Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: British Lib Dems Adopt Marijuana Legalization, Seattle Eyes Safe Injection Site, More... (3/14/16)

Britain's Liberal Democrats become the first UK political party to formally embrace marijuana legalization, a bill to recriminalize public pot smoking in Maryland advances, a Seattle task force is taking a serious look at supervised injection facilities, and more.

Massachusetts legalizers roll out a St. Patrick's Day-themed ad.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland House Panel Okays Making Public Pot Smoking a Crime. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to make it a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine to use marijuana in public places. That measure is House Bill 777. The committee also killed a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would have made marijuana use a right.

Massachusetts Hospital Association Opposes Legalization. The association's board of directors voted unanimously against legalizing marijuana, citing public health and safety concerns. Top elected officials of both parties, including Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Attorney General Maura Healey (D), and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) have also come out against legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Cannabis Oil Bill to Get Hearing Wednesday.  "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, will get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would allow for the use of CBD under a physician's care for the treatment of debilitating medical conditions. Two years ago, the legislature passed a CBD bill, but it didn't allow for any use outside of a University of Alabama study.

Michigan Dispensary Raids Spark Protests. Nearly a hundred people took to the streets outside the Michigan State Police Gaylord Post Sunday to protest raids against 10 Oswego County dispensaries two days earlier. The Straits Area Narcotic Enforcement (SANE) team led the raids, which were the second such law enforcement assault on patient access in the area in the past year.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Political Party Formed. Cornhusker activists tired of waiting for the legislature to act have formed a political party, Legal Marijuana Now Nebraska, and are preparing a signature drive to put medical marijuana to the voters. The will need to gather 6,500 valid voter signatures by August 1 to qualify for the November ballot.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Eyes Supervised Injection Facility. The newly-formed Seattle-King County heroin task force is look at a safe injection site as one way of addressing heroin use in the area. King County Sheriff John Urquhart said he is "keeping an open mind."

International

British Liberal Democrats Formally Adopt Marijuana Legalization Platform. During its spring conference over the weekend, the Liberal Democratic Party formally adopted marijuana legalization and a regulated marijuana market. The party envisions single-purpose stores to sell marijuana. The Lib Dems become the first political party in Britain to embrace legalization.

The Colombian Defense Minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, said last Friday that the government is concerned over an increase in coca crops. Villegas conceded that there was a 40% increase between 2013 and 2014, and that there was another significant increase between 2014 and 2015. He blamed the increased profitability of the drug trade thanks to a Colombian currency devaluation, and he blamed the FARC for encouraging peasants to grow coca in the hopes of receiving development aid down the road.

Chronicle AM: LatAm Leaders Call for Drug Decrim, NH House Approves Marijuana Decrim, More... (3/11/16)

Three former Latin American heads of state call for drug decriminalization, the New Hampshire House votes for pot decriminalization, medical marijuana dies in the Utah legislature, but will get a vote in the Pennsylvania legislature, and more. 

Canadian judges are wondering why they're still prosecuting pot possession cases as the wait for the Liberals to legalize it.
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislative Committee Rejects Marijuana DUID Bill. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 7-4 Thursday to reject a bill that sought to set a blood level limit to determine whether a driving is impaired by marijuana use. A majority of committee members voiced concern that setting a legal limit (5 nanograms per milliliter of blood) would not be an accurate measure of impairment.

Michigan Bill Could Kill Legalization Initiative Ballot Push This Year. The Senate Thursday gave fast-track approval a bill seemingly designed to thwart the MiLegalize pot legalization initiative. The bill would close a loophole that would allow initiative campaigns to count signatures gathered outside the 180-day limit, which the initiative campaign had counted on to get sufficient signatures to make the ballot. The bill is expected to win quick passage in the House and then by signed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The group has about 250,000 raw signatures, but needs 253,000 valid ones to qualify. It argues that the time limit for signatures can be stretched if it can prove the signatures are still valid, but passage of the bill would make that argument moot.

New Hampshire House Approves Decriminalization Bill (Again)! The House Thursday rejected a negative recommendation from its Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and passed House Bill 1631 to decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana. This marks the seventh time the House has approved a decrim bill since 2008, but the Senate has failed to pass any of the previous bills. New Hampshire is now the only state in the region that hasn't decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania House to Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill Monday. Ten months after the Senate approved Sen. Mike Folmer's Senate Bill 3, the House will finally vote on it next week.

Utah Legislature Kills CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. First, lawmakers killed an actual medical marijuana, Senate Bill 73, and Thursday, a watered-down substitute, Senate Bill 89 died as lawmakers could not come to agreement on late amendments on the last day of the session. The stage is now set for a medical marijuana initiative drive by patients and supporters frustrated with the legislature's inaction.

International

Three Latin American Leaders Call for Decriminalizing Drug Use. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Colombian President  Cesar Gaviria, and former Mexican President Felipe Zedillo have called the war on drugs "an unmitigated disaster" and urged the decriminalization of drug use. They also critique the way global anti-drug bureaucrats have conducted the run-up to next month's UNGASS on Drugs, claiming that key documents have been drafted in a way that is "neither transparent nor inclusive."

Canada Judges Wonder Why They're Still Trying Marijuana Cases. Senior prosecutors told parliamentarians Thursday that some criminal trial judges are questioning why people continue to be prosecuted for simple marijuana possession while the Liberal government moves to legalize the plant. The government is spending $4 million a year pursing small-time pot offenders, and prosecutors said they would continue to enforce the law until it changes. 

Open Letter in Advance of the UNGASS Calls for Obama to Go Bold

With the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs at UN headquarters in New York City just a little more than a month away, more than 230 civil rights, health, faith-based, and other organizations sent a letter to President Obama Thursday urging him to use the UNGASS on Drugs to make an international push for a fundamental shift in drug policy away from criminalization and toward public health and human rights approaches.

UN headquarters, New York City (Creative Commons)
The signatories form a broad range of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, AIDS United, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the World Hepatitis C Council, as well as dozens of drug reform and harm reduction nonprofits.

