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Philippine Drug War Killings Reach Level of Crime Against Humanity, Amnesty International Says [FEATURE]

Three years into the administration of Philippines strongman President Rodrigo Duterte and despite rising international condemnation, Duterte's bloody war on poor drug users continues unabated, with a pattern of unlawful executions under the guise of police sting operations, the human rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Monday.

Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines drug war is drawing the ire of Amnesty International. (Creative Commons)
The report, "'They Just Kill:' Ongoing Extrajudicial Executions and Other Violations in the Philippines' 'War on Drugs,' comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to vote on a resolution later this week calling for an investigation into the Philippines killings. Amnesty is calling on the council to approve that resolution.

"Three years on, President Duterte's "war on drugs" continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia. "It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable."

[Update: The Human Rights Council adopted the resolution on July 11.]

Philippines police accept responsibility for more than 6,000 killings, saying they came in raids in which armed suspects fought back against police, but the actual number of killings, many conducted by shadowy vigilante groups suspected of links to the police may be twice or three times that figure. Opposition legislators said in February 2018 the death toll had reached 20,000.

Amnesty said the true number may never be known because "deliberate obfuscation and misinformation" from authorities makes it impossible to get an accurate tally of the killings, which targeted poor and marginalized communities that lack the means to challenge police misconduct and abuses.

It's not just the number of killings that is in doubt, but the circumstances surrounding them. While police typically claimed self-defense, witness and other information developed by Amnesty suggests a pattern of "extrajudicial executions," a polite way of saying murders by police. The claim that police were only defending themselves "doesn't meet the feeblest standards of credibility," Amnesty concluded.

A Filipino forensic expert interviewed by Amnesty said that police reports of "buy-bust" operations she had examined did not meet the minimum standards of plausibility: "It's so consistent, it's a script. In fact, when you see the report, it looks like a template," she said.

As Amnesty reported:

In an all-too-typical case, police claimed Jovan Magtanong, a 30-year-old father of three, fired at them, and that they recovered a .38 caliber pistol and baggies of illegal drugs from the scene of the incident. Witnesses said he was sleeping alongside his children when officers knocked on his house door asking for another man. Jovan's family said he did not own a gun and had not used drugs for over a year.

"They killed him like an animal," a family member told Amnesty.

Amnesty's latest report builds on an January 2017 investigation showing police had systematically targeted mostly poor and defenseless people across the country, planting "evidence," recruiting paid killers, stealing from the people they kill, and fabricating official reports. That report centered on metro Manila, then the epicenter of the killings, but the new report follows the pattern of killings to Bulacan province in Luzon, the new hotbed of drug war atrocities.

Amnesty examined 27 killings there during 20 incidents, 18 of which were official police operations. Based on witness accounts and other information, it concluded that half were extrajudicial executions. Amnesty said it couldn't develop enough information to qualify the other deaths, but said they pointed broadly to previous patterns of executions.

Amnesty also highlighted the role of "watch lists" of people in communities suspected of using or selling drugs. The "watch lists" are compiled by local officials under pressure to show results in the war on drugs by collecting the names of suspected drug users and sellers. "These lists effectively serve as guides for police of people to arrest or kill," Amnesty said. Amnesty "views these lists as unreliable, illegitimate, and unjustifiable," the group said.

"The Duterte administration has created a deadly numbers game where officials must manufacture lists and monitor them, regardless of whether the individuals on it actually use or sell drugs. This insatiable and vicious system rewards blind compliance and murder," said Nicholas Bequelin.

And the police act with impunity. Of all the killings acknowledged by the police, only one, the murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August 2017, which generated global media attention, actually saw police officers punished. But the man in charge of the police there, Senior Superintendent Chito Bersaluna, suffered only a period of "administrative leave" and is now working the drug war in Bulacan.

"The transfer of senior police officials to regions where killings then surged is an alarming indicator of impunity," said Bequelin. "The Duterte administration's continuing efforts to deny and deflect responsibility are nothing short of mendacious."

The achingly callous attitude of Philippines drug warriors toward their fellow citizens was made clear last week when Ronald Dela Rosa, now a senator but earlier the metro Manila police chief and lead conductor of Duterte's drug war, defended the killing of a three-year-old girl in a drug raid near Manila.

