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VA Pot Legalization Bill Advances, Japan Ponders Harsher Pot Penalties, More... (1/22/21)

California's governor signs an executive order preventing medical marijuana ID cards from expiring during the pandemic, Mexico continues to rage against the abortive DEA arrest of its former defense minister, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador continues to hammer the US and the DEA over the abortive Cienfuegos arrest. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote, Avoids Bid to Strip Out Home Cultivation. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee voted Friday to advance Gov. Northam's (D) marijuana legalization bill, SB 1406. Committee approval came after two different votes to eliminate home cultivation came up short. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Issues Executive Order to Prevent Medical Marijuana ID Cards from Expiring During Pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday signed an executive order extending the validity of medical marijuana ID cards. The order extends the validity of any cards that would have expired since March 4, 2020, when the state entered a coronavirus state of emergency. They will remain valid until the governor's order is rescinded or the state of emergency is ended.

Florida Bills to Protect Public Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana Filed. State Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Palm Beach) and Rep. Nick Duran (D-Miami) have filed bills that aim to protect state and local government employees from any form of retaliation for using medical marijuana. The identical bills are SB 692 and HB 335.

International

Japan Ponders Harsher Penalties for Marijuana. Faced with rising youth marijuana use, the Health Ministry has convened a panel of experts to discuss revisions to the country's Cannabis Control Law, a draconian measure that punishes marijuana possession by up to five years in prison and cultivation by up to seven years. Marijuana use, though, is not currently criminalized, and the panel is considering whether to make ingestion a crime.

Mexico Calls for DEA Internal Probe of "Fabricated" Case Against Former Defense Minister. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday said the US DEA should conduct an internal investigation into how it created what he called a "fabricated" case against former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested by DEA agents in Los Angeles last October on drug conspiracy charges only to be freed after charges were dropped following howls of protest from Mexico. "I am not going to go to any international body, but I respectfully believe that agency should do an internal investigation and clarify what happened, who made the file, who gave the order to apply it," said Lopez Obrador, referring to the DEA.

US and Mexico in Drug War Tiff, IL Passes Bill to Abolish Cash Bail, Santa Fe DA Softens Drug Charges, More... (1/19/21)

Marijuana legalization and medical marijuana bills get filed in Nebraska, the US and Mexico spar over the undone arrest of a former defense minister, a Washington state bill to allow home cultivation gets a hearing, and more.

Bail bond businesses like this one are about to go the way of the dodo in Illinois. (CA Dept. of Insurance)
Marijuana Policy

Nebraska Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Senator Terrell McKinney (D-Omaha) has introduced Legislative Bill 481, which would remove marijuana from the state's criminal code and expunge past convictions for marijuana possession.

Washington State Bill to Allow Home Cultivation Gets Hearing. A bill to allow state residents to grow their own marijuana at home got a hearing last week in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, with little controversy generated. House Bill 1019 could get a committee vote as soon as this Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Senator Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln) has filed Legislative Bill 474, which would create a system of regulated medical marijuana distribution for qualifying patients. She filed a similar bill two years ago, which was defeated. A medical marijuana initiative last year qualified for the ballot but was thrown off by the state's Supreme Court.

Psychedelics

Somerville, Massachusetts, Moves to Effectively Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. The city council last week voted unanimously to approve a resolution that directs city agencies and employees, including police, to not use city resources to enforce laws against the use and possession of natural psychedelics (entheogenic plants). The move came thanks to advocacy by Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, Decriminalize Nature Massachusetts and the Heroic Hearts Project.

Drug Policy

Santa Fe, New Mexico DA Announces New, Softer Policy Toward Drug Possession. New District Attorney Mary Carmakc-Atlwies has announced a set of new, progressive policies including downgrading felony drug possession charges to misdemeanors for a first offense and offering defendants treatment or probation. The only people charged with a drug possession felony will be those who refuse a plea or diversion and ask for a jury trial. "I ran as a progressive on the idea that we need to reform the criminal justice system. And there are prosecutors all over the country doing things in this manner," she said. "We have acknowledged the war on drugs has not worked and we have to do something about it. This is step one of doing something about it."

Foreign Policy

Mexico Exonerates Ex-Defense Minister of Drug Charges, Lashes Out at DEA. At a news conference last Friday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) lashed out at the DEA, accusing the US drug agency of making up a drug case against former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested upon arrival in Los Angeles last October but then released with US charges dropped after heated protests from Mexico. "Why did they do this investigation this way? Without substance, without evidence?" AMLO demanded after the Mexican attorney general a day earlier said he had found no grounds to charge Cienfuegos with a crime in Mexico.

