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Chronicle AM: PA Gov Says State Not Ready for Legal Pot, New FDA Guidelines on MATS, More... (8/9/18)

The FDA has issued new draft guidance aimed at expanding the use of medication-assisted treatments (MATs) for opioid addiction, Pennsylvania's governor says the state isn't ready for legal weed, the Oklahoma medical marijuana fight isn't over yet, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) isn't on the same page as his counterparts in New York and New Jersey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said during a radio interview on Tuesday that he doesn't think the state is ready to legalize marijuana. "There are, what, six states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the United States," Wolf said. (The actual number is nine.). "I don't think the citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it, and so the answer I would say is no… I don't think Pennsylvania's actually ready for recreational marijuana." The position puts Wolf at odds with two neighboring Democratic governors, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who is strongly pushing legalization, and Andrew Cuomo of New York, who just signed off on the notion.

Los Angeles Won't Vote on Raising Pot Tax in November. The city council has reversed a decision to place a 1% marijuana tax increase on the November ballot. The city estimated it would raise approximately $30 million per year from the tax increase, but faced immediate blowback from industry groups who said pot taxes were already too high and are driving consumers to the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers Wednesday that the Health Board still has concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Seeks to Expand Use of Medication-Assisted Therapies for Addiction. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday released new draft guidance aimed at promoting the creation and more widespread use of medication-assisted therapies (MATs) for opioid use disorder. The guidance adjusts how FDA evaluates new treatments for opioid addiction. Instead of only determining whether a treatment lowers opioid use, the agency will now assess whether the medication could help lower overdose rates and limit the spread of infectious disease. "We must consider new ways to gauge success beyond simply whether a patient in recovery has stopped using opioids, such as reducing relapse overdoses and infectious disease transmission," said Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner.

Chronicle AM: PA Pot Bill Coming, Philippines Police Vow "Surgical, Chilling" Drug War, More... (7/31/18)

A Pennsylvania lawmaker will file a marijuana legalization bill, Canada moves toward roadside saliva drug testing, the Philippines police vow more drug war, and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war will continue.(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmaker to File Legalization Bill. Citing a recent report from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that legalizing marijuana could create more than half a billion annually in tax revenues for the state, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) says he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "States from coast to coast have embraced legalization and those states are reaping the economic and criminal justice benefits," Wheatley said in a statement. "It is time Pennsylvania joins with those states in leaving behind the ugly stigma of marijuana."

Dark Web

Imprisoned Silk Road Founder Sees Some Charges Dismissed. Federal prosecutors in Maryland have dismissed an indictment against imprisoned Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The indictment contained the only charge that Ulbricht ever engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme. Despite the fact that those charges were never proven, or even tried, they were cited by his sentencing judge in handing down a draconian double life without parole sentence for online drug dealing. Ulbricht is currently appealing his sentence to the US Supreme Court.

International

Canada Set to Approve First Device for Testing Drivers' Saliva for Weed. The federal Justice Department has approved the first device designed to drug test drivers' saliva for the presence of marijuana. Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has now given a 30-day notice of a ministerial order to approve the Draeger DrugTest 5000, produced by a company based in Germany. The device is already approved in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany.

Philippines Police Vow "Surgical and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine police vowed Monday to revamp and ratchet up their fight against crime and drugs just a week after President Rodrigo Duterte promised to keep the bloody campaign going. "Surgical and chilling will be the trademark of the reinvigorated anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality campaign," police chief Oscar Albayalde told a news conference. Tends of thousands of purported drug dealers and users have been killed in Duterte's crusade, which is now under preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

There’s a Surprising Obstacle to Ending Marijuana Prohibition in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on, among other things, a promise to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office. That didn't happen. It may not happen at all this year, and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) is one major reason why.

New Jersey state Sen. Ronald Rice (NJSenDems via YouTube)
Marijuana legalization advocates led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) filed a pair of bills this session, S 2702 and S 2703 that provide lawmakers a framework for legalization, but opposition from the likes of Rice has blunted forward momentum so far.

