Nearly four dozen members of Congress want an independent investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville drug police, a high-profile task force calls on the federal government to grant states waivers to set their own marijuana policies, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still ready to push for marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

High-Profile Task Force Calls for Federal Marijuana Legalization Waivers. The Council on Criminal Justice, a task force composed of former lawmakers, federal prosecutors, and corporate interests, issued a series of recommendations Wednesday on criminal justice reform, including creating a system of waivers that would let states set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal interference. But the council did not go as far as calling for marijuana legalization nationwide. Members of the council include Sally Yates, who served as deputy attorney general and interim attorney general, former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and former Washington, DC and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, as well as Mark Holden, who was senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, and David Safavian, general counsel of the American Conservative Union, are also members.

New York Governor Says He'll Work to Pass Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) says he intends to get marijuana legalized in the near future even though progress toward that goal had been slow and halting even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. "I believe we will [legalize marijuana], but we didn't get it done this last session because it's a complicated issue and it has to be done in a comprehensive way," Cuomo said during a last Friday press conference.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would expand the state's medical marijuana program by lifting regulations that require doctors to register with the state to be able recommend it and that limit its use to patients with certain diseases. The bill has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Law Enforcement

Nearly Four Dozen Congressmembers Call for Independent Investigation of Botched Louisville Drug Raid That Killed a Black Woman EMT. Some 44 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department to call for an independent investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman killed by police gunfire in her own home in the midst of a drug raid plagued by fatal police bungling. Led by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), the letter called Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." Other lawmakers signing the letter include: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). The letter has been endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU.

Amnesty International on Cambodia Drug War Abuses, Deadly Botched Drug Raid in Louisville, More.... (5/13/20)

Coronavirus hobbles yet another drug reform initiative, Amnesty International goes after Cambodia's drug war human rights abuses, and more.

Louisville drug raid victim, EMT Breonna Taylor (Handout)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Suspends Campaign Due to Coronavirus. The Ohio Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign is suspending its efforts to get on the November 2020 ballot. The group's initial petition was rejected by state officials, and the group has struggled with signature-gathering amidst social distancing measures inspired by the pandemic. "We made the decision early on that the health of our volunteers, supporters, medical marijuana patients and the general public would be our primary concern," said Tom Haren, a spokesman for the campaign. "As Ohio begins the process of reopening, we are evaluating our options and hope to have more to share soon." The campaign would need more than 450,000 valid voter signatures by July1 in order to make the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Court Rules Worker Fired After CBD Use Caused Failed Drug Test Can Receive Unemployment Benefits. A Commonwealth Court panel has ruled that a health care worker who used legal CBD oil to ease her cancer symptoms, subsequently failing a drug test and getting fired, is entitled to unemployment compensation. The court held that even though CBD is derived from marijuana, the woman violated neither the law nor any work rule of her employer by using it. The decision confirms an earlier ruling by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which was appealed by the employer, Washington Health.

Law Enforcement

Family of Louisville Woman Killed in Botched Drug Raid Files Lawsuit. A 26-year-old black Louisville woman who worked as an EMT was killed March 13 when police executing a no-knock search warrant for drugs shot her eight times after taking fire from her boyfriend, another apartment resident. Now, the family of Breonna Taylor has filed a lawsuit accusing officers of wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence. The lawsuit alleges that the man police were seeking did not live in the apartment and was already in custody when the raid took place. None of the officers involved have been charged in the shooting, but Taylor's boyfriend, who was not injured in the incident, now faces charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer.

International

Amnesty International Denounces Cambodia Drug War Excesses. The Cambodian government's three-year long "war on drugs" campaign has fueled a rising tide of human rights abuses, dangerously overfilled detention facilities, and led to an alarming public health situation -- even more so as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds -- while failing in its stated objective of curbing drug use, a new investigative report by Amnesty International published Wednesday charges. The new 78-page report, Substance abuses: The human cost of Cambodia's anti-drug campaign, documents how the authorities prey on poor and marginalized people, arbitrarily carry out arrests, routinely subject suspects to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and dispatch those who can't buy their freedom to severely overcrowded prisons and pseudo "rehabilitation centers" in which detainees are denied healthcare and are subjected to severe abuse. "Cambodia's 'war on drugs' is an unmitigated disaster -- it rests upon systematic human rights abuses and has created a bounty of opportunities for corrupt and poorly-paid officials in the justice system," said Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director at Amnesty International.

Philippine Drug War Rages Despite Pandemic, NORML Issues Marijuana Policy Crisis Guidance, More... (4/2/20)

President Trump showily announces a ramping up of the drug war in the Caribbean, NORML issues marijuana policy guidance for lawmakers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine drug war continues despite the pandemic, and more.

