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McConnell Puts Kibosh on Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 06:56

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump's announcement that he would support the effort, but by week's end, those prospects dimmed as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn't bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]The bill is known as the First Step Act. The House passed a version of this spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the "back end," such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.

The Senate bill crafted by a handful of key senators and pushed hard by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner incorporates the language of the House bill, but also adds actual sentencing reforms. Under the Senate bill:

·         Thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 (the date of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced, but did not eliminate sentencing disparities) would get the chance to petition for a reduced sentence.

·         Mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses would be lowered.

·         Life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions ("three strikes") would be reduced to 25 years.

Even though the bill has been a top priority of Kushner's and had the support of numerous national law enforcement groups and conservative criminal justice groups, as well as the support of key Democrats, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), McConnell told Trump at a White House meeting Thursday that there wasn't enough time in the lame-duck session to take it up.

"McConnell said he didn't have the time, that's his way of saying this isn't going to happen," said Michael Collins, interim director of the Drug Policy Alliance's (DPA) Office of National Affairs. "McConnell was a roadblock under Obama and he's a roadblock now. He likes to hide behind the process but I think he just doesn't like or care about this issue."

McConnell's move upset what should have been a done deal, said Collins.

"Once First Step passed the House, some key figures on the Senate side, such as Sens. Durbin and Grassley, said it wouldn't move without sentencing reform, and then Kushner facilitated negotiations between the Senate and the White House and they reached broad agreement this summer," he recounted. "Then the question was can we get this to the floor? McConnell sat down with Grassley and Durbin and said after the elections, and Trump agreed with that. The idea was that if Trump would get on board, McConnell would hold a vote, would whip a vote. He wanted 60 votes; there are 60 votes. Then McConnell said the Senate has a lot to do. At the end of the day, it's up to McConnell. When Trump endorsed people thought it would move McConnell, but he just poured cold water on it."

That means sentencing reform is almost certainly dead in this Congress. And as long as Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will be an impediment to reform.

"McConnell is the obstacle—it's not Tom Cotton (R-AR) or Jeff Sessions—it's McConnell, and he's going to be there next year and the year after that," said Collins. "He is the prime obstacle to criminal justice reform, even though a lot of groups on the right are in favor of this. Since he isn't going to listen to us, it's going to be up to them to figure this out."

"If McConnell doesn't prioritize this, it doesn't happen," said Kara Gotsch, director of strategic initiatives for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. That's a shame, she said, because "I'm optimistic both parties would support this if they got the chance."

But now it doesn't look like they will get that chance. That's the downside. But there is a possible upside: Failure to pass limited criminal justice reform this year may lead to a bill next year that goes further than limited sentencing reforms.

"It's been a long, hard slog to get to where we are," said Collins, "but now some people are saying this compromise stuff gets us nowhere and we should be doing things like enacting retroactivity for sentencing reforms, eliminating all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and decriminalizing all drugs."

"My job is to continue to beat the drum for change," said Gotsch. "It's always hard, and we don't get those opportunities a lot. Momentum doesn't come very often, regardless of who is in power, and we can't let these small windows close without doing our best to move the ball forward. This has been my concern for 20 years—the conditions these prisoners face, the injustice—and we will keep pushing. The federal prison system is in crisis."

The federal prison population peaked at 219,000 in 2013, driven largely by drug war prosecutions, and has since declined slightly to about 181,000. But that number is still three times the number of federal prisoners behind bars when the war on drugs ratcheted up under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. There is still lots of work to be done, but perhaps next time, we demand deeper changes. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

Categories: Latest News

Mexico's Supreme Court Effectively Legalizes Marijuana Possession, Cultivation, and Use [FEATURE]

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 01:13

In an earth-shaking development, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that the country's prohibition of marijuana use, possession, and personal cultivation is unconstitutional. The decision came in a pair of cases challenging the ban on weed, and because these rulings mark the fifth time the court has ruled similarly, the opinions are now legal precedent in the country.

[image:1 align:left]The high court in Mexico City based its decision on constitutional protections of individual autonomy.

"The fundamental right of the free development of the personality allows adults to choose -- without any interference -- what recreational activities they desire to undertake and protects all the activities necessary to make that choice… The effects of marijuana consumption do not justify an absolute prohibition of its use," the court held.

But the court also noted explicitly that the right to grow, possess, and consume marijuana "is not absolute and the consumption of certain substances can be regulated."

That means it will be up to lawmakers to come up with rules around the legal use of marijuana, as well as any move toward a regulated, legal marijuana market in the country. And that is likely to happen: Parties backing President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who is supportive of marijuana legalization and open to considering broader legalization, control absolute majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In its rulings, the high court ordered the federal health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, to authorize the use of marijuana by adults who choose to do so, but it also added: "albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs."

Mexico has already decriminalized both pot possession and the possession of personal use amounts of other illicit drugs.

Coming less than two weeks after Canada's marijuana legalization came into effect, the striking decision by the Mexican Supreme Court is only going to add to the pressure to advance federal marijuana legalization here in the US.

