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Transforming Global Drug Policy: From A Punisher Paradigm to Embracing Human Rights [FEATURE]

By its very nature, the global drug prohibition regime relies on the repressive apparatus of state actors to enforce compliance, and that has severe implications for human rights. Now, a coalition of United Nations member states, U.N. bodies, and leading human rights experts has launched a landmark set of international legal standards aimed at putting human rights concerns at the center of drug policy.

Drug execution in Iran, 2017. The Islamic Republic has greatly reduced the use of the death penalty for drugs. (handsoffcain)
The human rights implications of the global war on drugs cover a dizzying array of governmental abuses of their citizens. Whether it’s the mass imprisonment of drug users in the U.S., the death squad-style atrocities of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaigns, the spraying of herbicides on coca-growing peasants in Colombia, forced drug treatment camps in Southeast Asia, or the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses in any number of countries, the quixotic global effort to eradicate drugs has left a trail of human rights abuses.

For years, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have championed the need to put human rights front and center when it comes to drug policy. But with the issuance this week of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy recognition of the necessary centrality of human rights moves from the sidelines to the very center of the global drug prohibition regime. Released under the aegis of the U.N. Development Program and the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) with the endorsement of key member states, the guidelines create a comprehensive set of human rights standards to guide governments in developing drug policies that comply with basic standards of universal human rights.

They also come at a key juncture in the global drug policy-formation process. The guidelines are being released as high-level governmental representatives are gathered at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna to shape a new global drug strategy. With decades of evidence showing the systemic failures of the punitive paradigm, including widespread human rights violations, the U.N. and member states are facing a rising clamor for a shift in policy—one that not only respects human rights but also places global drug policy in line with broader U.N. objectives.

 "Drug control policies intersect with much of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the pledge by Member States to leave no one behind. Approaches that violate human rights and fail to curb the illicit drug trade are leaving a trail of human suffering," said Mandeep Dhaliwal, director of UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development Group. "For countries who are ready to place human dignity and sustainable development at the heart of their drug control policy, these guidelines offer valuable guidance to promote more effective and humane drug control policy."

One focus of the guidelines is criminal justice and the rule of law, and they feature recommendations across the realm of the administration of justice. Whether it's arbitrary arrest and detention, discriminatory policing practices, or drug decriminalization, the guidelines bring the global state of human rights law regarding drug policy into full view, including ending the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

Drug decriminalization gets particular attention. The guidelines note that at least 25 national governments have decriminalized the possession of drugs for personal use and that the U.N. system has jointly called for drug decriminalization as an alternative to arrest, conviction, and punishment of drug users.

"Punishment and exclusion have been instrumental to the war on drugs" said Judy Chang, Executive Director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs. "The time has come to privilege human dignity over social isolation and champion human rights, putting an end to the shameful legacy of mass incarceration."

But the guideline encompass more than criminal justice; they also make clear that a human rights emphasis is key in improving people's rights to health, an adequate standard of living, and to be free from torture. The guidelines say that states are obligated by their health obligations to ensure the availability and accessibility of harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and safe consumption spaces. Those services must be adequately funded, appropriate for the needs of vulnerable groups, and respectful of the human dignity of their clients, the guidelines say.

"Ninety-nine percent of people who inject drugs do not have adequate access to harm reduction services and are left behind in progress against HIV," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "More than 12 percent of people who inject drugs are living with HIV and over half have hepatitis C. The only way to advance progress is to put people at the center, not drugs."

The guidelines also emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of farming communities—especially women—even to the extent of urging governments to temporarily permit the cultivation of illicit drug crops to allow farmers the chance to make a smooth transition to alternative crops. They cite Thailand's success in helping farmers move from opium production to alternative livelihoods.

Issuance of the guidelines will help member states, multilateral organizations, and civil society in their fight to help the rights-supporting U.N. Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights assume their deserved central role in the formulation of both international and national drug policies. For too long, globally accepted human rights standards have been sidelined by repressive approaches.

