Decriminalization

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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: CA Legal Pot Draft Rules Unveiled, Opioid Crackdown Hurts Pain Patients, More... (7/16/18)

California regulators issue proposed draft regulations for the legal marijuana market, British police are "in effect" decriminalizing marijuana, the opioid crackdown is impacting chronic pain patients, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations Unveiled. State regulators last Friday unveiled their much-anticipated draft of permanent regulations for the state's legal marijuana industry. Under the proposed regulations, pot shops would be able to deliver marijuana anywhere in the state, medical marijuana patients will likely be able to buy edibles more potent than currently permitted, but rules for advertising products could become more strict. The public now has 45 days to weigh in on the draft rules, either in writing or at one of 10 hearings to be held throughout the state.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Risks Leaving Pain Patients Out of Luck. With the country in the midst of a battle against opioid addiction and overdoses, policies to curtail the use of opioids are impacting chronic pain patients and making their lives more difficult. New prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, new state laws, state medical board sanctions, and policy changes by managed-care and prescription plans have all contributed to what pain patients call "changes have ignored the treatment of their pain and have made it harder for many to find care."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Appeals Court Rules That People With Drug Convictions Can't Be Subjected to Drug Tests Forever to Receive Welfare Benefits. The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that people with previous drug convictions cannot be permanently required to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. The ruling came in the case of a woman convicted of drug possession in 1997 who refused to take a drug test in 2016 and lost her benefits. Under a 1997 state law, people convicted of drug offenses are ineligible for benefits for five years after their sentences are over (unless they've completed drug treatment) and are subject to random drug tests in perpetuity. "Granting effect to the [Department of Human Services'] current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence," Judge Roger Klaphake wrote on his opinion overturning a denial of benefits to the woman. "Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not ''[p]ersons subject to the limitations of this subdivision' and are not required to undergo chemical testing for receipt of benefits under chapter 256D," he wrote on behalf of a divided three-judge panel.

International

Brazil Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The opposition Workers' /Party has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana in South America's largest and most populous country. The move comes a year after Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso called on lawmakers to legalize marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence. But given that the Workers' Party is the minority, this bill is unlikely to move this year.

British Police "In Effect" Decriminalizing Marijuana. British police are effectively decriminalizing marijuana by not bothering to arrest pot smokers, British arrest statistics show. Marijuana arrests have dropped 19% since 2015 and so have warnings, which declined 34% in the same period. "The fall in prosecutions and cautions for cannabis possession is a welcome trend and a victory for common sense," said Liberal Democrat MP David Lamb. "The 'war on cannabis' unfairly stigmatizes and criminalizes young people who are doing no harm to others, while tying up police resources which should be better used tackling harmful crimes. However, this issue should not be left to individual police forces. We cannot tolerate a postcode lottery where cannabis users may or may not be prosecuted depending on where they live. The government must bring forward proposals for a regulated cannabis market in the interests of public health, with strict controls on price and potency, and give parliament a free vote."

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."

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."

One of the World's Most Prestigious Medical Journals Just Called for Legalizing All Drugs

Embracing a harm reduction and public health perspective, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals has released a signed editorial calling for the legalization, taxation, and regulation of currently illegal drugs.

In a editorial last Thursday entitled Drugs Should Be Legalised, Regulated, and Taxed, Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, notes that under drug prohibition, the global trade "fuels organized crime and human misery," and asks, "Why should it not instead fund public services?"

Citing an opinion piece in the same issue of the BMJ from British members of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP, formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse, Godlee notes that in the United Kingdom (as in the United States) "vast sums are spent prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities" while that money would be much better "spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection." Under legalization, "revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers," she writes.

Godlee notes that the global drug prohibition consensus is fraying around the edges, and points to the example of Portugal, which decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. There, drug use remains in line with levels in other European countries, but the harms associated with drug use under prohibition have decreased dramatically, particularly in terms of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of injection drug-related infectious disease.

Godlee also pointed to the Netherlands, the United States, and soon, Canada, where "regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues."

Again returning to the opinion piece by Reed and Whitehouse, Godlee writes that "when law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalized, we have to listen." Ditto for when doctors speak up, she adds, noting that just last month, the Royal College of Physicians came out in favor of drug decriminalization, joining the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform.

"This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad," Godlee concludes. "It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime… The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard."

