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Drug War Chronicle

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Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missy Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefani Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like Pillreports.com will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (amendtheraveact.org)
"It's not that producers don't care, it’s that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental—a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.  

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a non-profit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Indiana Meth Suspect Killed After Pursuit, Stand-Off

A Zionsville, Indiana, man targeted in a meth investigation was shot and killed by state police following a pursuit and stand-off Wednesday night. Brent Kyle Krout, 39, becomes the 39th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

He also becomes the second Indiana drug suspect to die after a police pursuit in the past eight days.

According to the Indianapolis Star, citing police sources, Indiana State Police troopers in Owen County attempted to stop Krout Wednesday night because he was the subject of a meth investigation in nearby Lawrence County. Krout refused to stop and led police on a 25-minute chase that only ended when police deployed stop sticks, which caused Krout to lose control of his vehicle.

Police said that throughout the pursuit, Krout could be seen holding a handgun and pointing it at his own head.

Once his vehicle was disabled, Krout remained in it, and police began negotiations with him that went on for four or five hours. At one point, he fired out the front passenger window into a field, but police did not return fire then.

But as a state police SWAT team closed in around dawn, Krout left his vehicle, assumed a defensive stance, and pointed his weapon at officers. Police then opened fire, killing him. 

IN
United States

Chronicle AM: NE, OK Seek to Undo CO Pot Legalization, Philly Backs Off on Home Seizures, More (12/18/14)

Colorado's conservative neighbors try to undo its marijuana legalization, Philadelphia drops a pair of high-profile asset forfeiture cases, Obama commutes sentences for eight drug offenders, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nebraska, Oklahoma Ask Supreme Court to Undo Colorado Legalization. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today with the US Supreme Court asking it to declare that Colorado's marijuana legalization violates the Constitution. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Nebraska Attorney General Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles." But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who got a courtesy call from Bruning, scoffed. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court," he said.

New York Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Legalization. State Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Empire State. Krueger conceded the legislation was unlikely to pass during the coming legislative session, but said it was important to keep the conversation going.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Awards $8 Million for Marijuana Research. The Colorado Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research Wednesday. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

American Academy of Neurology Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia Drops Two High Profile Asset Forfeiture Cases. Faced with an ongoing federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice over its brazen asset forfeiture practices, the city of Philadelphia announced today that it is dropping efforts to seize the homes of two families. In one case, the city moved to seize a home after an adult son of the owners was busted for selling heroin; in the other, the city moved to seize a home after  the owner's estranged husband was caught selling small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit continues.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Commutations for Eight Drug Offenders. President Barack Obama Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses. No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year.Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Opiates

Senators Send Letter to Officials, Health Groups Urging Stronger Response to Drug Overdoses. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week urged government officials and health groups to come up with stronger responses to drug overdoses. The call came in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Governors' Association, the American Medical Association, and associations of state and local health officials. Click on the link to read the letter.

International

Eleven Dead in Mexico Vigilante Clashes. Mexican "self-defense" vigilante groups in the Western state of Michoacan turned their guns on each other Tuesday, leaving 11 dead. The vigilante groups emerged last year in rural communities to fight the Knights Templar cartel, and in May they accepted an offer to be folded into government security forces. And now they are fighting among themselves.

Bangkok Police Hassling Tourists With Searches, Drug Tests, On-the-Spot Fines. Since the military coup in May, foreign visitors to Thailand are increasingly complaining that police Bangkok are stopping and questioning them, searching their persons and belongings, demanding they submit to drug tests, and handing out on-the-spot fines that must be paid immediately in cash. Most of the harassment is taking place on the city's main thoroughfare, Sukhumvit Road. The British ambassador said last week he had raised the issue with local tourism authorities. 

Medical Marijuana Update

Big news out of Washington and, for a change, most of our medical marijuana news is out of the Midwest this week. Let's get to it:

National

Last Saturday, the Senate passed the omnibus spending bill with an amendment blocking federal medical marijuana enforcement. The amendment that will effectively end for now Justice Department interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there.

Indiana

On Wednesday, a lawmaker said she would introduce a medical marijuana bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Iowa

On Tuesday,a group of Iowans orgnized to push for a more effective medical marijuana law. The legislature this year passed a bill allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis oil to treat people with epilepsy, but that's not good enough for a new group, Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. The group today announced it had formed to push legislators to make it possible to produce and dispense medical marijuana.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, a cannabis oil medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he planned to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

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

Obama Commutes Sentences for Eight Drug Offenders

President Barack Obama today commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses.

President Obama exercises his clemency powers. (whitehouse.gov)
No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year.

Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Obama pardoned another 12 people who had already served their time for offenses -- sometimes decades in the past. Four of those pardoned were also drug offenders.

Obama had not been particularly prolific with his exercise of the commutation power -- he had only commuted 10 sentences in his first six years in office -- but earlier this year, the administration announced new, more expansive clemency guidelinesb in a bid to decrease the number of people imprisoned under draconian drug war statutes.

At the time, the White House said the new rules could result in "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people being granted clemency. This is a start.

See the complete list of pardons and commutations here.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: A Century of Drug War, Yet Another Drug War Bill, Iran Drug Executions Slammed, More (12/17/14)

It's the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a GOP senator chides Obama for "pro-marijuana" messages, human rights groups urge the UNODC to quit funding Iranian drug enforcement because of its resort to the death penalty, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic has executed more than 300 drug offenders this year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Senator Says Obama Administration's "Pro-Marijuana" Messages Promote Teen Drug Use. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested Tuesday that the Obama administration's failure to block marijuana legalization had sent kids the message that drug use is okay. "When kids receive the message that marijuana use is acceptable and even welcome, it's no wonder that the perception of harm from marijuana goes down," Grassley said in a statement. "By offering pro-marijuana messages, the president and his top appointees are working at cross purposes with the federal government experts who are trying to stop drug use among teenagers." Grassley was complaining that the annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use showed that kids didn't think pot was as dangerous as they used to. But he seems to have missed the part that showed that teen marijuana is not increasing.