"Shit happens," he said as he accused the girl's father of using her as a human shield.

"It is not safe to be poor in President Duterte's Philippines," said Bequelin. "All it takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys, or sells drugs. Everywhere we went to investigate drug-related killings ordinary people were terrified. Fear has now spread deep into the social fabric of society."

Duterte and his henchmen have reacted to the International Criminal Court by leaving it, and have stonewalled attempts by domestic watchdogs to investigate their drug war crimes. Now it's time for the UN to step up.

Chronicle AM: AR, MT 2020 Pot Initiatives Get Underway, Amnesty Int'l. on Philippines Drug War, More... (7/8/19)

Marijuana legalization initiative campaigns are gearing up in Arkansas and Montana, a Missouri legislative committee will study asset forfeiture and racial profiling, Amnesty International calls the Philippines drug war a crime against humanity, and more.

2020 is already shaping up to be a big year for marijuana legalization initiatives. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas 2020 Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. The Arkansas True Grass Ballot Question Committee is gearing up to once again try to get a legalization initiative on the state ballot. The group came up short on signatures in 2016, but is back again with the Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2020, which would legalize it for adults 21 and over, as well as expunge arrest records and free any currently serving marijuana prisoners. The initiative is currently being finalized and will shortly go to the secretary of state's office to be cleared for circulation.

Montana 2020 Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway, and Another Could Follow. A group calling itself MontanaCan has filed a legalization initiative, the Marijuana Regulation Act, or Ballot Issue No. 5, with the secretary of state's office. The measure is now being reviewed by the state's Legislative Services Division before being cleared for circulation. Meanwhile, another group, Coalition 406, is also working on a legalization initiative for 2020, but hasn't filed yet with the secretary of state's office.

Hemp

Ohio Hemp Bill Stalled. A bill to allow the cultivation and sale of hemp,  Senate Bill 57, is stalled in the House because of tussles over CBD. Under state law, CBD remains illegal and under the purview of the state Medical Marijuana Control Program. House leaders say it may be the fall before the bill moves again.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Legislative Committee to Hold Hearings on Asset Forfeiture, Racial Profiling. State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Wildwood) announced Monday that his Special Committee on Criminal Justice will hold public hearings in July and August to thoroughly examine the issues of racial profiling and civil asset forfeiture. Dogan, who chairs the committee, said the committee will hold public hearings July 24 in St. Louis and August 1 in Kansas City. He said the hearings will focus on examining the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report, which showed the largest racial disparity yet in traffic stops, as well as rising civil asset forfeiture seizures.

International

Amnesty International Calls for Urgent Investigation into Philippines' Deadly War on Drugs. The wave of police killings triggered by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous anti-drugs campaign continues to rage on, destroying lives and devastating communities, a report by Amnesty International revealed Monday. The UN must immediately open an investigation into gross human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity committed as part of the "war on drugs," the human rights group said. "Three years on, President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia. "It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable."

Sri Lanka Supreme Court Stays Execution of Drug Defendants. The nation's Supreme Court last Friday stayed the death penalty for four persons convicted of drug offenses until at least October 30. If imposed, the death sentences would be the first carried out in the country in 43 years. President Maithripala Sirisena had signed the death warrants last month, ending a moratorium on capital punishment.

Chronicle AM: Call for UN Query on Philippines Drug War Deaths, TX Hemp-Pot Conundrum, More... (7/5/19)

There's good news on two fronts in the drug war in South and Southeast Asia, a new Texas hemp law is screwing up marijuana possession prosecutions, and more.

Rodrigo Duterte's Philippines drug war is once again in the human rights crosshairs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Hemp Legalization Screws with Marijuana Prosecutions. The legislature's passage of a law legalizing hemp this year is having unintended consequences. The new law changed the definition of marijuana, and prosecutors and crime labs don't have the resources to test if a substance is marijuana or legal hemp. That has led prosecutors across the state to drop hundreds of pot possession cases and to say they won't pursue new ones without further testing. "In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions… will not accept criminal charges for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over .3%," wrote the district attorneys from Harris, Fort Bend, Bexar and Nueces counties in a new joint policy released Wednesday.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Cuts Funding for Welfare Drug Testing. What a difference a governor makes! Under Republican Scott Walker, the state instituted a food stamp drug testing program, but now, under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, that program is seeing its funding cut. In budget moves this week, Evers not only slashed the drug testing funding, he also canceled plans for a new prison.

