President Donald Trump again praised the death penalty as an effective method of drug control on Monday, continuing a string of statements he’s made in support of swift, violent punishment for people who sell illegal substances.
“It’s interesting,” Trump told a group of state governors at a White House meeting Monday, “we have Singapore, they have very little drug problem. We have China, they have very little drug problem. States with a very powerful death penalty on drug dealers don’t have a drug problem.”
“I don’t know that our country is ready for that,” the president continued, “but if you look throughout the world, the countries with a powerful death penalty—death penalty—with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem.”
Trump suggests he’d like to model American criminal law on drug dealing on authoritarian systems like China, where dealers are executed: “Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China.” pic.twitter.com/9WprysjJAX
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 10, 2020
Monday’s comments are far from the first time Trump, who says he has never even consumed alcohol, has flirted with the idea of executing people who sell drugs. For years he’s praised foreign leaders’ use of harsh punishments for drug offenses, and many believe he would like the U.S. to adopt the same approach.
“It’s not the first time Trump has hinted this country may not be ready for the ‘tough policies’ he has in mind,” Sanho Tree, a drug policy researcher and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Marijuana Moment. “It is clearly the most chilling part of his remarks. He truly believes he can kill people to force others into compliance with his dictates. It’s entirely consistent with his expressed admiration for authoritarian rulers in the Philippines, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and other autocracies.”
In 2018, an Axios article citing five sources reported, that the president often “leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty.” Inspired by Singapore and other countries that use capital punishment for drug crimes, it said, Trump “would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers.”
A year earlier, a leaked phone transcript showed Trump complimenting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who at the time was openly calling for extrajudicial killings of people believed to be linked to the drug trade.
“Keep up the good work,” Trump told Duterte on the April 2017 call. “You’re doing an amazing job.”
The International Criminal Court has since opened an inquiry into Duterte’s ongoing campaign of violence, which so far has killed thousands, but Duterte has refused to cooperate. “I will never, never, never answer any question coming from you,” he told the court this past December. “It’s bullshit to me.”
By most accounts, Duterte’s bloody efforts have failed his people miserably. This week Col. Romeo Caramat, the head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police, told Reuters that violence has done little to impact the availability of drugs.
“Shock and awe definitely did not work,” he said. “Drug supply is still rampant,” with illegal drugs available “any time, anywhere” in the Philippines.
A recent report from the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance also undermines the tough-on-crime approach. The report, published in December, found that harsh penalties for drug offenses contribute to the availability of cheaper, deadlier drugs.
“When law enforcement cracks down on drug markets, suppliers have an incentive to trade in highly concentrated products, which can be more easily hidden than less potent, bulkier goods,” the report said. “This dynamic may have encouraged the introduction of fentanyl into the illegal opioid market, initiated by high-level actors at the top of the supply chain.”
Trump hasn’t yet clearly called in public for the U.S. to adopt the death penalty for drug offenses, though he’s hinted at a harsher approach, saying at a 2018 White House event that “we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
“We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don’t even go to jail,” he said at the time. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”
Countries that impose the death penalty on drug offenders, he argued, “have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
Within the U.S., federal prosecutions of drug crimes have been rising amid a wave of overdose deaths during the past decade that has put pressure on public officials to respond. In 2019, overall drug-crime prosecutions increased by about 6 percent, according to a report in December by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Drug crimes made up 28 percent of all federal prosecutions that fiscal year, which ended in September.
Federal prosecutions for marijuana, meanwhile, have fallen as more and more states legalize the plant. The number of defendants in district court on cannabis charges fell by 28 percent in 2019, the report said.
But while the focus of most prosecutors and public health officials is on more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and amphetamines, Trump has routinely attacked marijuana while at the same time pledging to support it.
The president has vowed repeatedly to support legislation that would respect state laws legalizing cannabis, for example, but a newly proposed budget released on Monday would end federal protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs and continue to block Washington, D.C., from legalizing cannabis sales.
The proposal would, however, fund FDA “regulation of cannabis and cannabis derivatives”—an approach that could benefit pharmaceutical companies developing cannabis-based medicines.
Separately, in a recently leaked recording of a 2018 conversation, the president can be heard saying that cannabis use causes people to “lose IQ points,” only to add that banking for the cannabis industry is “all working out. That whole thing is working out.”
In 1990, before running for elected office, Trump famously argued that legalizing drugs worked better than prohibition.
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” he said at a Miami Herald luncheon. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war.”
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.