"Human rights should not just inform critiques of the response to drugs worldwide, they should also be the main drivers of its reform, underpinning checks and balances to break cycles of abuse" said Julie Hannah, Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, University of Essex "Fighting inequality and injustice is a more effective way of addressing the global drug problem than prisons and police."

Chronicle AM: NJ Legal Pot Deal Reached, Key UN Body Calls for Global Drug Decrim, More... (3/12/19)

Marijuana and medical marijuana bills are seeing action in the states, South Dakota's governor vetoes an industrial hemp bill, a key UN organization calls for global drug decriminalization, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he has reached an agreement with key legislators to legalize weed by month's end. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Allow Social Consumption Filed. State Rep. Jonathan Singer (D) and cosponsors filed House Bill 1230 last Friday. The bill would pave the way for legal marijuana “tasting rooms” beginning in January. The bill would also allow hotels, spas, and other businesses to apply for cannabis licenses. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper last year, but now the governor is the more marijuana-friendly Jared Polis.

Minnesota Senate Committee Kills Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday killed a bill that would have legalized marijuana on a 6-3 vote along party lines. SF 619 would have allowed adults to use, possess, grow, and buy marijuana from licensed retailers.

New Jersey Governor, Key Lawmakers Announce Agreement on Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders announced Tuesday that they had reached agreement on a bill to legalize marijuana. They also announced that they planned to pass the bill on March 25. "I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes," the governor said.

New York Legalization Bid Hits Bump. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that it is now unlikely that marijuana legalization will be included in the state budget, which is due this month, suggesting that there are roadblocks remaining on the path to legalization. "I’m no longer confident marijuana will be done in the budget," Cuomo told reporters at the Capitol, adding that legislative leaders are still far apart on a path forward. "I’ve had discussions with them on it. There is a wide divide on marijuana. I believe ultimately we can get there, and we must get there," he said. "I don’t believe we get there in two weeks. And also that’s what the legislative leaders have said."

Washington Senate Approves Expungement Bill. The Senate on Monday approved SB 5605, which would expunge some 69,000 past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession in the state. A companion measure is moving in the House.

Medical Marijuana

Earl Blumenauer Reintroduces Veterans Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is back once again with a bill that would allow doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. HB 1647 is similar to bills that Blumenauer has sponsored for the past several years but were blocked by intransigent House Republican leaders. This year, though, the Democrats control the House.

Michigan Adds Cerebral Palsy to List of Qualifying Conditions. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Monday that it had added cerebral palsy to the list of qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. It rejected adding chronic aggressive behavior after panel members unanimously recommended denial.

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Access Expansion Bill Passes Senate. The Senate on Monday approved SB 406, which would allow for onsite consumption of medical marijuana at dispensaries, allow people living on Indian land to grow their own, and create civil protections for patients for schooling, child custody, and medical care. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez (R) last year, but she’s gone now.

Hemp

South Dakota Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) on Monday vetoed HB 1191, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. In her veto message, she said it could be a first step toward legalizing marijuana and that it could make law enforcement’s job more difficult. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly but passed the Senate by a margin just short of veto-proof. It’s not clear yet whether the legislature will attempt an override.

International

Key UN Organization Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, had adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy—namely decriminalization. The policy shift came in January, but was not publicly announced.

Israel’s Netanyahu Says He’s Open to Marijuana Legalization. Faced with a party that advocates marijuana legalization gaining momentum in the weeks before national elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he was looking into legalizing it himself. Younger voters have been drifting toward support for the Zehut Party before the April 9 elections.

