The INCB releases its annual drug report and so does the US State Department, DC moves toward marijuana decriminalization and so does New Hampshire, the Georgia House approves a CBD medical marijuana bill and so does the Utah House, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday voted 10-1 to give final approval to a marijuana decriminalization bill. It must still be signed by the mayor and approved by Congress. The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized.
New Hampshire House Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday. House Bill 1625 would allow for the possession of up to an ounce. It would also make the cultivation of up to six plants a misdemeanor.
Oklahoma City Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Ready to Get Underway. Signature gathering will begin Friday for an Oklahoma City municipal initiative that would decriminalize small-time pot possession. Advocates filed the measure Monday. They have 90 days to gather some 6,200 valid voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the next municipal election. Click on the link to see the initiative.
Pennsylvanians Evenly Split on Legalization, Favor Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 48%, with 49% opposed. Medical marijuana is favored by 85%.
Northeastern NAACP Chapters Endorse Rhode Island Legalization.The New England Area Conference of the NAACP, comprising chapters in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, is supporting legislation to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. Among other reasons, the NAACP cited "an alarming racial disparity" in marijuana arrests.
Georgia House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Georgia House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available to treat certain seizure disorders. House Bill 885 now goes to the state Senate.
Utah House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Utah House Monday approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available on a trial basis for children suffering seizure disorders. House Bill 105 passed on a 62-11 vote and now goes to the state Senate.
Georgia House Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Georgia House Monday approved a bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if a state caseworker suspects they are using drugs. A positive drug test would result in a loss of benefits. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) now goes to the state Senate.
Indiana Senate Committee Amends, Then Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Indiana Senate Health Committee Monday approved a welfare drug testing bill, but only after amending it so that it only applies to recipients with previous drug convictions. Senate Bill 287 now heads to the Senate floor.
Oklahoma House Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Statute. The Oklahoma House Monday unanimously approved a bill that would make people carrying large quantities of specified prescription drugs subject to drug trafficking charges. The bill adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and benzodiazepine to the list of drugs in the trafficking statute. People possessing more than specified amounts of those drugs could face prison time and Senate.
International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report, Frets About Marijuana Legalization. The INCB is very "concerned" about moves to legalize marijuana in US states and Uruguay. But the UN agency is also coming under serious attack from critics over what they call its ideologically-based positions. Click on the link for access to the report and to read our feature article on it and the critics.
State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Click on the link to read the report.
Washington, DC, is set to become the next entity to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession after the city council Tuesday gave final approval to a decriminalization bill. The bill must still be approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, who has signaled support for decriminalization.
[image:1 align:right]But even after the mayor signs off, the measure will not become law until Congress has completed a required legislative review. That process could last into the summer.
The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized. In setting the fine so low, council members cited homelessness in the District and high poverty rates in areas of the city that have seen the highest numbers of arrests.
Police still can, however, seize your marijuana and whatever you used to smoke it. And public use of marijuana remains a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
"This is a big step forward for our nation's capital, as well as our nation as a whole. Clearly, marijuana prohibition's days are numbered in the United States," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill. "We should not be saddling people with criminal records simply for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol," Riffle said. "Law enforcement resources should be used to address serious crimes, not to arrest and prosecute adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neither the District nor any of the states can afford to continue criminalizing adults for marijuana possession."
"For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia. DC council members took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, which also supported the bill.
"Council members heard the public's demand that marijuana arrests end and have passed model legislation that is one of the strongest marijuana decriminalization laws in the whole country," Smith continued. "Mayor Vincent Gray should sign and ensure this bill goes to Congress for its review without delay. With every day that passes, more District residents' lives are irrevocably harmed with these senseless marijuana possession arrests."
Passage of the decrim bill is by no means the end of pot politics in the District this year. Two other marijuana-related bills are still before the council, one (Council Bill 20-467) that would seal marijuana arrest and conviction records and one (Council Bill 20-466) that legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce for adults.
