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Philippines Solidarity

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Statement: Duterte Moves Against Second Drug War Critic

Philippines Senator Risa Hontiveros calls for international solidarity to help stop drug war killings:

While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards.

Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to well over 20,000 and rising since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

 
 
funeral for victim of Duterte's drug war killings

Other abuses in Duterte's drug war have affected hundreds of thousands, and killings of activists, priests, even mayors are growing as well. Duterte is aggressively attacking his critics and the nation's democratic institutions as he seeks to bring about dictatorship. If he succeeds, there's no knowing where or how far the killings may go.


 

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]
Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016 (source: Reuters)

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this drug war tragedy that threatens global human rights.


Our work on the Philippines flows from advocacy at the United Nations since late 2014. As part of a global community of reform-minded NGOs, we call for people-centered approaches to drug policy governed by human rights. Initially this aimed at the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). When Duterte was elected and the Philippine slaughter began, we turned our attention there.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo recorded
a powerful video for our March 2017 UN event.
 

The pro-Duterte forces have noticed us. Duterte allies including the (now former) Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives have attacked Philippine opposition leaders for working with us. Orchestrated online troll armies have descended on our videos. One of our events even prompted fake news stories.

We are currently crafting plans for moving forward in this campaign in an even bigger way. Please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don't miss any announcements about it. If you have a particular interest in the Philippines and want to be in touch about this, please email us.

 

Our work to date has included the following:

 


UN Events

Under the auspices of our UN-accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, we organized events in conjunction with the 2017 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting at the UN in Vienna, the 2018 CND meeting, and the 2018 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at UN Headquarters in New York.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vienna 2017: Our March 2017 event, coorganized with the Manila-based Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, drew massive attention in the Philippines, due to a speech by video from Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo that led to unfair attacks on her by Duterte allies and an (ultimately unsuccessful) impeachment drive. The video also garnered US and international coverage. Robredo's video strongly criticized Duterte's drug war, as well as Duterte-led moves in the Philippines Congress (also so far unsuccessful) to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses, and to lower the age of criminal liability to nine.

We released the video on Monday March 13, three days before our event, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Along with extensive coverage in Philippine mainstream media, discussion of the video trended on Twitter, and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video, as well as a resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events for the CND nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to the Liberal Party's media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. CNN Philippines, on which the president's spokesperson had first made the false claim about the role of the video, published the most extensive story about our debunking of it. (See news links below.)

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

While our statement helped to defuse the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president, Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

The political heat that Robredo, a human rights lawyer, took for participating in our event is unfortunate. But she has continued to speak out against the killings, and has recently moved again into a forceful opposition role. Recent polling finds the popular vice president becoming even more popular.

News reports on our event, the vice president's video, and its fallout, are too numerous to link here, and media continue to refer to them when discussing the vice president's political trajectory. A recent example is this analysis in the prominent Philippine news outlet Rappler, at the time of this writing ranked as the 12th more read web site in the Philippines. We post here a selection of key news links, as well as links for video footage of our entire event and other resources.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Event footage is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty International video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Following are some key news article and related links:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country as of this writing, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

 
 
Senator Trillanes displays copy
of Duterte administration's 2017
report, listing 20,000 killings
among its accomplishments

(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Vienna 2018: A year almost to the day after our 2017 event (and in the same room at the UN), we held another event featuring outspoken opposition Philippine Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV. (Duterte has said of Trillanes, "I [will] destroy him, or he will destroy me.")

In a sign of the times, the day before our event when Senator Trillanes arrived at the UN, President Duterte transmitted one-year notice of the Philippines withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, in retaliation for the ICC's preliminary investigation of his drug war. The night before our event, prosecutors in the Philippines indicted the senator on a spurious sedition charge.

Tania Ramírez and Natalie Ginsberg
read Senator de Lima's statement.
Alessandro de Luca also pictured.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)
 

Senator Leila de Lima contributed a written statement to our event as well. Joining Senator Trillanes as featured speaker was Ellecer Carlos, well-known spokesperson for the iDEFEND Philippine human rights coalition. The event was again co-moderated by David Borden and Marco Perduca.

 
 
speaker meeting before the forum
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Roughly 70 people attended, many forced to stand outside the 30-person capacity meeting room. Attendees represented a range of governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and members of the local Filipino community.

