Marijuana -- Personal Use

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Chronicle AM: OK Health Board Retreats on MedMJ, UK ACMD Supports MedMJ, More... (7/20/18)

The battle over Oklahoma's new medical marijuana law continues, the British Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs calls for medical marijuana legalization, the Pennsylvania auditor calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

Medical marijuana is at issue in Oklahoma and Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Auditor, Pittsburgh Mayor Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday released a report saying marijuana could be a $1.7 billion industry in the state, generating more than $500 million in tax revenues. Joining DePasquale was Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "This issue not only has a revenue side to it, but it also has a personal side to it -- people whose lives are thrown out of balance because of the penalization of cannabis not being legal, people who are not able to have access to housing or access to jobs or access to an opportunity in life," Peduto said.

Jersey City Decriminalizes Possession. The city becomes the first in the state to decriminalize small-time pot possession. A decriminalization ordinance went into effect Thursday. Under the ordinance, the city's assistant prosecutors will have discretion in which cases to pursue.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Board to Reconsider Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health said Wednesday it will meet "as soon as possible" to reconsider restrictive rules it imposed on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. The move comes after a storm of opposition arose in response to its rules requiring pharmacists to be present at dispensaries and banning the sale of smokeable marijuana at dispensaries. "The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible," board president Jim Starkey said in a news release. "The Oklahoma State Health Department staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program."

Oklahoma Legislature Forms Bipartisan Group to Work on Medical Marijuana Implementation. Senate Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced Thursday they would form the committee after the State Board of Health added two controversial amendments to the rules regulating marijuana."Oklahoma voters made their choice, and the Senate will work to ensure State Question 788 is implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the voters' choice." Treat said.

International

British Drug Advisory Committee Calls for Legal Medical Marijuana. The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has called for the legalization of medical marijuana. In a "short-term advice," the group said the plant had medicinal benefits and doctors should be able to prescribe it. The ACMD also called for marijuana to be down-scheduled in the country's drug classification scheme.

Chronicle AM: Warren Slams Trump on Opioids, White House Says No Drug Legalization, More... (6/19/18)

A leading Democratic senator scolds the White House on the opioid crisis, the White House rejects drug legalization, the Lebanese consider legalizing marijuana cultivation for medicine, and more.

A Lebanese hash field. It could be turned into medical marijuana soon. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Festival Investigated for Allowing Marijuana Consumption. The Alaska Hempfest held last month allowed attendees who wanted to indulge on-site to smoke marijuana in a tent on the festival grounds, and that now has the festival in hot water with the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. State law and industry regulations prohibit public consumption of marijuana. Festival organizers have been notified that an investigation is underway and that they will likely face a fine of several thousand dollars.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Elizabeth Warren Slams Trump on Lame Response to Opioid Crisis. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has ripped into President Trump over his lack of effective responses to the opioid crisis. In a letter released Thursday, Warren wrote: "Experts and observers have concluded that your efforts to address the crisis are 'pathetic' and 'ambiguous promises' that are falling far short of what is needed and not… addressing the epidemic with the urgency it demands. I agree and urge to move quickly to address these problems."

Drug Policy

White House Rejects Drug Legalization. In response to a question about Mexico's incoming president's openness to discussing drug legalization as an alternative to the bloody status quo south of the border, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made clear Wednesday that the Trump administration wasn't interested in anything like that. "I don't have a specific policy announcement on that front," Sanders said at the daily White House press briefing. "However, I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere and certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country."

International

Lebanon's Parliament Will Take Up Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation for Medical Purposes. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday the parliament is considering legalizing marijuana cultivation for medical purposes in a bid to boost the economy. "The Lebanese Parliament is preparing to study and adopt the legislation necessary to legislate the cultivation of cannabis and its manufacture for medical uses in the manner of many European countries and some US states," Berri's office said, reporting on comments made in a meeting with the US ambassador in Beirut.

Bulldozed to Death for Growing Ten Marijuana Plants

Getting caught growing a few pot plants in Pennsylvania could lead to a criminal charge and a likely sentence of probation, but for a Lehigh Valley man, it was a death sentence. This past Monday, 51-year-old Gregory A. Longenecker was found dead under a bulldozer operated by a state Game Commission worker and carrying a state trooper hunting for two men spotted near a freshly-discovered marijuana grow.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the Game Commission bulldozer operator was using the machine to improve access to fields on game lands when he spotted a car well off the road in the brush and called police. Officers from nearby Bernville Borough were first on the scene and quickly found a plot containing ten growing marijuana plants.

The cops saw two men emerge from the underbrush and take off running, said Trooper David Boehm, a state police spokesman. "They were back there doing whatever they have to do to their plants," he said. "It was kind of carved out of the underbrush, which I've never seen underbrush that thick ever. It was crazy how thick it was."

The two men were Longenecker and his long-time friend David Brook Light, 54. Light was quickly taken into custody by the Bernville chief of police, but Longenecker eluded immediate capture. The state police arrived on the scene and ordered one of their helicopters to join the search. The chopper pilot spotted Longenecker in the brush but then lost him. Meanwhile, a state trooper and the bulldozer operator were roaring through the brush looking for him.