Anchorage City Council Kills Move to Ban Pot Sales. A proposal from Anchorage Assembly member and mayoral candidate Amy Demboski to ban recreational marijuana sales in Alaska's largest city went down in ignominious defeat Tuesday night. After four hours of public testimony -- almost unanimously against the measure -- and debate, the measure was killed on a vote of 9-2.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Lawmaker Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said today she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Drug Policy

A Hundred Years of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, generally considered to mark the beginning of America's 20th Century war on drugs. While the act was not directly prohibitionist -- it was a regulatory and taxation measure -- it led almost immediately to the criminalization of both drug-addicted people and the doctors who sought to treat them with maintenance doses of opiates. A hundred years later, we're still mired in the drug war.

Senate Approves Yet Another Drug War Bill. The Senate Monday approved Senate Bill 706, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would give the Justice Department the authority to prosecute people in other countries who manufacture drugs or precursors that they have "reasonable cause to believe… will be unlawfully imported into the United States." It also increases penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). An identical bill, HR 2214, is in the House, but has not moved since May.

International

Citing Death Penalty, Human Rights Groups Urge UN to Quit Funding Counter-Drug Operations in Iran. Six human rights organizations today called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to quit funding anti-drug operations in Iran until the Islamic Republic ends the death penalty for drug offenses. The call came in a letter sent to UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. The groups said more than 300 drug traffickers had been executed in Iran so far this year. Signatories to the letter included Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

French Health Minister Wants to Ban Pot Vaporizers. Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday she would seek to ban a new e-cigarette than contains marijuana. The move came on the same day a French-Czech company called Kanavape announced its vaporizers were going on sale in France. "I am opposed to such a product being commercialized in France," Touraine said. Such as product would "incite the consumption of cannabis," she added. Kanavape argues its product is legal because its oil contains no THC.

Most Dutch-Grown Pot is Exported, Government Report Says. A report from the Dutch government's Research and Documentation Center (WODC) estimates that between 78% and 91% of marijuana grown in the Netherlands is exported. The report is expected to support moves by the Dutch government to crack down on marijuana cultivation instead of moving to regulate it.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The beat goes on. A Texas drug dog officer snorts the training dope, a pair of married Indiana deputies get wrapped up in the new synthetics, and a Georgia judge goes down for trying to set up a woman who accused him of making advances on her. Let's get to it:

In Grapevine, Texas, a Grapevine Police K-9 officer was arrested last Monday for allegedly stealing a case of training drugs and consuming some of them. Senior Officer Danny Macchio, 49, reported to Fort Worth police in October that someone had broken into his vehicle at his residence and stolen the drugs, which included, heroin, cocaine, meth, and ecstasy, but Grapevine police developed suspicions he had "mishandled" the drugs and the theft report. Macchio fled on the day he was supposed to undergo a drug test as part of the investigation, but was found in the Panhandle and returned home by Grapevine police. He confessed that he had taken the drugs and used some, and he returned the rest He was suspended with pay on October 24. Now he is charged with abuse of official capacity -- misuse of government property, a state jail felony.

In Indianapolis, two former Hendricks County sheriff's deputies were arrested last Thursday on charges related to a synthetic drugs sales ring. Jason Woods, 44, and Teresa Woods, 34, had been suspended from the sheriff's office in October 2013 after a marked sheriff's vehicle linked to them had been spotted at locations under investigation. That same day, the couple dropped off a safe with Teresa Woods' mother -- who promptly contacted authorities. They searched it, finding $88,000 and 100 grams of synthetic drugs. Investigators also found evidence the couple had written checks to a Canadian company that sells synthetic drug powders. Although state police said it was one of the biggest synthetic drug operations in the state, the couple have so far been charged only with misdemeanor possession of synthetic drugs.

In Atlanta, a former chief judge of the Murray County Magistrate's Court was found guilty last Thursday of conspiring to plant meth on a woman who had publicly accused him of making advances on her in his chambers. Former Judge Bryant Cochran plotted with a Murray County sheriff's deputy and a local meth offender to plant the drug in her vehicle, then have her pulled over and arrested. He was convicted in federal court of witness tampering, conspiring to distribute a controlled substance and a federal civil rights charge that accused him of sexually assaulting a court employee. He faces a February 20 sentencing date.

Chronicle AM: Teen Pot Use Not Up, Federal Police Killings Bill Filed, Mexico Mayhem, More (12/16/14)

The Monitoring the Future teen drug use survey is out, the "CRomnibus" bill also killed highway drug use surveys, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) wants better information on police killings, a damning report is released in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

If Walid Jumblatt has his way, this Lebanese hash field could be legal. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Use Survey Finds Teen Marijuana Use Declining Even as States Legalize. The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen habits is out today, and it finds that legalization has not sparked an increase in teen pot smoking. The survey found that 24% of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders reported past use marijuana last, down from 26% the year before. And among 12th graders, the number who reported daily use also declined from 6.5% last year to 5.8% this year. There's much more to the survey; click the survey link to see it.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Organize to Push for More Effective Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature this year passed a bill allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis oil to treat people with epilepsy, but that's not good enough for a new group, Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. The group today announced it had formed to push legislators to make it possible to produce and dispense medical marijuana.

Driving

Omnibus Spending Bill Cut Funds for NHTSA Roadside Drug Use Surveys. The $1.1 trillion spending bill that has gotten so much attention over its marijuana provisions also bars the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from using funds to complete its "National Roadside Survey." It was a voluntary survey that only collected data from people willing to participate, but came under congressional criticism after a Texas TV station aired a program about a Fort Worth checkpoint where police ordered motorists off the road at random to collect samples.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Filed to Increase Reporting of Deadly Force by Police. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has filed HR 5866, which would "require the Attorney General to issue rules pertaining to the collection and compilation of data on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers." The bill next was not available at press time. The bill has five cosponsors -- all Democrats -- and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Drug Testing

WorkForce West Virginia Drug Testing Doesn't Find Many Dopers. In its annual report to the legislature, WorkForce West Virginia, the state's employment services program, reported that it had subjected 1,205 people to drug testing upon their seeking tuition reimbursement for employment training programs. Only 1% of them failed. No word on the cost of drug testing all those people.