While the sedition charge became the main news story, driving out much of the coverage our event might otherwise have gotten, we did get some media including television:



 

 

 

 

 


After Robredo, Trillanes Turn to Blast EJKs in war on drugs, Inquirer article published in advance of our event

State of the Nation with Jennifer Soho

News 5 Aksyon Tonite

Philtizen article noting State of the Nation report (over 9,700 shares on Facebook)

Trillanes not backing down on sedition case (The Philippines' top news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed for this report at our event. The sedition indictment, which was issued the night before, became the main story.)

How many more Filipinos will suffer under Duterte? De Lima asks (Inquirer article -- over 7,700 shares)

Rights Reporter interview with Senator Trillanes

 

 
 
fake news story with fabricated
statement attributed to us

In another sign of the times, Filipinos working in Vienna attended our event, including both supporters and critics of President Duterte. One member of the "Die Hard Duterte Supporters contingent (DDS -- a play on the infamous "Davao Death Squad" Duterte operated as mayor) challenged Senator Trillanes on the number of killings during the discussion time, while others videorecorded. The pro-Duterte media forces selectively edited the video in order to create an appearance that Trillanes didn't have an answer for him (as the senator and his staff had predicted). An example from a local newspaper in the Philippines appears here. Our Facebook Live video shows that Senator Trillanes did respond, however, and that the encounter was a civil one. The two spoke at length following the event.

Our visit to the UN cafeteria the day before the event led to a series of misleading and fake news stories. A Filipino cashier noticed Senator Trillanes was wearing an NGO badge, rather than one issued by the Philippines' Mission to the UN, and sent a picture to a pro-Duterte blogger. The blogger's post, which misidentified us as a Filipino American NGO, is online here, and has over 7,700 shares. An article posted on two Philippines-focused sites (here and here) "confirmed" that the senator had entered the UN through our auspices.

This information in these pieces isn't fake per se, but they attempt to imply a scandal or problem where there was none. A fake news story followed on the blog post, includes a photo of us on the lunch line with Trillanes, but claims falsely that the senator was "scolded" by a UN security guard who told him to "eat last." A follow-up fake news piece features a fabricated statement attributed to our organization. A third piece by the same writer provided video from our event of a Filipino Duterte supporter contesting Trillanes' information, but implied falsely that the senator fell silent instead of responding to him.

The Facebook Live video stream from this event follows below. We will post an edited playlist copy and transcript in the near future. In the meanwhile, a realtime transcript from the CND Blog can be read here, and individual speeches can be accessed by going to the following points in the video. (We're not able to link to specific times within Facebook videos.)

  • Statement of Senator Leila de Lima, read by Tania Ramírez and Natalie Lyla Ginsberg (13:38)
  • David Borden (20:17)
  • Marco Perduca (21:03)
  • Senator Antonio Trillanes (26:42)
  • Ellecer Carlos (27:12)
  • Discussion (59:20)

New York 2018: On July 16, we hosted the third event in the series, "Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Killings in a Time of Authoritarianism," expanding the scope of the discussion to include the death penalty for drug offenses. The event was held at the Church Center of the United Nations, in conjunction with the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

Prominent opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines provided a video for our event, calling for international solidarity for human rights and an end to Duterte's drug war. The two hour event also featured Professor Jason Wright of the Washington & Lee Law School, speaking on behalf of the California-based group Death Penalty Focus; and Justine Balane, International Secretary for Akbayan Youth in the Philippines, via Skype.

The largest Philippine news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed the event, and a report ran on their US station, Balitang America.

Following is the Balitang America's YouTube copy of the TV report:

Following is full video of the event. An edited playlist copy and transcript will be posted in the near future. In the meanwhile, individual sections can be accessed by clicking on the time indications in this list:

  • Welcome and Acknowledgments by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (0:00)
  • Video message from Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (4:16) | (original copy of Hontiveros video here)
  • Remarks by David on Borden on the UN Sustainable Developments Goals, and Background for This Event (7:47)
  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth (14:11)
  • Professor Jason Wright, Washington & Lee School of Law, representing Death Penalty Focus (25:55)
  • David Borden remarks (48:34)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Shilpa Nandwani, Northeast Coordinator, International Coalition for the Philippines US Chapter (53:50)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Terrenze Rienton (1:01:18)
  • General Discussion (1:06:43)
  • audience remarks by Rev. Levi Bautista (1:12:57)
  • General Discussion (1:17:23)

 


 

Protest at Philippines Embassy, Washington, DC

  

For the one-year mark of the jailing of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima on spurious drug charges, we organized a protest at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. The event featured street theater with Duterte and Philippine National Police figures arresting Senator de Lima and pretending to shoot attendees.

