Women’s Hunger Strike; Protests Harsh Anti-Marijuana LawsBELARUS- More than a dozen Belarusian women have participated in a hunger strike, hoping for the release of their sons, husbands, grandsons, and other relatives from imprisonment or drug-related charges.
The women’s goal is to meet with Belarusian President of Alexander Lukashenko. They call the strike “a step of desperation.”
Belarus’ penal code has no distinction between categories of drugs, meaning possession of cannabis and heroin are prosecuted with the same penalties. According to Legalize Belarus, a youth-led campaign to end Belarus’ drug war, more than 15,000 people have been imprisoned for drug-related crimes, many for minor cannabis possession resulting in five- to eight-year prison sentences.
Such petty possession cases see Belarusian prosecutors push for trafficking charges that guarantee a minimum prison sentence of five years. According to Legalize Belarus, possession of 5 grams of cannabis allows accused offenders to be charged with “intention to distribute.” The Belarusian judiciary has also been called into question by relatives of the convicted for its lack of transparency in its investigations, weak evidence, and cruel court proceedings.
On April 25, 2018, the day before the protest began, the strikers handed their appeals to the city executive committee, which was forwarded to Prosecutor-General Alyaksandr Kanyuk’s office.
Belarus was once a Soviet Union republic, though the country has shied away from Russia since its seizure of Crimea in 2014. Despite showing signs of aligning with the European Union — releasing political prisoners, abandoning a highly unpopular “parasite tax” on unemployed residents — Belarus maintains it’s tough anti-drug laws.
This is partially attributed to harsh drug laws and Soviet-era anti-cannabis propaganda from Lukashenko’s government. Lukashenko is the first, and only, President of Belarus, having served five terms since the passage of the post-Soviet Union Constitution in 1994. Lukashenko’s authoritarian system of government is described by British author and journalist Peter Pomerantsev as the “last dictatorship in Europe.”
According to Aliena Krasoskaja, who heads the Belarusian human-rights organization Region 119, the courts are judging in accordance with somewhat recent legislation.
In 2014, after a January poppy seed ban resulted in a reduction in opiate consumption, Belarus saw a rise in synthetic drug use. Also known as “spice,” these synthetic drugs have caused a spike in overdoses and drug-related deaths. In December 2014, the Lukashenka administration responded with a decree that raised the maximum sentence for drug trafficking to 25 years and lowered the criminal liability age to 14.
In response to what opponents call the oppressive nature and widespread reach of Lukashenka’s decree, human rights advocates are fighting for even modest reconsiderations of Belarus’ strict laws.
Seven of the hunger strikers met with presidential envoy Natallya Kahanava on May 2, 2018, to advocate for more lenient sentences for both their family members and the public at large. A spokesperson for the movement reported that by the sixth day, the mothers were beginning to feel the full effects of starvation — irregular blood pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, according to Euroradio.fm
Hunger strikers were scheduled to meet with Prosecutor-General Alyaksandr Kanyuk two days later, but the meeting was canceled abruptly.
The following day, an ambulance visited the seven hunger strikers in Kalinkavichy, who reported that they continued to feel ill with critically low blood sugar levels. Liudzmila Pimenauskaya, a 66-year-old woman who took part in the strike for her grandson, decided to stop the hunger strike for health-related reasons, and was taken home by relatives.
Lukashenko’s administration did not comment on the matter, and no further meetings have been scheduled.
The women continue their hunger strike.
Imports of Medical Cannabis Likely to RemainGERMANY- Those who dreaded legalization in Canada could stop the flow of medical cannabis imported to Germany can breathe a sigh of relief. Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) confirmed it will continue to license the import of medical cannabis from Canada.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Health told Marijuana.com, May 4, 2018, the federal government will not interfere with Canada’s medical cannabis program, which remains in compliance with the UN Single Convention.
Regardless of whether Canada will legalize cannabis on July 1 or a little later, legalization will put the country in violation of the UN’s single treaty on narcotic drugs. The agreement prohibits its signatories from growing, trading, and consuming cannabis for recreational purposes.
For example, officials from the United Nations International Narcotic Control Council (INCB) criticized Uruguay in November 2013 for legalizing recreational cannabis, stating that the 1961 agreement had been violated. For this reason, Uruguay is not eligible as a supplier for the medical cannabis market in Germany. The INCB has not done the same for Canada. As to whether Uruguay’s fate will befall Canada when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau realizes his plan to legalize cannabis in the country, officials pointed to Canada’s medical marijuana practices as the safeguard to continue imports.