"This is extraordinary because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the US's neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the US federal government's prohibition of marijuana even more untenable."

If the Democrats take control of the House this week, expect to see a strong push for federal legalization, along the lines that Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out earlier this month. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, as is widely expected, the upper chamber would be a tougher nut to crack -- but GOP senators may want to reflect on the fact that, according to the most recent Gallup poll, support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high of 66 percent, and even 53 percent of Republican voters now are on board.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

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Good Riddance! Drug Reformers Applaud Sessions’ Departure from DOJ [FEATURE]

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 19:06

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of office Wednesday after less than two years in office, and while there is intense concern about the impact the move could have on ongoing investigations of Trump campaign and administration misdeeds, for drug and criminal justice reform advocates that concern is leavened by joy and relief at the forced exit of a man who staunchly promoted harsh and repressive drug and criminal justice policies.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Even as marijuana reform spread across the land and support for the tough sentencing practices of last century's drug war waned, Sessions strode bravely backward as attorney general. Among the lowlights of his tenure:

  • He escalated the war on drugs by ordering federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and sentences for drug offenses, a harsh return to some of the worst excesses of the drug war, one quite out of the mainstream of even Republican sentencing policy thinking these days.

  • He escalated the war on drugs by undoing Obama-era restrictions on federal asset forfeiture and restarting destructive asset forfeiture practices. His actions on asset forfeiture basically gave state and local law enforcement agencies a green light to evade state forfeiture laws by handing cases off to the feds in return for a massive cut of the proceeds.

  • He at least formally reversed the Obama administration's "live and let live" approach to marijuana reforms in the states, undoing the Cole memo that directed federal prosecutors to leave state law-compliant pot operations alone. But Sessions' anti-marijuana crusade ended up a quixotic quest, with even President Trump suggesting an openness to legal weed and leaving Sessions spinning in the wind.

  • He ignored harm reduction principles and best practices aimed at reducing drug overdoses and the spread of blood-borne disease by threatening to crack down on safe injection sites, facilities where drug users can shoot up under medical supervision that also serve as a nexus between problematic users and treatment and social services.

  • He undermined the work of the department's Civil Rights Division, particularly by moving to end the use of consent decrees that subject police departments troubled by brutality or discrimination to federal oversight.

Even some key Republican senators rejected his retrograde approach on marijuana and sentencing reform and have criticized his resort to civil asset forfeiture. While in the Senate, Sessions was one of the biggest obstacles to sentencing reform, and since he left, bipartisan support for drug policy reform has continued to grow. It's probably too much to expect progressive policies from anyone Trump appoints to replace Sessions, but it's hard to see getting someone more regressive.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) minced no words in its assessment of Sessions.

"Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace," said NORML director Erik Altieri. "NORML hopes that he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950s reefer madness."

The Trump administration needs to replace Sessions with someone more in tune with popular sentiment on marijuana, added NORML deputy director Paul Armentano.

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next US Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed that call.

"While Trump's dismissal of Sessions raises questions about the president's motivations, the Justice Department and Senate should seize this opportunity to right Sessions' wrongs," said DPA executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. "The US public understands that the drug war has failed spectacularly and needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next attorney general be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies."

Jeff Sessions: A man whose time has come -- and gone.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

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Green Wave Update: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms, and More [FEATURE]

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 19:35

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday’s elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters approved medical marijuana two years ago but weren’t ready to take the next step this year.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Michigan becomes the 10th state to legalize marijuana and the first one in the Midwest. With Missouri and Utah now joining the ranks, medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 55.8 percent of the vote, with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

"The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the U.S.," said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign. "Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use. Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses. In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country."

"Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which through its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, helped fund and played a significant role in drafting the initiative. "With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out."

In the past decade, Michigan has seen more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority (84 percent) for simple possession. Those arrests won’t be happening anymore.

In Missouri, two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both MPP and DPA.

"Thanks to the unflagging efforts of patients and advocates, Missourians who could benefit from medical marijuana will soon be able to use it without fear of being treated like criminals," said MPP’s Schweich. "We hope lawmakers will implement the measure efficiently and effectively to ensure qualified patients can gain access to their medicine as soon as possible."

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism and the Red Wave that swamped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was strong enough to overwhelm the Measure 3 legalization initiative. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

In Utah, despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state’s Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren’t willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins.

Drug reformers pronounced themselves pleased with the results and pressed for federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

"This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana," said MPP executive director Steve Hawkins. "Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it’s safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation."

But wait, there’s more. Voters in a number of Wisconsin localities, including the population centers of Madison and Milwaukee, overwhelmingly approved non-binding referenda calling for marijuana legalization, while voters approved decriminalization in five out of six Ohio cities where it was on the ballot, including Dayton.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates embracing marijuana legalization (and broader drug reform), including Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), all emerged victorious. The last two are especially notable since, as chief executives of as yet pot prohibitionist states, they can guide their states to legalization.