International

Mexican Federal Police Accused of Collaborating With Local Cops in Case of Missing Student Teachers. In an article published over the weekend, the respected Mexican political weekly Proceso reported that federal police worked together with Iguala police in the September attack on teachers' college students that left 43 missing and presumed dead and which has sparked protests across the country. Proceso also reported that federal police likely tortured key witnesses whose testimony was critical in the federal attorney general's investigation of the case. "We have information that proves the federal government knew what was happening in the moment it was happening, and participated in it," Anabel Hernández, the lead reporter for the Proceso piece, said in an interview. "The government has tried to hide this information." There's much more at the link.

Armed Civilians Block Western Mexico Highways Seeking Crackdown on Cartels, But… Hundreds of armed men blocked highways around nine cities in the Western state of Michoacan over the weekend as a means of pressuring the government to crack down on the Knights Templar cartel. They unfurled banners calling for the arrest of cartel leaders. But at least some of the armed men were identified as members of Los Viagras, a group of gunmen who had once served as the Knights Templar's armed wing and who are now trying to displace them from the drug trade in the state.

Canadian Federal Government Loses Again in Bid to Block Home Medical Marijuana Cultivation. Health Canada earlier this year issued new medical marijuana rules that prohibited home growing and shifted production to commercial operations, but it has so far been blocked by the courts from implementing them, and now it has been blocked again. Patients won an injunction earlier this year to allow them to continue growing their own. Health Canada appealed that decision, but the Federal Court of Appeal has now upheld the injunction.

Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Calls Again for Legal Hash in Lebanon. Veteran Lebanese power-broker Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze community, has renewed his call for legal hash production. "It's time to allow hash to be grown and to overturn arrest warrants against people sought for doing so," wrote in Arabic on his Twitter feed. He expanded his comments in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation."

Chronicle AM: TX Pot Bill Filed, Another MO Legalization Initiative, KY Heroin Bill, More (12/15/14)

Texas begins heading down the path of marijuana reform, a Missouri legalization initiative seeks to really free the weed, Rep. Andy Harris isn't very welcome in DC these days, Kentucky tries to deal with heroin again this year, and more. Let's get to it:

The Kentucky legislature will try to deal with heroin again this year. The bill has good and bad elements. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Filed. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) today introduced a bill that would remove the threat of arrest, jail, and a criminal record for small-time marijuana possession. The measure is House Bill 507. "Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn't working," Rep. Moody said at an Austin press conference. "We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction." The legislation is being backed by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a coalition that includes the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Another, Looser Missouri Legalization Initiative Effort is Underway. Show Me Cannabis has some competition. The marijuana reform group has a legalization initiative pending, but now, there's another, less restrictive initiative also in the works. A team from KC NORML last week submitted a petition to put its own measure on the ballot. The Missouri Cannabis Restoration and Protection Act would remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances, free anyone imprisoned for marijuana-only convictions, bar police from charging drivers with DUI if the only drug they test positive for is marijuana, and put no limitation on the number of plants people can grow. Once approved by state officials, the initiative will need 160,000 valid voter signatures -- 8% of registered voters in at least six of the state's eight legislative districts -- to qualify for the ballot.

DC Businesses Tell Maryland Congressman Who Tried to Block Legalization to Stay Away. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is not very welcome in the District these days. He has been the primary mover behind Republican efforts to block voter-approved legalization in DC. While his rider blocking legalization was included in the recent omnibus spending bill, whether it will actually stop DC legalization remains to be seen. Now, there is a Blacklist Andy Harris movement, and at least one business, has put up a sign displaying his face along with prominent text reading "Not Welcome."

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Increases Sentences, Has Harm Reduction Provisions. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel has pre-filed a bill, Senate Bill 29, that attempts a broad response to the state's issues with heroin. The bill would allow for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, create a 911 Good Samaritan provision to try to reduce overdose deaths, and fund drug treatment. It would also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. A similar bill failed to get through the legislature last year.

International

Uruguay Sees First Marijuana Expo. Uruguay is the first country to legalize marijuana commerce, and now it's had its first marijuana trade show. Expocannabis opened in Montevideo over the weekend.

On Marijuana, Congress Giveth and Congress Taketh Away [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With final approval by the Senate Saturday night, the Congress has successfully approved a massive, $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill, and the president has signaled he will sign it. The bill includes two provisions that illustrate Congress's currently schizophrenic approach to loosening marijuana laws.

On the one hand, the bill contains an amendment that will effectively end federal interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the Justice Department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there. On the other hand, it also contains a rider that seeks to undo the will of the voters of the nation's capital by blocking the District of Columbia from enacting the recently approved Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative.

Sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and 10 others, the medical marijuana amendment is blunt. After listing all the medical marijuana states, it says: "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." (The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.)

The amendment is also important. In the past three years alone, the Justice Department has threatened elected officials, dispensary operators, and their landlords with legal action over medical marijuana. Those threats have delayed or stopped implementation of medical marijuana laws in at least six states. Similarly, threats of criminal prosecution and/or asset forfeiture aimed at landlords in California and Colorado have resulted in the closure of at least 600 state law-abiding medical marijuana businesses.

And DEA teams have aggressively raided and US Attorneys have prosecuted medical marijuana patients and providers. One stark example is the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a family of patients who were growing medical marijuana for their own personal use in accordance with Washington state law. In a state where marijuana is legal, federal prosecutors are seeking to send a pair of elderly patients and their children to prison. That prosecution is now in doubt.

"This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has lobbied for years for passage of the measure. "But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement."

Last year, ASA issued a report showing the Obama administration had spent $80 million a year on medical marijuana enforcement. That may be chump change in a trillion-dollar spending bill, but it's still $80 million that could be better used each year.

"Congress has finally initiated a drawdown in the federal government's war on medical marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "This legislation makes it clear that the DEA has no business interfering in states' medical marijuana laws. Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them."

"For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It's not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed."

But if federal marijuana prohibition will someday be repealed, no one has told congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats didn't seem to care much, either. The second part of Congress's schizoid pot policy two-step was a slap in the face to both marijuana legalization and the will of the voters of the District of Columbia.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R) authored a rider to the bill that says that the District cannot "enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative."

Republican House committee heads got it inserted into the House version of the bill, and Senate Democrats didn't consider it important enough to fight to remove.

Marijuana reform proponents (and believers in democratic rule for the residents of DC) were livid, and they are not ready to roll over in the face of congressional attempts to quash legalization in the District.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it would be particularly disturbing if Congress has chosen to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Coalition, the group that got Measure 71 passed. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress should not undermine that."

