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Chronicle AM: ND MJ Init Makes November Ballot, Colombia to Forcibly Uproot Coca, More... (8/13/18)

North Dakota becomes the second state (after Michigan) to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative this year, Denver's mayor comes around on legal pot, the UN will review marijuana's status under international law, and more.

Denver's mayor opposed marijuana legalization, but now has seen the light. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office announced Monday organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative had handed in enough valid voter signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot. That makes North Dakota the second state to qualify a legalization initiative for November: Michigan activists did so earlier this year.

Denver Mayor Changes Tune on Legalization. Mayor Michael Hancock campaigned against the state's successful 2012 legalization initiative, but after five years of legal weed, he's singing a different tune. Prompted by a recent report that touted the city's accomplishments with legal marijuana, Hancock now says the city's approach "is working." He noted that the city was the first large city in the country to take on the "daunting challenge" of legalization, "and we are having success."

International

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana's Status Under International Law. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will launch a first-ever in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly scheduled under international drug control treaties. The group held a "pre-review" earlier this year. "A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD's assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review. This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make an informed recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed."

Canada's British Columbia Begins Drug Testing in Provincial Cities. Responding to a large number of opioid overdose deaths in the province, BC Interior Health has begun funding full-time drug testing services in seven cities in the province. The program provides fentanyl testing strips to local service providers.

Colombia's Defense Minister Says Government Will Forcibly Eradicate Coca Crops. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said last Friday the government has decided to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the country. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had ended forced eradication in a bid to reduce associated violence, but new President Ivan Duque will go ahead despite the potential for violence in a move that is sure to please the United States.

Chronicle AM: Colombia's New President Vows Drug Crackdown, ND Pot Init Lives, More... (8/8/18)

The Northern Mariana Islands could be the first US territory to legalize weed, a North Dakota legalization initiative looks like it will probably make the ballot, Colombia's new president vows to resort to old prohibitionist drug war policies, and more.

Newly installed Colombian President Ivan Duque vows a drug crackdown. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes Northern Mariana Islands House. The Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 20-178, on an 18-1-1 vote. The bill legalizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but also for adult use. People can possess up to an ounce and grow a limited number of plants, and the bill creates a regime for legal, regulated, and taxed production and sales. It now goes before the territory's Senate. If it passes, the Northern Marianas would be the first US territory to legalize marijuana.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Likely to Make Ballot, State Officials Say. State election officials have told Marijuana Moment that the organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative have very likely come up with enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group, LegalizeND, submitted about 18,700 raw signatures; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. The elections office is currently finishing the signature verification process and will announce on August 13 whether the measure qualified.

Congressional Bar on DC Regulated Sales Leading to Distribution Arrest Surge, Report Finds. More than 900 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the nation's capital last year, a jump of 37% over 2016 figures, according to new data from the DC Metro Police. Pot arrests bottomed out at 323 in 2015, the first full year of legalization. Prior to legalization, the vast majority of arrests were for possession, but since then, distribution and possession with intent to distribute account for the majority of pot arrests. Analysts pointed to the congressional bar against the District allowing legal, regulated sales as being behind both the overall jump in arrests and the increasing percentage of sales and possession with intent arrests.

International

Colombia's New President Takes Office, Vows Drug Crackdown. Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, was installed as president Tuesday. He immediately pointed to the expansion of coca production, corruption, and the violence of drug trafficking groups as problems he will address. "The time has come for us to unite to confront all illegalities," including drug trafficking and production, he said. "We will be effective in the eradication and substitution of illegal crops, accompanied by productive opportunities" for farmers and a crackdown on drug traffickers, Duque promised. "Building peace, Colombians, means to defeat the drug cartels," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Sessions Concedes State Can Make Own MJ Laws, Mexico Opium, More... (7/27/18)

The US attorney general admits states can make their own pot laws, a new report finds racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in the New York suburbs, a Mexican governor calls for legal opium production, and more.