The signatories also include NGOs from around the world, from Accion Semilla Bolivia to the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network. As with the domestic sign-ons, the international groups include dozens of drug reform and harm reduction organizations.

All the signatories are united in calling for the US and President Obama to take "a stronger US stance" in areas like human rights, public health, and development and urging the US to promote the initial steps the UN can take in reforming the international drug conventions that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime.

The letter urges the administration to call on the UN to appoint an "Expert Advisory Group," whose mandate would be to study tensions faced by the international drug control regime today, and to recommend options for moving forward. Groups argue that the current US stance toward marijuana legalization and international treaties, which relies in part on continued federal prohibition, is "likely to face shrinking credibility internationally as legalization spreads to more states."

"US agencies have played an important role promoting positive reforms like alternatives to incarceration and people-centered public health drug policies," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, who coordinated the sign-on letter. "Unfortunately, the current US UNGASS stance avoids engaging with a number of contested human rights issues, such as the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, and punts on the obvious treaty questions that legalization raises. We think this is unfortunate at a time when real strides are being made in reforming our domestic policies, partly because of President Obama's vision for criminal justice reform. We think the administration has viable options available to take further productive steps on global drug policy too."

The letter calls on the Obama administration to:

  • Acknowledge the ramifications of recent drug reforms, such as marijuana legalization in Uruguay and some US states.
  • Stand up for human rights by calling for an end to the death penalty for drug offenses, reducing racial disparities in drug law enforcement, and respecting indigenous traditions.
  • Craft a people-centered approach to drug policy by explicitly adopting harm reduction practices, such as syringe exchanges, and rejecting the criminalization of peasant farmers and the eradication of their drug crops in favor of sustainable development.
  • Take a stronger stance on criminal justice reforms by moving toward drug decriminalization, urging sentencing reforms around the globe, and treating pregnant women who use drugs as patients, not criminals.
  • Work toward a more open dialog by having key documents finalized at the UNGASS rather than at closed sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and taking a more inclusive posture toward NGOS and civil society.

We will see next month how much Obama is listening.

Chronicle AM: ME Legalizers Sure Over Invalidated Signatures, Civil Society Groups Sign UNGASS Letter, More... (3/10/16)

A South Dakota GOP lawmaker tells the parents of sick kids they should move to another state if they want to use CBD cannabis oil, Maine legalizers are suing over disqualified signatures, the Senate passes a major bill dealing with heroin and opiates, but without funding, and more. 

UNGASS on Drugs is now just five weeks away. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Initiative Files Lawsuit Over Disqualified Signatures. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol today filed a lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court challenging a decision by the secretary of state to disqualify more than 17,000 voter signatures because of an issue surrounding one notary's signature. That was enough to knock the measure off the fall ballot, but the campaign says the signatures should be counted because the notary's signature does indeed match the one on file and because the secretary of state acted outside his authority in rejecting the petitions. The court has 30 days to rule.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization initiative for circulation. Organizers now have until July 11 to gather at least 13,452 valid voter signatures. They say they are aiming at 20,000 to have a cushion.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Kills CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. A bill that would have allowed for the use of CBD cannabis oil was killed in the House Wednesday on a 25-43 vote, with one "no" voter suggesting parents who lobbied for it should move to another state. The measure, Senate Bill 171, had already passed the Senate, and Republican Gov. Dennis Daugard had suggested he would sign it. Rep. Kristin Conzet (R-Rapid City) told people suffering seizure disorders they should move elsewhere. "I don’t like the road that we’re going down at this time," she said. "This is not a bill for South Dakota."

Heroin and Opiates

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Landmark Opioid Bill – the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). The measure now goes on to the House. CARA advances a large number of treatment and prevention measures intended to reduce prescription opioid and heroin misuse, including evidence-based interventions for the treatment of opioid and heroin addiction and prevention of overdose deaths.

White House Will Announce Funding to Fight Drug Addiction. Just hours after the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), the Obama administration said it will announce "a significant federal investment" to help fund its goals. Democrats had tried unsuccessfully to add $600 million in funding to the bill, but were blocked by Republicans.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Poll Finds Strong Support for Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new poll released by Drug Policy Action finds that 84% of registered Florida voters do not think police should be able to seize property from people who have not been convicted of a crime. And two-thirds of those polled said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who opposed civil asset forfeiture.  The poll comes as an asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 1044, passed out of the legislature Wednesday and awaits the signature of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Drug Testing

West Virginia House Overwhelmingly Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The bill, Senate Bill 6, would mandate drug testing for any welfare applicant who gives state workers "reasonable suspicion" he or she is using drugs, including having a drug conviction in the previous three years. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but that body will have to take it up again in concurrence since the House added amendments note voted on in the Senate.

International

Civil Rights, Health, Faith-Based, Justice Reform Groups Call on Obama to Push to End Global Drug War. More than 225 civil rights, health, faith-based and other organizations sent a letterto President Obama Thursday calling on him to use an upcoming United Nations high-level session on global drug policies to push for a fundamental change in course away from criminalization. The letter was submitted as the UN prepares for its highest level session on drug policy since 1998 – the "UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem,"or UNGASS, scheduled for April 19-21 at UN headquarters in New York. US diplomats and drug and crime officials have played a central role in negotiations over the UNGASS Outcome Document, an official product of the meeting that will impact policy.The sign-on campaign for the letter was coordinated by David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Sticky-fingered cops keep getting themselves in trouble, and more. Let's get to it:

In Miami, a Miami-Dade narcotics bureau detective was arrested last Friday for pocketing some of the money seized in a drug raid. Detective Armando Socarras, 30, was part of a group of police officers who raided a motel and seized $17,400 in suspected drug cash. But when he got back to the station, Socarras only reporting seizing $16,100, keeping $1,300 for himself. When confronted by colleagues, he said he took the money "for personal reasons." He is charged with theft. 

