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Stopping the Philippine Drug War Killings

Human Rights Challenge: One Year Later,
Drug War Extrajudicial Killings Continue


side event at the UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs meeting, Vienna

featuring Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV

March 15, 1:10pm CET
live stream through our Facebook page

 

One of today's urgent human rights issues is extrajudicial killings in the Philippines drug war. Since taking office in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has orchestrated a brutal campaign whose victims may exceed 16,000 as we approach the end of 2017. Other abuses have affected hundreds of thousands, and the killings are spreading to Indonesia.

 
from Amnesty International video,
"If You Are Poor You Are Killed"

StoptheDrugWar.org plays a prominent role in international advocacy on this issue. In March 2017 Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines sent us a speech by video for an event we held at the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. In November 2017 we released a sign-on statement, coinciding with the ASEAN Summit in Manila, calling for action by the UN and major aid donor countries.

Currently we are working with Filipino American advocates and others to pass legislation in the US Congress placing human rights conditions on aid to the Philippines, while funding positive alternatives to the drug war there, and to encourage such moves by other donor countries. And we are engaged in other work on the issue, including support for the campaign to free Philippine Senator Leila de Lima.

On February 28, we held a protest at the Philippines Embassy in Washington, DC, video of which went viral in the Philippines and garnered nearly 300,000 views as of this writing:

These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform effort that StoptheDrugWar.org engaged in decisively in fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy efforts are led for our organization by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in 2018 will also tweet as @BordenUNEventPH. Our organization's blog will have a significant focus on the Philippines, also beginning in 2018.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vice President Robredo's video and the UN Event

Our UN event drew massive attention in the Philippines. We released the video the Monday before, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Philippine media took extensive notice; it trended on Twitter and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf region.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint that a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video. A resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima, passed the morning before our event, was also in the mix. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to their media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. (See news links below.)

 

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

The statement helped to dilute the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president. But Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

As we approach the end of 2017, Philippine Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has not announced whether he will move on impeachment, but for now at least the storm has abated. Robredo's popularity has rebounded – while Duterte's has diminished, somewhat – and she has continued to speak out against the killings.

The political heat the vice president took for participating in our event is unfortunate, but it's just one in a set of assaults that have been waged on Robredo since she took office, and on others. Targets of the Duterte camp's attack on Philippine democracy include Senators, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice (they are holding the impeachment hearings right now), the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights and others. Along with Duterte, a mover and shaker of the manipulations is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator who lost a close race to Robredo for vice president and is challenging the vote count. One of the tactics the Duterte camp has used is a sophisticated social media manipulation campaign involving paid trolls and bots.

We are continuing our advocacy on the Philippines, and we hope to use the media profile we've gained in that country, and the numerous contacts we've made in the Philippines and internationally, to up the pressure on the Duterte administration and building the international movement for stopping the killings and for accountability. Information on some of our current work on this appears below.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

First, footage of our event is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty international video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

News articles mentioning the event are too numerous to list here, but these are some key ones:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

Global Sign-On Statement

 
 
 

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered in articles on four important Philippines news outlets, including the Inquirer, Rappler, the Philippine Star and InterAksyon. The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.

We continue to accept signatories for the statement, and are currently formulating the next stage of the effort, which may include a similar statement with slight modifications to update it and enable certain additional major organizations to endorse the language. A key objective of the next stage is to get major aid donor countries including the United States to adopt the policies on aid that are called for in the statement.

Legislative Lobbying

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

 
 

We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress. A recent update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Dept. has reportedly raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate.

– END –

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

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

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

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

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

Speakers (subject to change):

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Drug Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Legalization

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

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

Drug Legalization

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

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

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

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

Amnesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The US-Mexico Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Hiccups in California & Uruguay, US Calls Out Bangladesh Drug War Killings, More... (6/14/18)

Two legal marijuana markets are facing some growing pains, the State Department speaks out on Bangladeshi drug war killings, and more.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert calls out the Bangladeshis on drug war human rights violations. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Will Have Glut of Cheap Weed, Followed By Possible Shortages. Faced with a July 1 start date for new state-mandated safety standards for marijuana products, marijuana retailers are having to move piles of untested product left over from the state's unregulated grey market before that deadline. That means the likelihood of cheap weed deals in the next couple of weeks, but it also means there is likely to be a shortage of tested product in the early days of the new regime because of a lack of certified testing labs and state-authorized legal market providers.

