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Will Denver Be the First Place in America to Legalize Magic Mushrooms?

Denver could essentially legalize psychedelic mushrooms by next spring if a group of local activists has its way. But they have a few hurdles to overcome first.

This week, members of Denver for Psilocybin handed in to city officials a pair of municipal initiatives aimed at removing penalties for possessing and consuming the fungi, which contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. That's the first step in a process that could see the issue put before voters in the May 2019 local election.

One measure, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, reflects the activists' maximum program; the other, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Enforcement Deprioritization Initiative, is a less ambitious backstop.

Both initiatives would make enforcement of laws against magic mushrooms a low law enforcement priority by adopting language that would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psychoactive mushrooms." Under both initiatives, the sale of magic mushrooms would remain illegal.

The initiatives differ in two important respects. The broader one allows for the "personal possessions, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms; the backstop version only allows for possession and use, not propagation. And the broader version contains no limits on possession, while the backstop would limit possession to two ounces.

Kevin Matthews, campaign manager for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword he hoped the broader measure would pass muster with both city officials and voters, but that allowing propagation may be a bridge too far.

"It’s a natural right. It’s a human right. This one is our Hail Mary victory shot," Matthews said. "It’s more a matter of public opinion," he said of the two-pronged approach. "Are people ready to accept that people are already propagating?"

The Denver City Council now has a week to schedule a comment and review hearing led by Council Executive Director Leon Mason and Assistant City Attorney Troy Bratton. While the hearing is open to the public, there is no opportunity for public comment.

If the council approves, the initiatives then go to the Denver Election Division, which will have three days to decide whether to accept or reject them. Denver for Psilocybin had earlier versions of the initiatives rejected by the Elections Division but hopes it has addressed those issues with the new versions. If approved by the Elections Division, the group will then have to come up with some 5,000 valid voter signatures by January to qualify for the May ballot. They are confident that if they can get the measures on the ballot, they can win.

"I am extremely optimistic. I think we’re gonna win. I think we’re going to pass this thing," he says. Even if voters don't side with the group, "simply getting on the ballot will be a victory."

Denver isn't the only place where moves to legalize or decriminalize magic mushrooms are afoot, but it may be the first place voters get a chance to weigh in. In Oregon, activists aiming at 2020 are working on an initiative that would legalize and regulate the therapeutic use of psilocybin, while just to the south, the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative campaign tried to get their measure on the 2018 ballot, but came up short on signatures. They will be back.

Magic mushrooms remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But so was marijuana when Coloradans voted to legalize it in 2012. And here we are. 

Chronicle AM: No MedMJ for Vets This Year, Senate Takes Up Opioid Package, More.... (9/11/18)

A congressional conference committee has killed medical marijuana for veterans, the Senate is set to take up a package of opioid bills, the West African Commission on Drugs releases a model law for drug decriminalization, and more.

West African Commission on Drugs founder Kofi Annan. He may be gone, but his work lives on. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Pot Shops That Sell to Minors. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that set mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana shops caught selling weed to minors. The bill would have imposed mandatory 15-day license suspensions for a first offense, 25-day suspensions for a second, and revocation for a third offense. But "this bill is not necessary," Brown said. "The bureau already has the authority to revoke, suspend, and assess fines if a licensee sells to a minor."

Medical Marijuana

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Expected to Vote on Opioid Legislation This Week. Senate leaders announced late last week they had reached an agreement to bring a package of bills aimed at the opioid crisis to a Senate floor vote this week. The Senate will consider a substitute amendment to the opioids package that passed the House in June. Progress had stalled over Democratic concerns that a grant program would benefit only one addiction advocacy group. That has now changed. There remains a divergence between the House and Senate packages regarding requirements for Medicaid to cover treatment at more inpatient facilities and loosening privacy protections for medical records for substance abuse patients.

Sentencing Policy

Ohio Governor Candidates Clash Over Drug Possession Defelonization Initiative. Buckeye State voters will have a chance to vote to defelonize drug possession in November with the Issue 1 constitutional amendment initiative. The amendment would also bar any jail time for a first or second offense within 24 months. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes it, saying it "takes vital tools away from judges." Democratic candidate for governor Richard Cordray, however, supports it, saying its passage would "set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers' dollars, smart on how we build people's potential to be productive citizens in our society."

International

Expert Group Publish Blueprint for West Africa Drug Decriminalization. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has published a "model law" for decriminalizing drug possession and reducing related harms in West Africa. The commission is currently chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said on Tuesday: "West Africa faces three dangers from drugs: organized crime, corruption, and harms to people who use drugs. Our current laws increase those harms rather than help,"

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

Chronicle AM: Yet Another Good News Pot Poll, Colombia's Santos Rips Drug War, More... (8/1/18)

Another national poll has a solid majority for marijuana legalization, Manhattan quits prosecuting most small-time pot cases, Colombia's outgoing president takes a parting shot at drug prohibition, and more.

Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has some parting words for the war on drugs. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Has a National Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Harris Insights and Analytics has support for marijuana legalization at 57% and support for medical marijuana at a whopping 85%. The poll is in line with numerous recent polls showing majorities for marijuana legalization.

Manhattan Prosecutor Quits Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office's new policy of not prosecuting most small-time marijuana cases went into effect today. People will not be arrested for possessing small amounts or smoking in public, but could still get busted for sales or if there is a public safety threat.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Votes to Cap Dispensary Numbers. The city council voted Tuesday night to limit the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city to 75. The measure also regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, testing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and imposes limitations on the size, location, and operations of medical marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma Health Board Considering New Rules for Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health is meeting Wednesday to try once again to come up with regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program. The revised guidelines now eliminate a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and a requirement that a pharmacist be present in every dispensary. The new rules also drop the requirement that women of child-bearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana.

International

Colombia's Santos Directs Parting Shot Against War on Drugs. Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ripped into the global war on drugs in an opinion piece in the Americas Quarterly. "The War on Drugs has taken too many lives: The cure has been worse than the disease. In Colombia, we have paid a very high price for it, perhaps the highest of any nation," Santos warned. "The time has come for the world to take a moment of sober reflection. We must study, seriously and rigorously, the efforts that have been made around the world to regulate the drug trade, in order to learn from our successes, as well as our difficulties and failures," added the Nobel Prize winner.

Ghana Drug Control Board Member Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Michael Addo, deputy executive secretary of the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board, called Tuesday for drug decriminalization, saying that the country was wasting resources imprisoning drug users and calling for alternative sanctions for them. He also called for the strengthening of drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

Italian Health Minister Says Government Will Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Health Minister Giulia Grillo said Tuesday that the government will ramp up its medical marijuana program. She said the government will explore licensing private companies to produce marijuana and that she would "make every effort to make medical cannabis available" in pharmacies alongside other prescription drugs.

Chronicle AM: MX Minister Talks Legalizing Drugs, BC Nurses in Canada Decrim Call, More... (7/18/18)

BC nurses talk drug decriminalization, a Mexican minister talks drug legalization, House Republicans on a key committee once again block House votes on marijuana amendments, and more.

Mexico's incoming government is talking about legalizing drugs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Once Again Blocks Marijuana Reform Votes. The Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), has once again blocked marijuana reform amendments from being voted on by the full House. On Monday night, the committee blocked votes on two amendments, bringing the total of amendments it has blocked to 36 in this session.

Arizona Federal Prosecutors Now Charging Marijuana Smugglers With Illegal Entry, Too. Federal prosecutors in Arizona have announced a policy shift in which they will now charge the hundreds of people caught each year smuggling marijuana across the border with immigration violations as well as drug charges. Under the new policy, prosecutors will now seek six-month sentences for misdemeanor illegal entry as well as six-month sentences for marijuana violations. While the sentences would run concurrently, a conviction for crossing the border illegally could be used as a sentencing enhancement in future convictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Delayed. The patient registry has been put on hold as regulators try to figure out when medical marijuana when actually be available to patients. The registry was supposed to go online last week. The state Department of Commerce has yet to set a date when it expects medical marijuana to be available.

Oklahoma Attorney General Advises Health Board to Change Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The office of the state attorney general is advising the Board of Health to revisit its restrictive rules for the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. On Monday, Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office would review legal challenges to the rules, and on Wednesday, the office announced it was calling on the board to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed last week. "The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them," Attorney General Hunter said. "Although I didn't support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate. My advice today is made pursuant to that responsibility as attorney general. Moving forward, I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the legislative working group looking at medical marijuana to ensure they have their concerns and recommendations heard and addressed by the legislature."

International

British Columbia Nurses Join Call for Canada Drug Decriminalization. The BC Nurses Union said in a press release Tuesday that the federal government should declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency and that the possession of personal amounts of opioids should be decriminalized. The move comes just days after the Toronto board of health made a similar call.

Mexico Will Consider Drug Legalization, Interior Minister Says. Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said Tuesday that that incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) had given her "carte blanche" to consider legalizing drugs. "On the subject of decriminalizing drugs, Andres Manuel told me, and I quote: 'Carte blanche. Whatever is necessary to restore peace in this country. Let's open up the debate,'" Sanchez Cordero said. She pointed to the bloody violence of the past decade: "What no one can deny with hard data is that, at least in the past ten years, the Mexican government has been incapable of stopping violence and responding to it with institutional mechanisms," she said.

