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

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

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

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

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

Speakers (subject to change):

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Oklahoma Legalization Init, New DEA Opioid Regs, Sri Lanka to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (7/11/18)

An Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative is in the midst of signature gathering, the DEA announces new regulations aimed at the opioid crisis, Sri Lanka cites the Philippines' "success" as it moves to resume hanging drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Has a Month Left to Meet Signature Requirement. A marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 797, has until August 8 to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers need 123,724 valid voter signatures to qualify, and have gathered more than 80,000 in two months of canvassing. To have a safe cushion, organizers need to roughly double their signature count in the remaining weeks.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Issues Cultivator Licenses. The state Medical Marijuana Commission has awarded cultivation licenses to five medical marijuana businesses. The move comes after an injunction blocking the move was lifted. Another 90 potential medical marijuana businesses were out of luck, but the commission will keep their applications on hand in case one of the five awarded licenses is revoked or if the commission decides to award the three additional licenses it could issue.

Oklahoma Approves Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana, Bans Sale of Smokable Medicine. The state Board of Health on Tuesday approved a proposed draft of emergency rules for the state's new medical marijuana program, but also voted to prohibit the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. Licensed medical marijuana patients could still smoke it if they grew their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Department of Justice Announces Regulatory Steps to Address Opioid Epidemic. The Department of Justice announced new guidelines that it says will enable the DEA to clamp down on diversion of prescription opioids. The announcement doesn't address whether patients who need the drugs for pain will still be able to get them:

 

"The Department of Justice today announced the finalization of an April proposal to improve the Drug Enforcement Administration's ability to control the diversion of dangerous drugs in the midst of the national opioid crisis. Announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the final rule sent for publication today in the Federal Register establishes that DEA will take into consideration the extent that a drug is diverted for abuse when it sets its annual opioid production limits," the DEA said in a press release Tuesday. "If DEA believes that that a particular opioid or a particular company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, this allows DEA to reduce the amount that can be produced in a given year. These revised limits will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potentially addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for genuine medical, scientific, research and industrial needs."

 

International

Philippines Wants to Drug Test All High School, College Students. In what is actually a retreat from an earlier proposal to require mandatory drug testing for students as young as elementary school, the Philippines DEA is now proposing the mandatory drug testing of all high school and college students. But the move would require a change of law. Current Philippines law only allows for random -- not universal -- drug testing of students.

Sri Lanka to Begin Hanging Drug Dealers. President Maithripala Sirisena told his cabinet Wednesday he was "ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders. "From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences," he said. While the death penalty for drugs remains on the books in Sri Lanka, no one has been executed for a drug offense since 1976. The government said it would try to replicate the "success" of hardline drug policies in the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: ME MedMJ Expansion Moves Ahead, CA MJ Arrests Drop Big-Time, More... (7/10/18)

California marijuana arrests plummet post-legalization (duh!), Maine lawmakers slap down a Paul LePage veto and expand medical marijuana, Toronto's chief medical officer calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

More of these will be coming soon to Maine after legislators easily overrode a Paul LePage veto. (Creative Commons)
California Marijuana Arrests in Drop 56% Following Passage of Prop. 64, but Racial Disparities Remain. Arrests for marijuana offenses dropped precipitously following the legalization of marijuana in November 2016. Felony pot arrests dropped 75% between 2016 and 2017, while misdemeanor busts declined from 5,861 in 2016 to 3,979 in 2017. But blacks and Hispanics continued to be arrested at higher rates than whites. Blacks and Hispanics accounted for 61% of felony arrests and 59% of all misdemeanor arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The legislature has overwhelmingly overridden Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of a bill, L.D. 1539. allowing patients to use marijuana if a doctor deems it medically beneficial, grant six new medical dispensary licenses, permit caregivers to expand their business operations and give the state and municipalities more power to regulate them.

Oklahoma Losers Now Want to "Fix" Medical Marijuana Initiative. Opponents of State Question 788, the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters last month, are now demanding changes in the measure. At a Monday press conference, a coalition of medical groups called for three changes to the initiative: requiring dispensaries to have pharmacists on staff, limiting the number of dispensary licenses, and banning the sale of smokeable forms of weed. The state Health Department was meeting Tuesday to vote on proposed rules, but it does not appear the department is going to consider the proposals from the medical coalition.

International

Toronto's Chief Medical Officer Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Dr. Eileen de Villa, chief medical officer for the city of Toronto, has urged the city's board of health to call on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of all drugs. She is also recommending Ottawa convene a task force made up of people who use drugs, alongside experts in policy, health care, human rights, mental health and criminal justice experts "to explore options for the legal regulation of all drugs in Canada."

British Labor Party Launches Campaign for Drug Policy Reform. The party rolled out its Labor Campaign for Drug Policy Reform on Monday. The campaign will provide a forum for members to discuss British drug policy. The Tory government's current prohibitionist policy "plays into the hands of organized crime," said MP Jeff Smith, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform. "This government's approach is lining the pockets of organized criminals while forcing taxpayers to live with the costs associated with drug abuse and preventing vulnerable users from getting the support they need. This year we've seen progressive drug policies implemented across Europe, and at a local level here in the UK, but now it's time for national leadership on this issue."