Unfortunately for the BMJ and the other public health advocates, as in the United States, the political class in the United Kingdom isn't yet on board with evidence-based best practices on drug policy. But this editorial loosens another brick in the wall -- on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chronicle AM: Canada Liberals Endorse Drug Decrim, Gillibrand Says Legalize It, More... (4/23/18)

Canada's Liberal Party formally endorses drug decriminalization (although Justin Trudeau is keeping his distance), the State Department cites continuing human rights concerns in the Philippines drug war, a Utah medical marijuana initiative appears set to make the November ballot, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says it is time to legalize marijuana. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Kirsten Gillibrand Says Time to Legalize Marijuana, Calls on Sessions to Meet With People Busted for Pot. The junior senator from New York and potential Democratic presidential contender said Sunday the time has come to legalize marijuana and that she had sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions inviting him to discuss the impact of the drug war with New Yorkers who have been denied jobs, housing, and college financial aid because of non-violent drug crimes. She also called on Sessions to reinstate the Cole memo, the Obama administration's policy of largely leaving state-legal marijuana alone.

Idaho Democratic Gubernatorial Contenders Split on Marijuana Policy. One Democrat running for governor wants to legalize marijuana; the other does not. In a Sunday night debate on Idaho Public Television, contender Paulette Jordan said she fully supports legalization and cited the tax benefits for the state. Boise businessman AJ Balukoff, who is also seeking the nomination, disagreed. He said he is opposed to the substance and believes medical marijuana needs to be properly tested. Idaho is one of four states in the country that has not passed any form of marijuana law reform, not even a CBD medical marijuana law.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Went into Effect on 4/20. New Mexico's largest city has now decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The change went into effect last Friday after a measure was passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Tim Keller. Possession remains a crime under state and federal law.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Initiative Appears Set to Qualify for November Ballot. A medical marijuana initiative from the Utah Patients Coalition looks very likely to qualify for the November ballot. While it won't be official until May 15, petitioners appear to have met the overall signature requirement, with 145,000 registered voter signatures in hand, well above the 113,000 required. But the initiative also must meet specific signature thresholds in each of the state's 29 state Senate districts. As of last Friday, they had done so in 26 of them.

Foreign Policy

State Department Says Drug War Killings Remain Top Philippines Human Rights Concern. In its global rights report for 2017, the State Department said drug war killings and rising police impunity remain the top human rights concerns in the Philippines. "Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,"reads the report released Friday (Washington time). The report also expressed doubt and uncertainty over Filipino government reports on the killings. "Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings,"the report read in part. "Some civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings,"it added.

International

Canadian Liberals Formally Endorse Drug Decriminalization, Trudeau Demurs. Canada's governing Liberal Party endorsed the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs at its national convention Saturday. But party policy isn't necessarily government policy, and party leader Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has distanced himself from the decriminalization plank. Drug decriminalization, as well as the decriminalization of sex work and proposals to reform health care, which the party also approved, are seen as bolstering the Liberals' odds against the New Democrats, who traditionally attack them from the left.

(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 web site. 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: Trump Undercuts AG on Pot, Key GOP Pol Nixes Food Stamp Drug Tests, More... (4/16/18)

The president appears to leave his attorney general out to dry on marijuana policy, New York's governor is being pushed left on pot by a celebrity challenger, a key GOP lawmaker opposes the Trump push to drug test food stamp recipients, and more.

Donald Trump looks like he's hung Jeff Sessions out to dry when it comes to marijuana policy. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Appears to Undercut Jeff Sessions' War on Weed. President Trump last week signaled a dramatic turnaround in administration marijuana policy, telling Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner that the Justice Department would not go after state-legal marijuana in Colorado and that he would support moves to address the contradiction between legal marijuana states and federal pot prohibition. That puts Trump in line with his own campaign statements that marijuana should be a states' rights issue, but at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and who has explicitly told federal prosecutors they are free to go after the legal marijuana industry. Sessions, who is much abused by Trump for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, now finds himself on the outs on pot policy, too.

Maine Governor Says Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill Faces "Automatic" Veto. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is threatening an "automatic" veto of a compromise bill designed to get the state's legal marijuana commerce system up and running. He said he was unhappy with a provision that allows registered medical marijuana patients to avoid paying excise taxes, suggesting that people would register as patients just to avoid taxes. But the House has already passed the bill by a veto-proof majority and the Senate could do so this week.

Sex in the City Challenger Pushes New York Governor to the Left on Pot Policy. Actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role in Sex in the City, is pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the left on marijuana policy. Nixon has announced her candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and she has made marijuana legalization a banner issue. Cuomo has opposed legalization, although he shifted slightly in January, when he announced he would form a panel to explore freeing the weed. But now, with Nixon getting lots of attention for her pot stance, Cuomo is hinting at more movement. "The situation has changed drastically with marijuana," he said at a news conference last Thursday. "It's no longer a question of legal or not legal. It's legal in Massachusetts. It may be legal in New Jersey, which means for all intents and purposes, it's going to be here anyway. The majority of the legislature is, I would say, against legalizing it," he continued. "I said it's a new day; let's look at the facts. I know people have opinions -- and it's hard to get people to change opinions -- but opinions should be based on facts. So let's talk to the experts, let's put together the facts."