And in one of the sweeter outcomes of the Democrats’ retaking of the House, one of the biggest obstacles to marijuana reform in Congress, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked reform measures from advancing. But his time has come and gone.

All in all, election day was a pretty good day for weed.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug Reporter.

Categories: Latest News

Bad News from Brazil: The Right Populist President-Elect Will Be Absolutely Horrid on Drug Policy [FEATURE]

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 19:17

The far rightist Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday's presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. His victory promises to push Latin America's largest democracy to the right in many arenas, including drug policy, where his past pronouncements place him firmly in the camp of murderous anti-drug reform authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left more than 20,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilante death squads.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Despite a highly divisive candidacy that included repeated derogatory comments aimed at gays, women, black people, and indigenous peoples, his victory over the Workers Party, which has been tarnished by corruption scandals, was decisive. Bolsonaro seems likely to act as if he has a mandate from the voters to enact his extremist policies, among them extraordinarily repressive drug policies.

Thanks to London-based Talking Drugs, we have a very clear idea of just how extreme Bolsonaro's rhetoric on drug policy has been. Saying the bloody-handed Duterte "did the right thing for his country," Bolsonaro seeks to emulate him, saying repeatedly that police should kill people suspected -- not convicted -- of drug trafficking.

He has also vowed to intensify an already militarized crackdown on drug offenses, deepening the human rights and public health crises that drug prohibition has already inflicted on the country. Police and the military already work together to raid, arrest, and, too often, kill people allegedly involved in drug trafficking, especially in the favelas, the urban slums home to millions of the country's poor.

Brazil's murder rate is 27 per 100,000 people, four times the global average and higher than the rates of neighbors such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru -- all cocaine-producing countries. Brazil is the world's second largest cocaine-consuming country, after the United States.

Domestic drug consumption has been on the rise for years in Brazil, and although there have been legislative attempts to decriminalize drug use, drug users continue to be criminalized, contributing mightily to Brazil's ranking as the country with the world's fourth-largest prison population.

Bolsonaro wants to heighten the repressive approach. He has detailed plans to increase the involvement of the military in drug law enforcement, including targeting school children. "It would be good to have the military in the schools," he said, because "in the streets, in the schools even, the bandidos [bandits] sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly."

Speaking of maconha [Brazilian slang for marijuana], Bolsonaro isn't too fond of that, either. In fact, he sounds positively deranged on the issue. Legalizing marijuana, as neighboring Uruguay has done, would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers," he charged, without bothering to cite any supporting evidence of his claims and in direct contradiction of the Uruguayan experience.

And in a bizarre interview with El Pais, the homophobic Bolsonaro even claimed that using drug makes people gay. When the journalist who interviewed him published the piece, Bolsonaro accused him of being gay, too.

He demonstrates a very Trumpian tendency to play fast and loose with the facts to try to score ideological points. He has linked illegal drug use to liberal governments, claiming that "drug use is prominent in countries under liberal administrations, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela." But Honduras has been ruled by rightists since 2010 and Mexico's outgoing president is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), since the 1980s viewed as center-right.

All of this doesn't bode well for progress on progressive drug policies in Brazil. In the past, there have been strong public health-based initiatives to provide harm reduction services to drug users, including a very successful program created by then Sao Paolo Mayor Fernando Haddad. His With Open Arms program provided drug users with housing, daily meals, access to health care, and the opportunity to earn money by doing cleaning work. The program was a success in reducing drug-related harms but has been dramatically slashed by his successor.

Haddad was the last candidate standing between Bolsonaro and the presidency, but the country's swing to the right overwhelmed him. While the immediate future for progressive drug reform in Brazil looks grim, the one bright spot is that, like Trump, Bolsonaro tends to make bold, yet vague, pronouncements, often with little follow-through. Let's hope his tough talk on drugs is more bluster than actual concrete policy shifts to the right, but hope isn't going to win the day. Brazilians interested in human rights, public safety, harm reduction, and drug law reform are going to have to mobilize to protect what limited gains they have one and to prevent sliding backward by embracing harsh, failed, last century drug policies.

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Marijuana Midterms: The Prospects for State-Level Legalization and Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 03:47

With less than two weeks to go to Election Day, its looking like a mixed picture for state-level marijuana policy initiatives. There are two states -- Michigan and North Dakota -- with marijuana legalization on the ballot and there are two more states -- Michigan and Utah -- with medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.

[image:1 align:left]It's possible that all four will pass, but it's looking more likely in Michigan and Missouri than in North Dakota and Utah. In North Dakota, well-funded opposition may drown out the legalization message, while in Utah, late maneuvering by the Mormon church and state political leaders is undercutting support from what had previously appeared to be a measure cruising toward victory.

Here's a quick recap of the initiatives and their prospects:

Michigan

Michigan is poised to become marijuana legalization's Midwest breakout state. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative, Proposal 1, for the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the possession up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as allowing for the personal cultivation of up to 12 plants and the fruits of that harvest. It also creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. The measure would give cities and counties the option of allowing pot businesses or not.

