Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Another Handful of Summer Drug War Deaths

The August 19 death of a black St. Louis teenager shot by police executing a drugs and guns search warrant got national attention and sparked local protests, but it was by no means the only drug war-related death in recent weeks.

At least five people have died in the drug war in the past month, bringing the number of people to die in the drug war so far this year is up to 42.

Most of those deaths went largely unremarked (except for the killing of a Memphis police officer, which sparked predictable outrage), but the killing of black teenager Mansur Ball-Bey by a white St. Louis police officer drew both protests and national concern as yet another example of police violence against black men. The fact that it happened in St. Louis, just minutes away from Ferguson, Missouri, where the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police a year ago sparked violent protests and helped lead to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, only heightened attention.

According to Reuters, police were executing a search warrant for drugs and guns at a residence when two young men fled out the back door of the home. Police said Ball-Bey, 18, turned and pointed a gun at them, and officers then fired four times, killing him.

Police said Ball-Bey's gun was stolen and that they recovered crack cocaine at the scene.

Local residents didn't buy the police account, and dozens of people quickly blocked a nearby intersection, where police arrested three people. Later that evening, more protesters gathered, with some throwing rocks at police and police responding with tear gas. The protests have continued.

An autopsy showing that Ball-Bey was shot in the back has led to more distrust and suspicion, even though police have offered an explanation, saying that officers were in different locations, and that when Ball-Bey turned toward one officer, he turned away from another one who fired. The killing remains under investigation and intense public scrutiny.

Even though police and investigating prosecutors may be able to justify Ball-Bey's death -- he had a gun, he pointed it at police -- the race of the victim and the shooter made the killing especially combustible. Other drug war deaths deserve similar scrutiny, but they rarely get it. Most of the time there is merely the initial report of the death, typically based on police comments or press releases, then… nothing.

Not all drug war deaths come at the hands of the police -- sometimes, though rarely, they are the victims -- and not all drug war deaths are homicides. Some are accidents. But the bottom line with these drug war deaths is that they would not have happened if we had a more enlightened response to drugs. These are people who have been sacrificed on the altar of drug prohibition.

Here are the others who died in the drug war in the past month:

  • In Midland, Texas, a teenage mother died on July 29 after swallowing four grams of methamphetamine during a traffic stop in a bid to protect her boyfriend, the father of her infant son. According to News West 9, Sandy Brooke Franklin, 18, and Zane Paul O'Neal, 22, were pulled over by Midland Police, and O'Neal, who was on probation, told her to swallow the drugs. She did, but ended up going to jail anyway over two traffic warrants. While in jail, she did not reveal that she had swallowed the drugs, but 36 hours later, guards noticed she was unwell. Only then did she admit ingesting the meth, but it was too late -- she died in the hospital.
  • In Memphis, a Memphis police officer was shot and killed after interrupting a small-time marijuana deal on August 1. Officer Sean Bolton had approached a parked vehicle, when a passenger got out and fought with Bolton, then shot him. Police later found 1.7 grams of marijuana and a set of scales in the car. Police said they normally wouldn't even arrest someone for that tiny amount of pot, but the accused shooter, Tremaine Wilbourne, was on parole and likely would have been jailed.
  • Near Chinook Pass, Washington, a state trooper died on August 6 while investigating a reported marijuana grow. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Detective Brent Hanger, 47, an undercover agent on a statewide drug task force was following a tip near the mile-high pass when he "suffered a medical condition and died." He had complained of chest pains and shortness of breath before collapsing. No word on whether they ever found that pot garden.
  • In Hobbs, New Mexico, a fugitive drug suspect was shot and killed by Lea County Drug Task Force officers on August 12. According to the Hobbs News-Sun, William "Wild Bill" Smith had been on the run since a drug raid the previous week and was killed after a high-speed chase. He was a passenger in the vehicle. A week later, the New Mexico State Police provided an update on the case, which added little information except to say that "a firearm was located in the immediate area of Mr. Smith." The State Police said the investigation was ongoing.
  • In North East, Maryland, a man on probation with a history of drug offenses and drugs in his vehicle was shot and killed as he struggled with a state trooper on August 21. According to Baltimore's CBS Local News, Charles Hall, 30, was in a Walmart parking lot when he was spotted by the trooper, who attempted to place him under arrest. "… The man refused to submit, resisted, and a physical altercation began between the wanted person and the trooper. This actually moved to the driver's side of the suspect's vehicle, a physical struggle was going on, the suspect was able to get his key into the ignition, get the vehicle started," Maryland State Police spokesperson Greg Shipley explained. "So the trooper during this struggle as the vehicle was accelerating fired his department issued pistol and fatally wounded this individual." AlterNet ran a story on this incident last week that included video of Hall's wife screaming "He wasn't fucking armed!" in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Since Drug War Chronicle started tracking these deaths in 2011, they have averaged about one a week or 50 a year. But this year, we're already up to 42.

Chronicle AM: MI Rejects MedMJ for Autistic Kids, US Rejects Afghanistan Opium Eradication...For Now, More (8/28/2015)

California could still see a medical marijuana regulation bill this year, a Michigan official ignores his own advisory panel and bars medical marijuana for autistic kids, California counties strike out in an effort to make Big Pharma pay for damages related to prescription opiates, and more.

In Afghan fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Gutted, But Still Alive. A measure aimed at bringing the state's medical marijuana industry into an era of statewide regulation passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, but there was nothing in the version of the bill approved by the committee. Assembly Bill 266 was gutted and now simply reads: "It is the intention of the state legislature to regulate medical marijuana." It appears the move is designed to make room for input from the office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which has now submitted its language. The governor's language largely mirrors earlier language and would set up a tightly regulated system. The legislature has until next month to get the bill passed.

Michigan Rejects Medical Marijuana for Autism. Although an advisory panel recommended allowing medical marijuana for autism, Mike Zimmer, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said Thursday he was rejecting that recommendation. Zimmer said there was not sufficient research and he questioned whether cannabis oil is even allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. Advocates said he was mistaken in his reading of the law, and said they were frustrated with the decision.

Drug Policy

Feeling Political Pressure, Los Angeles County Promoter Cancels Rave After Deaths at Earlier Event. Organizers of HARD Presents… A Night at Fairplex have canceled the September 10 rave in the face of threats from county commissioners to ban raves on county properties after two teens died at the HARD Summer festival at the same venue in early August. The promoter is also scaling back its annual Day of the Dead party set for October 31 and November 1. But some county commissioners say they are still moving forward with plans for a ban.

California Judge Throws Out Counties' Lawsuit Against Prescription Opiate Manufacturers. An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed against five of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies by Southern California counties seeking to make them pay for damages related to prescription drug abuse. The suit accused the companies of fraudulently marketing the pain relievers to undercut the warning labels required by the FDA. The pharmaceutical companies, including PurduePharma, the makers of Oxycontin, argued that the FDA had exclusive jurisdiction. The judge agreed, dismissing the case, but leaving an opening for it to be re-filed after an FDA evaluation.

International

US Rules Out Opium Eradication in Afghanistan, At Least For Now. The US will not support eradication programs in the world's largest opium producer until and unless there is a comprehensive alternative development program that will provide a stable source of income for poppy farmers, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "This is a tough problem to get at, but to simply, you know, work towards some eradication program -- to burn them to the ground, while that may have an immediate effect, it doesn't necessarily do anything for long-term stability and security for Afghan farmers," he said. "You have to be able to work on supplementing it for something else, and we have worked with Afghan authorities for many years about trying to find other crops that farmers can grow to make a good living, and there's been some success in that," he said.

Chronicle AM: FL Legalization Init to Roll Out, Dark Web's Largest Drug Market Shuts Down, More (8/27/2015)

The controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative continues to make news, a Florida legalization initiative kicks-off tomorrow, the Dark Web's biggest drug marketplace is shutting down -- at least temporarily -- and more.