Drug Testing

Key GOP Lawmaker Opposes Drug Testing for Food Stamps. Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said last Friday that he "generally opposes" drug testing food stamp recipients. The remarks were in reaction to a plan floated last week by the Trump administration to allow states to do just that. The Agriculture Committee has authority over the food stamp program and is currently crafting a bill that includes an overhaul of the program, but contains no provision for drug testing. "I'm generally opposed to drug testing because I think it hurts the children," Conway said. "Most of these folks who are on the program, if they've got children involved, the children would still get their SNAP benefits but the parents wouldn't, and you're hurting the kid." Conway said he'd rather "figure out a way to help them."

International

Australian Greens Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Australian Green Party has called for the full legalization of marijuana, with a new government agency to act as the sole wholesaler of packaged pot. The Green proposal also includes a provision for growing up to six plants at home. The Greens aren't considered a major party in Australia, but they do have federal representation. The call for legalization differentiates the Greens from Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition, both of which support a 2016 plan to legalize only medical marijuana.

Irish Greens Call for Marijuana Decriminalization, Dutch-Style Coffee Shops. The Irish Green Party has called for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The current law has "made criminals out of decent people," the party says. The Green proposal would decriminalize the possession of up to five grams, as well as contemplating a Dutch-style coffee shop system. The Irish Greens aren't considered a major political party, but they do have two people in the Dail, the Irish parliament.

(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 web site. 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.)

Europe's Top Five Cities for Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Speed Use

Do you want to know Europe's true party capitals? The European Monitoring Commission on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) is here to help. Last month it released its latest annual report on drug use levels in 56 European cities in 19 countries.

Raving in Vienna (Wikimedia)
The report relied not on survey results or extrapolations from drug seizures, but a much more direct method: an analysis of daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Researchers analyzed the wastewater from approximately 43 million people, looking for traces of four illicit drugs: amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

The epidemiological analysis of wastewater is "a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to real-time, population-driven trends in illicit drug use," the EMCDDA points out. Their researchers can now use it to estimate levels of drug use by measuring the levels of drugs and their metabolites excreted into the sewers by urine.

So, which cities are doing the most drugs? We'll give you the top five for each drug, as well as a bit of discussion below:

Amphetamines (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     271.7

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      268.8

Saarbrucken (Germany)        242.0

Oostende (Belgium)               236.4

Mainz (Germany)                    226.9

The loads of amphetamine detected varied considerably across study locations, with cities in the north and east of Europe reporting much higher levels than in the south. Amphetamine, a working man's drug, was also found more evenly throughout the week than the party drugs, which tend to show up more in weekend samples. Of the top 15 cities, nine were in Germany, three each in Belgium and the Netherlands, and one in Iceland. Berlin came in 10th, Amsterdam 11th.

Cocaine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Barcelona (Spain)                  965.2

Zurich (Switzerland)             934.4

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      822.9

St. Gallen Hofen (Switzerland)      821.7

Geneva (Switzerland)           794.8

Cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, but Switzerland, with three of the top five and five of the top 10 cokiest cities, certainly deserves mention. Year-to-year figures show that an upward trend first reported in 2016 continues.

MDMA (Ecstasy)(milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Amsterdam (Netherlands)    230.3

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     165.1

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      95.3

Zurich (Switzerland)             85.2

Utretcht (Netherlands)          59.8

The Dutch really love their E, taking three of the top five spots, and nearby Antwerp is really starting to look like an unsung drug hotspot, appearing in all three top fives so far. Berlin, Barcelona, Geneva, and Paris are all in the top 10, but at use levels only about one-fifth of Amsterdam.

Methamphetamine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Chemnitz (Germany)            240.6

Erfurt (Germany)                 211.2

Budweis (Czech Republic)      200.2

Brno (Czech Republic)            105.7

Dresden (Germany)              180.2

Like plain old amphetamine, meth use generally concentrated in northwest Europe, although the Czech Republic is certainly cranking, too, as it traditionally has. It is most popular in eastern Germany, Finland, and Norway.

One city worth mentioning is notable for its absence from these top fives: Lisbon. Portugal is the only country in Europe to have decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs, but its capital and largest city consistently ranked low-to-middling in drug use levels: The wastewater in Lisbon contained zero methamphetamine, came in 11th for Ecstasy use, 45th for amphetamine use, and 28th for cocaine use.

Those figures from Lisbon strongly suggest that other countries can decriminalize drug use and possession without seeing their populations turned into deranged party animals. In the meantime, the real party animals might want to head to Antwerp.

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.

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