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Chronicle AM: House Blocks Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Move, More... (9/13/17)

The House votes to defund Attorney General Sessions' newly revived Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, Maine lawmakers want a 20% sales tax on weed, Duterte allies in the Philippines vote to defund the country's human rights commission over its critique of the drug war, and more.

The attorney general isn't smiling over the House's asset forfeiture vote. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers Want to Double Pot Sales Tax. In a draft bill released Tuesday, the legislature's marijuana legalization committee is recommending a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Earlier, the committee had supported a 10% excise tax and a 10% sales tax, but now it's going all sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Restrictions on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Asset Forfeiture

House Slaps Down Sessions' Move to Reinstate Equitable Sharing Program. In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency. The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Foreign Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Fret Over Colombian Cocaine. The two senior senators, chair and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Affairs, expressed worries Tuesday that a peace deal between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC had led to a surge of cocaine being imported into the US. Feinstein also used the Senate hearing to express concern that the Trump administration will not adequately fund interdiction law enforcement efforts.

International

Philippine Congress Budgets Measly $20 to Fund Human Rights Commission. No, that's not a typo, and no, we didn't forget some zeroes. Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte voted Tuesday to allocate just 1,000 pesos (USD $20) for the Commission on Human Rights, which has repeatedly criticized Duterte's bloody drug war, which has left thousands dead at the hands of police and vigilantes. The funding move was explicit retaliation for the commission's criticism of the human rights disaster. In a Facebook post responding to the move, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard said Filipinos deserved an independent organization that could hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. "Instead they are getting a 'war on drugs' which, by the president's own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country," she wrote. "If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it."

Chronicle AM: White House Seeks MA MedMJ Data, Ecstasy for PTSD Advances, More... (8/28/17)

The White House is sniffing around Massachusetts medical marijuana patient data, the FDA has granted breakthrough drug status for MDMA as a treatment of PTSD, the DEA warns of a looming tide of cocaine, the State Department's top anti-drug official calls it quits, and more.

Cocaine supplies and seizures are at record levels, the DEA says. (US CBP)
Medical Marijuana

White House Seeks Massachusetts Data On Medical Marijuana Users. The National Marijuana Initiative, part of the Trump administration's anti-drug task force, has asked the state Department of Public Health to provide data on the health conditions cited by medical marijuana users. The department has already provided data on patient by age and gender, but said it was considering whether to hand over additional data.

Tennessee Lawmakers to Study Whether to Legalize Medical Marijuana. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) announced in a letter last Friday that they are forming an ad hoc committee to study whether the state should legalize medical marijuana. The lawmakers said they would undertake a comprehensive review of the matter. The committee will consist of 10 legislators.

Ecstasy

FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced last Friday that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MAPS and the FDA have also reached agreement under the Special Protocol Assessment Process (SPA) for the design of two upcoming Phase 3 of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for patients with severe PTSD. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is a novel treatment package that combines psychotherapeutic techniques with three administrations of MDMA as a pharmacological adjunct. By granting Breakthrough Therapy Designation, the FDA has agreed that this treatment may have a meaningful advantage and greater compliance over available medications for PTSD.

Drug Policy

State Department's Top Anti-Drug Diplomat Joins Exodus, Resigns. William Brownfield, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), has announced he is quitting at the end of September. Foreign Policy had reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was considering Brownfield for a position as top envoy to Latin America, but instead Brownfield is leaving. His departure is only the latest of top officials from Foggy Bottom, including Brownfield's wife, Kristie Kenney, one of the department's senior foreign service officers, a few months back. Also resigning Friday, was Tracey Ann Jacobsen, the acting director of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Earlier in the week, Foreign Policy reported that the department's top official for European affairs, John Heffern, was forced out of his job, adding to "concerns of a growing wave of resignations by foreign policy professionals who are either being pushed out or resigning over frustration with an administration that has downgraded the importance of Washington's diplomatic corps."

