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Supreme Court Hears Crack Sentencing Case, Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps, More... (5/5/21)

An Alabama medical marijuana bill struggles to get past final obstacles, a watered-down Tennessee medical marijuana bill is moving, a Swiss parliamentary committee votes to legalize marijuana, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow and grow and grow as cultivation jumped dramatically last year. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama House Republicans Filibuster Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill. House Republicans blocked a vote on a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, by tying the chamber up in a nine-hour debate Tuesday afternoon and evening. Now, the House may try to get it passed again on Thursday.

Tennessee Legislature Moving on Watered Down Medical Marijuana Bill. After a medical marijuana bill was narrowly defeated in the House last month, legislators have now approved a watered down version of House Bill 607 that would allow only for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and create a commission to study legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bill Lee (R) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Case. The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Tarahrick Terry, who is seeking to get his sentence cut by citing a provision in the First Step Act, passed by Congress in 2018. The act was aimed at redressing racial inequities around crack versus powder cocaine sentencing and made the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity, retroactive. But justices appeared skeptical that the law applied to low-level offenders such as Terry. He had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute less than four grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 15 ½ years in 2008. Higher-level crack offenses are already covered by the First Step Act, and more than 2,500 people have already been released under its provisions, but hundreds of lower-level crack offenders remain behind bars, hoping for some relief from the Supreme Court.

International

UN Reports Afghan Opium Cultivation Leaped Last Year. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's largest producer, jumped a whopping 37% last year to more than 500,000 acres of poppies planted, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan government reported Tuesday. The study estimated the crop could produce about 6,300 tons of opium, one of the largest figures in the past quarter-century. Helmand province in the southwest appears to be the poppy heartland, accounting for more than half of all poppy plantings.

Swiss Parliamentary Committee Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Health Commission of the National Council, the country's lower legislative chamber, voted 13-11 last week to federally legalize marijuana for adults. The measure calls for expanding a current pilot program that allows legal access for some 5,000 registered participants to the entire adult population. If the proposal is fully approved by the National Council, it would move next to the Council of States, the upper body of Switzerland’s Federal Assembly. Marijuana has been decriminalized there since 2012.

White House Staffers Hold Virtual Meeting with Ex-Incarcerated, Mexico Cartel Drone Attacks, More... (5/3/21)

A drug decriminalization bill is winning support in Maine, so is a buprenorphine legalization bill in Vermont, and more.

White House staffers held a virtual meeting with formerly incarcerated people to talk policy last Friday. (Whitehouse.gov)
Drug Policy

Maine Drug Decriminalization Bill Garners Support at Committee Hearing. A bill that decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs, LD 967, won support from medical and religious groups during a hearing before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last Thursday. Testifying in support of the bill were the Maine Medical Association and a coalition of religious groups. The bill would make drug possession a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. The fine could be avoided if people submit to an "evidence-based assessment for proposed treatment for substance use disorder." No vote was taken in committee, but the testimony suggested strong support for the move.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Senate Committee Poised to Pass Buprenorphine Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health Committee heard testimony largely in support of a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The bill, House Bill 225 , has already passed the House. The Judiciary Committee didn’t vote on the bill because it is currently before the House Rules Committee, but they did express unanimous support for it and expected to approve it once it reaches the committee. The Health Committee must also approve it before it goes for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

White House Officials Meet Virtually with Formerly Incarcerated Criminal Justice Reform Advocates. White House officials met virtually last Friday with a group of former drug war and other prisoners to listen to ideas about how to change criminal justice policies to advance prison and sentencing reform. Domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, public engagement director Cedric Richmond, and White House counsel Dana Remus heard recommendations on how "to reduce incarceration, end racial disparities, and facilitate successful reentry," they said in a White House readout of the event. The trio heard from 10 differerent advocacy groups, including Forward Justice and JustLeadershipUSA.