"An attempt to hail the other male was unsuccessful," Beohm said in a news release. "The helicopter lost sight of the male and was giving directions to the bulldozer of his last location. The Game Commission employee and a Trooper were on the bulldozer driving through the thick underbrush. The bulldozer stopped in the underbrush. The second male was located under the rear of the bulldozer deceased."

That's right: Confronted with a small-scale illicit marijuana grow on public land, the State Police deployed a helicopter and the on-scene bulldozer and managed to kill their target. But that's not how the cops tried to spin it.

First, Trooper Boehm denied that Longenecker died as a result of a police pursuit. "They were just trying to locate this guy with use of a helicopter," he explained.

Then he suggested that Longenecker may have died of natural causes. "The reason it's unclear if Longenecker was struck and killed by the bulldozer is that Longenecker, because of his age, could have had a heart attack while fleeing through the dense thicket," Boehm said.

But that attempted diversion was foiled on Tuesday when the preliminary autopsy report came out. That report found that Longenecker died of traumatic injuries after being run over by the bulldozer. A final ruling on the cause of death awaits toxicology tests, but it is clear that he died after being run over by the bulldozer.

The case has aroused the ire of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has denounced what it calls the excessive use of force by state law enforcement.

"This awful event could have and should have been prevented," said national NORML executive director Erik Altieri. "This tragedy is a direct result of our nation's draconic and failed criminalization of marijuana. Not only was the use of resources in this matter excessive and the tactics highly questionable, but more importantly a man lost his life over the act of growing a plant that is now legally regulated in a majority of US states. No matter your opinion on marijuana legalization, the penalty for growing cannabis should never be an extrajudicial death sentence."

"As a former prosecutor and practicing criminal defense attorney, it is inconceivable to me that a man lost his life during an investigation of a very small grow," said Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightengale. "Had he been arrested, prosecuted and convicted, Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines would have provided for a sentence of probation. The heavy-handed tactics employed cannot be justified by the seizure of ten plants. I do not understand why law enforcement couldn't simply wait. A vehicle was on scene and another individual was taken into custody. Rip the plants, run the plate and ask the arrestee what his friend's name is. How difficult is that?"

Medical marijuana is already legal in 31 states, including Pennsylvania, and legal marijuana for adults is already permitted in nine states and Washington, DC. A bill to legalize marijuana in the state failed to advance this year, even though 59% of state residents support freeing the weed.

"As an activist and cannabis lobbyist in Pennsylvania, I always use decorum and process to my advantage. There would seem to have been a total lack of both by law enforcement this past Monday outside of Bernville. By all accounts the death of an illicit marijuana grower being chased by a state bulldozer, under the direction of Pennsylvania State Troopers, was an unnecessary and reckless use of resources," said Jeff Riedy, executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML. "These horrible events only fuel the need for marijuana reform, including the right for personal use and home cultivation in our state, and across this country. Endless pursuit at all costs, leading to the death of a suspect, over a few marijuana plants is excessive, to say the least."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: NY State Report Calls for Marijuana Legalization, DOJ Fentanyl Crackdown, More... (7/13/18)

Wine and liquor wholesalers endorse legalizing marijuana "like alcohol," a New York state report calls for marijuana legalization, Attorney General Sessions announces a crackdown on fentanyl, and more.

Jeff Sessions continues to wage last century's drug war as he tries a crackdown on fentanyl. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Wine and Liquor Wholesalers Endorses Marijuana Legalization If Regulated Like Alcohol. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) trade group is is urging Congress to pass legislation that adopts a number of regulatory components for cannabis that are similar to those for beverage alcohol. They include a minimum purchase age of 21; driving under the influence standards; licensing for producers, processors, distributors, and retailers; policies to prevent vertical monopoly/integration; hours and days of sale in parity with alcohol; tax collection and enforcement mechanisms; labeling requirements; advertising restrictions; product tracking; restrictions on common carrier delivery; and measures to prevent diversion of cannabis to other states.

New York Governor Releases Report Recommending New York State Legalize Marijuana for Adult Use. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and the New York State Department of Health released an impact assessment of marijuana legalization. The report concludes that the benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana far outweigh any potential negative consequences. The study was commissioned by Governor Cuomo and announced in his address on the executive budget proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction. Gov. David Ige (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana treatment for opioid and substance abuse disorders. Senate Bill 2407 passed the legislature with large majorities in May, but Gov. Ige announced in June he planned to veto it. Now he has.

New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana as Opioid Replacement. State regulators have moved to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids to use medical marijuana instead. "Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard said. "Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state."

