Chinese rights lawyer Ni Yulan placed under house arrest

Foreign diplomats prevented from visiting Ni, who has campaigned for people evicted to make way for redevelopment

Chinese authorities have placed a disabled rights lawyer under house arrest and prevented a group of foreign diplomats from visiting her, she said, ratcheting up pressure weeks after the US state department gave her a bravery award.

Ni Yulan, who became known for defending people evicted from their homes to make way for development, had been held under house arrest for 12 days, she told Reuters.

Authorities prevented Ni from travelling last month to receive the State Departments international women of courage award, which is given to female advocates of human rights, justice and gender equality.

Beijing police could not be reached for comment. Chinas foreign ministry has said exit-entry authorities acted in accordance with Chinese law in the case.

Five foreign diplomats, including those from the European Union, Germany, Canada, France and Switzerland, had sought to see Ni at her home and deliver food over the weekend, but were prevented from entering, she said. Diplomats with knowledge of the situation confirmed the group was turned away.

Plainclothes officers did not allow them to come into my home, Ni said by text message. A diplomat with knowledge of the situation confirmed the group was denied access by plainclothes police.

The French and German embassies said their diplomats were part of the group. The Canadian and Swiss embassies, as well as the EU delegation, could not immediately be reached for comment. The US embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the case, but the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said that Ni paid a steep price for her legal aid work.

Ni, who was left using a wheelchair after she was beaten by police in 2002 after filming the forced demolition of a clients home, added that she was likely to be evicted from her home, but plainclothes police would not allow her to leave to search for a new apartment.

Chinas leadership has detained or imprisoned dozens of rights lawyers since President Xi Jinping took power in a widespread crackdown on dissent.

Ni has been jailed repeatedly by Chinese authorities, first in 2002 and again in 2008 after she defended the rights of residents evicted from their homes to make way for the Beijing Olympics. She was then jailed in 2012 for fraud and making trouble.

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Swan Hugs The Man Who Rescued It By Wrapping Her Neck Around Him

Swans are not particularly affectionate or approachable animals. They’re territorial and can be quite intimidating. Which is why the moment when an injured swan hugged Richard Wiese, the host of the television show “Born to Explore” is so touching.

A few years back, Wiese was visiting the U.K.’s Abbotsbury Swannery when he ran into the swan who had been injured after flying into a chain-link fence. Wiese helped to examine the swan by holding her.

“When I put it next to me I could feel its heart beating and it just relaxed its neck and wrapped it around mine,” Wiese told ABC News. “It’s a wonderful moment when an animal totally trusts you.”

“I pulled it to my chest and somehow it felt comfortable or safe”

“I could feel its heart beating and it just relaxed its neck and wrapped it around mine”

Wiese helped to examine the injured swan by holding her

“It’s a really terrific feeling when you feel that bond and mutual trust with this non-verbally communicating animal…”

“…when the animal realizes you intend it no harm”

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How The Eviction Epidemic Is Trapping Black Women In Poverty

For America’s poorest renters — particularly black women — evictions are disturbingly common, trapping them in a cycle of poverty with long-lasting repercussions for their employment, health, relationships and overall stability. 

Harvard University sociologist Matthew Desmond captures a riveting and heartbreaking portrait of the growing problem in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. The book, published this month, comes out of his ethnographic field work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as his research on tenants and evictions.

In 2008 and 2009, Desmond lived first in a rundown trailer park in a predominately white area of the city, and then in a rooming house in a distressed black neighborhood on the north side. In Evicted, he follows eight of his neighbors from those years as they try and fail to find stable housing, as well as the landlords, property managers, eviction movers and judges who decide their fates.

Desmond couldn’t find much existing research to answer his overarching questions about evictions, so he conducted his own studies. His survey of 1,100 tenants in Milwaukee revealed that a quarter of the poorest renters had been forced to move out of their homes between 2009 and 2011.

“Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty,” Desmond told The Huffington Post. “One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if … you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

Eviction In Milwaukee

At the trailer park, Desmond meets white residents like Scott, who is struggling with an opiate addiction that cost him his nursing license, job and home. (Desmond’s subjects go by pseudonyms in the book to protect their privacy.) Now living with a roommate he met at a homeless shelter and subsisting on food stamps and money from odd jobs and collecting bottles, Scott says yes when his neighbors Pam and Ned ask if they can move in after they are evicted.