Jeff Sessions acknowledges states' rights even on marijuana policy. (Senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Acknowledges States Can Set Own Marijuana Laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while staunchly sticking up for federal marijuana prohibition, acknowledged Thursday that states can set their own pot laws. Responding to a reporter's question in Boston, he said the Justice Department will continue enforcing federal marijuana laws, but added: "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

Report Finds Racial Disparities in Suburban NYC Pot Arrests. A report from the WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, and the Drug Policy Alliance released Thursday finds that marijuana prohibition in suburban Westchester County has largely targeted people of color and that the harms of prohibition have been visited almost entirely on them. While black people account for only 14% of the county's population, they made up more than half (52%) off all pot possession busts. Latinos were similarly arrested for pot possession at disproportionate rates. The report also noted the targeting of youth. Some 58% of people arrested for pot possession were 25 or younger.

International

UN Chief Warns Colombia It Must Consolidate Peace. In a report to the UN Security Council released Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Colombian government must address major challenges and consolidate peace. He said there is no greater challenge than bringing development, security, and the rule of law to "vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence" and that the challenges to peace included continued violence in conflict zones. "The proliferation of illegal groups and the growth of the coca economy, as well as frustration and fears among former combatants and among communities who feel bypassed by the peace process, leave no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenges that await the new government, Colombian institutions and civil society alike," he said.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero Wants Opium Production Legalized. Hector Astudillo, governor of the south-central state of Guerrero, Mexico's leading opium production region, said he supports the incoming government's plan to explore regulating opium production for pharmaceutical use. "It's time," Astudillo told Mexican radio. "I'm delighted that a different way of dealing with the poppy is finally going to be explored." Astudillo himself had floated the same idea back in 2016. "To curb the violence, we must look for another approach to poppy cultivation, not only in Guerrero but in the golden triangle," he said, referring to the region in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango where large quantities of marijuana and poppies are grown. "Because it's such an important ingredient for medicine, the poppy could be used for medical purposes, as is being done in other countries," Astudillo added.

Chronicle AM: Federal State-Legal Pot Reporting Bill Filed, Mexico Killings Still Rising, More... (7/24/18)

Prospects look iffy for a pair of Oklahoma marijuana initiatives, a federal bill requiring reporting on the impact of state-level legalization is filed, Canada's pot arrests shrink, Mexico's murders increase, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Require Report on State-Level Legalization Filed. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a bipartisan group of representatives on Tuesday filed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to work with other agencies to study "the effects of state legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment." The measure has not yet been assigned a bill number.

Oklahoma Marijuana Initiatives Unlikely to Qualify in Time for November Ballot. Proponents of a pair of initiatives, State Question 796 to legalize medical marijuana via a constitutional amendment, and State Question 797 to do the same for recreational marijuana are up against a ticking clock and will likely not be able to get the measures on the ballot this year. Secretary of State James Williamson said Monday. Circulators have until August 8 to hand in signatures, but under state law, the initiatives must be approved no fewer than 70 days before the November election. It normally takes the state about 60 days to verify signatures, and that August 8 deadline means there are only 69 days before the election. Also, any challenges to the initiatives could delay them even further. If they don't make the November ballot, a special election is unlikely and they would then appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokeable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

International

Canada Pot Arrests Drop to Record Low. The number of people charged with marijuana offenses has dropped to the lowest level this century. The 13,800 arrests in 2017 were less than half the 28,000 people arrested in 2011. Police said the reason was twofold: Police have been concentrating on the opioid crisis, and, as legalization nears, they have been exercising their discretion and not bothering to arrest people for pot anymore.

Mexico Murders Increased 16% in First Half of This Year. There were some 15,973 murders in Mexico in the first half of 2018, up from 13,751 during the same period last year. The number is the highest since comprehensive records began being kept in 1997. Still, the curve may be flattening out, analysts said, noting that the first half of 2018 saw only a 4% increase over the last half of 2017. But still&hellip<>

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.

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.

Chronicle AM: Vermont Marijuana Legalization in Effect, Acting DEA Head Named, More... (7/2/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexico elects a new president who has new ideas for ending drug war violence, and much, much more.