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the rider to block DC marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
"By prohibiting the regulation of marijuana in the District, they are ensuring authorities have no control over it," Tvert said. "If drug cartels and gangs had lobbyists on the Hill, preventing marijuana regulation would be their top legislative priority. If the District can regulate and tax alcohol sales, it should be allowed to do the same with a less harmful substance like marijuana."

The District city council has been advancing a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but the Harris rider effectively kills that. Less certain, however, is whether it can really block Measure 71 from taking effect.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, the Congressional Delegate from DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds DC; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the DC rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The DC government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

The congressional Republicans who pushed the measure naturally disagree. They argue that Measure 71 has not been enacted because the DC council has not yet sent it to Congress and that the rider thus blocks it from being implemented.

While the question is likely to end up being settled in the courts, the next move is up to the District city council. It can go ahead and send the measure to Congress despite what the budget bill rider says. Advocates are urging the council to do just that.

And the council seems to be in a mood to stick up for the initiative -- and for democratic rights for the District. DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post even before the final Senate vote that he plans to ignore the rider. He said he will instead follow normal procedure for voter-approved initiatives in a city that exists under the congressional thumb. He will sent a bill implementing the initiative to Congress next month for a 30-day review in which lawmakers can vote it up or down.

And if that doesn't work, there's still the courts.

"If the question is whether I'd be open to legal action, the answer is yes," Mendelson told Politico after the House vote.

Whether Congress has successfully blocked marijuana legalization in DC clearly remains to be seen. What is not in dispute, though, is that Congress has taken a major step toward clearing the way for medical marijuana, and that's a big deal.

Washington, DC
United States

Indiana Man Pursued By DEA Kills Self, Huge Stash Found

An Indiana man being pursued by the DEA and local police led law enforcement on a high-speed chase before crashing and then shooting himself Tuesday. Omar Eduardo Proano-Montano, 24, becomes the 38th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Indianapolis Star, citing law enforcement sources, Indianapolis police and DEA agents doing a drug investigation attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Proano-Montano, but he fled, leading police on a high-speed chase.

The chase ended when Proano-Montano crashed into a tree. After a short standoff, police heard a gunshot from within the cab of Proano-Montano's vehicle. They found him dead from a self-inflicted wound.

After Proano-Montano's death, agents executed a series of searches and traffic stops at locations linked to him and found cash, guns, and drugs. In his truck, they found nine pounds of crystal meth and three pounds of cocaine. At other locations, they also seized $9,000 in cash, five fully loaded military grade semi-automatic rifles with 1,000-plus rounds of ammunition, one shotgun, eight handguns, a ballistic vest and a Cadillac, police said.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama on DC Pot Laws, WI "Cocaine Moms" Law Challenged, No More 'Shrooms in Bali, More (12/12/14)

The president weighs in on congressional moves to block DC marijuana legalization, Oklahoma could be joining the cannabis oil medical marijuana club, a Wisconsin woman sues over the "cocaine moms" law, the ACLU is looking to sue a Connecticut housing agency over mandatory drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Indonesian police will begin enforcing the ban on magic mushrooms next month. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Thinks Congress Should Not Interfere With DC Pot Laws. As the battle continues over whether Congress has managed or not to block the District of Columbia's Measure 71 legalization initiative, President Obama has weighed in. In a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did "not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the citizens of District of Columbia." Asked specifically about Measure 71, Earnest noted that the measure had been approved by the voters and that, "on principle," that Congress shouldn't interfere with home rule. But Earnest also noted that Obama supports passing the omnibus spending bill that would, some say, overturn the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Oil Bill Should Be Filed Today in Oklahoma. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he plans to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill today. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Public Housing Agency Under Fire for Suspicionless Drug Testing of Applicants. The Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) requires mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of people applying to live there, and the ACLU of Connecticut is looking for people who want to sue the agency over the issue. "We urge you to repeal this policy because this suspicionless drug testing violates guarantees in the United States and Connecticut constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures," wrote ACLU staff attorney David McGuire in a December 2013 letter to the Authority. "We would like to hear from any potential tenant who objects to the suspicionless drug test so that we can consider legal action," McGuire said Wednesday. To make matters worse, the NHA is the only housing authority in the country to drug test using hair follicles, which unlike urine or blood samples, can reveal drug use going back weeks or even months.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Judge Convicted of Planting Drugs on Woman. A woman accused a judge of propositioning her when she appeared before him to seek warrants against people who had assaulted her, so he conspired with some local cops to plant methamphetamine in her vehicle and have her arrested. Now, former Magistrate Court Judge Bryant Cochran has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, violating the civil rights of a court employee by sexually assaulting her, and witness tampering. He's looking at almost certain federal prison time when he is sentenced in February.

Pregnancy

Lawsuit Will Challenge Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" Law. A woman who was jailed after admitting past drug use while seeking a pregnancy test and medical help for depression is filing suit to have the state's "cocaine mom" law thrown out. That law allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol use. Tammy Loertscher of Medford is filing the suit with the assistance of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which says the Wisconsin "fetal protection" law is one of the most sweeping in the nation.

International

Hungary's Prime Minister Wants Drug Tests for Journalists and Politicians. Hungary's rightist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make the country a "non-liberal" state, called today for mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians. "The government decided that it will rid Hungary of the drug mafia in this term," Orban said. "Politicians, journalists and those filling positions of public trust have to be included (in the drug tests) because it is clear that those who consume drugs cannot be relied on in the fight against drugs." Orban's statement isn't sitting well with journalists and civil libertarians, with the Association of Independent Journalists calling his proposal "legally and morally deeply outrageous." Earlier this week, the mayor Budapest calling for drug testing teens as well, but that proposal appears have been dropped.

Just a Reminder: Magic Mushrooms Are Now Illegal in Indonesia.Magic mushrooms had long been excluded from Indonesian drug laws, and were openly sold and used, especially in the popular tourist destination of Bali, but that's no longer the case. They are now considered a Type 1 narcotic since the law was revised earlier this year, and police are on a campaign to let people know. "All people who consume and trade in magic mushrooms are violating the Narcotics Law," Denpasar Police drug section head Comr. I Gede Ganefo said recently. "Many people do not yet know that magic mushrooms are illegal and they could face a prison term if they sell or consume them. They think it is all right as they grow naturally in manure," Ganefo said. Police said the informational campaign will become an enforcement campaign starting January 1. "Next month [Jan. 2015], there will be no more tolerance. If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them. They could face the same charges as those using marijuana and other drugs, a minimum four-year and maximum 12-year prison term," Ganefo said.