International

Two Dozen Countries Call for UN Investigation of Philippines Drug War Killings. More than two dozen countries formally called Thursday for a UN investigation into thousands of killings in the bloody war on drugs led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The government admits to some 6,000 deaths, but activists put the tool as high as 27,000. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urges the government to halt extrajudicial executions and calls on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis.

Philippines Drug Warrior on Death of Child Killed by Police in Drug Raid: "Shit Happens." Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a senator who once led the drug crackdown that has resulted in thousands of deaths, pooh-poohed the killing of a three-year-old girl by police during a drug sting, saying the world is not perfect, and "shit happens." Lawyers and activists rejected dela Rosa's stance: "This is not 'shit happens'. This happens when gov't dispenses justice from guns instead of courts," Jose Manuel Diokno, a lawyer who has mounted legal challenges to Duterte's crackdown, wrote on Twitter.

Sri Lanka Supreme Court Delays Executions of Drug Convicts. The Supreme Court has delayed the executions of four people set to be hung for drug offenses. They would have been the first death sentences carried out in the country since 1976. President Maithripala Sirasena ended a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty earlier this year when he signed the death sentences for the four. Now the killings are on indefinite hold, with a court hearing set for October.

Chronicle AM: MJ Banking Headed for House Vote, UN Experts Call for Philippines Probe, More... (6/10/19)

The full House could soon get its first chance to vote on a marijuana banking bill, New Yorkers still want to legalize marijuana, a group of UN human rights experts calls for a probe into the Philippine drug war, and more.

Phillipines President Durterte's bloody drug war is drawing renewed human rights concerns. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill Quietly Advances in House as Floor Vote Approaches. The SAFE Banking Act, HR 1595, now has an open path to a House floor vote after the House Financial Services Committee, which earlier approved the bill, issued a formal report on the legislation last week. The bill was then set to go before the House Judiciary Committee, but that panel opted to advance it last week without a report, in order to clear the path to a House floor vote.

New York Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. With the clock ticking down on lawmakers in Albany, a new Sienna poll could give some added momentum to the push to legalize marijuana this session. The poll had support at 55%, with 40% opposed, mirroring myriad other recent polls.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Lowering Patient Card Costs. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 1494, which will cut the cost of a medical marijuana patient card in half by making patients pay the $150 fee once every two years instead of once a year. The bill also requires medical marijuana facilities to test their products.

International

Colombian Constitutional Court Throws Out President's Ban on Public Pot Smoking, Drinking. The Constitutional Court has overruled a ban on public alcohol and marijuana consumption favored by President Ivan Duque as part of his hardline anti-drug policies. Under the ruling, police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke pot and drink beer in public. But Duque appears to be ready to disobey the court, saying police would continue to confiscate drugs and impose penalties on people carrying or using drugs in public spaces. This isn't over.

UN Experts Call for Human Rights Probe of Philippines Drug War. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called Friday for 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. "We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders," they said in a statement. "We are extremely concerned over the high number of killings which are being carried out across the country in an apparent climate of official, institutional impunity," they added. To actually get the inquiry going would require a resolution supported by a majority of the council's 47 members.

Chronicle AM: TX CBD Expansion Bill Advances, New Zealand to Vote on Marijuana Legalization, More... (5/7/19)

A man who has done 39 years in federal prison for pot gets out tomorrow and faces an uncertain future, Arizona activists lay plans for a 2020 legalization initiative, so does the New Zealand government, and more.

A CBD expansion bill advances in the Texas House.
Marijuana Policy

Nation's Longest-Serving Marijuana Prisoner to Be Freed Tomorrow. A Cuban national who has served more than 39 years in federal prison on marijuana trafficking charges is set to be freed Wednesday -- but then faces possible deportation. Antonio "Tony" Bascaro had been trained in aviation by the CIA as it worked with rightist Cuban exiles to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro and later turned his skills to marijuana smuggling. He's hoping his time aiding the CIA will help him avoid deportation.

