The head of the United Nations used a speech before the organization’s drug policy body to tout the success of a decriminalization law that Portugal enacted when he was the country’s prime minister.
“Current efforts have fallen short of the goal to eliminate the illicit drugs market,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “We can promote efforts to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development and ensuring rights-based treatment and support. I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal when I was prime minister almost 20 years ago.”
In 2001, Guterres’s Portuguese government decriminalized all drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Although the substances technically remain illegal, people caught with small amounts aren’t arrested or incarcerated but are instead brought before panels that can refer them to treatment.
A 2009 report concluded that since the decriminalization policy was enacted teen drug use decreased and drug-related deaths and HIV/AIDS rates among drug consumers also fell, while enrollment in drug treatment increased.
The comments were part of a short video message Guterres sent on occasion of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs’s annual meeting in Vienna.
Earlier this month the International Narcotics Control Board, the UN’s drug enforcement body, issued a report warning countries not to legalize marijuana.
Under the Portuguese decriminalization policy, producing or selling substances such as cannabis remains punishable as a crime.
Photo courtesy of John Gillespie.
Michigan Bill To Let Elected Officials’ Spouses Obtain Marijuana Licenses Advances While Equity Issues Persist
Michigan’s current medical marijuana law prohibits elected officials and government employees from obtaining cannabis business licenses—but a bill that is moving forward in the House of Representatives would revise that provision to make an exception for their spouses.
Under the legislation from Rep. Julie Alexander (R), which was preliminarily approved last week and is scheduled for a final third reading vote in the House on Tuesday, the state’s licensing policy would be amended to carve out an exemption for the “spouse of a person who applies for a state operating license unless the spouse’s position in within the marijuana regulatory agency or would otherwise create a conflict of interest.”
At the same time, a provision blocking participation by people with prior misdemeanor or felony drug convictions remains intact, and advocates have expressed frustration that legislators seem to be prioritizing a licensing reform that would benefit their own families while neglecting to push for a change to the criminal records policy, which disproportionately impacts communities of color that have been targeted in the war on drugs.
Current law stipulates that people with a misdemeanor drug conviction on their record in the past five years are ineligible, while those with felony drug convictions are blocked for 10 years.
Margeaux Bruner, a Michigan-based board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Alliance, told Marijuana Moment that the current policy preventing spouses of elected officials from being licensed in the industry is necessary because it prevents corruption.
“As a matter of checks and balances, it is simply inappropriate” to extend access to licenses to this group, she said. “It also opens the state to litigation.”
Rather than approve legislation to clear their own spouses to benefit from the market, advocates argue lawmakers should be prioritizing the removal of the drug conviction language, which doesn’t serve the interests of promoting an equitable industry, as it largely impacts those who have been criminalized under prohibition.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Bruner’s office for comment but a representative was not immediately available.
It should be noted that these policies apply specifically to the medical cannabis program. On the recreational end, there are social equity provisions in place that do not disqualify individuals with drug records except in cases involving distribution to minors.
In fact, on the application for a social equity marijuana license, individuals must check a box if they’ve faced a conviction for a cannabis offense, and that would enhance the likelihood their application would be accepted.
While in theory that seems to be a step in the right direction as far as advocates are concerned, Bruner said the fact remains that only two social equity licenses have been issued so far, including one events-focused license. Equity licensees are also unable to use them to become large-scale growers, processors, transporters and dispensary owners—license types that are generally more attractive to investors.
The adult-use system “lacks provisions for automatic expungement,” Bruner said. “There are some discounts for those pursuing licenses, but those previously harmed that do not plan to become business owners have yet to be rectified.”
She also said the program is “plagued by a noticeable absence of commitment or intent of diversity, and lack of buy in from legislative bodies.”
Louisiana Lawmakers Send Medical Marijuana Expansion And Cannabis Banking Bills To Governor’s Desk
Louisiana lawmakers sent bills to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program and to allow cannabis businesses to access banks to the governor’s desk over the weekend.
The expansion legislation—which the House of Representatives initially approved last month and cleared the Senate on last week with one amendment—would allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.
Because the Senate added language that requires dispensaries to record medical marijuana purchases in the state prescription monitoring program database, it had to be returned to the House for reconsideration. The final version was approved by the body in a 74-16 vote on Sunday and is now being transmitted to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for signature or veto.