Their landlord doesn’t welcome the arrangement, and instead adds Pam and Ned’s debt to Scott’s and evicts him, too.

On the edge of homelessness, Scott goes through a series of shaky living situations before he begins methadone treatment and eventually finds a clean, well-kept apartment downtown through a permanent housing program, where he is asked to only pay $141 of the $775 rent.

But most of Desmond’s subjects are not so lucky. One of the most compelling stories in the book is that of Arleen, a black single mom. Her sons, Jori and Jafaris, are 13 and 5 years old when Desmond meets them. In the short period captured in the book, Arleen rents eight apartments, is evicted from four, crashes with friends and stays at a homeless shelter twice.

One apartment has a big hole in a window; another lacks running water; a third has no fridge or stove; a fourth is on a street popular with drug dealers. Arleen spends most of her $628 monthly welfare check on rent, with a full 95 percent of it going to the apartment without appliances. She periodically loses her benefits when correspondence is delivered to apartments she was already forced to leave, putting her at risk of falling behind on rent again.

Throughout Evicted, Desmond underscores how eviction destabilizes both his white and black subjects, calling attention to this nationwide epidemic. But the book makes it clear that the problem is especially pervasive for low-income black women struggling to stay in their homes.

In Milwaukee, over one in five black female renters reported being evicted as an adult, triple the rate for white women. Court records showed that women living in black areas of the deeply segregated city were twice as likely to be evicted as their male neighbors.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” Desmond writes. “Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” 

Patrice (a pseudonym), describes it plainly in Desmond’s book after she is kicked out of her first house and skips her eviction hearing so she doesn’t miss work: “Everybody I know, except for my white friends, I swear they got an eviction on their record.”

Children didnt shield families from eviction; they exposed them to it. Matthew Desmond

In Arleen’s case, finding housing, or paying rent once she does, consumes her time and attention.

“Just my soul is messed up,” she says late in the book, after her electricity is cut off and Child Protective Services briefly takes her kids away. “Sometimes I find my body trembling or shaking. I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. … My body is trying to shut down.”

Children can also prevent families from finding housing. Housing discrimination against families with children is illegal, but after Pam and Ned are evicted from their trailer, they are turned away from several apartments because they have kids.

Surveying tenants at court in 2011, Desmond found that people with children at home were almost three times more likely to receive an eviction judgement.

“Children didn’t shield families from eviction; they exposed them to it,” he writes.

There are numerous other obstacles for poor tenants. Desmond describes how renters who report poor conditions to the city are often kicked out. They rarely have lawyers or fare well in the court system, if they show up at all. 

Over one in five black female renters in Milwaukee reported being evicted as an adult, triple the rate for white women.

The book describes how families with eviction records are forced to find rentals with looser requirements, and end up in homes in poor condition or in more dangerous areas. Landlords make serious profits on the worst housing by exploiting desperate tenants.

According to Desmond’s research, a year or more after eviction, families are more likely to experience hardships like hunger or going without electricity. Evicted workers are more likely to get laid off, he found. Half of recently evicted mothers reported symptoms of clinical depression.

Eviction isn’t just a byproduct of poverty, but a driver of it, Desmond argues.

“You lose your home, you lose your community, you lose your school, you lose your stuff,” he said.

Desmond stressed that the experiences of a few families in Milwaukee reflect a growing problem occurring around the nation. Several million families face an eviction each year.

He proposes a simple, but far-reaching solution: expand the federal housing voucher program to serve all Americans who already qualify.

Recipients lucky enough to get a voucher pay a set portion of their income for private housing, and the rest of their rent is subsidized. But currently, only one out of four households eligible for housing assistance actually receives it

“If we did that with unemployment insurance or food stamps, that might be unthinkable,” Desmond said. “But that’s how we treat the basic need of housing in this country.”



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Nuit debout protesters occupy French cities in revolutionary call for change

For more than a week, vast nocturnal gatherings have spread across France in a citizen-led movement that has rattled the government

As night fell over Paris, thousands of people sat cross-legged in the vast square at Place de la Rpublique, taking turns to pass round a microphone and denounce everything from the dominance of Google to tax evasion or inequality on housing estates.