Whether its drug users or quarantine violators, Philippine President Duterte has a plan: Just kill them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Issues Cannabis Policy Guidance for Lawmakers and Prosecutors for Protecting Public Health During COVID-19 Crisis. NORML and its national network of advocacy chapters have released a memo to state lawmakers, regulators, prosecutors, and other interested parties providing guidance for how they can take emergency actions to better promote the health and welfare of cannabis consumers and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. In states where marijuana is still illegal, the memo calls for immediately deprioritizing marijuana law enforcement, the dropping of charges for pending nonviolent marijuana offenses, and the release of people in jail or prison solely for nonviolent marijuana offenses. In states where it is legal, NORML is calling for pot shops and their suppliers to be designated "essential services," allowing for the home delivery and curbside pickup of marijuana products, and expanding the ability of doctors to advise patients via telemedicine.

Washington Governor Signs Bill to Diversify State's Marijuana Industry. Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed into law HB 2870, "allowing additional marijuana retail licenses for social equity purposes." The measure will allow regulators to direct unused marijuana business licenses to people from communities most negatively impacted by the drug war. It creates a state Marijuana Equity Task Force and allows the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to grant forfeited, canceled, revoked or otherwise unissued marijuana business licenses to qualified equity applicants.

Drug Policy

Trump Doubles Military Assets in Caribbean in Bid to Bolster Drug Fight after Maduro Indictment. The Trump administration hijacked the daily White House coronavirus pandemic briefing Wednesday to announce that it was deploying more US Navy warships and aircraft to the Caribbean in a bid to prevent drug cartels and "corrupt actors" like Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro from using the pandemic to increase drug smuggling. The move follows the indictment of Maduro and a dozen current or former Venezuelan officials on charges of narco-terrorism conspiracy, drug trafficking and corruption. "We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives," Trump said. The Venezuelan government rejected the move, saying it was merely an effort to district from the Trump administration's incompetent handling of pandemic.

International

Mexico Senate Asks Supreme Court for More Time on Cannabis Legalization. Looking at a Supreme Court-imposed deadline to end marijuana prohibition, but faced with the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mexican Senate has asked the high court to "extend deadlines" until "the Senate is in a position to fulfill the responsibilities towards judiciary power bodies." The original court-imposed deadline was October 2019, but the court granted an extension after the Senate failed to agree on the bill. The court has said it would file no more extensions, but senators think the current crisis may be an exception. They'll have to wait to find out, though; the Supreme Court itself is shut down through at least through mid-month.

Philippine Drug War Rages on in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a national partial lockdown on March 15 to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but nothing is stopping his bloody war on drugs. Even amidst the lockdown, drug war killings are continuing. At least nine people have been killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

Chronicle AM: House Committee to Vote on Legal Pot Bill This Week, Bolivia Violence, More... (11/18/19)

We could see a historic congressional vote on marijuana legalization this week, Joe Biden embraces the gateway theory, security forces of Bolivia's new rightist government gun down protesting coca growers, and more. 

Filipino banner displayed at International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis last week. (Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee to Vote on Federal Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884). The bill would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. It would also set aside funding to begin repairing the damage done by the war on drugs.

Joe Biden Demurs on Marijuana Legalization, Cites Gateway Fears. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said he opposed legalizing marijuana at the federal level because there was insufficient evidence to convince him it was not a gateway drug. "The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug," Biden said. "It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it." He also said that marijuana legalization should be left to the states.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Jumped in Recent Years. The ACLU of New Jersey has issued a report showing nearly 38,000 marijuana arrests in the state in 2017, up a full 35% over the 28,000 pot busts recorded in 2013. Meanwhile, politicians in the state have failed to get marijuana legalization passed.

Oregon Appeals Court Blocks Ban on Flavored Marijuana Vaping Products. The state Court of Appeals last Thursday blocked the statewide ban on flavored marijuana vaping products. The order comes a month after the court blocked a similar ban on nicotine vaping products. The ruling came in a legal challenge to an executive order by Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) banning flavored vaping products as a response to the outbreak of vaping-related illness this fall.

International

Bolivian Security Forces Gun Down Protesting Coca Growers. Security forces loyal to the ultra-right interim government that took power in La Paz after the forced departure of long-time President Evo Morales opened fire on protesting coca growers near Cochabamba on Friday night, killing nine of them. The coca growers back Morales, and their unions demanded Sunday that provisional leader Jeanine Anez step down "within 48 hours" and that new elections be held within 90 days. Morales was forced out by the military after weeks of demonstrations calling for his ouster over disputed elections last month.

DPA & Representatives from 51 Countries Stand Behind Efforts to ‘STOP THE KILLINGS’ in the Philippines at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Last week, at Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference, attendees from 51 countries protested the thousands of brutal killings that have taken place in the Philippines in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, gathering under cultural collective RESBAK’s iconic ‘Stop the Killings’ banner in a united show of opposition. "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."

