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The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Hears IN Seizure Case, Filipino Cops Jailed for Drug War Crimes, More... (11/29/18)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an Indiana asset forfeiture case, outgoing marijuana reform roadblock Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has done it again, a North Carolina "decrim" bill gets filed, and more.

Three Philippine police are jailed for murder, marking a first in Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pete Sessions Blocks Another Federal Pot Bill. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has consistently used his position as chair of the House Rules Committee to block marijuana reform measures, and he did it again Wednesday. This time he blocked an amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that aimed at providing tax relief for legal marijuana businesses. But Sessions' career as reform roadblock is coming to an end; he was defeated in the November midterms. Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has already promised to allow marijuana amendments to move when he takes over in January.

North Carolina Legislators File Bill to Decriminalize Up to Four Ounces. Four legislators have co-sponsored a bill, S 791, which would essentially decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Possession would remain a misdemeanor, but with no possible jail sentence, and the bill includes language that would allow people convicted of possessing less than four ounces to petition for expungement, which would be automatic if the amount actually was under four ounces.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Oral Arguments Suggest Indiana Will Be Slapped Down in Asset Forfeiture Case. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case of an Indiana man whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized after he pleaded guilty to small-scale heroin sales, and the justices' questioning strongly suggested they would rule against the state. The legal argument is whether the 8th Amendment's provisions against "excessive fines" applies to civil asset forfeiture at the state level. The case is Timbs v. Indiana.

Harm Reduction

San Diego Judge Orders Preliminary Injunction Closing Orange County Needle Exchange Program. A San Diego judge has issued a temporary injunction to shut down a mobile syringe exchange program run by the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), which is being sued by Orange County. A ruling issued in California Superior Court on Tuesday bars the mobile program from operating until a trial is held sometime in January 2019.

International

Brazilian Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical reasons was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday. Patients with doctors' prescriptions would be able to grow, possess, and consume the drug. The Senate Social Affairs Committee advanced the bill, but it now has to be approved by the Commission on Constitution and Justice before going to a Senate floor vote. If it passes the Senate, it must then be approved by the Chamber of Deputies and signed by incoming President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes legalization and has espoused a harsh approach to drugs.

Philippine Court Sentences Three Cops for Drug War Murder of Teen. The Caloocan City regional trial court on Thursday sentenced three police officers found guilty of murdering a 17-year-old high school student to 40 years in prison. They were the first police to be convicted in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. "A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life," said the ruling by Judge Roldolfo Azucena.

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: 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."

Chronicle AM: More Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, Canada Legalization Bill Advances, More... (5/29/18)

California lawmakers forego an opportunity to cut legal pot taxes, Pennsylvania's third largest city decriminalizes marijuana possession, the head of a UN agency calls on Latin America to consider drug legalization, Bangladeshi drug war killings mount, and more.

Canada's legalization bill heads for a final Senate vote by June 7. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Lower Pot Taxes Voted Down. Even though legal marijuana sales and tax revenues are much lower than anticipated, the legislature has passed on an opportunity to entice people away from the black market by cutting legal marijuana taxes, which can reach 50% of the purchase price when state and local taxes are included. A bill that would have lowered the state excise tax to 11% and suspended grower taxes for three years, Assembly Bill 3157, was defeated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Friday, but sponsor Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said he hoped it could still be revived this year.

Colorado Grew 500 Tons of Legal Marijuana Last Year. Legal marijuana growers produced nearly 500 tons of pot last year, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported last Friday. That turned into 411,000 pounds of purchased buds and more than 11 million edibles sold. The trend of production increasing each year since legalization continues.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, Decriminalizes. Pennsylvania's third largest city has now decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell last Friday signed into law a measure passed 4-3 by the city council that makes possession of 30 grams or less a summary offense with a fine as low as $25.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

International

Head of UN Agency Says Latin America Must Consider Legalizing Drugs. Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told a weekend forum in Paris that Latin America must seriously ponder drug legalization to reduce the human costs of drug prohibition. "I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," she said. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Canadian Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Social Affairs Committee has approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill with 40 amendments (most of them merely technical), including one that would give provincial governments the ability to ban homegrown marijuana. The committee's amended version of the bill will now go back to the Senate as a whole, which will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments or propose additional changes. The Senate has agreed to hold a final vote by June 7, which would allow the Trudeau government to meet its promise of having legal marijuana up and running by the end of summer.