You can now legally grow your own marijuana in Vermont. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Issues First Pot Shop License. The state's Cannabis Control Commission on Monday approved its first license for a retail marijuana outlet. The commission approved a license for Cultivate Holdings to open a retail shop. The shop already exists but has operated as a medical marijuana dispensary up until now.

North Dakota Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A little-noticed legalization initiative now looks like it may qualify for the November ballot. Organizers with Legalize ND say they have 16,000 raw signatures and are aiming at 20,000 before they turn them in next week. The initiative needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Northern Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Advances. The island US territory's House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations has recommended passage of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. Now, the measure awaits a go-ahead from Speaker Ralph Demapan (R) for it to head for a House floor vote.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Is Now in Effect. As of Monday, it is legal to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. People 21 and over can possess up to an ounce and two mature and four immature plants. But commercial sales have not been legalized.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Says No Special Session for Medical Marijuana. Despite saying before the June 26 election that the successful medical marijuana initiative would require a legislative special session to be implemented, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last Friday that she and House and Senate leaders have decided that a special session isn't necessary. Instead, the Health Department will be charged with promulgating emergency rules.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Foes Seek Emergency Restraining Order to Block it from Ballot. The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which includes the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, the Utah Police Chiefs Association and other law enforcement groups, last Friday asked US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to issue an emergency injunction. They argued marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law. But the state attorney general's office opposes the injunction. "There is no emergency," argued Assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf. "The election is months away, and the voters may reject the Initiative and moot the constitutional issues that, in Plaintiffs' view, justify an emergency (preliminary) injunction."

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head Named. The White House has named Uttam Dhillon as acting DEA administrator. Dhillon is a former career federal prosecutor who has also served in the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Trump White House.

International

South Australia to Crack Down on Marijuana. Resolutely moving firmly backward, South Australia's Liberal government is moving to crack down on marijuana users as part of a larger drug war offensive. Under a proposal from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, fines could increase from $500 to $2,000, and users could face up to two years in jail. Another member of the Liberal government, Health Minister Greg Hunt, even resurrected the hoary old "gateway drug" canard. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," Hunt said.

Indonesia Taking Softer Line on Drugs?. The National Narcotics Agency and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that the country would now push for drug users to be rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. UNODC country manager Collie F. Brown said both institutions agreed that the best way to stop the spreading of drugs is through rehabilitation of drug addicts, rather than sending them to prison. [Ed: Does that mean they're going to stop killing people?]

Luxembourg Approves Medical Marijuana. A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the parliament on June 28. The bill specifies qualifying conditions including chronic pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and muscle spasm as a result of multiple sclerosis. The marijuana will be imported from Canada and will only be available by prescription from pharmacies located within one of four hospitals in the 98-square mile country.

Mexico Elects President Who Will Likely Try New Approaches to Drug War. Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was overwhelmingly elected president of Mexico on Sunday. During the campaign, AMLO suggested a willingness to negotiate peace and even offer amnesty to some people in the drug trade. On Sunday night, he talked in the same terms. "The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change," Lopez Obrador said. "More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence," the president-elect added. He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a "plan for reconciliation and peace."

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Hiccups in California & Uruguay, US Calls Out Bangladesh Drug War Killings, More... (6/14/18)

Two legal marijuana markets are facing some growing pains, the State Department speaks out on Bangladeshi drug war killings, and more.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert calls out the Bangladeshis on drug war human rights violations. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Shops Will Have Glut of Cheap Weed, Followed By Possible Shortages. Faced with a July 1 start date for new state-mandated safety standards for marijuana products, marijuana retailers are having to move piles of untested product left over from the state's unregulated grey market before that deadline. That means the likelihood of cheap weed deals in the next couple of weeks, but it also means there is likely to be a shortage of tested product in the early days of the new regime because of a lack of certified testing labs and state-authorized legal market providers.