International

Mexican Drug Cartels Are Attacking Security Forces with Explosive-Laden Drones, Defense Minister Says. Mexican Defense Minister Luis Sandoval said last Wednesday that drug cartels are employing bomb-carrying drones to attack security forces. "We have found that there are some cartels using drones with explosives," the general said during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily news conference. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is among those using the drones, Sandoval said, pointing to an attack last Monday in Aguilla, Michoacan, where police clearing roads that had been blocked by cartel members came under attack, leaving two wounded. But the drones are big enough to carry more lethal loads, Sandoval said. "They cannot carry amounts (of explosives) that are harmful to personnel or to a facility," Sandoval said.

NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

SAFE Banking Act House Floor Vote Today, Texas Governor Wants Cartel Terrorist Designation, More... (4/19/21)

Another poll reaffirms marijuana legalization's popularity, the push for legalization in Connecticut has hit a roadblock over social equity, a bill to allow smokable medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, and more.

US Capitol (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Nine Out of Ten Americans Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew poll has 91% of Americans in favor of legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana or both. Sixty percent favored legalizing both, while another 31% said they supported legalizing only medical marijuana.

House to Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Today. House Majority Leader Stony Hoyer (D-MD) has confirmed that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, House Resolution 1996, will get a House floor vote on Monday. This will be the first floor action on any marijuana-related legislation this session.

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Hits Roadblock Over Social Equity. Efforts to legalize marijuana this year are in danger after Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and key lawmakers reached an impasse over social equity provisions that the legislators say Lamont's bill is lacking. They said last week they could not support Lamont's bill without stronger social equity provisions. Lamont, for his part, appears ready to wait until next year if necessary. "I think [legalization is] in the best interest of public health and I don't want to surrender this to the underground market and I don't want to surrender it to outside markets. That said, if you get a bill that you think doesn't meet some basic requirements, you'll put it off another year just like they have for many years in the past. You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said Friday.

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Rules Out Action on Marijuana Legalization. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said last Thursday that the Republican-controlled state legislature will not legalize recreational or medical marijuana. "We don't have support from the caucus. That's pretty clear, that we don't have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes [to] legalize it," LeMahieu said. He added that states should not pass laws that are "in conflict with the federal government."

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill to allow and tax smokable marijuana for medical marijuana patients, House Bill 514, passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last Friday. The measure would apply the state's 4.45% sales tax to such products. The bill is now ready for a House floor vote.

Foreign Policy

Texas Governor Demands Biden Add Cartels to Terrorist List but Didn't Demand the Same of Trump. Governor Greg Abbott (R) has accused the Biden administration of just "standing by" as Mexican cartels "terrorize" South Texas and is demanding that President Biden add the cartels to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. In doing so, he cited the November 2019 killing of nine US citizens in a cartel attack in northern Mexico, which occurred during the Trump presidency. Abbott never made any such demand of Trump, nor did he complain when Trump, who had threatened such a move, backed down under pressure from Mexico.

Record Support for MJ Legalization in Quinnipiac Poll, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (4/15/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill continues to move in the House, the acting drug czar pledges more funds for drug treatment and greater access to overdose reversal drugs, and more.

Coca and cocaine are on the mind of the Colombian government this week. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record High Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 69%, the highest number ever reported in the poll. That's an increase of 18 points since Quinnipiac first polled the question in 2012. There was majority support for legalization in every demographic group, even people over 65 (51%) and Republicans (62%).

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins 6th Committee Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, won a sixth House committee vote Wednesday in the Judiciary Finance and Criminal Law Committee. It now goes to the State Government Elections and Finance Committee.