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. It had been holding steady at 61 percent support as late as May, the kind of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Support had indeed declined in the final weeks of the campaign as limited opposition finally emerged, but a September Detroit Free Press poll still has it winning with 55 percent of the vote and only three percent undecided and a September Detroit News poll had it winning with 56 percent.

Missouri

Missouri voters will be able to choose from not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana measures when they go to the polls in November. Two are constitutional amendments; one is a statutory initiative that could more easily be modified by the legislature.

Amendment 2, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they see fit. Registered patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at 4 percent.

Amendment 3, sponsored by Find the Cures, would let doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients who have any of a specific list of qualifying conditions (while regulators would be able to add more conditions in the future). The retail sales tax on medical marijuana would be set at the much higher rate of 15 percent. Funds would be used to support research with the aim of developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Proposition C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, also outlines a list of specific conditions that would qualify patients to legally use medical cannabis. Sales would be taxed at 2 percent.

An August poll conducted by TJP strategies had support for amending the state constitution to allow medical marijuana at 54 percent.

That there are three separate measures on the ballot could lead to some confusion. If multiple ballot measures on the same topic pass, the one with the most votes generally prevails. But because in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory measure, if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the amendments, but at least one of them passes, it could be up to the state's court system to figure out which goes into effect.

While there is nothing stopping voters from voting "yes" on all three measures, there are also concerns that the multiplicity of options could result in splitting the pro-medical marijuana vote, with some voting "yes" on only one measure and "no" on the others. In this election, when it comes to medical marijuana, Missouri may have too much of a good thing.

There has been no more recent polling, but with 93% of the nation backing medical cannabis in an April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, it's likely that Missouri isn't going to buck the trend. The fundraising also points toward a successful campaign. Both New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure have raised more than a million dollars over the course of the campaign and both still have tens of thousands of dollars banked for the final push. The only ballot committee opposed to both campaigns, Citizens for Safe Medicine, was just registered last month and has reported no donations or expenditures.

North Dakota

This year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

This is a radical initiative. It would legalize all forms of marijuana for adults by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state's controlled substance schedules, and it sets no limits on the amount of marijuana people could possess or how many plants they grow. It also provides for the automatic expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.

And it does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales, nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

Legalize ND faces the toughest odds. While a June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided and a poll this month, also commissioned by Legalize ND had it winning with 51 percent to 36 percent, two other recent polls have support at under 40 percent.

It also faces the toughest organized opposition, which is heavily out-fundraising it. While Legalize ND has raised less than $30,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, the national anti-marijuana lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has provided 100 percent of the contributions to Healthy and Productive North Dakota, an amount totaling more than $156,000.

A separate anti-initiative committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, which represents business groups and is headed by the director of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce, has raised $86,000. If Legalize ND can pull off a victory, it will be sweet, indeed, but it's looking like an uphill battle.

Utah

Sponsored by the Utah Patients Coalition, the medical marijuana statutory initiative, Proposition 2, has qualified for the November ballot. The bottom-up effort comes after the state legislature has refused to advance meaningful medical marijuana legislation.

Under the measure, people who suffer from one of a list of designated qualifying medical conditions could receive a medical marijuana card with a physician's recommendation. That would entitle them to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or any amount of a marijuana product with up to 10 grams of THC. Patients could not grow their own unless they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. And the patients cannot smoke marijuana.

A Utah Policy poll released in September had support for the measure at 64 percent, with even Mormons generally breaking with the church leadership on the issue. But after that poll was released, state political leaders, advocates, and the Mormon church announced they'd agreed on a medical marijuana plan that lawmakers would consider in a November special session. That has, to some degree, cut the legs out from under the initiative.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll released last week had support dropping to only 51 percent, with 46 percent opposed. What looked like a cakewalk just a few weeks ago has turned into a nailbiter.

There you have it. Marijuana could go four for four this year, but it's not at all at da one deal, and we may end up having to settle for only three or maybe even two out of four. Going only 50-50 on marijuana initiatives would be the worst performance of the modern era. Let's hope 2018 doesn't earn that distinction.

Categories: Latest News

Two New Polls Suggest Marijuana Prohibition's Days Are Numbered [FEATURE]

Fri, 10/26/2018 - 03:14

Two of the country's top polling organizations have released surveys this month showing support for marijuana legalization continues to increase and is now at record highs. A Gallup poll released Monday had support at 69 percent, while a Pew Research Center poll released two weeks earlier had support at 62 percent.

[image:1 align:left]The Gallup figure is up two points over last year, while Pew is up one. More impressively, the percentage of people supporting legalization nationwide has doubled since 2000, when both polls reported support at only 31 percent.

"There is a growing sense among the US population that it is time to end our nation's failed experiment with marijuana prohibition," responded Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "People are sick and tired of adults being treated like criminals simply for consuming a substance that is, by every objective measure, less harmful than alcohol. Americans are more informed about cannabis than ever before, and they can now see that regulation is a viable and effective alternative to prohibition."