Allies in the Philippines helped to promote the event's Facebook Live video stream, and it went viral in the Philippines, with nearly 470,000 views as of this writing. Among our cosponsors in the action were Amnesty International, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance and the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines.

 

Other Philippines-focused groups such as Gabriela-DC and the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines-US were participated as well. The event represented a step for Philippines-focused groups with various different ideological roots working together. Video of the action went viral in the Philippines, and has garnered nearly 470,000 views. Since that time our executive director, David Borden, has been a go-to person about the drug war for demonstrations organized by Filipino American groups.

Facebook Live video:

 

      

(photos and video done by event cosponsor DCMJ)

 


Global Sign-On Statement

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

 
InterAksyon article

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered by four important Philippines news outlets:

The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.


Legislative Lobbying

 
 
April 2018 lobbying coalition

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress.

In April 2018, StoptheDrugWar.org's executive director David Borden was invited to join a lobbying group that included advocates visiting from the Philippines as part of the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour 2018 of the Caravan for Peace and Justice for the Philippines, as well as representatives of Filipino American organizations, faith groups participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days the weekend before, and others. Key organizers of the lobbying effort were the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines US Chapter. Borden is regularly asked by Filipino American advocates to address the drug war in meetings and demonstrations.

An update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

  

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Department has raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate. Duterte has recently claimed that a White House visit is in the works, pending scheduling.


Coalition Building

As the above sections show, we have actively sought partners in this campaign, both in the Philippines and in the Filipino American community, including groups spanning a range of the ideological spectrum. But we have also sought to bring others in to the effort -- from drug policy reform, international criminal justice advocacy, the anti-death penalty movement and others.

 

In March before heading to Vienna for our event with Senator Trillanes, we organized a panel for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Baltimore, "Human Rights Challenge, Responding to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines." Our panel featured Eric Lachica of US Filipinos for Good Governance; and Shamah Bulangis and Justine Balane, National Secretary General and International Secretary respectively of Akbayan Youth, who are also SSDP Ambassadors for the Philippines.

The panel was well attended, and following it, we brought signs from Philippines-related demonstrations (our 2/28 embassy protest and others) to the plenary hall, where conference attendees, following a group picture, took a second group pictures with the signs, while holding hands up in a Philippines protest symbol. The photo, posted to Facebook by an attendee, went viral in the Philippines.

The energy of the event and level of interest in this campaign that was shown there, following our successful protest a week earlier, makes us believe that a larger movement can be built on this issue, capable of bringing greater pressure on the Duterte administration over the killings. Please subscribe to our email list to be updated as plans progress, and feel free to contact us directly in the meanwhile.

David Borden met with members of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance San Francisco chapter in July 2018. In this video, filmed by FAHRA leader Ago Pedalizo, Borden remarks on the recent awarding of the prestigious "Prize for Freedom" award to Senator de Lima:


These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform program StoptheDrugWar.org has pursued decisively since fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy program is headed by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in the near future will tweet on Philippines matters as @BordenUNEventPH. In the near future our organization's blog and newsletter will have a significant focus on the Philippines as well. Our Philippines-related content can also be accessed through our category archive at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines.

– END –


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chronicle AM: New CBS Pot Poll, CO Drug Defelonization Passes House, More... (4/19/19)

A new CBS poll has record support for marijuana legalization, Vermont's governor throws up an obstacle to the tax and regulate bill, the US immigration agency says using marijuana or even working in the state-legal industry makes immigrants "morally unfit" to become citizens, and more.

