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Chronicle AM: BC Calls for Radical Opioid Response, 2nd MI MJ Init, More... (8/17/17)

BC health officials present some revolutionary recommendations for dealing with the opioid crisis, Alaska officials defend marijuana legalization, a second Michigan legalization initiative is okayed for signature gathering, and more.

British Columbia health officials say users should be provided drugs to take home, be able to grow opium poppies. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Officials Defend Legalization in Letters to Sessions. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth have sent two letters to Attorney General Sessions defending their state's marijuana law and the wishes of state voters. Their letters are a response to a letter Sessions sent to governors of legalization states in July. "Marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead," they said in the first letter, dated August 1. "We ask that the DOJ maintain its existing marijuana policies because the State relied on those assurances in shaping our regulatory framework, and because existing policies appropriately focus federal efforts on federal interests," they said in the second letter, dated August 14.

Second Michigan Legalization Initiative Gets Okay for Signature Gathering. The state Board of Canvassers on Thursday approved a second marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering. The initiative, from a group called Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, would end "all prohibitions on the use of cannabis in any form by any person" and specify that no taxes could be imposed. Another group, MI Legalize, is already halfway through the signature gathering phase for its initiative, which envisions legalization, taxation, and regulation.

Los Angeles Gets a Cannabis Czar. The city council voted on Wednesday to approve Cat Packer as executive director of the city's newly fashioned Department of Cannabis Regulation. Packer is a former Drug Policy Alliance state policy coordinator for California. She was also a campaign coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, part of the Prop 64 campaign. She will be charged with rolling out regulations for legal marijuana in the city.

Harm Reduction

Washington King County Initiative to Ban Safe Injection Sites Likely Won't Make Ballot. A measure to ban safe injection sites in Seattle's suburban King County is unlikely to be on the November ballot. Petition organizers handed in sufficient signatures on time, but it took two weeks for the petitions to get from the King County Council clerk to King County Elections, so the initiative has missed an August 1 deadline to be certified for the ballot. It could go on the ballot in a February special election, but initiative sponsors say they fear it will be too late to prevent safe injection sites by then.

International

British Columbia Health Authorities Call for Revolutionary Approach to Opioid Crisis. The BC Center for Disease Control has issued a set of recommendations for dealing with opioid use and overdoses that includes providing users with drugs they can take home with them and allowing people to grow their own opium. The current approach to addiction is backwards, BCCDC Executive Medical Director Mark Tyndall told the Globe and News: "We strongly advise people to stop using street drugs, and if they can't do that, then we offer them… Suboxone or methadone, and if that doesn't work, we basically tell them to go and find their own drugs even though there is a very real possibility of dying," he said. "What we should be doing -- especially in an environment of a poisoned drug supply -- is to start with access to uncontaminated drugs so at least people don't die, then move on to substitution therapy and eventually recovery."

Chronicle AM: CA Judge Rules for Growers, CT Judge Rules for Patient, More... (8/11/17)

Federal judges stuck up for California marijuana growers and a Connecticut medical marijuana patient, another Seattle suburb goes NIMBY on safe injection sites, and more.

Connecticut fed judge: Medical marijuana user denied job for positive drug test can sue. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Federal Judge Blocks Prosecution of Marijuana Growers. A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled on Tuesday that federal prosecutors cannot move forward with their prosecution of two Humboldt County pot growers because the pair was in compliance with state laws. Judge Richard Seeborg held that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment blocked such prosecutions, and the case is closed unless or until that amendment expires.

Nevada Opens Up Marijuana Distribution Rights. The state Department of Taxation concluded Thursday that there weren't enough liquor distributors who wanted to transport marijuana to pot shops and decided to open the business up to other potential distributors. "The capacity of only liquor wholesalers to serve the market seems lacking," said Deonne Contine, executive director of the tax department, in remarks reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I think the evidence is fairly clear today that this market needs to be opened up," she said.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Federal Judge Rules Employee Not Hired Because of Medical Marijuana Can Sue. A federal district court judge in New Haven ruled on Tuesday that a woman who was using medical marijuana in compliance with state law can sue an employer who rescinded her job offer after she tested positive for marijuana. The woman had previously disclosed her medical marijuana use and had quit her former job when, one day before she was supposed to begin her new job, the company notified her it was rescinding the offer. The ruling echoes one last month in Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, and may signal the beginning of judicial recognition of the employment rights of medical marijuana users.