Gallup's levels of support are slightly more favorable toward legalization than Pew's, most likely due to methodological differences. In addition to the seven-point spread between the two on legalization, Pew, for example, reports a majority of Republicans still opposing legalization, while Gallup reports a first-time Republican majority in favor.

Pro-marijuana majorities can now be found across every demographic measured in the Gallup poll. Not only 53 percent of Republicans, but 71 percent of independents and three-quarters of Democrats want to free the weed, now even older Americans do, too. For the first time, a majority of those aged 55 and over (59 percent) support legalization, along with nearly two in three adults between 35 and 44 and a whopping 78 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds.

And support for legalization is now truly nationwide in the Gallup poll. As recently as 2010, only the West reported a marijuana majority, but now support is at 65 percent in the West, Midwest, and South, and even two points higher in the East.

The Pew poll found a few demographic groups not reporting majorities for legalization. In addition to Republicans, only 48 percent of Hispanics, 43 percent of white evangelicals, only 39 percent of the "Silent Generation" (people over age 75) could get behind it. But all other races, age groups, religious denominations (and atheists), and educational levels reported majorities for legalization.

The poll numbers reflect an increasing acceptance of weed as the country grows accustomed to the idea of marijuana being sold in stores (and taxed!) instead of in back alleyways. Nine states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of the Northern Marshall Islands already have legal marijuana, and another 21 allow for medical marijuana.

Four more states are voting on marijuana next month; Michigan and North Dakota on legalization, and Missouri and Utah on medical marijuana. And pot could play a role in the congressional races, too. The Democrats are already embracing it, and Republicans risk being left in the lurch.

"There are not many issues out there that enjoy majority support among both of the major political parties and in every region of the country," said MPP's Hawkins. "This support is consistently translating into wins at the ballot box, and it should further motivate elected officials to take action at the state and federal levels. Hopefully, lawmakers are paying attention to this clear trend in public opinion. If they ignore these poll numbers, they do so at the risk of seeing a drop in their own."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

One Key Congressman's Bold Plan to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Next Year [FEATURE]

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 06:17

Last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) unveiled a plan for a Democratically-led House to push through federal marijuana legalization by the end of 2019. In an eight-page memo to the House Democratic leadership laid out his roadmap to ending Reefer Madness.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Blumenauer isn't just any old congressman. The longtime stalwart marijuana reformer is the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a leading voice in the fight to bring marijuana out of the shadows. And he's ready to do it once Congress gets back to work in January.

"Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis," Blumenauer wrote in the memo, citing polling showing 69% of registered voters support legalizing marijuana. "We have an opportunity to correct course if Democrats win big in November. There's no question: cannabis prohibition will end."

Most projections have the Democrats taking back control of the House in November. The Senate is a different story, with the odds against the party being able to overcome Republican control this year.

Winning the House is critical. During the current Congress, progress has been stymied by House Republican leaders, who have blocked floor votes on dozens of cannabis-related amendments. Not one marijuana reform bill has gotten a House floor vote in the past two years.

If the House goes Democratic and the party can push a legalization bill through that chamber, Blumenauer argues, then pressure will mount on even a GOP-controlled Senate, where there is already growing bipartisan support for reform.

But Senate Republicans aren't the only potential obstacle. The current House Democratic leadership hasn't exactly been chomping at the bit to make freeing the weed a priority next year.

But while there is majority support for ending marijuana prohibition among House Democrats, the party's leadership has so far appeared lukewarm to the idea of prioritizing the issue in 2019.

When Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was asked about pushing cannabis reform next year, he replied that top Democrats "haven't talked about that," and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the frontrunner for House Speaker if the Democrats win, seems willing to defer to President Trump on the matter.

"I don't know where the president is on any of this," she said. "So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result."

But despite his notoriously pot prohibitionist attorney general, President Trump may not get in the way of marijuana legalization. As a candidate in 2016, he pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and earlier this year, as part of a deal with pot state Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), he told Gardner he would back "a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all Democrats need to be prepared to act when Congress reconvenes next year or risk giving Trump a freebie, Blumenauer warned.

"Democrats should lead the way," he wrote. "If we fail to act swiftly, I fear as the 2020 election campaign approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support -- especially from young voters. Democrats must seize the moment."

Beginning in January, the Democrats need to get moving, Blumenauer counseled.

"For too long, under Republican leadership, these issues have not been allowed to be fully debated. We must change that approach. Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspects of marijuana policy. Within the first six months, these committees should hold hearings, bring in experts, and discuss possible policy fixes," he wrote.

Blumenauer is calling for the numerous hearings by March, including:

  • A House Judiciary Committee hearing on descheduling marijuana;
  • A House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on safe and equal access to medical marijuana for veterans;
  • A House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on marijuana research;
  • A House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the unequal and unfair taxation of marijuana businesses; and
  • A House Administration Committee hearing on access to financial services for candidates who support marijuana legalization.