And looming over the legislative activity is the DC marijuana legalization initiative, which is awaiting approval for signature-gathering from the Board of Elections.
The global drug prohibition bureaucracy's watchdog group, the International Drug Control Board (INCB) released its Annual Report 2013 today, voicing its concerns with and wagging its finger at drug reform efforts that deviate from its interpretation of the international drug control treaties that birthed it. The INCB is "concerned" about moves toward marijuana legalization and warns about "the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states."
[image:1 align:left]"We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis," INCB head Raymond Yans said in introducing the report. "INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory."
For some years now, some European and Latin American countries have been expressing a desire to see change in the international system, and "soft defections," such as the Dutch cannabis coffee shop system and Spain's cannabis cultivation clubs, have stretched the prohibitionist treaties to their legal limits. But legal marijuana in Uruguay is a clear breach of the treaties, as Colorado and Washington may be. That is bringing matters to an unavoidable head.
After surveying the state of drug affairs around the globe, the 96-page INCB report ends with a number of concerns and recommendations, ranging from non-controversial items such as calling for adequate prevention and treatment efforts to urging greater attention to prescription drug abuse and more attention paid to new synthetic drugs. [Ed: There is some controversy over how to best approach prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs. e.g. the type of attention to pay to them.]
But the INCB is clearly perturbed by the erosion of the international drug prohibition consensus, and especially by its concrete manifestations in legalization in Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington and the spreading acceptance of medical marijuana.
"The Board is concerned that a number of States that are parties to the 1961 Convention are considering legislative proposals intended to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical and scientific ones" and "urges all Governments and the international community to carefully consider the negative impact of such developments. In the Board's opinion, the likely increase in the abuse of cannabis will lead to increased public health costs," the report said.
Similarly, the INCB "noted with concern" Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which "would not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, particularly the 1961 Convention" and urged the government there "to ensure the country remains fully compliant with international law, which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."
Ditto for Colorado and Washington, where the board was "concerned" about the marijuana legalization initiatives and underlined that "such legislation is not in conformity with the international drug control treaties." The US government should "continue to ensure the full implementation of the international drug control treaties on its entire territory," INCB chided.
But even as INCB struggles to maintain the legal backbone of global prohibition, it is not only seeing marijuana prohibition crumble in Uruguay and the two American states, it is also itself coming under increasing attack as a symbol of a crumbling ancien regime that creates more harm than good with its adherence to prohibitionist, law enforcement-oriented approaches to the use and commerce in psychoactive substances.
"We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realize that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fueled the rise of organized crime," said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. "As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games."
"For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis," agreed Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory. "Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people's health, safety and human rights. Reform won't be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how."
"This is very much the same old stuff," said John Collins, coordinator of the London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and a PhD candidate studying mid-20th Century international drug control policy. "The INCB views its role as advocating a strict prohibitionist oriented set of policies at the international level and interpreting the international treaties as mandating this one-size-fits-all approach. It highlights that INCB, which was created as a technical body to monitor international flows of narcotics and report back to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has carved out and maintains a highly politicized role, far removed from its original treaty functions. This should be a cause for concern for all states interested in having a functioning, public health oriented and cooperative international framework for coordinating the global response to drug issues," Collins told the Chronicle.
"The INCB and its current president, Raymond Yans, take a very ideological view of this issue," Collins continued. "Yans attributes all the negative and unintended consequences of bad drug policies solely to drugs and suggests the way to lessen these problems is more of the same. Many of the policies the board advocates fly in the face of best-practice public health policy -- for example the board demanding that states close 'drug consumption rooms, facilities where addicts can abuse drugs,'" he noted.
"If the board was really concerned about the 'health and welfare' of global populations it would be advocating for these scientifically proven public health interventions. Instead it chooses the road of unscientific and ideological based policies," Collins argued.