Arkansas Hasn't Seen Any Grow or Dispensary Applications Yet. With the state halfway through its application period for medical marijuana grow and dispensary licenses, state officials said Friday that they had yet to receive any applications, but they weren't worried. "We are not concerned, as we understand the applications require detailed and specific information that will take time to complete," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told the Associated Press. "Applicants are likely performing their due diligence to provide quality applications." The deadline for applications is September 18.

Harm Reduction

Another Seattle Suburb Rejects Safe Injection Sites. The city council in south suburban Federal Way voted Tuesday night to ban safe injection sites in the city. The vote comes after a King County task force recommended opening two safe injection sites in the county, which includes Seattle. Another Seattle suburb, Bellevue, approved a similar NIMBY ban just days ago. One safe injection is set for Seattle; the other is supposed to open in one of the suburbs.

Chronicle AM: Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids, More... (8/10/17)

The president says he will formally declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, Latino legislators embrace marijuana legalization, Utah medical marijuana supporters can begin signature-gathering for their initiative, and more.

The president will declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, he said Thursday. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Latino State Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for marijuana legalization. The group, which represents Latino legislators across the country, cited legalization's impact on reducing the black market and providing tax revenues, as well as the racist origins of marijuana prohibition.

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 334, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for the legislature's special session. The bill would decriminalize someone's first three pot possession offenses, but prosecutors could charge a misdemeanor for a fourth offense. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

New York Proposes Regs to Expand State's Medical Marijuana Program. The state Health Department has released new proposed regulations that would ease access to the program. Among the proposals are reducing security requirements for registered groups, shortening the length of the course doctors must take to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and allowing two more types of marijuana products to be sold.

Utah Initiative Backers Get Okay to Begin Signature Gathering. The Utah Patients Coalition has received permission from state officials to begin signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative. The group will need 113,000 valid voter signatures before April 15, 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids. President Trump said on Thursday that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency and that he will act to officially declare it so. "The opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency," Trump said in remarks reported by Reuters. "We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had." Trump's announcement comes a week after a White House commission on the opioid crisis urged him to declare a national emergency. The move could free up more resources to fight the overdose epidemic and give the government more flexibility to deal with the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Pair of Congressmen Urge Sessions to Reconsider on Asset Forfeiture. US Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions objecting to his plan to expand the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program. "I am deeply disappointed by the Justice Department's recent move to reverse its ban on adoptive seizures," said Conyers in a statement. "The prior policy, which was instituted in January of 2015, greatly curtailed this practice, which provides financial incentives for law enforcement to seize the property -- including the homes -- of individuals who may not even be guilty of a crime. I call on Senator Sessions to withdraw the new policy, which is contrary to the growing bipartisan effort to reform our civil forfeiture laws and practices. Indeed, the time has come for Congress to enact the DUE PROCESS Act, a bipartisan bill to significantly alter these laws and increase protections for innocent property owners."

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants More Drug War to Fight Opioids, New Pot Poll, More... (8/9/17)

A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at a record high, Trump calls for a return to tough drug war policies to fight opioids, Hawaii gets its first dispensary, and more.

#WINNING in the polls.
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record 61% for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, the highest figure ever reported by Quinnipiac and up two points since February. Support was above 50% for all demographic groups except Republicans (37%) and people over 65 (42%). The poll also found that fully three-quarters (75%) of respondents thought the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Support for medical marijuana was even higher a near-unanimous 94%.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Gets First Dispensary. Maui Grown Therapies opened for business on Tuesday in Kahului. It's the first dispensary in the state to be permitted and open its doors. The store was only open for a couple of hours Tuesday, with the owners saying they were doing a "soft opening." A second dispensary, Aloha Green, was set to open in Oahu on Wednesday.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Wants More Drug War, But No State of Emergency for Opioid Crisis. President Trump said Tuesday that a stronger law enforcement is necessary to fight the opioid crisis and criticized the Obama administration for prosecuting fewer drug offenders. He also critically highlighted shorter average sentences for drug offenders under Obama and advocated for abstinence-based drug treatment. But he did not act on a recommendation from his opioid panel headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he declare a national state of emergency.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Suburb Votes to Ban Safe Injection Sites. The Bellevue City Council voted Monday night to ban safe injection sites even though none had been proposed for the city, the second-largest in Kings County after Seattle. Members said the vote was driven by fears the site could hurt development of a homeless center now being planned. But it is also a sign of broader objections to such facilities in the area and comes after the Metropolitan King County Council voted in July not to spend money setting up sites unless a locale's elected officials first approved it. Safe injection supporters said that vote effectively kills any sites outside the city of Seattle.