Hemp

Senate Panel Advances Hemp Legalization. The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday passed the 2018 farm bill. The bill includes hemp legalization legislation backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who argued in support of the measure during Wednesday's meeting. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Foreign Policy

US Expresses Concern Over Bangladesh Drug War Killings. The United States urged Bangladesh to meet its human rights obligations as it expressed concern over reports that more than 21,000 people have been arrested and 147 killed since the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched its anti-drug campaign a month ago. "We urge Bangladesh to conduct thorough and transparent investigations into all credible reports of extrajudicial killings," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "While illegal drugs are a scourge across the world, Bangladesh should ensure its law enforcement respect human rights and that their conduct is consistent with international standards and Bangladesh's own constitution, which includes a presumption of innocence and the right to due process. We look to the Government of Bangladesh to fully meet its human rights obligations," she added. Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan Kamal brushed the statement aside, insisting that "no extrajudicial killings took place in the ongoing anti-drug drive."

International

Five Years After Legalization, Uruguay Has Marijuana Supply Problems. The country legalized marijuana in 2013, but legal sales only began last year, and the path is still rocky. Pot is supposed to be sold in the nation's pharmacies, but so far, only 14 of about 1,200 have registered to participate, making the black market a more attractive option for some consumers. While Uruguay's law allows individuals to grow for themselves and collectives to grow for their members, the government is in charge of marijuana cultivation for sale at pharmacies, and it has so far licensed only two cultivators. The government sees the problem: "The demand is greater than our productive capacity," said Diego Olivera, head of the Uruguay National Drugs Council. "We have to address that challenge."

You'll Never Believe What Country Just Enacted a Massive, Meaningful Drug Reform

For years, Iran has been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, with hundreds of people hung from the gallows annually for drug smuggling and trafficking. But in a remarkable turnabout, that is no longer the case.

Executions for drug offenses have come to an almost total halt in Iran. (IHR)
After the Iranian parliament amended the country's drug laws in November 2017, drug executions have all but halted, according to a new report from Iran Human Rights (IHR). The non-profit group found that only one person had been executed for a drug offense this year in Iran, compared to 112 during the same period last year and nearly 500 for all of 2017.

That's a 99% reduction in the resort to the death penalty for drugs in the Islamic Republic.

The changes to Iran's drug laws didn't remove the death penalty from the books -- it remains one of 33 countries, including the United States, that mete out the ultimate punishment for drug offenses -- but it dramatically raised the quantities of drugs needed to merit the death penalty.

Under the old law, being caught with a little more than an ounce (30 grams) of drugs such as cocaine or heroin could bring a death sentence. Now, it takes nearly 4 ½ pounds (2 kilograms). Similarly, for plant-based drugs such as cannabis and opium, the death penalty threshold has increased ten-fold, from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The death penalty can also be imposed for certain other drug offenses where quantity is not the issue, for example, the use of a minor in a drug trafficking operations, carrying or using firearms while committing drug-related crimes, having a prior death penalty or prison sentence longer than 15 years, or being the "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

The one man executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, identified as Kiomars Nosuhi, was convicted of being a "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

Bordering Afghanistan, the world's primary supplier of raw opium and heroin, Iran has for decades waged war on drug smugglers, with thousands of police and soldiers killed in the struggle. While opium smoking was a traditional Iranian pastime, the country now has one of the world's highest addiction rates, with heroin largely replacing opium. In recognition of that reality, in the past decade, Iranian officials have switched from harsh punishments of drug users to emphasizing drug treatment and harm reduction. The end of the reflexive resort to the death penalty for drugs marks another step in the country's march toward a more progressive policy response.

While human rights groups applaud the dramatic decline in drug executions, they continue to express concern over the way the Iranian judicial system responds to drugs.

"We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition," said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. "However, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process."

And then there are the tens of thousands of drug offenders filling Iran's prisons. The country has more than 250,000 people behind bars, 50% to 70% for drug offenses. The Islamic Republic may not be running the gallows at full tilt anymore for drugs, but incarceration remains a key element of Iranian drug policy. Still, Iran has taken an important step forward.

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