In Whiteville, North Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested Sunday for allegedly brining synthetic cannabinoids into the prison at Whiteville and selling them to inmates. Guard William Katrell Jacobs, 29, is charged with possession with the intent to manufacture, sell or deliver a synthetic cannabinoid (F), delivering a synthetic cannabinoid (F), maintaining a place for a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance in prison/jail, and possession of a weapon on state property/courthouse. Authorities found a gun in his vehicle when they searched it after his arrest.

In Cincinnati, a former Mount Vernon police detective pleaded guilty last Friday to stealing drugs and money from the departmental evidence room and having one of his snitches sell the dope. Matthew Dailey, 45, a sergeant who was in charge of the evidence room, admitted stealing the drugs, but claimed he did so because he was strung out on Percocet due to an injury received in the line of duty. He copped to one count of extortion and agreed to repay $8,000 to the department. His sentencing date has not yet been set, but he's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

Chronicle AM: US Signals Flexibility on International Drug Reforms, Senate Set to Approve CARA, More... (3/9/16)

In the run-up to UNGASS, the US is signalling some flexibility if other countries want to decriminalize drugs, the Senate is poised to pass a bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use, crackdowns could be coming for unpermitted dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Diego, and more.

State Department's William Brownfield signals "flexibility" on other countries' drug reform efforts. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Criminal Law Committee voted Tuesday to advance a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2228, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago). The bill would drop criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams of pot, but also set a limit at which someone can be prosecuted for drugged driving at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. A decrim bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R); this one attempts to address his concerns by lowering the amount decriminalized, increasing the fine from $100 to $200, and by lowering the nanogram limit.

Colorado Springs Wants Its Cannabis Social Clubs to Go Away. The city council voted Tuesday night to ban "cannabis consumption clubs" despite overwhelming public support for them at the council before the vote was taken. But it isn't going to happen overnight. The council gave the clubs eight years to shut down. In the meantime, they will have to be licensed by the city and pay for the privilege of doing so.

Medical Marijuana

Los Angeles County to Crack Down on Illegal Dispensaries. The county supervisors voted Tuesday to crack down on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The county will create a "Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team" to shut down and prosecute the unpermitted operations, which have been banned since 2011.

San Diego Licensed Dispensaries Call for Crackdown on Unlicensed Ones. The Association of Cannabis Professionals, which represents licensed dispensaries, is calling on the city to shut down dispensaries operating without a license. There are an estimated 30 unpermitted dispensaries in the city, and the seven licensed ones are claiming they can't compete because of the increased costs they bear to get and stay legal. "The City of San Diego spent nearly four years developing regulations, and our members spent nearly two years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to meet the conditions needed to obtain their permits from the City of San Diego,” says Association President Chris Siegel. “But despite having jumped through all of these hoops and costs, in order to do things right, the City continues to allow unpermitted dispensaries to operate with impunity."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate About to Pass Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Senators voted 83-6 to advance the bill Monday, setting the stage for a final vote sometime this week. The bill, S 524, is sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and has 42 cosponsors. It would provide support drug treatment, education, and prevention initiatives, and expanded prescription drug monitoring programs.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Senate Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. The Senate voted 48-0 Tuesday to approve Senate File 2218, which would allow police, fire departments, EMS programs and others to carry and use naloxone (Narcan), the opioid overdose reversal drug. The bill now goes to the House

International

Top State Department Official Gives Green Light for Other Countries to Decriminalize Drugs. William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), told reporters at the United Nations Tuesday that it was less concerned with how countries attempted to deal with drug problems than with reducing the harms from drug use. "The issue is not precisely whether a government has chosen to decriminalize or not to decriminalize," Brownfield remarked. "It is whether the government is working cooperatively to reduce the harm of a product. A nation can reach its own determination," he added, suggesting that countries should feel free to consider removing penalties for drug use.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Florida medical marijuana bill goes to the governor, a Utah medical marijuana bill gets killed, Los Angeles supervisors want to crack down on unpermitted dispensaries, so do San Diego licensed dispensaries, and more 
California 

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supes voted to crack down on illegal dispensaries. The county supervisors voted Tuesday to crack down on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The county will create a "Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team" to shut down and prosecute the unpermitted operations, which have been banned since 2011.

Also on Tuesday, San Diego licensed dispensaries called for a crackdown on unlicensed ones. The Association of Cannabis Professionals, which represents licensed dispensaries, is calling on the city to shut down dispensaries operating without a license. There are an estimated 30 unpermitted dispensaries in the city, and the seven licensed ones are claiming they can't compete because of the increased costs they bear to get and stay legal. "The City of San Diego spent nearly four years developing regulations, and our members spent nearly two years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to meet the conditions needed to obtain their permits from the City of San Diego,” says Association President Chris Siegel. “But despite having jumped through all of these hoops and costs, in order to do things right, the City continues to allow unpermitted dispensaries to operate with impunity."

Florida Last Thursday, the House approved a medical marijuana bill. The House approved House Bill 307, which allows terminal patients to use nonsmokable marijuana and adds regulations for dispensing groups, patients, and doctors under the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Similar legislation is moving in the Senate. 

On Monday, the Senate approved the bill. The Senate Monday approved House Bill 307, which would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Idaho

Last Thursday,activists halted their initiative campaign in the wake of misstated petition language. New Approach Idaho has stopped its petition campaign after the American Academy of Pediatrics objected to being identified on the front page of the petition as medical marijuana supporters. New Approach Idaho said the misrepresentation of the academy's position—it has called for rescheduling marijuana—was unintentional.

Rhode Island

Last Thursday, a bill to double dispensaries was filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) has filed House Bill 7808, which would increase the number of dispensaries in the state from three to six.

South Dakota 

Last Friday, the medical marijuana initiative got a second chance. State officials will recheck the validity of signatures on the New Approach South Dakota medical marijuana initiative after proponents officially challenged an earlier count that found they came up short on signatures.  Last month, state officials disqualified the initiative after a 5% random sample found that nearly half of them were invalid. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said that her office will conduct a new 5% random sampling "in order to maintain confidence in the petition process." It's still a long shot—the group gathered 16,543 raw signatures and needs 13,871 to qualify for the ballot. That means if even 20% of the raw signatures get thrown out—not an at all unusual event—the initiative effort will fail.