Search and Seizure

Indiana Appeals Court Rules Genital Search for Blunt too Intrusive. The state Court of Appeals ruled last week that a police officer's search that included touching a woman's genitals was unconstitutional. Taccasia Porter had been convicted of marijuana possession, but appealed her conviction, arguing that the marijuana found in her underwear shouldn't have been admitted as evidence because it was the fruit of an unlawful search. The appeals court agreed, saying that while an initial search was lawful, the hands-down-the-pants search was not. "While the initial pat-down search was permissible, we find that the subsequent search ran afoul of both the federal and state constitutions," wrote appellate Judge John G. Baker. "All of this took place in a public area on the side of a road, with no evidence that any precautions were taken to protect Porter's privacy from pedestrian or vehicular passers-by or the two men on the scene," the opinion said. No word yet on whether prosecutors will appeal.

International

DEA Report Says Colombia Cocaine Expansion Fueling Rise in Use and Supply in the US. An August DEA Intelligence Brief notes that US cocaine supplies are at the highest levels since at least 2007 and the usage has jumped to the highest levels since 2009. The report also says that cocaine production and US border seizures "have reached the highest levels ever observed. The DEA argued that cocaine supply and us in the US will continue to rise barring a change in US drug habits, cartel behavior, or "a significant shift in the Government of Colombia's policies."

Trudeau Government Not Decriminalizing More Drugs Than Marijuana. Responding to calls from public health and political figures in British Columbia to decriminalize drugs in a bid to combat the opioid overdose epidemic, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says no way. "Our government is currently working on the legalization, strict regulation, and restriction of access to cannabis, in order to keep it out of the hands of youth, and profits out of the hands of criminals," she said in a statement last week. "We are not looking to decriminalize or legalize other illicit substances at this time."

Mass March for Philippine Teen Drug War Victim.More than a thousand people joined the funeral procession last Saturday for Kian Delos Santos, 17, who was gunned down by Philippines police days earlier as part of their bloody anti-drug campaign. His killing has galvanized opposition to the year-long campaign undertaken by President Rodrigo Duterte upon his inauguration last year, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and increasing attention to charges that police are systematically executing suspected drug users and dealers.

Chronicle AM: CA Has Pot Regulator Job Openings, MI Seeks MedMJ Stakeholders, More... (8/24/17)

California is hiring pot regulators, Michigan is looking for medical marijuana stakeholders to craft new dispensary regulations, Oregon's governor and top cop stick up for legal weed in a letter to Attorney General Sessions, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Seeks to Hire Pot Regulators. With legal recreational cultivation and sales set to begin early next year, the state is looking to hire more than 120 employees in its Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabisCultivation Licensing office, and the Department of Public Health. Most of the positions are for program and legal analysts, information systems analysts, and staff services managers, but there are also positions for 16 environmental scientists around the state. Get more information at: https://jobs.ca.gov.

Massachusetts Governor Names Legalization Foe to Pot Regulatory Board. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has named Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) to the five-member Cannabis Control Commission. Flanagan opposed the successful initiative that legalized marijuana in the state, but played a key role in writing a 2016 state law aimed at easing the state's opioid epidemic, and Baker touted her experience with substance abuse prevention and treatment and recovery as key to the achieving the state's goal of "effective, responsible, and safe implementation of adult use of marijuana."

Oregon Governor, Head of State Police Defend Legal Marijuana in Letters to Sessions. Gov. Kate Brown (D) and State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton sent letters to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday defending the state's legal marijuana industry. They criticized an earlier Sessions letter to them that cited an Oregon State Police draft report that said Oregon marijuana was being diverted to other states. Brown and Hampton said the report was only a draft and had flawed data and conclusions. Brown also noted that the state has adopted new laws aimed at making it easier to go after people unlawfully exporting Oregon pot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Regulators Seeks Participants for Stakeholder Working Groups. The state Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation is forming stakeholder working groups to help guide and set policy on regulations for a new law that will allow dispensaries in the state. The bureau is working with the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board to come up with regulations for areas including growing, processing, transport, and related issues. Click on the link for information about how to apply to participate.