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

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Chronicle AM: Johns Hopkins Gets Psychedelic Center, Guatemala State of Siege, More... (9/5/19)

Johns Hopkins University is opening a psychedelic research center, hemp cultivation in the US quadruples over last year, Guatemala declares a state of seige after suspected drug traffickers killed three soldiers, and more.

The psilocybin molecule. They'll be taking a look at the new Johns Hopkins psychedelic studies center. (Creative Commons)
Hemp

Hemp Farming Quadrupled in Tte US This Year, New Report Shows. In a report released Thursday, the advocacy group Vote Hemp announced that the amount of land devoted to legal hemp cultivation in the country has more than quadrupled this year. Since passage of the farm bill last year federally legalized hemp production, the amount of land licensed for cultivation -- primarily female plants for CBD production -- was 511,442 acres, up from 78,000 acres grown last year and less than 10,000 acres cultivated in 2016.

Law Enforcement

St. Louis Cop Kills Armed Man in Small-Time Marijuana Bust. Early Thursday morning, a St. Louis police officer shot and killed a man he was trying to arrest in a small-time marijuana bust after the man allegedly tried to pull a gun from his pocket. Officers were patrolling an area "known for drug activity" when they noticed several people around a parked car. Approaching the vehicle, they found a man with marijuana on his lap. Police said he refused their commands to exit the vehicle, so they pulled him from the car and one of the officers "notice[d] there [was] a gun that the person [wa]s trying to remove from his pocket" and then shot him. The victim, described as a 28-year-old black man, has not yet been identified.

Psychedelics

Johns Hopkins Launches Center for Psychedelic Research. A group of private donors has given $17 million to start the Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, making it what's believed to be the first such research center in the US and the largest research center of its kind in the world. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research will focus on how psychedelics affect behavior, brain function, learning and memory, the brain's biology, and mood. At Johns Hopkins, much of the early work with psychedelics has focused on psilocybin, the chemical found in so-called magic mushrooms. Further studies will determine the chemical's effectiveness as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (formerly known as chronic Lyme disease), anorexia nervosa, and alcohol use in people with major depression. Researchers hope to create precision medicine treatments tailored to individual patients' specific needs.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Health Officer Okays Standing Order for Naloxone. Late last week, State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy signed a statewide standing order for the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The order allows any person or organization in the state to get naloxone from a pharmacy. The state Department of Health encourages anyone who is at risk of experiencing or witnessing an opioid overdose to carry naloxone. People who want to get naloxone can use the standing order at any pharmacy in the state without a prescription from a health care provider.

International

Guatemala Declares State of Emergency After Narcos Kill Soldiers. The Guatemalan government on Wednesday declared a state of siege in five northeastern provinces in the wake of an attack by suspected drug traffickers that left three soldiers dead. The provinces are Alta Verapaz, El Progreso, Izabal, Peten and Zacapa provinces, a drug-trafficking corridor that runs from the Honduran to Mexican borders. The measure will impose a curfew, prohibit demonstrations and make it easier for the armed forces to detain people. It must be approved by Congress.

Chronicle AM: UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Killings, PA MedMJ Expansion, More... (7/12/19)

The UN will probe drug war killings in the Philippines, murders in Mexico hit a monthly high, the North Carolina Opioid Epidemic Response Act is now on the governor's desk, and more.

Equipment to test controlled substances for contaminants would be decriminalized under a North Carolina bill. (SSDP)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Lawmakers Reject Plan to Explore Medical Marijuana Expansion. In a meeting Thursday, lawmakers rejected a plan to form a special committee to work on expansion of the state's limited medical marijuana program. This comes after the legislature passed an expansion bill earlier this year, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who objected to a provision allowing an increase in the amount of THC allowed in medical marijuana products.

Pennsylvania Adds Anxiety Disorders, Tourette's to List of Qualifying Conditions. Dept. of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Thursday that the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board had added anxiety disorders and Tourette's Syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. That brings the state's list of qualifying conditions to 23. The change goes into effect on July 20.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

North Carolina House Passes Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The House on Wednesday voted to approve HB 325, the Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate the state registration requirement for buprenorphine prescribers, decriminalize drug testing equipment used to identify contaminants in controlled substances, and removes restrictions on the use of state funds to purchase needles, syringes, or other injection supplies.

International

Mexico Murder Rates Tops 2,000 a Month for First Time. The Mexican news outlet Milenio reported 2,249 murders nationwide in June, the highest monthly tally since it began counting in 2007 and the first time the number killed in a month passed the 2,000 mark. The Mexican states with the highest death counts in June were Jalisco with 206, Mexico with 202, Baja California with 181, and Guanajuato with 176. In all four states, the Jalisco Nueva Generation cartel is playing either a direct or indirect role in the violence.

UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Deaths. The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to begin an investigation into mass killings undertaken as part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. The official death count is 6,600, but activists say it could actually be as high as 27,000. Eighteen countries on the council voted for the resolution and 14 against, including China. Fifteen others abstained, including Japan.

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