Marijuana is all over the news today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Support for Legalization at All-Time High. The latest annual CBS news poll on attitudes toward marijuana legalization has support at 65% -- an all-time high for the poll. Most respondents also viewed marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol. Legalization is now favored even by Republicans (56%), and the only age group to not have majority support for legalization -- people 65 and older -- is now evenly split with support at 49%.

Federal Bill Would Let People Use Marijuana in Public Housing in Legal States. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act, which would allow people who use marijuana in compliance with state laws to live in public housing. Current federal law prohibits people using federally illegal drugs from being admitted to public housing and allows their eviction if caught. The Norton bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Montana 2020 Legalization Initiative Planned. A new group calling itself Coalition406 has announced plans to create a 2020 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Big Sky Country. The latest polling has support for legalization at 51%. "Coalition406 will sponsor a statewide listening tour over the coming weeks to discuss preliminary thoughts for a November 2020 initiative to hear from real Montanans on this issue," said Coalition406 campaign manager Ted Dick, a former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

Vermont Governor Won't Support Regulated Marijuana Without Saliva Testing for Drivers. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said for the first time Thursday that he would not sign legislation to tax and regulate marijuana unless it had a provision that would allow saliva testing of motorists. The tests are opposed by many civil rights and liberties groups, but the House Judiciary Committee that same day reviewed a draft proposal for language around saliva testing that could be inserted in SB 54, the tax and regulate bill that has already passed the Senate.

Wisconsin Legalization Bill Filed. For the fourth time, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) has filed a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as a process for expungement of old marijuana convictions. "Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out of date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," Sargent said in a press release. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal." A January Marquette University poll has support for legalization at 59%, but the Republican-controlled legislature does not favor the proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill that would add over a dozen conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana, HR 1365, is heading for a House floor vote after passing its last committee hurdle on Wednesday. The bill would add cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Treatment

Pennsylvania Bill Would Bar Addiction Centers from Requiring Positive Drug Tests Before Treatment. State Rep. Jack Rader (R-Monroe County) has cosponsored a bill that would ban addiction treatment centers from requiring people to test positive for opioids or other drugs in order to get admitted for care. Rader said he cosponsored the bill after a constituent told him her son had applied for drug treatment but had been required to test positive for opioids in order to begin treatment. He had gotten off opioids while waiting for treatment, but then used some to qualify for treatment and instead overdosed and died. The measure is HB 1024.

Immigration Policy

Using State-Legal Marijuana or Working in the Industry Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit to Be US Citizens, Federal Agency Rules. In a rules clarification Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services held that using marijuana or working in the industry even in states where it is legal violates the requirement that immigrants demonstrate five years of "good moral character" before applying for citizenship. In a memo detailing the ruling, USCIS said that "violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law." That includes working in the state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana industries. There is an exception for one-time possession of less than an ounce.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Lower Penalties for Drug Possession Offenses. The House on Thursday approved HB 19-1263, which would defelonize drug possession in the state. The measure passed the House on a 40-25 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: Louisiana Cannabis Poll, Feds Raid Appalachian Opioid Prescribers, More... (4/18/19)

A new poll finds Louisianans are ready to free the weed, Georgia medical marijuana patients will soon be able to access CBD cannabis oils, a Peruvian clash that left two coca-growers dead raises international concern, and more.

A new Louisiana poll suggests the Bayou State is ready to legalize marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new Louisiana State University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55%. Four out of five (80%) of 18-29-year-olds were down with it, as well as two-thirds (67%) of people aged 30 through 49. Only people over 65 were opposed, with 69% rejecting legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Improving Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Gov. Brian Kemp has signed into law HB 324, which makes it legal to possess CBD cannabis oil and bring it across state lines. The bill also sets up a framework for the growth and sale of CBD cannabis oil in the state. Currently, state law allows the use of CBD oil, but there is no way for patients to obtain it.

Pennsylvania Patient Loses Bid to Gain Section 8 Housing. An Indiana County medical marijuana patient whose Section 8 housing voucher was previously denied because of her medical marijuana use lost again in Common Pleas Court Wednesday, even though the judge in the case expressed sympathy for her plight. He acknowledged that medical marijuana is legal under state law, but said federal law doesn't allow the use of federally illegal drugs in federal housing programs. The patient will now appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Conducts Massive Raids Against Appalachian Opioid Prescribers. Federal agents led by the DEA raided doctors' offices and pharmacies across five Appalachian states Wednesday, arresting 60 people, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals. They are accused of writing or fulfilling more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions to 24,000 people in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.

