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Stopping the Philippine Drug War Killings

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


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

featuring Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vice President Robredo's video and the UN Event

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

Global Sign-On Statement

 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislative Lobbying

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

– END –

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Speakers (subject to change):

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Oklahoma Legalization Init, New DEA Opioid Regs, Sri Lanka to Hang Drug Dealers, More... (7/11/18)

An Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative is in the midst of signature gathering, the DEA announces new regulations aimed at the opioid crisis, Sri Lanka cites the Philippines' "success" as it moves to resume hanging drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Has a Month Left to Meet Signature Requirement. A marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 797, has until August 8 to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers need 123,724 valid voter signatures to qualify, and have gathered more than 80,000 in two months of canvassing. To have a safe cushion, organizers need to roughly double their signature count in the remaining weeks.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Issues Cultivator Licenses. The state Medical Marijuana Commission has awarded cultivation licenses to five medical marijuana businesses. The move comes after an injunction blocking the move was lifted. Another 90 potential medical marijuana businesses were out of luck, but the commission will keep their applications on hand in case one of the five awarded licenses is revoked or if the commission decides to award the three additional licenses it could issue.

Oklahoma Approves Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana, Bans Sale of Smokable Medicine. The state Board of Health on Tuesday approved a proposed draft of emergency rules for the state's new medical marijuana program, but also voted to prohibit the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. Licensed medical marijuana patients could still smoke it if they grew their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Department of Justice Announces Regulatory Steps to Address Opioid Epidemic. The Department of Justice announced new guidelines that it says will enable the DEA to clamp down on diversion of prescription opioids. The announcement doesn't address whether patients who need the drugs for pain will still be able to get them:

 

"The Department of Justice today announced the finalization of an April proposal to improve the Drug Enforcement Administration's ability to control the diversion of dangerous drugs in the midst of the national opioid crisis. Announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the final rule sent for publication today in the Federal Register establishes that DEA will take into consideration the extent that a drug is diverted for abuse when it sets its annual opioid production limits," the DEA said in a press release Tuesday. "If DEA believes that that a particular opioid or a particular company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, this allows DEA to reduce the amount that can be produced in a given year. These revised limits will encourage vigilance on the part of opioid manufacturers, help DEA respond to the changing drug threat environment, and protect the American people from potentially addictive drugs while ensuring that the country has enough opioids for genuine medical, scientific, research and industrial needs."

 

International

Philippines Wants to Drug Test All High School, College Students. In what is actually a retreat from an earlier proposal to require mandatory drug testing for students as young as elementary school, the Philippines DEA is now proposing the mandatory drug testing of all high school and college students. But the move would require a change of law. Current Philippines law only allows for random -- not universal -- drug testing of students.

Sri Lanka to Begin Hanging Drug Dealers. President Maithripala Sirisena told his cabinet Wednesday he was "ready to sign the death warrants" of repeat drug offenders. "From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences," he said. While the death penalty for drugs remains on the books in Sri Lanka, no one has been executed for a drug offense since 1976. The government said it would try to replicate the "success" of hardline drug policies in the Philippines.

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Schumer Files MJ Decriminalization Bill, Canada Releases Legal MJ Regs, More... (6/28/18)

Chuck Schumer files a federal marijuana decriminalization bill, a Delaware legalization bill wins a majority but not the needed supermajority, Health Canada releases legal marijuana regulations, and more.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) files a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana. (Flickr/DonkeyHotay)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Democratic Leader Introduces Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana at the Federal Level. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would decriminalize and de-schedule marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also take some initial steps toward reducing the decades-long damage of marijuana criminalization. One provision would provide $20 million annually for state and local programs to expunge or seal the criminal records of people convicted of marijuana possession. It also creates a small business trust fund at the federal level (based on a fraction of the money generated by the marijuana industry) to give loans to small businesses owned by women and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Arizona Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Emerson College poll of Arizona voters has support for marijuana legalization at 53%, with 39% opposed. The poll noted that the group most split on the issue was Hispanic voters, with 45% in support and 44% opposed.

Majority of Delaware Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill, But It Fails. A bill that would legalize marijuana, House Bill 110, won a majority of votes in the House on Wednesday, but failed to advance because it needed the votes of at least 60% of representatives, and fell four votes short. The bill needed a supermajority because it contained provisions dealing with taxes and fees.

Las Vegas Will Try Again to Legalize Marijuana Lounges. The city of Las Vegas is again looking at ways of allowing social use venues for marijuana. The city held a public workshop Wednesday to discuss a draft ordinance to allow for such public use. Officials said the earliest the city council might vote on the issue is about three months from now.

