Decriminalization

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New Hampshire Just Decriminalized Marijuana Possession

As of noon last Saturday, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in New Hampshire. Now, nowhere is New England will someone caught with a joint or two be subject to arrest.

All of New England is now a minor pot bust-free zone. (Wikimedia)
Two New England states -- Maine and Massachusetts -- have legalized marijuana, and all the others have now decriminalized it.

Decriminalization came when, after years of effort, the legislature passed House Bill 640 in June, and Republican Gov. Jon Sununu signed it into law the following month.

Under the state's old law, people caught with small amounts of pot faced up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. Under the new law, the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce is reduced to a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years. A fourth offense within three years could be charged as a Class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or jail time.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been deeply involved in the state for years, congratulated state political leaders for going this far, but urged them to go further.

"The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform," said Matt Simon, MPP's Manchester-based New England political director. "Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that "Live Free or Die' is more than just a motto on a license plate.

"A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been supporting decriminalization bills since 2008," Simon said. "It was refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue in 2017. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire."

The next step would be outright legalization, Simon said, pointing to an August Granite State poll that showed more than two-thirds (68%) of state residents supported freeing the weed.

"There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether," Simon said.

"New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents' lead on this issue," Simon said. "Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire."

Chronicle AM: Ontario Goes With State-Owned Pot Shops, DEA Agent's Sordid Affair, More... (9/11/17)

Canada's most populous province is going with a state monopoly on legal marijuana sales, the CARERS Act is back, last week's surprise budget deal preserves protections for legal medical marijuana states for a few more months, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Preserves Medical Marijuana Protections -- For Now. The budget deal agreed to last week between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764) last Wednesday. The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Iowa Attorney General Cites Fed Fears to Block CBD from Out of State Dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Drug Policy

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins Trump's Drug Task Force. A Republican and Trump supporter, Bondi has been appointed to the Presidential Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, her office announced last Friday. The other commission members are chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), North Carolina Roy Cooper (D), former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), and Harvard professor Dr. Bertha Madras. The commission is supposed to issue a final report by October 1.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Congressman Files Bill to Broaden Medication Assisted Treatment. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 3692 to "amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide additional flexibility with respect to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders."

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent's Scandalous Affair Unveiled. A Justice Department inspector general's report released last Thursday revealed one bit of juicy scandal: A DEA agent carried on a wild affair with a convicted drug criminal for five years, and let her listen to active wiretaps, roam the evidence room unattended, and had sex with her in his office and official vehicle. The whole thing unraveled when she got pregnant, he reacted unfavorably, and she ratted him out to superiors. The unnamed agent was originally only suspended for 45 days, but was eventually fired.

International

Ontario Will Only Allow Legal Pot Sales in Government Monopoly Shops. Canada's most populous province announced last Friday that it will open 150 standalone pot shops operated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), as well as eventually allowing an online order service. Dispensaries that have sprouted up in the province are out of luck: "Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers," the province explained in a news release. "The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations."

Canadian Prime Minister Just Says No to Drug Decriminalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls from British Columbia public health and political figures to embrace drug decriminalization as part of a solution to the country's opioid crisis. "We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being," Trudeau told a news conference in BC last Thursday.

German Poll Finds Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Mafo Market Research Institute poll has found signs of a rapid shift in support for freeing the weed in Germany. Polls going back to 2001 have had support hovering around 19%, but things began to change around 2014. That year, a poll had 30% supporting legalization. In November 2015, another poll had support at 42%. The new Mafo poll has support at 57.5%.

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: OR Defelonizes Drug Possession, Iran Could Cut Drug Executions, More... (8/16/17)

Oregon is the latest state to decriminalize drug possession, Iran moves to reduce drug trafficking executions, Philippines President Duterte cheers on cops killing drug suspects, and more.

We could see less of this if a bill in Iran's parliament wins final approval. (handsoffcain.net)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legal Pot Sales Won't Meet February Deadline. The legislative committee tasked with implementing marijuana legalization finished its preliminary work Tuesday, but with the committee's recommendations still having to be turned into a draft bill to be debated by legislators, the agencies that will oversee the recreational market will not be able to meet a February deadline for opening pot shops, committee co-chair Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) said.