Utah

Last Wednesday, lawmakers approved a resolution calling for marijuana rescheduling. Both houses of the legislature have now unanimously approved a resolution, SCR11, which calls on the federal government to reschedule marijuana after the House approved it yesterday. The resolution now goes to the governor. On Monday, a House committee killed a broad medical marijuana and tried to merge it with another one. The House Health and Human Services Committee effectively killed Senate Bill 73, backed by medical marijuana supporters, then tried to blend in some of its provisions into Senate Bill 89, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana products, but would also impose stricter regulations on its use. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), sponsor of SB 73, said the compromise wasn't good enough. "It's like trying to put live organs in a cadaver and expect some kind of good outcome. It is fundamentally, functionally constructed to fail," Madsen said. "It's entirely possible they wanted it to fail all along. I don't think it's going to come close to meeting any of the needs for the people. It was a placebo bill from the beginning and was intended to torpedo my bill." Medical marijuana activists will now most likely move forward with a threatened initiative. Virginia On Monday, lawmakers approved a CBD cannabis oil bill. The House passed Senate Bill 701, which would allow the cultivation and use of two cannabinoids—CBD and THC-A—for patients suffering from severe epilepsy. The measure has already passed the Senate and now heads the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). 

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

 

Chronicle AM: UK Lib Dems Call for Marijuana Legalization, MD Harm Reduction Bills Get Hearing, More... (3/8/16)

Massachusetts lawmakers have problems with pot legalization, a Utah medical marijuana bill gets gutted, a Florida medical marijuana bill goes to the governor, groundbreaking harm reduction bills get a hearing in Maryland, Britain's Liberal Democrats call for pot legalization, and more.

Britain's third political party calls for marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Illinois Not Quite There Yet on Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for legalization at 45%, with 51% opposed. Medical marijuana does much better, with 82% in favor.

Massachusetts Senate Committee Issues Report on Dangers of Marijuana Legalization. A day after legalization got a raucous hearing at the state house, the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana issued a report saying it had "serious concerns about the prospect of legalizing marijuana for recreational use and sale" in the state. Legalization could make it easier for children to get access to the plant and more difficult for law enforcement trying to enforce impaired driving laws. The report calls for setting a legal driving limit for THC levels in the blood, requiring health risk warnings on marijuana products, and barring home cultivation, among other recommendations.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate Monday approved House Bill 307, which would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Utah House Committee Kills Broad Medical Marijuana Bill, Tries to Merge It With Another One. The House Health and Human Services Committee effectively killed Senate Bill 73, backed by medical marijuana supporters, then tried to blend in some of its provisions into Senate Bill 89, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana products, but would also impose stricter regulations on its use. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), sponsor of SB 73, said the compromise wasn't good enough. "It's like trying to put live organs in a cadaver and expect some kind of good outcome. It is fundamentally, functionally constructed to fail," Madsen said. "It's entirely possible they wanted it to fail all along. I don't think it's going to come close to meeting any of the needs for the people. It was a placebo bill from the beginning and was intended to torpedo my bill." Medical marijuana activists will now most likely move forward with a threatened initiative.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Monday passed Senate Bill 701, which would allow the cultivation and use of two cannabinoids—CBD and THC-A—for patients suffering from severe epilepsy. The measure has already passed the Senate and now heads the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Harm Reduction

Maryland Hearing Today on Groundbreaking Harm Reduction Bill Package. The House of Delegates is today holding hearings on two bills from Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) that are part of paradigm-shifting, four-bill harm reduction package. House Bill 1212 would allow for supervised consumption rooms, while House Bill 1267 would take initial steps toward enacting a pilot project in heroin and other opioid maintenance therapy.

International

British Liberal Democrats Call for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, A Framework for a Regulated Cannabis Market in the UK, Britain's third largest political party called for legalizing marijuana and said it would be a billion dollar a year industry in the United Kingdom.  

Chronicle AM: Iran to Hang 100 Drug Prisoners, Boston Safe Space for Heroin Users Coming, More... (3/7/16)

Iran is reportedly about to execute a hundred drug offenders, Florida's Volusia County becomes the latest locale to decriminalize pot in the Sunshine State, Oregon's governor signs pot bills into law, New Mexico's governor signs a naloxone (Narcan) bill into law, and more. 

Iran is preparing to hang a hundred drug prisoners. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Legislator's Speech Kills West Virginia Bill to Increase Marijuana Sentences. Delegate Bill Flanigan (R-Morgantown) took to the House floor last week to explain how medical marijuana helped him deal with cancer, and immediately after his speech, the House voted 59-40 to kill House Bill 4576. The bill would have increased penalties for bringing drugs, including marijuana, into the state. The bill would have increased the mandatory minimum sentence for importing marijuana from one to five years and increased the maximum sentence from five to 15 years.

Florida's Volusia County the Latest to Decriminalize. Following the path of counties and municipalities in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, Volusia County has become the first in Central Florida to decriminalize small-time pot possession. The county council voted unanimously to grant police discretion to ticket people arrested with 20 grams or less instead of arresting them. The ordinance will take effect April 1 and cover unincorporated Volusia, including the beaches, which are under county control.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Bills. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law two bills that adjust the state's legal marijuana program, Senate Bill 1598 and House Bill 4014. The former makes it easier for some medical marijuana growers to enter the legal marijuana market by removing some bureaucratic requirements, while the latter removes a two-year residency requirement for industry participants.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Second Chance. State officials will recheck the validity of signatures on the New Approach South Dakota medical marijuana initiative after proponents officially challenged an earlier count that found they came up short on signatures.  Last month, state officials disqualified the initiative after a 5% random sample found that nearly half of them were invalid. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said last Friday that her office will conduct a new 5% random sampling "in order to maintain confidence in the petition process." It's still a long shot—the group gathered 16,543 raw signatures and needs 13,871 to qualify for the ballot. That means if even 20% of the raw signatures get thrown out—not an at all unusual event—the initiative effort will fail.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Unanimously Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 1044, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but tightens procedural and evidentiary requirements for law enforcement. Companion legislation, House Bill 889, has passed all committees and now awaits a House floor vote. The two bills are identical and will head for the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R) if the House bill passes.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Governor Signs Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Terry McMillan (R-Las Cruces). The new law allows for the possession, distribution, and storage of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) and removes fears of civil liability for people using it to save lives. It has an emergency clause, which means it goes into effect immediately.