As originally drafted, the bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R) would have simply added traumatic brain injuries and concussions to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for a marijuana recommendation. But it was amended in a House committee to add several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any condition that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”
Under current law there are only 14 conditions that qualify patients for the program.
Bagley told Marijuana Moment he’s “excited” that patients “can now have another choice for pain relief.”
“This entire process for me has been to help people in pain that had no other choice but opioids,” he said. “My seat on the Traumatic Head and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund has opened my eyes to people who are constantly in pain. I’m proud to have lead the charge to help people in need, not only in District 7, but the state of Louisiana.”
Another bill headed to Edwards’s desk would protect banks and credit unions that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by state regulators. That measure cleared the Senate on Friday by a tally of 29-0 after being approved by the House last month.
Lawmakers also passed a House bill to provide legal protections for doctors who recommend medical marijuana as well as authorized medical facilities that have cannabis patients in their care. The vote was 34-2 in the Senate on Friday, and a committee amendment meant it had to head back to its originating chamber, which made an 80-11 vote of concurrence on Sunday, sending the legislation to the governor.
A House-passed resolution to create “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands” was given final approval by the Senate on Sunday in a vote of 28-6. Text of the legislation states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”
Also on Sunday, the House voted 95-0 to reject changes to a bill to establish rules for industrial hemp and CBD products. On Friday, the Senate had voted 34-0 to advance the legislation while adding an amendment allowing regulators to obtain criminal records of applicants. The House speaker, who is the lead sponsor of the legislation, took exception to the language and is now seeking a bicameral conference committee to reach an agreement.
Bagley, the medical cannabis expansion legislation sponsor, had also introduced a House-passed bill to provide for delivery services to patients, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration last month and told Marijuana Moment it’s because he felt the medical marijuana expansion legislation would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.
The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”
It remains to be seen if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis, and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. That said, state officials recently released a memo authorizing dispensaries to temporarily deliver cannabis to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s possible they will be amendable to extending that policy on a permanent basis.
The Senate was also slated to consider separate House bills adding specific new medical cannabis qualifying conditions over the weekend but did not bring them up. It’s not clear what the practical impact of those proposals would be if Bagley’s broader measure allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating malady is enacted.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality And War On Drugs
Twelve House members introduced a resolution on Friday condemning police brutality in light of the recent law enforcement killings of two black individuals that have galvanized mass protests. The measure specifically notes the racial injustices of the war on drugs.
The resolution is partly motivated by the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, where a police officer suffocated him to death, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, where she was fatally shot by police during a botched drug raid.
Protests have erupted across the U.S. this week, with calls for justice and law enforcement accountability. The new House measure, if adopted, would formally align the body with that sentiment, condemning police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force.
The drug war has contributed to those problems, the lawmakers said, with people of color being more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white people despite similar rates of consumption.
The “system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices,” a provision of the resolution states.
In addition to condemning “all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and calls for the end of militarized policing practices,” the resolution urges the Justice Department to investigate individual cases of police violence and racial profiling and establish all-civilian review boards to provide community oversight of policing.
The measure also “calls for the adoption of sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities.”
Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) led the resolution. Other cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA).
The resolution @Ilhan & I are introducing today aims to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and calls for systemic reforms at all levels of government to end the scourge of police brutality in our society. #SaveLivesNow https://t.co/8vlMiY4j83
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) May 29, 2020
“From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries,” Omar said in a press release. “The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown.”
We can’t just continue to watch our communities be brutalized by the police.
I am proud of my sisters in Congress for joining me in condemning police brutality and look forward passing this resolution. https://t.co/qeSaRB5dMZ
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 29, 2020
“The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem,” she said. “As the People’s House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them.”
Advocacy groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, Color of Change, ACLU chapters and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have endorsed the resolution.
This measure is being introduced one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor.
In that letter, the legislators cited prior excessive force incidents with two of the three officers involved in Taylor’s shooting—as well as prior alleged improper enforcement by the department’s SWAT team in a botched marijuana raid—as evidence of the need for an investigation.
“For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers,” Pressley said about the new resolution. “We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability.”