Michigan Legalization Signature Gathering Campaign Passes Halfway Mark. MI Legalize, the folks behind the 2018 marijuana legalization initiative, announced Wednesday that they will pass the 200,000 mark on raw signatures next week. The campaign has set a goal of collecting 366,000 raw signatures to meet a state requirement of 252,523 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign needs to gather its signatures within a six-month window and appears to be easily on track to do so.

Drug Policy

Oregon Becomes Latest State to Defelonize Drug Possession. Governor Kate Brown (D) signed into law on Tuesday a bill that defelonizes the possession of personal amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Possession of small amounts will now be a misdemeanor. The new law takes effect immediately. [Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the law as decriminalizing drug possession.]

International

Iran Parliament Moves to Reduce Drug Executions. The Majlis on Sunday passed a long-discussed amendment to the country's drug laws that would limit imposition of the death penalty in drug trafficking cases to those involving more than 110 pounds of opium or more than 4.4 pounds of heroin, morphine, or cocaine. Iran carried out more than 500 executions last year, most of them for drug offenses, making it one of the world's leading executioners. An estimated 5,000 people are on death row for drug offenses in Iran, and the new law would save many of them from the gallows. But it's not a done deal yet: The measure still needs another parliamentary vote and then must be approved by the council of clerics.

Philippines Police Kill 32 in Drug Raids, Earn Praise from Duterte. In one of the bloodiest operations of a very bloody war on drug users, police killed 32 people on Monday in raids in Bulacan province. Police were doing a heck of a job, Duterte said in remarks reported by France 24 TV: "The ones who died recently in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that was good," Duterte said. "If we could kill another 32 everyday, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country."

Belize Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Set for Parliament. An amendment to the country's Misuse of Drugs Act that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is set to be filed in parliament on Friday, according to committee members and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke. The proposal has been in the works since 2015, when legal drafting got underway.

Chronicle AM: Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids, More... (8/10/17)

The president says he will formally declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, Latino legislators embrace marijuana legalization, Utah medical marijuana supporters can begin signature-gathering for their initiative, and more.

The president will declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, he said Thursday. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Latino State Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for marijuana legalization. The group, which represents Latino legislators across the country, cited legalization's impact on reducing the black market and providing tax revenues, as well as the racist origins of marijuana prohibition.

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 334, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for the legislature's special session. The bill would decriminalize someone's first three pot possession offenses, but prosecutors could charge a misdemeanor for a fourth offense. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

New York Proposes Regs to Expand State's Medical Marijuana Program. The state Health Department has released new proposed regulations that would ease access to the program. Among the proposals are reducing security requirements for registered groups, shortening the length of the course doctors must take to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and allowing two more types of marijuana products to be sold.

Utah Initiative Backers Get Okay to Begin Signature Gathering. The Utah Patients Coalition has received permission from state officials to begin signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative. The group will need 113,000 valid voter signatures before April 15, 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids. President Trump said on Thursday that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency and that he will act to officially declare it so. "The opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency," Trump said in remarks reported by Reuters. "We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had." Trump's announcement comes a week after a White House commission on the opioid crisis urged him to declare a national emergency. The move could free up more resources to fight the overdose epidemic and give the government more flexibility to deal with the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Pair of Congressmen Urge Sessions to Reconsider on Asset Forfeiture. US Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions objecting to his plan to expand the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program. "I am deeply disappointed by the Justice Department's recent move to reverse its ban on adoptive seizures," said Conyers in a statement. "The prior policy, which was instituted in January of 2015, greatly curtailed this practice, which provides financial incentives for law enforcement to seize the property -- including the homes -- of individuals who may not even be guilty of a crime. I call on Senator Sessions to withdraw the new policy, which is contrary to the growing bipartisan effort to reform our civil forfeiture laws and practices. Indeed, the time has come for Congress to enact the DUE PROCESS Act, a bipartisan bill to significantly alter these laws and increase protections for innocent property owners."