International

Health Canada Rolls Out Legal Marijuana Regulations. Health Canada has released some 400 pages of regulations for the country's about-to-emerge legal marijuana industry. Among the highlights, criminal records won't necessarily bar employment in the industry; there will be subclasses of licenses for micro, standard, and nursery cultivation; pre-rolled joints will be limited to one gram of weed; and strict branding and packaging regulations.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

With final approval by the Senate Tuesday night, the Canadian parliament has legalized marijuana. That makes Canada the second country to legalize marijuana (after Uruguay), with what will be the world's second-largest legal marijuana market (after California).

Canada also becomes the first G7 country to free the weed. While nine US states and the District of Columbia have also legalized marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law here.

The move, fulfilling a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the ruling Liberal Party, puts an end to nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the Great White North. It didn't come without a struggle, with Conservative senators seeking to delay the measure and succeeding in pushing back the actual rollout date from a once-promised July to what Trudeau announced Wednesday would be October 17.

Under the Cannabis Act, people 18 and over (19 in some provinces) will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of pot in public, and each household can grow up to four plants. The House of Commons and the government turned back a Senate amendment that would have allowed provinces to ban home cultivation.

The law retains criminal penalties for possession of more than 30 grams or growing more than four plants, and includes an especially harsh provision mandating up to 14 years in prison for sales to minors.

Each province will have its own scheme for handling sales, with some considerable variation. In Ontario and New Brunswick, for instance, sales will be handled by the province, while in most other provinces, sales will be handled by the private sector or private-public collaborations. Marijuana will also be available for sale online.

But Canadians will have to wait for edibles. Marijuana-infused foods will not be available for purchase for some months until the government develops regulations for them.

Marijuana is already big business in Canada, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in sales in 2015, and Canadian marijuana producers are already geared up to produce a huge legal marijuana crop -- in fact, maybe too huge. The two largest producers, Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, are set to produce a million pounds each, while second-tier producers will be adding to a possible glut.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fulfilled a campaign promise. (Creative Commons)
But those are worries for down the road. Tuesday evening for was for celebrating.

"It's been too easy for our kids to get marijuana -- and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that," a triumphant Trudeau tweeted just after the final vote.

"We've just witnessed a very historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition," Liberal Senator Tony Dean told reporters. "It ends 90 years of needless criminalization, it ends a prohibition model that inhibited and discouraged public health and community health in favor of just-say-no approaches that simply failed young people miserably."

Not everyone was pleased. Senator Leo Housakos, a Quebec conservative, tweeted forebodingly that passage of the law would be "catastrophic for Canadian generations to come."

But while Canadian conservatives foresaw disaster, American activists saw a model to emulate.

"Canada should be applauded for taking bold and decisive steps towards ending the failed prohibition of marijuana," said Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Canada's progress will galvanize support for drug policy reforms in the US and all around the world."

Hetzer also lauded Canada's federalist approach to the issue and called for redressing the damage done to individuals by pot prohibition.

"Canada's decentralized system will give provinces the freedom to tailor marijuana legalization to their local needs and contexts, allowing us to study and learn from the many different models that will emerge," she said. "Canada should ensure that the harms of marijuana prohibition are rectified, especially by expunging people's marijuana arrest records and by investing in communities most harmed by prohibition."

"This is a historic step forward for the movement to end marijuana prohibition," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. "We commend the members of Parliament and the prime minister for their extraordinary demonstration of leadership on this issue. Canada will set a great example for countries that are considering similar reforms, and it will inspire much-needed debate in those that are not."

While the US states have taken the lead, it's an end to federal prohibition that is required, said Tvert. "It is time for the US to take similar action and adopt a more rational federal marijuana policy. There has been a lot of positive movement in Congress lately, so hopefully, members will be inspired to finally address this issue head-on, as Canada has."

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalizes Marijuana! (6/20/18)

Canada has become the second country to legalize marijuana after final votes in parliament Tuesday, the Supreme Court agrees to hear an Indiana asset forfeiture case, Eleanor Holmes Norton files a bill to allow marijuana in public housing in states where it's legal, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Bill to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing Where It's Legal. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed a bill that would allow residents of public housing in states and localities where marijuana is legal to use it at home without fear of being evicted. Under Norton's bill, a person may not be denied federally-assisted housing for the use of marijuana in jurisdictions where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized. Under Norton's bill, smoking marijuana would be treated the same as smoking tobacco in federally-assisted housing. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Case. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an Indiana man who used the proceeds of his father's life insurance policy to buy a $42,000 Land Rover only to have the vehicle seized after he was caught selling heroin with it. When authorities moved to forfeit the vehicle, Tyson Timbs challenged the action and won in the Grant Superior Court, with the judge finding the vehicle was purchased legally and that its forfeiture would be "grossly disproportionate" to Timb's offense. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the maximum fine for Timbs' offenses was only $10,000 and suggested the seizure amounted to an "excessive fine." The state Supreme Court then reversed, Timbs appealed, and here we are.