International

Tillerson Offers to Help Duterte Fight Drugs -- If Philippines Leader Changes Tactics. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday and told him the US would provide anti-drug assistance if he would rein in his brutal tactics. Tillerson obliquely noted harsh criticisms of the Philippines' bloody drug war by human rights groups and others and suggested the US could help find more suitable tactics. Duterte was noncommittal.

Chronicle AM: Secret Safe Injection Site in US City, VT "Blue Ribbon" MJ Panel, More... (8/8/17)

The body representing state legislatures again calls for marijuana reforms, Vermont's governor is about to empanel on commission to study legalization issues, a safe injection site has been operating secretly in a US city for the past three years, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site has a hidden counterpart somewhere in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

National Conference of State Legislatures Urges De-Scheduling Marijuana. The National Conference of State Legislatures has approved a resolution calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. The resolution approved on Monday specifically references access to banking, saying such a move would result in "… enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses." This marks the third year in a row the conference has passed a resolution on marijuana, going a bit further each time. In 2015, it resolved that federal laws should be amended to allow states to set their own pot policies, and last year, it resolved that marijuana should be down-scheduled.

Vermont Governor About to Convene "Blue Ribbon Commission" on Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will shortly convene a commission to study issues around marijuana legalization, but it looks like his emphasis will be on how to detect marijuana impairment in drivers rather than examining models for legalization. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed a legalization bill, citing concerns about driving and youth, and he says now that he will not sign a bill that doesn't have stringent standards on impaired driving.

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Decriminalization. Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter Monday to the State Crime Commission, which is studying decriminalization, in support of the notion. That position contrasts with Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who says he opposes legalization or decriminalization, but is open to exploring reforms to ensure that penalties are commensurate with the offense committed. Polling shows a majority of Virginians favor decrim. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra, meanwhile, says just tax and legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Republican Will File Medical Marijuana Bill to Fight Opioid Overdoses. State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he plans to file a medical marijuana bill in a bid to combat opioid abuse. He said he was acting after hearing from constituents. "People telling me their personal stories, how they've been helped by this product, how far behind Indiana is on this issue," he told the Indianapolis Star. "That right there, we have a responsibility to at least investigate it and determine the facts, and if there is something positive out there, we have to pursue that."

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go Into Effect Wednesday. A new law limiting civil asset forfeiture reform goes into effect Wednesday. House Bill 2477 does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the standard of proof necessary for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."

Harm Reduction

Underground Safe Injection Site Has Been Operating in a US City for Three Years. In a report released Tuesday, two researchers revealed that they've been studying an unpermitted safe injection site in operation since 2014. They reported that no one died while using drugs at the site and that two overdoses were reversed by staff members administering naloxone. The report comes as pressure to authorize such sites is mounting, with lawmakers in states like California and New York and cities including San Francisco, Seattle, and Ithaca, New York, backing such efforts.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Judge Forces First-Time Drug Offenders to Take Christian Drug Treatment Course

A municipal court judge in Louisiana with an apparently limited understanding of the US Constitution is forcing first-time drug offenders seeking probation to attend a Christian program called "Life Choices" offered by a local church.

The First Amendment's Establishment clause mandates that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse any religion, a principle well-established in federal jurisprudence. That bright dividing line between church and state also applies to court orders and terms of probation that require participation in religious programs, as can be seen in a line of cases decided in federal appeals courts over the past 20 years.