Taliban Commander Orders Drug Labs Moved Out of Urban Areas to Avoid Civilian Casualties from American Air Strikes. The Taliban's shadow governor of opium-producing Helmand province has ordered drug labs moved out of populated areas because American air strikes are killing a rising number of civilians. Mullah Manan said that "due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles" and called for facilities to shift to "mountains and valley sides" instead. Under looser rules of engagement under the Trump administration, bombing raids have nearly tripled in the first three months of this year compared with 2017.

Bangladesh's Murderous Anti-Drug Campaign Continues. Amid rising fears of a Philippines-style war on drugs, the latest reports are now that the toll has risen to 86 killed and more than 7,000 arrested since the government announced a new anti-drug offensive earlier this month. Human Rights Watch is speaking out, with Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director warning that the government "should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings."

Chronicle AM: De Blasio Tells NYPD to Stop Pot Arrests, Aghan Opium Bumper Crop, More... (5/22/18)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to see an end to public pot smoking arrests, Utah medical marijuana supporters are fending off a court challenge, the "Philippine disease" appears to be spreading to Bangladesh, Afganistan sees a bumper poppy crop, and more.

Afghanistan had its largest opium poppy crop ever last year, the UNODC reports. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Opposition Marijuana Poll Has Initiative in Lead, But Under 50%. A new poll commissioned by opponents of Michigan's marijuana legalization initiative had it with 48% support, 11% undecided, and 42% opposed. After pollsters produced arguments in favor of the initiative, support stayed at 48%, but opposition dropped to 36%. After pollsters introduced arguments against the initiative, support actually jumped one point to 49%.

New York Mayor Tells Cops To Stop Arresting People for Public Marijuana Use. Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told the NYPD to just issue summonses for public pot smoking instead of making arrests. The NYPD already has a working group that has begun to evaluate its marijuana enforcement policies and will present recommendations within 30 days. Now the mayor has made it clear that an end to arrests for public pot smoking is one of the changes he wants.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Fight Back in Court. Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative showed up in court Monday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the initiative from going before the voters in November. The Utah Patients Coalition is seeking to block a lawsuit from Drug Safe Utah that argues state officials were not legally allowed to approve the initiative.

West Virginia Lawmakers Seek Special Session for Medical Marijuana Financing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to force Gov. Jim Justice (D) to call a legislative special session to address financial problems with the state's medical marijuana law. A special session that ended Monday failed to address the issue. For another special session to be called, at least three-fifths of each chamber must sign on. That figure has been met in the Senate, but not yet in the House.

International

UN Says Afghan Opium Poppy Production Increased Sharply Last Year. Opium poppy production expanded sharply in Afghanistan last year, increasing from roughly 500,000 acres in 2016 to more than 700,000 acres last year. That's an all-time high, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said. UNODC said no single factor explained the increase but cited "political instability, lack of government control, and security" as main drivers.

Bangladeshi Opposition Warns of Police Killings of Drug Suspects. The country's leading opposition party, the BNP, on Monday accused the government of "indulging in extrajudicial killings" in the pursuit of a country-wide anti-drug drive. "A fresh drive to control narcotics has begun," BNP General Secretary Mirza Fakrul Islam Almagir said. "We also want the country to be free from drug abuse and those involved in it to be brought to justice. But it does not mean people should be killed unlawfully without trial." Almagir added that the government was now killing drug suspects in just the same way it had unlawfully killed opposition leaders and activists. Almagir also suggested the ruling Awami League should clean up its own house first.

Four White Louisiana Narcs Choked This Young Black Man to Death in a Low-Level Drug Bust

New Orleans resident Keeven Robinson, 22, died after being arrested by Jefferson Parish narcotics officers last week. Police originally tried to blame his death on asthma, but now the Jefferson Parish coroner is telling a very different tale.

