UN Report Calls for Drug Policies That Protect Human Rights, Reduce Harm

On Sept. 20, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council published the UN Human Rights Office Report regarding human rights issues that have developed due to the War on Drugs. This report was created by request of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in April 2023, and was introduced during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, which lasts between Sept. 11-Oct. 13.

“UN report urges [member] states to end overreliance on punitive measures to address drugs problem & shift to interventions grounded in #humanrights & public health. It is essential that laws, policies & practices deployed to address drug use must not exacerbate human suffering,” UN Human Rights posted on X.

The report suggests that decriminalizing drug possession for personal use should be a priority. “If effectively designed and implemented, decriminalization can be a powerful instrument to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are protected,” a UN press release stated.

According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, global change is sorely needed. “Laws, policies, and practices deployed to address drug use must not end up exacerbating human suffering. The drug problem remains very concerning, but treating people who use drugs as criminals is not the solution,” Türk said in a press release. “States should move away from the current dominant focus on prohibition, repression and punishment and instead embrace laws, policies and practices anchored in human rights and aimed at harm reduction.”

Ultimately, the report gathers that “disproportionate use of criminal penalties” lead drug users away from seeking out a treatment. Statistics gathered from the 2023 World Drug Report show that 660,000 people die from drug-related causes annually, and 10% of new HIV infections in 2021 were related to people who injected drugs.

The report calls the effects of the War on Drugs as “profound and far-reaching.” “Militarization of law enforcement in the so-called War on Drugs contributes to severe human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. And disproportionate use of criminal penalties contributes significantly to prison overcrowding,” the UN press release said.

The UN also stated that the people who are most negatively affected by current drug policies are Black women, women in general, indigenous people, and youths who come from poor backgrounds. “Today’s drugs policies have the greatest impact on those who are poorest and most vulnerable,” Türk added.

Due to an increase in people receiving the death penalty for drug-related convictions, many people have suffered at the hands of these policies. An estimated 37% of global executions were related to drug convictions, and those offenses doubled in 2022 compared to data provided in 2021.

Particularly in Singapore in recent years, the death penalty has been issued to people trafficking cannabis. In July 2022, Singapore executed a 49-year-old man for cannabis trafficking. In May 2023, the country hung a 37-year-old man for trafficking cannabis in the amount of three pounds, in addition to another individual who was hanged just a few weeks prior.

“The current overemphasis on coercion and control to counter drugs is fanning an increase in human rights violations despite mounting evidence that decades of criminalization and the so-called War on Drugs have neither protected the welfare of people nor deterred drug-related crime,” Türk concluded.

The press release for the report ends by applauding the countries that have worked to adopt policies that protect the public and defend humans rights, through “evidence-based, gender-sensitive and harm reduction approaches.”

The UN report includes a multi-point list of recommendations on how to reapproach drug policies and step back from harmful, punitive models. This includes suggestions such as implementing decriminalization, and adopting drug policies that “advance the rights of people who use drugs” and offer medical care to treat drug related conditions (such as viral hepatitis or HIV by way of injection). It also suggests policies that don’t lead to parents having their child removed from their care, or punishing pregnant people. The report also recommends abolishing the death penalty for all crimes, not just drug-related offenses, among many other strong proposals to put people first. 

The UN will review the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, which is an ongoing multi-year work plan to keep track of drug policy commitments made by member states, in 2024. That review will lead to the development of drug policies that need to be addressed by 2029, with the goal of having protected human rights by the 2039 UN Agenda.

In December 2020, a U.N. Commission for Narcotic Drugs panel voted to reclassify cannabis. While this recommendation didn’t guarantee that any member states would immediately legalize cannabis possession and use, it was still a monumental announcement. “This is a huge, historic victory for us, we couldn’t hope for more,” said independent drug policy researcher Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli. Many advocates applauded the decision and hoped that it would empower other countries to implement regulatory frameworks for cannabis. 

It’s safe to say that over the past three years, many countries have begun to reevaluate their drug policies and embrace cannabis legalization. 

The country of Malta became the first in the European Union to legalize cannabis in December 2021. Earlier this year in July, Luxembourg became the second EU country to legalize. Thailand also removed weed from its list of banned substances in June 2022.

Other countries, such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, are working on cannabis pilot programs to test how legal cannabis would work in their respective regions.

The post UN Report Calls for Drug Policies That Protect Human Rights, Reduce Harm appeared first on High Times.

Wealthy Countries Gave Over $1 Billion to Global Drug War, Shows New Report

A recent report from Harm Reduction International (HRI) sheds light on how richer countries like the United States and Europe continue to provide substantial foreign aid for the global War on Drugs. However, rather than addressing issues like poverty, hunger, healthcare, and education, this money is primarily allocated to law enforcement and military efforts. As anyone familiar with the War on Drugs knows, the police and feds rarely make things better, especially when given firearms. 

As a result, the HRI is calling upon governments, including the U.S., to “stop using money from their limited aid budgets” to endorse policies that adversely affect individuals who use drugs. Doing so is inflicting more harm than good; the money could go towards other things, and it’s just plain expensive. 

The “Aid for the War on Drugs” report reveals that between 2012 and 2021, 30 donor countries allocated $974 million in international aid for “narcotics control.” 