Boston to Set Up Safe Space for Heroin Users. It sounds pretty much like a supervised injection facility without the injecting. The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program plans to open this month a room with a nurse, some soft chairs, and basic life-saving equipment for heroin users to sit and chill under medical supervision after injecting elsewhere. "It’s not a place where people would be injecting," the group's medical director, Jessie Gaeta said. "But it’s a place where people would come if they’re high and they need a safe place to be that’s not a street corner, and not a bathroom by themselves, where they’re at high risk of dying if they do overdose."

International

Iran Set to Execute Another 100 Prisoners for Drug Crimes. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights Groups said last Friday that sources in and out of Ghezel Hessar prison have confirmed that around a hundred prisoners' death sentences had been reviewed and approved by the country's Islamic Revolutionary Court, and that the inmates have been told they should prepare for death. The group estimates that Iran has hung more than 1,800 people for drug offenses in the past five years.

February's Drug War Deaths

The war on drugs continues to exact a lethal toll, with drug law enforcement-related deaths occurring at a pace of just under one a week so far this year. There were three in January, and four more last month, bringing this year's toll so far to seven.

Of the February killings by police, one was of an unarmed white man, one was of an unarmed black man, and two were of armed black men. In all four cases, police shooters claimed they feared for their lives. In the cases of the three black men killed in the drug war, protests broke out after each killing. That didn't happen with the white guy, though.

The unarmed white man allegedly struggled with an arresting officer, the unarmed black man was holding a cell phone mistaken for a weapon, one armed black man was shot fleeing from police in disputed circumstances, and the other was shot by police as he wore a holstered weapon.

Where the war on drugs intersects with the American obsession with firearms possession, the bodies fall fast. None of the victims actually fired at an officer, but officers' fears of being shot impact the way they approach their duties, and the results are deadly -- even when there's not actually a real gun around.

Here's the February death toll:

On February 5, San Antonio police Officer John Lee shot and killed Antronie Scott, an unarmed black man, after an officer trying to arrest him said he mistook a cell phone in Scott's hand for a weapon. Scott, who was wanted on drug possession and weapons warrants, was being tracked by two detectives, who radioed the uniformed officer to make the arrest.

According to My San Antonio, at a press conference the following day, Police Chief William McManus explained that: "Officer Lee stated that he feared for his life when he discharged a single round" and the shooting happened "in the blink of an eye."

Audio of the incident confirms that Lee shouted, "Show me your hands!" and then shot within seconds. Lee told McManus he though Scott was holding a gun, but it turned out to be a cell phone.

There is no video of the incident because San Antonio police are not yet equipped with body cameras and the officer's dashcam had an obstructed view.

The killing sparked angry protests organized by activist Alvin Perry and Scott's family the following week.

"Just like my shirt says, 'Will I be next?' Anyone one of us could be next," said Perry. "Things like this have happened in San Antonio, but it's been swept under the rug or overlooked."

By the week after that, Scott's family had filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Lee, the police department, and the city of San Antonio. The lawsuit charges that "no reasonable police officer and/or law enforcement officer given the same or similar circumstances would have initiated such a vicious and unwarranted attack on Mr. Scott within a second of directing Mr. Scott to show his hands."

The lawsuit also cited department policy, which allows police too much discretion in use of lethal force.

Chief McManus moved to fire Officer Lee, placing him on "contemplated indefinite suspension" as the first step toward termination.

*****

On February 21, a Seattle police officer shot and killed armed black man Che Taylor, 47, after they encountered him apparently selling drugs while they conducting surveillance in the Wedgewood neighborhood.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing police accounts, officers spotted Taylor wearing a holstered handgun and, knowing he was barred from carrying firearms because of a past felony conviction, swooped in to arrest him as he stood beside the passenger window of a parked car. When officers tried to detain him, he allegedly refused to show his hands and lower himself to the ground as police ordered. So one officer opened fire on him.

The Seattle Police made available dashcam video of the shooting, but it does not clearly show Taylor's actions before he is shot. It does show two police officers armed with rifles approaching an apparently oblivious Taylor, who jerks his head up as they draw near, and then appears to be trying to comply with their contradictory demands -- "Hands up!" and "Get on the ground!" -- before being shot repeatedly by one of the officers.

While police said Taylor was trying to reach for his holstered handgun, the video doesn't show that. It does show the second officer opening fire on Taylor as soon as he (the officer) comes around the car, in what looks an awful lot like a summary execution.

The officer has been identified as Michael Spaulding. This wasn't his first killing. In 2013, he shot and killed a mentally ill man after slipping and falling, arguing that he no choice but to defend himself. That killing was ruled as justified by a King County inquest. The following year, he signed onto a desperate lawsuit to block Justice Department-mandated police use-of-force reforms.

The alternative weekly The Stranger consulted with several veteran police officers who criticized police for issuing contradictory demands and said that, contrary to the police account, he was complying with police orders. One, recently retired from the Kings County Sheriff's Office, who asked not to be identified had this to say:

"From the angle presented, I cannot draw any type of conclusion [about whether the shooting was justified]," he said. "If those officers had body cameras, it would be a lot easier." They were not wearing body cams.

"If they know they're dealing with a person that's armed," he said, "then you want to come in with force showing."

The way officers rush toward the car with their guns out is "standard stuff... That looks pretty textbook."

"From what I saw, he was told to get down, and he was getting down. And while he was down, I don't know what prompted them to shoot... He's getting down. But we can't tell if he's getting all the way on the ground."

"He was obeying commands," the former officer said. "And it looks like the other officer was going in to take control of him, when the officer with the rifle began to shoot."