The INCB's reliance on ideology-driven policy sometimes leads to grotesque results. There are more than 30 countries that apply the death penalty for drugs in violation of international law. Virtually every international human rights and drug control body opposes the death penalty for drugs including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial killings, torture and health, among many others.
[image:2 align:right caption:true]But when an INCB board member was asked in Thailand -- where 14 people have been executed for drugs since 2001 -- what its position on capital punishment was, he said, "the agency says it neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses," according to the Bangkok Post.
Human rights experts were horrified and immediately wrote asking for clarification, to which the INCB responded, "The determination of sanctions applicable to drug-related offenses remains the exclusive prerogative of each State and therefore lie beyond the mandate and powers which have been conferred upon the Board by the international community," according to Human Rights Watch.
Another area where the board's concern about the health and welfare of global populations is being challenged is access to pain medications. A key part of the INCB's portfolio is regulating opioid pain medications, and this year again it said there is more than enough opium available to satisfy current demand, although it also noted that "consumption of narcotic drugs for pain relief is concentrated within a limited number of countries."
The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees about that latter point. A 2011 study estimated that around 5.5 billion people -- or 83% of the world population -- live in countries with 'low to non-existent' access to opioid pain relief for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. These substances are listed by the WHO as essential medicines, and the international drug control conventions recognise explicitly that they are 'indispensable' to the 'health and welfare of mankind.'
Adding to the paradox -- the global supply is sufficient, but four-fifths of the world doesn't have access -- the INCB calls on governments to "ensure that internationally controlled substances used for pain relief are accessible to people who need them."
What is going on?
"The INCB uses totals of requirements for opioid medicines compiled by the UN treaty signatory states," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, which keeps an eye on the agency with its INCB Watch. "Unfortunately there is often a huge gap between these administrative estimates and the actual medical needs of their populations."
The prohibitionist slant of global drug control also creates a climate conducive to understating the actual need for access to pain relief in other ways, Fordham told the Chronicle.
"Many governments interpret the international drug control conventions in a more restrictive manner than is necessary, and focus their efforts towards preventing access to the unauthorized use of opioids rather than to ensuring their medical and scientific availability," she said. "This is a grossly unbalanced reading of the conventions, underpinned by fear and prejudice regarding opioids and addiction."
Although the agency has cooperated somewhat with the WHO in attempting to enhance access to the medicines, said Fordham, it bears some blame for rendering the issue so fraught.
"The INCB has continually stressed the repressive aspect of the international drug control regime in its annual reports and other public statements, and in its direct dealings with member states," she said. "The INCB is therefore responsible for at least some of the very anxieties that drive governments toward overly restrictive approaches. This ambivalence considerably weakens the INCB's credibility and contradicts its health-related advocacy."
Fordham joined the call for a fundamental reform of global drug prohibition, and she didn't mince words about the INCB.
"The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already," she said before leveling a blast at Yans and company. "But the INCB is notable as the most hard line, backward-looking element, regularly overstepping its mandate in the strident and hectoring manner its adopts with parties to the treaties, in its interference in functions that properly belong to the WHO and in its quasi-religious approach to a narrow interpretation of the drug control treaties."
The INCB should get out of the way on marijuana and concentrate on its pain relief function, said Collins.
"The INCB should stay out if it," he said bluntly. "It is a technocratic monitoring body. It should not be involving itself in national politics and national regulatory systems. So it doesn't need to be either a help or hindrance on issues regarding cannabis reform. It has no reason to be involved in this debate. It should be focusing on ensuring access to essential pain medicines. These debates are a distraction from that core function and I would argue one of the reasons it is failing to meet this core function."
Sorry, INCB. Welcome to the 21st Century.
DC should decriminalize tomorrow, New Mexico looks to expand its medical marijuana program, harm reduction bills move in a couple of states, Mexican police repress a pro-El Chapo demonstration, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
DC Decriminalization Bill Expected to Get Final Vote Tomorrow. The District of Columbia city council is expected to give final approval tomorrow to a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, with a $25 fine. It has the support of eight of 13 council members, so it should be a done deal, but stay tuned tomorrow.