UN Reports Methamphetamine Production Skyrocketing in Southeast Asia. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Monday that methamphetamine production in Southeast Asia is booming, with prices dropping and usage expanding even as seizures hit record highs. "Data on seizures, prices, use, and treatment all point to continuing expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia," said Tun Nay Soe, the agency's inter-regional program coordinator. "The shift to methamphetamine has affected even countries traditionally known to have a relatively large market for heroin, such as China and Malaysia,” he added. “In Malaysia, the number of methamphetamine users detected by law enforcement authorities surpassed that of heroin users for the first time in 2017." 

Chronicle AM: Beto, Bernie Talk Criminal Justice Reform; FDA Oks Ketamine for Depression, More... (3/6/19)

Democratic presidential contenders begin staking out criminal justice reform positions, yet another poll has a national majority for marijuana legalization, the FDA approves ketamine for depression, and more.

Bernie Sanders talks criminal justice reform, but he's not the only Democratic doing so. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, with only 33% opposed. An even larger number of respondents (63%) said old marijuana arrest records should be expunged.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Monday on House Bill 63, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has been pushing the issue since 2015. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Access Bill. The House on Tuesday approved HB 324, which would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries. The state legalized CBD cannabis oil for medicinal use in 2015, but there is no legal way to buy, sell, or obtain it. This bill would fix that. It now heads to the Senate.

Hawaii Will Allow Out of State Patients to Obtain Medical Marijuana. As of Tuesday, people with medical marijuana recommendations from other states are able to purchase medical marijuana while in the state. Officials said the change will ensure that visitors and part-time residents can get their medicine.

New Mexico Temporarily Boosts Plant Limits for Producers. The state health department issued an emergency rule last Friday to temporarily boost the number of plants producers can grow. The rule lifts the maximum from 450 plants to 2,500 plants through the end of August. The department will initiate a rule-making process to determine what the final plant count should be. The move comes amidst concerns over lack of supply.

Ketamine

FDA Approves Ketamine for Depression. The Food and Drug Administration approved a prescription treatment for depression that is derived from ketamine. The new treatment, called esketamine, is a nasal spray developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals and will be sold under the brand name Spravato. The approval comes even as the FDA acknowledges that ketamine's anti-depressant properties are not well understood. Ketamine is an old anesthetic but has also been used as the club drug Special K in recent years.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Broad Drug, Criminal Justice Reforms. The Democratic presidential contender called for marijuana legalization and a "criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law" in an email to supporters this week. He also lambasted "the new Jim Crow" and the "school to prison pipeline," he said disproportionately targeted black children. He also called for an end to cash bail and the use of private prisons.

Bernie Sanders Calls for an End to the War on Drugs. In campaign rallies last weekend in Brooklyn and Chicago, the Vermont senator called for legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs, while calling for the need to address racial disparities in the emerging legal marijuana industry. "No more war on drugs that has destroyed so many lives," Sanders. "When we talk about criminal justice reform, we are going to change a system in which tens of thousands of Americans every year get criminal records for possessing marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive went to jail for destroying our economy in 2008," he said. "No, they didn't go to jail, they got a trillion dollar bailout."

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Clash with Police. Farmers in Cordoba province's Alto Sinu region who are returning to coca cultivation after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived clashed with riot police as they protested the national government's failure to support the shift to substitute crops. They said they had been left no choice but to go back to coca. Coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia has reached an all-time high, having risen to 171,000 hectares in 2017 from 48,000 in 2013.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CND Delays Vote on Pot Rescheduling, RI Drug Defelonization Push, More...(2/26/19)

San Francisco moves to expunge more than 9,000 pot convictions, Rhode Island's attorney general wants to defelonize drug possession, Peruvian farmers are leaving the coffee fields for the coca fields, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Baltimore Mayor Pressed to End Marijuana Arrests. Fourteen local advocacy groups have sent a letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh urging her to direct the police commissioner to stop arresting people for small-time pot offenses. The letter comes after Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced a new policy of not prosecuting such cases, only to have interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a former DEA agent, refused to order police to stop making the arrests. Tuggle is gone now, but it's unclear what his replacement, Michael Harrison, will do, thus the letter to the mayor urging her to lead on the issue.