Rice represents part of Newark, a district more than half black, and is the head of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. He is also a major anti-marijuana legalization advocate, with an array of arguments from the depths of Reefer Madness.

He most recently made headlines last week with his hyperventilating warning that if pot is legalized, Garden Staters will be faced with the prospect of -- gasp! -- "sex toys and oils with marijuana," and it could be happening right in his face.

"If in fact we legalize recreational marijuana, right across the street from my office they're going to put up stores," Rice told NJTV. "They want to call them dispensaries, but they're going to be stores that do retail selling cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toys and oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."

It's not clear why Rice thinks "kids" will be able to get marijuana products, or get them more easily than they could before. When marijuana is legalized, it has only ever legalized for adults -- not kids.

He also made a muddled attempt to deploy the discredited gateway theory that marijuana use leads to hard drug use, arguing that, "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people who've never used any type of drugs goes up substantially in terms of drug use." Say what?

Rice recognizes the devastating impact that racially biased marijuana law enforcement has on the state's minority communities -- the New Jersey ACLU reported last year that between 2000 and 2013, black residents were arrested at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups used weed at similar rates -- but says the answer is decriminalization, not legalization.

He has even filed a bill this year that would decriminalize the possession of up to ten grams, but that would also enable the state to force some marijuana users into drug treatment.

"I still want to deter people from doing something that's bad for them," Rice explained to Gothamist back in April. "If you get too high, you die from it. It kills you directly if it's too potent."

Of course, there is no known case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose, but somebody forgot to let Rose on the secret.

In that same Gothamist interview, Rice unleashed a Gish gallop of problems he claimed would be unleashed by legal (but not decriminalized?) marijuana: Babies born with THC in their brains, businesses desperate for workers who could pass drug tests, people cashing in food stamps to score weed, drug cartels getting in the legal pot businesses, an army of drug addicts as pot smokers escalate to harder drugs, and devastated inner cities, among other looming calamities.

Rice also took his anti-legalization views to Washington, DC -- on April 20th of all days -- along with Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark's Paradise Baptist Church and former Democratic US Rep. Patrick Kennedy to join up with the pot prohibitionist Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) at a press conference to blunt legalization moves.

The senator was in typical form there, warning that people already go hungry to buy drugs and that those numbers will only increase if it's easier to access legal marijuana. Rice also raised the specter of lethal violence if white college students from outside Newark come into the city in search of drugs or if blacks from the city go to white suburban towns to buy legal weed.

"Somebody's going to get killed," he said.

Rice has been in the state Senate since 1986, has won reelection easily in his heavily Democratic district, and didn't even face a primary challenger this year. He may be progressive on some issues, but on other issues, he displays the same reactionary tendencies he has displayed around marijuana. He was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against bills legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012. It may be time for District 28 voters to start looking for a senator from this century.

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

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

Chronicle AM: CA Legal Pot Draft Rules Unveiled, Opioid Crackdown Hurts Pain Patients, More... (7/16/18)

California regulators issue proposed draft regulations for the legal marijuana market, British police are "in effect" decriminalizing marijuana, the opioid crackdown is impacting chronic pain patients, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations Unveiled. State regulators last Friday unveiled their much-anticipated draft of permanent regulations for the state's legal marijuana industry. Under the proposed regulations, pot shops would be able to deliver marijuana anywhere in the state, medical marijuana patients will likely be able to buy edibles more potent than currently permitted, but rules for advertising products could become more strict. The public now has 45 days to weigh in on the draft rules, either in writing or at one of 10 hearings to be held throughout the state.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Risks Leaving Pain Patients Out of Luck. With the country in the midst of a battle against opioid addiction and overdoses, policies to curtail the use of opioids are impacting chronic pain patients and making their lives more difficult. New prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, new state laws, state medical board sanctions, and policy changes by managed-care and prescription plans have all contributed to what pain patients call "changes have ignored the treatment of their pain and have made it harder for many to find care."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Appeals Court Rules That People With Drug Convictions Can't Be Subjected to Drug Tests Forever to Receive Welfare Benefits. The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that people with previous drug convictions cannot be permanently required to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. The ruling came in the case of a woman convicted of drug possession in 1997 who refused to take a drug test in 2016 and lost her benefits. Under a 1997 state law, people convicted of drug offenses are ineligible for benefits for five years after their sentences are over (unless they've completed drug treatment) and are subject to random drug tests in perpetuity. "Granting effect to the [Department of Human Services'] current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence," Judge Roger Klaphake wrote on his opinion overturning a denial of benefits to the woman. "Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not ''[p]ersons subject to the limitations of this subdivision' and are not required to undergo chemical testing for receipt of benefits under chapter 256D," he wrote on behalf of a divided three-judge panel.