Arizona 2020 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gearing Up. Marijuana activists are gearing up with another initiative effort after one in 2016 narrowly failed. Strategies 360, which is running the campaign, says it plans to launch signature-gathering in July. The group has a 12-month window to gather 237,645 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Texas House Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House voted Monday to advance HB 1365, which would add Alzheimer's, Crohn's disease, muscular dystrophy, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and a bevy of other illnesses to an existing state program that currently applies only to people with intractable epilepsy who meet certain requirements. The bill would also increase the number of dispensaries the state can authorize from three to 12, as well as authorizing marijuana testing facilities. The state's medical marijuana law allows only for the use of CBD. The bill still needs one final House housekeeping vote before heading to the Senate.

Sentencing

Justice Department Fights Compassionate Release of Terminally Ill Inmate Because He's Not Dying Fast Enough. A federal drug prisoner with terminal brain cancer has won early compassionate release under a provision of the First Step Act, but only after the Bureau of Prisons twice denied it and federal prosecutors argued against it. Steve Brittner, 55, who is wheelchair-bound, was diagnosed with the cancer in January 2018 and his oncologist described his prognosis as "poor," recommending he begin hospice care in November 2018. But prosecutors argued he wasn't dying fast enough to qualify for early release. "This is a very telling case," said Families Against Mandatory Minimums president Kevin Ring. "On one hand, the First Step Act's reforms to compassionate release worked as intended and this family prevailed. On the other hand, it blows my mind that the Justice Department and BOP still fought tooth and nail to keep a low-level drug offender who is dying of brain cancer and bound to a wheelchair away from his family for the final weeks of his life. They'll say they were just doing their jobs, but their job is to do justice."

International

Brazil Police Kill Eight in Rio Drug Raid as Police Killings Jump Dramatically Under Bolsonaro. At least eight people were killed Monday in a police raid aimed at drug trafficker in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. The raid triggered a massive shootout between police and suspected gang members. Police said all the dead were gang members. It's only the latest of hundreds of killings by police since Rio Governor Wilson Witzel, an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, took over on January 1. Since then 434 people have been killed by Rio police, an 18% increase from last year and the highest figure recorded since state records began in 1998.

New Zealand to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. The three political parties that make up the country's governing coalition announced Tuesday that they had agreed on the basic elements of a binding referendum on marijuana legalization to be held during the 2020 elections. "Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot," Justice Minister Andrew Little said.. "The voters' choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome. We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters' decision," he said, referring to the leading opposition party that is not part of the governing coalition.

Chronicle AM: Trump VA Rejects Vets' MedMJ Bills, Philippines Drug War Called Out, More... (5/2/19)

The Trump VA rejects medical marijuana bills for veterans, DC's mayor unveils a bill to allow for taxed and regulated marijuana sales, the Louisiana legislature is moving on medical marijuana issues, the Philippines is in the hotseat as global harm reductionists gather, and more.

sending a message to Duterte (Steve Forrest/HRI/Workers' Photos)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Approve Draft Changes for Onsite Consumption. The Marijuana Control Board has given initial approval to draft changes in the state's recently-approved onsite consumption regulations. The new draft would allow stores to seek an edibles-only endorsement, which would allow for onsite consumption without the business having to build a separate building for smoking marijuana.

Colorado Marijuana Delivery Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The legislature gave final approval Wednesday to HB 19-1234, which would allow deliveries for medical marijuana patients beginning in 2020 and for recreational users beginning in 2021. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Connecticut Legislative Panel Advances Marijuana Tax Proposal. The Finance Committee voted Wednesday to approve a measure setting taxes for a system of legal, regulated marijuana commerce. The tax proposal will be merged in coming weeks with an overall bill to legalize and regulate marijuana. The General Law and Judiciary committees have previously approved legalization in bills that focused on regulatory and legal aspects.

DC Mayor Unveils Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Thursday announced legislation that would legalize and regulate marijuana sales in the District, potentially setting up a confrontation with the federal government. The city approved the legalization of possession and cultivation in 2014, but has been blocked from full-on legalization by a federal budget provision that bars the city from enacting or enforcing full legalization. The mayor doesn't want to wait for Congress to remove that anti-marijuana language. The bill is the Safe Cannabis Sales Act and would impose a 17% sales tax on marijuana products, allow for expanded marijuana production in the city, and would allow regulators to okay onsite consumption at pot shops and hookah lounges.