Hemp

Senate Panel Advances Hemp Legalization. The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday passed the 2018 farm bill. The bill includes hemp legalization legislation backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who argued in support of the measure during Wednesday's meeting. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Foreign Policy

US Expresses Concern Over Bangladesh Drug War Killings. The United States urged Bangladesh to meet its human rights obligations as it expressed concern over reports that more than 21,000 people have been arrested and 147 killed since the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched its anti-drug campaign a month ago. "We urge Bangladesh to conduct thorough and transparent investigations into all credible reports of extrajudicial killings," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "While illegal drugs are a scourge across the world, Bangladesh should ensure its law enforcement respect human rights and that their conduct is consistent with international standards and Bangladesh's own constitution, which includes a presumption of innocence and the right to due process. We look to the Government of Bangladesh to fully meet its human rights obligations," she added. Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan Kamal brushed the statement aside, insisting that "no extrajudicial killings took place in the ongoing anti-drug drive."

International

Five Years After Legalization, Uruguay Has Marijuana Supply Problems. The country legalized marijuana in 2013, but legal sales only began last year, and the path is still rocky. Pot is supposed to be sold in the nation's pharmacies, but so far, only 14 of about 1,200 have registered to participate, making the black market a more attractive option for some consumers. While Uruguay's law allows individuals to grow for themselves and collectives to grow for their members, the government is in charge of marijuana cultivation for sale at pharmacies, and it has so far licensed only two cultivators. The government sees the problem: "The demand is greater than our productive capacity," said Diego Olivera, head of the Uruguay National Drugs Council. "We have to address that challenge."

Chronicle AM: STATES Act Gets New Backers, Federal Hemp Bill to Be Debated, More... (6/12/18)

The week-old STATES Act picks up a pair of new cosponsors, Mitch McConnell's hemp bill will be debated on Wednesday, Mexican human rights group ask the ICC to investigate drug war crimes by the military, and more.

hemp fields (votehemp.com)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Senators Sign Up to Back STATES Act. Alaska US senators Dan Sullivan (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R) have added their names as cosponsors of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act), which was introduced last week. The bill would make the marijuana prohibition provisions of the Controlled Substances Act inapplicable in states that have their own laws allowing the production, sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana.

Hemp

Federal Bill to Legalize Hemp Up for Debate on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (S. 2667) will be debated in the Senate on Wednesday. The bill legalizes industrial hemp production and removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

International

Mexican Human Rights Groups Call for International Criminal Court Investigation of Military Drug War Atrocities. Human rights organizations called Monday for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate abuses committed by the Mexican military in a crackdown on drug crime in Chihuahua state. The rights groups provided a dossier to the ICC documenting slayings, torture, rapes, and forced disappearances involving at least 121 victims during a period between 2008 and 2010. This is the third case the human rights groups have asked the ICC to open. Earlier, they presented cases from Coahuila and Baja California, but the ICC has yet to open a preliminary investigation on any of them.

Australia NSW Festival Drug Dog Policy Challenged. A new policy by New South Wales policy that denies entry to music festivals to anyone "indicated on" by a drug dog -- even if a search reveals no drugs -- is being challenged by the NSW Greens. The Greens's Sniff Off campaign sought an injunction last Friday in the NSW Supreme Court to try to block police from carrying out the new practice. The court rejected that effort, saying the issue was "hypothetical," but now, after some festival goers were denied entry this past weekend, the Greens plan to challenge the policy anew.

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: More Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, Canada Legalization Bill Advances, More... (5/29/18)

California lawmakers forego an opportunity to cut legal pot taxes, Pennsylvania's third largest city decriminalizes marijuana possession, the head of a UN agency calls on Latin America to consider drug legalization, Bangladeshi drug war killings mount, and more.

Canada's legalization bill heads for a final Senate vote by June 7. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Lower Pot Taxes Voted Down. Even though legal marijuana sales and tax revenues are much lower than anticipated, the legislature has passed on an opportunity to entice people away from the black market by cutting legal marijuana taxes, which can reach 50% of the purchase price when state and local taxes are included. A bill that would have lowered the state excise tax to 11% and suspended grower taxes for three years, Assembly Bill 3157, was defeated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Friday, but sponsor Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said he hoped it could still be revived this year.