The debating continued into the early hours of the morning, with soup and sandwiches on hand in the canteen tent and a protest choir singing revolutionary songs. A handful of protesters in tents then bedded down to occupy the square for the night before being asked to move on by police just before dawn. But the next morning they returned to set up their protest camp again.

For more than a week, these vast nocturnal protest gatherings from parents with babies to students, workers, artists and pensioners have spread across France, rising in number, and are beginning to panic the government.

Called Nuit debout, which loosely means rise up at night, the protest movement is increasingly being likened to the Occupy initiative that mobilised hundreds of thousands of people in 2011 or Spains Indignados.

Cherifa, a French student at Paris Louis-le-Grand high school, who is taking part in the night-time protests. Photograph: Elliott Verdier/AFP/Getty Images

Despite Frances long history of youth protest movements from May 1968 to vast rallies against pension changes Nuit debout, which has spread to cities such as Toulouse, Lyon and Nantes and even over the border to Brussels, is seen as a new phenomenon.

It began on 31 March with a night-time sit-in in Paris after the latest street demonstrations by students and unions critical of President Franois Hollandes proposed changes to labour laws. But the movement and its radical nocturnal action had been dreamed up months earlier at a Paris meeting of leftwing activists.

There were about 300 or 400 of us at a public meeting in February and we were wondering how can we really scare the government?. We had an idea: at the next big street protest, we simply wouldnt go home, said Michel, 60, a former delivery driver.

Protesters debate issues such as national security, housing and proposed changes to French labour law. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

On 31 March, at the time of the labour law protests, thats what happened. There was torrential rain, but still everyone came back here to the square. Then at 9pm, the rain stopped and we stayed. We came back the next day and as we keep coming back every night, it has scared the government because its impossible to define.

Theres something here that Ive never seen before in France all these people converge here each night of their own accord to talk and debate ideas from housing to the universal wages, refugees, any topic they like. No one has told them to, no unions are pushing them on theyre coming of their own accord.

The idea emerged among activists linked to a leftwing revue and the team behind the hit documentary film Merci Patron!, which depicts a couple taking on Frances richest man, billionaire Bernard Arnault. But the movement gained its own momentum not just because of the labour protests or in solidarity with the French Goodyear tyre plant workers who kidnapped their bosses in 2014. It has expanded to address a host of different grievances, including the state of emergency and security crackdown in response to last years terrorist attacks.

Students occupying an amphitheatre in Lille give a press conference to announce the start of the Nuit debout protests. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

The labour law was the final straw, said Matthiew, 35, who was retraining to be a teacher after 10 years in the private sector, and had set up an impromptu revolutionary singing group at the square. But its much bigger than that. This government, which is supposed to be socialist, has come up with a raft of things I dont agree with, while failing to deal with the real problems like unemployment, climate change and a society heading for disaster.

Many in the crowd said that after four years of Hollandes Socialist party in power, they left felt betrayed and their anger was beginning to bubble over.

Jocelyn, 26, a former medical student acting as a press spokesman for the movement, said: There are parallels with Occupy and Indignados. The idea is to let everyone speak out. People are really sick and tired and that feeling has been building for years. Everything Hollande once promised for the left but gave up on really gets me down. Personally, its the state of emergency, the new surveillance laws, the changes to the justice system and the security crackdown.

A protester holds a sign which reads #Panama leaks, people, racketeering, thats enough in Paris. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The government and the Paris authorities are being cautious about the policing of the movement. An investigation is under way into the alleged assault by a police officer accused of hitting a student at a Paris high school last month during a demonstration against the labour overhaul.

The government is preparing possible concessions to students and youths to calm those expected to attend another such rally on Saturday.

Each night at Pariss Place de la Rpublique, the general assembly begins at 6pm and the crowd discuss ideas. Hundreds of demonstrators communicate using coded hand gestures: wiggling their fingers above their heads to express agreement or crossing their wrists to disagree.

Michel, an artist who hopes to be a candidate in the 2017 French presidential elections, joins the protesters in Paris. Photograph: Elliott Verdier/AFP/Getty Images

Various committees have sprung up to debate a new constitution, society, work, and how to occupy the square with more permanent wooden structures on a nightly basis. Whiteboards list the evenings discussions and activities from debates on economics to media training for the demonstrators. No hatred, no arms, no violence, was the credo described by the action committee.