The DEA press release says that resources are available to help patients caught up in the situation, but for most of the states included in the listings, only addiction services are listed, not physicians or clinics with expertise in pain control, much less who are willing to provide it to patients so close to an alleged criminal situation.

Reporting notes that the indictments allege physician misconduct including performing unnecessary dental work to justify prescribing opioids, and exchanging prescriptions for sex. But there is no detail yet available for assessing whether the charges are justified, whether conduct of that type has been alleged for all the professionals targeted in the indictments, or how many people receiving prescriptions may be actual pain patients.

International

Human Rights, Policy Groups Call for Transparent Investigation of Peru Coca Farmer Killings. In a letter to Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra and anti-drug agency leader Ismael Ruben Vargas, dozens of human rights groups, drug policy groups, and individual academics and researchers have demanded a "transparent investigation" into the killings last week of two protesting coca-growing peasants in a confrontation with police and coca eradication forces. The letter cites a local witness who says police fired "indiscriminately" during the confrontation between growers and newly-arrived eradicators. The letter also called on the government to create a new coca registry in the region to allow farmers to participate in the country's legal coca industry.

Chronicle AM: Bipartisan Cannabis Banking Bill Filed, Texas MedMJ Hearings, More... (4/12/19)

Some 20 senators sign on to a bill to solve legal marijuana's banking problem, a Maine jail appeals a federal court ruling that it must provide Suboxone to a prisoner, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Bill Would Open Banks to Marijuana Businesses. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with 18 other cosponsors, filed legislation Thursday that would shield banks that maintain accounts for marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act would stop federal agencies from being able to "prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a depository institution from providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or to a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian Tribe that exercises jurisdiction over cannabis-related legitimate businesses." Companion legislation in the House has already passed out of committee and awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on a trio of medical bills Thursday. Testimony was sometimes highly emotional, and no one spoke up against medical marijuana. HB 122 would create a legal defense for patients possessing medical marijuana and doctors who recommend it; HB 1405 would allow hospital patients to use CBD cannabis oil; and HB 3703 would expand current use of CBD cannabis oil to all epilepsy patients, not just those with intractable epilepsy. No votes were taken.

Drug Treatment

Maine Jail Appeals Federal Court Ruling It Must Provide Drug Used in Opioid Treatment. The Aroostook County Jail is appealing a federal judge's ruling that it must provide an opioid addiction medication it says it is necessary to keep addiction in remission. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on March 27 that required the jail to provide buprenorphine (Suboxone) to the prisoner. The jail argues that the judge didn't defer enough to jail administrators for policymaking decisions.

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Try Licensed Grows for Coffee Shops, No MedMJ for TN This Year, More... (4/11/19)

Medical marijuana and guns rights are in the news today, the Dutch embark on a pilot program of licensed legal marijuana grows, there is no medical marijuana for Tennessee this year, and more.

The Dutch are finally moving to resolve the "back door problem" of a legal weed supply for coffee houses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Block Home Marijuana Deliveries Killed. A bill that would have allowed localities to ban home deliveries of marijuana has died on a tie vote in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee. AB 1530 stalled amid concerns it would further hamper the state's struggling legal marijuana industry. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Cordova) said he will decide later whether to try again next year.

Wisconsin Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette University Law School poll has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Support for medical marijuana was even higher at 83%. Gov. Tony Evers (D) has called for the legalization of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of up to 50 grams.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill Aims to Let Medical Marijuana Patients Keep Their Guns. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WY) has filed a bill aimed at protecting the gun rights of medical marijuana patients. The Second Amendment Protection Act would grant an exemption from the federal law that says people cannot purchase firearms if they're "unlawful user[s] or addicted to any controlled substance" for state-legal medical marijuana patients.

