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Chronicle AM: LatAm Drug Prisoner Numbers Up, UNODC Sends Adviser to Philippines, More... (4/18/17)

They don't even want to think about legalization in Montana, Rhode Island's governor would rather think about it next year, two GOP governors sign CBD cannabis oil bills, Latin American drug incarceration is on the increase, the UNODC sends an advisor to the Philippines, and more.

Two more states edge toward medical marijuana by passing CBD cannabis oil bills. (marijuanagames.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing, Gets Killed. The state Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a marijuana decriminalization bill Monday, then voted to "temporarily postpone" the bill, effectively killing it for the year. The bill, which would have made small-time pot possession a civil infraction, was Senate Bill 1682.

Montana Bill to Study Legalization Dies in House. A bill that would have created an interim legislative committee to study marijuana legalization died Monday in the House. House Joint Resolution 35 failed on a vote of 45-55. Nine Republicans voted to approve the bill, but five Democrats voted against it.

Rhode Island Governor Wants to Study Legalization, Not Pass it This Year. The administration of Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) has sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee saying it has "concerns" with legalization bills under consideration and would instead support creating a commission to study the issue. "The Governor's primary concerns are safety and proper regulation, and she will give strong consideration to legalization legislation that adequately addresses these concerns, whether a bill reaches her desk this year or in the future," she said, leaving the door just slightly open for this year.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed into law House Bill 1559, which exempts CBD cannabis oil products from the state's definition of marijuana if they are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. No such medicines have been approved by the FDA. The move is the latest baby step toward actually approving the use of CBD cannabis oil; last year, Fallin signed a bill that allowed clinical trials by researchers to take place.

Wisconsin Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 10, which would make it easier to acquire CBD cannabis oil. Two years ago, Walker signed a bill to allow the use of CBD in extremely limited cases, but the limits it contains are so restrictive that families and patients haven't been able to actually use CBD. This bill will ease those limits, allowing patients to possess CBD for any medical condition with an annual physician's approval.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Hearing Today on Ecstasy, New Psychoactives. The US Sentencing Commission will take up reconsideration of the federal sentencing guidelines for ecstasy (MDMA) and a handful of new psychoactive substances. This is the first step in a two-year review process that could result in sentencing reductions for people caught with those drugs. One factor driving the Sentencing Commission to take up the issue is two major federal court cases where judges ruled that they did not have to follow the current MDMA sentencing guidelines, since they were so out of touch with science and public health.

International

Canada Marijuana Legalization Won't Include Pardons, Amnesty, Liberals Say. The Trudeau government is not considering a blanket pardon for people who have criminal records for marijuana possession as part of its marijuana legalization plan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday. "That's not an item that's on the agenda at the moment," he said. The government is facing pressure both from people who want to move immediately to some sort of decriminalization and from people who want some sort of pardon scheme, but the Liberals are holding firm. "It is important to note that as the bill moves through the legislative process, existing laws prohibiting possession and use of cannabis remain in place, and they need to be respected," Goodale said. "This must be an orderly transition. It is not a free-for-all."

Study Reveals a Disproportionate Increase in Number of People Jailed for Low-Level Drug Offenses in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (CEDD), a network of drug policy experts from 10 countries in the Americas, has published a new report which reveals that despite the debate surrounding drug policy reform, the rate of incarceration for low-level, non-violent drug offenses continues to increase across Latin America. The CEDD Report, Irrational Punishment: Drug Laws and Incarceration in the Americas, includes research on ten countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. In all of the Latin American countries studied, with the exception of Bolivia, the population imprisoned for drug offenses increased at a rate of 8 to 33 times faster than that of the general prison population over the last 15 years, with some variation depending on the country. In Brazil, while the prison population increased 55% between 2006 and 2014, the population incarcerated for drug offenses rose by 267%, a rate about five times greater. In Colombia, between 2000 and 2015, the prison population rose by 141%, but the population incarcerated for drug offenses increased by 289%.

UNODC to Send Adviser to Philippines, Promote Alternatives. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced Monday that it will soon send a drug policy advisor to the Philippines to work with the government there on alternatives to its bloody-handed crackdown on drug users. The UNODC adviser will press both the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Department of Health to adopt treatment-based approaches to combat substance abuse in the country. Those programs are likely to take the form of community-based models that will more effectively encourage users to minimize their substance dependencies. The advisor is expected to arrive in June and serve for two years.

Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War

On Thursday March 16th our international drug policy work took a new turn, when we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. The event addressed the situation in the Philippines, in which the new president of the country, former Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, entered office last summer promising to slaughter large numbers of purported drug suspects. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the Philippines at the time of this writing, by police or vigilantes.

Speakers Chito Gascon, Alison Smith and Marco Perduca (photo by Joey Tranchina)
Our session unexpectedly drew high-level political interest, and Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, opposition leader and a critic of the killings, recorded a video to be presented there. The video and event were covered by TIME as part of being made public (one article featuring the video then another interviewing Robredo), and the news wire services Reuters and Agence France Press published articles, as did numerous outlets in the Philippines. At the time of this writing the video has garnered over 167,000 views.

Other speakers at the event included the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Chito Gascon; former prime minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva (also by video), the Chair of our partner group the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats; and experts on international criminal justice.

Unfortunately, allies of Pres. Duterte as well as other rivals of Vice President Robredo seized on the video to attack her politically, claiming that the video constituted a "betrayal of the public trust" that she should be impeached for. Political figures including the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's spokesperson claimed falsely the video's release was timed to coincide with the filing by a member of Congress of an impeachment complaint against the president.

On the same day as the session, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to the killings and for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima, another prominent critic of the killings who has been jailed on charges that are widely viewed as unsupported. The critics of the vice president, which include Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator who lost by a narrow margin to Robredo in the vice-presidential election and is challenging it in court, have charged that Robredo was behind all three events and is engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the Duterte government to make herself president.

By the time the actual session took place, it was already controversial, and the heated political conflict the video prompted has raged in the Philippine media during weeks since then, only now possibly slowing down. A Google News search on "Robredo" turns up dozens of articles about it, most of them mentioning the video and our UN event. We've been able to play a helpful role at times -- the Philippine Daily Inquirer published an article this week which primarily featured an interview with our executive director (Group Say Duterte, Not Robredo, Upsetting Int'l Community), shared over 7,600 times according to the newspaper's web site, and several outlets including CNN Philippines published a statement we issued clarifying that the video's release was not related to the impeachment complaint against the president.

We have full footage from the event prepared, which we are shopping around to major media outlets before posting, but which we hope to make public by next week. We hope that seeing footage from the actual event will help to turn the discussion in the Philippines back to what's important: the extrajudicial killings and other abuses in the president's drug war, and the failure of the drug in the Philippines, US and elsewhere.

In the meanwhile, you can help by circulating the vice president's powerful video message on your networks. If you have a web site, you can post an embedded copy of the YouTube video, or you can post it to your social media pages. (When posting to Facebook, we recommend you use this Facebook copy, as we've heard that Facebook deprioritizes YouTube videos.)

Here is the event flyer:

And here is Vice President Robredo's video.

Vienna International Centre
Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM: StoptheDrugWar.org in Philippines Controversy, MA Legalization, More... (3/20/17)

StoptheDrugWar.org draws the ire of the Duterte regime in Manila, Vermont's pot legalization bill gets a needed extension, a federal bill to create a National Commission on Criminal Justice is filed, and more.

David Borden's coordination of a video criticizing Philippines Pres. Duterte is making waves in Manila. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legislature Begins Grappling With Legal Marijuana. The legislature's effort to diddle with voter-approved marijuana legalization began in earnest Monday as the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy held hearings featuring the state treasurer, gaming commission chairman, representatives of the attorney general's office, and legalization advocates. Some 44 bills have been filed to restrict, delay, or otherwise modify the initiative that passed last November. Further hearings on the general topic are already scheduled, but hearings for the individual bills have not.

Vermont Legalization Bill Misses Deadline, But Gets One-Week Extension. The legalization bill, House Bill 170, missed a Friday deadline for bills to emerge from committee, but House and Senate leaders agreed to give the bill a one-week extension to try to get out of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee had been scheduled to vote on the bill last Wednesday, but abruptly removed the vote from its schedule, suggesting that House leaders weren't confident it would pass out of committee. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults, but would not allow for legal marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Limit on PTSD Recommendations. The state court of appeals ruled last Thursday that the Department of Health Services was acting legally when it decided that doctors could only recommend medical marijuana for "palliative care" for PTSD. The department argued there was no evidence showing marijuana could actually cure people of PTSD. The department also limited recommendations to people who were already being treated for PTSD. An Arizona medical marijuana nurses group filed suit against the restrictions, but now the court has ruled against them.