The fundamental principle behind Establishment cause jurisprudence is, as noted in Lee v. Weisman (1992), that government must remain neutral toward religion because "the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere."

Not in the court of Sulphur City Court Judge Charles Schrumpf, though. As the Freedom From Religion Foundation noted in a July 20 complaint letter to Schrump and probation officer Barbarba Adam, Schrump's way of handling those cases is completely unconstitutional. Probationers in the program receive a Bible and have to complete homework that involves reading passages from scripture, as well as from the evangelical text "Made to Crave."

According to the letter, probationers who objected to participating in the Life Choices program because of its religious content have been told by Probation Officer Adam to "take it up with the judge" in a threatening tone and warned that failure to complete the program would result in the revocation of their probation.

According to the blog Friendly Atheist, which spoke with a person ordered to take the course, the course teacher said that while attendees weren't required to be Christian, that was the ultimate goal, and Probation Officer Adams responded to an attendee who said he was an atheist by saying, "We'll see how you feel after eight weeks [of class]."

The foundation is demanding that the practice be ended and that if the court is going to impose drug treatment or counseling as a condition of probation, it does so through programs that are "medical and secular, not religious in nature." At this point, the foundation is not threatening a lawsuit; only seeking notification "of the appropriate actions taken by the Court and the Probation Office to protect the right of conscience of probationers in their care."

There is no word yet on whether Judge Schrumpf will heed the foundation's complaint and restore the Constitution in his court or whether he will double down in defiance. In the meantime, if you get caught with drugs in Sulphur Springs, may God help you.

Chronicle AM: WH Opioid Panel Calls for Declaration of National Emergency, More... (8/1/2017)

Federal bills to legalize marijuana and allow drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits get filed, the presidential commission on opioids issues a preliminary reports, the NFL offers to work with the players' union on medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

With overdoses at record levels, Trump's presidential commission takes a largely public health approach to the crisis.
Corey Booker Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed the Marijuana Justice Act on Tuesday. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, punish states for disproportionately arresting or imprisoning poor people or minorities for marijuana offenses, prevent deportation for marijuana offenses, provide for resentencing of federal marijuana prisoners, and create a $500 million "Community Reinvestment Fund" for communities most negatively impacted by the war on drugs.

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Imperiled by Wording Error. A legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach South Dakota could be in trouble over a wording error. The way the measure is worded, it would, according to Legislative Council analysts, only legalize pot paraphernalia, not marijuana itself. The campaign said the problem is only a "typo" and can be fixed. Friendly legislators have offered to author a legislative fix if the initiative passes. Because of state initiative deadlines, it is too late for petitioners to start over in time to get on the November 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

NFL Offers to Work With Players Union on Marijuana for Pain Management. The NFL has sent a letter to the NFL Players Association offering to work together with the union to study the possibility of marijuana as a pain management tool for players. The NFLPA is already conducting its own study and has yet to respond to the league's offer.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Rules Get Settled. A bipartisan legislative panel has decided not to modify more than a hundred separate rules proposed by the state Pharmacy Board and Department of Commerce to govern the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. That means medical marijuana growers, processers, sellers, testers, and users can now begin to get down to business. Growing operations are expected to start being licensed next month, and the whole system is supposed to be up and running by September 1, 2018.

Utah Poll Finds "Supermajority" Support for Medical Marijuana. Nearly four out of five (78%) Utahns favor a medical marijuana initiative now in the signature gathering phase of its campaign, according to a Dan Jones & Associates poll commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune. The campaign is headed by the Utah Patients Coalition, which is acting after the state legislature baling at approving medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

Federal Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-SC) has filed the Ensuring Quality in the Unemployment Insurance Program (EQUIP) Act, which would require people applying for unemployment assistance to undergo substance abuse screening and possible drug testing to receive benefits. "Unemployment is not for people who are abusing drugs and using that money to buy drugs but instead to help them get back on their feet," said Rep. Carter. "And we want to make sure that is what they are doing with it." People applying for those benefits have been laid-off from jobs for lack of work, not let go for drug abuse.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Presidential Commission Issues Belated Preliminary Report, Calls for Declaration of National Emergency. The presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis led by Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) issued a preliminary report on Monday whose lead recommendation is for the president "to declare a national emergency under either the Public Service Act or the Stafford Act." The report largely takes a public health approach to the issue, calling as well for expanding drug treatment capacity under Medicaid, increasing the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid disorders, mandating that all police officers carry the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, broadening Good Samaritan laws, and encouraging the development of non-opioid pain relievers.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bills Would Shrink CSA Reach, Slow Start to Sessions Drug War, More... (7/31/17)