"Buddie," the Ohio legalization initiative mascot (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Rolls Out Tomorrow. An initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State will begin with a news conference in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. The Sensible Florida PAC will announce a signature-gathering drive for a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Some 683,000 valid voter signatures will be needed, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Ohio Legalizers Roll Out "Buddie" Mascot, Get Flak From Child Advocates. The folks behind the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have introduced their mascot, "Buddie," a cape-wearing superhero with a green marijuana bud for a head and a "B" logo over a picture of a pot leaf. Some child advocates grumbled that the mascot would lead kids to believe that pot is OK.  ResponsibleOhio said Buddie will only visit college campuses filled with voting age college students.

Ohio Legalizers Go to State Supreme Court Over Ballot Language. ResponsibleOhio asked the Supreme Court today to reject the state Ballot Board's wording of its initiative. In a 40-page complaint, the group claimed the board used prejudicial language, deliberate omissions, and outright falsehoods by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and his staff, and that the resulting language is "fatal to the validity of the ballot."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor to Call Out National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday the state would ramp up police efforts to fight drugs in the state, including deploying the National Guard to support the struggle against drug trafficking. He also renewed his pleas for more funding for more cops and prosecutors, a stance that leaves him at odds with the state legislature. LePage's remarks come a day after drug czar Michael Botticelli told a Maine roundtable the state needs more drug treatment facilities.

International

Dark Web's Largest Drug Marketplace Closing Its Doors -- For Now. Agora, the reigning champion among Dark Web drug sellers, is shutting down at least temporarily to heighten its defenses against intruders who may be seeking to identify and bust the site's operators and servers. The site's anonymous administrators said they had detected "suspicious activity" they thought was aimed at breaking the anonymity software Tor browser, which could reveal not only administrators, but customers. "At this point, while we don't have a solution ready it would be unsafe to keep our users using the service, since they would be in jeopardy," Agora said. "Thus, and to our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved."

Medical Marijuana Update

California still has some problems with the feds, dispensaries open in Nevada and get licensed in Illinois, an Oklahoma initiative campaign is gearing up, and more.

California

Last Thursday, a federal appeals court rejected Oakland's lawsuit backing the Harborside dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

Last Friday, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana sought relief in federal court from a permanent civil injunction barring it from operating. Dispensary founder Lynnette Shaw cited last December's passage of the Rorhabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, in filing the motion for relief.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Colorado patients sued over the state's refusal to include PTSD as a qualifying condition. Five PTSD patients filed suit against the state Board of Health over its decision not to include PTSD on the state's medical marijuana eligibility list. The board and the Department of Public Health and Environment, which is also named in the complaint, now have 21 days to respond.

Illinois

On Tuesday, the state issued its first dispensary license. The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulations has granted a dispensary license to the Harbory in Marion. Another dispensary is under construction in Milan, but has yet to be licensed. There will be more to come. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will continue to be registered on a rolling basis," said the DFPR in a statement. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will receive medical cannabis exclusively from Illinois' licensed growing facilities once it becomes available."

Michigan

On Monday, one group planning a legalization initiative said it would instead focus on medical marijuana. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with their marijuana legalization efforts.

Nevada

On Monday, the first Las Vegas dispensary opened for business. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

On Wednesday, Reno's first dispensary opened for business. Sierra Wellness Connections opened near downtown Reno. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming. Medical marijuana advocates filed papers with the state last Friday indicating they are preparing another initiative petition drive to put the issue before the voters. Once the initiative is approved for circulation, proponents will have 90 days to gather 123,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A similar effort fell short in 2014. This one is being run by a group called Green the Vote.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Illinois Governor Vetoes Heroin Bill Over Medicaid Treatment Funding [FEATURE]

Faced with a public health crisis related to heroin and prescription opioid use, the Illinois state government created a bipartisan Heroin Task Force in a comprehensive effort to address the problem from all angles. The task force created a set of policy recommendations that were embodied in House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Act.

Heroin is taking a toll not only in Chicago, but in its suburbs. (kirk.senate.gov)
The bill passed the House and Senate in May, and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in June, where it sat on his desk until this week. On Monday, Rauner finally acted -- not by signing the bill, but by vetoing critical sections of it that he says the state cannot afford. He has now sent the bill back to the legislature and asked it to remove the offending sections.

But saying, "People are dying," the measure's House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), has vowed an effort to override the veto. An override could be within reach -- the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses -- but for members of a governor's own party, a veto override is a hard vote to take.

Here's what the bill does:

  • It increases the availability of opiate overdose reversal drugs and requires private insurance to cover at least one of them, as well as acute treatment and stabilization services. It allows licensed pharmacists to dispense overdose reversal drugs, allows school nurses to administer them to students suffering from overdoses, and provides protection from civil liability for people who administer them in good faith.
  • It requires the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education to develop a three-year pilot heroin prevention program for all schools in the state, requires the Department of Human Services to develop materials to educate prescription opiate users on the dangers of those drugs, and it requires the Department of Insurance to convene working groups on drug treatment and mental illness and on parity between state and federal mental health laws.
  • It intensifies the state's prescription monitoring program by tightening reporting requirements and it requires doctors to now document the medical necessity of any three sequential 30-day prescriptions for Schedule II opioids.
  • On the criminal justice front, it permits multiple chances at drug court and prevents prosecutors from unilaterally blocking entry to drug court, and it requires prosecutors and public defenders to undergo mandatory education on addiction and addiction treatment. It also increases criminal penalties for "doctor shopping" if fraud is involved.
  • It requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment, including methadone and other opiate maintenance treatment, as well as all anti-overdose medications.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
It's the latter provision to which Rauner objects.

"I support all of the above measures and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois. Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that will impose a very costly mandate on the State's Medicaid providers. I am returning the bill with a recommendation to address that concern," he said in a veto statement.

"House Bill 1 mandates that fee-for-service and medical assistance Medicaid programs cover all forms of medication assisted treatment of alcohol or opioid dependence, and it removes utilization controls and prior authorization requirements," Rauner continued. "These changes would limit our ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties. Importantly, the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. But without adequate funding to support mandated coverage for all forms of treatment, regardless of cost, this change would add to the State's deficit."

His recommendation is simply to delete the language requiring Medicaid coverage.

Rep. Lang and other bill supporters aren't going for that.

"There's a human cost to not doing it," Lang said. "People are addicted, people are sick, people are dying. You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there's a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they're no longer in emergency rooms, they're no longer a burden to law enforcement."

Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious problem in Illinois. The rate of drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled since 1999, and in the Chicago suburbs, people have been dying of drug overdoses at a rate of three per day since 2012. In the state as a whole, 633 people died of heroin overdoses last year, with nearly half (283) in Chicago.

At the same time as the problem with heroin and prescription opioids has been deepening, the state's ability to provide treatment has been decreasing. According to a report this month from the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, the state's ranking for drug treatment capacity has fallen from 28th in the nation in 2009 to 47th this year. This as demand for heroin and opiate treatment statewide is increasing dramatically. In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, 35% of drug treatment admissions are for heroin, more than twice the national average.

The consortium's director and the study's lead author, Kathleen Kane-Willis, noted that Illinois is one of only a few states nationwide that doesn't allow Medicaid coverage of opiate maintenance treatment.

"We're going to pay for not paying," she said.

But bill supporters could also find the votes to override the veto. Rep. Lang says that is what's he going to try to do, and with a 114-0 vote in the House and a 46-6 vote in the Senate the first time around, he has plenty of supporters to ask. If that happens, Illinois will get the drug treatment it needs, and Rauner will still be able to maintain his fiscally conservative credentials.