US Rebukes Mexico for Revealing Evidence in Ex-Defense Minister Case. The Justice Department last Friday sharply criticized Mexico for releasing a massive trove of evidence in an aborted drug trafficking case against former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. "Publicizing such information violates the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance between Mexico and the United States, and calls into question whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico's own criminal investigations," said a statement from an agency spokeswoman. The DOJ also defended the case against Cienfuegos, saying the evidence shows that the charges were "not fabricated."

Law Enforcement

Illinois Legislature Passes Bill to Abolish Cash Bail. A bill to completely abolish cash bail, House Bill 3653, has passed both houses of the legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. JB Pritzker, who is expected to okay it. The bill will end cash bail and empower judges to base their pretrial decisions on whether a person needs to be held for public safety reasons, not their socioeconomic status. It will require the release of people charged with crimes before trial with the exception of a narrow set of felony offenses or if someone poses a specific harm to another individual. In all exceptions, the bill requires judges to impose the least restrictive conditions possible.

CA "Contingency Management" Meth Treatment Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess, More... (1/11/21)

Voter-approved marijuana legalization initiatives are running into problems with elected officials, federal prosecutors say the Honduran president was taking big bribes from drug traffickers, and more.

Can you pay people not to take meth? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legislature Refuses to Fund Implementation of Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. The state's Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to refuse to allocate funds to the Department of Revenue to implement the voter-approved marijuana legalization plan. The department had sought $1.35 million to hire 20 staffers and cover administrative costs of getting the program up and running. Now, that means implementation of a legal marijuana market could be delayed.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Legislation Hits Snag. Bills to decriminalize marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated legal marijuana industry are in limbo after the governor and legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on how to punish underage pot smokers. A floor vote set for today has been postponed indefinitely until Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Democratic leaders can reach some sort of agreement.

South Dakota Governor Uses Executive Order to Challenge Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) issued an executive order last Friday okaying a legal challenge to the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. She argued that the initiative "was not proper and violated the procedures set forth in the South Dakota Constitution." Her order also said Highway Patrol Superintendent Col Rick Miller, who earlier sued to block the initiative from being implemented, could do so because he is acting on her behalf.  At the same time, Noem's attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, is defending the initiative in court.  

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pre-Filed. Once again, state Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort County) has filed a medical marijuana bill, S 150, the Compassionate Care Act. Davis has filed similar bills for nearly a decade. This year could be the charm, he predicted. "The bill has been thoroughly vetted," said Davis. "It’s been looked at by the SC Medical Association. It has been looked at by law enforcement. We have a very good tightly regulated medical cannabis bill, and what it seeks to do is empower physicians."

Drug Treatment

California Lawmakers Seek to Expand Contingency Management Treatment for Meth. Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed legislation, Senate Bill 110 that seeks to expand contingency management as a treatment for methamphetamine addiction. Contingency management is controversial becomes it uses cash payments as incentives for users to stay off the drug, but it has been shown to be a proven treatment for meth and cocaine addiction. "We need to embrace this proven, effective approach to meth addiction, make it clearly legal and start reimbursing for it, so we can address this health epidemic," he said.

International

Amsterdam Mayor Wants to Ban Foreigners from Cannabis Coffee Shops. Mayor Femke Halsema has proposed allowing only Dutch residents to enter the city's famous cannabis coffee shops in what she said was an effort to blunt the flow of hard drugs and organized crime linked to the marijuana business. "The cannabis market is too big and overheated," Halsema said in emailed comments. "I want to shrink the cannabis market and make it manageable. The residence condition is far-reaching, but I see no alternative." She submitted her plan to the city council last Friday, setting the stage for an energetic political debate.

Honduran President Accused of Helping Drug Traffickers in US Court Filings. Federal prosecutors in New York City last week laid out evidence implicating Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in drug trafficking. They accused him of using Honduran armed forces to protect large cocaine shipments in return for bribes. Prosecutors quoted Hernandez as saying he wanted the DEA to think Honduras was fighting drugs while he was instead going to "shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos." Honduras has received hundreds of millions of dollars in US anti-drug aid.

 

 



DC Decriminalizes Drug Paraphernalia; Pot Possession, Cultivation Now Legal in MT, More... (1/4/21)

Illinois has expunged nearly half a million marijuana arrests years ahead of schedule, a New Mexico court rules that people under correctional control can use medical marijuana, and more.

Drug parapernalia is now decriminalized in the District of Columbia. (Creeative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Expunges Nearly Half a Million Marijuana Arrest Records Four Years Ahead of Schedule. State officials announced last Thursday that state police had expunged some 492,129 marijuana possession arrest records, four years ahead of a deadline set by the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized marijuana in the state. Governor J.B. Pritzker also announce another 9,219 pardons for marijuana possession, bringing the total number of pot pardon's he has issued to 20,000. "Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color," Pritzker said. "We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward."