Legalization Bill Introduced in Florida. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Orlando) has introduced a legalization bill in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1562 was filed Friday. The proposal comes as Florida voters prepare to cast ballots in November on legalizing medical marijuana. Also, lawmakers are considering proposals to legalize a marijuana extract that can help some children who have a form of epilepsy and suffer from severe seizures.
California Statewide Regulation Bill Has Support of Cops, Cities. For the first time, California law enforcement and local government associations are backing legislation to regulate the medical marijuana industry. The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California cities are supporting Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), but the bill is opposed by friends of medical marijuana, who object to its provisions setting limits on doctors who recommend it.
New Jersey Annual Medical Marijuana Reports Out. The state Department of Health has released the 2013 Annual Report and the 2013 Biennial Report on the status of the state's medical marijuana program. The state has 1,585 active registered patients, 121 active registered caregivers, and six registered dispensaries. Both reports are at the link.
Massachusetts Caregiver Flouts Regs, Grows for More than One Patient. Longtime Bay State marijuana activist Bill Downing has gone public with his flouting of the state's medical marijuana regulations. He says he is providing medical marijuana to some 350 patients, but state regulations say he can be a caregiver for only one. Downing says it's the regulations that are in conflict with the state's medical marijuana law, not him. "The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for caregiving. The regulation does not," he said. And the state Health Department knows what he is up to, he added.
New Mexico to Address Medical Marijuana Shortage, Adds New Conditions. Acknowledging that a shortage of medical marijuana exists in the state, the Department of Health Friday proposed increasing the number of plants and seedlings that licensed producers can grow and opening the application process to allow more producers to apply for licenses. There are only 23 licensed producers in the state, and demand is rising. Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list. The number of patients in the state jumped to more than 10,000 last year, an increase of 1,200 over the previous year. The department also announced it was adding Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.
Solid Majority Favors Medical Marijuana in Iowa Poll. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans (59%) support legalizing medical marijuana, according to the latest Iowa Poll. But only 28% support legalization. Medical marijuana bills are introduced in the legislature every year, but have yet to go anywhere.
Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Moving in Ohio. A bill that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) remains alive after the House voted to concur in changes made to it in the Senate. Substitute House Bill 170, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) has an emergency clause and will go into effect immediately upon signature by Gov. John Kasich (R).
Good Samaritan 911 Bill Moving in Georgia. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution on drug charges for people who seek emergency treatment for drug overdose victims has passed the House. House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, now awaits action in the Senate.
Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill Gets Hearing in Maryland. A bill that would require police to report the type of property seized, the crime with which it is supposedly linked, and the disposition of any related criminal cases has been heard in the Maryland Senate. Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), got a hearing last week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but no vote was taken.
Mexican Police Arrest 40 in Pro-El Chapo Guzman Demonstration in Culiacan. Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested about 40 people Sunday who were planning to demonstrate in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. About 150 supporters had gathered at the shrine to Jesus Malverde, informal patron saint of drug traffickers, in Culiacan, and about 40 were arrested when they refused to disperse. Some shouted "Long live Chapo." More than a thousand people marched for Guzman in Culiacan last week, and police wanted to prevent a repeat of signs of public support.
Drug Reformers Head to New Zealand for Conference on Regulating Legal Highs. Drug reformers from around the globe are heading to Auckland later this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform. The Pathway to Reform conference will take place on March 20.
Conservative Norwegian MP Charged in Hash Scandal Case. Erik Skutle, the Conservative Party member of parliament who took Prime Minister Erna Solberg's seat when she took the leadership position, has been charged with hashish use in a case that has embarrassed his "zero tolerance" political party. He was charged Thursday, a day after he publicly proposed decriminalizing cannabis possession as the scandal emerged. But it looks like he will retain his seat in parliament.