International

Brazil Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The opposition Workers' /Party has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana in South America's largest and most populous country. The move comes a year after Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso called on lawmakers to legalize marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence. But given that the Workers' Party is the minority, this bill is unlikely to move this year.

British Police "In Effect" Decriminalizing Marijuana. British police are effectively decriminalizing marijuana by not bothering to arrest pot smokers, British arrest statistics show. Marijuana arrests have dropped 19% since 2015 and so have warnings, which declined 34% in the same period. "The fall in prosecutions and cautions for cannabis possession is a welcome trend and a victory for common sense," said Liberal Democrat MP David Lamb. "The 'war on cannabis' unfairly stigmatizes and criminalizes young people who are doing no harm to others, while tying up police resources which should be better used tackling harmful crimes. However, this issue should not be left to individual police forces. We cannot tolerate a postcode lottery where cannabis users may or may not be prosecuted depending on where they live. The government must bring forward proposals for a regulated cannabis market in the interests of public health, with strict controls on price and potency, and give parliament a free vote."

EVENT: Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism

Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism
side event at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Church Center of the United Nations, 1st Avenue & 44th Street, 10th Floor
July 16, 2018, noon-2:00pm ET
RSVP to [email protected] (requested but not required)

The rise of authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning political figures has been accompanied, in some cases driven, by calls for both sanctioned and extra-legal government violence in their crime and drug policies. The most noted example is that of extrajudicial drug war killings in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte. But similar killings have begun in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level political figures in countries including Malaysia and Turkey have called for extra-legal violence by law enforcers. In March of this year, President Trump called for the death penalty for some drug offenses, and Attorney General Sessions issued a memo calling for use of two never prosecuted drug death penalties provisions of dubious constitutionality.

A devolution into governmental barbarism would threaten the achievement of a variety of components of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, in the areas of health, rule of law, equal justice, peace, and strong institutions.

This panel will discuss what the needed partnerships may be for fending off such a scenario. Sectors or institutions of possible discussion include the ICC, UN human rights bodies, national human rights institutions, courts, public interest/human rights law, drug abuse services, the philanthropic sector, and media, among others. The event is the third in a series, the first two of which took place at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2017 and 2018 meetings in Vienna.

Speakers (subject to change):

  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth, Philippines (via Skype)
  • Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (via Skype)
  • Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (video – invited)
  • Jason Wright, Professor of Practice, Washington & Lee School of Law
  • Moderated by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org

Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (AKA "StoptheDrugWar.org"). Cosponsored by:

  • Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Dianova International
  • Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines
  • FAAAT.net - French Alternatives on Addiction And Toxicomanies
  • Fields of Green for All
  • Filipino American Human Rights Alliance
  • Help Not Handcuffs
  • Housing Works
  • International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
  • Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation
  • New York NGO Committee on Drugs
  • Northern California Chapter, National Ecumenical-Interfaith Forum for Filipino Concerns
  • REDUC - Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network
  • Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society
  • Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network
Location: 
777 UN Plaza
New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: AI Adopts First-Ever Drug Plank, ND Init Hands in Signatures, More... (6/9/18)