Montana Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of New Year's Day, the marijuana-legalizing Initiative 190 has gone into effect. It is now legal for adults 21 and over to use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants for personal use. The state is now working on setting up a system of licensed, taxed, and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Court Rules Inmates Can Have Access to Medical Marijuana. A district court judge in Albuquerque ruled last week that inmates at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center who are qualifying medical marijuana patients can use the substance while under correctional control. It is unclear whether other state and local jails would voluntarily comply with the ruling, but it has set a precedent for other state courts. The ruling came in the case of man serving a 90-day house arrest sentence.

Asset Forfeiture

Institute for Justice Issues New Edition of Asset Forfeiture Report. The libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice has released the third edition of its report on asset forfeiture laws in the states, "Policing for Profit." The report details each state's laws around civil asset forfeiture. The Institute handed out only one "A" grade in this edition. That went to New Mexico, which banned civil asset forfeiture in 2015.

Paraphernalia

Washington, DC, Decriminalizes the Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law B54, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Act of 2019. The bill decriminalizes the possession of drug paraphernalia and will also allow harm reduction and community groups to distribute harm reduction supplies that were previously criminalized under DC law.

International

Colombia Says It Manually Eradicated the Most Coca in a Decade. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announced last week that Colombia had eradicated 325,000 acres of coca crops, the highest figure in a decade. Eradicators had uprooted about 240,000 acres in 2019 and 150,000 acres in 2018. "These 130,000 hectares eradicated translate into an affectation of about US$301 million to drug trafficking organizations, if the average price of a hectare of coca is taken as a reference, and represents about 115,440 kilos of cocaine that were no longer produced," Trujillo said as he watched an eradication operation in the company of US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg. The Trump administration has pressed Colombia to do more to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production.

Year from Hell II: The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

As we wave an eager goodbye to 2020 in the rearview mirror, it's time to assess the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to drug policy and drug reform at the international level. As in other realms of human behavior, the coronavirus pandemic is inescapable, but even as the pandemic raged, drug policy developments kept happening. Here are the biggest world drug policy stories of 2020:

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the World of Drugs

As with virtually every other aspect of human affairs, the year's deadly coronavirus pandemic impacted the world of drugs, from disruptions of drug markets and anti-drug policing to drug trafficking groups as social distancing enforcers, fallout on efforts to reform drug policies, and beyond.

Early on, there were reports that Mexican drug traffickers were raising wholesale meth and fentanyl prices because of disruptions in the precursor chemical supply, and that pandemic lockdowns had disrupted the cocaine supply chain, driving down the farmgate price for coca and endangering the livelihoods of nearly a quarter-million coca-producing families in the Andes.

But some things couldn't be disrupted: Just a day after closing its famous cannabis cafes in response to the pandemic, the Dutch reopened them as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. In France, the price of hashish nearly doubled in a week as increased border controls due to the pandemic put the squeeze on. By midyear, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported pandemic-related border closures, lockdowns, and flight shortages were making drugs more expensive and difficult to obtain around the world.

Those same drug organizations struggling with the pandemic took on roles normally assumed by government in some countries. In Mexico, the Gulf Cartel and Los Viagras handed out food to poor families in Tamaulipas and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel did the same in Guadalajara, spurring President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to acknowledge their efforts and implore them to knock it off and just stay home. Instead, the Sinaloa Cartel locked down the city of Culiacan, its home base, and patrolled the streets in heavily armed convoys to enforce a curfew. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro drug gangs enforced social distancing and handed out cash and medications as the government of rightist authoritarian populist President Jair Bolsonaro was largely absent and in denial about coronavirus. In Colombia, with the government missing in action, drug gangs and armed groups enforced lockdown orders, even killing people who didn't comply, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some countries took positive steps to ameliorate these effects of the pandemic. In Great Britain, the government agreed to hand out methadone without a prescription to those already receiving it and shortly later began allowing monthly buprenorphine injections for heroin addicts. In Canada, British Columbia early on moved to increase a "safe supply" of drugs that registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. The province followed that move by lowering barriers to prescription medications, increasing the supply of opiate maintenance drugs and even dispensing some of them via a unique vending machine. By providing a safe supply of legal drug alternatives, the province hoped to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Not everybody let a measly little coronavirus get in the way of their drug war. In Colombia, President Ivan Duque ordered a nationwide lockdown in March, but exempted coca eradicators and launched a major offensive against small producer coca farms. And Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte let his drug war rage on in the midst of the pandemic despite imposing a national partial lockdown in March. At least nine people were killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." In September Human Rights Watch noted the pace of acknowledged drug war killings by police had doubled. Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

The coronavirus also wreaked havoc with drug reform initiative signature gathering campaigns in the US, preventing several marijuana legalization and one drug decriminalization initiative from qualifying for the ballot this year, and played a role in delaying marijuana legalization in Mexico when its Senate shut down in the spring because of the pandemic.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Votes to Remove Cannabis from Most Restrictive Drug Schedule

In an historic move on December 2, the 53 member states of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN body charged with setting drug policy, voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the United Nations' drug classification system as they met in Vienna. Cannabis was both a Schedule I and a Schedule IV drug under the international drug treaties. Schedule I includes "substances that are highly addictive and liable to abuse or easily convertible into those (e.g. opium, heroin, cocaine, coca leaf"), while Schedule IV includes Schedule I drugs with "particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic value" (e.g. heroin, carfentanil).

