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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."

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

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

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

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

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

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

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

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

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

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Rare Show of Bipartisanship, Senate Passes Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill [FEATURE]

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate on Tuesday approved a major prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.3649) on a vote of 87-12. The bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to pass it easily, and then to the desk of President Trump, who has vowed to sign it.

Give Chuck Grassley some kudos for shepherding the passage of the bill. (senate.gov)
Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the bill added significant sentencing reform provisions to a prison reform bill passed earlier by the House.

"The First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to those who've put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to society," Grassley said on the Senate floor after the vote. "It also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses."

"I think we showed something which most American people wouldn't have believed -- that a bipartisan group of Senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support -- left, right, and center -- from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly," Durbin said. "It is, however, the first step. We've got to start thinking about the second step. And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that."

In addition to the prison reform language, the bill's key sentencing provisions include:

  • Retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people;
  • Expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years;
  • Eliminate "stacking" for firearm offenses, meaning that prosecutors cannot add sentencing enhancements to individuals who may possess a firearm while committing their first federal offense.

"Passing these reforms has been a team effort years in the making," Grassley continued. "It couldn't have been done without the stalwart commitment by a somewhat unlikely cadre of colleagues and advocates. We've had to compromise to make this possible, to seek to understand the other's point of view. In doing so, I think we made the bill better. And we accomplished something of historic significance that will reduce crime, make our system more just, and improve lives for generations to come."

The First Step Act was backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation's largest police group, as well as 172 former federal prosecutors and sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill. A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.

For progressives and drug reformers, though, the bill is indeed only a first step. It does nothing, for example, to address the plight of people sentenced to life in prison for drug offenses, and that leaves reformers offering only qualified praise.

"The Senate's version of the legislation, while far from perfect, includes crucial sentencing reforms that safely reduce the footprint of the federal criminal justice system from the front end," said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. "Additionally, the Senate added important checks on the US Department of Justice as it creates a risk and needs assessment and a system of programs and education in the Bureau of Prisons."

"This is a bittersweet moment," said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The bill represents progress and we should celebrate the release of thousands of people serving disproportionately long sentences, but at the same time the bill leaves far too many people behind. It's a tough compromise for us and we must keep fighting for much deeper systemic changes."

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

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