Shockingly, some of this aid, totaling at least $70 million, was directed to countries with the death penalty for drug-related charges. The funding allocated to 16 governments that carry out executions for drug-related convictions is especially troubling. 

As detailed in the report, in 2021, U.S. aid funds went to Indonesia to back a “counter narcotics training program.” This occurred in the same year when Indonesia imposed a record-breaking 89 death sentences for drug-related offenses. Japan gave millions to Iran to help pay for their drug-detection dog units, while Iran executed at least 131 people over drugs in 2021.

In the span of a decade, the United States emerged as the most significant contributor, accounting for more than half of the global funding for the drug war, clocking in at $550 million. Following the U.S. were the European Union ($282 million), Japan ($78 million), the United Kingdom ($22 million), Germany ($12 million), Finland ($9 million), and South Korea ($8 million), Marijuana Moment reports

The War on Drugs receives more foreign aid than school food, early childhood education, labor rights, and mental health care. In the period described by the report, 92 countries received assistance for “narcotics control.” The top recipients were Colombia ($109 million), Afghanistan ($37 million), Peru ($27 million), Mexico ($21 million), Guatemala, and Panama ($10 million each). 

“There is a long history of drug policy being used by world powers to strengthen and enforce their control over other populations, and target specific communities,” the report reads. “Racist and colonial dynamics continue to this day, with wealthier governments, led by the U.S., spending billions of taxpayer dollars around the world to bolster or expand punitive drug control regimes and related law enforcement.”

“These funding flows are out of pace with existing evidence, as well as international development, health, and human rights commitments, including the goal to end AIDS by 2030,” the report calls out. “They rely on and reinforce systems that disproportionately harm Black, Brown and Indigenous people worldwide.”

While certain countries, like the U.K., have reduced their expenditure on foreign War on Drugs initiatives, others have chosen to increase their funding. For instance, the U.S. significantly escalated its support for drug war aid at the start of President Joe Biden‘s term. 

The news of the report comes at a time when Biden, never an A+ cannabis advocate, is president as the federal government is finally seriously considering rescheduling cannabis. 

However, to meet the public where they’re at in a classic political play amid the ongoing federal cannabis scheduling review, the White House has reiterated that President Joe Biden has been unequivocal in his support for legalizing cannabis for medical use. They emphasized, “President Joe Biden has been ‘very clear’ that he’s ‘always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.’”

In August, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the potential implications of reclassifying cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). She responded, “I don’t want to get ahead of the process. I was asked this question before. So just so that everybody is clear: The president asked the secretary of HHS and also the attorney general to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled, as you just kind of laid out.”

While the United States is the world’s primary contributor to the drug war, HRI’s report highlights how these figures fluctuate, which is vital to remember. For instance, in 2021, the U.S. allocated $301 million in aid for “narcotics control,” a significant increase from the prior year’s $31 million. (However, this figure represents a fraction of what the U.S. invests in the global drug war through other initiatives). 

According to the report, Colombia emerged as the largest recipient of this aid. 

The one thing the report does not reveal is the specifics, apparently to safeguard the “health and security of implementing partners, and the national interest of the United States.”

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Stoners: Knock It Off with the Conspiracy Theories

When I moved to the U.S. years ago, my first job was as a deckhand on a fishing boat in Alaska. I had to figure a lot of things out fast: how to drive a stick shift, run a crane, sort fish, steer a massive motor vessel. I also had to adjust to American culture, which felt both familiar from a million hours of watching ‘80s sitcoms, and totally foreign at the same time.

I was surprised to learn that my skipper, who was a cool progressive type, was a handgun owner. This was an absolutely alien concept to me. Even the cops didn’t carry guns in the town I grew up in (they were authorized to begin carrying handguns in 1998). Even more surprising to me was why he kept a gun. He didn’t trust the federal government, he said, and he felt the need to keep a gun to protect himself. 

What?! I’d never heard of such a thing. My father was a fisheries scientist who worked for the Canadian government. He loathed bureaucrats, and if he’d had his way he would have blown up every hydroelectric dam in the country, but he’d never said anything about needing to arm ourselves against a possible threat from the authorities, let alone the government! The skipper chuckled at my naivete, and gave me a Cliff’s Notes version of the Second Amendment — the beginning of my education in American distrust.

My next stop was Seattle, where I fell in love with a guy who smoked copious amounts of weed, and was a massive conspiracy theorist, mostly for entertainment’s sake. I was fascinated by the wild tales he told me, of the faked moon landing and the New World Order takeover headquartered under the Denver airport. Don’t trust the stories they want you to believe, he’d say, passing the bowl to me. It goes all the way to the top.

Next, I landed in New York City, where I met the High Times family — which is what they were, at the time. Tight-knit and suspicious as fuck of everyone and everything, the fam gave me an education in how fundamentally fucked up the American government is. From inventing the Drug War to control Black people and hippies, to spraying marijuana crops with paraquat, there was no end to the evil the American government was willing to perpetrate on its citizens. 

I wasn’t a Pollyanna about it, after that. Weed was a gateway drug for me to see that shit was majorly fucked up, and it was fucked up because of the people in charge, who did not want people to smoke weed and question everything. They wanted people to get hammered and forget it all.