The vote removing cannabis from Schedule IV means the global anti-drug bureaucracy now recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis and no longer considers it "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects." With medical marijuana legal in dozens of countries in; one form or another, the ever-increasing mountain of evidence supporting the therapeutic uses of cannabis, not to mention outright legalization in 15 American states Canada and Uruguay, with Mexico about to come on board, this decision by the CND is long past due, but nonetheless welcome.

The UN Common Position on Drug Policy Gains Traction

Change at the United Nations comes at a glacial pace, but it can and does come. The shift away from punitive, law enforcement-heavy approaches to drug use has been building for years and picked up steam at the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016 and advanced further with the adoption of the UN Common Position on Drug Policy in 2018.

That approach, which seeks to get all the UN agencies involved in drug policy, public health, and human rights on the same page, explicitly calls for the decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. Among the position's directions for action is the following: "To promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, and to promote the principle of proportionality, to address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes, to support implementation of effective criminal justice responses that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial, and to support practical measures to prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and torture."

At least 30 countries have instituted some form of drug decriminalization (although in many it is only marijuana that has been decriminalized), and the Common Position is providing breathing space for others that may be inclined to take the plunge. In 2020, the US state of Oregon broke ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the use and possession of all drugs, and just a few hundred miles to the north and across the Canadian border, the city council of Vancouver, British Columbia, voted to decriminalize and seek an exemption from the federal government to do so.

Decriminalization could also be around the corner in Norway, where a proposal first bruited in 2017 could pass some time next year. And Ghana (see below) has also effectively decriminalized drug use and possession. With a more consistent message from the UN, which the Common Position represents, we can expect further progress on this front in years to come.

The Philippine Drug War Faces Increasing Pressure

Four years into the government of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines remains embroiled in a bloody war on drug users and sellers, but is facing increasing pressure from human rights groups, domestic critics, and international institutions over mass killings that are believed to now total more than 30,000. In a June report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill."

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability. Two months later, during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet called for an end to the policies and rhetoric that led to abuse and killings. She acknowledged some small steps taken by the Duterte government but warned "there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

In October, Duterte said he accepted responsibility for drug war killings, but only those acknowledged by police, not the thousands committed by shadowy vigilantes. That same month, global civil society groups including StoptheDrugWar.org (the publisher of this newsletter) and Movement for a Free Philippines launched the Stand for Human Rights and Democracy campaign to keep the pressure on. The campaign launch included an "Autocrat Fair" demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC; and an accompanying video, "Trump and Duterte -- Allies in Violence." An event organized by StoptheDrugWar.org on December 22 discussed the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The pressure on the Duterte government only heightened at year's end, when the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor issued a report saying there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in Duterte's drug war. That leaves one stage left in the Office's "preliminary examination," admissibility. For the ICC to have jurisdiction, prosecutors must show that the Philippine justice system lacks a legitimate or capable response to the killings. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021, when her term ends, over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affects how cases are prioritized, and may affect whether the new prosecutor initiates cases.

Even as Drug War Violence Continues Unabated, Mexico is About to Become the World's Largest Legal Marijuana Market

There is no end in sight to Mexico's bloody drug wars. The year began with the announcement that 2019 was the most murderous year in recent history, with some 35,588 recorded homicide victims. As the year ends, 2020 appears on track to equal or surpass that toll, with the country registering about 3,000 murders a month.

As mass killing after mass killing took place throughout the year, the number of dead wasn't the only thing rising either. In January, the government announced that the number of "disappeared" people in the country was around 61,000, up from an estimated 40,000 in mid-2019. By July, the number of those officially missing had risen to 73,201 as prohibition-related violence ripped through the country.

While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came into office in 2018 critical of the role of the military in the drug war, and with a plan to reduce crime and violence by focusing on their root causes, in May he renewed orders keeping the military on the streets for another four years. "His security strategy is not working and that is why he has had to order with this decree for the Armed Forces to support public security," security specialist Juan Ibarrola told the Milenio newspaper at the time.

The following month, Lopez Obrador signaled that perhaps it wasn't security strategy that wasn't working, but drug prohibition. He released a plan to decriminalize drugs, and urged the US to do the same. Mexico's current "prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable," the plan said.