North Dakota could see a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, Amnesty International adopts a first-ever position on drug policy, Maine's governor vetoes a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Indiana Judge Rules First Church of Cannabis Can't Use Marijuana as Sacrament. In a ruling handed down last Friday, Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch rejected the church's argument that Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows for a religious exemption from state and federal prohibitions on marijuana. "Permitting exceptions to Indiana's laws prohibiting the sale, possession and use of marijuana for religious exercise would undermine Indiana's ability to enforce anti-marijuana laws at all; anyone charged with violating those laws could simply invoke 'religious; exemption, triggering time-consuming (if not practically impossible) efforts to sort legitimate from illegitimate uses," Lynch wrote in her opinion.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures. Backers of a legalization initiative that would remove marijuana from the state's drug schedules handed in some 19,000 raw signatures last Friday, the deadline for signature gathering. The measure needs 13,500 valid voter signatures to appear on the November ballot. The signature cushion looks big enough that it could actually happen.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed doctors to certify medical marijuana for patients for any reason, as well as revamping the caregiver system and removing some obstacles to obtaining patient cards. The bill will now go back to the legislature for a possible effort to override the veto.

Michigan Adds More Qualifying Conditions. The state on Monday added 11 medical conditions, including autism, chronic pain, Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome, to the list of ailments that could qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. That brings the number of qualifying conditions to 22.

Drug Policy

Amnesty International Adopts First-Ever Policy on Drugs. Amnesty International has adopted new proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of misguided attempts by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. Representatives voted to adopt what will be the organization's first-ever position on how States should address the challenges posed by drugs from a human rights perspective. The proposed policy calls for a shift away from the current "scorched-earth" approach of heavy-handed criminalization, to an approach where protection of people's health and rights are at the center.

International

Mexico's Next Interior Secretary Will Push for the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. Incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero has begun to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana and possibly opium poppy cultivation. It's an early move from the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) administration, which will not take power until December, to make a dramatic break from past Mexican drug war policies.

Caribbean Nations Agree to Consider Marijuana Legalization. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has agreed to "review marijuana's current status with a view to reclassification," noting "human and religious rights" issues stemming from criminalization as well as "the economic benefits to be derived" from legalization. The move comes after a lower-level committee recommended replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation.

Chronicle AM: Fed Judge Tired of Jailing Pot People, AI to Vote on New Drug Policy, More... (7/6/18)

There will be no marijuana legalization measure on the Arizona ballot this year, a federal judge is sick of sending probationers to jail for marijuana, Amnesty International is set to vote on a new drug policy stance, and more.

Is Philippines President Duterte using the war on drugs to assassinate political foes? Human rights watchers say yes.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Says Enough Already on Punishing Marijuana Users. Brooklyn, New York, US District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said Thursday he has been too hard on marijuana users, and that's going to end. He criticized federal probation officers for demanding sentences of supervised release for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. His comments came in his ruling in a case where a 22-year-old on probation got caught with marijuana. Instead of sending him to jail, Weinstein cut short his probation sentence.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Comes Up Way Short on Signatures. A legalization initiative from Safer Arizona will not be on the November ballot after organizers missed the Thursday deadline to hand in signatures. The group needed 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify and had planned to gather 225,000 to provide a cushion, but admitted it had only come up with 75,000 raw signatures so far.

International

Amnesty International to Vote on New Positions on Drug Policy. One of the world's leading human rights groups will be debating proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of "misguided attempts" by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. The proposed new policy "would call for a shift away from the current 'scorched-earth' approach of heavy-handed criminalization, to an approach where protection of people's health and rights are at the center." The question will be taken up during the group's Global Assembly later this year.

Report Calls for Coca Leaf to Be Legalized in Colombia. A new report from Open Society Foundations, "Coca Industrialization: A Path To Innovation, Development and Peace In Colombia," calls for coca to be legalized and calls on the Colombian government to guarantee small farmers protection from prosecution, support research into coca's nutritional properties, and promote the use of coca among indigenous communities.

Philippines Rights Group Say Duterte Is Assassinating Political Opponents Under Cover of Drug War. At least ten Filipino mayors have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, including two in the past week. Human rights groups said Duterte is using the drug war to crack down on political opponents. The deaths of the mayors strikes fear into the hearts of "politicians, especially in the provinces, who are then forced to toe Duterte's line," said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

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

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