San Francisco Will Expunge More Than 9,000 Marijuana Convictions. City prosecutors announced Monday that they would move to expunge some 9,300 marijuana possession convictions dating back to 1976. The move comes after a yearlong review of pot convictions in the city. The effort was bolstered by the city's decision to work with a Code for America, a nonprofit that uses technology to make government more efficient. Coders created an algorithm that combed through the city's decades worth of criminal records in minutes—and automatically filled out the required forms to be turned in during the expungement process.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Publishes First Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted its first draft rules for the state medical marijuana system approved by voters in November 2018. The first batch of draft rules deals with requirements for ID cards for the program. There will be public hearings before the rules are finalized. The state has until June 4 to begin taking applications for ID cards.

Treatment

West Virginia House Approves Drug Treatment Bills. The House on Monday passed two bills related to drug treatment and amended a third. HB 3132 exempts certain providers from some of the medication-assisted treatment licensing requirements. HB 3133 would mandate that probationers with history or symptoms of addiction to attend support services for at least 60 days. The bill that was amended was HB 2991, which authorizes the continuation of an addiction prevention and recovery fund. That bill requires any proceeds from settlements with drug manufacturers or distributors to go into the fund; the amendment would allow state agencies to recover reasonable administrative costs.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Attorney General Plans Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession. State Attorney General Peter Neronha has announced plans to introduce legislation that would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than marijuana a misdemeanor. "There is a significant difference between those who traffic in drugs and those who possess them," explained Neronha at a press conference at the attorney general’s office in Cranston. "I learned how difficult it is for somebody getting out of prison, or somebody with a felony conviction to get back into the workforce. To get housing. To get back on their feet," he said.

International

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Delays Vote on WHO Marijuana Rescheduling Recommendation. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will not vote on the World Health Organization's marijuana recommendations during its March session in Vienna That news comes after the release of the recommendations, which had been expected in December, was delayed. Several counties asked for more time to consider the recommendations saying they only received the rescheduling recommendation in late January. If the recommendations had come out in time, countries would have had three months to study them before the Vienna meeting.

Peru Farmers Are Abandoning Coffee Crops to Work in Coca Fields. Slumping coffee prices and delays in certifying organic beans are pushing Peruvian coffee growers out of the business and into the coca fields, the country's main coffee growers' association said Monday The Junta Nacional del Café said farmers started migrating to coca growing regions in December and hundreds have since abandoned their coffee fields. "Coffee ... exports are in real trouble, and we lack the support of the government with clear actions to overcome them," said the JNC’s head, Tomas Cordova. "This foments poverty, unemployment and the expansion of illegal crops."

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

Chronicle AM: El Chapo Convicted on All Counts, NY Legal Pot Politics Heats Up, More... (2/12/19)

The former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has been found guilty on all counts at his trial in New York City, Sri Lanka advertises for hangmen as the president there vows to resume drug executions, South Dakota House members defy their governor and approve a hemp bill, and more.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman being arrested in Mexico. He's now been found guilty in a court in New York. (sedena.gov.mx)
Marijuana Policy

New York Pot Legalization Foes Lobby in Albany. Groups opposed to marijuana legalization gathered at the Capitol Monday to urge lawmakers to reject the idea. Led by Kevin Sabet of Smart About Marijuana, foes warned that legalization would lead to increased use among schoolchildren—even though that hasn’t been the case in early legalization states such as Colorado and Washington. Sabet was joined at the Capitol by representatives of the state PTA, the Police Conference of New York and representatives of groups that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, all of which oppose legalization.

New York Coalition Urges Governor Cuomo to Improve Marijuana Legalization Bill to Center Racial and Economic Justice. Members of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) Tuesday laid out their vision for a just marijuana industry and demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo incorporate the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (A.1617) into his proposed recreational marijuana legalization plan. The act is model legislation to create a taxed and regulated adult-use marijuana market that not only creates economic opportunities for all New Yorkers but also addresses the harms of decades of prohibition. 