As the drug war chugged along, US-Mexico relations took a hit in October, when DEA agents arrested Mexico's former defense minister in Los Angeles on drug and money laundering charges. Loud protests from Mexico eventually resulted in his release, but in December, Mexican lawmakers chafing at US heavy-handedness voted to restrict the activities of foreign agents in the country.

Even as the drug wars rage, there is significant progress on another drug policy track. As the year comes to an end, Mexico is one vote in the Chamber of Deputies away from legalizing marijuana. The government-supported legalization bill, crafted in response to a ruling from the country's Supreme Court that said marijuana prohibition must end, passed the Senate in November after delays caused by political infighting and shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Under an order from the Supreme Court, the Congress had until December 15 to act, but the Chamber of Deputies delayed the vote, saying it needed more time to study the bill, and the Supreme Court agreed to grant one more extension, giving the Chamber of Deputies until the end of the next legislative session in April to get the job done. President Lopez Obrador downplayed the delay, calling it a matter of "form not substance." And Mexico is waiting to inhale.

Bolivia display at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Bolivia Returns the Coca-Friendly Movement to Socialism to Power

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice, was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November 2019. The self-appointed interim right-wing government worked to suppress Morales' Movement to Socialism and harassed harassed coca producers in the name of the war on drugs.

The coca growers stood firm, however mobilizing to blockade roads to protest delays in promised elections. When those elections finally came in October, voters returned the MAS to power, electing Morales' former economics minister, Luis Arce, without the need for a runoff election.

Arce said that while he has no problem with the United States, he will maintain Morales' coca policy, under which legal coca cultivation was allowed, and that he wants to expand the country's industrial coca production.

Colombia, Coca, Cocaine, and Conflict

Four years after the truce between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC was supposed to bring peace to the country, peace remains elusive as the rightist government of President Ivan Duque continues to wage war against other leftist rebels, drug traffickers, and coca-growing peasants.

Under pressure from the US, the Duque government began the year by moving to resume the aerial spraying of coca fields. This plan was rejected by state governors, who said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and wanted President Duque to actually implement the 2016 peace accords.

Instead, the government attempted to pull out of a crop substitution monitoring program with the UN, preventing a pending evaluation of the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, although it later backtracked. That prompted coca farmers to call "bullshit" on Duque's duplicity, not only around crop substitution and eradication, but on the government's efforts to downplay a campaign of assassination against coca substitution leaders.

Indeed, human rights remained a major concern throughout the year, as a UN peace mission condemned a spike in massacres in August, and a month later, the International Crisis Group demanded the government stop the killing of activists. The group said the government must prioritize communities' safety over military operations against armed groups and coca eradication efforts. Human rights were no concern for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, who promised Colombia more anti-drug aid the following month.

On another track, efforts to reform the country's drug laws continue. Bills to legalize marijuana were defeated late in the year, as right-wing factions aligned with Duque killed them. A bill to legalize cocaine was introduced in December, with cosponsor Senator Ivan Marulanda saying the bill would allow a legal cocaine supply for Colombian cocaine users -- use and possession is legal in Colombia -- and that the government could buy up the entire coca crop.

The year ended as it began, with the government still talking about plans to restart aerial fumigation even it claimed it would meet its coca eradication goal. Meanwhile, coca and cocaine production remain at world-leading levels.

Progress in Africa

Attitudes towards drugs and drug users are changing in Africa, and 2020 saw significant advances. It was in July 2019 that health, drug control and population ministers from member states of the African Union met in Cairo to forge a continental action plan for adopting more balanced policies toward drug use.

At that meeting, the Union's Department for Social Affairs called on member states to adopt master plans for drug policy by 2023. Such plans create a national framework for deciding which agencies should deal with illicit drug use in a way that deals with both drug supplies and demand reduction and ensure that not just law enforcement but also treatment and rehabilitation issues are addressed.

Zimbabwe had begun work on its own master plan years earlier -- back in 1999 -- but that effort had stalled until 2016 when, thanks to a civil society group, the Zimbabwean Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), the effort was reignited. The country hasn't passed a reformist master plan yet, but thanks to years of organizing and alliance-building, reform is coming.

In July, ZCLDN and regional ally groups worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to draft treatment and rehabilitation guidelines that formally incorporated harm reduction practices, a big step forward. In September, the group brought together civil society groups and the government's inter-ministerial committee charged with creating the master plan, helping to lay the groundwork for the plan to be adopted early in 2021. But first, it has to be approved by the cabinet, the attorney general's office, and then parliament. The work was not finished in 2020, but it is well underway.