Keeven Robinson (Demone Robinson)
At a press conference Monday, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich laid out what initial autopsy results uncovered: "Our initial autopsy findings reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck," he said. "These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia. We are confident that at the end of our process, this is going to be the cause of death. Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide."

Cvitanovich was quick to point out that when he said "homicide," he did not mean in the legal sense, but in the sense that Robinson died as a result of the actions of others.

According to the sheriff's office, four undercover narcotics deputies, who Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not name but identified as white, were surveilling Robinson, a black man, as part of a drug dealing investigation and followed him to a gas station on Jefferson Highway late last Thursday morning.

When Robinson noticed the agents, who wore badges, approaching him, he attempted to drive off, but jumped from his car about a block away after running into two sheriff's vehicles. The narcs pursued Robinson in a foot chase as he leaped over fences before catching him in the back yard of a residence.

Again, according to the sheriff's office, the deputies then struggled with Robinson, who was carrying what they suspected to be heroin, before they managed to handcuff him. At that point, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to Oshsner Medical Center nearby, but died there.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies do not wear body cams.

Robinson was not armed, though Sheriff Lopinto said a gun was found in his car.

Lopinto originally said investigators were looking into whether Robinson's history of asthma contributed to his death, but his family immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared the narcs had either beaten or strangled him to death.

And the coroner's report is proving them correct. Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was pleased the coroner's office issued a ruling on Robinson's death so quickly and that "there was no cover up."

But Spiller was speaking prematurely. The investigation into the killing of Keeven Robinson is just getting started, and the inevitable finding that no one is criminally responsible is still months away. Call me cynical , or call me a student of what happens when police kill people.

In this case, an unarmed black drug suspect was choked to death by four white narcs. Who wants to bet on any of them being charged with a crime?

Putting Pressure on the Philippines: Activists Call Out Drug War Human Rights Abuses at DC Embassy [VIDEO]

It was deadly serious street theater (see video below) outside the Philippine embassy in Washington Wednesday afternoon as protestors demanding an end to the country's murderous drug war waved signs, chanted slogans, and dressed as mask-wearing police and caricature-wearing Filipino political figures.

Leila de Lima figure about to be jailed at the demo in front of the Philippine Embassy Wednesday. (Bran SantosTwitter)
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016, police and mysterious "vigilantes" have killed between 12,000 and 20,000 alleged drug users and sellers in a massive wave of extrajudicial killings condemned by human rights organizations, the Catholic Church, and political figures around the globe. Duterte is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Duterte, who rode to fame as the death squad mayor of Davao City, is targeting not just drug users and sellers, but also critics of his bloody crackdown. His most prominent critic, Senator Leila de Lima, has been jailed on drug charges that appear fabricated for more than a year. Her real offense was bringing a confessed former member of Duterte's Davao City death squads to testify before the Senate.

Along with calling for an end to the killings, Wednesday's protestors also rallied to demand freedom for Senator de Lima. During the demonstration, attendees symbolically freed a Leila de Lima figure from a mobile model prison cell.

The demonstration was spearheaded by StoptheDrugWar.org's David Borden and was supported by drug reform and human rights groups including Amnesty International USA, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, local marijuana activists of DCMJ, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, the Filipino-American Human Rights Alliance, Gabriela-DC, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, the IPS Drug Policy Project, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Not everyone was pleased with the demo. A virtual troll army of Duterte supporters descended on StoptheDrugWar.org's Facebook page, which carried live video of the event, to denounce it:

"Hang delima to death," counseled a Facebook user account claiming to belong to one Nida Adam Landoo.

"DELIMA IS A DRUG CUDDLER ,SHE IS NOT INNOCENT.HAPPY 1ST YR. ANNIVERSARY DELIMA IN JAIL,MORE YEARS TO COME," chimed in a user account sporting the name Sheila Mae Williams.

"Is this sponsored by the druglords in the US?" the operator of the NoyZanx Beldia account wanted to know.

No, but you knew that.

Here's the video from the demonstration:

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.

International

Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

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