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Chronicle AM: SITSA Act Draws Opposition, Congress MedMJ Protections Advance, More... (6/15/18)

The Justice Department is once again likely to be barred from using its funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana, a broad coalition opposes the fast-moving SITSA Act, Portugal's parliament approves medical marijuana products, and more.

Congress is moving once again to bar the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana.
Medical Marijuana

Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Protections. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment that shields legal medical marijuana operations from federal interference. The amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill bars the department from using its funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana. A similar measure was approved in the House version of the bill.

Maine Supreme Court Rules Workmen's Compensation Doesn't Cover Medical Marijuana. In a ruling Thursday, the state Supreme Court held that employers do not have to pay for medical marijuana under the state's workers' compensation system. In a 5-2 ruling, the court held that federal law takes precedence and that making employers pay for medical marijuana would force them to violate federal law.

Drug Policy

Broad Coalition Opposes SITSA Act. A coalition of human rights, civil liberties, civil rights, religious, and drug policy reform groups have come out strongly in opposition to HR 2851, the Stop Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act of 2017. The fast-moving bill has already passed out of committee and awaits a House floor vote. The bill is an old-school drug war response to new psychoactive substances that relies heavily on the criminal justice system. "If passed, HR 2851 will broadly expand penalties for drug offenses, concentrate power within the Department of Justice, punish people who lack criminal intent, and overcriminalize certain behavior," the groups said in a letter released on Thursday. "The legislation attempts to address the very real problem of synthetic opioid overdoses in the United States, but we believe that its methods are misguided. Instead of punishing people who use drugs and low-level dealers, legislation should focus on expanding treatment opportunities and targeting the international drug trade."

Sentencing

Rhode Island House Passes Law Lengthening Prison Sentences for Dealers Who Sold Drugs in Fatal Overdoses. The House on Thursday approved "Kristen's Law," House Bill 7715, which creates a new crime of drug-related homicide and imposes penalties of up to life in prison for people who sell drugs linked to fatal drug overdoses. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Portugal Parliament Approves Marijuana-Based Medicines. The parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow marijuana-based medicines, but only after earlier rejecting a proposal to allow patients to grow their own medicine. While Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001, it has lagged behind the US and other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. The bill now goes to President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza to be signed into law.

Chronicle AM: Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw UN Rebuke, Fed Pot Busts Way Down, More... (6/6/18)

The president commutes the life sentence of a drug offender, Michigan voters will decide whether to legalize weed in November, the UN's human rights head criticizes Bangladeshi drug war killings, and more.

There has been less of this going on in recent years, the USSC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Cases Are Way Down. Federal marijuana cases have declined by nearly half (45.8%) since fiscal year 2013, falling 25% between 2015 and 2016, according to a new report from the US Sentencing Commission (USSC). There were 3,854 federal marijuana cases in 2016, the USSC said. But 2016 was still the Obama administration; there are no figures yet on whether federal pot busts went up last year under the Trump administration.

Michigan GOP Punts on Pot Vote, Voters Will Decide at the Polls. Republican lawmakers did not take the opportunity to pass a marijuana legalization initiative by Tuesday night's legislative deadline, even though there had been serious discussion of doing so in a bid to depress voter turnout in November. Now, the measure will go directly to the voters.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for Autism, Wants More Study. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) on Tuesday vetoed House Bill 18-1263, which would have allowed people with autism spectrum disorders to qualify as medical marijuana patients. "While we are very sympathetic with families advocating medical marijuana (MMJ) as a safer and more effective treatment for their children, we cannot ignore such overwhelming concerns from the medical community," Hickenlooper said in the veto letter. He went on to say, "In vetoing this bill, we do so on sole concern that medical efficacy on MMJ to treat ASD has yet to be fully studied by medical professionals and scientific experts entrusted to this role at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)." Hickenlooper then signed an executive order directing CDPHE to study the efficacy of medical marijuana for children with autism.

Florida Judge Halts State's Effort to Block Patients Smoking Their Medicine. A Leon County circuit court judge on Tuesday lifted an automatic stay on her ruling that the state's ban on patient access to the smokable form of medical marijuana is unconstitutional. The state has until Monday to begin moving to make smokable medical marijuana available to patients.

Hemp

US Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Resolution. For the third year in a row, the Senate has approved a resolution recognizing "the growing economic potential of industrial hemp" as well as its "historical relevance." The resolution is non-binding, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing an actual hemp legalization bill this year. He has said he intends to attach it to the larger farm bill expected to soon be taken up by Congress.