So, I understand why people distrust the government, and why they believe in conspiracies. But in 2023, this shit has gone way too far. A dear friend of mine fell into the WWG1WGA world of QAnon and its sect of “conspirituality,” defined as “a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews”. There are plenty of these folks in the cannabis world, some of whom I count as friends. They don’t trust the government, scientists, doctors, or the media. Live and let live, I used to think. You’re doing your thing, and I’m doing mine; just don’t send me YouTube links about Covid being a hoax, and I won’t count on you to vote in the primary. I loved my 5G-Covid-hoaxer conspiracist pal; she loved me; we were cool.

My laissez-faire attitude changed when she ignored troubling health symptoms until it was too late, and died within weeks of her diagnosis. She died because she didn’t believe in Western medicine. If she’d seen a doctor and received a cancer diagnosis earlier, I think she’d still be here. And that fucking pisses me off, because she was young and had a whole lot of life left to live as an awesome person who I loved very much.

When she finally did see a doctor, and was given the news that she didn’t have much time to live, she elected to use juice therapy and cannabis oil as treatment. I know how absolutely fucking miserable chemotherapy is, from watching my sister go through it, and so I totally understood my friend’s choice not to do it, especially since her diagnosis was late-stage. 

But there were people who were telling her that she could cure her cancer with cannabis. She asked me if I knew anyone who had done so, and I told her I’d read about thousands of people who have used cannabis to treat cancer symptoms. I told her what I knew about Rick Simpson oil, and how cannabis has been proven to shrink tumors in mice. I told her of all of the incredible people I’ve met and written about who have found relief using medical marijuana. I didn’t tell her it was a cure. Others did.

A few weeks later, another dear friend said to me as we were mourning the news of her death, “I wish she’d fought with both hands.” He meant that her distrust of doctors and Western medicine, together with her belief in conspirituality, had effectively tied one hand behind her back. She lost her fight.

We know that cannabis is medicine. And it’s understandable that some people distrust doctors. But the conspiracy theorists and neo-wellness community need to fuck off when it comes to convincing people to ignore critical diagnoses and modern treatments that could save their lives. Sometimes, you can punch with plant medicine, and knock things out. And sometimes, you have to fight with both hands. Don’t let the conspirituality goons tie one behind your back.

The post Stoners: Knock It Off with the Conspiracy Theories appeared first on High Times.

The Taste of Freedom

The U.S. justice system is irrefutably flawed and has a dark side, but one company rose from the ashes of a cruel ruling. Richard DeLisi is one of America’s longest-serving and most harshly-punished prisoners for a nonviolent cannabis-related crime, serving 32 years of a 90-year sentence coupled with an eight-year sentence for a total of 98 years. He was freed from prison in December 2020 thanks to the valiant acts of volunteers, pro-bono attorneys, and advocates.

Finally free after over three decades of confinement, DeLisi launched his own brand, DeLisioso, providing flower, pre-rolls, and live rosin, while giving back a portion of proceeds to organizations including the restorative justice nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP).

Rick DeLisi fires up a joint. / Courtesy DeLisioso

Transforming a Nightmare into an Opportunity

Like High Times founder Tom Forçade, DeLisi helped to orchestrate large-scale international pot shipments via plane in the ’70s. He was arrested in 1980 for allegedly flying 7,500 pounds of cannabis from Colombia into the U.S. and served a five-year sentence. But in 1989, police agents set up him and his brother and busted them in a sting operation. It turned out to be a lot more serious than they initially thought.

Imagine stepping into the courtroom, expecting 12-17 years as a worst-case scenario, then getting slapped with 98 years. DeLisi and his brother Ted DeLisi both received 90 years: 30 for  trafficking cannabis, 30 for conspiracy to traffic, and 30 more for racketeering, plus an additional eight years.

“I thought they were actually joking,” DeLisi says with a thick Brooklyn accent. “I thought it was some kind of a joke. I was like, ‘How could this be? This is a nonviolent crime. You’re letting all of these violent people out, and you’re trying to keep me for the rest of my life forever?’”

The outcome impacted his family immeasurably—it almost ripped them apart.

“They advised 12 to 17 years,” says DeLisi’s son Rick DeLisi, who co-founded DeLisioso. “In the beginning, we thought five to seven, but then all of a sudden, it was 12 to 17. And kind of with a ‘maximum of 17 energy,’ they went behind their words. And when they came back out and said 90 years plus eight years. I just remember my mom almost passed out.”

Free DeLisi is a nonprofit originally formed as a campaign to bring awareness to DeLisi’s unjust sentence, and now they advocate for the release of prisoners with similar nonviolent, cannabis-related sentences.

Along with the LPP and Free DeLisi, attorneys Chiara Juster, Elizabeth Buchannan, and Michael Minardi also worked pro bono on DeLisi’s case, filing for clemency applications and taking his case nationwide. Ted’s appeal was granted and he was released in 2014, but it would take another six years for DeLisi to be released.

DeLisi’s running title as America’s longest-serving prisoner for a nonviolent cannabis-related crime could soon be eclipsed by prisoners still locked up on similar charges. He continues to operate Free DeLisi to raise awareness of incarcerated citizens in need.

“It’s important to me because I’m an activist, too,” DeLisi says. “That’s what my whole thing is, to try to help the people that are still in there to get out. That’s our main focus. But we have the cannabis business just to take care of our bills. You know what I mean?”

Rick echoed his father’s statements.