Hemp

South Dakota House Ignores Governor, Passes Hemp Bill. Rejecting advice from Gov. Kristi Noem (R) to leave hemp alone this year, the House on Monday voted 65-2 to pass HB 1191, which would give farmers and producers the green light on hemp production beginning July 1. The bill now heads to the Senate, where GOP leaders say it will likely pass.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Convicted on All Counts. Joaquin Guzman Loera, known by various aliases, including “El Chapo” and “El Rapido,” was convicted today by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York of being a principal operator of a continuing criminal enterprise – the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel – a charge that includes 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy.  Guzman Loera was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy.  The verdict followed a 12-week trial before U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.  Guzman Loera faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Sentencing has been set for June.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Bill Would Prosecute Mothers for Drug Use While Pregnant. A bill filed last week, SB 659, would authorize a woman to be prosecuted for assault based on the person using a narcotic drug illegally while pregnant if the child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug used. A woman could avoid prosecution under the bill if she was actively enrolled in an addiction recovery program before the child was born if she remained in the program after delivery and successfully completed the program. An identical bill has been filed in the House.

International

Sri Lanka Advertises for Hangmen as President Pushes for Harsher Drug War. The government has begun advertising for hangmen after President Maithripala Sirisena said last week he wanted to resume capital punishment for drug traffickers within 60 days. Although drug trafficking is already a capital offense in the country, no one has been executed for any crime there since 1976. Last month, during a visit to the Philippines, Sirisena praised President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands.

Chronicle AM: Denver Psilocbyin Init Will Go to Voters, White House Issues Drug Strategy, More... (2/4/19)

The White House belatedly released the National Drug Control Strategy, a Denver magic mushroom initiative has qualified for the May ballot, Northeastern marijuana legalizers are busy, and more.

Denver will vote on removing criminal penalties for psychedelic mushrooms. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

World Health Organization Urges Removal of Marijuana from Drug Treaties. The World Health Organization (WHO) last Friday published a letter to the United Nations advising that marijuana and cannabis resin should no longer be considered controlled substances under international drug treaties. WHO specifically asked that the substances be moved out of Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which includes drugs thought to have no therapeutic value.

Cory Booker Enters Presidential Race With Call for Marijuana Legalization, Criminal Justice Reform. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) formally entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last Friday and called for marijuana legalization and broader criminal justice reforms. There is a need for "changing our drug laws," including "ending the prohibition against marijuana," he said. "We do not have equal justice under the law," Booker said of the disproportionate rate at which black people are incarcerated under the country's drug laws. I believe in redemption."

New York Governor Wants Marijuana Legalized by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said last Friday he wanted to see marijuana legalized by the state budget deadline of April 1. His remarks came after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that lawmakers might have to wait until after the budget to take up legalization. But Cuomo said Friday he isn't giving up on his timetable and that a lot can happen in the legislature in six weeks.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Coming. Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) will file a legalization bill that expunges criminal records for past pot convictions, releases inmates currently serving time for such offenses, and allows people 21 and over to use, buy, and grow marijuana.

Vermont Attorney General Supports Legalizing Pot Sales. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana legislatively last year but did not legalize marijuana commerce. Now, there's an effort underway to do so with SB 54, and Attorney General TJ Donovan supports it. "We have to have a regulated market," he said last Thursday. "This is common sense." The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Barlow has filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana, HB 278. The bill would create a strictly regulated system for the use and distribution of medical marijuana in the state.