International

Philippines Human Rights Agency Raises Alarm Over House-to-House Drug Testing. The Philippines Commission on Human Rights said Thursday expressed concern over house-to-house drug testing in Quezon City neighborhoods. In a statement, commission Chairperson Chito Gascon said he worried that anyone testing positive for drugs could be put on a drugs watch list and possible later be killed. Gascon noted that there is no provision in Philippine law allowing police to conduct drug tests. "While the Commission recognizes the efforts of the law enforcement agents in curbing the deleterious effects of dangerous drugs, they must be constantly mindful of the reasonable limits of their authority," he said. Police denied they were going house-to-house to drug test people, although a photograph accompanying the linked article appears to show them doing just that.

Chronicle AM: First India MedMJ Research Grow License, Filipino Drug War Slammed, More... (8/21/17)

Philippines bishops and citizen demonstrators alike take aim at Duterte's lethal drug war, the US Civil Rights Commission takes aim at the Trump administration's embrace of federal civil asset forfeiture, and more.

India's first medical marijuana research grow license holders, the CSMR and the Bombay Hemp Group.
Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Gets First Dispensary Application. The state Department of Finance and Administration reported that it received its first medical marijuana dispensary application last Friday. The state will issue up to 32 licenses for dispensaries, but the deadline for applications is September 18.

Asset Forfeiture

US Civil Rights Commission Criticizes Trump/Sessions on Asset Forfeiture. As part of a multi-pronged critique of the Trump administration, the Civil Rights Commission issued a statement condemning Attorney General Sessions' decision to reverse Obama-era policy and return to full-throated embrace of civil asset forfeiture. "The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, by unanimous vote, strongly disagrees with the Department of Justice's recent decision to expand federal participation in the practice of civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture, defined as the taking of property by law enforcement without a criminal conviction, was sharply curtailed by the Department in 2015. Efforts to limit the practice have bipartisan support," the commissioners noted in its statement. The commission issued similar statements criticizing the administration's stances on voting rights and transgender people in the military.

Harm Reduction

Washington King County NIMBY Anti-Safe Injection Site Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, But Maybe Not for November Election. An initiative that aims to block safe injections from being set up in Seattle's suburban King County has qualified for the ballot, county officials confirmed last Thursday. But because county officials were slow to get around to counting signatures, it missed a deadline for appearing on the November ballot, and now, the Metropolitan King County Council will have to decide whether to put the measure, known as Initiative 27, on the November ballot or delay it until a February election. Initiative supporters have said they fear it will be too late by February.

International

India Issues Its First Medical Marijuana Grow License. The Indian government last week issued its first license to grow medical marijuana for research purposes. The license went to the Council of Scientific and Medical Research, which will collaborate with the Bombay Hemp Company. The two groups seek to develop marijuana-based drugs.

Philippine Bishops Speak Out on Duterte's Bloody Drug War. With an uptick in Duterte's war on drugs leaving 81 dead in four days last week, Filipino bishops are raising the alarm. Bishop Jose Oliveros of Malolos said most of the killings in his diocese were "extrajudicial killings" and wondered why the police had to kill so many so fast. "We do not know the motivation of the police why they had to do the killings in one day, maybe to impress the President who wanted more," he told Vatican Radio. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Kalookan diocese said just as people were labeled "communists" before killing them in the last century, now being labeled a "drug suspect" leads to the same result. "I don't know of any law in any civilized society that says a person deserves to die because he or she is a "drug suspect," Bishop David said.