Arkansas Bill to Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana Where Cigarettes Are Banned Passes House. The House voted last Friday to approve House Bill 1400, which would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. The bill passed 88-0. Under the bill, knowingly smoking medical marijuana in the presence of a pregnant woman would be prohibited. The measure also prohibits those under 21 from smoking medical marijuana. A bill that would have banned smoking medical marijuana at all has already died in the Senate.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for Floor Vote. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 last Friday to advance Legislative Bill 622, which would bring medical marijuana to the Cornhusker state. The bill would authorize cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana products, but would ban smoking the herb or allowing patients to grow their own. The bill is opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), as well as the state's law enforcement establishment.

Virginia Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Pharmacy Distribution of CBD and THC-A Oil. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed Senate Bill 1027 into law last Thursday. The bill allows for companies to manufacture and provide CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy and provides for its distribution through pharmacies.

Hemp

Arkansas Industrial Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development unanimously approved a bill to allow the production of hemp. House Bill 1778 now goes to the House floor.

Drug Policy

Federal Bill Would Make All Controlled Substance Analogs Schedule I Controlled Substances. US Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) last week filed Senate Bill 683, which would "treat all controlled substance analogues, other than chemical substances subject to the Toxic Substances Control Act, as controlled substances in schedule I regardless of whether they are intended for human consumption." The actual bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug Testing

Nevada Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Michael Roberson (R-Las Vegas) has filed a bill that would require applicants for welfare, food stamps, and other public assistance to undergo a suspicionless saliva drug test. If the saliva test is positive, a follow-up urine test could be used to verify the result. Senate Bill 298 has been referred to the Committee on Health and Human Services.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Filed to Create National Criminal Justice Commission. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) has filed House Resolution 1607, which would create a national criminal justice commission. The text of the bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

StoptheDrugWar.org Makes Filipino News With Veep's Video Criticizing Duterte's Drug War. StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden is at the center of a controversy in the Philippines over a video message to the UN from Vice President Leni Robredo criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, which has led to some 8,000 deaths since Duterte took office last year. Duterte supporters accused Stopthedrugwar.org of timing the video release to bolster an impeachment complaint filed against Duterte last week, but Borden said that was not the case. "The vice president's office did not make any requests of us as to timing or any other matters. We released it a few days before the session as a media strategy to draw attention to Pres. Duterte's atrocities," said Borden.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Adds Fentanyl Precursors to Controlled Substances List. The CND voted last Thursday to add two chemicals used to make fentanyl to the list of internationally controlled substances under UN anti-drug treaties. Putting the chemicals on the list will ensure closer monitoring of fentanyl orders and transactions and would make it more difficult for illicit fentanyl producers to access those chemicals.

Chronicle AM: Philippines Prez in Hot Seat Over Drug War, WV Legalization Bill, More... (3/16/17)

The Philippines' bloody-handed president is facing harsh criticism as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna, West Virginia gets a marijuana legalization bill, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolls out a plan to fight opioid addiction and overdoses, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is under attack at home and abroad over drug war abuses. (The Fix)
Marijuana Policy

West Virginia Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell County) introduced House Bill 3035 Tuesday. The bill would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. It has been sent to the House Health and Human Resource Committee. If it gets through there, it must then go to the House Judiciary Committee before heading for a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bill to Ban Edibles, Public Smoking Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would bar medical marijuana patients from consuming edibles or from smoking their medicine in public was approved Wednesday by the House Rules Committee. But the measure, House Bill 1400, faces an uphill battle to win final approval because any changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Massachusetts Bills Would Protect Patients' Employment Rights. Even as the state Supreme Court Thursday heard a case on employment rights for medical marijuana patients, two bills alive in the state legislature would do just that. Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) has introduced House Bill 2385, which would explicitlyprotect the rights of a medical marijuana patient to use the drug without facing discrimination in hiring, firing or terms of employment. The bill would also protect medical marijuana patients from discrimination in education, housing and child welfare and custody cases. That bill is currently before the Committee on Marijuana Policy. A similar bill was filed last sessions, but didn't pass. A second bill, House Bill 113, is aimed mostly at updating state law to bring it in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but one provision clarifies that employers cannot take adverse employment action against someone for using medical marijuana. That bill is before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Charged Hearing. At a hearing in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday, law enforcement, the state attorney general's office, and the state's top doctor all came out in opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Legislative Bill 622, but legislators also heard emotional testimony in favor of the bill from Army veterans and others who said they would benefit from access to medical marijuana. Five of the bill's sponsors sit on the eight-member Judiciary Committee, so the bill is likely to make it to a House floor vote, where opposition has killed similar measures in past years.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York City Mayor Reveals Plans to Fight Opioid Addiction. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city planned to spend as much as $38 million a year on a broad array of measures aimed at reducing opioid addiction and overdoses. Among the measures mentioned were expanded methadone and buprenorphine treatment, the distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone to all 23,000 city patrol officers, a focus on city hospitals on dealing with addiction and overdoses, and increased prosecution of opioid dealers. De Blasio mentioned outreach, treatment, and law enforcement, but not harm reduction.