“I think what’s really important about why we would be able to have a former cannabis prisoner be part of a brand is because I think that when there’s a whole industry like spearheading, and moving forward, across the nation, and each state is slowly converting to legal,” Rick says. “My father was one of the most harshly sentenced cannabis prisoners in United States history. So it would only make sense to have some sort of restitution for all the sacrifice he made for the industry that we now can appreciate.”

Courtesy DeLisioso

DeLisioso Forms

In 2021, Rick’s cousin Kenny Darby and his father attended a party with Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers and rapper Redman in attendance. Darby had the opportunity of meeting Rivers, and she knew about DeLisi’s dire situation and triumphant return to freedom.

“She was extremely motivated to help us out,” Rick says. “And she did things in such a fast way to try and facilitate a situation for us, which was great. I got to go there, kind of pheno hunt with their cultivation team, and they let me go through all the strains and with my father and choose a certain female. We ended up naming the Flamingo Kush.”

Flamingo Kush is a very kush-dominant pheno of a Kush Mints variety. DeLisi, Rick, and Darby sorted through Trulieve phenos based on the terpene content and the flower’s appeal in terms of  look.

DeLisioso’s initial strain appears to be a winner judging by how it was received at events like Hall of Flowers.

“We just celebrated our one-year anniversary as a company,” says Darby, who now serves as DeLisioso chief revenue officer. “We sold out over the last year. Our first legal product was sold on 4/20 of last year. That was a pre-roll. We sold 10,000 pre-rolls in three hours.”

Flamingo Kush / Courtesy DeLisioso

Other Nonviolent Cannabis Prisoners

Darby says the cannabis community should pay attention to cannabis prisoner Kevin O’Brien Allen, who was caught selling $20 worth of cannabis to an undercover officer in 2012 and 2013. He was initially sentenced to 10 years in 2014, but it was later extended under the state’s “habitual offender status” to life in prison without the chance of parole. Allen is locked up at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. The LPP has launched a campaign #FreeKevinAllen to bring awareness to the situation.

“He’s serving in Angola, Louisiana, which is really, you know, in a state prison that used to be a slave plantation,” Darby says. “And obviously, it’s illegal, but at the same time, life? Are you kidding?”

Countless other drug war prisoners still need help.

“Uncle [Richard] is really adamant,” Darby says. “He’s been to Washington, D.C., six times, you know, protesting and holding up pictures of prisoners and getting people to write letters and just telling people like, people don’t realize that there are so many people incarcerated for weed.”

Prisoners with unjust sentences like Allen need assistance, just as the cannabis community sprung into action to help release DeLisi. To help do this, DeLisioso is putting a portion of proceeds to action.

“Every year, 1% of our revenue—not the revenue of the complete sales, but the revenue from the DeLisioso—goes to a cause or foundation of our choice,” Rick says. “So far this year, that’s gone towards Last Prisoner Project.”

DeLisioso is currently available in Florida’s medical cannabis market, but the team plans on expanding to California, Maryland, New Jersey, and finally, New York, DeLisi’s home state.

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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The U.S. Department of Health Calls for Moving Cannabis to Schedule 3 Drug

Summary: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended easing restrictions on marijuana, and moving it to schedule 3 drug, following a review request from the Biden Administration last year. This recommendation was provided to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as part of President Biden’s directive to HHS. The HHS is recommending reclassifying marijuana to say it has a moderate to low potential for dependence and a lower abuse potential, which would put it in a class with ketamine and testosterone. This could allow major stock exchanges to list businesses in the cannabis trade and potentially allow foreign companies to begin selling their products in the United States.

The HHS (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Calls for Moving Cannabis to Schedule 3 Category

The HHS spokesperson announced the recommendation to ease marijuana restrictions, and moving it to schedule 3 drug, following a review request from the Biden Administration last year. Nearly 40 U.S. states have legalized marijuana use in some form, but it remains completely illegal in some states and at the federal level. Reclassifying cannabis as less harmful than drugs like heroin would be a first step toward wider legalization, a move backed by a majority of Americans.

The scheduling recommendation for marijuana was provided to the DEA on Tuesday as part of President Biden’s directive to HHS. “As part of this process, HHS conducted a scientific and medical evaluation for consideration by DEA. DEA has the final authority to schedule or reschedule a drug under the Controlled Substances Act. DEA will now initiate its review,” a DEA spokesperson said.

Marijuana is currently classified as a schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, along with drugs like heroin and LSD. HHS is recommending reclassifying marijuana to say it has a moderate to low potential for dependence and a lower abuse potential, which would put it in a class with ketamine and testosterone.

If marijuana classification were to ease at the federal level, that could allow major stock exchanges to list businesses that are in the cannabis trade, and potentially allow foreign companies to begin selling cannabis products in the United States. “The administration’s process is an independent process led by HHS, led by the Department of Justice and guided by evidence… we will let that process move forward,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Cannabis is legal in Canada, which has become the home in North America for publicly traded cannabis growers and distributors, many of which would be expected to expand into the United States, if federal legalization follows there. Shares of several cannabis firms including Canopy Growth, Tilray Brands, and Cronos Group rose on the news. Firms such as Verano Holdings and Sunburn Cannabis welcomed the HHS move.

For far too long, cannabis prohibition and its outdated status as a schedule I substance have unduly harmed countless individuals affected by the failed War on Drugs,” Veranos CEO George Archos said.