North Dakota Lawmakers Back Away from Proposal for Database to Check Patents' Eligibility for Concealed Weapons Licenses. House lawmakers on Tuesday approved a measure, Senate Bill 2140, that would require the Department of Health to disclose medical marijuana patients' identities to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation "for the sole purpose" of determining whether they are eligible and in compliance with the state's concealed weapons law. But on Wednesday, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem reminded lawmakers that changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law required a two-thirds vote, not a mere majority, so lawmakers voted to send the bill back to the Natural Resources Committee, where its chairman said he will strip the gun language from the bill so it can pass.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bills Are Dead for This Year. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), a doctor and leading proponent of medical marijuana in the legislature, announced Wednesday he was delaying all medical marijuana bills until next year. He said he was convinced the bill would fail, and decided it was better to delay the proposal than watch it fail in committee. "You can run a bill and have it defeated, or you can keep it alive," Dickerson said. "And practically speaking, we decided to keep it alive and not have a defeat for perception more than anything."

International

Dutch to Move Forward with Legal, Regulated Marijuana Production for Coffee Shops. The Dutch government released detailed plans Thursday for moving forward with regulated marijuana production to supply the country's famous coffee shops. The plan is to license 10 growers, each of which will grow at least 10 different strains. THC content will be clearly labeled. At least six and no more than 10 local authorities will take part in the trials, which will last four years. It will then be up to the next cabinet to decide whether to move forward with state-regulated marijuana production. The plan is being criticized by some local authorities and coffee shops as being too restrictive by requiring that all cannabis sold in participating coffee shops come from the licensed growers.

Chronicle AM: Trump AG Open to States Setting Pot Policy, Federal Reentry Bill Filed, More... (4/10/19)

Trump's attorney general is down with letting states decide their own pot policies, New York City bans most pre-employment drug testing for marijuana, a federal bill to increase educational opportunities for prisoners gets filed, and more.

Hashish. At least one Arizona prosecutor claims this doesn't qualify as medical marijuana. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Barr Says States Rights Marijuana Bill Better Than Status Quo. In remarks before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr said he would rather Congress pass a bill allowing states to legalize marijuana than continue with the status quo, where federal law conflicts with legalization in a number of states. Asked about the STATES Act, which would protect legal marijuana states from federal interference, Barr said he preferred marijuana prohibition, but acknowledged that was a losing proposition. "The situation that I think is intolerable and which I'm opposed to is the current situation we're in, and I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are," Barr said. "Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana but, if there is not sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law and so we're not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law."

New York City Council Bans Employers from Drug Testing for Marijuana. The city council on Tuesday passed a bill that would ban most public and private employers from requiring job candidates to undergo a pre-employment test for the presence of THC. There are exceptions for workers in construction, caregiving professions, and law enforcement. "We need to be creating more access points for employment, not fewer," Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a release. "It makes absolutely no sense that we're keeping people from finding jobs or advancing their careers because of marijuana use."

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Prosecutor Still Prosecuting Medical Marijuana Patients, ACLU Charges. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office under ardent marijuana foe Bill Montgomery is continuing to prosecute medical marijuana patients for extracts even as the legality of that move is being litigated before the state Supreme Court. The state law is unclear on whether extracts and hashish are covered, but such products are widely available in the state, and the ACLU wrote to Montgomery that he needs to quit prosecuting patients "for possessing cannabis products sold at state-licensed dispensaries."

Florida House Committee Approves Limits on THC Levels in Smokable Marijuana After Contentious Hearing. Despite the angry complaints of veterans, patients, and activists, the House Appropriations Committee voted 19-7 Tuesday to approve HB 7117, which would cap the amount of THC in smokable marijuana at 10%, far under the levels normally found in commercially available marijuana. The bill now heads for a House floor vote, but prospects for passage aren't good because the Senate has yet to see a companion bill and the session ends in less than two months.

Michigan's Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open for Now. Unlicensed dispensaries that were set to be shut down by March 31 can continue to operate as attorneys for the businesses meet with state regulators seek to reach an agreement that will allow the 50 shops to stay open. Regulators had planned to send out cease and desist letters at the beginning of this month, but a Court of Claims judge has blocked that action -- at least until another court hearing set for next Thursday.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Federal Bill Would Boost Prisoner Reentry. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and two Democratic colleagues, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Dick Durbin of Illinois, unveiled a bill Tuesday aimed at boosting reentry prospects for newly released federal prisoners. The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act would provide more educational opportunities for federal inmates, including access to college Pell Grants. "The REAL Act removes some federal impediments to allowing prisoners to participate in federal higher education funding, including the Pell Grants. This would allow for more federal inmates to have the opportunity to participate in these programs," Lee said. The REAL Act is endorsed by a number of stakeholder organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Correctional Association and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Chronicle AM: Trump Delays Border Shutdown Over Drugs, Migrants; NH House Approves Legal Pot, More... (4/5/19)

Trump pushes his threat to close down the border into the future, migrant workers in the state-legal marijuana industry are being denied citizenship, New Hampshire is one step closer to marijuana legalization, and more.