International

Bolivia Says It Does Not Need US or European Help to Fight Drug Trafficking. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Lima said Wednesday that his country doesn't need help or advice from the US or Europe on its coca policies or its fight with drug traffickers. "We fight against drug trafficking with Bolivian money, we do not depend on the European Union (EU) to fight against drug trafficking. Before when we depended on the United States, Bolivia received about USD $100 million. We have set aside that aid," he said. Garcia Lima's remarks came in response to European Union criticism of a new Bolivian law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation. The EU suggested that perhaps its aid to Bolivia should be "refocused." Garcia Lima retorted that Bolivia is "not begging money" from the EU.

Philippines Vice-President Condemns Duterte's Drug War. In an interview with Time magazine ahead of a speech set for Thursday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo condemned President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war and said she was "inspired" by growing opposition to it. She also said she was "encouraged" that the international community is speaking out. "We hope that in the next few months we, together with the international community, can convince the current administration to focus its efforts in ending human-rights violations and extrajudicial killings," she said. "In addition, let us work together to strengthen the existing accountability mechanisms in the Philippines in order for us to have those responsible brought to justice. We hope that we can persuade the administration to concentrate more on the bigger war we are facing -- the war on poverty."

Philippines Lawmaker Files Impeachment Complaint Against Duterte, Cites Drug War Killings. Philippines Rep. Gary Alejano has filed an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling for his removal for high crimes, abuses of power, and betrayal of public trust. The complaint lists drug-related murders, the operation of death squads while Duterte was mayor of Davao City, and conflicts of interest among the impeachable offenses. Pro-Duterte lawmakers said the complaint "will not fly," but Alejano was undaunted. "Our goal with this complaint is to be a vehicle for Filipinos to have a voice to oppose and fight against the abuses and crimes of President Duterte," Alejano told a televised news conference. "We know it's an uphill battle... but we believe that many will support this."

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 feature story too.)

The year that just ended has seen a serious outbreak of bloody violence against drug users and sellers in one country, it has seen drug offenders hung by the hundreds in another, it has seen efforts to fight the spread of drug-related HIV/AIDS falter for lack of funding, and it has seen the tenacity of the prohibitionist apparatus in the halls of the United Nations.

But there was also good news emanating from various corners of the world, including advances in marijuana legalization in Canada, the US, and Europe and the flouting of the proscription against the coca trade in the UN anti-drug treaties. And speaking of treaties, alhough we didn't include it this year because the drug policy implications remain unclear, the fruition of years'-long peace negotiations between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC, which brings an end to the Western hemisphere's longest-running guerrilla war, is certainly worth noting.

Here are the ten most notable international drug policy events of 2016, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs saw progress, but achingly little. (Wikimedia.org)
1. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The global prohibitionist consenus was under growing strain at the UNGASS on Drugs, as civil society pressed the UN bureaucracy and member states for reforms as never before. But changes come at a glacial pace at the level of global diplomacy, and the vision of the UNGASS as a platform for discussing fundamental issues and plotting a new course ran up against the resistance of drug war hard-liners like Russia and China, and the studied indifference of European governments, who preferred that the UN drug policy center of gravity remain at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. And while the US delegation advocated for some good stances, it, too, opposed any meddling with the trio of UN conventions that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Still, there were some incremental victories. UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. And it calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability. (Read a detailed report on UNGASS by some of our colleagues here, and read about some of our own work for the UNGASS here.)