“To the knowledge of the Federal Government, the existing Canadian legal framework for the cultivation and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes, under which exports to Germany take place, should be able to remain under the planned new Canadian legislation,” a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of Health announced May 2, 2018, when asked whether the Trudeau government’s plan will compromise the country’s export options.
“As far as can be seen, the United Nations International Narcotic Drug Control Board, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, has so far violated the conventions of the regulated and controlled cultivation of medicinal cannabis in Canada and the placing on the market of medicinal cannabis.”
Previously, BfArM, which reports to the Federal Ministry of Health, addressed the same question: “[…] Medical Cannabis may only be marketed in Germany in the case of the cannabis derived from a crop grown for medical purposes under State control in accordance with Articles 23 and 28 (1) of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. We assume that Canada will continue to meet these requirements in the future if the harvested cannabis is destined for export to Germany.”
Exports of Illegal Marijuana
A federal memo originating from the Canadian government, obtained through the Access to Information Act, cites a meeting in April 2017 between deputy ministers from the two countries. The memo stated, “China is concerned about what Canada is doing to stem the flow of illicit cannabis into China and [Canada] will be working with them on this issue.”
Before the documents surfaced, there had been no instances where China directly pointed a finger at Canada regarding illegal drugs of any kind.
The talks over Canadian cannabis heading to China came up during discussions on how to halt the illegal import of Chinese opiates heading into Canada, a problem which has thrown fuel on the fire of a serious opioid epidemic currently gripping North America.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canada had no comment on the issue. However, Andrew Gowing from Public Safety Canada told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., “the clandestine nature of illegal cannabis exportation from Canada to any country, including China, makes it difficult to estimate exactly how often it occurs.”
Gowing added that all countries now “live in an increasingly global and interconnected world where crime has no borders. Canadian law enforcement works closely with a number of international partners, including Chinese law enforcement, to disrupt international drug trafficking networks and combat international drug trafficking.”
In January, Statistics Canada reported approximately $1.2 billion worth of cannabis, which totaled about 20 percent of the country’s illicit production, was exported and sold internationally in 2017. Much of that marijuana goes to the United States, with Canadian federal law enforcement estimating between 50 and 80 percent of cannabis grown in British Columbia is bound for America.
Although it’s unclear at this time what Canada plans to do about this massive illegal green wave heading beyond its borders, Gowing stated that the government is aware and doing what they can to curb the issue.
“The government has committed to ensuring that police have the appropriate tools and other resources in place to strictly enforce the law.”
Bank’s Prediction Marks a High Point for Legal MarijuanaCANADA- A statement released in early May 2018 by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), a major financial organization in Canada, revealed that recreational cannabis could reach $6.5 billion yearly by 2020.
The valuation predicts that Canadians will consume more than 1.673 million pounds, of cannabis in the following two years.
“We believe that by 2020, the legal market for adult use cannabis will approach $6.5 billion in retail sales,” CIBC alleged. “For context, this is greater than the amount of spirits sold in this country, and approaches wine in scale.”
Typically, more than 132,277 pounds, of legal medical cannabis is consumed each year in Canada. CIBC pointed out “this is a drop in the bucket compared to illicit purchases.”
This is not the first time a major Canadian institution has predicted high numbers for cannabis. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada projected that Canadians spent $5.7 billion on marijuana in 2017. Greatest of that amount, roughly 90 percent, were illegal purchases.
In October 2016, accounting firm Deloitte projected that if supporting sectors such as lighting, cultivation and manufacturing are factored into the equation, Canadian legal cannabis could ultimately be a $22.6 billion industry.
Up until January 2018, large Canadian banks for the most part wholly disregarded the ever-growing cannabis sector or flat out refused to do business with anyone involved. That included the licensed producers trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. That all changed when CIBC issued its forecast.
Lately keystone institutions that include Bank of Montreal and now CIBC, have shed their ignorance on the issue and are now lending and acknowledging this multi-billion-dollar, soon-to-be-legal business.
This recognition will undoubtedly allow the expanding list of cannabis-related ventures across Canada to breathe a sigh of relief as they too prepare for recreational legalization.
Canada is expected to officially end marijuana prohibition by fall 2018.