Springfield, IL
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jail guards in trouble, a DEA agent gets popped for child porn, and a Mississippi cop gets fired after getting caught in a major marijuana deal. Let's get to it:

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a Hattiesburg police officer was fired last Wednesday amid allegations he is a target of a state and federal drug investigation. Officer Thomas Wheeler got canned after he was caught making a 600-pound marijuana deal earlier this month. Wheeler has yet to be charged, and his case will likely go before a grand jury in October.

In McAllen, Texas, a DEA special agent was arrested last Friday on child porn charges. Special Agent James Patrick Burke had been the subject of a February raid in which FBI agents seized his laptop and discovered he was viewing and downloading child pornography. It's not clear exactly what he's been charged with, but he's now on administrative leave from the DEA.

In Mobile, Alabama, a Mobile County jail guard was arrested Tuesday for allegedly selling drugs. David John Black Jr. is charged with four counts of distribution of marijuana, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Mobile County Sheriff's Office said there was no evidence he was dealing drugs at the jail.

In Memphis, four Shelby County jail deputies pleaded guilty last Thursday to trying to smuggle prescription drugs into the jail. Torriano Vaughn, Brian Grammer, Anthony Thomas and Marcus Green had participated in a scheme to smuggle what they thought were OxyContin pills into Shelby County Jail on multiple occasions between May and December 2014. But it was a sting, and the four have now pleaded guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. They're looking at up to 20 years.

Chronicle AM: CA Waits for Big Legalization Init, NYC "Fake Weed" Ban Proposed, More (8/26/2015)

We're still waiting for the big one to drop in California, Ohio officials don't play nice with initiative ballot title language, Illinois gets its first dispensary approved, NYC wants to ban "fake weed,' and more.

The long-awaited ReformCA initiative is late out of the gate, but should be coming soon. (reformca.com)
Marijuana Policy

Big California Legalization Initiative Nearly Ready. It's getting late in the season, and the ReformCA legalization initiative has yet to be rolled out. ReformCA chair Dale Sky Jones says it is coming next month, but the delay is cutting into signature-gathering time and is keeping funding on the sidelines for now. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Secretary of State Uses "Monopoly" to Describe Legalization Initiative in Ballot Title. Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has inserted the word "monopoly" into the title of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, now known as Issue 3. The title voters will see when they cast their votes will be "Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes." The initiative would give exclusive rights to grow marijuana commercially to 10 growing facilities whose owners are the funders of the initiative. But ResponsibleOhio counters that state regulators could later expand the number of sites.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Issues First Dispensary License. The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulations has granted a dispensary license to the Harbory in Marion. Another dispensary is under construction in Milan, but has yet to be licensed. There will be more to come. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will continue to be registered on a rolling basis," said the DFPR in a statement. "Illinois medical cannabis dispensaries will receive medical cannabis exclusively from Illinois' licensed growing facilities once it becomes available."

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill Would Ban "Synthetic Marijuana" in New York City. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Tuesday she will file a bill to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids in the city. "This is a concern that's growing. We're trying to get a handle on it," she said at a news conference. Under the bill, people found guilty of selling the substance could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, with the fine increasing to $25,000 for subsequent violations. City officials have reported violent incidents and hospital ER visits linked to the drug.

International

British Tories Forego Debate to Reject Marijuana Legalization Petition. The British government is rejecting out of hand a petition calling for legalization that garnered more than 200,000 signatures on a new government website. The petition is supposed to require the parliament to consider the question, but the Tories control the backbenches, and the government isn't waiting to dash cold water on the idea. Its official reply says: "Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalize cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities. Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalization of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families."

Salvia Divinorum To Be Banned in Canada as of February. On February 8, 2016, the fast-acting psychedelic will officially be added to Schedule IV of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "The (CDSA) will prohibit activities such as the trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importation, exportation, possession for the purpose of exportation, and production, of Salvia Divinorum, its preparations, and derivatives, unless authorized by regulation or via an exemption," Health Canada said. Simple possession will not be prohibited by law.

Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.

International

Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

Chronicle AM: Christie Blames Obama for "Heroin Epidemic," CO Patients Sue Over PTSD, More (8/24/2015)

Pot isn't stinky enough for its odor to automatically qualify as disorderly conduct in Oregon, Colorado patients sue over the state's decision not to include PTSD in the medical marijuana program, Oklahomans will try again to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, and more.

Chris Christie tries to make political hay off of opiate addiction. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Court Rules Pot Smell Not Inherently Offensive. The state Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of a man arrested on graffiti charges after police entered his home using the premise that he was committing disorderly conduct with the "physically offensive" odor of smoked marijuana. The court held that marijuana odors are not necessarily "physically offensive," writing that, "We are not prepared to declare that the odor of marijuana smoke is equivalent to the odor of garbage. Indeed, some people undoubtedly find the scent pleasing." The case is State v. Lang.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Patients Sue Over State's Refusal to Include PTSD as Qualifying Condition. Five PTSD patients filed suit against the state Board of Health last Thursday over its decision not to include PTSD on the state's medical marijuana eligibility list. The board and the Department of Public Health and Environment, which is also named in the complaint, now have 21 days to respond.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming. Medical marijuana advocates filed papers with the state last Friday indicating they are preparing another initiative petition drive to put the issue before the voters. Once the initiative is approved for circulation, proponents will have 90 days to gather 123,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. A similar effort fell short in 2014. This one is being run by a group called Green the Vote.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Campaign Ad Blames Heroin "Epidemic" on Obama. In a new campaign ad, the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender goes after "lawlessness in America and around the world under Barack Obama" and declares that "drugs are running rampant and destroying lives" as images of an apparent drug overdose and a hoodie-wearing addict shooting up show on the screen. Christie doubled down on the ad on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning: "This president has set a standard in Washington of lawlessness," he said. "What I mean by that is this: If you don't like the law, don't enforce it. So if you don't like the immigration laws, don't enforce those and let there be sanctuary cities throughout the country and do nothing about it. If you don't like the marijuana laws, don't enforce the marijuana laws in certain states if they don't feel like enforcing them."

Ohio Bill Would End Automatic Drivers' License Suspension for Drug Offenses. Following an edict developed by the federal government in the 1990s, people convicted of drug offenses in Ohio face an automatic six-month suspension of their drivers' licenses, even if no vehicle was involved in their offense. The state told the federal government in December it wanted out of the program, and now a bill to do just that, Senate Bill 204, has been introduced. The bill would make the suspension discretionary instead of mandatory, and it has the support of state prosecutors. "It never made much sense to have a license suspension in connection with a drug offense unless there is a vehicle involved," said John Murphy of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

International

May Shootout in Mexico Now Looks Like a Massacre By Police. The Mexican National Security Commission told the public that an incident that left 42 alleged cartel gunmen and one police officer dead was an hours-long shootout, but evidence developed since then suggest that it was instead a massacre or summary execution of suspects. Now, the Mexican Attorney General's Office and local prosecutors in Michoacan say crime scene evidence doesn't match what the commission and the police reported. That evidence suggests that only 12 of the 42 dead narcos were killed in action. Twenty-three others had wounds consistent not with a gunfight, but with an execution. Federal police said they seized 43 firearms, but only 12 had been fired, and photographs of the scene showed bodies with muddy hands lying next to clean weapons. One victim was shot nine times in the back; another was beaten to death. The Attorney General's Office says it will take over the investigation once local investigators are done.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: First Las Vegas MedMJ Shop, Peru Restarting Drug Plane Shootdowns, More (8/21/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe moves toward legal marijuana, Oakland's effort to back the Harborside dispensary gets shot down in federal court, Peru wants to shoot down drug planes again, both major Kentucky governor candidates want to drug test welfare recipients, and more.