Source: Reuters

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The Summer of Busts

Though the Summer of 2023 has been flush with great musical events, from jam band farewells to EDM gatherings, there has also been the unfortunate reality of drug-related police activity resulting in numerous arrests and large amounts of party favors confiscated. 

Much of this article will be centered around one particular locale where some of the drug busts—along with one tragic mass shooting—took place: the idyllic Gorge Amphitheatre in Grant County, Washington, a legendary venue situated on the banks of the Columbia River in the eastern part of the state. 

The Gorge was the site of the most recent music event spoiled by drug arrests: the Bass Canyon Music Festival, a celebration of EDM (electronic dance music), which took place over the weekend of August 18-20. The Grant Co Sheriff’s Department arrested 13 people while confiscating $20,000 worth of goodies, including cocaine, LSD and ketamine, along with cannabis. Even though weed has been legal in Washington for over a decade, it’s still against the law to sell it without a license.    

The Grant Co Sheriff’s Dept. conducted 14 different investigations in total, their heightened response prompted by an earlier shooting on the same concert grounds in June—more on that story to follow. 

In their official statement to the media, the Sheriff’s Dept. seemed to be rationalizing their overzealous operation, by stating that the concert grounds can hold up to 25,000 people, the same population as nearby small towns.  Yet, modern music festivals have always been about those sorts of cramped conditions, and the vast majority go off smoothly without any overbearing police presence being necessary. 

Similar drug raids were also conducted on the East Coast, including at the Elements Festival in Long Pond, situated in Pennsylvania’s Monroe County. A self-described “car camping” electronic music festival that occurred over the weekend of August 11-14, 11 people in all were arrested, charged with selling various substances to festival attendees.  

According to reports, the increased police scrutiny this year was prompted by overdoses at the Elements Fest the previous year, in 2022. Yet once again, the Sheriff’s Dept’s claims raise the issue that the priority should be ensuring people are offered proper medical services, along with taking safe substances in the first place. Because no matter how big or small of a law enforcement presence there actually is, people are going to take drugs at festivals and concerts, because most of the dealers don’t get caught.

It was an actual shooting—not only overdoses—at the Beyond Wonderland EDM Festival held at the Gorge on Saturday, June 17 that made national headlines. Two people were horrifically shot to death, with two others wounded—including the gunman’s own girlfriend, causing permanent injuries to her. The festival’s Sunday schedule was promptly canceled in wake of the mass shooting.  

It’s worth noting that the two murder victims were a same-sex female couple engaged to be married; they were walking together when Kelly shot them to death. A male who tried to help the victims, as well as the suspect’s aforementioned girlfriend, were wounded by gunfire. The accused gunman, 26-year old James Kelly, who was captured on the festival grounds, is an active-duty soldier stationed in Washington state. It has yet to be revealed whether or not the shootings were politically motivated. Kelly has claimed it was a bad “mushroom trip” that caused him to shoot down his fellow concertgoers, which the corporate media were quick to exploit in their coverage of the shooting. As told to police, during one of the concert performances, a tripping Kelly was filled with thoughts of the world coming to an end, and so he rushed back to his tent, where his gun was waiting to be fired indiscriminately.

The Wonderland incident provided all the justification required for an intricately coordinated multi-agency operation to conduct over-the-top drug activity during the popular jam band Dead and Company’s farewell tour stop to the Gorge on July 7 and 8. 

Mutually involved in the Dead & Co. busts were the Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (INET), Grant County Sheriff’s Office, Moses Lake Police Department Street Crimes Unit, as well as Homeland Security Investigations, meaning the US government was involved as well.  

Various substances with a combined estimated street value of over $200,000 were seized, including over 28,000 grams of weed, dabs and edibles, as well as coke, shrooms, molly and acid. In all, 13 people were arrested on drug felony charges.

Posting on their Facebook page July 12, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office issued an official statement regarding the bust, making no apologies for the arrests and seizures:

“The Gorge Amphitheater encourages law enforcement pro-activity at their concerts which are known to have an illegal drug culture based on the number of overdoses and incidents experienced over the years.”  The statement also referenced the recent EDM festival shooting. 

However, the Sheriff’s Dept failed to address the primary problem of the Wonderland incident, which wasn’t the mushrooms, but the firearm that was illegally brought onto the concert grounds, which as stated in the venue’s official rules, is prohibited. While it’s true that psychedelic mushrooms were prohibited too, that substance cannot be used as a weapon to impulsively kill innocent people. Law enforcement did not provide a statement regarding an apparent plan in place to prevent future gun violence at the Gorge, solely focusing on the drugs.

The arrests and seizures at the Gorge were not the first time during the two-month Dead & Co. summer tour that big busts at one of their gigs made the news. When the band performed at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (aka SPAC), located in upstate New York, on June 17 and 18, local law enforcement was in full force. So full in fact, that the New York State Park Police reported those two D&C shows were among the busiest they’ve ever experienced in terms of drug busts, as well as some actual, violent crime they had to deal with at the venue. The Park Police seized LSD, cocaine, mushrooms, ketamine, meth, weighing equipment and even black-market “packaging”.  Additionally, 54 tanks of nitrous oxide were seized, along with arresting over 30 individuals, as well as confiscating $33,000 in cold hard cash from one luckless drug dealer. 