From April to June, Blumenauer wants relevant committees to "start marking up bills in their jurisdiction to responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap -- the gap between federal and state marijuana laws -- before the end of the year."

Those issues would include addressing the racial injustices of the unequal application of federal marijuana laws, protection of state marijuana laws, removal of barriers to marijuana research, civil asset forfeiture protections, job protections, access to financial services, and equal taxation for marijuana businesses, among others.

Blumenauer wants to see bills addressing these issues passed by August, and then movement to get a legalization bill through the Congress by year's end.

"With the marijuana policy gap diminished, after months of hearings and markups, the House should pass a full descheduling bill and work with Senate allies to guide the bill through Senate passage," he wrote. "Our chances in the Senate depend both on the November elections and increased public pressure following House passage. While the Senate has been slower on marijuana policy reform than the House and the American people, it now has almost 20 introduced bills in an effort to catch up with the House. We must build on this momentum."

If all goes well, Blumenauer predicts, "By the end of 2019, marijuana will be legal at the federal level, and states allowed to responsibly regulate its use. The federal government will not interfere in state efforts to responsibly regulate marijuana use within their borders."

All of this, though, starts with winning the House in November. As Blumenauer notes, with even Donald Trump having signaled support for a state-regulated approach to marijuana, "the only obstacle standing in our way is the Republican leadership in Congress."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 03:17

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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ACLU Files Lawsuit Against San Francisco Cops for Targeting African-Americans in Drug Busts [FEATURE]

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 05:56

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a heavily populated, racially mixed neighborhood in the heart of one of America's iconic progressive cities. Yet when the San Francisco Police Department and the DEA targeted the neighborhood to crack down on drug dealing between 2013 and 2015 as part of "Operation Safe Schools," the only people they managed to roll up were black.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]When 37 black defendants -- and no defendants of any other race -- got hauled away, nobody noticed. That is until the defendants started showing up looking for federal public defenders. The federal public defenders noticed, and they began making noise about racial disparities and selective enforcement of the drug laws.

Their charges only grew louder with the posting in 2015 of undercover police surveillance video to YouTube revealing a police officer muttering "fucking BMs," police code for black males, as he monitored a group of young men on the street. The video also apparently showed an undercover informant turning down drugs being offered by an Asian woman to instead buy drugs from a black woman.

In January 2017, 12 of those charged in the operation won a discovery motion from a judge who found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement" in their arrests. Instead of allowing the proceedings to continue so a full accounting of police conduct could occur, prosecutors instead dropped the charges.

At the time, the presiding judge, US District Court Judge Edward Chen, made clear that while he was granting the dismissals because they were in the best interest of the defendants, he was concerned that doing so would prevent the allegations of police bias from being aired.

"These are serious issues, serious allegations regarding claims of discriminatory enforcement patterns," Chen said. "I think the defendants in this case have raised a very substantial prima facie case that, at the very least, raises some serious questions that would warrant a response and a full airing of the issues."

Now, a year and a half later, the ACLU of Northern California on Thursday filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of six of those rolled up in the busts. The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were targeted because of their race and cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users to bolster its case. That survey found racial diversity among Tenderloin drug sellers. About half were black, but 20 percent were Latino and 17 percent were white.

The lawsuit is "an opportunity to hold the actors in the San Francisco Police Department and the city itself accountable for the police department's longstanding practices of engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement," said ACLU attorney Novella Coleman, who is representing the plaintiffs.

It's also about financial relief for the plaintiffs, Coleman allowed. "The court will determine how to monetize that," she said.

Not an Anomaly

Racially biased policing is nothing new in San Francisco. In fact, as Ezekiel Edwards, director of the national ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, pointed out in a post announcing the lawsuit, the city has the dubious honor of setting precedent for the idea that law enforcement targeting people based on their race is unconstitutional. In an 1886 case, Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the city attempted to deny laundry permits to Chinese people while granting them to non-Chinese. Such an action could only be explained by the city's "hostility to the race and nationality" of the applicants, a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the evidence that the city's penchant for targeting non-whites for harsher treatment remains intact just keeps piling up. Numerous studies in the past few years have documented racially biased policing practices, including a 2002 ACLU report on SFPD racial profiling and a city-commissioned study by a national expert on biased policing.

Those studies uncovered a range of bias-related problems and made concrete recommendations for reform. Those were ignored. As the rotten policing practices festered, more reports detailing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system came out in 2013 and 2015.

Then, in 2015, as "Operation Safe Schools" was winding down, SFPD was hit by a new scandal when officers were caught exchanging racist text messages. Some used the N-word, others referenced cross burnings. Officers were caught calling black residents "savages," "wild animals," and "barbarians," and one officer told his sergeant "All n[ -- ] must fucking hang." Another officer sent a text with an image of a white man spraying a black child with a hose above the caption "Go be a n -- somewhere else."