Peru claims a ton a day of cocaine is being flown out of the country. (gob.es)
Marijuana Policy

California NAACP Files Legalization Initiative. The civil rights group has filed the Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis, the latest addition to the growing list of legalization initiatives filed in the state. Reports are that the initiative is not designed to compete with the still long-awaited proposal from ReformCA, of which the California NAACP is a member, but to submit model language in support of the broader effort. The initiative would legalize up to an ounce and allow personal grows of up to 25 square feet, as well as allow marijuana commerce.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe Votes to Legalize Marijuana on Reservation. Tribal members overwhelmingly approved two advisory questions on whether the tribe should legalize marijuana on its reservation. Recreational marijuana was approved 677 to 499, while medical marijuana was approved 899 to 275. The matter now goes to the tribal legislature, which, given the vote, will likely approve ordinances allowing for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rejects City of Oakland Lawsuit Backing Harborside Dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then-US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

First Las Vegas Dispensary Set to Open Monday. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

Drug Testing

Both Major Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Do Welfare Drug Testing. Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway has joined Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin in calling for drug testing of some welfare recipients. "I don't want to see our tax dollars going to support drug addiction," Conway, the Democratic front-runner, said Thursday. But Conway called for suspicion-based drug testing, while Bevins called for random testing, and Conway rejects drug testing Medicare recipients, while Bevins is for it.

International

Peruvian Congress Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The Congress voted unanimously Thursday to allow military planes to shoot down suspected drug flights. Drug-fighting President Ollanta Humala is expected to sign the bill. Peru claims a ton of cocaine a day is flown to Bolivia. Peru used to shoot down drug planes, but stopped after one of its pilots in a CIA-run program shot down a small plane carrying US missionaries, killing US citizen Roni Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity.

Russia Threatens to Ban Wikipedia Over Drug "How To" Entry. Russia's online censor, Roskomnadzor, says it will ban the entire website from Russia unless it removes or blocks access to an article about how to make a marijuana preparation. The censor has also recently gone after Reddit and YouTube over similar postings. Click on the link for more.

Canada's NDP Would Decriminalize Marijuana "Right Away." New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said Thursday that "the NDP's position is decriminalization the moment we form a government" and that "it's something we can do right away." The NDP is leading most polls in the elections set for October. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have called for outright legalization, but they're polling third, behind the Conservatives, who have taken a hard line opposing any moves at drug liberalization.

Dusseldorf Moves Forward on Legal Marijuana Sales Plan. Councilors in the German city Wednesday approved a pilot project to sell marijuana to adults. The move was a joint effort by the three parties that form the city's governing coalition, the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens. A similar move is afoot in Berlin, Germany's largest city, where councilors in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district applied for a marijuana license in June.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Truckers Oppose Hair Drug Tests, TX Drug Felon Food Stamp Ban Ending, More (8/20/2015)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, Texas is about to end its ban on food stamps for drug felons, Brazil's high court takes up a case that could lead to drug decriminalization, the Teamsters and other labor groups pan hair drug testing, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Joins Opposition to Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it would "strongly oppose" the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative and will donate $100,000 to defeat it at the polls. The chamber cited worries over workplace safety. The initiative campaign said it was not surprised, given that chambers of commerce in other states where legalization has been an issue have always opposed it.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Package Wins Senate Panel Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a package of bills reforming civil asset forfeiture. House Bills 4499 and 4503-4506 all passed unanimously. Five of the bills increase reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies, while two bills would raise standards in drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases from "a preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The committee did not vote on House Bill 4508, which would have barred the seizure of vehicles used to purchase less than an ounce of marijuana, after committee lawyers said it would legalize marijuana.

Drug Policy

Texas to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. Beginning September 1, Texas becomes the latest state to opt out of a federal ban on food stamps for drug felons that was enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. Many states opted out immediately, and now only a handful maintain the ban. They are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Drug Testing

Teamsters, Other Unions Urge House to Reject Hair Testing. A coalition of labor groups has sent a letter to House lawmakers dealing with transportation issues asking them to reject a recent Senate proposal to let trucking companies use hair testing for drugs instead of urine testing. The Senate proposal is part of a six-year highway bill. "We urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to reject efforts to allow hair to be used for federal drug tests before the validity and reliability of this testing method can be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups, including the Teamsters and a branch of the AFL-CIO, wrote. Urine testing, which detects recent drug use, has "proven effective," the groups said. Hair drug testing detects drug use going back months.

Harm Reduction

Third Indiana County Gets Emergency Needle Exchanges. The state health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Fayette County because of high levels of Hepatitis C infections. That will allow the county to institute needle exchange programs. Similar emergencies were declared earlier this year in Scott and Madison counties.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Considering Case That Could Lead to Drug Decriminalization. On Wednesday, the country's high court began arguing the case of a prison inmate caught with three grams of marijuana and charged with drug possession. Sao Paulo state public defenders are pushing for the conviction to be overturned on the grounds that the charge is unconstitutional because it violated citizens' privacy rights. The judges are continuing to consider the case today, with a ruling expected shortly.

New Canada Poll Has Two-Thirds for Marijuana Decriminalization. A new Ipsos poll has 65% of Canadians favoring decriminalization, with 35% opposed. "Doesn't matter where you live in the country, a majority of every demographic group supports decriminalization," said pollster Sean Simpson. Support was at 39% in 1987 and increased steadily since then.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A DARE cop gets popped for ripping off the program, another jail guard goes down, a federal cop gets busted after his meth lab explodes, and more. Let's get to it:

In Opelousas, Louisiana, a St. Landry Parish jail guard was arrested last Thursday after he confessed to smuggling drugs and cell phones into the jail. Deputy Christopher Lazard confessing to introducing contraband on at least five separate occasions. He is charged with malfeasance in office and introduction of contraband into a jail.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a former Brown County sheriff's deputy and a DARE volunteer were arrested last Thursday on charges they stole money from the drug education program. Former DARE officer Kevin Vanden Heuvel faces two counts of theft by an employee and two counts of misconduct in office, while former DARE volunteer Early Fuller is charged with being a party to theft and obstructing an officer. The pair stole money meant for the program by handing out fake parking passes at Lambeau Field and pocketing the money.

In Honolulu, a Honolulu police officer was arrested last Thursday during a drug raid on a home in McCully. Alan Ahn, a nine-year veteran of the force, had earlier been arrested on July 13 on domestic violence charges, but those charges had been dropped when his girlfriend, who was the victim, refused to cooperate. He and the girlfriend were sleeping together when the SWAT team raided the residence. Both were arrested for numerous drug offenses, but neither has been officially charged.

In Memphis, a Memphis police officer was arrested last Thursday by the West Tennessee Drug Task Force in a reverse sting. Officer Joshua McCann, 34, was busted trying to buy 38 hydrocodone tablets from an undercover officer. When he was arrested, police found a digital scale containing drug residue, a bullet proof vest, and a loaded handgun in his vehicle. He is charged with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance with intent to sell, possession of a handgun during the commission of a dangerous felony and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Washington, DC, a former federal police officer was arrested Monday with trying to cook meth at work after the federal lab he was guarding exploded. Christopher Bartley worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, but resigned his position a day after the explosion. He is charged with one count of attempting to manufacture meth.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a union corruption scandal brewing in California, medical marijuana faces awkward transitions in Oregon and Washington, and more.

California

Last Thursday, Oakland was once again considering licensing medical marijuana gardens. The city is in the process of crafting regulations and issuing licenses for medical marijuana grows, as well as other marijuana-related businesses. The city had proposed something similar in 2011, but retreated after federal prosecutors criticized the plan. But now the federal position has changed, and Oakland is ready to try again.

Also last Thursday, a UFCW Official was accused of taking bribes from dispensaries. Dan Rush, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division, has been charged in federal court with taking bribes or kickbacks to endorse potential dispensary operators. The feds accuse Rush of taking a $600,000 loan from one dispensary operator, and when he was unable to repay it, then working with an attorney to "[propose] and [take] steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers," the complaint says.

On Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors approved a land use ordinance that would allow for up to 15 dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The ordinance was approved unanimously. There was spirited dissent from one dispensary owner; click on the link to get the low down.

Also on Tuesday, Yuba County officials approved for circulation a ballot measure to overturn the county's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. The initiative proposed by the Progressive Business Alliance needs 2,483 valid voter signatures by January 19 to force a special election. This is the third set of petitions okayed by county election officials in recent months, meaning the county could see three separate special elections. The current ordinance bans outdoor cultivation in unincorporated areas of the county and limits indoor grows to 12 plants. The latest initiative would allow up to 12 plants indoors or out on parcels of less than an acre, with larger plant counts on larger parcels.

Florida

Last Thursday, a CBD expansion bill was filed. Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube (R) filed a bill Thursday that would expand the state's CBC cannabis oil program. The measure, House Bill 63, would lower barriers to entry for would-be medical marijuana growers and manufacturers, particularly by removing limits on the number of manufacturers.

North Dakota

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Trying to Get Going. A Fargo man has formed a committee to advance a medical marijuana initiative and is getting ready to submit initiative language to the Secretary of State's Office. Rilie Ray Morgan said the legislature's refusal to pass a medical marijuana bill showed it is out of touch with popular feeling and that the GOP-dominated House and Senate are "awfully conservative."

Oregon

Last Thursday, Oregon's governor signed a medical marijuana task force bill. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 844, which establishes a task force to research the medical and public health properties of marijuana. The task force will make a report with recommendations to the legislature on developing a medical marijuana industry that supplies patients with products that will meet their needs.

Washington

On Tuesday, the Tacoma city council ordered most dispensaries to be shut down. The city council decided to shut down most of the city's 60 unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries have 45 days to close. After passage of Senate Bill 5052, which essentially folds the medical marijuana system into the recreational marijuana system, dispensaries and collective gardens will have to get licenses from the state beginning next July 1 or shut their doors.

Wyoming

Last Friday, Wyoming initiative supporters announced their signature-gathering campaign would get underway over the weekend. An initiative campaign led by Wyoming NORML is getting underway this weekend. The group is set to unveil the initiative this weekend. They will need to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: OH Ballot Language Fight, Brit MPs Say Drug Use a Human Right, More (8/19/2015)

Another controversy over the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, medical marijuana could be coming to the northern prairie, a British parliamentary panel calls drug use a human right, and more.

Could this be coming to North Dakota? Stay tuned. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Ballot Language Approved, ResponsibleOhio Will Challenge as "Misleading." The state Ballot Board Tuesday approved the language voters will see when they vote on the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, but the group is unhappy with some of it and says it will challenge it in court. Don McTigue, an attorney for the group, said "It's not balanced language, and we believe that language does not fairly inform the voters on what they're being asked to vote upon." Click the story link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Trying to Get Going. A Fargo man has formed a committee to advance a medical marijuana initiative and is getting ready to submit initiative language to the Secretary of State's Office. Rilie Ray Morgan said the legislature's refusal to pass a medical marijuana bill showed it is out of touch with popular feeling and that the GOP-dominated House and Senate are "awfully conservative."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Drug Summit Features Mostly Cops. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has set a drug summit for next week, but is being criticized for inviting mainly law enforcement and criminal justice officials. Of the 23 invited attendees, only three represent the treatment and recovery community, and none represent actual drug users. LePage says the drug problem is a public safety issue, but critics disagree. "Drug addiction and the drug crisis we are facing is fundamentally a public health issue, not a public safety issue," said Oamshri Amarasingham, policy counsel at the ACLU of Maine. "What we have seen over the last four years is a concerted effort to try and address the drug crisis with law enforcement and that clearly has not worked."

International

British MPs Say Drug Taking Is a Human Right. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has issued a report saying the European Convention on Human Rights overrides national laws that criminalize drugs. The panel had earlier called for marijuana legalization and for drugs such as cocaine and heroin to be decriminalized. "For European countries the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 8, could be invoked in support of the argument that possession or purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal use, particularly in small quantities, do not injure other people's rights either directly or indirectly and therefore should not be criminalized," the report said. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: Utah SWAT Raids Almost All Drugs, Bolivia Reduces Coca Growing (Again), More (8/18/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe may legalize marijuana, Ohio foes line up against the legalization initiative there, more Washington state dispensaries will be forced to close, a Utah SWAT reporting law shows what those squads are up to -- and it isn't hostage situations or "active shooters" -- Bolivia coca growing down, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had a few choice words for US drug policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Foes Get Organized. Business, children's advocacy, parents, religious groups, and other groups organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative have formed an opposition organization, No on 3. Some are opposing it because of its limitations on who could grow commercial marijuana; others, like the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, have more traditional plaints: "The legalization of marijuana in Ohio at this time and the way issue three proposes would set too dangerous of a precedent and put at risk the other three million kids in the state," said Nick Lashutka, president of the association.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe to Vote on Legalizing Marijuana. The Menominee, one of the poorest tribes in the country, are set to vote this week on whether to legalize and sell marijuana. The move comes after the state rejected the tribe's plan to build a casino in Kenosha. The Menominee say they are interested in marijuana to "Explore all opportunities to diversify the tribe's economy, create jobs, and provide revenue to the tribe necessary to fund health, education, social, law enforcement and and other important services."

Medical Marijuana

Most Tacoma Dispensaries to Be Shut Down. The city council this week decided to shut down most of the city's 60 unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries have 45 days to close. After passage of Senate Bill 5052, which essentially folds the medical marijuana system into the recreational marijuana system, dispensaries and collective gardens will have to get licenses from the state beginning next July 1 or shut their doors.

Heroin and Opioids

Massachusetts Officials Want to Jack Up Penalties for Fentanyl. State Attorney General Martha Healey joined legislators and law enforcement officials at a press conference Tuesday to press for legislation that would double prison sentences for people caught in possession of more than 10 grams of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. People caught with large amounts of heroin face up to 30 years, but under a lacuna in state law, people caught with large amounts of synthetic opioids can only be charged with possession with intent to distribute, with a maximum sentence of 10 years. "By criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, we will give police and law enforcement the tools they need to get this deadly drug off the streets and out of the hands of those struggling with addiction," Healey said. Some 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, and another 312 in the first quarter of this year. [Ed: Why 10 years isn't more than enough for almost any law enforcement purpose, especially in a time of mass incarceration when that type of sentencing is coming under increasing criticism from across the political aisle, is not clear. How sad that a Democrat and former civil rights official in a liberal state is campaigning for longer sentences.]

Law Enforcement

Utah SWAT Reporting Law Shows Overwhelming Majority of Deployments Were for Drug Raids. Utah passed a SWAT reporting law last year, and now the first numbers are in. They show that SWAT teams were deployed nearly twice a day (559 reported incidents, with 25% of agencies failing to report) and, most startlingly, 83% of all SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants for drug offenses. Two-thirds (65%) of the drug raid SWAT deployments either "no-knock" or "knock and announce" raids where police force entry into homes without giving residents a chance to just let them in. Much more at the link.

International

Bolivia Coca Production Falls for Fourth Straight Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced Monday that the amount of land devoted to coca production dropped by 11% last year, continuing a trend that has seen land devoted to coca drop by more than a third since 2010. President Evo Morales touted his government's approach as more effective than the US-led war on drugs. "Eradication and fighting a war on drugs with military bases is not the solution, as we've seen in some Andean countries, where there are US officials waging the war on drugs," he said. He was referring to the world's two largest coca and cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, where eradication efforts have provoked sometimes bloody strife.

Obama's Heroin Initiative: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

The White House Monday announced a new initiative to combat heroin that will pair law enforcement and public health in what it called a bid to shift the focus of the fight from punishing drug addicts to treating them. Under the plan, drug intelligence officers will work with public health officials to track heroin supplies, how it gets to street-level dealers, and how and where it's getting cut with sometimes deadly adulterants.