New federal bills aim to remove state-legal marijuana and industrial hemp from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act, Jeff Sessions' drug war is slow getting off the ground, an Indian minister comes out for medical marijuana, and more.

What's in your Ecstasy? British festivalgoers could find out. (erowid.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Make CSA Inapplicable to Marijuana in Legal Marijuana States Filed. US Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) filed House Resolution 3534 on Friday. The bill would "make the Controlled Substances Act inapplicable with respect to marijuana in states that have legalized marijuana and have in effect a statewide regulatory regime to protect certain Federal interests."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Exempt Hemp from CSA Filed. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) filed House Resolution 3530 on Friday. The bill would "amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana."

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions' Drug War Hasn't Taken Hold -- Yet. The attorney general has vowed to crack down on drugs, but data released last week show it isn't happening yet. Federal drug prosecutions are at historic lows, with experts pointing to a federal hiring freeze instituted by the Trump administration and the Senate's slow pace on appointing new US attorneys as potential causes. Without having key people in key positions, the Sessions Justice Department must rely on local investigators and prosecutors who may still be operating under Obama-era reforms.

International

Indian Minister Calls for Medical Marijuana Legalization. Indian Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has come out in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. "Marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes, especially as it serves a purpose in [treating] cancer," she said during a ministerial discussion on India's National Drug Demand Reduction. Although cannabis has been part of Indian culture for more than 3,000 years, the country banned it in 1985 under US pressure.

British Festival Allowed Pill Testing. Attendees at the Kendal Calling music festival in Cumbria this past weekend were able to get their pills and powders tested for potency and adulteration without fear of arrest thanks to an on-site lab operated by an NGO. Testers reported finding malaria medication, insecticide and concrete in some of the substances tested. "We accept that some people will get drugs on site and some people will be planning to take them so what we're doing is trying to address any potential health problems," said Professor Fiona Measham, director of the NGO The Loop. "This is a focus on public health rather than on criminal justice."

Chronicle Interview: A Conversation With New DPA Head Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno [FEATURE]

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

Led by Ethan Nadelmann since its formation 17 years ago, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been the most influential drug reform organization in the country, with a hand in advancing the causes not only of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but of drug law reform more broadly, in all its manifestations and intersectionality.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
Thanks in good part to Nadelmann's vision and the efforts of DPA -- and its campaign and lobbying arm, the Drug Policy Action Network -- in state houses and court houses, in Congress and the executive branch, in media outreach and educational campaigns, the drug laws in America have changed for the better. Pot has gone mainstream, the mass incarceration mania of the Reaganite drug war (abetted by too many Democrats) has broken, sensible and life-saving harm reduction measures are spreading.

But now Nadelmann is gone -- at least as director or staff -- and DPA and the drug reform community face a Trump administration apparently intent on reviving and revitalizing the worst of drug war practices from the last century. Nadelmann's successor not only has big shoes to fill, but also faces reactionary impulses in Washington.

That successor is Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, holder of a law degree from New York University School of Law and for the past 13 years Co-Director of the US Program for Human Rights Watch (HRW), where she picked up plenty of domestic drug policy experience. There, she managed a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

The bilingual McFarland Sánchez-Moreno grew up in Peru and spent her early years at HRW researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, HRW became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform. [Ed: McFarland's help and advice made it possible for Human Rights Watch to endorse our UNGASS sign-on statement.]

She is regularly quoted and published in national and international media, has testified before Congress on multiple occasions and has extensive experience advocating with US congressional offices, the White House, and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense. She recently authored a non-fiction book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, which will be published by Nation Books in February 2018.