That finally got the attention of city fathers -- as well as the Obama-era Justice Department. The city district attorney convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement that documented SFPD's history of racially disparate enforcement and concluded that it was "in urgent need of important reforms." In 2016, the Justice Department weighed in with its own report finding that the department still engaged in racially biased policing, especially around traffic stops and police use of deadly force.

It's Not Just San Francisco

The ACLU's Edwards concisely makes the case that San Francisco is no exception when it comes to racially biased policing:

"Unequal treatment by race is commonplace among police departments large and small in cities across a range of ideological leanings. This is the reason for the racial profiling lawsuits filed in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Maricopa County, Arizona. This is the motivation, prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for Justice Department consent decrees seeking to end racially discriminatory police practices in Seattle, Los Angeles County, New Orleans, Baltimore, Newark, East Haven CT and Ferguson MO. This is why the ACLU has found racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests across the country, in drug possession arrests more broadly, in stops and frisks in Boston, in seatbelt enforcement in Florida, and in arrests for low-level offenses in Minneapolis."

When will things ever change?

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Categories: Latest News

Ohio Initiative Would End Prison for Drug Possession [FEATURE]

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 21:51

Progressive voters in battleground Ohio will have one more reason to head to the polls next month. Not only do they have a chance to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion and reelect US Senator Sherrod Brown, but they also will have the opportunity to enact a dramatic sentencing reform that will keep thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison and help inmates currently serving time for drug possession get back into their communities sooner.

[image:1 align:left]Issue 1, the smartly named Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment, would:

  • Reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanor crimes, except for drug possession or trafficking offenses currently categorized as first-, second- or third-degree felonies;
  • Prohibit jail sentences for drug possession until an individual's third offense within 24 months;
  • Allow inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to reduce their sentences up to 25 percent for completing rehabilitative, work or educational programming;
  • Apply cost savings from reduced prison expenses to drug treatment programs and crime victim services.

That's right, passage of Issue 1 would effectively defelonize drug possession in the Buckeye State. At least 16 states have already taken similar steps to ratchet down the drug war, including California, New York, and neighboring Pennsylvania. And now, thanks to local grassroots organizing backed by some big outside money, Ohio could be next.

It could use the help. The state's prison population has hovered around 50,000 for nearly two decades after rising dramatically during the height of drug war repression in the 1980s and 1990s, and nearly a quarter of inmates are doing time for drug offenses. Unsurprisingly, Ohio suffers the same sort of racial disparities as the rest of the country, with blacks more than five times as likely to be imprisoned as whites, and Latinos nearly twice as likely. The state's resort to mass incarceration costs it around $2 billion a year in corrections costs.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a coalition of 20 community organizations, faith institutions, labor unions, and policy groups across the state, and its Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities campaign. Its aim is to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system and increase access to drug treatment. Issue 1 would "invest in proven treatment for addiction instead of more spending on bloated prisons," explained campaign manager Amanda Hoyt.

While the initiative is homegrown, the funding for it is coming mainly from out-of-staters. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has kicked in $1 million, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz's Open Philanthropy Project ponied up another $1 million. George Soros's Open Society Policy Center provided $1.5 million, while California businessman Nicholas Pritzker and his wife Susan added another $60,000. Of the $4.8 million raised by the campaign, all but $19,000 came from out of state.

"Relying on incarceration to solve addiction and the conditions that drive lower-level crimes actually doesn't make communities safer, and it results in huge expenses to taxpayers with devastating impact to individuals, families, and entire communities," said Ana Zamora, criminal justice manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in a statement.

Issue 1 will "put taxpayer dollars to better use by reducing reliance on prisons to address certain nonviolent offenses, including drug use and possession," Zamora added.

The opposition to Issue 1 isn't nearly as deep-pocketed, but it represents much of the state's criminal justice and Republican political establishment. No opposition political action committees have reported donations, but groups such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Common Pleas Judges' Association, the Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police have all come out against Issue 1.

And while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has endorsed Issue 1, current Republican Gov. John Kasich, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, all the Republicans running for statewide office, and the state Republican Party itself have all announced their opposition.

"Unfortunately, Issue 1 is a one-sided proposal that will weaken the tools available to our elected representatives, county prosecutors, and judges to make and enforce laws. It will eliminate important incentives to encourage drug treatment for the addicted, and allow the drug dealers who prey on addiction to freely roam the streets," said former secretary of state Ken Blackwell in rhetoric typical of the opposition.

Other opponents resorted to hyperbolic "sends the wrong message" arguments. "The message to children is that these drugs are not dangerous; the message to drug dealers is that doing business in Ohio is low-risk," warned Louis Tobin, executive director of the prosecutors' association, and Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, in their official argument.

It must be noted that Issue 1 defelonizes only drug possession -- not drug distribution.

There has been no polling to determine what kind of support the measure has, at least none announced publicly. Will an energized Democratic base carry the day for Democrats and Issue 1 in a closely divided state on Election Day? That remains to be seen, but all those millions in campaign funds should help buy plenty of TV ads and influence voters in these final weeks. Stay tuned.

