One of the most influential associations within the United Nations (UN) has endorsed the decriminalization of drug possession and use in a policy statement.
The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), which represents 31 UN agencies including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), adopted a position stipulating that member states should pursue science-based, health-oriented drug policies—namely decriminalization.
The significance of the decriminalization endorsement is hard to overstate. Not only does it represent a substantial evolution on the part of certain UN agencies like the UNODC, which has historically supported the enforcement of punitive drug laws, but it also comes ahead of a major international meeting that will shape future UN drug policy.
The UN CEB said the agencies agreed to “commit to stepping up our joint efforts and supporting each other” in a variety of ways. It will “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use,” for example.
Other policies the organization is embracing include investing in harm reduction programs, calling for universal health care coverage for substance use disorders, addressing prison overcrowding and eliminating the stigma and discrimination associated with drug use.
Those shared principles will be promoted as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNCND) prepares to convene to set its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As Transform explained, there have been a number of endorsements for decriminalization among certain UN agencies in recent years. The World Health Organization (WHO), The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women and UN Development Program have each embraced the policy, as has former UN Secretary General ban Ki Moon and the current secretary general, António Guterres.
Guterres, as Portugal’s prime minister, oversaw the passage of a national law to decriminalize drugs, a policy he touted in a speech to UNCND last year.
But the unanimous adoption of a pro-decriminalization stance by the UN CEB is arguably the most consequential move yet. It sends an unambiguous message to member states that they should treat drug use as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Separately, WHO recently released several recommendations that it will submit to the UNCND before its meeting later this month. The health organization has proposed rescheduling marijuana and its derivatives and removing CBD from the list of internationally controlled substances.
The Food and Drug Administration is accepting public comments until Thursday to help inform the U.S. position on marijuana scheduling under international law.
Read more about the UN CEB’s statement on drug policy here:
Mexican Government Launches Poll To Ask Citizens If Marijuana Should Be Legal
A Mexican cabinet official is asking the country’s citizens whether they support legalizing marijuana—in a Twitter poll.
On Monday, the official Twitter account for the nation’s secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, who is responsible for overseeing federal police, intelligence agencies and prisons, shared a Twitter poll that asked citizens whether Mexico should legalize cannabis for adult use.
¿El uso de la marihuana para fines recreativos debería ser?
— Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana (@SSPCMexico) March 25, 2019
“Should the use of marijuana for recreational purposes be?” the tweet, translated from Spanish, asks.
As of Tuesday morning, 81 percent of respondents had responded that cannabis should be “legal,” with 19 percent saying “illegal.” The survey closes down at 12:50 PM ET on Tuesday afternoon.
It is unclear what the government will do with the results, or how they will inform legalization legislation that lawmakers have been considering. But in any case, the social media survey is the latest sign that the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is seriously considering bold marijuana reform at the national level.
Last year, a senator who is now the nation’s interior secretary filed a bill to legalize cannabis. The Senate has since released a report outlining aspects of legalization that lawmakers should keep in mind as they craft marijuana legislation.
Cabinet members also met with Canadian officials last year to discuss the country’s legal cannabis program. Shortly thereafter, the Mexican Supreme Court deemed the country’s ban on marijuana consumption unconstitutional, prompting lawmakers to amend federal policy to adhere to the ruling.
It’s possible that the Twitter poll could bolster ongoing legislative talks about regulating cannabis, demonstrating strong public support for legalization as lawmakers from multiple parties continue to discuss possible legislation addressing the issue. That said, Twitter polls are not necessarily scientific or representative. More than 82,000 people have participated in the one-day survey so far.
Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote
A Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday that would make simple possession punishable by a fine, with no jail time, and without having to go on an individual’s criminal record.
The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and now heads to a separate panel responsible for placing bills on the calendar for floor debates.
Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis would be punished with a $250 fine for the first two offenses. After that, possession would be considered a class C misdemeanor, which is still a lesser penalty compared to current law. As it stands, possession of two ounces or less is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail as well as a permanent criminal record, which carries steep collateral consequences.
Earlier this month, the committee held a hearing on the legislation and heard testimony about the long-term impacts of having a low-level cannabis conviction on a person’s record and how removing criminal penalties for possession can free up law enforcement resources so that officers can tackle more serious crimes.
Advocates are hopeful that the full House will embrace the modest reform measure, even as the legislature contemplates other cannabis policies such as expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program.
— Texas NORML (@TexasNORML) March 25, 2019
“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”
While medical cannabis expansion, to say nothing of adult-use legalization, remains a dubious prospect in the conservative stronghold, removing the threat of jail time for possession has gained popularity among Texas Republicans. Delegates for the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank last year that endorses marijuana decriminalization, for example.
“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.
What’s more, the policy has even received a tentative green light from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has said he is open to legislation that would reduce penalties for simple possession.
During a gubernatorial debate last year, Abbot said he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and floated the idea of reducing the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.
According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, the legislation currently has 32 authors or co-authors.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee
A key committee in the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to legalize marijuana on Monday.
The General Law Committee, which is one of two panels that heard testimony about legalization legislation last week, voted 10 to 8 to advance the bill.
Beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, the legislation also includes a number of social equity provisions aimed at encouraging participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. A governor-appointed commission would be charged with giving such individuals advance time to apply for a marijuana business license and promote diversity in hiring.
“At the end of the day, if we’re moving, it’s not about revenue. It’s about equity,” Rep. Juan Candelaria (D) said at the meeting. “It’s about ensuring that these communities that have been impacted, that we say we’re not going to stay idle anymore.”
The commission would also be required to study the potential impacts of allowing cannabis microbusinesses and a home cultivation option, which are not currently included in the bill. Delivery would be permitted, however.
While advocates generally support the bill, there are some outstanding concerns about the lack of a home grow option. The lack of specific licenses for delivery services and on-site consumption facilities is another sticking point.
“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said at last week’s hearing.
It’s not yet clear whether the legislature will ultimately pass this proposal or a separate bill in the Senate, but if either does end up on the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont (D), he’s expected to sign. The governor called legalization one of his “priorities” last year and also discussed the issue during a budget speech last month.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on legalization legislation on Thursday.
A separate bill to revise the state’s medical cannabis program by adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions and eliminating a registration certification fee for patients and caregivers was also approved by the General Law Committee on Monday.
This story was updated to note the committee’s vote tally.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.