Pardons and Commutations

Trump Commutes Life Sentence of Grandma Whose Cause Was Championed By Kim Kardashian. President Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who has already served 21 years of a life sentence for a first-time drug trafficking offense. The move came after reality TV star Kim Kardashian met with Trump to plead for Johnson's release.

International

UN Human Rights Head Says Bangladesh Drug War Killings Must Stop UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Wednesday condemned the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug offenders and urged Bangladeshi authorities to immediately halt such human rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice. The death toll has now risen to at least 130 since the government's crackdown began on May 15. "I am gravely concerned that such a large number of people have been killed, and that the Government reaction has been to assure the public that none of these individuals were "innocent" but that mistakes can occur in an anti-narcotics drive,"High Commissioner Zeid said. "Such statements are dangerous and indicative of a total disregard for the rule of law. Every person has the right to life. People do not lose their human rights because they use or sell drugs. The presumption of innocence and the right to due process must be at the forefront of any efforts to tackle crimes." Meanwhile, some 175 non-governmental organizations have signed onto a petition from the International Drug Policy Consortium urging two other UN entities, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to condemn the killings.

 

You'll Never Believe What Country Just Enacted a Massive, Meaningful Drug Reform

For years, Iran has been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, with hundreds of people hung from the gallows annually for drug smuggling and trafficking. But in a remarkable turnabout, that is no longer the case.

Executions for drug offenses have come to an almost total halt in Iran. (IHR)
After the Iranian parliament amended the country's drug laws in November 2017, drug executions have all but halted, according to a new report from Iran Human Rights (IHR). The non-profit group found that only one person had been executed for a drug offense this year in Iran, compared to 112 during the same period last year and nearly 500 for all of 2017.

That's a 99% reduction in the resort to the death penalty for drugs in the Islamic Republic.

The changes to Iran's drug laws didn't remove the death penalty from the books -- it remains one of 33 countries, including the United States, that mete out the ultimate punishment for drug offenses -- but it dramatically raised the quantities of drugs needed to merit the death penalty.

Under the old law, being caught with a little more than an ounce (30 grams) of drugs such as cocaine or heroin could bring a death sentence. Now, it takes nearly 4 ½ pounds (2 kilograms). Similarly, for plant-based drugs such as cannabis and opium, the death penalty threshold has increased ten-fold, from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The death penalty can also be imposed for certain other drug offenses where quantity is not the issue, for example, the use of a minor in a drug trafficking operations, carrying or using firearms while committing drug-related crimes, having a prior death penalty or prison sentence longer than 15 years, or being the "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

The one man executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, identified as Kiomars Nosuhi, was convicted of being a "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

Bordering Afghanistan, the world's primary supplier of raw opium and heroin, Iran has for decades waged war on drug smugglers, with thousands of police and soldiers killed in the struggle. While opium smoking was a traditional Iranian pastime, the country now has one of the world's highest addiction rates, with heroin largely replacing opium. In recognition of that reality, in the past decade, Iranian officials have switched from harsh punishments of drug users to emphasizing drug treatment and harm reduction. The end of the reflexive resort to the death penalty for drugs marks another step in the country's march toward a more progressive policy response.

While human rights groups applaud the dramatic decline in drug executions, they continue to express concern over the way the Iranian judicial system responds to drugs.

"We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition," said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. "However, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process."

And then there are the tens of thousands of drug offenders filling Iran's prisons. The country has more than 250,000 people behind bars, 50% to 70% for drug offenses. The Islamic Republic may not be running the gallows at full tilt anymore for drugs, but incarceration remains a key element of Iranian drug policy. Still, Iran has taken an important step forward.

Chronicle AM: Trump, Kardashian Talk Prison Reform; Desaparecidos in Nuevo Laredo, More... (5/31/18)

Philadelphia sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, a new report says drugged driving fatalities are up dramatically, the UN is concerned about forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and more.

Kim Kardashian and President Trump met at the White House Wednesday to talk prison reform and pardons. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan GOP Lawmakers Split on Passing Legalization Initiative. State Republican lawmakers are split on a plan for the legislature to just pass the pending marijuana legalization initiative. Under state law, the legislature has until Tuesday to adopt the initiative, which would enable lawmakers to later amend it -- and would also, the Republicans hope, lessen voter turnout at the polls in November. The move has support in the Senate, but House Republicans have yet to embrace it.