Hundreds Demonstrate in Manila Over Drug War Killing of Teenager. Protestors gathered at the People Power monument in Manila Monday to demand an impartial investigation of drug war killings. The death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos at the hands of narcotics police last week was "a tipping point" for demonstrators, they said. "He has become a central figure because his death is the only one that has evidence [against the police]," Shamah Bulangis, secretary general of Akbayan Youth, told the Inquirer. "It gives us more balls to say that this government is corrupt in its war on drugs."

Uruguay Legal Marijuana Faces Banking Problem. Some banks in Uruguay are refusing to do business with pharmacies that sell legal marijuana because they say it would put them in conflict with international financial laws. And the problem could get worse since a government official last Friday warned banks that they ran the risk of violating laws that ban handling money tied to the marijuana trade.

Chronicle AM: NIH Awards Grant to Study MedMJ and Opioids, Hawaii Dispensary Woes, More... (8/14/17)

The National Institute of Health is ready to see what impact medical marijuana can have on opioid use, Hawaii's first dispensary hits a (temporary) regulatory hurdle, human rights groups warn on the Philippines and Indonesia, and more.

Can medical marijuana help with chronic pain and reduce opioid dependence? NIH pays to find out. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Refiled. Sen. Sixto Igisomar has refiled a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. This version of the bill is not yet available on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands legislative website, but last year's version is available here. The bill would not legalize marijuana by itself, but would allow a popular vote on the question: "Should the commonwealth legalize and regulate marijuana by approving the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018?" If approved by a majority of voters, it would then become law.

Medical Marijuana

NIH Awards Grant to Study Marijuana and Opioid Addiction. The National Institute of Health last week awarded a $3.8 million grant to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to study the effects of medical marijuana on opioid use and addiction. The study will examine chronic pain patients suffering from HIV in hopes of developing rigorous evidence to back a growing number of anecdotal claims that marijuana can reduce the resort to opioid pain relievers and treat the associated pain.

Hawaii's First Dispensary Temporarily Shuttered By Bureaucratic Delays. Maui Grown Therapies, the state's first permitted medical marijuana dispensary, had to suspend sales just five days after opening due to supply issues because of delays at the Hawaii State Labs Division. The dispensary was set to begin sales to walk-in customers Monday, but now has to hold off until, it hopes, Wednesday.

International

Is Indonesia Embracing Philippines-Style Drug War? Death Toll Mounts. Amnesty International has reported that at least 55 people have been killed under an apparent "shoot on sight" policy aimed at drug offenders in the archipelago. The victims were killed "without judicial process," the human rights group noted. President Joko Widodo and National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian have repeatedly expressed frustration with drug trafficking and what they call lenient punishment for them. On June 21, Widodo reiterated an earlier order for law enforcement to shoot drug dealers without compunction.

Human Rights Watch Says Philippines Drug Testing of College Students Threatens Their Safety. The Philippines Commission on Higher Education has approved a plan for mandatory drug testing of college students, but Human Rights Watch warns that "mandatory drug testing of students puts them in the crosshairs of Duterte's abusive drug war, risking the creation of school-to-cemetery track for students testing positive for drugs." The rights group also scored the plan because it allows police to "carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises," allowing "police to extend their anti-drug operations to colleges and university campuses, putting students at grave risk." More than 8,000 people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his brutal crackdown last year.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants More Drug War to Fight Opioids, New Pot Poll, More... (8/9/17)

A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at a record high, Trump calls for a return to tough drug war policies to fight opioids, Hawaii gets its first dispensary, and more.