Drug Treatment

Acting Drug Czar Pledges to Expand Drug Treatment as Overdose Deaths Rise. Regina M. LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) told House lawmakers Wednesday the administration is moving to muster significant federal resources to close gaps in drug treatment availability and make overdose reversing medications more available. She noted that the administration last week submitted its proposed budget to Congress, which included more than $10 billion for addiction programs, an increase of 57% from current funding levels.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 Wednesday to a bill to decriminalize the possession of a variety of psychedelics, Senate Bill 519. The legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

International

Colombia Government Issues Decree Setting the State for Resumption of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crop. In a joint message this week, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz and Defense Minister Diego Molano announced Presidential Decree 380, which sets guidelines for the "program for the eradication of illicit crops by aerial spraying." While ministers clarified that the framework "does not automatically reactivate the Program," it is another step in Conservative President Ivan Duque's long-desired effort to reactivate the program, which was halted by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2015 after the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed it "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Colombia Congress Debates Bill to Regulate Coca and Cocaine. The Congress has begun debate on a bill that would regulate coca and its derivatives. The bill is from two opposition parties, the Green Alliance and the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS). "Ending the drug trafficking business implies turning drug trafficking into a bad business for the mafias, and this is achieved by regularizing the business by the State. Let's remove it from the logic of violence," said Liberal Senator Luis Fernando Velasco. The debate continues.

MD Lawmakers Pass Major Police Reforms Through Veto Override, Tijuana Travel Warning Issued, More... (4/12/21)

An American citizen in Dubai faces three years in prison after testing positive for marijuana, Delaware marijuana legalization activists urge boycott of dispensaries that testified against legalization bill, and more.

Tijuana street scene. The State Department has issued a travel warning because of cartel violence. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Delaware Marijuana Activists Stage Boycott of Medical Dispensaries That Testified Against Legalization Bill. Marijuana legalization advocates have called a boycott of four medical marijuana dispensaries after their representatives testified against a marijuana legalization bill last month. The four companies are Columbia Care, Fresh Delaware, CannTech and EZY Venture. They testified that allowing legalization would oversaturate the market, with some even talking about how it could hurt their bottom lines. The Delaware Cannabis Policy Coalition accused the companies of "simply obstructing the progress of adult-use legislation" and added that "some patients are now staging a boycott of the regulated dispensaries."

Drug Testing

Mississippi Ban on Sale of Urine, Fake or Real, to Beat Drug Tests Signed into Law. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed into law Senate Bill 2569 last Friday. The bill makes it a crime to sell, market, or give away real or fake human urine to produce negative results on a drug test. A first offense can earn up to six months in jail, with a second offense earning up to a year and a third offense earning up to three years in prison.

Law Enforcement

Maryland Passes Sweeping Police Reform Legislation. Overriding a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the legislature last Saturday passed a package of three bills -- Senate Bill 71, Senate Bill 178, and House Bill 670 -- that restrict the use of no-knock warrants, limits police officers' use of force, and repeals the country's first Bill of Rights for law enforcement. Passage of the package was impelled by the nationwide protests that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody. "This is what the community wants -- they want reform, they want transparency, and they want accountability," said Caylin A. Young, public policy director of the ACLU of Maryland, which was part of a coalition of 90 groups that had backed the bills. "There needs to be a reimagining of what policing in Maryland looks like."

International

US Citizen Detained in Dubai for Marijuana-Positive Drug Test. An American man who was hospitalized in Dubai for an attack of pancreatitis and who subsequently tested positive for marijuana at the hospital has been detained for violating the drug laws of the United Arab Emirates, which consider a positive drug test as equating with possession. Peter Clark, 51, had smoked marijuana in Las Vegas before flying to Dubai. He was jailed for three days in foul conditions before being released to a hotel. He is facing up to three years in prison.

State Department Issues Travel Alert for Tijuana, Mexicali Valley. The US Embassy in Mexico City has issued a security alert warning citizens to take care when traveling in Tijuana and the nearby Mexicali Valley because of violent conflict between drug trafficking groups in Tijuana. "Travelers should exercise extra caution when traveling in and around Mexicali, the Mexicali Valley, and the western part of the state of Sonora due to the potential for increased violence between rival cartel factions. Members of the embassy community have been warned to avoid the Mexicali area until further notice," the US embassy said. The Sinaloa Cartel is attempting to fend off a takeover attempt of the Tijuana plaza by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which has recently threatened the state governor and members of his cabinet.

