This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump last week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America."
[image:1 align:right]"We're going to stop the drugs from pouring in," Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association last Wednesday. "We're going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We're going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we're going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence."
Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one of its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed "record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins," Trump complained.
And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for "the most serious" drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on "shipping loopholes" he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the US from other countries.
In a New Hampshire campaign speech during the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesday's speech.
Last Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Session, he rolled out three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America," but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.
The first, which Trump said would "reduce crime and restore public safety," orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime," propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.
The second, regarding "transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking," directs various federal law enforcement agencies to "increase intelligence sharing" and orders an already existing interagency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, "along with any recommended actions for dismantling them."
"I'm directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people," Trump said Thursday.
The third directs the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.
[image:2 align:left caption:true]"It's a shame what's been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "That's going to stop as of today."
The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back toward a more law-and-order approach to drugs also runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.
In a report released last Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him to instead continue the Obama administration's efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
The report was coauthored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gun man killed five of his officers last year.
"Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today's crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety," the report said.
The president's crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on "antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses" and Trump's plan would "repeat this mistake," the officials wrote. "We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics."
Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.
"This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest," said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our country's mass incarceration crisis."
Indeed, most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been a failure. They point to research such as a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal that found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.
"These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing," the authors conclude.
Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect, the rate of illicit drug use among teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.
Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray also chimed in to note that there wouldn't be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that it's not just what's being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but what's being imported, too.
"For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, 'OK, the problem with drugs -- that it's creating so much violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico -- is because there's demand for drugs in the US,''" Videgaray said. "We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, it's just the other way around," he said, adding that both countries need to get past "the blame game."
And if the US is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels "business model," it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.
"We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico," Videgaray said. "We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns -- and we're not talking small guns, we're talking heavy weapons -- they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels."
[image:3 align:right caption:true]Human Rights Watch reacted to a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing in ceremony that crime is a "dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk," by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. "There is no 'dangerous permanent trend' in violent or non-violent crime," it pointed out.
And Amnesty International swiftly reacted to the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.
"Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work," said Amnesty's Noor Mir. "Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.
There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.
"This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the US criminal justice system," he said. "Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians."
The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and more -- not less -- distrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.
And, in typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.
Chronicle AM: AR Lawmakers Meddle With MedMJ, Major Reform Package Rolled Out in MD, More... (2/1/17)
Technical issues stopped us from publishing yesterday, but the news didn't stop. Here's a couple days worth of mainly, but not entirely, marijuana policy news.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
District Attorneys Form Marijuana Policy Group. The National District Attorneys Association has formed a working group of 14 prosecutors from across the country to arrive at policy positions on marijuana. The association "formed an internal working group made up of prosecutors from around the country to develop association policy on the subject of marijuana," said NDAA political director Nelson Bunn. "Contrary to other reporting, the working group is not affiliated with any other organization or entity, including the incoming administration."
Tennessee GOP Lawmaker Files Bill to Overturn Memphis, Nashville Pot Laws. The state's two largest cities have moved toward partial decriminalization of marijuana possession, passing laws last fall allowing police discretion to hand out civil violations for small-time offenders, and now a key state legislator is striking back. House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) filed House Bill 173 Monday. It would repeal any local law that is inconsistent with penalties outlined in the state's drug laws. It would also prevent local governments from acting like Memphis and Nashville in the future. Democrats Rep. Harold Love and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both of Nashville, respond by announcing plans to file a bill that would make possession a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 or less.
Vermont Bill Would Legalize Marijuana, But Not Sales. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has filed House Bill 170, which would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to two mature and seven immature pot plants. The bill does not contain provisions allowing for marijuana commerce, or its taxation. Similar to the initiative passed in Washington, DC, the bill would be "decrim 2.0," said cosponsor Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown).
Wyoming House Panel Rejects Decrim, But Approves Adjusting Pot Penalties. The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to reject decriminalization, but approve House Bill 197, which would create a tiered system of penalties for pot possession. Under the bill, first time possession of up to three ounces (or eight ounces of edibles) would face up to 20 days in jail, a second offense would garner up to six months, a third offense would earn up to two years in jail, and a fourth offense would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. There would be a 10-year limit on counting previous convictions. The bill now goes to the House floor.