Here's the video:

 

*****

On February 26, a Pennington County, South Dakota, sheriff's deputy shot and killed Abraham Mitchell Fryer, an unarmed white man. According to the Rapid City Journal, citing police sources, Deputy Robert Schoeberl pulled over Fryer, who was wanted on drug charges, in Rapid Valley just before midnight. Within moments, Fryer was dead, with the Journal reporting that "the shooting apparently came after the two men had fought."

Both men were transported to a local hospital, where Fryer was pronounced dead. Deputy Schoeberl was treated for unspecified injuries and released.

Police were quick to release Fryer's criminal history, calling it "extensive," and noting that he was wanted for failure to appear on marijuana possession, drug possession, and possession with intent to distribute charges in neighboring Meade County. He was also wanted by federal authorities on a weapons charge, but was unarmed at the time he was killed.

The shooting is under investigation by the state Department of Criminal Investigation, which is expected to issue a report within 30 days.

*****

On February 29, Raleigh, North Carolina, police Officer J.W. Twiddy shot and killed Akiel Denkins, an armed black man, after a foot chase. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Twiddy was attempting to arrest Denkins on outstanding felony drug charges when Denkins took off running.

Police and witnesses agreed that the pursuit began outside a business on East Bragg Street, in a heavily African-American neighborhood, but disagreed on much else. According to a preliminary report from Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Twiddy caught up with Denkins behind a nearby house and grabbed him. As the pair struggled, Denkins allegedly pulled a handgun from his waistband and "began to move it toward Officer Twiddy," the report said.

"While still struggling with Mr. Denkins, Officer Twiddy drew his duty weapon and fired multiple shots as Mr. Denkins continued to move the firearm in his direction," the report said. "After the first shots were fired, Officer Twiddy felt Mr. Denkins' hand or arm make contact with his duty weapon. Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins, who still had the firearm in his hand."

But the report clashes with accounts from witnesses. Denkins' former basketball coach, M.M. Johnson, said he talked to numerous people who were on the street when Denkins got shot.

"They said he took off running," Johnson said. "Everybody that was standing out there was talking about it. Ain't nobody said nothing about a struggle. They said he took off running and the police officer fell and started busting (shooting) because he couldn't catch him."

A preliminary autopsy report showed that Denkins was hit by four bullets -- one in his chest, one on his left forearm, one on his right upper arm, and one on his right shoulder. But the report does not say whether any of the shots came from behind.

Joe Jabari, owner of the building where the pursuit began, said he heard "a lot of people" say Denkins had been shot in the back and that he was "absolutely shocked" at the police chief's report.

"This kid came to me many times, saying, 'I wish I didn't have a felony charge because I need to change,' " he said. "He was trying, honest to God he was trying. That day, I don't know what happened. I'm not defending nobody, but some of these kids feel like they have no choice."

Denkins had previous drug convictions and was out on $10,000 secured bond after being charged in October with two counts of selling or delivering cocaine and one count of felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver. He had failed to show up for a court date, and an arrest warrant had been issued days before he was killed.

After the shooting, neighborhood residents broke into spontaneous protest, chanting "No Justice, No Peace," and later that evening, a small group gathered around "an anti-police sign with an expletive" that was hoisted on a utility pole.

Denkins' funeral last Friday was attended by more than 200 people, with "people wearing baggy jeans, red bandanas and anti-police T-shirts mingled with people wearing smart suits," as ABC News put it.

"Justice will be served whether we know it or not. Not by men, not by a judge but by the ultimate Supreme Court, Jesus Christ," said friend Aaron Cummings.

Officer Twiddy has been placed on administrative leave while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the matter.

Chronicle AM: ME Legalizers Vow Court Fight Over Rejected Signatures, LA Won't Ban Music Festivals, More... (3/4/16)

The Maine marijuana legalization campaign will fight to get its signatures counted, Tampa takes a first vote to decriminalize pot possession, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative gets pulled, a West Virginia welfare drug testing bill gets a hostile reception, and more.

Electronic music festivals will continue in Los Angeles County, but with restrictions. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalizers Vow Court Fight to Get Signatures Counted. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will appeal the state's ruling that its legalization initiative did not qualify for the ballot after the state rejected 17,000 signatures certified by one notary. "We think they've made a big error in judgment," said campaign director David Boyer. The campaign had handed in 99,000 raw signatures and only needed 61,000 to qualify, but after the 17,000 signatures in question were disallowed, the campaign only had 51,000 valid voter signatures. The campaign has 10—make that nine—days in which to appeal the decision, and the courts must decide the issue within 30 days after that.

Maine Bill Would Set Blood Level for Marijuana-Impaired Driving. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is considering LD 1628, which would set the level for operating under the influence of marijuana at 5 nanograms of THC per 100 milliliters of blood. If the bill passes, Maine would become one of a half dozen states that have adopted such laws

Tampa City Council Takes First Vote to Decriminalize. The city council voted 5-1 Thursday to pass a marijuana decriminalization ordinance. A second and final vote will take place on March 17. The ordinance would decriminalize the possession of up to 20 grams of pot, with a $75 fine for a first offense, $150 for a second offense, and $450 for subsequent offenses.

Medical Marijuana

Florida House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Thursday approved House Bill 307, which allows terminal patients to use nonsmokable marijuana and adds regulations for dispensing groups, patients, and doctors under the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Similar legislation is moving in the Senate.

Idaho Activists Stop Initiative Campaign in Wake of Misstated Petition Language. New Approach Idaho has stopped its petition campaign after the American Academy of Pediatrics objected to being identified on the front page of the petition as medical marijuana supporters. New Approach Idaho said the misrepresentation of the academy's position—it has called for rescheduling marijuana—was unintentional.