Concerts by Phish, the biggest jam band outside of Dead & Co., also experienced unwanted—and perhaps unwarranted—treatment by law enforcement. As reported by Phish fans on Reddit, accompanied by photos that provided visual confirmation of the claim, a circulating memo revealed that a federal/local law enforcement joint endeavor was targeting a pair of Phish shows to be held in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania in late July.   

In a memo shared far and wide on the web, the document carried the heading of “Washington County Sheriff’s Office” with an added note “Internal Dissemination Only.” The subject read: “Joint County Task Enforcement Operation ‘Phish in a Barrel’” with the next line indicating the operation was to be conducted at “Star Lake Amphitheatre July 21-22, 2023”, a concert venue outside of Pittsburgh. 

The memo listed the “chain of command” of the various agencies purported to be involved with this operation in hierarchical order, designated by phonetics: “Ops Alpha” was Dept. of Homeland Security, “Ops Bravo” was Washington Co Sheriff’s and “Ops Charlie” was the notorious Drug Enforcement Administration, just to throw an extra scare into any who believed this printed chicanery.  

The memo designated Highway 22 as the “primary checkpoint”, with Highway 18 as the “secondary” checkpoint in which anti-drug units with colorful nicknames like “Team Wolverine” and “Team Badger” would crack down on any would-be partying Phish fans. Perhaps using a code name based on an actual animal-based Phish song such as “Ocelot” or “Possum” might’ve been too obvious. 

Despite the memo seeming quite intentionally comical in hindsight, this document was strongly believed by the Phish and wider jam band communities for a period of time leading up to those concerts. 

So much so that Washington Co Sheriff Tony Andronas felt obligated to post on his Facebook page that “Phish in a Barrel” was indeed a hoax, and in fact, a similar prank had been played on the Virginia State Police in 2018. In that case, as with this most recent one, none of the perpetrators were identified.

Despite the hoax, it turns out the Washington County Sheriff’s Department still made their presence felt in the most unwelcome way at those Phish shows, as officers were actually on the Star Lake “lawn” (the general admission area behind the seats), as visually documented on social media. This time it was no hoax/prank, as photos posted on Reddit revealed the cops were disturbing and disrupting concertgoers’ good times, writing tickets for those merely smoking weed on the lawn. 

With paranoia over the “Phish in a Barrel” hoax being so widespread, in conjunction with all of the excessive actual busts from coast-to-coast, this demonstrates that law enforcement continues to prioritize drug enforcement over public safety at festivals and concerts—so let the attendee beware.

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India: Man Dies in Police Custody After MDMA Arrest, Officers Suspended

Dear reader, we regret to inform you that the war on drugs has needlessly claimed another life, this time in southwest India where a man was arrested for MDMA possession shortly before dying in police custody.

Several different Indian news outlets have reported that Thamir Jiffri, age 30, was arrested in the early morning hours of August 1 in Tanur, a town of about 50,000 people in Kerala, India. He was arrested with four others for drug possession charges and died around 4:30 in the morning from what police said was a drug overdose.

The problem is police testimony directly conflicts with both accusations from the victim’s family as well as the post mortem examination. Jiffri’s family has publicly alleged that Thamir was not in fact arrested in Tanur on August 1 as police have attested. The family has accused the police of coming into their home in nearby Chelari, about a 20 minute drive to the northeast, the previous evening, beating Thamir in front of them and arresting him. 

A public outcry followed Jiffri’s death. The following is a statement made by Indian Union Muslim League leader N. Samsudheen, a member of 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly:

“Jiffri was taken to the police quarters and subjected to third-degree torture. The postmortem report revealed that 21 wounds were inflicted on his body. This in itself is a proof of the kind of torture he was subjected to. Although Jiffri was taken into custody from his place at Chelari, the police claimed that he was arrested from under the railway bridge at Tanur. It has now also been revealed that he was sodomized in police custody.” 

Eight police officers were suspended following Jiffri’s death. Samsudheen has publicly demanded the Malappuram Superintendent of Police be suspended as well. 

“We raised the issue in the assembly. Regrettably, the government is yet to take appropriate action against the SP. We suspect the possibility of the SP’s involvement or knowledge in the custodial torture. To facilitate an unhindered investigation by the CBI, we firmly demand the removal of Malappuram SP,” Samsudheen said.

The postmortem examination referenced above also showed that two packets of a crystalline substance were found in Jiffri’s abdomen, though tracking down much more detail than that has proven difficult from my desk in California. 

All of this information has been put together from about 10 different articles in Indian/East Asian news outlets, almost none of which fully agree with each other on every detail surrounding this case. To that end, about half of them spell Thamir’s name “Tamir Jiffri” or “Tamir/Thamir Geoffrey.” I don’t know if this is because accurate information is hard to come by in certain parts of the world or because online translators take certain auto-programmed liberties which can often lead to errors. It could be any number of things.

What I DO know is a young man appears to have been arrested either at his home or in a nearby town with some MDMA on him, a drug very near and dear to my own heart. That young man was dead hours later and a postmortem examination showed he took one hell of a beating before he died. All the police involved have been suspended and Jiffri’s family and local representatives have been demanding action be taken ever since.