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, CT Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (4/7/21)

New York police will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, the Montana House passes a trio of competing legalization implementation bills, a cartel massacre in Mexico leaves more than two dozen dead, and more.

LSD and other psychedelics would be decriminalized under a bill advancing in California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ned Lamont (D), House Bill 5853, passed the General Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But lawmakers cautioned that changes are coming to the bill as it winds through the committee process. The bill awaits further action in the Senate.

Montana House Advances Three Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills. The House on Tuesday approved three competing Republican-backed bills for regulating legal marijuana after voters approved it in November. The bills all departed from the voter-approved initiative, which called for legal sales to begin next January and for many revenues to be used for conservation efforts. Republican legislative leaders urged lawmakers to approve all three, arguing that doing so would give the Senate more options as it considers its course of action.

New York Police Will No Longer Be Able to Search Vehicles Solely Because of the Smell of Marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana possession now in effect, police in the state will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of weed. More than three ounces of marijuana -- the personal possession limit -- will have to be visible to create the probable cause required to do a search. "While law enforcement across the state are continuing to review and discuss the ramifications of the new laws, what is clear is the fact we cannot search vehicles based on the odor of cannabis or even witnessing small quantities of cannabis," said Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone.

New Orleans City Council to Take Up Marijuana Decriminalization Resolution. Council President Helena Moreno and five council members have filed a resolution to support an effort in the state legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. "This is just common sense at this point, from criminal justice reform to job creation to funding critical needs," said Moreno. "It addresses a fundamental source of racial and economic inequity in our criminal justice system. Public support for decriminalization is finally catching up to the truth: black and brown communities bear the brunt of marijuana enforcement, disrupting lives and reinforcing existing biases while failing to make any appreciable effect on public safety. And because of this reality, the taxation piece must be a thoughtful one. Investment in communities of color must be prioritized… Let's do this, the time is now."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances A bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of several psychedelic drugs, Senate Bill 519, passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday as it won approval in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It now heads for the Assembly Health Committee before going for an Assembly floor vote. "By decriminalizing we're not inviting people to use. We're taking, instead of a criminal approach to drug use, a health-minded approach," bill sponsor state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the committee before the vote.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Naloxone in Schools Bill Advances. A bill to allow schools to get overdose reversal drugs has passed the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 205, amends an existing law allowing school officials to have Epi-Pens on hand to prevent anaphylactic shock to add auto-injector devices containing drugs such as naloxone.

Vermont Buprenorphine Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Human Services Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 225, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill passed unanimously in committee and now heads for a House floor vote.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second Committee Vote in As Many Days. The Second Legislative Studies Committee approved a rapidly-advancing marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, one day after it won approval in the Justice Committee. It must still get through the Health Committee, which could happen as early as Wednesday, clearing the way to a final Senate vote as early as Thursday.

Mexico Cartel Massacre Leaves 27 Dead in Michoacan. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is being blamed for the mass killing of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacan, last week. The Citizens' Intelligence Unit said that member of United Cartels had surrendered to the CJNG and were subsequently executed. And now, someone has stolen 26 of their bodies and eight decapitated heads from the local morgue.

NM Legalization Bill Awaits Special Session, Biden Admin Supports Colombia Coca Spraying, More... (3/22/21)

Colorado's governor signs a marijuana socieal equity bill, Arizona's sheriffs and prosecutors don't want to lose civil asset forfeiture, Mexican cartel hitmen gun down 13 cops in Mexico state, and more.

Colombian coca growers face the threat of being sprayed with toxic glyphosate. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Social Equity Bill. Gov. Jared Polis (D) last Friday signed into law SB21-111, which is designed to support social equity licensees in the industry. The bill creates a program in the Office of Economic Development that will provide loans and grants to such licensees and is initially funded with $4 million from the marijuana tax fund.