Rhode Island Bill to Double Dispensaries Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) has filed House Bill 7808, which would increase the number of dispensaries in the state from three to six

Drug Testing

Alaska Bill to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons Would Require Drug Testing. Alaska is one of only 10 states that still bar people with drug felonies from obtaining food stamps, and legislation to end the ban is progressing, but the latest version of the bill, Senate Bill 91, would require drug felons getting food stamps to pass both scheduled and random drug tests. The bill also contains a provision stating that if the drug testing provision is overturned in the courts, the state would revert to the blanket ban on drug felons receiving food stamps. The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which helped shape the bill, had recommended removing the ban without any eligibility restrictions, including drug testing.

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bill Gets Criticized at Hearing. A measure to require welfare recipients to first be screened for drug use, Senate Bill 6, got a hostile reception from witnesses at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.  "Investing in substance abuse treatment is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars, but expensive and unnecessary policies that are based more on stereotype and punishing the poor rather than on facts and evidence are not," said Sean O’Leary, policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. The state ACLU affiliate called it an invasion of privacy. The bill has already passed the Senate.

Festivals and Clubbing

Los Angeles County Won't Ban Electronic Music Festivals, But Will Add Restrictions. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to reject a total ban on music festivals, instead approving an ordinance that will allow it to approve them on a case-by-case basis. The county has been under pressure to do something after two young women died of drug overdoses during the HARD Summer music festival last year. 

Chronicle AM: Senate Kills $600 Million in Emergency Heroin Funding, UT Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (3/3/16)

The Utah (!) legislature has passed a resolution calling for marijuana rescheduling, there will be no pot drive-throughs in Oregon's largest city, Senate Republicans kill $600 million in emergency funding to fight heroin and opioid abuse, and more.  

"Strike Dead" brand heroin. (New Jersey State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Pot Legalization in the US Is Hurting Mexican Marijuana Exports. According to data from the U.S. Border Patrol, marijuana seizures along the US border are at their lowest level in at least a decade, with agents seizing 1.5 million pounds of pot, down from 4 million in 2009. Even government officials, such as Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head Michael Botticelli, have suggested the decline is the result of increasing domestic production with four states have legalizing it already.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Ordinance Being Fine-Tuned. The decrim  ordinance passed by the city council last week is on hold as city lawyers try to figure out how to impose fines on violators. The head of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Jeffrey Manning, says the city can't file the citations with the court because the court must enforce state law. In the meantime, police continue to file misdemeanor pot possession charges instead of citations.

Portland, Oregon, Kills Drive-Through Pot Sales. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to ban recreational marijuana drive-through sales, even though no one has any planned for the city. State law bans drive-through alcohol sales, but is silent on marijuana. At least one Oregon town, Gold Beach, has a drive-through slated to open next month.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawmakers Call for Marijuana Rescheduling. Both houses of the legislature have now unanimously approved a resolution, SCR11, which calls on the federal government to reschedule marijuana after the House approved it yesterday. The resolution now goes to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Republicans Block $600 Million in Funding to Tackle Heroin and Opioids. In a 48-47 procedural vote on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524) Wednesday, Senate Republicans killed a $600 million emergency funding amendment intended to improve prescription monitoring, fund treatment and prevention, and help law enforcement fight heroin and opioid use. Nearly half ($240 million) of the funds would have gone to law enforcement. Republican critics called it "duplicative," while drug reformers scorned its law enforcement funding component.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed. Despite strong bipartisan support, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, Assembly Bill 537, is dead, killed by fevered law enforcement lobbying and the strong opposition of a Republican committee chair. Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) refused to move the bill.  

Law Enforcement

New Jersey Lab Tech Faked Results in Drug Case, Thousands More Cases Now in Question. A State Police lab technician has been caught faking the results in a drug case, throwing into doubt more than 7,000 drug cases on which he had worked. Tech Kamlkant Shah "dry labbed" a suspected marijuana sample, meaning he ran no tests on it before writing "test results" that identified it as marijuana. He has been suspended without pay since January. Although he has only been caught "dry labbing" that one sample, all of his cases are now in doubt, prosecutors said.

International

Mexico Suffering Crisis of "Violence and Impunity," Human Rights Report Says. In a new report, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission said tens of thousands of cases of torture, disappearances, and killings go uninvestigated in Mexico, leading to a "a serious crisis of violence and impunity." More than 120,000 have been killed in the country's drug wars since 2006 and another 27,000 have disappeared.  

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pair of Louisiana deputies on a DEA task force are accused of moonlighting as drug dealers, a sticky-fingered Miami narc goes down, and more. Let's get to it:

In Amite City, Louisiana, two Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics officers were arrested last Wednesday on drug distribution charges. Deputies Karl Newman and Johnny Domingue are accused of being members of a drug distribution conspiracy operating in neighboring St. Tammany Parish. Newman is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and abuse of office, while Domingue was hit with 18 counts of principal to distribute Schedule I drugs and conspiracy. Both deputies worked closely with a DEA drug task force.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade Police narcotics bureau detective was arrested last Friday on charges he pocketed $1,300 in cash seized during a street-level drug sales bust. Detective Armando Socarras, 30, went down after detectives seized $17,400 in suspected drug money, but he reported seizing only $16,100. He has been charged with grand theft and suspended without pay.

In Farmington Hills, Michigan, a state prison guard was arrested Monday after he was caught selling prescription drugs near a high school. Michigan Department of Corrections officer Lawrence Tylutki went down after police set up surveillance on him after receiving a tip. Tylutki was busted after selling more than 250 pills, including Adderall and Xanax, to an informant for $1500. After cops arrested him, they found another 290 pills in his car. He is now charged with six unspecified felonies. 

Chronicle AM: INCB Rejects Drug War, ME Pot Legalization Init Rejected, More... (3/2/16)

The International Narcotics Control Board takes a surprising stand, Maine's pot legalization initiative hits an unexpected roadblock, Denver NORML files a pot social club initiative, a Florida needle exchange bill heads to the governor's desk, and more.