It is also worth mentioning here that India has some extremely stringent laws regarding drug possession and use. Possession of small quantities of drugs in India is punishable by six months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Large amounts get you 10-20 years and habitual offenders are eligible for the death penalty. This is small beer compared to a country like Singapore where 15 people have been executed in the last year for drug use, but still a terrifying reality for anyone who wants to eat or sell a bit of Molly in India.

Thamir Jiffri’s family, Kerala Police, Malappuram Police and any of the journalists who wrote the articles I referenced did not return my attempts to contact them. Nonetheless, limited details of this terribly tragic situation have made their way all the way from Kerala, India to the West Coast of America, where pretty soon we’ll be paying exorbitant prices for some guy named Indica to doll us out two points of MDMA from his silly little doctor’s office in Palo Alto. At the risk of editorializing a bit, we mustn’t let stories like Thamir’s go untold as we fight to end the drug war in America because overseas they get executed, put into work camps, or allegedly beaten to death in police stations. 

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New Law Gives Seattle Dispensary Employees Stronger Labor Protections

A newly enshrined ordinance in Seattle will give cannabis dispensary workers in the city stronger labor protections, part of an ongoing effort by leaders to make the marijuana industry more equitable. 

The ordinance, which took effect last Wednesday, requires covered outgoing cannabis business employers to post “written notice of a change in control” and provide “a preferential hiring list to the incoming cannabis employer,” while also requiring the incoming employer to retain “covered employees for a certain period of time following the change” and follow “other hiring and retention requirements.” 

Steven Marchese, the director of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards, said that his office “is committed to providing outreach, education, and enforcement for Seattle’s newest labor standard.” 

Marchese said that the new law, known as the Cannabis Employee Job Retention Ordinance, “provides protections for workers in this industry that will help provide a stable workplace, stronger workforce, and contribute to a better overall economy for Seattle.”

Cody Funderburk, a local cannabis activist who works in the cannabis industry and is a former member of a local cannabis union, called the Cannabis Employee Job Retention Ordinance “a monumental step toward protecting the rights of cannabis industry employees.”

“The effects of this legislation will improve job security for thousands of employees in Washington State’s cannabis industry. Workers deserve the peace of mind of knowing that their livelihoods will be safe as the cannabis industry continues to rapidly shift and evolve,” Funderburk said in a statement.

A press release from the Office of Labor Standards said that the new ordinance reflects the commitment from the city of Seattle and its mayor, Bruce Harrell, “to improve equitable outcomes in the cannabis industry and clarify matters raised in the ordinance, including provisions related to preferential hiring, offer of employment, and discharge from employment for just cause.”

Last summer, Harrell introduced a trio of bills to the Seattle city council aimed at promoting diversity in the local cannabis industry.

The three bills sought to require the following, per a press release from Harrell’s office at the time: “Creation of a City-level social equity license, intended to reduce barriers toward opening cannabis stores for underrepresented communities and those most impacted by the war on drugs; Laying the groundwork for future cannabis-related businesses, in collaboration with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to also issue licenses through a social equity framework; Ensuring transparency to employees around ownership of cannabis store business licenses holders; Requiring a 90-day retention of store workforce when ownership changes, similar to protections created for hotel workers in 2019; Creation of a short-term cannabis advisory committee, selected in collaboration with City Council to collect input on cannabis equity and needs from workers, community members, and industry leaders; Implementation of a needs assessment to understand additional steps to make the industry more robust and sustainable for diverse communities; Collaboration with County and community efforts to further the work of expunging convictions for cannabis-related crimes prior to 2014; Development of a state and federal legislative agenda promoting cannabis equity, as well as safety improvements, capital investments, and access to banking services.”

Harrell said that the proposals were designed to help the city’s cannabis industry continue to evolve.

“As the cannabis industry continues to develop, we must course correct and support the communities who too often have been left behind. Equity in this industry means safe working conditions and fair treatment for workers, store ownership that includes the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, and a commitment to fairness, innovation, and opportunity,” Harrell said.

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DOJ Report Shows 61% Decline in Federal Cannabis Prisoners

The number of people in federal prison for a cannabis-related offense dropped 61% over a five-year period, according to a new report from the Department of Justice. The number of inmates imprisoned for all drug offenses fell by 24%, the report from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found, with those incarcerated for a cannabis offense showing the steepest decline of prisoners in the federal penal system held for a drug-related offense. Despite the drop, however, Dr. Alexis Piquero, director of BJS, noted that a large share of federal incarceration is fueled by the War on Drugs.

“Although the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses decreased over this 5-year span, they still accounted for a large share—almost half—of the people in BOP custody in 2018,” Piquero said in a press release about the new report, which was released on July 10. “At the same time, we saw differences by the type of drug involved, with more people incarcerated for heroin and methamphetamines and fewer for marijuana and cocaine.”

The report provides information on the sentences of persons in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the end of each fiscal year from 2013 to 2018. At the end of 2018, approximately 47% (71,555) of those in custody were sentenced for drug offenses. In addition to the 61% drop in federal cannabis prisoners, the report showed a reduction in the number of persons imprisoned on charges for other drugs, including crack cocaine (down 45%), powder cocaine (a 35% drop), and opioids (down 4%). The report also revealed an increase in the number of individuals behind bars for offenses related to other drugs, including a 13% increase for heroin and a 12% rise for methamphetamine. Nearly all of those in federal prison for drug offenses were convicted of charges related to trafficking, with only a small number incarcerated for simple possession.