This must be a perfect mini-society, a member of the gardening committee told the crowd. A poetry committee has been set up to document and create the movements slogans. Every movement needs its artistic and literary element, said the poet who proposed it.

Demonstrators regularly help other protest movements, such as a bank picket over revelations in the Panama Papers or a demonstration against migrant evictions in the north of Paris.

French police in violent clashes with student protesters video

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John Kerry: ISIS responsible for genocide

(CNN)Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the United States has determined that ISIS’ action against the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide.


“My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims,” he said, during a news conference at the State Department.


Kerry said that in 2014, ISIS trapped Yazidis, killed them, enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and girls, “selling them at auction, raping them at will and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations,” executed Christians “solely for their faith” and also “forced Christian women and girls into slavery.”

“Without our intervention, it is clear that those people would have been slaughtered,” he said.

This is the first time that the United States has declared a genocide since Darfur in 2004.


The House of Representatives on Monday unanimously passed a resolution labeling the ISIS atrocities against Christian groups in Syria and Iraq “genocide,” a term the State Department had been reluctant to use about the attacks and mass murders by the terror group.

The genocide finding does not legally obligate the U.S. to take any particular action, but it could put pressure on the Obama administration to take more aggressive military action against ISIS. It could also give weight to calls by other lawmakers and humanitarian groups pushing the Obama administration to welcome more refugees into the United States.

The move, aimed at ramping up pressure on the Obama administration, appears to have worked.

The measure was non-binding, but both Republicans and Democrats in the House joined together 393-0 to back a “sense of Congress” saying the crimes committed against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region amount to war crimes and, in some cases, genocide.

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whose Nebraska district is home to the largest group of resettled Yazidis in the U.S., authored the resolution with California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo.

During debate on Monday, Fortenberry noted it was a rare instance of an issue that has “risen above the petty and difficult differences we often work out on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Under a deadline set by Congress, the State Department had until Thursday to formally to decide whether it would issue a comprehensive genocide designation.

Kerry, though, had previously alluded to the possibility that the actions of ISIS, also know as ISIL, were genocide.

“ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence, show all the warning signs of genocide,” Kerry said in August 2014. “For anyone who needed a wakeup call, this is it.”

Fortenberry praised the State Department for its decision Thursday.

“I commend Secretary Kerry and the State Department for making this important designation. The genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others is not only a grave injustice to theses ancient faith communities — it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself,” he said. “The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority.”

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The scariest thing about Brussels is our reaction to it | Simon Jenkins

Paranoid politicians, sensational journalists the Isis recruiting officers will be thrilled at how things have gone since their atrocity in Belgium

Think like the enemy. Lets suppose I am an Islamic State terrorist. I dont do bombs or bullets. I leave the dirty work to the crazies in the basement. My job is what happens next. It is to turn carnage into consequences, body parts into politics. I am a consultant terrorist. I wear a suit, not explosives. A blood-stained concourse is a means to an end. The end is power.

This week I had another success. I converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event. I sent a continent into shock. Famous politicians dropped everything to shower me with cliches. Crowned heads deluged me with glorious odium.

I measure my success in column inches and television hours, in ballooning security budgets, butchered liberties, amended laws and my ultimate goal Muslims persecuted and recruited to our cause. I deal not in actions but in reactions. I am a manipulator of politics. I work through the idiocies of my supposed enemies.

Textbooks on terrorism define its effects in four stages: first the horror, then the publicity, then the political grandstanding, and finally the climactic shift in policy. The initial act is banal. The atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus. Western missiles and Isis bombs kill more innocents in a week than die in Europe in a year. The difference is the media response. A dead Muslim is an unlucky mutt in the wrong place at the wrong time. A dead European is front-page news.

So on Tuesday the TV news channels behaved like Isis recruiting sergeants. Their blanket hyperbole showed not the slightest restraint (nor for that matter did that of most newspapers). The BBC flew Huw Edwards to Brussels. It flashed horror across the airwaves continually for 24 hours, incanting the words panic, threat, menace and terror. Vox pops wallowed in blood and guts. One reporter rode a London tube escalator to show possible future targets, to scare the wits out of commuters. It was a terrorists wildest dream.