New Hampshire Democrats Won't Make Legalization a Platform Plank. A bid to get the state Democratic Party to embrace marijuana legalization has failed. A pro-legalization resolution did not get enough votes in the state party's platform committee to take it to the party's convention next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Extends Deadline for Dispensaries to Get Licensed. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Wednesday that a June 15 deadline for operating dispensaries to get licensed under the state's new medical marijuana law will be extended to September 15. "This 92-day extension will allow the bureau and the board enough time to investigate and authorize facility operator licenses in order to make sure that access to medical marihuana is maintained," the agency said.

Philadelphia Gets First Dispensary. The City of Brotherly Love has seen its first medical marijuana dispensary open its doors. The Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Frankford opened Wednesday.

Driving

Number of Drugged Drivers Killed in Car Crashes Rising Dramatically, Report Finds. The number of drugged drivers killed in car wrecks is rising dramatically, according to a new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The study found that 44% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016, up more than 50% over a decade ago. The study pointed to spreading marijuana legalization and the opiate epidemic as contributing factors. "These are big-deal drugs. They are used a lot," said Jim Hedlund, an Ithaca, New York-based traffic safety consultant who conducted the highway safety group's study. "People should not be driving while they're impaired by anything and these two drugs can impair you." The study also found that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for drugs had more than one substance in them and that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

Sentencing

Trump, Kim Kardashian Talk Prison and Sentencing Reform. The two reality TV stars met in the White House Wednesday to discuss prison reforms and sentencing policy. Kardashian is advocating for a pardon for low-level drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who has served more than 20 years in prison on a first offense. White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has prison reform in his portfolio, was also in the meeting. Half of Trump's previous commutations have been for rightist political figures including Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza. He also shortened the sentences of a sailor who had taken photos in a classified area, and of the former executive of a meatpacking plant who committed loan fraud; and he pardoned the long-dead black boxer, Jack Johnson.

California Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would repeal a one-year sentencing enhancement for people who have prior felonies passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 1392 now heads for the Assembly.

International

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Investigate Forced Disappearances in Nuevo Laredo. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called Wednesday on the Mexican government "take urgent measures to stop the wave of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo and surrounding areas" and said "there are strong indications" that they were committed "by a federal security force." The UN office documented at least 23 disappearances since the beginning of February, while the local Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee said it had documented 56 forced disappearances since January 20. The disappearances come as the city confronts violence among competing cartels and between the cartels and police and the military. "Many of these people would have been detained arbitrarily and disappeared while going about their daily lives," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. "It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims were minors, three of them very young, only 14 years old. These crimes, perpetrated during four months in only one municipality, are outrageous."

Chronicle AM: RI Senate OKs Life Sentence for ODs Bill, Guatemala's First Coca Crop, More... (5/30/18)

A bill that would mandate life sentences for selling drugs involved in fatal overdoses is moving in Rhode Island, a California US attorney says he's too busy with the black market to go after legal marijuana, another Utah poll has a medical marijuana initiative winning, Guatemala gets its first coca crop and more.

Cocaine traffickers are beginning to move coca production from South America to Central America. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California US Attorney Says Too Much Black Market Work to Focus on Legal Market. Sacramento-based McGregor Scott, US Attorney for the Northeastern District of California, said Tuesday there is so much marijuana being grown illegally on federal lands and trafficked to other states that he doesn't have the resources to go after state-legal marijuana operations. Scott said he would focus on interstate trafficking, organized crime, and damage to public lands.

New Jersey Legalization Advocate Wants to Tie Legalization, Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is working on a plan to combine a marijuana legalization push with a bid to expand medical marijuana, but some lawmakers are warning the effort could blow up chances for either to pass this year. The medical marijuana expansion plan has broad support; the move to legalize marijuana is much more contentious.