The initiative has won support from some elected officials in states hard-hit by rising levels of heroin use and heroin overdose deaths. But drug reform advocates called it "one step forward, two steps back."

Under the plan, announced today as part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) funding program by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, $5 million will go to "a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin," with half of that funding a Heroin Response Strategy involving an "unprecedented partnership" of five HIDTA programs -- Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore -- to fight smack.

Another $4 million in HIDTA funds will go toward prevention in 18 HIDTAs, including programs that feature "key partnerships between law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in public health and education," the announcement says. Another $1.3 million will go to five Southwest border HIDTAs "to enhance investigational efforts" against the Mexican trafficking organizations supplying most of the nation's heroin.

"The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. "The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue 'smart on crime' approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery."

Branded heroin packet from New Jersey (NJ State Police)
The funding will pay for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within the HIDTA programs. The narcs will gather information on trafficking patterns and trends and feed it to street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts will increase overdose monitoring, look for dope cut with dangerous adulterants, and train first responders on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The announcement comes amidst rising clamor over heroin's comeback and increasingly lethality in recent years. While the causes of the increase in heroin use are multifaceted and debatable, the reality of it doesn't seem to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control in a report released last month, more than half a million people were using heroin in 2013, up 150% from 2007.

The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing even faster. The CDC reported that fatal overdoses hovered around 2,000 a year in the early 2000s before doubling to around 4,000 in 2011, and then doubling again to 8,257 two years later in 2013.

The sound of more federal funding is music to the ears of politicians in states like New Hampshire, which saw more than 300 heroin overdose deaths last year and where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over how much money to spend on drug treatment. Elected officials across the political spectrum had kind words for the initiative Monday.

People lining up to score in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
"While the announcement of additional federal support for New England is an important first step, we must see these resources move as quickly as possible and we will need continued engagement from our federal partners to help combat this pressing public health and safety challenge," said Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).

"Stemming the tide requires investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and broad cooperation at the federal, state and local levels," said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D).

"Today's announcement is welcome news for New Hampshire and other New England states that are confronting this crisis," added US Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). "We must take a multi-pronged approach in this fight, and prevention is a key part of that."

But the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took a more skeptical view.

"Half of what they're doing is right -- the focus on health and overdose prevention -- but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail," said Bill Piper, director of the group's office of national affairs.

DPA took particular exception to the use of the HIDTA program as a vehicle for addressing heroin use, noting that even though its mandate was originally to focus on high-level drug traffickers, its programs "lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes."

HIDTAs came into being in 1988, with five being created to focus on "top priority" areas. But since then, the HIDTA program has swollen to 28 different regional HIDTAs covering more than 60% of the US population, including such major drug trafficking hotbeds as South Dakota and Wyoming.

And, thanks to Congress, since 1998, no HIDTA money can be spent on drug treatment. DPA and other advocates have pointed out that this statutory ban reduces program flexibility and access to treatment, and have called on Congress to repeal the ban, eliminate the HIDTA program altogether, or move it out of the White House and into the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush administration once proposed.

If the Obama administration wants to really address drug use as a public health issue and not throw away more money on failed drug war policies, DPA had some suggestions:

  • "Shifting federal resources from enforcement and incarceration to treatment and public health program funding to save more lives and realize substantial savings for taxpayers. The federal government's drug control budget has increased exponentially throughout the years. Despite a recent change in rhetoric, the federal government still focuses the vast majority of its drug-related spending on interdiction, enforcement and incarceration.
  • "Committing more federal investments into naloxone access, overdose prevention, and greater access to methadone and buprenorphine and other forms of evidence-based treatment.
  • "Funding community-based initiatives such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that reduce barriers to drug treatment and other health services.
  • "Removing barriers to methadone and other forms of medication assisted treatment in military treatment facilities that care for active duty and veterans.
  • "Investing more funding into making overdose prevention and medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals who are at elevated risk of substance use and overdose.
  • "Eliminating federal legal barriers to research trials for supervised injection facilities and heroin assisted treatment."

How to Deal With New Psychoactive Substances? [FEATURE]

This story was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

In recent years, we've been inundated with wave after wave of media panics over strange new drugs. First came "fake weed" (or as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton called it last week, "weaponized marijuana"); then came "bath salts," with the infamous face-eating episode that wasn't; and most recently, "flakka," labeled as "$5 insanity" by one media outlet.

mephedrone (wikimedia.org)
These new (to the recreational drug market) substances mimic the effects of currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, or ecstasy. The states and Congress have rushed to address the drugs by prohibiting them, but that has proven to be a game of cat and mouse, with innovative chemists and manufacturers replacing banned drugs with new variants faster than politicians can act.

"In recent years, lawmakers have moved to ban wave after wave of NPSs, only to see more emerge," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "All 50 states have passed laws against synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, and federally, there are 26 unique compounds under Schedule I. And the DEA, which has legal authority to criminalize drugs administratively, has banned more than two dozen. These laws take time, which allows manufacturers to create new compounds."

Not only is the prohibitionist reflex ineffective, it arguably increases the harms associated with the use of these drugs. But to ignore them or ban them aren't the only policy choices, and some advocates are calling for these novel substances to instead be controlled and regulated. One model they point to is New Zealand, which instead of banning "legal highs," moved to regulate them in 2013.

New Psychoactive Substances

Before turning to policy options, though, it's worth a moment to figure out just exactly what we're talking about when we talk about "new synthetic drugs," and why maybe that isn't the best term to use to describe these substances.

In a conference call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for regulation over prohibition, Earth and Fire Erowid, the administrators of the Erowid drug information web site -- "Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives" -- tried to bring some rigor to a domain where science too often gets lost in the distortions of moral panic.

"Synthetic drugs is a term used to imply scary new street drugs," said Earth Erowid. "But nearly all pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic, whether they're cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, or sedatives. You don't want to use the phrase 'synthetic drugs' unless you're talking about every pharmaceutical developed over the past 50 years."

"A more accurate and appropriate term is "new psychoactive substances," he said. "That's the standard term in Europe."

NPSs can be grouped into some general categories, based on the effects they seek to replicate, the Erowids said:

synthetic cannabinoids (wikimedia.org)
Replacement Cannabinoids. Sometimes sold as powders, sometimes sprinkled on herbal blends. These are not cannabis, but new synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists. The specific compounds include JWH 018 and AB-PINACA, among many others. Several of these have been associated with death and serious medical complications.

Replacement Euphoric Stimulants. These include cathinones like methedrone, MDPV ("bath salts"), and Alpha PDP ("flakka"), as well as compounds related to Ritalin.

Replacement Psychedelics. The best known are the NBOMe series ("N-Bomb"). They are often distributed on blotters, and many people who think they're buying LSD are getting this. The NBOMe class has been linked to about 20 deaths.

Replacement Dissociatives. These are PCP-like chemicals, including various ketamine variants and methoxetamine.

Replacement Opioids. These include chemicals such as AH 7921 and U4770.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a similar, if not quite identical, taxonomy here.

The deaths and other adverse reactions that have been linked to NPSs have occurred under regimes of either prohibition or its opposite -- no regulation. "Legal highs" were just that, NPSs yet to be banned but lacking any sort of reliable labeling or quality control. Many formerly "legal highs" are now illegal, but the harm continues, and new NPSs continue to come on the market, legal until the politicians get to work.

"There's a reason for that, said Earth Erowid. "People are looking for legal replacements for illegal drug effects," he explained. "Most people simply want a stimulant or a psychedelic, and they're willing to try anything if it's legal."