With the ground thus prepared, the politicians entered on cue. Frances President Hollande declared all of Europe has been hit, megaphoning Isiss crime. His approval rating immediately jumped.

Who are the Belgium terror attack suspects? video explainer

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Uruguay’s legal marijuana policy en route to next phase of regulation

As government opens registry for pharmacists wishing to sell marijuana, sales through pharmacies are expected to begin in the second half of this year

The first country in the world to legalize marijuana sales was Uruguay, a tiny South American nation with a population of only 3.3 million wedged between Brazil and Argentina.

Uruguay fully legalized the production and sale of marijuana in December 2013 after a decade-long grassroots movement headed by mostly middle-class consumers managed to convince the government it was safer to legally sell weed rather than to allow drug dealers to run the market.

The system now in place grants licenses to private producers for large-scale cannabis farming and regulates its distribution at a controlled price of about one dollar a gram through pharmacies to registered consumers.

Private individuals are also allowed up to six plants at home. Larger amounts can be grown at cannabis clubs where individuals band together to produce marijuana in greater quantities as long as it is not for sale.

Legal sales through pharmacies are expected to begin in the second half of this year. Earlier this month the government opened the registry for pharmacists wishing to sell legal weed. These must install fingerprint recognition software to identify consumers as well as wall-mounted safety boxes to protect the maximum two kilos of marijuana each pharmacy will be allowed to maintain in stock.

Consumers must register with the government and will be allowed to purchase 10 grams per week.

Private consumption of drugs of any kind including heroin and cocaine was never actually banned by law in this atypically liberal South American nation, but the commercial production of marijuana was prohibited until the new law three years ago.

And there are still concerns regarding the system, particularly over the safety of pharmacists who the government fears could face threats from drug dealers angry at the low-priced legal competition.

Uruguayans have taken to the new law with gusto. Marijuana use is commonplace today in the capital city of Montevideo, where people smoke weed openly on the streets and grow shops and hemp clothes boutiques dot the colonial downtown shopping district.

The law was passed by Uruguays former president Jos Mujica, a one-time revolutionary who claims to have never smoked marijuana. Mujica was responsible for other liberal reforms including the legalization of abortion, which remains illegal in the rest of South America, before stepping down from office last year.

Im scared by the drug trafficking, not by the drug, Mujica has said.

The marijuana law has been upheld and is now being put into practice by his successor, the oncologist Tabar Vzquez, who meanwhile has been leading his own crusade against tobacco consumption.

During a previous tenure in office, Vzquez passed tough anti-tobacco legislation. He banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, ordered risk warnings covering 80% of cigarette packs and banned all tobacco advertising and sponsorships. Philip Morris in response sued Uruguay. An arbitration ruling is still pending before the World Bank.

And there is additional good news coming for weed consumers in Uruguay. Legal cannabis sales will not pay value added tax.

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These Cannabis Growing Nuns Answer To A Higher Power

When photographers Shaughn Crawford and John DuBois heard about two feminist nuns growing cannabis, they knew they wanted to get it on camera. The photographers tracked down Sister Kate and Sister Darcy, who graciously invited them to their central California “abbey” to watch the magic in action. 

Before we say anything else, Sister Kate and Sister Darcy are self-ordained nuns who created their own order. So, although they wear white robes and call themselves highly spiritual, they are not Catholic, nor are they abstinent or subordinate to any priest. Rather, they are vegan, feminist Bernie Sanders supporters who believe in every human’s god-given right to cannabis. 

Shaughn and John

However, the Sisters of the Valley, as they call themselves, aren’t interested in just getting their customers high. Rather, the Sisters seek to treat suffering and assuage the pain of individuals battling anything from cancer and arthritis to diaper rash and hangovers. 

Their salves, tonics and tinctures contain high volumes of CBD, the healing ingredient in cannabis, with little to no THC, the psychoactive element. All the products are organic, lab-tested and pesticide-free. Furthermore, the sisters only bottle their tinctures during full moons and say a prayer for healing with every bottle and jar sold. 

Shaughn and John

The sisters are driven by a desire to relieve. “We disagree with the concept that suffering is normal and a part of life,” Sister Kate explained in an interview with The Daily Beast. “We think that’s bullshit. Suffering isn’t a part of life; they’re making it so when they criminalize plant-based remedies.”