#WINNING in the polls.
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record 61% for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, the highest figure ever reported by Quinnipiac and up two points since February. Support was above 50% for all demographic groups except Republicans (37%) and people over 65 (42%). The poll also found that fully three-quarters (75%) of respondents thought the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Support for medical marijuana was even higher a near-unanimous 94%.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Gets First Dispensary. Maui Grown Therapies opened for business on Tuesday in Kahului. It's the first dispensary in the state to be permitted and open its doors. The store was only open for a couple of hours Tuesday, with the owners saying they were doing a "soft opening." A second dispensary, Aloha Green, was set to open in Oahu on Wednesday.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Wants More Drug War, But No State of Emergency for Opioid Crisis. President Trump said Tuesday that a stronger law enforcement is necessary to fight the opioid crisis and criticized the Obama administration for prosecuting fewer drug offenders. He also critically highlighted shorter average sentences for drug offenders under Obama and advocated for abstinence-based drug treatment. But he did not act on a recommendation from his opioid panel headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he declare a national state of emergency.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Suburb Votes to Ban Safe Injection Sites. The Bellevue City Council voted Monday night to ban safe injection sites even though none had been proposed for the city, the second-largest in Kings County after Seattle. Members said the vote was driven by fears the site could hurt development of a homeless center now being planned. But it is also a sign of broader objections to such facilities in the area and comes after the Metropolitan King County Council voted in July not to spend money setting up sites unless a locale's elected officials first approved it. Safe injection supporters said that vote effectively kills any sites outside the city of Seattle.

International

Tillerson Offers to Help Duterte Fight Drugs -- If Philippines Leader Changes Tactics. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday and told him the US would provide anti-drug assistance if he would rein in his brutal tactics. Tillerson obliquely noted harsh criticisms of the Philippines' bloody drug war by human rights groups and others and suggested the US could help find more suitable tactics. Duterte was noncommittal.

Chronicle AM: Ominous DOJ MJ Report, Indonesia Prez Says Shoot Dealers, More.... (7/24/17)

A key Justice Deparatment report is slated to drop this week, so is a federal hemp bill, Indonesia's leader seems to be following in Duterte's footsteps, and more.

What is Attorney General Sessions cooking up for pot policy? We should know this week. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Report to Be Released This Week Could Include Crackdown on Marijuana. A Justice Department Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is set to release its report this, and reformers and industry insiders worry the report will try to link marijuana to violent crime, laying the basis for a crackdown on marijuana users and purveyors.

Massachusetts Local Control Compromise Could Face Legal Challenge. A legislative compromise that would let elected leaders in some communities ban marijuana businesses without a popular vote could be challenged as unconstitutional under state law. Under the compromise, if a majority of a local jurisdiction opposed the 2016 legalization initiative, local leaders could ban without a popular vote, but if the majority voted for the initiative, a ban would require a popular vote. The initiative itself called for no bans without a popular vote. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Essex) warned that the compromise language could be challenged on the basis it violates equal protection laws.

Medical Marijuana

Virgin Islands Medical Marijuana Bill Reintroduced. Territorial Sen. Positive Nelson has refiled his Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act. A similar bill died in committee last year, and Nelson wants to avoid a similar fate this year. "I'm requesting that this measure be heard by the committee of the whole, and not the Health Committee, whose chair has exhibited an obvious bias against cannabis legalization in any form," Nelson said.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill to Be Filed This Week. US Rep. James Comer (R-KY) is expected to introduce the Industrial Hemp Farming Act this week. The bill, versions of which have been introduced in each Congress since 2009, would remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act and would allow research on hemp with up to 0.6% THC -- up from 0.3% in earlier bills.

Immigration

Permanent Resident Set to Be Deported for Marijuana Wins in Federal Appeals Court. The US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has ruled in favor of permanent resident Ming Wei Chen, who had been ordered deported from the country after a marijuana conviction. The court ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals misapplied Supreme Court rulings when it held his conviction constituted an "aggravated felony."

International

Indonesia's President Tells Police to Shoot Drug Dealers. President Joko Widodo has told police to shoot drug traffickers as part of his efforts to fight a "narcotics emergency" in the country. "Be firm, especially to foreign drug dealers who enter the country and resist arrest. Shoot them because we indeed are in a narcotics emergency position now," Widodo said in a speech last Friday. The remarks drew comparisons with statements from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a drug crackdown that has left thousands dead there.