In Bid to Defend Marijuana Arrests, NYC Mayor de Blasio Attacks Drug Reformers

Last month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a report noting that marijuana arrests under New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio continue to be marked by shocking racial disparities, much as they were under his predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Stung by the criticism, de Blasio is fighting back, but his response so far has consisted of attacking DPA as "legalizers" and comparing apples to oranges.

New York City still has a marijuana arrest problem under Mayor de Blasio. (Wikimedia)
The DPA report, Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York, noted that while marijuana possession arrests are down under de Blasio from the grotesque numbers achieved under Giuliani (more than 40,000 arrests in 2001) or Bloomberg (more than 50,000 arrests in 2011), NYPD still arrested made more than 18,000 of them last year. A whopping 86% of them were black or brown, maintaining the racial disparities so apparent in earlier administrations.

That's "a far cry from the Mayor's pledge to rein in NYPD's targeting of people of color," charged DPA New York State Director Kassandra Frederique in the report. That de Blasio had managed to bring pot arrests down to an average of only 20,000 a year during his tenure shouldn't be portrayed as progress, argued Frederique, instead describing it as "slower injustice, but slower injustice is still injustice delivered."

De Blasio struck back last Friday, releasing a statement that called the DPA report "misleading" and attacked DPA as "a group committed to legalization." De Blasio's statement emphasized that marijuana arrests had dropped significantly under his administration -- something DPA never disputed -- but failed to address the claim of continuing racial disparities in arrests. Instead, it merely noted that because arrests were down overall, arrests of black and brown people were down, too.

But the takeaway sentence in de Blasio's statement inadvertently makes DPA's case:

As a result of this new policy, arrests for marijuana possession are down 37%  -- from almost 29,000 in 2013 to approximately 18,000 in 2016. This has translated into approximately 9,600 fewer arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers for marijuana possession in 2016 as compared to 2013.

In other words, a reduction of less than 11,000 total marijuana arrests between the two years resulted in about 9,600 people of color not being arrested. De Blasio's own data and arguments show that the city's minorities clearly take the brunt of marijuana law enforcement, his wriggling notwithstanding.

And now, DPA is returning fire at de Blasio.

"Mayor de Blasio is not disputing the data published in our report, he is trying to spin his poor record to look as though he has made some progress," Frederique said in a Friday press release. "In reality, New York City was the marijuana arrest capital of the world under Bloomberg and still holds that dubious title under de Blasio today. The 18,000 arrests in 2016 alone and outrageous racial disparities are a disgrace to the city and a blight on the mayor’s record. The unjust and racially-targeted arrests are devastating black and Latino communities across the city."

Frederique also applied some political ju-jitsu to de Blasio's "legalizer" attack.

"The mayor’s efforts to discredit the report and the Drug Policy Alliance by calling us legalizers, is a desperate attempt to distract the public from the facts of his abysmal record. Our report is based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Rather than attack his critics, the mayor should attack the problem of racially-targeted arrests," she said. "For the record, the Drug Policy Alliance is committed to marijuana legalization to increase access for patients and end targeted policing in communities of color. And we’re not alone; nearly 60% of Americans also support legalization."

Instead of attacking critics, the mayor should fix the problem, Frederique added.

"It’s time for the mayor to get out of the spin cycle and back to work," she prescribed. "The mayor must end the biased policing practices that have ruined the lives of so many young black and Latino New Yorkers now."

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Secret Safe Injection Site in US City, VT "Blue Ribbon" MJ Panel, More... (8/8/17)

The body representing state legislatures again calls for marijuana reforms, Vermont's governor is about to empanel on commission to study legalization issues, a safe injection site has been operating secretly in a US city for the past three years, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site has a hidden counterpart somewhere in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

National Conference of State Legislatures Urges De-Scheduling Marijuana. The National Conference of State Legislatures has approved a resolution calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The resolution approved on Monday specifically references access to banking, saying such a move would result in "… enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses." This marks the third year in a row the conference has passed a resolution on marijuana, going a bit further each time. In 2015, it resolved that federal laws should be amended to allow states to set their own pot policies, and last year, it resolved that marijuana should be down-scheduled.