2. Global Harm Reduction for AIDS Remains Tragically Underfunded, and Facing Worse. Despite the repeatedly-proven positive impact of harm reduction measures in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, donors continue to refuse to pony up to pay for such measures. The UNAIDS program estimates that $2.3 billion was needed to fund AIDS-related harm reduction programs last year, but only $160 million was actually invested by donors as most member states cut their aid levels. That's only 7% of the requested funding level. That's after 2015 saw the first drop in support in five years (see pages 21-22) in funding for AIDS efforts in low- and middle-income countries. The world spends an estimated $100 billion a year on fighting drugs, but it can't come up with 2.3% of that figure to fight drug-related AIDS harms. Harm Reduction International has proposed a "10x20" shift of 10% of law enforcement funding toward harm reduction services by 2020 to address the gap.

Harm reduction's global funding challenges are further impacted by the global AIDS-fighting budget, which has taken a hit as the rise in the dollar has reduced the spending power of contributions from donor countries that use other currencies. Even worse, many of the countries currently benefiting from UN harm reduction funding have progressed economically to a point at which they are supposed to begin funding their own programs according to the UN development framework. But that may not be a realistic expectation, especially for the sometimes politically fraught programs needed to address disease transmission related to drug use.

3. America's Most Populous State Legalizes Marijuana, and So Do Several More. You know the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling when the rot sets in at home, and that's what happened in November's US elections. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which had led the way in 2012 and 2014. Now, some 50 million Americans live in pot-legal states, and that's going to mean increasing pressure on the government in Washington to end federal pot prohibition. It's also an example to the rest of the world.

4. Europe's Prohibitionist Consensus Begins Crumbling Around the Edges. No European nation has legalized marijuana, but signs are increasing that somebody is going to do it soon. If 2016 was any indication, the best candidates may be Italy, where a broadly supported legalization bill got a parliamentary hearing this year before surprise election results upset the country's political apple cart; Germany, where "legalization is in the air" as Berlin moves toward allowing cannabis coffee shops and Dusseldorf moves toward total marijuana legalization; and Denmark, where Copenhagen is trying yet again to legalize weed. In both Denmark and Germany, legalization isn't currently favored by the central governments, while in Italy, everything is in limbo after Europe's populist uprising swept the prime minister out of office. Still, the pressure is mounting in Europe.

Amsterdam's famed cannabis coffee houses look set to final get a legal source of supply. (Wikimedia.org)
5. The Dutch Are Finally Going to Do Something About the "Back Door Problem." The Dutch have allowed for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops" since the 1980s, but never made any provision for a legal pot supply for retailers. Now, after 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference in November, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

6. Canada's Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Continues Apace. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals swept the Tories out of power in October 2015 with a platform that included a clear-cut call for marijuana legalization. Movement toward that goal has been slow but steady, with the task force charged with clearing the way calling for wide-ranging legalization in a report report issued in December. The Liberals say they expect to file legalization bills in the parliament this spring, and Canada remains on track to free the weed.

7. Bolivia Ignores UN Drug Treaty, Agrees to Export Coca to Ecuador. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, opened the year campaigning to decriminalize the coca trade and closed it without waiting for the UN to act by inking an agreement with Ecuador to export coca there. The agreement would appear to violate the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the export of coca leaf because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador seem to care.

Mexico's latest drug war marked its 10th anniversary last month. (Wikimedia.org)
8. Mexico Marks a Decade of Brutal Drug Wars. In December, 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon sent the Mexican army into the state of Michoacan in what he said was a bid to get serious about fighting the drug trade. It didn't work, and in fact, led to the worst prohibition-related violence in the country's history, with an estimated 100,000 + killed and tens of thousands more gone missing. Attention to the cartel wars peaked in 2012, which was a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, and the level of killing declined after that, but has now risen back to those levels. Calderon's replacement, Enrique Pena Nieto, has publicly deemphasized the drug war, but has not substantially shifted the policy. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has weakened his cartel, but that has only led to more violence as new competitors vie for supremacy.

There are signs of hope on the policy front though, if early ones, with medical marijuana being implemented, attitudes toward legalization softening, and the government playing a role in forwarding the international debate on drug policy reform.

9. Iran Has Second Thoughts About the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Islamic Republic is perhaps the world's leading drug executioner, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed in 2015 (2016 numbers aren't in yet), but there are increasing signs the regime could change course. In November, the parliament agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drugs. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors."

10. The Philippines Wages a Bloody War on Drug Users and Sellers. With the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president, the country descended into a veritable blood-bath, as police and "vigilantes" seemingly competed to see who could kill more people faster. Duterte has brushed off criticism from the US, the UN, and human rights groups, and even insulted his critics, although he did have kind words to say about Donald Trump, who had kind words to say about him. As of year's end, the death toll was around 6,000, with the vigilantes claiming a slight lead over the cops.