"That may hold true for "fake marijuana" users than other NPS users," said Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"Synthetic marijuana users have different profiles from other NPS users," he said "They are resorting to using it as a legal replacement for marijuana as a means of avoiding arrest, especially minorities. Other NPS users, especially clubbers and ravers, may be taking them unwittingly, Palamar added, pointing a finger especially at "Molly," which is supposed to be pure MDMA in powder form, but often isn't.

"Molly is the biggest system of unintentional NPS use that ever came around," said Palamar. "A lot of the drug users, especially Molly users, are unknowingly taking NPSs.

(The Erowids helpfully pointed out that there are a number of web sites where users can submit their Molly for testing, including one they run at EcstasyData.org.)

What's in your ecstasy tablet? (pillreporter.org)
There are other options for dealing with NPSs beyond the extremes of prohibition on the one hand and laissez-faire on the other. In some cases, it may be politically feasible to simply legalize the currently prohibited drug they are imitating.

Roger Goodman, chairman of the Washington state House Public Safety Committee and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that legalizing weed is a start.

"By legalizing marijuana, we have no problem with synthetic marijuana," said Goodman. "No one wants to use that. We have a rational regulatory approach. Prohibition is in the past for us. Marijuana is a good first step for us. We know better than to impose prohibition and outlaw any particular substance."

Legalizing marijuana more widely could put a real dent in the synthetic cannabinoids market, but there is no immediate prospect for legalizing drugs such as meth, cocaine, and the psychedelics and putting a dent in the market for other NPSs that way. That means if we're not going to prohibit them and we're not going to ignore them, we're going to have to regulate them.

That's what New Zealand did with its 2013 law, which transformed unregulated "legal highs" into regulated "legal highs" sold with labels at established stores. Drug makers were required to submit their products for testing and labeling before they could be approved for legal sale.

"I really look to the New Zealand law," said Goodman. "It provided for licensing and testing, and it got rid of the criminal actors. It seemed like a very rational way to go."

"That model would encourage manufacturers to make safer products," DPA's Smith concurred.

But, alas, the New Zealand law is no more. It was overturned and replaced with a more prohibitionist retrenchment a year later amidst complaints that drug users were getting high and hanging around the dope shops like winos in front of liquor stores. That is a lesson for legalizers (or regulators) here. Not only are progressive drug reforms difficult to enact, they also sometimes require a strong defense.

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.

Heroin

White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.

International

Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

Chronicle AM: WY MedMJ Init Underway, DOJ Investigating Police Killing of SC Teen, More (8/14/2015)

CBD cannabis oil goes on sale in England, a medical marijuana initiative is getting underway in Wyoming, the Justice Department will look into the police killing of teenager Zach Hammond in a small-time marijuana bust, and more.

The DOJ will investigate the police killing of Zachary Hammond during a small-time marijuana bust. (Hammond family)
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Expansion Bill Filed. Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube (R) filed a bill Thursday that would expand the state's CBC cannabis oil program. The measure, House Bill 63, would lower barriers to entry for would-be medical marijuana growers and manufacturers, particularly by removing limits on the number of manufacturers.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Signature-Gathering Campaign Getting Underway. An initiative campaign led by Wyoming NORML is getting underway this weekend. The group is set to unveil the initiative this weekend. They will need to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

New Psychoactive Substances

Vermont Lawmakers Add 75 New Drugs to State's List of Controlled Substances. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules Thursday approved an amendment to the state's law on controlled substances that adds 75 new substances to the list. Most of them are synthetic cannabinoids, but the list also includes aceto-fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Will Investigate Killing of South Carolina Teen in Pot Bust. The Justice Department announced Wednesday night that it will investigate the killing of Zachary Hammond, 19, who was shot and killed by a Seneca police officer on July 26. Hammond was the driver of a vehicle whose passenger was targeted by police for selling small amounts of marijuana. Police claimed he threatened them by driving toward an officer, but Hammond's family says autopsy results show he was shot through the driver's side window from behind, suggesting that the officer was not in danger.

International

First Legal CBD Cannabis Oil Goes on Sale in England. A London and Kent-based company has begun distributing "Charlotte's Web" cannabis oil in England. Authorities had approved such sales last month.

Chronicle AM: OH Will Vote on Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Program Finds One User, More (8/13/2015)

Ohio could be the next state to legalize marijuana, a union boss gets busted for taking bribes from dispensaries, "fake weed" is the subject of repression in Boston and New York state, Maine's welfare drug test program finds a single drug user, and more.

New psychoactive substance like these synthetic cannabinoids face bans, not regulation.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization has qualified for the November ballot. Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot. The initiative is controversial among marijuana legalization supporters because it creates a "monopoly" of ten allowed locations for commercial marijuana grows, which are owned by the people who funded the campaign. The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Again Considers Licensing Medical Marijuana Farms. The city is in the process of crafting regulations and issuing licenses for medical marijuana grows, as well as other marijuana-related businesses. The city had proposed something similar in 2011, but retreated after federal prosecutors criticized the plan. But now the federal position has changed, and Oakland is ready to try again.

UFCW Official Accused of Taking Bribes from Dispensaries. Dan Rush, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division, has been charged in federal court with taking bribes or kickbacks to endorse potential dispensary operators. The feds accuse Rush of taking a $600,000 loan from one dispensary operator, and when he was unable to repay it, working with an attorney on "steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers," the complaint says.

Oregon Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Task Force Bill. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 844, which establishes a task force to research the medical and public health properties of marijuana. The task force will make a report with recommendations to the legislature on developing a medical marijuana industry that supplies patients with products that will meet their needs.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Lawmakers Want Tougher Laws Against "Fake Marijuana." Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) imposed an emergency ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, but legislators want more. "Unfortunately, it is not doing the trick," said state Sen. Jeff Stein (D-Bronx). "We need a law on the books in Albany and we need a law right now. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children." He's supporting a bill that would make selling more than 25 grams of the stuff a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Boston City Council Bans "Fake Weed." The city council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred as "fake marijuana" or "synthetic marijuana." People caught selling the stuff will face a fine of $300, and police can now seize the drug.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Found Only One Drug User. The state began screening welfare applicants in April, but so far only one person has tested positive for drugs. The program screens all applicants for "reasonable suspicion" of drug use or if they have drug felonies, then subjects those it deems likely to be drug users to drug testing. But only 15 people have been referred to drug testing. Thirteen were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn't show up for either the initial screening or the drug test, and one tested positive. The results are in line with results from other states, whether drug screening and testing has also found very small numbers of drug users.

International

British Pot Farm Raids Decline. The number of police raids on commercial marijuana grows dropped by more than 17% last year. Observers cited law enforcement budget cuts and other factors. "Recent budget cuts appear to be reducing the amount of proactive policing that's going on," said Matthew Atha of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. "One of the main methods of detecting cannabis growers is police helicopters with infrared cameras and they cost a lot of money to keep in the air." This year, some British police forces have said they were going to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, but that wouldn't explain the decline last year.

ResponsibleOhio Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for 2015 Ballot

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative is controversial for creating a "monopoly" of 10 allowed commercial marijuana grows, and those spots have already been allocated to people who funded the campaign.

The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

"It's time for marijuana legalization in Ohio, and voters will have the opportunity to make it happen this November -- we couldn't be more excited," said ResponsibleOhio spokesman Ian James after Husted's announcement. "By reforming marijuana laws in November, we'll provide compassionate care to sick Ohioans, bring money back to our local communities and establish a new industry with limitless economic development opportunities."

Look for extensive coverage of the initiative and the campaign from the Chronicle in coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out our in-depth coverage of the initiative and the controversy from last month here.