Colorado Grew 500 Tons of Legal Marijuana Last Year. Legal marijuana growers produced nearly 500 tons of pot last year, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported last Friday. That turned into 411,000 pounds of purchased buds and more than 11 million edibles sold. The trend of production increasing each year since legalization continues.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, Decriminalizes. Pennsylvania's third largest city has now decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell last Friday signed into law a measure passed 4-3 by the city council that makes possession of 30 grams or less a summary offense with a fine as low as $25.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

International

Head of UN Agency Says Latin America Must Consider Legalizing Drugs. Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told a weekend forum in Paris that Latin America must seriously ponder drug legalization to reduce the human costs of drug prohibition. "I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," she said. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Canadian Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Social Affairs Committee has approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill with 40 amendments (most of them merely technical), including one that would give provincial governments the ability to ban homegrown marijuana. The committee's amended version of the bill will now go back to the Senate as a whole, which will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments or propose additional changes. The Senate has agreed to hold a final vote by June 7, which would allow the Trudeau government to meet its promise of having legal marijuana up and running by the end of summer.

Taliban Commander Orders Drug Labs Moved Out of Urban Areas to Avoid Civilian Casualties from American Air Strikes. The Taliban's shadow governor of opium-producing Helmand province has ordered drug labs moved out of populated areas because American air strikes are killing a rising number of civilians. Mullah Manan said that "due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles" and called for facilities to shift to "mountains and valley sides" instead. Under looser rules of engagement under the Trump administration, bombing raids have nearly tripled in the first three months of this year compared with 2017.

Bangladesh's Murderous Anti-Drug Campaign Continues. Amid rising fears of a Philippines-style war on drugs, the latest reports are now that the toll has risen to 86 killed and more than 7,000 arrested since the government announced a new anti-drug offensive earlier this month. Human Rights Watch is speaking out, with Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director warning that the government "should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings."

Chronicle AM: Bangladeshi Drug War Gets Ugly, OK MedMJ Init Polling Well, More... (5/25/18)

The bloody Filipino drug war model spreads to Bangladesh, Congress continues to undercut District of Columbia marijuana and drug policy, a new poll has the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative cruising toward victory next month, and more.

Oklahomans appear poised to approve a medical marijuana initiative a month from now. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Panel Approves Continued Meddling in DC Marijuana, Drug Laws. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Thursday approved a spending bill that would continue to bar the District of Columbia from expanding marijuana legalization to include taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The bill also adds a new bar on using funds to support opening safe injection sites.

Connecticut Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party formally endorsed marijuana legalization at its convention last weekend. Legalization now becomes part of the state party's platform, which now includes this language: "The time for legalization of Marijuana has come. Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids."

North Carolina Bill Would Legalize Up to Four Ounces. Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr. (D) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The bill would also raise the bar from felony possession of marijuana from 1.5 ounces to 16 ounces. The measure is House Bill 944.

Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Will Vote on Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The county board of supervisors voted 15-1 Thursday to place an advisory referendum on marijuana legalization on the November ballot. Voters will be asked: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?"

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Panel Approves Using Medical Marijuana to Fight Opioid Addiction. The House Executive Committee voted 8-3 Thursday for a bill that would allow people who qualify for opioid prescriptions to apply for the state's medical marijuana program. The measure, Senate Bill 336, has already passed the Senate, but still needs some cleanup provision enacted in the Executive Committee before it goes to the House floor.

Oklahoma Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative in Good Shape. A new Sooner Poll has the medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, cruising toward victory in next month's election. The opposition has managed to drag approval down from 61.8% in January to 57.5% now, but that's still enough support to win a month from now.

International

Bangladesh's Philippines-Style Drug War Deepens. At least 50 people have been shot and killed by police in what human rights activists say is a politically motivated crackdown on drug trafficking. While the killings are part of an announced anti-drug campaign announced by the government, at least one family is telling reporters their relative was an opposition political activist who had nothing to do with drugs. That family and at least one other has reported their relatives being taken into custody by police hours before being found dead in what the government describes as nighttime shootouts with drug gangs. The campaign has only been underway for about 10 days.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Again Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid has once again called for marijuana legalization as a means to combat criminality and insecurity. In January, he called for legalization to stop violence in Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo, home of Cancun. "I think that in Mexico we should move toward a regulation at the state level," he said in an interview with Reuters. "Maintaining marijuana in illegality is giving money to drug traffickers, and with that money what these gentlemen do is that they bribe more police, buy more weapons and are more violent," he added.

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