San Diego Okays Pot Shops. California's second largest city has given the green light to marijuana businesses. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow sales at 15 dispensaries already approved to sell medical marijuana, as well as opening up the possibility it will allow grows, testing facilities, and testing labs. The council will take up those issues later.
Arkansas Legislators File Three More Bills Ban to Amend Voter-Approved Initiative. Republicans in Little Rock have filed three more bills that would tighten up the state's new law. One would ban the smoking of medical marijuana (House Bill 1400), one would ban edibles (House Bill 1392), and would require previous local zoning to be in place before licenses for dispensaries or grows are issued (House Bill 1391). HB1391 and HB1392 have been sent to Committee on House Rules while HB1400 has only been filed.
Colorado Bill to Add PTSD as Qualifying Condition Moves. The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 17-017 Monday. The measure would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The bill is now on the Senate's "consent calendar," meaning it should move through the Senate with little debate. Then it's on to the House.
Utah Medical Marijuana University Study Bill Advances. The House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 130 Monday. The measure would allow universities in the state to study medical marijuana. The bill is supported by the Utah Medical Association, which has opposed medical marijuana bills saying more study is needed. It now heads for a House floor vote.
Groundbreaking Drug Policy Bill Package Reintroduced in Maryland. Delegate Dan Morhaim, M.D., has introduced three bills to transform drug policy in the state. This legislative package, with multiple cosponsors from across Maryland, would reduce the harms associated with substance abuse disorders, costs to the general public, and incarceration rates. H.B. 515 requires specified hospitals to establish a substance use treatment program, H.B. 488 removes criminal penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenses under certain minimal threshold limits, and H.B. 519 permits the establishment of safe consumption programs which allow individuals to consume controlled substances in a safe space.
New York Bill to Require Drug Testing Kids of Busted Parents Passes Senate. The state Senate passed "Kayleigh Mae's Law" (Senate Bill 137), which would require child protective services to investigate and drug test children under three who were present during a parent's drug arrest. The bill is named after Kayleigh Mae Cassell, who died of a drug overdose at age 13 months after her mother and mother's boyfriend were arrested and pleaded guilty to drug crimes. A companion measure, Assembly Bill 3900, has yet to move.
Philippines Police Suspend Drug War to Clean Up Corrupt Drug Cops, Government Says. National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa said Monday that the country's brutal crackdown was suspended and police anti-drug units were being dissolved in the wake of a scandal around the murder of a South Korean businessman inside police headquarters at the hands of anti-drug police. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the six months since President Rodrigo Duterte's crackdown began. De la Rosa said a temporary halt had been ordered by Duterte. News reports have not yet independently verified whether the killings have stopped or not.
The National Academy of Sciences releases a report finding marijuana is medicine, Rhode Island legislators aim to get pot legal in a hurry, a new bill in Washington state would allow home cultivation, and more.
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Maine Bill Would Impose One-Year Moratorium on Legal Marijuana Sales. State Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R) is leading an effort to delay key provisions of the Question 1 legalization initiative. He is sponsoring a bill that would enact a one-year moratorium on pot sales to adults and prohibit the sale of marijuana edibles. "This is not trying to circumvent what the voters passed at the ballot box," he claimed. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.
Rhode Island Legislators Unveil Legalization Plans. In a proposal unveiled Wednesday, lawmakers came out for a quick move to legal marijuana sales by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana six months after a bill passes. The legalization proposal would also limit home cultivation to one plant, which must be tagged for tracking purposes. The bill is not expected to be filed until next week at the earliest.
Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) has introduced House Bill 1092, which would allow adults to grow up to six plants at home, as long as the yield is less than 24 ounces. Homes with more than one adult grow produce a total of 12 plants for up to 48 ounces of usable weed. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow for home cultivation.
National Academy of Sciences Finds Conclusive Evidence Marijuana is an Effective Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences Thursday released a groundbreaking report, "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. The report finds there is conclusive evidence that marijuana can be used as a medicine, though it didn't find clinical evidence for all conditions marijuana treatment is often associated with. The report does recognize the efficacy of marijuana for treating many medical conditions, including chronic pain, chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis spasticity.
Arkansas Regulators Set Number of Dispensaries at 32. The state Medical Marijuana Commission announced Tuesday that it will issue up to 32 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. The commission now has until March 9 to come up with rules for dispensary licensing.