Amidst Violent Gun Battles, Mexico City Sees First Narco-Blockade. Mexican marines engaged in a gun battle with drug gangsters in the capital's Tlahuac neighborhood, leaving eight gunmen, including Tlahuac Cartel leader Jesus Perez Luna dead. During the shoot-out, dozens of people blocked streets in the area, setting on fire a truck and two stolen minibuses in a "narco-blockade" aimed at preventing the arrival of police and military reinforcements. That's a first for Mexico City.

Poland Legalizes Medical Marijuana. Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the country. Patients will not be able to grow their own, but will be able to obtain imported marijuana products at pharmacies. The law allows people with severe illnesses to use medical marijuana if approved by a physician, but has no list of qualifying conditions. The law will go into effect in October.

Chronicle Interview: A Conversation With New DPA Head Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Led by Ethan Nadelmann since its formation 17 years ago, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been the most influential drug reform organization in the country, with a hand in advancing the causes not only of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but of drug law reform more broadly, in all its manifestations and intersectionality.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
Thanks in good part to Nadelmann's vision and the efforts of DPA -- and its campaign and lobbying arm, the Drug Policy Action Network -- in state houses and court houses, in Congress and the executive branch, in media outreach and educational campaigns, the drug laws in America have changed for the better. Pot has gone mainstream, the mass incarceration mania of the Reaganite drug war (abetted by too many Democrats) has broken, sensible and life-saving harm reduction measures are spreading.

But now Nadelmann is gone -- at least as director or staff -- and DPA and the drug reform community face a Trump administration apparently intent on reviving and revitalizing the worst of drug war practices from the last century. Nadelmann's successor not only has big shoes to fill, but also faces reactionary impulses in Washington.

That successor is Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, holder of a law degree from New York University School of Law and for the past 13 years Co-Director of the US Program for Human Rights Watch (HRW), where she picked up plenty of domestic drug policy experience. There, she managed a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

The bilingual McFarland Sánchez-Moreno grew up in Peru and spent her early years at HRW researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, HRW became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform. [Ed: McFarland's help and advice made it possible for Human Rights Watch to endorse our UNGASS sign-on statement.]

She is regularly quoted and published in national and international media, has testified before Congress on multiple occasions and has extensive experience advocating with US congressional offices, the White House, and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense. She recently authored a non-fiction book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, which will be published by Nation Books in February 2018.

Now, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno turns to drug reform as her primary remit, at the head of an organization with a $15 million budget; offices in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, DC; a considerable cadre of experienced and talented professionals; and a well-earned reputation for being able to make drug reform actually happen. Drug War Chronicle spoke with McFarland Sánchez-Moreno on Friday about what lies ahead.

Drug War Chronicle: You're about to head the most powerful drug reform group on the planet. What is it about you and your experience that makes you the person for this job?

Mass incarceration is a drug policy issue. (nadcp.org)
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: I don't know that I'm the right person to ask about that, but I will say I have been passionate about drug policy for a long time; it cuts across many of the social justice issues that I've been involved with throughout my career, starting in Colombia documenting atrocities committed by armed groups who were overwhelmingly financed by illicit drugs and for whom trafficking was their reason for existing. I came to realize that if you got rid of the illicit market, you could do serious damage to those groups.

And that continued in my work at HRW's US Program, covering issues like criminal justice and immigration, where you see so many vast problems in this country that are strongly linked to the war on drugs. From mass incarceration to large-scale deportations, a lot of it is people getting convicted of low-level drug offenses. And this also connects to a fundamental matter of justice: People shouldn't face prison time for choices about what they put in their bodies, absent harm to others.

Drug War Chronicle: Does your selection suggest that DPA is going to be even more internationally focused than it is now?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's too early to say whether we will invest more internationally, but our main focus has to be domestic. We're a national organization with offices in many states, and we want to build on that strength. There's plenty of work to do right here, so we will remain focused on the US. While there is an argument to be made for the importance of international work, you don't need to worry about us shifting away from the home front.