Chronicle AM: DC Marijuana Muddle, Feds OK Pot Growing on the Rez, More (12/11/14)

There are conflicting views on the fate of DC's legalization initiative, the Justice Department okays marijuana growing on Indian reservations, Spaniards now support marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

A New Mexico Indian reservation. There could be a new cash crop coming. (wikipedia.org)
DC Legalization Still Alive? Democrats Think So. Despite the language Republicans managed to include in the "CRomnibus" federal spending bill interfering with the District of Columbia's right to set its own marijuana policies, several leading Democrats say that the Initiative 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative is still alive. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, who represents DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds D.C.; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the D.C. rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The D.C. government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

DC Legalization Still Alive? Republicans Just Say No. While Democrats argue that marijuana legalization was "enacted" by the voters on November 4 and thus will prevail, Republicans beg to differ. They argue that because the initiative has not been transmitted to Congress or passed congressional review, it has not been enacted. "It's pretty clear," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) who led the charge against decriminalizing pot in DC with a rider that was not included in the final bill. "You can't enact anything once the rider's passed. The legalization is not enacted." We probably haven't heard the final word on this just yet.

Justice Department Okays Indian Tribes Growing, Selling Marijuana. In new guidance to US Attorneys, the Justice Department is telling them not to prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states that have not legalized it. It is unclear how many tribes will take up the offer; while some see pot sales as a source of potential revenue, others are strongly opposed to the use or sale of marijuana on their lands. The Justice Department will generally not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws on tribes that choose to allow it, as long as they meet eight federal guidelines, including that marijuana not be sold to minors and not be transported to areas that prohibit it.

Drug Testing

Michigan Welfare Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A two-bill package that would impose suspicion-based drug testing on some welfare recipients has passed the legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The bills would create a pilot drug testing program to begin by next October. Under the bills, welfare applicants would be screened, and if the screening suggests "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs, a drug test would be required. Although Republican sponsors said they were concerned about children, Republicans defeated a move to allow an appointed adult to receive funds for children if their parents are disqualified because of drug use.

International

Poll Finds a Majority of Spaniards Say Legalize Weed. Some 52% of Spaniards are ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new poll from the Foundation for Aid Against Drug Addiction. That's well above previous surveys from the same group conducted in 1999 and 2004. "There has been a development around the image of this drug, which could have contributed to an increase of a more cannabis-friendly population," the foundation noted.

DC Legalization Still Alive? Democrats Think So

Despite the language Republicans managed to include in the "CRomnibus" federal spending bill interfering with the District of Columbia's right to set its own marijuana policies, several leading Democrats say that the Initiative 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative is still alive.

A close reading of the relevant language in the bill shows that while it would block the District council from enacting a pending bill to tax and regulate marijuana, it would not undo DC's decriminalization law that is already on the books. The language around Initiative 71 is less clear, but Democrats involved with the negotiations say it is clear that the legislative intent of the rider in question was to allow both decriminalization and Initiative 71 to stand.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, the Congressional Delegate from DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds DC; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the DC rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The DC government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

"Initiative 71 was enacted on November 4th when 70% of DC voters approved it, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Voters wanted to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and focus police resources on serious and violent crime. The will of the people should stand. While Initiative 71 won't take effect until after the Council transmits it to Congress in January and it goes through an administrative 30-day review period, it has very clearly already been enacted by the voters."

The Drug Policy Alliance is urging the DC city council to transmit Initiative 71 to Congress as soon as it convenes in January.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

NYPD officers are involved in two out of three of our corrupt cop reports this week, and a pair of thieving San Francisco cops round out the rogues' gallery. Let's get to it:

In Sunrise City, Florida, an NYPD officer was arrested last Tuesday while trying to buy 10 pounds of cocaine. Officer Philip LeRoy, a former Queens precinct "Cop of the Year," now faces charges of felony weapon possession, cocaine trafficking, and conspiracy to traffic cocaine. Sunrise is notorious for its asset forfeiture-driven drug stings. At last report, Le Roy was still in jail awaiting extradition.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Friday for driving a drug dealer around, warning a cocaine dealer that police action was coming, and offering to arrange a heroin deal. Officer Merlin Alston allegedly told one cocaine supplier to "ghost" and "be gone" from a corner when police were coming, helped another dealer deliver cocaine, and offered to help the latter deal score some heroin. He is charged with official misconduct and conspiracy.

In San Francisco, two San Francisco police officers were convicted last Friday of stealing thousands of dollars worth of cash and other property from suspected drug dealers. Officer Edmond Robles and Sgt. Ian Furminger were found guilty by a federal jury of five and four counts respectively. There could be more guilty verdicts or plea bargains to come in this scandal, which began Public Defender Jeff Adachi released surveillance videos showing officers walking out of cheap SRO hotels with bags of residents' possessions.

Medical Marijuana Update

Big news from DC on Tuesday as congressional budget negotiators included language barring the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal, and a whole lot of news from California, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a congressional budget deal blocked federal interference in medical marijuana states. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana"

California

Last Tuesday, El Dorado County supervisors voted not to repeal the county's cultivation ordinance. Instead, supervisors decided to appoint a task force consisting of county counsel, the sheriff, DA and activists to come up with a solution that will protect patients' rights.

Also last Tuesday, Kern County supervisors approved civil lawsuits against collectives and cooperatives. The supervisors are going after 19 co-ops or collectives located in unincorporated areas of the county. The county previously sued other collectives and most of those have closed up shop.

Last Thursday, legislators filed statewide medical marijuana regulation bills. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.

Last Saturday, California doctors rejected denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use.