Northern Marianas Legalization Bill Advances. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) has taken another step toward legalizing marijuana. The House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations has unanimously approved a bill that would allow adults to grow, possess, and consume marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales and production. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Yet Another Utah Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Winning. A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that nearly three out of four Utah residents support the Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana initiative. The poll had 72% either "strongly" or "somewhat" in support, with 25% opposed, and only 2% undecided. While the LDS Church has come out against the measure, even 59% of self-described very active Mormons say they are for it.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Life Sentences in Overdose Deaths. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2279A, which allows prison sentences of up to life for those convicted of selling, delivering, or distributing an illegal drug that results in a fatal overdose. The bill passed 22-11 over the objections of treatment professionals, mental health advocates, and civil liberties organizations, which argued that tougher sentences will only make it harder to fight drug overdoses. "We know, based on decades of criminal justice based drug policy, that harsher penalties do not decrease drug using activity. So, this bill's disturbing message will not decrease drug use, nor drug trafficking -- the economics ensure this -- but it will further marginalize people who use drugs and increase their fears," a joint letter to the Senate said. "Use of a public health approach, not lengthy criminal sentences for users and small-time dealers, is essential for our state's ability to continue to make headway in this crisis." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Guatemalan Authorities Bust First Coca Farm. The National Civil Police announced over the weekend that they had found and destroyed a 2 ½ plot of coca plants sown between coffee plants, the first discovery of coca cultivation in the country. The crops were found in a remote area of Alta Verapaz department. Honduras recently saw its first and second discovery of coca plantings, too, suggesting that traffickers are attempting to cut risk and transport costs by planting the cocaine-producing crop nearer to US markets.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Mulls Coca-Spraying Drones, Senate Opioids Bill Advances, More... (4/25/18)

President Trump nominates a new drug czar, a Senate opioid bill moves, Colombia ponders using drones to eradicate coca crops, and more.

This Colombian peasant may have to start watching out for overhead drones. (dea.gov)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Opioid Bill Passes Out of Committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2680, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The bill, which includes over 40 proposals related to ways to combat the opioid epidemic, was written after seven committee hearings on the crisis with input from various agencies and state officials. Other Senate and House committees are hearing other bills related to the opioid crisis.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates James W. Carroll, Jr. for Drug Czar Post. President Trump on Monday announced that he intends to nominate James W. Carroll, Jr., to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Even though he has no drug policy experience, he is already the acting director of ONDCP. A lawyer by training, Carroll served as special counsel to President George W. Bush, general counsel for Ford Motor Company, and an assistant to President Trump, among other positions.

Sentencing

California Bills Would Fix Overuse of Sentencing Enhancements. State Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) have filed a pair of bills, Senate Bill 1392 and Senate Bill 1393, that aim to reduce the prison population by reforming the use of sentencing enhancements. Among the most common are a one-year enhancement for each prior prison or county jail felony prison term and a five-year enhancement for having a previous felony when convicted of a serious felony. More than 35,000 prisoners have had sentences lengthened under these laws. SB1392 proposes eliminating the one-year sentence enhancement for prior jail terms. SB1393 proposes returning judicial discretion over striking a prior conviction for a serious felony for the purposes of the five-year sentencing enhancement.

International

Colombia Ponders Using Drones for Aerial Coca Crop Eradication. Colombian police could start using drones to combat a five-year surge in coca production that has damaged relations with the US. Colombian anti-drug police have contracted with a local company to test drones for spraying herbicides on coca fields, according to state contracting documents.

Chronicle AM: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opioid Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill, this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Pass MJ Sales Bill, Amnesty Death Penalty Report, More... (4/12/18)

It's time to let the FDA know what you think about marijuana scheduling, Maine lawmakers pass a veto-proof pot sales bill, the Trump administration wants to drug test some food stamp recipients, Amnesty International reports on drug death penalty countries, and more.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls for the legalization of opium poppy cultivation in Mexico. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Accepting Public Comment on Marijuana Classification for Next Two Weeks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accepting public comment from "interested parties" regarding the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. (CSA). The CSA places marijuana in Schedule I, a category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential. The FDA is acting now because the World Health Organization is set to review its own classification of marijuana and is seeking input from member nations, of which the US is the most influential. Public comment is open until April 23.

Former GOP House Speaker Boehner Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday he has had a change of heart regarding marijuana and will help promote marijuana legalization nationwide. He also announced that he and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) are joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a national marijuana company. "I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises," said Boehner.

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Plan by Veto-Proof Margin. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed a first effort to implement regulated and taxed marijuana commerce, the legislature has now approved a new measure to do so, this time by a veto-proof margin. The House passed the bill on Tuesday and the Senate followed on Wednesday. The bill will limit home cultivation to three plants, impose a 10% sales tax, as well as a $335 per pound tax on producers. It will also mandate that localities proactively opt-in before sales will be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Business Evaluations Halted after Court Ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Ponders Plan to Impose Drug Testing for Some Food Stamp Recipients. The administration is pondering a plan that would let states require that certain food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. The nose-under-the-tent proposal would mainly target able-bodied adults without children who apply for certain specialized job categories. That would be about 5% of all food stamp recipients. The move has long been desired by conservatives who seek ways to curb the safety net program.