Drug War Chronicle: What are some of the key global drug policy challenges? And where do you see opportunities for positive change?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: Both domestically and internationally, there's real momentum around drug reform. After Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala called for an international discussion of drug policy, which led to last year's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, the nature of the debate around drugs began to change, and we're seeing real openness to reform in many countries. At the same time, in places like the Philippines or Indonesia, you see serious backsliding, with large scale killings in the name of fighting the war on drugs in the former and use of the death penalty in the latter. And in places like Mexico and Central America, we're seeing very serious violence related to drug prohibition.

The international situation is complex: There are some openings, some room for progress -- and when you have countries like Portugal and Uruguay moving toward reform and potentially setting good examples, that's something to point to here at home -- but we still have very, very serious problems associated with the war on drugs that we need to monitor and speak up about.

Drug War Chronicle: Here in the U.S., it's sort of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we have medical marijuana in 29 states, pot decriminalization in 13 or 14, and legalization in eight, with more likely to come in the next year or so. We have state legislatures enacting sentencing reforms and asset forfeiture reforms. At the same time, we have the Trump administration apparently leading federal drug policy down a retrograde prohibitionist path. How do you assess the overall situation?

The fight for legal marijuana will continue. (Creative Commons)
McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's similar to the international situation in that there are enormous opportunities for progress around marijuana law reform and harm reduction measures in some places, but we have a federal Justice Department that seems to be intent on doubling down on the war on drugs and using the most draconian measures possible.

All the horrors we're seeing with overdoses is leading many people to do some serious soul-searching about what's the best way to address this problem, so we're seeing some progress on harm reduction measures like access to naloxone, for example. Now, there's room to have some conversations where there wasn't before, such as decriminalizing the possession of all drugs. A few years ago, that would have been a hard conversation to have, but HRW released a report last year calling for it and DPA has just released its own report echoing that call, and there is a real receptiveness in the public to talking about that. We're in a different place now and can make progress at the state and local level.

But that fairly heated rhetoric coming from the attorney general, appealing to people's worst fears and often distorting reality, is a real problem. It's not just about what Sessions says and what policies he adopts at Justice; it's also about that dark narrative starting to take hold, people in other parts of the government thinking its more acceptable to return to those failed policies. It's disturbing to see bills filed that are headed in the wrong direction, like Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) Back the Blue Act (Senate Bill 1134). A year ago, he was part of bipartisan sentencing reform. Why is he going the other way now?

And then there's Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act (Senate Bill 1237), which would give Sessions the power to schedule new synthetic drugs without any scientific basis. I think having someone who is so extreme in his views at the Department of Justice is a green light for people in other parts of the government to take us in the wrong direction. This is a major challenge for DPA and the drug reform movement in general, and we will be focusing on that right off the bat.

Drug War Chronicle: Let's talk about racial equity. How do we advance that? Whether it's participation in the legal marijuana industry or sentencing policy or consent decrees to rein in police departments, race is implicated.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's all bound up with what's coming out of Washington and the broader policies we're talking about. It's hard to disentangle racial justice issues from some of these other issues. We've been working on drug reforms in New Jersey and New York, and one of our biggest concerns has been to ensure that new reforms have a strong focus on empowering the very communities most damaged by the war on drugs. Making sure drug reforms takes that perspective into account and creates new opportunities for those communities is a critical part of our work.

Sessions backing away from consent decrees, the demonization of Black Lives Matter, and all that is very clearly tied to rhetoric coming from the White House and the Justice Department that is designed to stigmatize groups and lump people who use drugs in with drug dealers, with communities of color, with immigrants. They use that demonizing combination to justify very harsh policies that will be devastating to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. We have to fight back against that; it's a big part of the story here.