Categories: Latest News

Look Who's Got the Antidote to Trump's Prescription for Global Drug War [FEATURE]

Thu, 09/27/2018 - 05:21

Even as US President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a "failed" repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]While Trump spoke in New York City, the Global Commission on Drug POLICY unveiled its report, Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs, with a press conference in Mexico City, capital of a nation frequently scapegoated by Trump for America's drug crises, but which in reality has suffered mightily from the demons unleashed by drug prohibition. The county's death toll in a decade of heightened prohibition-related cartel and government violence now exceeds 200,000 -- the kind of figure associated more with festering civil wars than with law enforcement problems.

One of Mexico's former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo, is a member of the commission, established in 2011 by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, along with former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. The group also includes notable global figures, such as Richard Branson and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as American political names such as former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

"A demand for drugs exists, and if it is not satisfied through legal ways, then it will be satisfied by the illegal market," said commission chair former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, "Prohibition has allowed criminal organizations to control the whole chain of drugs. Every region in the world suffers from violence induced by turf wars over production areas and transit routes, from corruption and connivance of state institutions, and from the laundering of drug money, which damages the legal economy and the functioning of democratic institutions."

In the report, the commission calls on policymakers to open local and national participatory processes to shape the reforms and collect evidence on the legal regulation of drugs. That's something incoming Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already begun with his town hall meetings on violence and his proposal of amnesty for non-violent traffickers and drug crop farmers.

"This report provides a coherent account of what the legal regulation of drugs can look like in a real-life context, based on scientific evidence and current regulatory frameworks for legal substances," said Dreifuss. "It draws particular attention to the risks associated with over-commercialization and the need to learn from mistakes in regulating alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids."

The global leaders also call for the renegotiation of the international treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Not only do they encourage a repressive approach to the drug question where drug users and low-level dealers face stiff prison sentences, they are also increasingly out of touch with social and political realities. Uruguay, Canada, and nine American states have legalized marijuana in contravention of the treaties, and Bolivia does not acknowledge coca's inclusion in their drug schedules.

"The international drug control system has failed to achieve its own objectives in terms of the supply in and demand for drugs," said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. "It needs to adapt quickly to the reality that an increasing number of states are calling for or have implemented reforms which are incompatible with the framework it established. The gap which has developed between the expectations created by that framework and the reality on the ground needs to be faced up to. A new system is urgently needed which will support countries to implement effective drug policies."

American drug reformers applauded the commission's call for a new approach.

"The war on drugs has been an abject failure that has had devastating consequences throughout the world," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Amidst this backdrop, it is heartening to see experienced world leaders boldly step forward with innovative, forward-looking proposals that are grounded in human rights, health, and development."

In a world where Donald Trump's drug war photo-op at the UN gets the press, it's easy to forget that when it comes to drug policy, the global prohibitionist consensus has already crumbled. The commission's report is a salutary reminder that better ways exist -- if we can muster the political muscle to implement them.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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Trump's Terrible, No Good Plan to Gin Up Worldwide Drug War [FEATURE]

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 19:22

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he's going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on "The World Drug Problem," and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, "The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to "participate in a group photo" with the president.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]"The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already "collaborating" with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them -- China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions -- perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump's Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration's hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document "is not open for discussion."

In Trump's Global Call to Action, states agree to develop "action plans" based on a "four-pronged strategy" of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago -- not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for "a drug-free world." That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN's political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation -- language strikingly reminiscent of Trump's current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words "harm reduction" didn't make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present.

Trump's Global Call also reverts to the sort of "eliminationist" language regarding drug cultivation that many countries have been moving away from. The strategy wants to "reduce" drug demand, but "cut off the supply" of drugs by "stopping" their production. Such language implies the resort to repressive eradication measures aimed at poor peasants in the developing world, a policy that has failed for decade after decade.

Drug policy advocates are raising the alarm over the administration's moves.

"This Global Call to Action is a unilateral move orchestrated by the US government that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular UN processes of negotiation and consensus. This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Holding the event at the UN provides a "veneer of multilateralism and global accord, but these trappings of multilateralism should not be mistaken for a new-found global drug policy consensus," the International Drug Policy Consortium declared. "Far from an effort at achieving mutual understanding and genuine consensus, it is an instance of heavy-handed US 'with us or against us' diplomacy."

The world need not leave global drug policy to the tender mercies of Donald Trump. In fact, it would be better off listening to one of the men who will address the Monday meeting: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As president of Portugal, Guterres oversaw that country's groundbreaking decriminalization of drug use and possession in 2001.

Or it could listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of the former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. On Monday, the same day that Trump attempts to cement a repressive alliance, the commission is launching its new report, "Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs," which calls for reforming the prohibition-based global drug control system and examines how responsible regulation can take control of currently illegal drug markets.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy. From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law," warned Hetzer. "Governments should be very wary of signing on to this document and showing up for the photo op at Trump's event."

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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