Seattle Mayor Calls for Nationwide Evaluation of Marijuana Legalization. Mayor Jenny Durkin (D) wants a nationwide review of marijuana legalization and prohibition, she said Wednesday. "We need to have a real evaluation nationwide," she said. "We need to make sure we do it in a way that decriminalizes people, doesn't have a criminal justice intervention when its not appropriate, and focus those criminal justice resources on those things that are real threats to communities," she continued. She added that states need a "unifying force" to ensure consistency in state laws.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Administration Opposes Bills Easing Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. In testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said the agency opposes three bills aimed at easing medical marijuana access for vets. The bills are the Veterans Equal Access Act (HR 1647), the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (HR 712) and the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act (HR 2191).

Louisiana Bill Allowing Vaped Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to vape their medicine was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. HB 368 would also do away with the list of qualifying conditions and allow physicians to recommend it for any debilitating medical condition. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Louisiana Bill to Ease Access to CBD Advances. A bill that would ease access to CBD products by removing low-THC hemp from the state criminal code passed the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice Wednesday. HB 138 now heads for a House floor vote.

Kratom

Arizona Governor Signs Kratom Regulation Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Tuesday signed into law the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, HB 2550. The bill prohibits the sale of kratom to minors and creates requirements for product labels. Selling kratom products in violation of this law would be a class two misdemeanor.

International

Human Rights Advocates, Harm Reductionists Rally Against Philippine Drug War. Attendees at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal, gathered to send a message to the government of the Philippines: Stop the killings carried out in the country'' bloody anti-drug campaign. "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.

Philippines Rejects Call from Ex-New Zealand Prime Minister to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Malacanang palace on Thursday rejected a call from former New Zealand prime minister, former UN Development Program administrator, and current member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy Helen Clark for the country to decriminalize drug possession. "The suggestion of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to decriminalize the use of drugs as an alternative to the drug war, similar to the proposal by the European Union made two years ago, had already been thumbed down by the President," said a presidential spokesman. "The other countries' experiences in addressing illegal substances while educational relative to their method of solving their own drug menace, decriminalizing the use of drugs in the Philippines will not only aggravate but multiply the problem. Take out the criminal liability of those involved and you induce and encourage others to be a part of the dreaded evil," he added.

Chronicle AM: No Cannabis Lounges for Oregon This Year; Drug Eradication Clashes in Peru, Mexico, More... (4/15/19)

A set of Michigan bills would do some post-legalization cleanup, a decriminalization bill advances in Missouri, an Oklahoma bill protecting patient rights is signed by the governor, drug crop growers clash with authorities in Mexico and Peru, and more.

Peruvian coca farmers clashed with police and eradicators last Friday, leaving two dead. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for People Jailed for Possession. State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) has filed a package of bills that would reduce prison, parole, and probation sentences for people jailed for marijuana possession. SB 262 through SB 265 are now before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. "After the passage of Proposal 1, it's time we rethink drug sentencing laws in Michigan, so let's start with marijuana offenses, since those are no longer considered crimes under current law," Santana said.

Missouri Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday unanimously approved HB 1095, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. The measure would also make possession of less than 35 grams from a felony to a Class D misdemeanor. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Oregon Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed marijuana consumption lounges, SB 639, was among hundreds of bills that died in the legislature after failing to move out of committee by April 9. The bill's failure is a blow to the state's legal marijuana industry, which is faced with chronic oversupply.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Patient Protection Bill. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed into law HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The measure protects patients' rights to possess firearms under state law and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire its own investigators to probe alleged violations. The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which will be at the end of May.

Washington Senate Approves Allowing Medical Marijuana in School. The state Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved SB 5442, which would allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school, on the school bus, and at after-school activities. The bill limits the kind of marijuana used to infused products and extracts.

International

Mexico Poppy Farmers Detain Soldiers in Eradication Protest. Residents of a rural town in Guerrero state said they detained 40 soldiers last week to demand they halt opium poppy eradication efforts. The farmers said they set up roadblocks to prevent soldiers from leaving the region and called on the state and federal governments to provide assistance to local farmers so they aren't forced to grow opium. The farmers said the state government had promised in November that their poppy crops would not be destroyed and alternative means of support would be provided, but neither happened.