Psychedelics

Denver Will Vote on Magic Mushroom Initiative in May. City officials announced last Friday that the Decriminalize Denver initiative to make adult use and possession the lowest law enforcement priority and bar the city from using its resources to arrest and prosecute people for the hallucinogenic fungi has qualified for the ballot and will go before voters in the May municipal election. This marks the first time any jurisdiction in the US will have voted on decriminalizing psychedelics.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Unveils National Drug Control Strategy. The White House last Thursday released its long-awaited National Drug Control Strategy, which typically is released annually, but which the Trump administration failed to do last year. The document contains little new policy but instead emphasizes existing Trump priorities: reducing drug supply through stricter law enforcement, lowering first-time opioid prescription rates, and expanding access to addiction treatment. Despite its emphasis on supply reduction, it acknowledges the risk of reducing access for chronic pain patients. Although it talks about drugs coming across the Mexican border, the strategy does not contain the words "border wall."

Drug Testing

North Dakota School Board and Employee Drug Testing Bills Die. A pair of bills that would have mandated random, suspicionless drug tests for school employees and school board members have been killed in the Senate. SB 2310 was aimed at school employees, while SB 2337 was aimed at board members.

Sentencing

Mississippi Bill Targets People Who Provide Drugs in Fatal Overdoses. After a conviction for "depraved heart" murder in the case of a fatal overdose was overturned on appeal, state legislators have filed HB 867, which would allow sentences of 20 years to life without parole for people charged with selling drugs that result in the deaths of others. The bill would also increase penalties for the sale of heroin or fentanyl. The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week and is now headed for the House floor.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: NM Drug Defelonization Bill Filed, Egypt to Hang Drug Smugglers, More... (1/31/19)

Illinois police chiefs don't want home marijuana cultivation, legislators in the Dakotas in drug test legislating frenzy, Egypt is set to begin executing drug smugglers, and more.

New Mexico legislators cite prison overcrowding as a reason to defelonize drug possession. (supremecourt. us)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Police Chiefs Say No Home Cultivation. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police said Monday their top priority regarding marijuana legalization is to ensure that it does not allow for personal home cultivation. “It’s dangerous and we’re not trying to be alarmist. It’s just what’s happened in other states,” said Director Ed Wojcicki. “If the bill has home-grown, it’ll make any type of regulation impossible,” said Wojcicki. The legislation being drafted this year does include home cultivation.

Drug Testing

North Dakota Senate Committee Holds Hearing on School Employee Drug Testing Bills. The Senate Human Services Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would require random, suspicionless drug testing of school board members and school employees. Critics said SB 2337 was unconstitutional, but bill sponsor Sen. David Clemens (R-West Fargo) said it was meant as a “safeguard to eliminate drugs from our schools.” The committee took no action on the bill.

South Dakota Senate Committee Advances Bill to Drug Test Legislators. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 Thursday to advance SB 104, which would impose random drug testing on legislators. The bill would require that between three and 10 legislators be subjected to random drug tests each week the legislature is in session.

Sentencing

New Mexico Bill Would Defelonize Drug Possession. Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque and Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, both Democrats, have filed a bill that makes possession of all drugs without intent to distribute a misdemeanor instead of a felony. SB 408 and its House counterpart are aimed at not burdening drug users with felony records. “A felony conviction leads to what we call ‘civil death,’ ” he said. “You are ostracized from the community; you have a difficult time accessing any services, any public support, including public housing; the doors to higher education are shut closed to you almost forever,” he added.

International

Egypt's Cabinet Approves Bill to Execute Drug Smugglers. The cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill that mandates the death penalty for those who "import or export synthetic substances that cause harm to the body, mind or the nervous system." Under current law, such offenses are punishable by up to life in prison. Under the new law, even simple drug possession would lead to a one-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Philippines House Approves Medical Marijuana. The House of Representatives approved the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act on Tuesday. Under the bill, medical marijuana would only be available at Department of Health hospitals and private hospitals licensed for medical marijuana purposes. The bill does not allow the use of marijuana in its raw form.  