Arkansas Bill to Delay Dispensary Rule-Making Advances. A bill that would delay the creation of rules for licensing dispensaries passed the House Select Committee on Rules Wednesday. Authored by state Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), House Bill 1026 would give the state Medical Marijuana Commission an extra 60 days beyond March 9 to craft rules and another 30 days before entities can apply for licenses.
Connecticut Doctors' Panel Recommends Adding Four Qualifying Conditions. The state's panel of physicians charged with reviewing requests for adding new qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program decided Wednesday to add fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, shingles, and rheumatoid arthritis to the list.
Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), sponsor of a bill last year that allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil, has now filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, but it's not yet available on the legislative website. Stay tuned.
Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) has filed a bill to allow for the production of industrial hemp. The measure is Senate Bill 1045, which would exempt any cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% from the state's marijuana laws.
Argentines Move to Crack Down on Cocaine Paste. The Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri has submitted plans to modify the country's drug laws to substantially increase penalties for the production and sale of "paco" (cocaine paste). Current law specifies a four-to-six year prison term, while the proposed change would see terms increase to 15-to-18 years. Small-time dealers would between one and four years, while users would face forced drug treatment.
Marijuana legalization bills get filed in Guam and the District of Columbia, the Global Drug Policy Commission asks Obama to commute more sentences, Chris Christie vows to fight drug addiction during his last year in office, and more.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Guam Governor Files Legalization Bill. Gov. Eddie Calvo Tuesday introduced a bill to legalize marijuana on the US island territory. "I am introducing this bill, not because I personally support the recreational use of marijuana, but as a solution to the regulatory labyrinth that sprouted from the voter-mandated medical marijuana program," Calvo said in a press release. The measure would legalize marijuana for people over 21 and impose a 15% tax on sales. Medical marijuana patients would be exempt from the tax.
DC Councilmember Files Bill for Legal Marijuana Commerce and Regulation. Councilmember David Grosso Tuesday filed a bill to establish a full tax and regulatory framework for legal marijuana commerce. If passed, the bill would put the District in conflict with Congress, which must approve city spending. But Grosso said that Congress had forced the District's hand with its meddling in city affairs.
New Jersey Governor Vows to Heighten Fight Against Drug Addiction. In his final state of the state address, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he will spend his last year as governor fighting drug addiction. "Our state faces a crisis which is more urgent to New Jersey's families than any other issue we could confront," Christie told the legislature in Trenton. "Beyond the human cost, which is incalculable, there is a real cost to every part of life in New Jersey." Christie is pushing for treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug offenders, expanded drug courts, and expanded needle exchange programs, among other initiatives.
Federal Bill to Clear Way for more Surplus Military Gear for Police Filed. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) has filed House Resolution 426, which would bar the federal government from limiting the sale or donation of excess federal property to state and local agencies for law enforcement purposes. The bill is a response to the Obama administration's short-lived decision last year to block the transfer of military-style equipment to domestic police forces.
Global Drug Policy Commission Asks Obama to Free More Prisoners. In an open letter to the outgoing president, the commission, which includes a number of former heads of state, thanked Obama for his efforts to shift from a punitive approach to drugs, noted that he had freed more than a thousand drug war prisoners through his clemency program, and asked for more: "We hope that in these final days of your presidency, you will use the power of your office to commute even more prison sentences of low-level drug offenders, and restore dignity and hope to their lives," the commission wrote. "May your example inspire not only your successor, but also governors across the country."
Colombia Coca Cultivation Set to Increase. Colombia's post-conflict minister, Rafael Pardo, said Tuesday that coca cultivation will increase this year, the third year in a row that has seen increases in the country's coca crop. Pardo said part of the reason was the government's turn away from using aerial eradication, but that a bigger part was the government's devaluation of the peso, which dramatically increased profit margins for drug traffickers.
Iran Starts New Year With Spate of Drug Executions. The world's leading drug executioner is at again. In the first week of the new year, Iran executed 16 people, 10 of them for drug offenses. Iran executes hundreds of people each year, with drug offenders accounting for an increasing number of them. In 2015, the last year with full statistics, 66% of all executions in Iran were for drug offenses. Another 12 prisoners were set to be executed for drug offenses this week.