Peru Clashes Over Coca Eradication Leave Two Farmers Dead. Two coca growers were killed in clashes with a large eradication team last Friday. The team, which consisted of 72 police officers and158 civilian eradicators, had arrived in the area near the Bolivian border to destroy illegal coca fields, but reported that they were attacked by people wielding machetes and sticks as they set up camp. But the mayor of the town of San Gaban said witnesses told him police fired indiscriminately. "They were shooting right and left. That's why we have this bloodshed," the mayor said.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Slaps Down Asset Forfeiture, No More No-Knocks in Houston, More... (2/20/19)

The Supreme Court reins in civil asset forfeiture, Denver joins cities participating in LEAD, Houston ends undercover no-knock raids in the wake of a fatal encounter, and more.

The US Supreme Court (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland General Assembly Creates Legalization Working Group. In a sign that marijuana legalization isn’t going to happen this year, the General Assembly has created a working group to study the issue. The bipartisan group will make recommendations in December that could be used to help guide bills during the 2020 legislative session.

South Carolina Poll Has Half Supporting Medical Marijuana, Nearly a Quarter for Legalization. A new poll from political strategist Robert Cahaly has support for marijuana legalization at 22.8%, with another 49.7% saying they supported legalizing marijuana "for people suffering illness and with a doctor’s approval."

Hemp

Ohio Hemp Bill Filed. Lawmakers have filed a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, SB 77. The bill would align state law with the framework of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools. A bill that allows medical marijuana to be given to students at public schools passed the Senate on Monday. SB 204 now heads to the House Human Services Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a victory for proponents of civil asset forfeiture reform, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. 

Law Enforcement

Denver Signs on to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. City officials unveiled a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program on Tuesday. The program is designed to connect people accused of low-level drug crimes with support services rather than arresting them. LEAD programs operate in a number of other cities, including Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. The pilot program is funded through 2020 by a $561,000 grant paid for out of the state's marijuana tax cash fund.

Houston Ends No-Knock Raids in Wake of Fatal Encounter. With few exceptions, Houston undercover officers will no longer conduct no-knock raids. The move comes after four police officers were wounded and a Houston couple killed in a raid that was based on a police officer's lies. "The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Chief Art Acevedo announced during a town hall meeting Monday. 

Chronicle AM: Baltimore to End Pot Possession Arrests, Deadly Houston Drug Raid, More... (1/29/19)

The attorney general-to-be puts his vow to not go after legal businesses in writing, Baltimore ends pot possession arrests, a Houston drug raid turns violent and deadly, and more.

Possessing a bud or two won't get you arrested in Baltimore anymore. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Nominee Puts Pledge to Leave Legal Pot Alone in Writing. The man nominated as the next US attorney general, William Barr, has now put his pledge earlier this month to not “go after” state-compliant legal marijuana operations in writing. Responding to written questions from senators, Barr wrote: "As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum." That memorandum, crafted in the Obama era, provided some security for legal marijuana businesses but was rescinded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year.

Minnesota GOP Senate Leader Just Says No to Legal Marijuana Bills. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday that bills aiming to legalize marijuana had no chance of passing his chamber. “Legalizing marijuana is...not something I would consider a priority issue,” he said. Democrats control the House, but Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the Senate.

Baltimore To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Possession, Vacate 5,000 Convictions. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday that the city will stop prosecuting pot possession cases and will move to vacate some 5,000 marijuana-related convictions. “Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city? The answer is emphatically no,” she said. More than 95% of those arrested for simple possession in the city have been black.

Medical Marijuana

Second Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Medical Marijuana Filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has filed SB 182, which would end the state's ban on smoking medical marijuana. A similar bill, SB 372, was filed earlier this month by Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale). The ban has also been challenged in the courts, and GOP Gov. Ron De Santis has said that he will drop the state's appeal in the case if lawmakers don't eliminate the ban.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Raid Leaves Two Suspects Dead, Four Officers Shot. A forced entry raid of a house where heroin sales were suspected resulted in four police officers shot and wounded and two people in the house shot dead by police. Police came under fire as soon as they knocked down the door and attempted to enter the residence. Investigators found no heroin, but they found marijuana and a white powder believed to be cocaine or fentanyl, Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference. 

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

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