In their quest for natural healing, the Sisters have encountered both immense support and hard resistance. Their Etsy account, which often sold out of its salves, has been shut down and, in January, the municipal government of Merced placed a temporary ban on weed cultivation. “It’s frustrating to me because there are all of these people with negative attitudes about something that is truly God’s gift,” Sister Darcy told Merry Jane.

Shaughn and John

In their photo series, Crawford and DuBois capture a day in the life of the two marijuana-growing “nuns,” documenting the entire process from growing to trimming to concocting CBD products. All the while, Kate and Darcy’s all-white ensembles provide a wonderfully confounding image, communicating just how trippy real life can be, even sans THC. 

Although the Sisters of the Valley are not actual Catholic nuns, they do take inspiration from the bona fide abbesses in their lives. “I always wanted to be a sister,” Sister Kate said. “But I couldn’t be in a sisterhood that wasn’t empowered. I try to emulate the Catholic nuns standards of excellence. They stood for something. I’m trying to bring that back.”

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DEA Plans To Decide Whether To Reschedule Marijuana By Mid-Year

The Drug Enforcement Administration plans to decide whether marijuana should reclassified under federal law in “the first half of 2016,” the agency said in a letter to senators.

DEA, responding to a 2015 letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and seven other Democratic senators urging the federal government to facilitate research into marijuana’s medical benefits, doesn’t indicate whether it will reclassify marijuana as less dangerous.

The U.S. has five categories, or schedules, classifying illegal drugs or chemicals that can be used to make them. Schedule I is reserved for drugs the DEA considers to have the highest potential for abuse and no “current accepted medical use.” Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, along with heroin and LSD. Rescheduling marijuana wouldn’t make it legal, but may ease restrictions on research and reduce penalties for marijuana offenses.

“DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution to these petitions and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016,” DEA said the 25-page letter, obtained by The Huffington Post.

The letter, signed by Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, explains in great detail the marijuana supply available at the University of Mississippi, the federal government’s only sanctioned marijuana garden. 

The Food and Drug Administration has completed a review of the medical evidence surrounding the safety and effectiveness of marijuana and has forwarded its rescheduling recommendation to the DEA, according to the letter. The document didn’t reveal what the FDA recommended. 

If demand for research into marijuana’s medical potential were to increase beyond the the University of Mississippi’s supply, DEA said it may consider registering additional growers. 

This isn’t the first time DEA has been asked to reconsider marijuana’s classification. In 2001 and 2006, DEA considered petitions, but decided to keep marijuana a Schedule I substance.

The DEA response is signed by Rosenberg, Sylvia Burwell, secretary of HHS, and Michael Botticelli, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In addition to Warren, the letter was sent to Democratic Sens. Jeffrey Merkley (Ore.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).

Those senators, with the exception of Warren, are co-sponsors of a sweeping bill introduced in 2015 designed to drastically reduce the federal government’s ability to crack down on state-legal medical marijuana programs while also encouraging more research into the substance.

Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, a marijuana reform group, said there was “absolutely no reason marijuana should remain in Schedule I.”

“Almost half the states in the country have medical cannabis laws and major groups like the American Nurses Association and the American College of Physicians are on board,” Angell said in a statement. He said the Obama administration should use its authority to make the change “before this president leaves office.”

Read the DEA letter here.


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Medical experts call for global drug decriminalisation

International commission urges complete reversal of repressive drug policies imposed by most governments

An international commission of medical experts is calling for global drug decriminalisation, arguing that current policies lead to violence, deaths and the spread of disease, harming health and human rights.

The commission, set up by the Lancet medical journal and Johns Hopkins University in the United States, finds that tough drugs laws have caused misery, failed to curb drug use, fuelled violent crime and spread the epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C through unsafe injecting.

Publishing its report on the eve of a special session of the United Nations devoted to illegal narcotics, it urges a complete reversal of the repressive policies imposed by most governments.

The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded, says Dr Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a member of the commission.

The global war on drugs has harmed public health, human rights and development. Its time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.

The commission calls on the UN to back decriminalisation of minor, non-violent drug offences involving the use, possession and sale of small quantities. Military force against drug networks should be phased out, it says, and policing should be better targeted on the most violent armed criminals.