And then there's the impact of the drug war on immigration policy. My colleagues at Human Rights Watch documented how a very large number of immigrants -- and not just undocumented ones -- ended up deported because they had a drug conviction, in many cases from many years back. They are torn apart from their families and often sent to places with which they have little connection, countries where they don't even speak the language. It's not just the deported -- their kids, parents, spouses, sibling, all of them suffer serious consequences. It's cruel and senseless.

It's very clear this administration has made immigration enforcement a top priority. Some very extreme portion of its base really views this as a priority. It's hard to talk to them, but most of the country favors immigration reform, and a very large and increasing number of people understand that using the criminal law when talking about drug use is harmful and makes no sense. If we can make progress on drug reform, we also make progress on immigration by reducing the number of people convicted and exposed to deportation. We have to talk about these issues together and work with immigration reform groups and take them on board in our joint fight.

Chronicle AM: US Lawmakers Rip Duterte, Harris/Paul Senate Bail Reform Bill, More... (7/21/17):

A congressional panel ripped into Philippines President Duterte and his bloody drug war Thursday, Kamala Harris and Rand Paul file a bail reform bill, a South Carolina Republican congressman files a bill to allow drug testing of unemployment applicants, and more.

US Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) at hearing of congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Thursday. (TLHRC)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves Bill Requiring Marijuana Be Tested for Safety. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the state Agriculture Department to set up testing facilities for marijuana before it could be sold. This is the first bill from a special select committee of legislators charged with creating a regulatory regime for legal pot. It goes against the wishes of Gov. Paul LePage (R), who wants the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to be in charge of all legal marijuana regulations.

Criminal Justice

US Sens. Kamala Harris, Rand Paul File Federal Bail Reform Bill. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 on Thursday. The purpose of the bill is "to encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail, the requirement that individuals awaiting trial remain in jail unless they pay for their release." Without being able to make bail, people charged -- but not convicted -- with a crime can spend weeks or months behind bars, with devastating consequences for employment, finances, and families. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Rep Files Federal Unemployment Drug Testing Bill. US Rep. Buddy Carter (R-SC) filed a bill on Thursday that would let states screen unemployment applications for drug use and force them to undergo drug testing in some circumstances. The bill would deny unemployment benefits for 30 days to anyone testing positive for drug use, and a second positive drug test would result in a year-long ban. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

US Lawmakers Rip Philippines Drug War Abuses. At a hearing of the Congress's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday, American lawmakers ripped into Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte over drug war abuses, including the killing of thousands of drug suspects, and called on President Trump to condemn Duterte -- and to rescind an invitation to visit the White House. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said she was "troubled" by the invite, while Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said he would "lead the protest" if Duterte shows up. "President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights," McGovern said. "The United States government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring," he said. "No other country -- I repeat that, 'no other country' -- comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing," he added.

UN Says Bolivia Coca Cultivation on the Rise. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed concern about what it says is a 14% increase in land under coca cultivation. "This increase is a concern for us," said UN Drugs and Crime Representative of Bolivia, Antonio De Leo. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed regret at the report, but noted that much more illicit coca is being grown in Colombia and Peru.

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Marijuana Pharmacy Sales Begin, DPA Names New Chief, More... (7/19/17)

All New England states have now either decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the Drug Policy Alliance names a new head, Uruguay begins legal pot sales at pharmacies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation Bill Could Go to Governor This Week. Legislative leaders defended their compromise pot bill, House Bill 3818, Wednesday, and votes on the bill could come at any time. The measure is expected to pass the legislature and then head to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

New Hampshire Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law House Bill 640, which eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. Instead of jail time, violators will face a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $350 for a third offense within three years of the original offense. With the state now adopting decriminalization, all of New England has now either legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

International

Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies Get Underway. Pharmacists in Uruguay began selling marijuana to customers Wednesday, the last step in a pioneering national legalization process that began more than three years ago. Uruguay is the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use. Canada is set to be next.

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