On Monday, the Siskiyou County planning division released its draft cultivation ordinance. The ordinance would limit outdoor grows to four plants on properties an acre or smaller, six plants on properties up to 2.5 acres, eight plants on up to five acres, and 10 plants on properties greater than five acres. Comments can be submitted via email at MMCO@co.siskiyou.ca.us.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors approved spending $446,500 to enforce the county's cultivation ordinance. The ordinance limits the size of medical marijuana gardens to 50 square feet on property larger than a half-acre, 100 square feet on properties larger than five acres, and 150 square feet on properties larger than 10 acres. The ordinance also allows anonymous denunciations of alleged violations.

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

Chronicle AM: Budget Bill Would Block DC Legalization, Also Blocks Federal MedMJ Enforcement, More (12/10/14)

With the budget bill, Congress moves to block DC's voter-approved pot legalization, but also to block federal enforcement actions against medical marijuana where it is legal, a DC protest on the legalization move is set for this afternoon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Congressional Budget Deal Seeks to Block DC Legalization. The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

DC Protest Against Congressional Interference Set For Tonight. The DC Cannabis Campaign, sponsors of the DC legalization initiative, has announced a march on the US Capitol tonight to protest Congress's move to override the voters' decision to legalize marijuana in the District. Marchers will gather at the Justice Department at 9th and Pennsylvania NW at 5:00pm, then march to the Capitol at 6:00pm.

Anti-Marijuana Speakers Heckled at DC Heritage Foundation Event. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the budget bill amendment attempting to block legalization in DC, along with Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), another strong opponent of letting the District set its own marijuana laws, were greeted by hecklers at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday. "I don't want to listen to these lies," shouted one heckler as Harris took the podium. "The people voted," a second shouted. Harris laughed when asked about the heckler, then proceeded to claim that legalizing marijuana would lead to increased teen drug use -- a claim that has not been borne out so far in states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Blocks Federal Interference in Medical Marijuana States. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor's Drug Testing Crusade Costing State's Taxpayers. The state has racked up at least $307,000 in legal fees and court costs as it tried in vain to defend Gov. Rick Scott's (R) unconstitutional law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants. And taxpayers are likely to shell out even more -- in legal fees to the ACLU of Florida, which took the state to federal court over the law. The bill could rise even higher if Scott decides to appeal the four federal court decisions that have found the law unconstitutional.

International

Isle of Jersey Rejects Islander's Requests to Use Medical Marijuana. Jersey's drug law allows the health minister to issue license for possess marijuana for "special purposes," but the island's parliament has voted against allowing three residents to use medical marijuana products. "It is unlikely that 'special purpose' was ever intended to cover medicinal use," said one senator. "While the law allows for the minister for health and social services to issue a licence for research and special purposes it does not provide for the minister to step into the shoes of a doctor and, in effect, take clinical decisions in respect of an individual case."

Indonesian President to Ban Clemency for Drug Offenders Facing Execution. President Joko Widodo said Tuesday that he plans to enforce the death penalty for people convicted of drug crimes. There are currently 64 drug offenders on death row, and he said he would reject clemency requests for them. "They are not on my table yet. But I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who committed narcotics-related crimes," Jokowi said. The government's insistence on implementing the death penalty has drawn criticism from human rights defenders in the country.

India Cops Do "Workarounds" to Bust Mephedrone Sellers. The synthetic psychedelic stimulant drug mephedrone is not illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, and police are resorting to workarounds to "curb the menace." Mumbai police have instructed officers to arrest sellers under the penal code's offense of selling poison. And some police have even arrested sellers by charging them with selling methamphetamine, which mephedrone is not.

URGENT: Call Congress TODAY to Save DC Marijuana Legalization!

Last month, 70% of voters in Washington, DC approved an initiative to legalization possession and home growing of marijuana. Later in the month, a committee of DC's city council advanced "tax and regulate" legislation that would authorize store sales too. Unfortunately, drug warriors in Congress led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) got language included in the pending "Continuing Resolution" omnibus bill to fund the government that would block tax and regulate legislation in the District, and which might block the initiative too. The rumor is that some (not all) Republicans wanted to stop DC from moving ahead, and that Democrats cut a deal.

There is only a little time left to influence this process. Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators and ask them to block the Harris Amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would block marijuana legalization in the Districut of Columbia. You can reach your legislators (or find out who they are) through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, You can also look up that information on our web site's Congressional lookup tool here. When you're done, please send us a note to let us know what they said. (If you'd like a little help with what you're going to say on the phone, you can find a sample script from our friends at the "Just Say Now" campaign here.)

If you're in DC, there's a protest you can join today (Wednesday 12/10) -- a march from the Dept. of Justice at 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, to the US Capitol, meeting at 5:00 with the march starting at 6:00pm.

Thank you for taking action -- time, and the truth are on our side!

Budget Bill Seeks to Block DC Pot Legalization, But…

The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. But there may be some wiggle room.

A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District."

The bill summary doesn't mention decriminalization, which was approved earlier this year by the DC city council and has already gone into effect.

Rumors had swirled throughout that day about what was being hammered out, with hopes raised at various points that some less onerous deal might be reached, perhaps one that would bar the DC city council from passing and implementing marijuana taxation and regulation. Such a DC bill is already in the works.

While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

This is not the first time Congress has acted to block the will of District voters on marijuana reform issues. In 1998, DC voters approved medical marijuana with 69% of the vote, but Congress blocked it for more than a decade. Now, DC voters, who approved legalization with 70% of the vote, are once again being given the back of the hand by the folks on Capitol Hill.

The omnibus budget bill is almost certain to pass Congress this week and be signed into law by President Obama. Then the legal battle to recognize the will of the people in Washington, DC, will commence.

Washington, DC
United States

Budget Bill Curbs Federal Medical Marijuana, Hemp Enforcement

In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May.

No more DEA medical marijuana raids? (justice.gov)
The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

The hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.

"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."

The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."

"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."

If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.

"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."

Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.

Washington, DC
United States

GOP Effort to Block DC Marijuana Reforms Continues, Advocates Pressure Dems [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Reflecting the will of the voters, the elected representatives of the people of Washington, DC -- the DC city council -- approved marijuana decriminalization earlier this year. District voters went even further than the council in last month's elections, approving an initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot with a whopping 70% of the vote.

Now, congressional Republicans are working feverishly to block the District from putting the results of this exercise in democracy into effect. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for DC pot law reforms. Harris has crafted an amendment to the DC appropriations bill that would bar the use of federal or local funds to implement the reforms, and Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee, has agreed to include Harris's amendment in the bill.

And, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been deeply involved in DC marijuana reform efforts, "Democrats are rumored to be cutting a deal with Republicans" that would sacrifice legalization in order to save decriminalization."

[Update: Late Tuesday afternoon, DPA released the following report: "Currently, sources are reporting that Congress is considering allowing Initiative 71, approved by 70% of District residents, to stand while preventing future action on the District of Columbia's ability to tax and regulate marijuana. These reports stand in sharp contrast to a previously reported deal that would have stopped the ballot measure from taking effect."]

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hasn't exactly quelled those rumors. At a press conference last Friday, she said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. (Republicans are also seeking to use the appropriations bill to overturn DC firearms safety laws.)

The pressure is on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (house.gov)
"I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation."

That not-so-ringing endorsement of the District's ability to democratically determine its own drug policies, as well as the rumored deals, has prompted DPA and other reform supporters to ramp up the pressure on congressional Democrats. In an open letter to the Democratic leadership today, a number of civil rights and other advocacy groups, including DPA, DC Votes, and the DC branches of the ACLU, NAACP, and NOW, called on the Democrats to grow a backbone.

"As you conclude negotiations over the FY15 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, we urge you to reject all efforts to include undemocratic restrictions on DC's rights," said the letter addressed to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "As you know, the spending bill passed by the House included new provisions that would interfere in the District of Columbia's local affairs, including language intended to overturn the results of a local voter initiative. The undersigned organizations advocate on diverse issues, but are united in our opposition to the inclusion of social policy riders targeting the District of Columbia in the appropriations bill."

"Democratic leadership made it clear they would stand with voters on this crucial racial justice issue, and push back against Republican opposition to the DC law," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "Democrats have always made claims of supporting DC home rule now is their chance to stand with 70% of voters in the District who voted for marijuana reform," Collins said.

Advocates are particularly dismayed given the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws in the District. According to a 2013 ACLU report, not only did DC have the highest per capita number of pot possession arrests -- more than three times the national average -- but it also saw black people arrested for pot possession at a rate more than eight times that of whites. In that regard, DC was second, trailing only the state of Iowa among the 50 states.

The Republican efforts to interfere -- and block these moves to reduce racial disparities in the District -- takes on added salience in the context of weeks of protests nationwide over racially biased policing.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it is particularly disturbing that Congress would choose to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which was responsible for the passage of Initiative 71, the legalization initiative. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress is poised to undermine that."

But the Republican Party is no longer a monolith when it comes to marijuana law reform. On at least five votes this year, some Republican legislators voted in favor of such reforms. It is questionable whether the GOP could block DC's reforms on a straight up-and-down vote. By tying the effort to the broader appropriations bill, however, the issue is placed in the hands of the congressional leadership, and that could leave the District hanging out to dry. It's time for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to stand up for the District and for democratic principals, the advocates say, and they are prodding them today.

Chronicle AM: NV Marijuana Init Qualifies for 2016, Iran Meth Up, SE Asia Poppy Production Up, More (12/9/14)

A Nevada legalization initiative is the first to qualify for the 2016 ballot, a new poll identifies an amorphous "marijuana middle," meth is on the rise in Iran, and so are poppies in the Golden Triangle, and more. Let's get to it:

In Burmese fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

"Marijuana Middle" Identified in Third Way Poll. A new national poll from the centrist think-tank Third Way finds Americans almost even split on legalization (50% yes, 47% no), but with a broad and deep "marijuana middle" that may not support legalization in its own state, but does support federal action to allow states that have legalized it a "safe haven." Two-thirds said Congress should pass a "safe haven" law, while 60% said legalization should be up to the states, not the federal government. The poll also examined the demographics of the "marijuana middle." Click on the link for all the details.

JAMA on the Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Monday published "The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado." (Click the title link to read the article.) The authors found an increase in reports of emergency room visits for marijuana intoxication, as well as problems related to the production of new marijuana products, ranging from burns caused by exploding hash-oil labs to problems associated with the overindulgence in edibles. But the authors also found that legalization was increasing access to marijuana for medical reasons, including pain control, where it is much safer than opiates.

Anchorage Assembly to Hold Hearing on Banning Pot Businesses. At the behest of Assembly member Amy Demboski, the Anchorage Assembly will hold a hearing on her proposal to ban licensed pot businesses in the city one week from today. Supporters of legalization are looking for people to show up. Click on the link for more information.

Illinois Appeals Court Rules Worker's Admission of Off-Duty Marijuana Use Not Sufficient to Deny Unemployment Benefits. A worker who was fired from his job after admitting smoking marijuana when confronted with a random drug test (which he passed) cannot be denied unemployment benefits, the state's 5th District appellate court has ruled. The case is Eastham v. The Housing Authority of Jefferson County.

It's Official -- Nevada Initiative Qualifies for 2016 Ballot. Nevada is first out of the blocks to legalize marijuana via an initiative in 2016. Secretary of State Ross Miller Monday certified that the initiative had qualified for the ballot. Now, voters will have the opportunity to legalize it in the 2016 elections -- unless the state legislature acts first to approve the measure.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors Are Cutting Back on Prescriptions for Pain Relievers. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers report that half of primary care physicians are reducing their prescribing of opiate pain relievers compared to last year and that 85% of doctors believe they are overprescribed. The doctors reported concerns about addiction, overdoses, and traffic accidents. But an even greater number -- 90% -- were confident in their own ability to correctly prescribe opiates.

International

Meth in Iran. Reuters has a report on the increase of methamphetamine use in the Islamic Republic. The news agency notes that meth seizures more than doubled between 2008 and 2012 and that last year alone, the government seized 3.6 tons of speed. The report cites experts as saying the rise of meth is being driven by increased development in the country and a more complicated and faster-paced lifestyle.