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Portuguese Model and Its Accomplishments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Take the Kids! (with them to treatment)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: UN Sec Gen Touts Portugal Drug Decrim, NH House Derails Legal Pot Bill, More... (3/13/18)

A New Hampshire pot legalization bill gets derailed, the UN Secretary General touts Portugal's drug decriminalization policy, North Dakota takes another step forwared with its nascent medical marijuana program, and more.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks up Portugal's drug decriminalization at the CND. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Committee Nixes Legalization Bill. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Monday to delay any action on a marijuana legalization bill, instead sending House Bill 656 to "interim study." The bill is now effectively dead, but debate on marijuana legalization will continue as a separate commission studies legalization, regulation, and taxation. Its report is due on November 1.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Rules. The legislature's Administrative Rules Committee signed off Monday on rules for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. While the committee took no formal vote, it also did not call for any changes or delay in implementing the rules. The next step is for the state Health Department to announce an application period for growers and manufacturers, which should happen by the end of next week, according to the department's Medical Marijuana Division.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Bill Fails as Initiative Vote Looms. The sponsor of a limited medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1120, has held up the measure after it failed to get enough votes to pass. That clears the playing field for the passage of a medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, which goes before the voters in June.

Virginia Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill into Law. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last Friday signed into law House Bill 1251, which allows doctors to recommend CBD cannabis oil for any patient they see fit. Previously, state law only allowed the use of CBD for epilepsy. The new law also increases the amount of CBD cannabis oil each patient can buy at a time, from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply.

International

UN Secretary General Talks Up Portugal's Drug Decriminalization. Addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres touted the success of Portugal's 18-year-old experiment with drug decriminalization, which began when he was Portuguese prime minister. "Current efforts have fallen short of the goal to eliminate the illicit drugs market," said Guterres. "We can promote efforts to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development and ensuring rights-based treatment and support. I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal when I was prime minister almost 20 years ago."

Chronicle AM: DC Demo on Philippine Drug War Next Week, BC Drug Decrim March, More... (2/21/18)

Ohio's medical marijuana program may have just hit a bump, hemp could be coming to Utah, drug users march for decriminalization in Vancouver, demonstrators will gather in DC next week to protest the Philippines drug war, and more.

Demonstrators call for an end to the Philippines drug war and the freedom of of one of Duterte's leading critics. (Facebook)
Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges Grow License Process. A lawsuit filed Tuesday by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia Regulators Will Recommend Allowing Smokeable Medical Marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced Tuesday that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

Industrial Hemp

Utah Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would allow the production and sale of hemp products in the state is headed for a House floor vote after being approved Tuesday by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. House Bill 302 authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Food to provide a hemp-growing license to "a person who wishes to participate in an industrial hemp research pilot program," according to a summary attached to the bill. The bill also allows those who would like to produce and sell hemp-based products "to distribute the registered hemp product in the state" if they obtain the license from the state to do so.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property. The measure now heads for the Assembly.

Foreign Policy

Trump Budget Would Cut Aid to Colombia in Half. The White House's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget would slash foreign assistance to Columbia by nearly half, even as the country struggles to implement a peace deal with leftist FARC rebels and address a record-breaking level of coca planting and cocaine production. The budget would reduce funds "to implement sustainable peace" in the "most affected zones" of the country's drug prohibition-fueled armed conflict from $180 million to $100 million. The budget also seeks a reduction of one-third in funding for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program. Colombia is a major recipient of aid under that program, too. The Washington Office on Latin America said the budget proposal would "squander an historic opportunity to help Colombia avoid a resurgence of criminal violence, while Insight Crime noted that "large cuts in aid could prove detrimental to efforts aimed at improving security conditions in… crime-wracked countries" like Colombia.

International

Vancouver Drug Users March to Demand Drug Decriminalization. Several hundred drug users and supporters took to the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to demand that the federal government change its drug policies and embrace drug decriminalization. The protest, part of a national day of action across the country, was organized by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and other groups. Decriminalization would "allow people to use drugs more safely without fear of arrest and detention," said Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who specializes in drug policy.

DC Demonstration Against Philippine Drug War Killings Set for Next Wednesday. On Wednesday, February 28th, please join Filipino Americans, drug policy reformers and other human rights defenders to call for an end to extrajudicial killings and for Senator de Lima to be freed. We will rally from noon to 1:00pm in front of the Philippines Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, DC. Among other things, the event will feature a street theater performance in which attendees will symbolically free a Senator de Lima figure from a realistic mobile model of a prison cell. Please email David Borden at [email protected] to get involved in preparations for this demonstration or for other information, and please spread the word!

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