International

Amnesty International Report: Four Countries Executed Drug Offenders in 2017. At least four countries executed people for drug offenses last year, Amnesty International said in a new report. Those countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. "Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox called Wednesday for the legalization of opium production in the country as a means of weakening drug cartels. "The plants themselves are not harmful, we make them harmful, (especially) the criminals who use them for evil purposes," Fox said at a pro-marijuana event in the capital. Fox said legalizing poppies would curtail cartel profits and boost public safety in the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, which has been hit hard by prohibition-related violence in recent years. Fox also implored candidates in the July presidential election to openly debate drug legalization before the vote.

Culture Shock: American Activists Confront Compassionate Portuguese Drug Policy [FEATURE]

The American activists couldn't wrap their heads around it. Sitting in a dingy office in a nondescript building in central Lisbon, they were being provided a fine-grained explanation of what happens to people caught with small amounts of drugs in Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of personal use amounts of drugs 17 years ago.

partial view of Lisbon, looking toward the Tagus River (Wikimedia)
The activists, having lived the American experience, wanted desperately to know when and how the coercive power of the state kicked in, how the drug users were to be punished for their transgressions, even if they had only been hit with an administrative citation, which is what happens to people caught with small quantities of drugs there.

Nuno Capaz was trying to explain. He is Vice Chairman of the Lisbon Dissuasion Commission, the three-member tribunal set up to handle people caught with drugs. He had to struggle mightily to convince the Americans that it wasn't about punishment, but about personal and public health.

"The first question," he explained, "is whether this person is a recreational user or an addict."

If the person is deemed only a recreational user, he may face a fine or a call to community service. If he is deemed an addict, treatment is recommended -- but not required.

"But what if they don't comply?" one of the activists demanded. "Don't they go to jail then?"

No, they do not. Instead, Capaz patiently explained, they may face sanctions for non-compliance, but those sanctions may be little more than a demand that they regularly present themselves to a hospital or health center for monitoring.

In a later hallway conversation, I asked Capaz about drug users who simply refused to go along or to participate at all. What happens then? I wanted to know.

Capaz shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing," he said. "I tell them to try not to get caught again."

Welcome to Portugal. The country's low-key, non-headline-generating drug policy, based on compassion, public health, and public safety, is a stark contrast with the US, as the mind-boggled response of the activists suggests.

Organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and consisting of members of local and national groups that work with the organization, as well as a handful of journalists, the group spent three days in-country last month seeing what an enlightened drug policy looks like. They met with high government officials directly involved in creating and implementing drug decriminalization, toured drug treatment, harm reduction, and mobile methadone maintenance facilities, and heard from Portuguese drug users and harm reduction workers as well.

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

They had good reason to go to Portugal. After nearly two decades of drug decriminalization, there is ample evidence that the Portuguese model is working well. Treating drug users like citizens who could possibly use some help instead of like criminals to be locked up is paying off by all the standard metrics -- as well as by not replicating the thuggish and brutal American-style war on drugs, with all the deleterious and corrosive impacts that has on the communities particularly targeted for American drug law enforcement.

Here, according to independent academic researchers, as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Monitoring Center of Drugs and Drug Abuse, is what the Portuguese have accomplished:

Drug use has not dramatically increased. Rates of past year and past month drug use have not changed significantly or have actually declined since 2001. And Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe, and well below those in the United States.

Both teen drug use and "problematic" drug use (people who are dependent or who inject drugs) have declined.

Drug arrests and incarceration are way down. Drug arrests have dropped by 60% (selling drugs remains illegal) and the percentage of prisoners doing time for drug offenses has dropped from 44% to 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people referred to the Dissuasion Commission has remained steady, indicating that no "net-widening" has taken place. And the vast majority of cases that go before the commission are found to be non-problematic drug users and are dismissed without sanction.

More people are receiving drug treatment -- and on demand, not by court order. The number of people receiving drug treatment increased by 60% by 2011, with most of them receiving opiate-substitution therapy (methadone). Treatment is voluntary and largely paid for by the national health system.

Drug overdose deaths are greatly reduced. Some 80 people died of drug overdoses in 2001; that number shrunk to just 16 by 2012. That's an 80% reduction in drug overdose deaths.

Drug injection-related HIV/AIDS infections are greatly reduced. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of new HIV cases shrank from nearly 1,600 to only 78. The number of new AIDS cases declined from 626 to 74.