Opium Production Thriving in the Golden Triangle, UN Reports. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle has increased for the eighth straight year, the UN said Sunday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014. The acreage under cultivation increased slightly, giving the region to ability to produce about 76 tons of heroin. Myanmar accounts for most of the Golden Triangle production, and the Shan State accounts for most of Myanmar's production. The Golden Triangle is the world's second largest opium production region, behind Afghanistan, but only produces about one-fifth the amount Afghanistan does.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Battle Unsettled, Federal Racial Profiling Ban, Budapest Drug Testing, More (12/8/14):

DC's marijuana reforms remain under threat from congressional Republicans, Washington state's pot-sellers are feeling burdened by taxes, California doctors reject denying transplants to medical marijuana patients, the Justice Department issued racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Nancy Pelosi Pledges Support for DC Autonomy as Possible Battle Over Marijuana Reforms Looms. At a press conference last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. "I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation." Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for pot law reforms, and the Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee wants to see Harris's amendment included in the appropriations bill. Stay tuned.

Tax Issues Fueling Concerns Among Washington State Pot Retailers. The state's 25% excise tax and the federal government's refusal to let pot businesses to deduct legitimate business expenses -- such as state taxes -- is putting the squeeze on the state's fledgling retail industry. That's helping to contribute to retail marijuana prices that are higher than black market prices, but still not enough to be profitable under the weight of the state and federal taxes. There could be a fix coming in the state legislature; efforts are also underway to change the federal tax code to recognize legal pot businesses.

Medical Marijuana

California Doctors Reject Denying Organ Transplants to Medical Marijuana Patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use. "I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices," said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Unveils Racial Profiling Ban for Federal Law Enforcers. The Justice Department today issued guidelines that will ban federal law enforcement agents from profiling on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics. The guidelines cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on joint task forces alongside federal agents. The new guidelines will not apply to security screeners in airports and at border checkpoints, nor are they binding on state and local police forces.

International

Budapest Mayor Wants Mandatory Drug Tests for Teenagers, More. Mayor Mate Kocsis wants mandatory annual drug testing for city teenagers, as well as for elected officials and journalists. He said the idea was to target "those most at risk, decision-makers and opinion-formers." Kocsis is a member of the governing Fidesz Party, whose parliamentary group will discuss his proposal today. In August, Kocsis managed to get a needle exchange program for injection drug users shut down. He has also introduced legislation to ban picking through garbage and sleeping on the streets.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Governor's Bid to Drug Test Welfare Applicants [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Florida Governor Rick Scott's (R) drug testing crusade hit yet another roadblock Wednesday as a federal appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that his plan to make welfare applicants submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests was unconstitutional.

As other Republican governors -- most notably Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Paul LePage in Maine -- did in this year's election campaign, Rick Scott made drug testing a key campaign promise in his 2010 election campaign. The following year, the Republican-dominated state legislature acceded to Scott's request and passed a welfare drug testing law.

Welfare applicants weren't the only target of Scott's drug testing push. He also sought to impose random, suspicionless drug testing on state employees through an executive order. But that was struck down by the federal courts as violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. The US Supreme Court denied his appeal of that ruling in August.

And now, the second prong of Scott's drug testing thrust has been struck down. The decision came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families, in which Navy veteran, college student, and single father Luis Lebron filed for food stamp assistance, but was denied after he refused to undergo a drug test. Supported by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, Lebron sued to have the law overturned.

Citing a lengthy history of federal court precedents, Lebron's legal team argued that like the random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers, the mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. US District Court Judge Mary Scriven agreed, ruling in 2011 that the policy was unconstitutional.

The never-say-die Scott appealed that decision. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta held a hearing on the case on November 20. It then took less than two weeks to reach its decision.

The bipartisan panel of federal judges ruled unanimously that the state of Florida had failed to provide any evidence that there was a strong government need to strip welfare applicants of constitutional protections.

"We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the court. "The State has presented no evidence demonstrating that drug testing saves a significant portion of TANF funds that could otherwise be spent on drugs," he added, pointing to a 2000 state study that found welfare applicants were less likely to use drugs than the general population and noting that in the three months the drug testing program was in effect, only 2.76% of applicants tested positive.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gets shot down again on drug testing (florida.gov)
"In the final analysis, the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment. On this record, the State has not demonstrated a substantial special need to carry out the suspicionless search -- we see no concrete danger, only generalized public interests," Marcus wrote.

Marcus also noted that "citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance" and that "by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy." Having to urinate in a cup in front of another person "intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable," he added.

Nor were the judges buying the state's argument that welfare applicants effectively waived their constitutional rights by consenting to drug tests as a condition of receiving benefits or that the state had a "special need" to protect the children of drug-using welfare applicants.

"[T]he State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis," the court held. "We respect the State's overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that [the welfare drug testing law] crosses the constitutional line."

While, given a solid line of federal court setbacks for the law, the 11th Circuit's decision was not exactly a surprise, advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"The 11th Circuit has affirmed that the 4th Amendment applies to everyone, even those applying for government assistance, said Florida Justice Institute executive director Randall Berg. "The same rationale for requiring suspicionless drug tests of TANF recipients could be used to require suspicionless searches for any kind of government benefit, whether it is social security, farm subsidies, or student scholarships. Today, the court has rejected that rationale, drawing a clear line that will keep us from going down that slippery slope."

"We are very pleased by the Court's opinion, which once again makes clear that the US Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches," said ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan.

"This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects -- that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike," she continued. "The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they've asked the State for temporary assistance."

While the federal courts have been clear that, with limited exceptions, mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Constitution, Republican governors and legislators in other states have responded by passing public benefits drug testing laws that can pass constitutional muster by first establishing some sort of "reasonable suspicion" before requiring drug testing. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, at least 11 states have done so.

The results have not been particularly impressive. In Kansas, only 20 people have been tested in the first four months the law has been in effect; four failed the drug test. Next door in Missouri, the state is spending $336,000 a year on its welfare drug testing. It has tested 655 people; 69 failed the drug test. But 711 others refused to take it. In Utah, a year after it passed a 2012 welfare drug testing law, the state had spent $30,000 to drug test applicants, but only came up with 12 who tested positive. In Tennessee, where a similar law went into effect this year, the state has tested 800 applicants, with only one person testing positive.

But whether public benefits drug testing programs actually either save states money by reducing welfare rolls or help families by encouraging recipients to go straight is probably not as important to politicians as the political calculus behind them. With its coded appeal to racial and class hostilities wrapped in a guise of caring and fiscal responsibility, it's a red meat issue for the Republican base.

Atlanta, GA
United States

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