Among its other recommendations are:

  • Minimise prison sentences for women involved in non-violent crimes who are often exploited as drug mules.
  • Move gradually towards legal, regulated drug markets which are not politically possible in the short term in some places although they predict more countries and US states will move that way, a direction we endorse.
  • Ensure easy access to clean needles, oral drugs such as methadone to reduce injecting and naloxene, the antidote to overdoses.
  • Stop aerial spraying of drug crops with toxic pesticides.

The commission comprises doctors, scientists and health and human rights experts from around the world. It is jointly chaired by Prof Adeeba Kamarulzaman from the University of Malaya and Prof Michel Kazatchkine, the UN special envoy for HIV/Aids in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Its report says scientific evidence on repressive drug policies is wanting. The last UN special session on drug use was in 1998, under the slogan, a drug-free world we can do it. It backed a total clampdown, urging governments to eliminate drugs through bans on use, possession, production and trafficking.


The commission says that has not worked and that the casualties of that approach have been huge. The decision of the Caldern government in Mexico in 2006 to use the military in civilian areas to fight drug traffickers ushered in an epidemic of violence in many parts of the country that also spilled into Central America, says the report. The increase in homicides in Mexico since 2006 is virtually unprecedented in a country not formally at war. It was so great in some parts of the country that it contributed to a reduction in the countrys projected life expectancy.

Prohibitionist drug policies have had serious adverse consequences in the US, too. The USA is perhaps the best documented but not the only country with clear racial biases in policing, arrests, and sentencing, the commissioners write.

In the USA in 2014, African American men were more than five times more likely than white people to be incarcerated for drug offences in their lifetime, although there is no significant difference in rates of drug use among these populations. The impact of this bias on communities of people of colour is inter-generational and socially and economically devastating.


The commission cites examples of countries and US states that have moved down the decriminalisation road. Countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic decriminalised minor drug offences years ago, with significant financial savings, less incarceration, significant public health benefits, and no significant increase in drug use, says the report.

Decriminalisation of minor offences along with scaling up low-threshold HIV prevention services enabled Portugal to control an explosive, unsafe injection-linked HIV epidemic, and probably prevented one from happening in the Czech Republic.

Beyrer told the Guardian the commission was cautiously optimistic that it would have an impact on the UN meeting, although it was aware of forcible opposition there to decriminalisation. There certainly are a number of countries and some powerful countries like the Russian Federation that are vigorously opposed to any reform of current drug regimes and they will do anything they can to influence UNGASS [the UN special session], he said.

UNGASS is going to be a real struggle but there are a number of governments and civil society organisations that are really seeing the need for change. In the US, the issue of overdose on prescription opioid medicines has become part of the presidential contest, he pointed out. I think this is a moment. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, said Beyrer.

At a release of the paper in New York, researcher Joanne Csete of Columbia University said she believed that US actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a heroin overdose, would be alive today were it not for regressive drug policies that she said made safe opioid maintenance almost impossible to obtain.

Our report is about political choices, she said. The failure to invest in programmes that can help people always inject with sterile equipment is a political choice, she said. Were dealing with a war on drugs These policies have their roots in a racist and reactionary calculation.

Prof Carl Hart, a research psychologist also at Columbia University who is well-known for activism against the war on drugs, echoed Csetes comments. One in three black males can expect to spend some time in prison, Hart said. I have three sons, one has spent time in prisons, and in part because we have vilified drugs, and [convinced the public] that drug users deserve that kind of punishment. So I cant be silent this is personal.

In Britain, the Home Office said drugs were illegal when there was scientific evidence they were harmful to health and society. A spokesman said that the approach was to enforce the existing law, prevent usage and help addicts recover. He added: There are promising signs this approach is working, with a downward trend in drug use over the last decade and more people recovering from dependency now than in 2009/10. Decriminalising drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by their illicit trade, nor would it address the harms and destruction associated with drug dependence.

Norman Lamb, a former British government minister and Liberal Democrat MP, said that he supported the Lancet commissions findings: The war on drugs has failed and it is Liberal Democrat policy to decriminalise the personal possession and use of all drugs, and introduce a regulated, legalised market for cannabis. Drug use should be treated as a health issue, not as a criminal issue.

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