Oklahoma Advocates File Lawsuits Over Medical Marijuana Rules. Green the Vote, the people behind the successful June medical marijuana initiative, filed two lawsuits Friday against the state over its restrictive rules and regulations. "The lawsuit filed today is our endeavor to undo the wrongful acts of the Oklahoma Department of Health in adopting amendments to the regulations implementing State Initiative 788. It is our hope that this lawsuit will quickly resolve the improper regulations and allow Oklahoma citizens to exercise their rights to manage their own health care," the group announced in a news release.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Will Target Ten Areas in Crackdown on Fentanyl. In a move right out of last century's war on drugs playbook, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he has ordered federal prosecutors in ten areas to bring federal drug dealing charges against anyone suspected of dealing fentanyl, no matter how small the quantity. An additional assistant US attorney will also be sent to each of the designated areas in New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, and California.

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Kerfuffle, UK Gov Won't Block Festival Pill Testing, More... (7/12/18)

Oklahoma voters approved a medical marijuana initiative last month, but now a new battle is brewing; the British government says it will not block pill testing at clubs and festivals, and more.

The battle over medical marjuana is just beginning in Oklahoma. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts US Attorney Says Enforcement of Federal Pot Laws Will Be Limited. US Attorney Andrew Lelling warned that he won't "immunize" state residents from federal law enforcement, but that he will focus on overproduction, targeted sales to minors, and organized crime. Lelling also said that fighting opioid addiction remains his highest priority.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Strict Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed rules regulating medical marijuana that include banning the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries and requiring a pharmacist at dispensaries. "These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans. They are also the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people. I expect modifications could occur in the future. I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions," Fallon said in a statement.

DEA Says Oklahoma Pharmacists Dispensing Marijuana Would Violate Federal Law. Although Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed into law regulations requiring that a pharmacist be present at medical marijuana dispensaries, the DEA's Special Agent in Charge in Oklahoma, Rich Salter, warned that the medical marijuana program as a whole violates federal law. Any pharmacist who dispensed an illegal drug would be at risk of losing his or her license, he added.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Vow To Take Action In Last-Minute Regulation Changes. The Oklahoma Cannabis Trade Association and the Oklahomans for Health, the group that spearheaded the successful medical marijuana initiative, held a news conference Wednesday to decry regulations imposed by the state Board of Health and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R). "Those are not reasonable," said medical marijuana advocate Nora Sapp. "We the people spoke on July 26th. We didn't ask permission. We told them what we are going to do." The two groups said they would fight the regulations.

International

British Government Says It Won't Block Pill Testing at Festivals. The British government has said it "would not stand in the way" of pill testing at music festivals and clubs. Policing minister Nick Hurd said that the Home Office would defer to the judgment of local officials in allowing festivals and live music venues to allow illicit drugs to be evaluated for safety. "The fact that chief constables in Avon, Cumbria, Somerset, and Hampshire have stepped forward and said… we do want to cooperate with this, sends a strong signal."

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: AI Adopts First-Ever Drug Plank, ND Init Hands in Signatures, More... (6/9/18)

North Dakota could see a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, Amnesty International adopts a first-ever position on drug policy, Maine's governor vetoes a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Indiana Judge Rules First Church of Cannabis Can't Use Marijuana as Sacrament. In a ruling handed down last Friday, Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch rejected the church's argument that Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows for a religious exemption from state and federal prohibitions on marijuana. "Permitting exceptions to Indiana's laws prohibiting the sale, possession and use of marijuana for religious exercise would undermine Indiana's ability to enforce anti-marijuana laws at all; anyone charged with violating those laws could simply invoke 'religious; exemption, triggering time-consuming (if not practically impossible) efforts to sort legitimate from illegitimate uses," Lynch wrote in her opinion.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures. Backers of a legalization initiative that would remove marijuana from the state's drug schedules handed in some 19,000 raw signatures last Friday, the deadline for signature gathering. The measure needs 13,500 valid voter signatures to appear on the November ballot. The signature cushion looks big enough that it could actually happen.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed doctors to certify medical marijuana for patients for any reason, as well as revamping the caregiver system and removing some obstacles to obtaining patient cards. The bill will now go back to the legislature for a possible effort to override the veto.

Michigan Adds More Qualifying Conditions. The state on Monday added 11 medical conditions, including autism, chronic pain, Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome, to the list of ailments that could qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. That brings the number of qualifying conditions to 22.

Drug Policy

Amnesty International Adopts First-Ever Policy on Drugs. Amnesty International has adopted new proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of misguided attempts by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. Representatives voted to adopt what will be the organization's first-ever position on how States should address the challenges posed by drugs from a human rights perspective. The proposed policy calls 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.

International

Mexico's Next Interior Secretary Will Push for the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. Incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero has begun to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana and possibly opium poppy cultivation. It's an early move from the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) administration, which will not take power until December, to make a dramatic break from past Mexican drug war policies.

Caribbean Nations Agree to Consider Marijuana Legalization. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has agreed to "review marijuana's current status with a view to reclassification," noting "human and religious rights" issues stemming from criminalization as well as "the economic benefits to be derived" from legalization. The move comes after a lower-level committee recommended replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation.

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.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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