Now, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno turns to drug reform as her primary remit, at the head of an organization with a $15 million budget; offices in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, DC; a considerable cadre of experienced and talented professionals; and a well-earned reputation for being able to make drug reform actually happen. Drug War Chronicle spoke with McFarland Sánchez-Moreno on Friday about what lies ahead.

Drug War Chronicle: You're about to head the most powerful drug reform group on the planet. What is it about you and your experience that makes you the person for this job?

Mass incarceration is a drug policy issue. (nadcp.org)
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: I don't know that I'm the right person to ask about that, but I will say I have been passionate about drug policy for a long time; it cuts across many of the social justice issues that I've been involved with throughout my career, starting in Colombia documenting atrocities committed by armed groups who were overwhelmingly financed by illicit drugs and for whom trafficking was their reason for existing. I came to realize that if you got rid of the illicit market, you could do serious damage to those groups.

And that continued in my work at HRW's US Program, covering issues like criminal justice and immigration, where you see so many vast problems in this country that are strongly linked to the war on drugs. From mass incarceration to large-scale deportations, a lot of it is people getting convicted of low-level drug offenses. And this also connects to a fundamental matter of justice: People shouldn't face prison time for choices about what they put in their bodies, absent harm to others.

Drug War Chronicle: Does your selection suggest that DPA is going to be even more internationally focused than it is now?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's too early to say whether we will invest more internationally, but our main focus has to be domestic. We're a national organization with offices in many states, and we want to build on that strength. There's plenty of work to do right here, so we will remain focused on the US. While there is an argument to be made for the importance of international work, you don't need to worry about us shifting away from the home front.

Drug War Chronicle: What are some of the key global drug policy challenges? And where do you see opportunities for positive change?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: Both domestically and internationally, there's real momentum around drug reform. After Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala called for an international discussion of drug policy, which led to last year's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, the nature of the debate around drugs began to change, and we're seeing real openness to reform in many countries. At the same time, in places like the Philippines or Indonesia, you see serious backsliding, with large scale killings in the name of fighting the war on drugs in the former and use of the death penalty in the latter. And in places like Mexico and Central America, we're seeing very serious violence related to drug prohibition.

The international situation is complex: There are some openings, some room for progress -- and when you have countries like Portugal and Uruguay moving toward reform and potentially setting good examples, that's something to point to here at home -- but we still have very, very serious problems associated with the war on drugs that we need to monitor and speak up about.

Drug War Chronicle: Here in the U.S., it's sort of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we have medical marijuana in 29 states, pot decriminalization in 13 or 14, and legalization in eight, with more likely to come in the next year or so. We have state legislatures enacting sentencing reforms and asset forfeiture reforms. At the same time, we have the Trump administration apparently leading federal drug policy down a retrograde prohibitionist path. How do you assess the overall situation?

The fight for legal marijuana will continue. (Creative Commons)
McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's similar to the international situation in that there are enormous opportunities for progress around marijuana law reform and harm reduction measures in some places, but we have a federal Justice Department that seems to be intent on doubling down on the war on drugs and using the most draconian measures possible.

All the horrors we're seeing with overdoses is leading many people to do some serious soul-searching about what's the best way to address this problem, so we're seeing some progress on harm reduction measures like access to naloxone, for example. Now, there's room to have some conversations where there wasn't before, such as decriminalizing the possession of all drugs. A few years ago, that would have been a hard conversation to have, but HRW released a report last year calling for it and DPA has just released its own report echoing that call, and there is a real receptiveness in the public to talking about that. We're in a different place now and can make progress at the state and local level.

But that fairly heated rhetoric coming from the attorney general, appealing to people's worst fears and often distorting reality, is a real problem. It's not just about what Sessions says and what policies he adopts at Justice; it's also about that dark narrative starting to take hold, people in other parts of the government thinking its more acceptable to return to those failed policies. It's disturbing to see bills filed that are headed in the wrong direction, like Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) Back the Blue Act (Senate Bill 1134). A year ago, he was part of bipartisan sentencing reform. Why is he going the other way now?

And then there's Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act (Senate Bill 1237), which would give Sessions the power to schedule new synthetic drugs without any scientific basis. I think having someone who is so extreme in his views at the Department of Justice is a green light for people in other parts of the government to take us in the wrong direction. This is a major challenge for DPA and the drug reform movement in general, and we will be focusing on that right off the bat.