Medical Marijuana Update

With state legislatures adjourned and the dog days of summer upon us, it's pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front this week. But there is some news from the Northeast.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, what could be Boston's first dispensary came a step closer to opening. Patriot Care Corporation received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

On Monday, patient advocates protested the slow pace of medical marijuana implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

New Jersey

On Monday, a judge ruled that a junior high girl cannot be given her edibles at school. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina cop already in prison for stealing pain pills is now charged with marijuana trafficking, a Texas narc gets probation for stealing and using drug dog training drugs, and another prison guard goes down. Just another week of drug war-related law enforcement corruption. Let's get to it:

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former New Hanover County Sheriff's Office narcotics officer was charged last Thursday with marijuana trafficking and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Joseph Antoine LeBlanc, 43, is already doing more than four years in prison after pleading guilty last October to more than a hundred counts of stealing evidence -- prescription pain pills -- and forging court orders to obtain more from local pharmacies. The new charges arise from a pot stash found on his property after he was already jailed.

In Princeton, Kentucky, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday after a tip to the State Police led to a drug dog search of his car, which in turn led to the discovery of four packages of marijuana and prescriptions. A later search of his residence turned up three more bags of weed. Officer Geoffrey Nettesheim was arrested and jailed on as yet unspecified charges.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a former Grapevine K-9 officer was sentenced last Friday to five years' probation for stealing and consuming drugs used for training drug dogs. Danny Macchio, 50, had reported that someone had broken into his official patrol/K-9 vehicle while parked at his Fort Worth home and stolen a case of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, along with a personal handgun. Grapevine police began an internal investigation and required Macchio to take a drug test, but his family reported him missing the next day. After being found in the Panhandle, he confessed that his vehicle hadn't been robbed and that he taken and used the drugs himself. He was originally charged with misuse of government property and abuse of official capacity, but a Tarrant County grand jury also indicted him on a charge of evidence tampering, and that's what he copped to.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Claims to Make Ballot, Clinton Talks Drug Abuse in NH, More (8/12/2015)

Legal marijuana states still have issues, an Ohio group says it has qualified a legalization initiative for the November ballot, a video game league institutes drug testing, Hillary Clinton talks drugs on the campaign trail, and more.

Hillary Clinton. The Democratic contender said people are telling her drug abuse is a big issue. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Under Proposed Rules, Colorado Edibles Would Be Marked With Stop Sign. A working group tasked with finalizing labeling requirements for marijuana edibles is calling for such products to be marked with the letters "THC" inside a stop sign -- not only on the package, but on the product itself. Some people in the industry think that could be problematic. The working group has until the end of the month to finalize the rules. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Qualified for Ballot. Ohio officials haven't confirmed it yet, but ResponsibleOhio, the group behind this year's controversial legalization initiative, says it has handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group needed 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. It handed in nearly 700,000 last month, but came up some 30,000 short. Under state law, it had another 10 days to make up the shortfall, and it handed in 95,000 raw signatures last week. The group has been tracking the counting in each county in the state and now says: "It is with the greatest sense of humility that we let each of you know that we have crossed the signature threshold based on what the boards have reported so far!"

No Adult Pot Lounge at Hempfest This Year -- It Would Be a Felony. Last year, in keeping with the spirit of marijuana legalization, Seattle's Hempfest set up "adult lounges" where the over-21 set could toke up. Not this year. That's because the omnibus legislation to regulate legal marijuana that went into effect last month makes providing a place for public pot use a Class-C felony.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Girl Can't Be Give Her Edibles at School, Judge Rules. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Panel Ponders Reforms Today. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is meeting today to consider tightening the state's asset forfeiture laws. One proposed bill would limit asset forfeiture by first requiring a felony conviction; another would raise the legal standard from "probable cause" to "clear and convincing evidence" that a crime had been committed. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have eliminated civil forfeiture by first requiring a conviction.

Drug Policy

At New Hampshire Forum, Hillary Clinton Pledges to Elevate Issue of Drug Abuse. After hearing from a variety of stakeholders, the Democratic presidential contender said drug abuse has emerged as a consistent issue as she travels the country. "I have to confess -- I was surprised," she said. "I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went." She said advisers are speaking with medical professionals as the campaign develops policy proposal later this year, and that substance abuse should be treated as a health issue.

Drug Testing

Video Game League Announces Drug Testing Specifics. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), the premier professional video gaming organization, has announced that it will subject players to the possibility of saliva tests to detect the presence of banned substances, including opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and marijuana. ESL says marijuana use will only be banned during tournaments. Drug testing for the league has come about after a scandal this spring over the use of the stimulant Adderall by some gamers.

International

Canada's Harper Campaigns on Hard Line on Drugs. Facing an October election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to reject marijuana legalization, saying that most Canadians agree with him even though a government opinion poll released a year ago had more than two-thirds supporting either legalization or decriminalization. Where marijuana is easily available and legal, "more people get addicted," he warned. "We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem." He also reiterated Tory opposition to safe injection sites.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: AK Regulators Want to Ban MJ Social Clubs, ME Gov Threatens to Call Out Guard, More (8/11/2015)

Alaska regulators want to ban marijuana social clubs, Chris Christie signs a bill allowing methadone in drug court programs, a new report says Illinois needs to do better on heroin treatment, Russia wants to censor Reddit, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. Illinois ranks 44th in spending for heroin treatment. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Want to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The Marijuana Control Board has presented its final set of proposed regulations and is generating controversy with a provision that bans social clubs. The board argues that since Alaska law doesn't allow BYOB bars, it shouldn't allow BYOM clubs.

California Governor Signs Law Targeting Illegal Pot Grows. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed a law that will impose steep fines on marijuana grows that cause environmental harm by dumping chemicals and wastewater, removing trees, and killing animals. The measure is Senate Bill 165. Last year, investigators found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams linked to marijuana cultivation, resulting in the theft of about five million gallons of water.

California Governor Signs Bill to Increase Penalties for Residential Butane Hash Oil Manufacture. Gov. Brown also last Friday signed Senate Bill 212, which will increase penalties for people caught making butane hash oil. The process has been linked to numerous fires and explosions in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Protest Slow Pace of Medical Marijuana Implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medication Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 2381, which will allow people under the jurisdiction of the state's drug courts to complete their programs while using opiate-substitution medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine. Despite decades of evidence and the recommendations of treatment providers and even the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, most drug courts in the state required clients to quit medication-assisted treatment to complete the program. "Medication assisted treatment for drug court attendees, like all other clinical decisions made by a provider for their patient, is a critical component in a person's treatment and recovery plan. I thank the governor for his support of this legislation and his continued leadership and support of Drug Court programs," said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).

Drug Treatment

Illinois Doesn't Adequately Fund Drug Treatment and Wants to Cut It Even More, New Report Says. A report released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found that the state ranked 44th in the nation in state funded treatment admissions for heroin and that Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) proposed budget would slash funding by another 61%. Chicago ERs rank first in the country in emergency room visits for heroin use, and Cook County is number one in the nation for arrestees who test positive for the drug. Click on the consortium link to read the report.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) today reiterated his threat to call in the National Guard to fight the state's "drug epidemic" if legislators don't give him his way. The legislature has rejected his repeated demands that it deal with the drug issue primarily by hiring more agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and while it did agree to fund six additional agents, two prosecutors, and two judges, that wasn't enough for LePage, who called it "chump change." It's not clear just what LePage what have the Guard do. Click on the link for much more.

International

Australian Parliamentary Committee Approves Medical Marijuana. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that a Green-sponsored medical marijuana bill be passed. The committee called for the bill to be amended to set up a medical marijuana regulatory agency. The bill has cross-party support in the parliament.

Russia Threatens to Block Reddit Over Single Thread on Drugs. The Kremlin's increasingly busy Internet censor has warned that the popular website Reddit will be blocked unless it deletes a thread about growing marijuana plants. The censor said Reddit has so far failed to respond to demands that it delete the thread and asked readers to reach out to Reddit to tell its editors to check their emails. The censor has also blocked Wikipedia pages about how to smoke pot, online anonymity services, Pirate Bay, and made similar threats against YouTube.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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