150 Organizations Condemn Trump's Call for Drugs Death Penalty, While Reformers Rally

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 26, 2018

CONTACT: David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org, [email protected]

More Than 150 Organizations Condemn President Trump's Call to Execute People for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

UN to Release Annual "World Drug Report" While Reformers Rally Worldwide

Groups Accuse Singapore of Using False Drug Use Data to Justify Death Penalty

China is doing less of this, but Trump wants more. (Amnesty International)
A growing coalition with over 150 organizations as of this writing (140 when release was first done) has condemned President Trump's call to institute the death penalty for drug offenses. A copy of the statement, which was organized by the US-based NGO StoptheDrugWar.org, is online here.

The statement was submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, to be considered for inclusion in a report on the death penalty being presented to the General Assembly next fall. David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.organd the statement's author, explained, "We decided to release the statement at this time because of the immigrant family separations and the US's withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, as another example of President Trump's assault on human rights."

The statement also coincides with the June 26 release of the annual UN World Drug Report, and with the annual Support Don't PunishGlobal Day of Action for health- and human rights-based approaches to drug policy.

Among the statement's signatories are the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Latino Commission on AIDS, the William C. Velasquez Institute, Death Penalty Focus, the National Association of Social Workers, and Housing Works.

The US has never brought a death penalty case for a drug offense, but following the president's call for executions last spring, Attorney General Sessions sent a memo to prosecutors urging them to consider seeking the death penalty in some cases.

The statement argues, with references, that the president's claims of success for drug death penalty approaches in other countries is "premised on falsehoods." It notes that the world's leading executors for drug offenses, China and Iran, have scaled back their use of executions for drug offenses; and accuses Singapore's government of using "faked data" to justify their drugs death penalty.

The statement also makes note of President Trump's suggestion that police officers should bash suspects' heads on car door frames when arresting them, made during a police officers' convention in July 2017; and his repeated calls for violence against protesters at his rallies during the presidential campaign, recorded on video on seven different occasions.

The statement also notes Trump's praise for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal campaign of extrajudicial drug war killings, which Duterte administration figures suggest has claimed 20,000 lives to date. The statement has strong representation in the Philippines as well as the Filipino American community, with more than ten endorsing organizations including the iDEFEND human rights coalition, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service Foundation, and the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA).

The statement calls on Congress to repeal the US's never-used drugs death penalty statutes; to enact bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that is pending in Congress; and to pass legislation sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to impose human rights conditions on some aid to the Philippines while funding public health work and human rights advocacy.

Borden said, "We are committed to recognizing if and when the Trump administration takes good steps in drug policy or criminal justice. Recently the president released Alice Johnson, a 63-year old grandmother who had been imprisoned since 1996 on a drug offense, and he suggested there could be many more pardons. He has offered tentative support for legislation to give formal federal permission to states enacting marijuana legalization, though Republican leadership has blocked the bill from moving. We hope the president follows through on both these promises. In the meanwhile, however, the overall Trump administration record in the drug war is a horrific one."

The full text of the statement and signatory list is online at: https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/trump-death-penalty.pdf.

Chronicle AM: NFL Players Challenge Trump on Sentencing, First MA MJ License, More... (6/22/18)

NFL players respond to a challenge from President Trump with one of their own, Massachusetts gets its first licensed marijuana cultivator, a US watchdog notes that Afghan opium production is at record highs despite the billions we've spent to suppress it, and more.

The US has spent billions to suppress the Afghan opium crop. It hasn't worked, a watchdog says. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Approves First Provisional Marijuana Growing License. A year and a half after voters legalized marijuana in the Bay State, the Cannabis Control Commission has awarded its first provisional license to a marijuana grower. Sira Naturals of Milford has been awarded a Tier 3 cultivation license, which means it can grow marijuana on up to 20,000 square feet of its cultivation facility. Sales are supposed to begin on July 1, but the state has yet to license any retailers.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Removes Cultivator License Roadblock. The state Supreme Court Thursday threw out a ruling that effectively blocked the state's five approved medical marijuana cultivators from receiving licenses. The ruling ends a series of legal challenges to the awarding process from applicants who did not receive licenses and removes an injunction blocking the state from moving forward with licensing.

Sentencing and Pardons

NFL Players Ask Trump to Change Excessive Sentences for Nonviolent Drug Offenders. A group of NFL players organized as the Players Coalition wrote a New York Times op-ed challenging President Trump to pardon more nonviolent drug offenders. They said they were pleased by Trump's pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, who had served 20 years of a life sentence for a first-time drug conviction, but noted that "there are a lot of people out there like Ms. Johnson that should be pardoned that don't know a celebrity or an NFL player." The players said that while Trump had challenged them to come up with more names for pardons, that's not the solution: "A handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that NFL players have been protesting," the letter to the New York Times read. "These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn't been listening to us."

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Production at Record Levels Despite Nearly $9 Billion in US Anti-Drug Efforts, Watchdog Finds "There's more opium being grown now than when we started, there's more heroin being produced than when we started, there's more heroin being exported, there are more profits from the heroin going to the Taliban and to the other terrorist groups than when we started," said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). "If you apply all of the tests, we failed." The latest SIGAR report finds that opium production has topped 9,000 metric tons this year. The US has spent $8.7 billion trying to suppress the crop since it invaded in late 2001.

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.

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