Since 2012, federal policy changes related to both US sentencing guidelines and the use of mandatory minimum penalties have affected persons held in BOP facilities for drug offenses. During the five-year period examined by the study, there was a 33% decrease in the number of people in federal prison who, because of the type and quantity of drugs involved in their offense, faced the possibility of mandatory minimum penalties at sentencing. A similar 26% reduction was observed in the number of individuals who ultimately received penalties, while the number of defendants who received relief from penalties fell by 52%.

Decline In Federal Cannabis Prisoners Applauded

The DOJ report was welcomed by marijuana policy reform advocates and representatives of the regulated cannabis industry. But many noted that there is still much more work to be done. Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel at the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to secure the release of all cannabis prisoners, acknowledged that the Justice Department report is good news, but she said it does not tell the complete story of marijuana-related incarceration in the United States.

“While it shows significant progress to see a steady decrease in the number of individuals incarcerated for cannabis federally, the vast majority of cannabis sentences occur at the state level,” Gersten said in a statement to Cannabis Now. “Individuals are still incarcerated, often for decades-long sentences, for the same activity others can now freely profit from. We must ensure that we are not just proactively eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis and preventing new arrests, but also providing retroactive relief for those currently incarcerated.”

Brian Vicente a founding partner of the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP and one of the authors of Colorado’s recreational marijuana legalization initiative, said that the “DOJ report shows the remarkable progress our country is making toward ending cannabis prohibition.”

“When Colorado voted to legalize cannabis in 2012, I and the other lead proponents hoped that changing state law would lead to the federal government taking note and following suit,” Vicente wrote in an email. “Ten years later, this report is real proof that legalizing at the state level can help dismantle federal prohibition, as well.”

David Craig, the vice president of marketing at Illicit Gardens, a cannabis cultivator and processor licensed to operate in Missouri, said that “No one should be locked away for non-violent cannabis charges while others are profiting.”

“The hypocrisy in cannabis sentencing propagates the disproportionate penalties given to minorities who have been marginalized by the system,” Craig said in a statement. “While Illicit respects the importance of regulating the cannabis industry to ensure product safety for end consumers, we won’t stop fighting for criminal justice reform until every state’s penal code reflects these new cannabis norms.”

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DEA Celebrates 50th Anniversary of War on Drugs, Drugs Are Winning

Citing former president Richard Nixon, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency’s creation and the War on Drugs, wrapping up 50 years of failed attempts to curb drug abuse, according to a July 5 announcement. The DEA’s tactics are not working: Decades of research indicates that drug use is up in just about every category.

Nixon created the DEA to combat the “menace” of drug abuse on July 1, 1973. That’s just four years after Gallup first asked Americans if they’ve tried smoking pot, and only 4% said they had tried it in 1969. Now that number is up to almost half, and 45% of American teens said they had tried pot, 47% of high school students by another count. Cannabis and hallucinogen use is at an all-time high, a National Institutes of Health-supported study reported in 2022.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 1, 2023,” the announcement reads. “Over the past 50 years, DEA has worked to keep American communities safe and healthy by preventing criminal drug networks and drug-related violence and deaths. 

In 1973, former President Richard Nixon proposed the creation of a new agency when he declared ‘an all-out global war on the drug menace.’ Congress heard months of testimony for the proposal and created the Drug Enforcement Administration later that year. The Drug Enforcement Administration integrated narcotics agents and U.S. Customs agents into one effective force. These agents work to remove dangerous drugs from the street and prevent them from coming across our borders.”

Are law enforcement officers at least focusing on hard drugs? The short answer is no. Police officers in the United States still make more arrests for cannabis offenses than for any other drug, according to FBI data. Pew research notes that in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2018, amounting to 40% of the 1.65 million total drug arrests in the U.S. that year were for pot.

The War on Drugs presents some ethical questions, however its roots in prejudice are reason alone to dismiss the war’s successes.

Questionable Beginnings

By today’s standards, Nixon’s comments as president are shocking, and the War on Drugs itself has been called racist. Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, admitted first in 1994 that the War on Drugs was specifically designed to target the Black community, and that lies were created about drugs.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people,” Ehrlichman said. “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Ehrlichman spoke up about the matter again later on, such as in 2016.

Unfortunately, this bias is clearly evident today, as observed in the way cannabis laws are enforced. Data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shows that due specifically to racial profiling and bias in cannabis enforcement, Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite similar usage rates. That rate goes up to 10 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot in certain areas such as Montana or Kentucky.

The War on Drugs Didn’t Work

In the bigger picture, DEA enforcement isn’t deterring drug use effectively, according to multiple reports by Gallup.

“The war on drugs has been raging for decades,” Jennifer Robison wrote for Gallup in 2002. “There is no sign of victory, or even detente. Although they’re swamped with anti-drug messages, kids keep taking illegal drugs, and the drugs are getting more dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that almost half (47%) of all high school students had used marijuana at least once. Ten percent had tried a form of cocaine.”

“Increased non-medical use—as well as racial, ethnic and class prejudice—affected public opinion,” they said. “What had been a medical condition became deviant or criminal. This shift led to a wave of laws against heroin, marijuana and cocaine.”

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