Chronicle AM: MT MedMJ Patients Out of Luck, Christie Signs Needle Exchange Funding, More... (9/1/16)

It the end of easy access for Montana medical marijuana patients, the Arizona Supreme Court rejects the last challenge to that state's legalization initiative, the second Arkansas medical marijuana initiative is now officially on the ballot, Chris Christie signs a needle exchange funding bill, and more.

Chris Christie does the right thing on needle exchange. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

More Smoke Pot, Fewer Find it Risky, Survey Reports. Survey data shows more adults are using marijuana, they are using it more often, and they're less inclined to think it's risky than in the past, research results reported in The Lancet found. The number of adults using marijuana in the past year has jumped to 32 million -- going from one in ten in 2002 to one in eight in 2014. Only one-third of adults thought weekly marijuana use was risky, down from half in 2002.

Alaska Attorney General Says Pot Social Clubs Are Illegal. State Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a legal opinion Wednesday that marijuana social clubs are illegal. "Under Alaska law, a business cannot sell or provide marijuana or allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises unless it is licensed as a retail marijuana store by the Marijuana Control Board," Lindemuth wrote. The ruling does not apply to retail pot shops, for which state regulators are considering rules that would allow on-site cannabis consumption.

Arizona Supreme Court Rejects Challenges to Pot Legalization Initiative. Arizonans will be voting on Proposition 205 on November 8. The state Supreme Court has thrown out the last challenges to the measure, which accused it of misleading voters with its language, but the high court upheld a lower court ruling that Prop 205 substantially complies with legal requirements for initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

It's Official: Second Arkansas Initiatives Qualifies for the Ballot. Secretary of State Mark Martin's office said Wednesday that the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment had submitted sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. That means Arkansas voters will have two medical marijuana initiatives to vote on. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act was approved for the ballot in July. If both pass, the one with the most votes goes into effect.

Delaware Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Terminally Ill. Gov. Jack Markell (D) Wednesday signed into law "Bob's Bill," named for lung cancer patient Robert Jester, who died in 2014 without being able to legally use marijuana to ease his suffering. The bill allows for medical marijuana for terminally ill patients, including those under 18 who are suffering pain, anxiety, or depression.

Montana Medical Marijuana Patients Now Out of Luck. In the biggest medical marijuana rollback ever, as of September 1, medical marijuana dispensaries are now illegal, and up to 12,000 patients have lost legal access to marijuana. Medical marijuana providers are now limited to three patients, and thousands of patients have no provider. This is the end result of the GOP-led legislature's 2011 move to gut the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana system, I-182, has been approved for the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Funding Bill. Gov. Christ Christie (R) Wednesday signed into law Assembly Bill 415, which creates permanent funding for five locally run needle exchange programs. Three of them, in Atlantic City, Camden, and Paterson, had already run out of funds and were close to closing their doors. "These programs not only distribute clean syringes to intravenous drug users, but also deliver lifesaving education, treatment, and testing to their participants," according to Christie's bill-signing statement.

New Psychoactive Substances

California Bill Would Make Possession of Synthetic Cannabinoids, Stimulants a Crime. The legislature has approved a bill requested by the California Narcotics Officers Association that would make first-time possession of specified synthetic cannabinoids or stimulants an infraction, with subsequent offenses treated as misdemeanors. Under current state law, selling the drugs is a crime, but possessing them isn't. The measure, Senate Bill 139, now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). It is opposed by the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance.

International

EU Wants to Ban New, Powerful Synthetic Cannabinoid. The European Commission announced Wednesday that it wants to ban MDMB-CHMICA, also known as "Black Mamba," a synthetic cannabinoid reportedly 10 times stronger than already banned synthetic cannabinoids. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse reported that it has been linked to at least 42 "acute intoxications" and 29 deaths.

Philippines President Snubs UN Effort to Meet Over Drug Killings. President Rodrigo Duterte has turned down a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after threatening last month to quit the UN over its criticism of the mass killings of drug users and dealers since he came to office three months ago. Officials from Duterte's office said he was too busy to meet with the head of the global body. One UN official said it was "basically unheard of" for a national leader to be "too busy" to meet the secretary-general.