Reproductive Rights

Federal Appeals Court Panel Rejects Wisconsin Woman's "Cocaine Mom" Lawsuit. A three-judge panel on the US 7th Circuit of Appeals on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law, which permits the detention of pregnant women who are suspected of abusing drugs. The panel dismissed the case because the woman, Tammy Loetscher, had moved out of the state. A US district court judge last year found the law unconstitutional and issued an injunction barring it from being enforced, but the law has remained in force while the state appealed. The appeals court panel's ruling leaves the law in force for now. "Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," said Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which represented Loertscher.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana. With final votes in the House of Commons and Senate on Tuesday, the Canadian parliament has approved the marijuana legalization bill, C-45. The bill legalizes the possession of up to 30 grams in public and allows the cultivation of up to four plants per household. It will also allow for regulated and taxed marijuana businesses, with regulations of sales left to the provinces. Provincial and territorial governments need s few weeks to prepare for retail sales, so the actual rollout of legalization is expected to happen in mid-September.

Australia Festival Pill Testing a Success, Should Be Emulated, Report Finds. A study released Wednesday by the Safety and Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events finds that pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra in April was "an overwhelming success" and the federal government should take a leadership role in introducing a plan for broader pill testing. "The pilot demonstrated that such an intervention is possible and that people are willing to use the service, despite the limitations arising from the tight timelines, inauspicious physical infrastructure and the lack of dissemination strategies on-site during the festival," the report said. Less than half the drugs tested at the festival were relatively pure.

Chronicle AM: St. Louis Ends Small MJ Prosecutions, House Passes Opioid Package, More... (6/13/18)

St. Louis prosecutors will no longer go after people with less than 100 grams of marijuana, a Delaware legislator amends her legalization bill to address concerns, the House passes an opioid package, the Canadian federal government rejects some Senate marijuana amendments, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Amended. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) has filed an amendment to her legalization bill, House Bill 110, aimed at addressing concerns around regulations and public safety. The amendment would more tightly regulate legal marijuana production and distribution and prohibit products that look like candy or cartoon characters. The amendment also clarifies employer protections and sets aside 10% of tax revenues to pay for drugged driving enforcement. The bill has already passed committee votes and now awaits a House floor vote.

St. Louis Ends Marijuana Prosecutions for Less Than 100 Grams. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced Tuesday that her office will stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases involving less than 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) of the weed. "Effective immediately we will no longer issue possession of marijuana cases under 100 grams as the lead charge!" Gardner wrote. Gardner said her staff would also begin reviewing and dismissing pending pot cases.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Question On Democratic Ballot. Voters in the state's Democratic primary overwhelmingly approved a non-binding question asking if they supported passing a law to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. The question passed with 81% of the vote. While medical marijuana bills have moved in the legislature, none has yet passed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Passes Package of 25 Bills Addressing Opioid Crisis. The House on Tuesday approved a package of 25 bills that nibble at the edge of the nation's opioid-related public health crisis. The bills range from addressing the disposal of opioid medications after a patient's death to encouraging overdose awareness in hospital emergency rooms to raising awareness of synthetic opioids and more. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the title link.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Law Giving First Responders Immunity from Lawsuits for Administering Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Goes into Effect. Gov. John Carney (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 147, which provides immunity from lawsuits for public safety personnel for trying to save lives by administering Naloxone. Paramedics and police had previously been granted immunity, and laypersons also have immunity under the state's Good Samaritan law. This bill specifies that volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders will also have immunity.

International

Canadian Federal Government Rejects Some Senate Marijuana Legalization Bill Amendments. The federal government has said it accepts some 26 technical proposed amendments to the C-45 legalization bill but rejects amendments to allow provinces to bar home cultivation and prohibit producers from handing out branded merchandise. "We have looked carefully at all of the amendments that have been brought forward and today we respectfully submit to the Senate the amendments that we've accepted, and the ones that we haven't," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told reporters Wednesday. Now, it will be up to the Senate to accept the government's position. If not, the legislative haggling could continue for some time.

Drug War Issues

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