The US-Mexico border. No shutdown this year, Trump now says. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Industry Workers Are Being Denied Citizenship. At least two immigrant workers in Colorado's state-legal marijuana industry have been denied citizenship under a US Citizenship and Immigration Services policy that automatically denies citizenship to immigrants working in a business that involves a Schedule I drug. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) has sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr (R) advocating for a change in the policy.

Arkansas Decriminalization Bill Stalled. A bill to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana an administrative infraction instead of a misdemeanor failed to advance out of the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. Instead, bill sponsor Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock) pulled HB 1972 after the committee requested more research instead of passing it.

New Hampshire House Approves Legalization Bill. The House voted 200-163 Thursday to approve HB 481, which would legalize marijuana in the Granite State. The bill's tax structure was amended in the House. Instead of a $30 an ounce tax as originally proposed, the bill now contains a 5% tax at the wholesale/cultivation level and a 9% tax at the retail level. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Democrats hold a 14-10 majority. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) remains opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Washington Bill Would Change Penalty for Sales to Minors from Felony to Misdemeanor. A bill to drastically reduce the penalty for sales to minors has passed the House and is now before the Senate Rules Committee. Under current law, any sales to minors is a felony, but HB 1792 would take that penalty from a felony down to a misdemeanor—unless the seller knew the buyer was a minor.

The Border

Trump Gives Mexico a Year to Stop the Flow of Drugs, Migrants. Retreating from his vow to shut down the US-Mexico border this week President Trump now says he will give Mexico a year to end the flow of migrants and illicit drugs across the border. If the problem persists, he said, he will impose auto tariffs, and if that doesn't work, he will then shut the border. "You know I will do it. I don’t play games. ... so we’re doing it to stop people. We’re gonna give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars. The whole ballgame is cars. ... and if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border," Trump told reporters at the White House. That is a significant retreat from his vow on March 29 to close the border "next week."

Chronicle AM: China Bans All Fentanyl Variants, DC Gets 76,000 Naloxone Kits, More... (4/2/19)

China bans all fentanyl variants, Sri Lanka is to resume drug executions, marijuana sentencing reform bills advance in Iowa and Texas, and more.

A lethal dose of fentanyl (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States. For the fifth consecutive congressional session, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) has filed a bill to block the federal government from going after states that have legalized marijuana. The Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt states with legal marijuana from federal intervention. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Arkansas Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock) and cosponsors filed HB 1972 on Monday. The measure would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a maximum $200 fine. Currently, possession of up to four ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Iowa Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Advances. A bill that would reduce penalties for possessing five grams of weed or less passed the Senate Monday on a 40-8 vote. SF 378 would move possession of five grams or less from a serious misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor. The bill now heads to the House.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday. HB 63 would reduce criminal penalties for low-levels of marijuana possession, allowing a person carrying cannabis to receive two civil penalties before facing misdemeanor charges. The next step is a House floor vote.  

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Speeds Access to Opioid Addiction Medication. The state's Human Services Commissioner announced that beginning this week, Medicaid recipients will no longer have to wait for approval from an insurance company before a doctor can prescribe them medication-assisted treatments. Previously, people faced delays as doctors submitted paperwork and waited for an okay from the patient's Medicaid managed-care plan.

DC Police, Community Groups Will Get 76,000 Naloxone Kits. The city of Washington, DC, has purchased 76,000 kits of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The kits will be distributed to police officers and community health organizations by September 30. Last year, the District saw more deaths from drug overdoses than from homicides.