Chronicle AM: CT Pot Legalization Bill Filed, MI Moving to Rein in Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (1/22/19)

Marijuana reform bills are starting to pop in state legislatures, a federal court judge rules in favor of a New Mexico medical marijuana provider in a free speech case, and more. 

With Democrats in control in Michigan, civil asset forfeiture could be coming to an end

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. A legalization bill cosponsored by 40 Democrat legislators has been filed. HB 5595 would allow for legal sales to adults, home cultivation of up to six plants, and give priority in licensing to existing medical marijuana businesses. The bill also contains a provision for the expungement of previous pot convictions, and it would make it illegal for anyone to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Kentucky Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) has filed a bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The measure, SB 82, would define less than an ounce of marijuana as a “personal use quantity” punishable only by a fine. The bill would also exempt “personal use marijuana accessories” from the state's drug paraphernalia law. Under current law, possession of eight ounces or less is a misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Court Upholds First Amendment Rights of New Mexico Medical Marijuana Company. US District Court Judge James Parker has found in favor of Ultra Health, the state's largest medical marijuana provider, in a case that pitted it against the New Mexico State Fair. Fair officials had blocked the company from displaying an educational booth at the fair in 2017, and Ultra Health sued. The judge found that fair staff had infringed on Ultra Health's free speech and civil rights: “The State Fair’s restrictions ... as applied to Ultra Health’s 2017 State Fair application were unreasonable in light of the purpose of the forum and the surrounding circumstances and therefore violated Ultra Health’s First Amendment right to free speech,” Judge Parker wrote in his ruling.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislature Takes Up Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will on Thursday take up SB 002, a measure that would require police and prosecutors to win a criminal conviction before permanently seizing someone's property. Similar bills have failed in the past, but now Democrats control both the legislature and the governor's mansion, and both House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Attorney General Dana Nessel support the effort. 

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Addresses Sentencing, OH Sees First MMJ Dispensary, More... (1/16/19)

William Barr addresses concerns about his sentencing policy history, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) reiterates his call to pass a legalization bill, Ohio sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

The Buckeye State sees a landmark day. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Renews Call for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) used his State of the State address Tuesday to renew his call for marijuana legalization. “By legalizing adult-use marijuana – first and foremost – we can reverse the inequality and unfairness left from years of failed drug policies and shift public safety resources to where they can do the most good,” he said. He also called for the expungement of past pot possession arrests. “We must ensure that those with a past mark on their records because of a low-level offense can have that stain removed, so they can move forward to get a stable job or an education,” he said. A legalization bill is already very near the finish line, but Murphy and legislators are still haggling over issues such as tax rates.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Dispensary Sales Begin Today. A Sandusky dispensary initiated the era of legal medical marijuana sales in the Buckeye State on Wednesday, making its first sale to a card-carrying woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Four other dispensaries have received their final licenses but have not opened yet. Eventually, there should be 56 dispensaries statewide.

South Carolina Legislators Unveil Medical Marijuana Bill. A pair of Republican legislators, state Sen. Tom Davis and Rep. Peter McCoy, on Tuesday filed a medical marijuana, the Compassionate Care Act (S 366). “This is South Carolina, not California or Colorado, and what the vast majority of people in our state want is a socially conservative medical marijuana law, one that provides medical patients truly in need with relief but draws a bright line against recreational use by imposing strict penalties,” Davis said.

Sentencing

Attorney General Nominee Defends Harsh Sentencing But Says He is Open to Sentencing Reform. During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, defended his role in harsh mandatory minimum sentencing practices in the 1980s and 1990s but said he is now open to sentencing reforms, such as the Fair Sentencing Act, which passed Congress last month. "From my perspective, the very draconian penalties on crack were put in place initially because when the crack epidemic first hit, it was like nuclear weapons going off in inner cities," Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.). "The initial reaction was actually trying to help those communities. Over time, those same leaders are now saying to us, 'This is devastating. Generations of us have been incarcerated.' And we should listen to the same people we were listening to before."

Drug War Issues

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