"We came to the conclusion that the criminal system was not the best suited to deal with this situation," explained Capaz. "The best option should be referring them to treatment, but we do not force or coerce anyone. If they are willing to go, it's because they actually want to, so the success rate is really high. We can surely say that decriminalization does not increase drug usage, and that it does not mean legalizing drugs. It's still illegal to use drugs in Portugal, it's just not considered a crime. It's possible to deal with these users outside the criminal system."

Dr. Joao Goulao, who largely authored the decriminalization law and who is still General Director for Intervention on Addictive Behaviors -- the Portuguese "drug czar" -- pointed to unquantifiable positives resulting from the move: "The biggest effect," he said, "has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear."

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

The American activists know all about fear and stigma. And the cultural disconnect -- between a country that treats drug users with compassion and one that seeks to punish them -- was on display again when a smaller group of the activists met with Dr. Miguel Vasconcelos, the head psychologist at the Centro Taipa, a former mental hospital that now serves as the country's largest drug treatment center.

As Dr.Vasconcelos explained the history and practice of drug treatment in Portugal, one of his listeners asked what happened to drug users who were pregnant or had children.

"They take the kids," Vasconcelos said, smiling. But his smile turned to puzzlement as he saw his listeners react with resignation and dismay.

For the Americans, "they take the kids" meant child protective services swooping in to seize custody of the children of drug-using parents while the parents go to jail.

But that's not what Vasconcelos meant. After some back and forth, came clarity: "No, I mean they take the kids with them to treatment."

Once again, the Americans, caught firmly in the mind set of their own punishing society, expected only the worst of the state. But once again, light bulbs came on as they realized it doesn't have to be like that.

Now that cadre of activists is back home, and they are going to begin to try to apply the lessons they learned in their own states and communities. And although they had some abstract understanding of Portuguese drug decriminalization before they came, their experiences with the concrete reality of it should only serve to strengthen their desire to make our own country a little less like a punitive authoritarian state and bit more like Portugal.

Chronicle AM: Pot-Friendly States Want Sessions Meeting, Indonesia Regressing on Drugs, More... (3/30/18)

Treasurers from a handful of marijuana-friendly states ask for a meeting with Attorney General Sessions, Massachusetts pot shops can seek licenses beginning next week, Indonesia's latest draft criminal code reform is not exactly progressive on drug policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana-Friendly States Want Meeting With Sessions. State treasurers from California, Illinois, Oregon, and Pennsylvania sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday seeking a meeting in hopes of resolving conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. The state treasurers are particularly concerned with the lack of clarity for businesses and banks. The absence of federal rules "leaves the industry and financial institutions in the dark," the treasurers said.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Can Start Applying for Licenses on Monday. The state Cannabis Control Commission made it official Thursday: Prospective marijuana purveyors can begin the process of applying for state licenses as of next Monday. "Starting on April 2, prospective licensees may begin applying for Priority Certification as Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) or Economic Empowerment Applicants, which provides eligibility to apply for a marijuana establishment license on April 17. All other license types will start the application process on May 1 or June 1, depending on the category," the commission announced Thursday. Retail stores will be able to open starting July 1, depending on whether local regulatory ordinances have been finalized.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers Approve Adding PTSD, Intractable Pain to List of Qualifying Disorders. The legislature has approved a measure, House Bill 65, that would add PTSD and intractable pain to the list of disorders that can be treated under the states CBD cannabis oil law.The bill now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for his approval or veto.

Michigan Orders More Than 200 Dispensaries to Close Their Doors. State regulators said Thursday they had ordered 210 medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in the past two weeks largely because they failed to apply for a state license by mid-February or because they were not authorized by local authorities. More than 150 of the shops are in Detroit.

Utah Governor Announces Opposition to Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has come out against a medical marijuana initiative that has broad popular support and is likely to be on the November ballot. Herbert argued that a limited bill he signed this year was "an important first step," but that the initiative could "potentially open the door to recreational use."

International

Indonesia Moving Firmly Backwards on Drug Policy. The country is revising its criminal code, and in doing so, is continuing to embrace drug war dogma, with proposed revisions that promote harsh penalties for drug use and possession, up to and including the death penalty for some drug offenses. The draft bill contains 22 articles on the use, possession, couriering, and smuggling of narcotics, all of which are treated as criminal offenses punishable with jail time, or in severe cases, death by firing squad. This isn't new for Indonesia, but it's not progressive change, either.

Drug War Issues

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