Meanwhile in West Africa, Ghana actually passed a major drug reform law, the Narcotics Control Commission bill, in March. It only took five years from the time the bill was first introduced. Drafted with the intent of treating drug use as a public health issue, the law effectively decriminalizes drug possession, replacing prison terms of up to ten years with fines of roughly US $250 to $1,000. The new law also clears the way for the implementation of harm reduction services, which had previously been outlawed. And it allows for the production of low-THC cannabis products, such as industrial hemp and CBD.

The colonial legacy weighs heavy on Africa, but when it comes to drug policy, African nations are beginning to forge their own, more humane paths.

Thanks to a Plant, Afghanistan Becomes a Meth Producer

For years now, Afghanistan has been the world's number one supplier of opium poppies and the heroin derived from it, accounting for about 90% of global production. Now the war-torn country is diversifying, becoming a big-time player in the methamphetamine trade thanks to a plant common in the country and low-tech techniques for using it to make meth.

That plant is ephedra, from which meth's key ingredient -- ephedrine -- is created, and in a November report, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned that while its findings were provisional, "the data reported here on the potential scale of ephedrine and methamphetamine production emanating from this remote corner of Afghanistan, the income it generates and the speed at which it has emerged are both surprising and worrying." The report cited seizures of Afghan meth in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia, and tax revenues in the millions for the Taliban.

New Zealand Narrowly Rejects Marijuana Legalization

New Zealand had a chance to become the next country to legalize marijuana but rejected it. Early on, polling suggested that a referendum to legalize marijuana faced an uphill battle, and as early election results came in in October, the polls proved accurate, with the referendum faltering with only 46% of the vote. In the final tally, the margin narrowed, but the referendum still lost narrowly, garnering 48% of votes.

Kiwis were not ready to become the second commonwealth country to legalize marijuana, after Canada, On the other hand, voters approved a referendum to allow voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill by a margin of two-to-one.

CDC Says Drug ODs Hit Record High Amid Pandemic, NJ Legalization Lacks Home Grow Provision, More... (12/21/20)

Another Mexican politican gets gunned down, the Scottish public health minister has been fired over record overdose deaths, and more.

This could still get you up to five years in prison even after legalization in New Jersey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey's Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization Bills Have No Provision for Home Cultivation, Which Remains a Serious Felony. The bills to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization and to decriminalize possession in the meantime have no provisions allowing for the home cultivation of the plant. Under current state law, growing one plant is punishable by up to five years in prison, while growing 10 plants could earn up to 20 years behind bars. That strikes long-time Garden State activist Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion as unjust, to say the least. "Big guys, corporations, they can violate federal law in the state of New Jersey and grow tons of marijuana," Forchion argued. "But a little housewife down in South Jersey wants to grow 10 plants in her backyard, she'll be treated as a first-degree felon."

Drug Policy

US Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Record High During Coronavirus Pandemic, CDC Says. The year ending in May 2020 saw more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths, according to a new update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although drug overdose deaths were already rising after a blip downward in 2018, the CDC suggested the coronavirus was playing a role. "The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement. "As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it's important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences."

International

Former Governor of Mexico's Jalisco State Gunned Down in Puerta Vallarta. Former Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval was assassinated in the beach resort town of Puerta Vallarta last Thursday night as he ate in a restaurant. He was initially shot while in the restaurant restroom, and when his security team dragged him outside, they were ambushed. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, but it comes amidst a rising tide of violent conflict among Mexican cartels and between the cartels and the police and military. "Sandoval's murder is one of several attacks and killings of Mexican government officials in recent years," said Maureen Meyer, the Mexico Director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank. "This rising violence and insecurity speaks to the Mexican government's ongoing challenge to effectively combat organized criminal organizations that continue to expand their influence in the country."

Scottish Health Minister Fired as Overdose Deaths Hit Record High. Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has been forced out of his job after the country recorded its highest ever number of drug overdose deaths. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ousted him as opposition Labor and Liberal Democrats called for his resignation after drug deaths jumped to 1,264, twice the number in 2014. Sturgeon has appointed Angela Constance as a full-time minister for drugs to replace him.

Oregon's Largest County Ends Drug Possession Prosecutions, New Jersey MJ and Psilocybin Bills Pass, More... (12/16/20)

The DEA has published a rule that will finally allow for an end to the government monopoly on marijuana grown for research purposes, the Mexican congress slaps back at the US by limiting the activities of DEA agents inside the country, and more.

Meth arrest. You'll be seeing a lot less of this in Oregon as voter-approved decriminalization begins to bite. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

DEA Issues Rule Allowing Expanded Number of Marijuana Research Grows. The DEA on Thursday made public a rule that will allow researchers to be able to obtain marijuana from more than the one currently sanctioned grower, a farm at the University of Mississippi. The DEA began soliciting applications from potential growers in 2016, and 41 applicants have submitted requests to grow research marijuana since then. Those applications went unanswered during the Trump administration.