New Mexico Governor Calls Special Session After Clock Runs Out on Marijuana Legalization Effort. The state's legislative session ended Saturday without a marijuana legalization bill being approved, so Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has announced that she will call a special session to deal with the issue, probably on March 31. "I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come," she said. "I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done right." The bill that is still alive, House Bill12, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, but never got a floor vote before the session ended.

New York Groups Call on Legislature to Pass Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act. More than 70 groups representing labor unions, civil rights, immigration reform, faith-based organizers, criminal justice and police reformers, parents, treatment providers, drug reform groups, legal advocates and other organizations from across the state of New York sent a letter Monday to Albany's legislative leaders urging the swift passage of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) to "ensure legalization has justice, reinvestment, and health and social equity at the core." The MRTA (S.854/A.1248) would set a new national model by focusing benefits on those who have been harmed by prohibition, according to the groups.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Sheriffs, Prosecutors Urge Governor, Lawmakers to Amend Bill That Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, Last Friday, nearly two dozen sheriffs and county attorneys urged Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and the state Senate to amend HB 2810 to remove the requirement that a criminal conviction be obtained before seizing currency. The bill overwhelmingly passed by the House bars civil asset forfeiture, but the lawmen want the ban to apply only to seizures of property, not currency. They claim the bill would benefit Mexican drug cartels. The bill must still pass the Senate Rules Committee before heading for a floor vote.

Foreign Policy

Biden Administration Is Supporting Renewed Spraying of Herbicides to Kill Off Colombia's Coca Crop. Earlier this month, the Biden administration made clear that it supports Colombian President Ivan Duque in his bid to restart the spraying of toxic glyphosate on coca crops. In the administration's first annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released March 2, the position was made crystal clear: "The government of Colombia has committed to restarting its aerial coca eradication program, which would be a most welcome development." The World Health Organization warned in 2015 that glyphosate damages the environment and might be carcinogenic.

International

Mexico Cartels Kill 13 Police in State of Mexico Ambush. A police convoy in the central state of Mexico was attacked by presumed cartel gunmen last Thursday, leaving 13 law enforcement officers dead. "The convoy was carrying out patrols in the region, precisely to fight the criminal groups that operate in the area," said Rodrigo Martinez Celis, head of the state Public Safety Department. It is the deadliest attack on Mexican police since October 2019, when 14 officers were killed in an ambush in the western state of Michoacan.

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill [FEATURE]

Mexico took a giant step toward ending marijuana prohibition Wednesday night as the Chamber of Deputies approved a legalization bill on a vote of 316-129. The Senate approved the bill late last year, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has signaled he will sign it into law.

But it's not quite a done deal yet. Because the bill was amended in the Chamber of Deputies -- and lawmakers were still debating possible amendments late Wednesday night -- it must now go back to the Senate for approval of the changes.

Still, Mexico, a country legendary for marijuana production since the days of the hippies, is now on the verge of becoming the world's largest legal marijuana market. In the United States, federal marijuana prohibition still obtains despite state-level legalization in an ever-increasing number of states, potentially (and ironically) leaving the US as the odd man out in North America, sandwiched between legal pot pioneers Canada and Mexico.

The legislative move to legalize marijuana is the outgrowth of a Mexican Supreme Court decision three years ago that held marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and gave the congress a limited amount of time to bring the law into compliance with the constitution. Deadlines were repeatedly bumped back, though, especially as the coronavirus took hold, but now the congress was up against another deadline next month. And this time, it beat it.

Mexico uses the military to fight its drug wars. (Creative Commons)
Under the bill, people 18 and up will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (although one controversial change in the Chamber of Deputies would require home growers to register with the state). The bill also creates a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. In another change from the Senate bill, this bill would give regulatory control over the new legal industry to the National Commission Against Addictions instead of the independent regulatory body envisioned by the upper house.