Drug War Chronicle: Let's talk about racial equity. How do we advance that? Whether it's participation in the legal marijuana industry or sentencing policy or consent decrees to rein in police departments, race is implicated.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's all bound up with what's coming out of Washington and the broader policies we're talking about. It's hard to disentangle racial justice issues from some of these other issues. We've been working on drug reforms in New Jersey and New York, and one of our biggest concerns has been to ensure that new reforms have a strong focus on empowering the very communities most damaged by the war on drugs. Making sure drug reforms takes that perspective into account and creates new opportunities for those communities is a critical part of our work.

Sessions backing away from consent decrees, the demonization of Black Lives Matter, and all that is very clearly tied to rhetoric coming from the White House and the Justice Department that is designed to stigmatize groups and lump people who use drugs in with drug dealers, with communities of color, with immigrants. They use that demonizing combination to justify very harsh policies that will be devastating to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. We have to fight back against that; it's a big part of the story here.

And then there's the impact of the drug war on immigration policy. My colleagues at Human Rights Watch documented how a very large number of immigrants -- and not just undocumented ones -- ended up deported because they had a drug conviction, in many cases from many years back. They are torn apart from their families and often sent to places with which they have little connection, countries where they don't even speak the language. It's not just the deported -- their kids, parents, spouses, sibling, all of them suffer serious consequences. It's cruel and senseless.

It's very clear this administration has made immigration enforcement a top priority. Some very extreme portion of its base really views this as a priority. It's hard to talk to them, but most of the country favors immigration reform, and a very large and increasing number of people understand that using the criminal law when talking about drug use is harmful and makes no sense. If we can make progress on drug reform, we also make progress on immigration by reducing the number of people convicted and exposed to deportation. We have to talk about these issues together and work with immigration reform groups and take them on board in our joint fight.

Chronicle AM: MA Legal MJ Bill Heads to Gov, DOJ Restarts Forfeiture Sharing, More .... (7/20/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers approve the legal marijuana bill, the Justice Department officially resurrects "adoptive sharing" for asset forfeitures, Gallup says more Americans have smoked pot than ever, and more.

California is on the verge of approving a state law to allow supervised injection sites to operate in the state. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Number Who Say They've Used Marijuana at All-Time High. Some 45% of American adults have tried marijuana, according to Gallup. That's an all-time high, and it's more than ten times the number (4%) who admitted smoking pot in 1969, the first year Gallup asked the question. About 12% said they currently use marijuana.

Massachusetts Legislature Approves Compromise Legalization Bill. The House and Senate both approved a compromise measure to implement marijuana legalization Wednesday. House Bill 3818 now heads to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Bid to Expand Medical Marijuana Defeated. An effort to expand medical marijuana in the state was stopped by the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday. Rep. David Knoll (R) had tried to add an amendment to a special session bill authorizing the Texas Medical Board and other agencies, but the amendment never got enough support to come up for a vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Brings Back Aggressive Asset Forfeiture Policy. As Attorney General Sessions vowed earlier this week, the Justice Department on Wednesday formally unrolled a revamped "adoptive forfeiture" policy that will allow state and local law enforcement agencies to hand drug cases over to the feds to ensure that the cops get the great bulk -- 80% -- of the proceeds from seizures, in many cases doing an end-run around state asset forfeiture law. The program was halted by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 after a rising outcry over abuses. The move was praised by law enforcement but criticized by civil rights groups and even some members of Congress.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Epidemic. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) Wednesday signed into law three bills aimed at the state's opioid problem. One allows law enforcement to access an electronic prescription database without a warrant, one requires doctors to discuss the risks of addiction with patients when prescribing opioids, and one expands the kind of drugs that can be electronically prescribed. "Every Rhode Island community has been touched by this crisis, and I'll take every step I can to fight back," Raimondo said in a signing statement.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Awaits Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would allow supervised injection sites in the state has already passed the Assembly and has now been approved by both the Senate Health Committee and the Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 186, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) now awaits a Senate floor vote. If the bill passes, it will go back to the Assembly for concurrence, and then to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

Drug War Issues

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