New Jersey Lawmakers Pass Marijuana Legalization, Decriminalization, and Magic Mushroom Bills. The Assembly and the Senate on Thursday approved three bills on marijuana and magic mushrooms. Senate Bill 21 would create a new, legal marijuana industry, while a second bill decriminalizes the possession of up to six ounces of marijuana, and the third bill reduces penalties for magic mushroom possession from a felony to disorderly persons offense. The bills now go to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who is expected to sign them into law.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Personal Home Grows. A bill introduced last week, HB 1019, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants for personal use and possess the fruits of the harvest. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2015 but have yet to pass.

Drug Policy

Oregon's Most Populous County to Halt Drug Possession Prosecutions Ahead of Looming Decriminalization. The drug decriminalization measure approved by voters in November doesn't go into effect until February 1, but prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) the state's most populous, aren't waiting to stop drug possession arrests. DA Mike Schmidt announced Thursday that, effective immediately, it will quit prosecuting drug possession cases. "Past punitive drug policies and laws resulted in over-policing of diverse communities, heavy reliance on correctional facilities and a failure to promote public safety and health," Schmidt said in a statement. "It's time to move beyond these failed practices, expand access to treatment and focus our limited law enforcement resources to target high-level, commercial drug offenses."

Sentencing Reform

California State Senator Files Sentencing Reform Bill. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) on Thursday introduced SB 73, a bill that gives judges more discretion to order probation and other alternatives to incarceration for certain drug offenses, as well as doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for some drug offenses.

International

Mexican Lawmakers Vote to Restrict Foreign Agents Despite US Pressure. The Chamber of Deputies of Mexico voted on Tuesday to approve a bill restricting the activities of foreign agents on national territory, despite the US voicing concerns that it could hamper cross-border drug investigations. The Senate already approved the measure last Wednesday. The bill came as a reaction to the arrest of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos by DEA agents in Los Angeles in October. Bowing to pressure from Mexico, US prosecutors dropped the charges, but it appears the Mexicans are still not mollified.

Patrick Kennedy Wants to Be Drug Czar, NJ MJ Implementation Bill Heard, More... (12/14/20)

Jostling over who will be named Joe Biden's drug czar has begun, Arizona gets working on rules for the nascent legal marijuana industry, more cartel conflict in Mexico, and more.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy is openly lobbying to be named drug czar in the Biden administration. (nationalcouncil.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Begins Working on Draft Rules for Recreational Marijuana Sales. State health officials have commenced the rulemaking process for legal marijuana commerce. Since election results were certified on November 30, adults can legally possess up to an ounce and grow up to six plants, but legal sales can't start until the rules are set. State officials anticipate sales could begin in the spring. The initiative that legalized marijuana mandates that the state begin accepting applications from medical marijuana dispensaries that want to become recreational shops beginning January 19 and that licenses be issued to more than 60 days after applications are received.

New Jersey Senate Committee Considering Marijuana Legalization Plan Today. The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting Monday to consider S21, the bill to implement marijuana legalization after voters approved it in November. It is also considering a number of other bills, including S3256, which would downgrade the crime of possession of psilocybin mushrooms to a "disorderly person offense."

Drug Policy

Patrick Kennedy Launches Public Bid to Be Named Biden's Drug Czar. Former congressman and mental health and addiction treatment advocate Patrick Kennedy has begun a well-publicized bid to be named head of the White House Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) in the Biden administration. Kennedy is an opponent of marijuana legalization. There are other contenders, including former board president for the American Society of Addiction Medicine Kelly Clark, former Obama era addiction policy official Westley Clark, and March of Dimes chief medical officer Rahul Gupta, who heads the Biden administration's ONDCP transition team. Notably, all of these contenders come from the public health sphere, not the law enforcement sphere as has typically been the case with past drug czars.

International

Australian Capital Territory to See Drug Decriminalization Bill. A backbench member of the Australian Capital Territory's (Canberra) governing Labor Party will introduce a bill to decriminalize drug possession in the ACT Legislative Assembly next year. The opposition has not rejected the idea outright, but says it needs further review. If passed, it would make the ACT the first place in the country to enact drug decriminalization. An early draft of the bill sets possession limits at half a gram of MDMA and two grams of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Mexican Cartel Battle in Michoacan Now in Second Week. Fighting over control of 13 municipalities in the state of Michoacan between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Cartels United, which consists of the Sinaloa Cartel and other criminal groups, has gone on for more than a week now. Most recently, 13 people were killed in attacks last week in the towns of Chinicuila and Tepalcatepec, where residents dug trenches across roads to try to prevent gunmen from entering, as well as in Morelia, Zamora, and Uruapan. Multi-sided gun battles pitched cartel hitmen against each other, as well as police, soldiers, and armed residents. At least three civilians were among the dead.