Vermont Governor About to Convene "Blue Ribbon Commission" on Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will shortly convene a commission to study issues around marijuana legalization, but it looks like his emphasis will be on how to detect marijuana impairment in drivers rather than examining models for legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill, citing concerns about driving and youth, and he says now that he will not sign a bill that doesn't have stringent standards on impaired driving.

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Decriminalization. Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter Monday to the State Crime Commission, which is studying decriminalization, in support of the notion. That position contrasts with Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who says he opposes legalization or decriminalization, but is open to exploring reforms to ensure that penalties are commensurate with the offense committed. Polling shows a majority of Virginians favor decrim. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra, meanwhile, says just tax and legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Republican Will File Medical Marijuana Bill to Fight Opioid Overdoses. State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he plans to file a medical marijuana bill in a bid to combat opioid abuse. He said he was acting after hearing from constituents. "People telling me their personal stories, how they've been helped by this product, how far behind Indiana is on this issue," he told the Indianapolis Star. "That right there, we have a responsibility to at least investigate it and determine the facts, and if there is something positive out there, we have to pursue that."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go Into Effect Wednesday. A new law limiting civil asset forfeiture reform goes into effect Wednesday. House Bill 2477 does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the standard of proof necessary for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."

Harm Reduction

Underground Safe Injection Site Has Been Operating in a US City for Three Years. In a report released Tuesday, two researchers revealed that they've been studying an unpermitted safe injection site in operation since 2014. They reported that no one died while using drugs at the site and that two overdoses were reversed by staff members administering naloxone. The report comes as pressure to authorize such sites is mounting, with lawmakers in states like California and New York and cities including San Francisco, Seattle, and Ithaca, New York, backing such efforts.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, 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 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: 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.

Chronicle AM: MI Init Signatures Coming Fast, OR Decriminalizes Drug Possession, More... (7/11/17)

Michigan legalizers are fast off the mark in their initiative signature-gathering campaign, the Drug Policy Alliance and 30 groups call for drug decriminalization, Oregon is set to defelonize drug possession, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Initiative Campaign Already Has 100,000 Raw Signatures. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which wants to put a legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot, announced Monday that signature gathering was ahead of schedule and that the group had already passed the 100,000 mark. To qualify for the ballot, the group must collect 252,523 valid voter signatures within a six-month period. They began signature gathering in late May.

DC Public Use Marijuana Arrests Tripled Last Year. More than 400 people were arrested in the nation's capital last year for publicly using marijuana, a nearly three-fold jump over the 142 arrested in 2015. And this year so far the pace of arrests remains steady. Some advocates criticized the increase in arrests, with Adam Eidinger, the man behind DC's legalization law, saying the right to smoke marijuana in the District is effectively reserved for "those who own private property," with renters, residents of public housing, and visitors out of luck. "A lot of it is people not realizing they can't smoke in public," he said of the increase in arrests. "A lot of it is people who have no place else to go."

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Ricardo Rosello, a former biomedical engineer, on Sunday signed into law a bill that legalizes and regulates medical marijuana in the US territory. The move comes after Rossello criticized an earlier executive order allowing medical marijuana as insufficient. "As a scientist, I know firsthand the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on patients with various diseases," he said. "The time has come for Puerto Rico to join the flow of countries and states that have created similar legislation."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Report Calls for US Drug Decriminalization. In a new report endorsed by more than 30 organizations, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for the end of arresting people simply for using or possessing drugs. "Our current laws have branded tens of millions of people with a lifelong criminal record that makes it hard to get a job or an apartment," said Art Way, senior director of national criminal justice strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The experience of the last few decades shows that criminalization has been utterly ineffective in reducing problematic drug use."

Sentencing

Oregon Defelonizes Drug Possession. The state legislature has approved House Bill 2355, which makes simple possession of drugs such as heroin, MDMA, and meth a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail. Under current law, drug possession is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill also includes a provision aimed at reducing racial profiling by police. The legislature also approved House Bill 3079, which reduces penalties for property crimes often related to problematic drug use. Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign the bills into law shortly.

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