Activists bemoaned aspects of the bill, with Mexico Unido Contra la Delinquencia (MUCD) complaining that it represented a "lost opportunity to end the criminalization of users" because it maintains penalties for possession of larger amounts and that it "did not eliminate the crime of cultivation for persons of scarce resources and extreme economic necessity who have dedicated themselves to this as a primordial activity." This would "perpetuate the marginalization and criminal punishment of our peasants, the people most affected by prohibition, who we want to integrate into the market, not maintain in illegality."

MUCD is calling on the Senate to rectify the bill to address such issues. "Above all, we must not create a legal market that only prioritizes the economic benefit of those who participate in sales while we exclude other, less advantaged actors," the group said. "For this, we call on the Senate of the Republic to correct the bill to comply with the mandate of the Supreme Court to eliminate the absolute prohibition of the consumption of cannabis."

The bill would remove one drug from Mexico's lucrative and bloody black markets (DEA)
Still, despite the objections raised by MUCD and others, Mexico is on the verge of shifting from a prohibition regime to legal marijuana regime, and that is a big deal, and a recognition that the country has bigger problems to deal with.

"The damage caused by the prohibition and the war on drugs in Mexico has caused more harm than the health conditions attributed to drug consumption," said Dep. Rubén Cayetano García. "Cannabis is not considered one of the serious public health problems in Mexico."

"For Mexico, given its size and its worldwide reputation for being damaged by the drug war, to take this step is enormously significant," said John Walsh, director of drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America. "North America is heading toward legalization."

VA Lawmakers Approve Legalization... Three Years from Now, Colombia Goes for More Drug War Militarization, More... (3/1/21)

New Mexico lawmakers work to shrink four marijuana legalization bills down to one, Pennsylvania's governor pardons dozens more marijuana offenders, and more.

Virginia State House (Creative Commons)
New Mexico Legislators Agree to Senate Committee Request to Consolidate Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday asked the sponsors of four competing marijuana legalization bills to get together this week and come up with one bill for the committee to consider and vote on this coming Saturday. That would leave legislators with just two weeks to get to a Senate floor vote before the session ends on March 20.

Pennsylvania Governor Grants 69 More Marijuana Pardons. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday announced that he had granted expedited pardons to 69 low-level marijuana offenders, bring his total of pot pardons to 95. He also pardoned another 241 non-marijuana offenders. The move comes as Wolf calls for marijuana legalization and as a bipartisan bill is now before the legislature.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization… Three Years from Now. The House and Senate reached a deal on marijuana legalization Saturday, but in an attenuated way. The measure would not actually legalize marijuana until 2024 and would require the legislature to vote on parts of the bill again next year, both positions that have legalization advocates complaining loudly. The need for additional votes next year exposes legalization to the chance it could depend on Republican majorities in the House and/or Senate or a new Republican governor who would not be as supportive. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports legalization, and now some Democrats are calling on him to amend the bill and send a more complete measure to the statehouse later this year.

Washington, DC, Mayor Filed Bill to Legalize Marijuana Sales. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Friday that she had filed a bill to legalize pot shops in the nation's capital. DC voters approved marijuana legalization in 2014, but have been blocked from setting up a legal, regulated system of marijuana commerce because federal budget provisions bar the District from using funds to regulate and tax still federally illegal marijuana. With Democrats in control of Congress now, advocates that budget rider will now be killed, clearing the way for legal sales. The measure is B24-0114, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021.

Sentencing Policy

Virginia Legislative Bid to End Mandatory Minimum Sentences Dies. Although both chambers passed bills doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing --HB 2331to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses and SB 1443to end them for all offenses -- House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise, and the bills died as the session ended Saturday.

International

Colombia Launches New Elite Military Unit to Target Coca Crops, Drug Trafficking, Armed Groups. The Colombian government announced last Friday it had launched a new, elite military unit to heighten the fight against coca cultivation, drug trafficking, and the armed groups who benefit from prohibited activities. "The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and -- of course -- any transnational form of terrorism," President Ivan Duque said. The new unit of some 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela and the coca-producing provinces of Cauca and Putamayo.

Drug War Issues

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