Chronicle AM: Duterte Lashes Out at UN, CA MJ Arrests Haven't Gone Away, More... (8/18/16)

Despite what's been called "de facto legalization," California has arrested a half million for pot in the last decade; Tennessee's Music City moves toward decriminalization, a Montana anti-medical marijuana initiative has come up short, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Saw Half a Million Marijuana Arrests in the Last Decade. And you thought pot was virtually legal there already. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that far from "de facto legalization," tens of thousands of Californians are still getting arrested for marijuana offenses each year. Even though the state decriminalized pot possession in 2011, thousands are still arrested for marijuana misdemeanors each year, and the burden of arrests falls disproportionately on blacks, Latinos, and youth.

Report Finds West Virginia Could Make Millions By Legalizing Marijuana. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released a report Thursday saying that if the state legalized marijuana and taxed it at 25% of its wholesale price, the state could collect an estimated $45 million a year. And if just 10% of marijuana users living within 200 miles of the state came to buy legal weed there, the state could make $194 million a year. It would also save most of the $17 million a year it currently spends enforcing pot prohibition.

Nashville Moves Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. Tennessee's second largest city (less than a thousand people fewer than Memphis) is headed for decrim. The city council Tuesday gave its initial approval to a measure that would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine. It's not a done deal yet, though, and the police are grumbling. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Possible Arizona Pot Legalization Spurs Rush for Medical Marijuana Licenses. More than 750 people or groups have submitted applications for 31 medical marijuana dispensary licenses to be awarded in October. Medical marijuana license holders will get first crack at new adult use licenses if the Prop 205 legalization initiative passes.

Montana Anti-Medical Marijuana Initiative Fails To Qualify for Ballot, But Challenges Signature Shortfall. An initiative seeking to repeal the state's medical marijuana law has failed to qualify for the November ballot after coming up short on valid signatures. The Safe Montana campaign claims the state improperly rejected or lost signatures and has filed suit to challenge the state's decision. Meanwhile, the I-182 initiative, which would rebuild the state's largely gutted medical marijuana program, has already qualified for the ballot.

International

Philippines President Duterte Slams "Stupid" UN Criticism of Drug War Killings.President Duterte, who has presided over hundreds of drug war killings since assuming office just weeks ago, has pushed back against criticism of his policies by the United Nations. ""Here comes the UN, easily swayed, and coming with a very stupid proposition,"Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday at an event for police officers also attended by foreign diplomats. "Why would the United Nations be so easily swayed into interfering in the affairs of this republic?" Duterte has ordered police not to hesitate to kill and even urged ordinary citizens and communist rebels to join in the war against drugs. Drug users are "not viable human beings," he said.

Chronicle AM: UN Agencies Condemn Philippine Killings, Huge Danish Consumption Room Opens, More... (8/4/16)

UN drug agencies join civil society in condemning Philippine drug war killings, the world's largest drug consumption facility opens in Copenhagen, the California marijuana legalization initiative sues to have "false and misleading" ballot arguments removed, and more.

The Copenhagen drug consumption room covers a thousand square meters. (Nanna Gotfredsen, Sune Kehlet)
Marijuana Policy

California Prop 64 Campaign Sues to Disallow "False, Misleading" Ballot Arguments. The Prop 64 marijuana legalization campaign filed a lawsuit in state superior court in Sacramento Thursday seeking to have what it calls false or misleading statements submitted by opponents removed from ballot arguments. Ballot arguments appear in the voter information guide. The campaign wants the judge to reject or amend a number of arguments, including one that claims children will be exposed to edibles advertising and one that claims Prop 64 will remove consumer protections, among others. All legal questions around ballot arguments must be settled by August 15.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 58%. A new poll of likely voters has a healthy majority for medical marijuana, with 58% saying they support it. Voters will have a chance to signal that support at the polls in November, when the Arkansans for Compassionate Care initiative will appear on the ballot. A second medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment, is still trying to qualify for the ballot and has received an extension to gather more signatures after coming up just short last month.

New Jersey Legislature Passes Bill to Make PTSD a Qualifying Condition. The Senate Tuesday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 457, which would allow people with PTSD to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto it.