Philippines Says Despite UN CND Vote, Marijuana Is Still a Dangerous Drug. Responding to the recent vote at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) removing marijuana from the most dangerous drug schedule, the Philippines is holding firm. The undersecretary of the Dangerous Drugs Board, Benjamin Reyes, said that doesn't mean marijuana is no longer a dangerous drug. "It is still included. It's just that marijuana (may now) have possible medical use, but still dangerous just like cocaine and opium," he said.

NJ Governor, Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Marijuana Bill, Mexico Strikes Back at DEA, More... (12/7/20)

South Dakota's attorney general's office intervenes against a challenge to the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization, New Jersey's governor and lawmakers reach an agreement on their marijuana bill, and more.

No random marijuana tests for NBA players next year -- and maybe ever.
Marijuana Policy

NBA Won't Test Players for Marijuana Next Year. In a continuation of a policy adopted this year, the National Basketball Association (NBA) will not drug test players for the presence of marijuana -- and it could be moving toward a permanent suspension of such testing. "Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA [NBA Players Association] to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse," an NBA spokesperson said. The pause only applies to random drug tests; a player could be tested for marijuana for cause.

New Jersey Governor, Lawmakers Approve Framework for Recreational Marijuana Bill. "We're proud to announce today that we've reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system," the office of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a statement last Friday. Among the areas of agreement are that 70% of marijuana sales tax revenues will go to social justice programs and that licenses will be issued to 37 growers for the first two years. An amendment to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms will be removed and considered separately.

South Dakota Attorney General's Office Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Victorious Legal Marijuana Initiative. State Assistant Attorney General Grant Flynn last Thursday filed a request with a district judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the legality of the voter-approved initiative that legalizes marijuana in the state. "The State respectfully requests that Contestants' Election Contest be denied in all respects and that Contestants' Complaint be dismissed with prejudice, in its entirety, and judgement be entered in favor of the state," says the filing authored by Flynn. The plaintiffs are arguing that the measure violates the state constitution because it deals with "a multitude" of topics, not just legalizing marijuana. Those include medical marijuana and hemp. "The State denies that Amendment A includes a 'multitude' of different subjects," Flynn wrote. Attorneys representing the initiative campaign have also joined the case. All sides have until January 8 to file motions and briefs.

Foreign Policy

Mexican President Proposes Stripping Diplomatic Immunity for DEA Agents. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed removing diplomatic immunity for DEA agents working in Mexico. Under the proposal, DEA agents would have to submit all the information they collect in the country to the Mexican government. Also, any Mexican government officials contacted by the DEA would have to report on that contact to the Foreign Relations Department. A DEA spokesman said, however, that sharing information with Mexico "is not going to happen," citing corruption in the Mexican government. The proposal after former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested on drug and corruption charges in Los Angeles, only to see the charges dropped weeks later by US prosecutors who cited "sensitive and important foreign policy considerations."

MORE Act Heads for House Vote, San Francisco Bans Apartment Cigarettes -- But Not Pot-Smoking, More... (12/3/20)

Tomorrow will be an historic day for marijuana policy, New Jersey lawmakers struggle over legal marijuana and decriminalization, Peru and the US diverge on the size of last year's coca crop, and more.

There will be no tobacco smoking allowed in apartment buildings in San Francisco. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

MORE Act Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee on Wednesday approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), clearing the way for a House floor vote on Friday. The committee also approved a rule that the bill will be closed to amendments on the floor. Debate on the bill began today.

New Jersey Lawmakers Want to Put Marijuana On The Ballot Again, to Steer Revenue to People Hurt By Drug War. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and three other Democratic senators are promoting a constitutional amendment that would ensure that marijuana tax revenues would go to "impact zones," or communities harmed by the war on drugs. At the same time, lawmakers are removing a psychedelic mushroom provision from the pending decriminalization bill to remove one roadblock to its passage. With the removal of the mushroom provision, the bill is expected to pass by month's end.

San Francisco Bans Cigarette Smoking in Apartment Building but Allows Pot Smoking. The city's Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 on Tuesday to ban tobacco smoking from apartment buildings with three or more units but relented on its plan to ban marijuana smoking in the face of strong opposition. Activists pointed out that banning pot-smoking in apartments would remove their only legal place to smoke since pot smoking is banned in public places. The ban also includes e-cigarettes.

International

Peru Reports Lower Growth of Coca Cultivation Than US Did. The anti-drug agency DEVIDA said coca cultivation increased only 1% last year to about 135,000 acres and was a slowdown from higher growth the previous year. That's dramatically lower than what the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported in June. ONDCP reported that cultivation had increased by 38% to 180,000 acres. DEVIDA said 70% of the country's production was in the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers) in the south-central part of the country.

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