International

China Bans All Types of Fentanyl. Chinese officials said Monday that the country is banning all variants of fentanyl by declaring them controlled substances under Chinese law. The move makes good a pledge Premier Xi Jinping made to President Trump late last year. The move could slow the supply of the drug and its variants to the US, where it is implicated in tens of thousands of overdose deaths. But the ban does not cover precursor chemicals, which are often sent to Mexico, where traffickers use them to produce fentanyl.

Sri Lanka Burns Cocaine Haul as President Announces First Executions in Decades. President Maithripala Sirisena used the public burning of seized cocaine to announce the first executions in decades as part of a crackdown on drugs. ’To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said.  "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too. The move toward a drug crackdown has been criticized by human rights groups and the European Union. 

Chronicle AM: Fed Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed, MT Legal Pot Bill Killed, More... (3/29/19)

A Michigan commission wisely recommends no de jure limit on THC in driver's blood, a Montana marijuana legalization bill gets killed in committee, a federal bill to end civil asset forfeiture is filed, and more.

Various states and the Congress are taking up asset forfeiture reform. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Regulators Recommend No Legal Limit on THC in Drivers. The state's Impaired Driving Safety Commission has recommended that the state set no limit for the amount of THC in a driver's blood. Instead of setting a limit similar to that for blood alcohol, the commission recommending using roadside sobriety tests to measure impaired driving. "The only reasonable way to do this right now is to demonstrate that people are impaired," Norbert Kaminski, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University and commission member, said. 

Montana Legalization Bill Killed. A bill to legalize marijuana died in committee on Thursday. HB 770 was killed in the House Taxation Committee after law enforcement representatives called legalization "a nightmare" for state citizens.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) filed the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act on Wednesday. The bill, HR 1895, would bring sweeping reforms to the federal use of civil asset forfeiture, most critically, it would end the equitable sharing program, which local and state law enforcement uses to evade restrictions on seizures under state laws.

Minnesota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee voted Tuesday to advance Senate File 2155, which would replace a number of state asset forfeiture laws with a single statewide law and repeal administrative forfeiture, an archaic process that allows assets to be seized without a court order.

South Carolina Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes House. The House on Wednesday approved a bill that would require the State Law Enforcement Division to keep a database of seizures and disbursements. HB 590 faces one more routine vote before it is sent to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: NY Legal Pot Push Hits Bump, AZ Judge Rules for Fired Walmart MMJ-Using Worker, More... (3/21/19)

Southern California will see its first festival featuring legal pot sales and consumption this weekend, an Arizona federal judge slaps down Walmart for firing a medical marijuana patient without proving impairment at work, New York's governor acknowledges legalization isn't happening fast enough to be included in the budget, and more.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) concedes that marijuana legalization isn't happening fast enough to make the budget. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Southern California's First Festival with Legal Marijuana Sales and Consumption is This Weekend. The High Times Dope Cup High Desert festival set for the high desert town of Adelanto this weekend will be the first in Southern California where marijuana can be legally purchased and consumed. Pot smoking will be allowed in designated areas at the festival, and dozens of vendors will be selling weed to anyone 21 or over. The first Northern California festival allowing sales and consumption was Hempcon in San Francisco earlier this year.

New York Governor Drops Marijuana Legalization from Proposed State Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday he was dropping his proposal to legalize marijuana from his proposed state budget. He said because he was unable to arrive at quick passage of a marijuana legalization bill he could no longer count on marijuana revenues in his budget forecast. Cuomo and legislative leaders said there is still a chance legalization could be passed after the budget is passed and before the June 19 end of the legislative session.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Federal Judge Rules for Medical Marijuana-Using Walmart Worker. An Arizona federal district court judge has ruled that Walmart wrongfully fired a long-time employee who was a medical marijuana patient after a drug test returned positive results for marijuana because the company did not establish through expert evidence that she was impaired by marijuana at work. The court held that Walmart's action violated protections in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

South Carolina Senate Panel Advances Medical Marijuana Bill. A subcommittee of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee has approved SB 366, the Compassionate Care Act, on a 5-1 vote. The vote came after the subcommittee accepted amendments aimed at easing law enforcement opposition to the bill, among them banning certain transportation workers from participating, working toward a better method of detecting marijuana-impaired driving, and tightening the definitiation of a debilitating condition. The bill now goes before the full committee before headed for a Senate floor vote.

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