International

UN Drug Agencies Join Chorus of Critics of Philippines Drug Killings. In a statement Wednesday, UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Yuri Fedotov said he joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in "condemning the apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings" of alleged drug users and dealers in the country under the new administration of President Rodrigo "Death Squad" Duterte. "[Extrajudicial killing] is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms," he said. "Such responses contravene the provisions of the international drug control conventions, do not serve the cause of justice, and will not help to ensure that 'all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity,' as agreed by governments in the outcome document approved at the UN General Assembly special session on the world drug problem," he said. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) likewise expressed its concern later the same day. In a written statement, the self-described "quasi-judicial" agency that monitors compliance with the drug conventions wrote that "should these reports prove accurate, this would constitute a serious breach of the legal obligations to which the Philippines is held by the three UN drug control conventions and by the corpus of international legal instruments to which the country has adhered."

World's Largest Drug Consumption Room Opens in Copenhagen. The drug consumption room is 1,000 square meters and includes space for both drug injecting and smoking. It is partially funded by the city of Copenhagen. Users at the site will also be able to engage with medical and social welfare services.

Chronicle AM: MA Init Passes Two Hurdles, Feds Ease Docs' Buprenorphine Limits, More... (7/6/16)

It's a two-fer for Bay State legalizers today, the feds move to ease the opioid problem, Italy's top anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism prosecutor comes out for marijuana legalization, and more.

It looks like they will be voting on marijuana legalization in Boston in November. (regulatemassachusetts.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Turns in Final Batch of Signatures. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Tuesday handed in some 25,000 signatures to comply with a final signature gathering requirement before its legalization initiative can appear on the November ballot. Proponents only need 10,971 valid voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot. The campaign already successfully completed a larger signature gathering campaign in the spring, but had to do a second round under state law after the legislature refused to act on the initiative petition.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Okays Legalization Initiative for Ballot… With Changes. The state's Supreme Judicial Court Wednesday ruled that the legalization initiative from the Massachusetts Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol can appear on the November ballot. But the court also massaged the language of the title -- changing it from "Marijuana Legalization" to "Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana" -- and the summary language that will appear on the ballot. The new summary reads as follows: "A YES VOTE would allow persons 21 and older to possess, use, and transfer marijuana and products containing marijuana concentrate (including edible products) and to cultivate marijuana, all in limited amounts, and would provide for the regulation and taxation of commercial sale of marijuana and marijuana products." (Changes highlighted in bold).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Feds Raise Patient Limits for Buprenorphine Docs. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has nearly tripled the number of opioid-addicted patients who can be prescribed buprenorphine by a single doctor. Under old rules, doctors were limited to treating 100 patients; now, the cap has been set at 275. The drug is used to help wean people off heroin and prescription opioids.

International

Italy's Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Says Legalize "Soft Drugs." As the Italian parliament prepares to take up marijuana legalization later this month, the country's top anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism prosecutor, Franco Roberti, has endorsed the proposal, calling for the legalization of "soft drugs" as a means of redirecting police resources and weakening the finances of terrorist groups. Under prohibition, he said, "cannabis production is one of the main financing sources of terrorists. If we want to give a blow to the Mafia and the Taliban, we must remove this extraordinary financing channel from illegality."

Bolivia's Coca Crop is Under Control, UN Says. Bolivia has brought the number of acres under coca cultivation down to 50,500, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Tuesday. Since farmers are allowed to plant 50,000 acres to supply the country's traditional and industrial coca market, that means that only 1% of production is destined for the illicit market. Cocaine continues to be exported through Bolivia, the agency said, but it coming from Peru.

Canada Will Move to Legalize Marijuana Next Year

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, elected last fall, campaigned on a promise that his Liberal government would legalize marijuana. Now, we're getting an idea of just when that is going to happen.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem Wednesday, Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott said the government will introduce legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana in spring 2017.

"Our approach to drugs must be comprehensive, collaborative, and compassionate. It must respect human rights while promoting shared responsibility. And it must have a firm scientific foundation. In Canada, we will apply those principles with regard to marijuana," she said.

"To that end, we will introduce legislation [to legally regulate marijuana] in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and the profits out of the hands of criminals. While this plan challenges the status quo in many countries, we are convinced it is the best way to protect our youth while enhancing public safety."

Canada's is a parliamentary system, which generally means that if the government introduces a bill, it becomes law. There could be unforeseen bumps in the road, but it appears all but certain that the land of the maple leaf is soon going to become the land of the pot leaf, too.

In the meantime, government officials, including legalization point man former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, are emphasizing that until the law changes, marijuana remains illegal except for medicinal purposes. After a Canadian Supreme Court decision in March, medical marijuana users will be able to grow their own, a right that was taken away by the previous Conservative government.

But within a couple of years, any adult Canadian should be able to join them.

New York, NY
United States

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