INCB head Werner Sipp: "The conventions never called for a war on drugs." (incb.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Says Legalization Initiative Short on Signatures, Campaign Strongly Disagrees. The secretary of state's office today rejected the legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, saying it had failed to hand in a sufficient number of valid voter signatures. The group handed in more than 99,000 signatures and only needed 61,000 valid ones to qualify for the November ballot, but the state rejected more than 48,000 signatures, and now the campaign is crying foul. "Based on documents they have provided, it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary — whose notary commission has not expired — did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary," MPP Maine political director David Boyer said in a written statement. "We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality."

Mississippi House Rejects Legalization. Offered unexpectedly as an amendment to a drug penalties bill, House Bill 701, a bid to legalize marijuana went down 90-29 Tuesday. Lawmakers said it was the first time in decades, and possibly ever, that the House had voted on marijuana legalization.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. Some 62% of adults polled in a new WMUR Granite State survey favor legalizing marijuana, and 72% of those surveyed said they would approve of selling it in licensed retail outlets.

Denver NORML Files Marijuana Social Club Initiative. The group today submitted an initiative to legalize marijuana consumption clubs and special events. "Denver residents and visitors alike need places other than private homes to legally and responsibly enjoy legal marijuana with other adults," said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML. "This submission to city council is the first step. We’ll get feedback from the city, finalize the language, then start gathering signatures to put it on the ballot," Person said.

Heroin

Maine Bill to Refelonize Heroin Possession Advances. Last year, legislators voted to make small-time heroin possession a misdemeanor; this year, they are on a path to reverse themselves. On Monday, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved LD 1554, which would let prosecutes charge anyone possessing heroin, meth, or more than 14 grams of cocaine with a felony. The bill is supported by the administration of Gov. Paul Le Page (R).

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. The House today approved Senate Bill 242, which authorizes the creation of pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County.  The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

International

INCB Rejects War on Drugs. In its

released today, the International Narcotics Control Board criticized militaristic approaches toward drugs and said excessive punishments of drug users run counter to UN treaties. "As the Board has stated on numerous occasions, the international drug control conventions do not require the incarceration of drug users," wrote the 13 medical and legal experts who make up the board. "The conventions never called for a war on drugs," added INCB President Werner Sipp.

Bill Maher-Inspired Protest Will Smoke Out the White House

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

Inspired by a warning from comedian Bill Maher that progress on marijuana reform could be rolled back after President Obama leaves office, advocates in the nation's capital have announced a bold protest next month to press Obama to move on marijuana while he still can.

While Obama has largely not interfered with marijuana legalization in states that have approved it, he has also signaled that he is not going to be proactive on the issue. A little more than a month ago, he said marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, and his press spokesperson, Josh Earnest, paraphrased his position thusly: "'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Led by indomitable DC activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, the DC Cannabis Campaign is instead calling for supporters to gather in front of the White House to demand that Obama reschedule marijuana through executive action as he has the power to do, and that he pardon people jailed for marijuana crimes. Attendees will be encouraged to fire up in acts of civil disobedience.

In an interview with US News and World Report, Eidinger predicted at least a thousand people would show up, and maybe many, many more.

"There is a huge pent-up demand for this right now, we actually do have the support to do this," he said. "We're calling on the whole country to come. This is a national mobilization. Some of us may end up in jail, and that's fine. It's actually necessary at this point."

Eidinger said the DC Cannabis Campaign has polled its supporters on whether to organize the protest after Maher warned on his HBO show legalization in the states is at risk as long as federal pot prohibition remains. Maher toked up on air as he issued his warning. Maher will be invited to attend the protest, Eidinger said.

"We have to take action now, that's the idea," Eidinger explained. "If it's not going to happen under Obama, it's sure as hell not going to happen with Hillary."

Obama, who has said he considers marijuana no more harmful than alcohol, represents the best chance for rescheduling marijuana, and for emptying the prisons of pot offenders, Eidinger argued.

"He should pardon tens of thousands of marijuana growers in jail right now. And he should be pardoning them all," he says. "The war on drugs is a failure? Mass incarceration is a failure? Then do something about it."

Protestors are not anti-Obama, Eidinger said, they just want him to do the right thing.

"This is going to be an extremely personal protest with the president," Eidinger says. "It is not going to be Trump people out there. This is going to be his so-called base that thought he would do something for us essentially giving up. The only way to stop this protest is to start doing something. We threw the gauntlet down today, essentially."

See Maher's comments here:

Washington, DC
United States

Review Essay: Drugs and the Mutation of Criminality in Latin America

Posted in:

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

Ioan Grillo, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America (2016, Bloomsbury Press, 377 pp., $28.00 HB)

Misha Glenny, Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio (2016, Alfred E. Knopf, 293 pp., $27.95 HB)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014, Riverhead Press, 688 pp., $28.95 HB)

Beginning in the 1960s, following the success of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, popular guerrilla movements rose up across Latin America as masses of people revolted against poverty, inequality, and dictatorial rule, and between then and now, hundreds of thousands were killed in the conflicts that followed, usually with the US on the counter-revolutionary side. Now, with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC set to put down their guns in the wake of drawn out negotiations with the Colombian government, the last remnant of armed insurgency in the region is about to come to an end.

But the violence hasn't stopped -- it has only been displaced from the sphere of politics to the sphere of criminality. As Ioan Grillo notes early on in Gangster Warlords, his sterling reportage on the leaders of the powerful of Latin American crime organizations, more than a million people have died in the criminal conflicts (and state response to them) around these groupings.

The so-called cartels in Mexico, their brethren in Colombia, the "posses" of Jamaica, the criminal "commands" of Brazil, and the transnational gangsters of Mara Salvatrucha are all in Grillo's sights as examples of a new, and deeply disturbing, form of crime, largely unmoored from ideological struggle yet acting as parallel power or alternative to the state. Whether it's the government yards of Trenchtown, the favelas of Rio and Sao Paulo, the mean streets of Tegucigalpa and San Salvador, or the fields of western Mexico, national governments have effectively ceded control of huge segments of the population to criminal overlords.

In Rio de Janiero alone, more than two million people live in the favelas, the unsanctioned, unsupported, and poverty stricken communities crawling up the hillsides above the Copacabana and the city's other glorious beaches. There, the presence of the state is almost nil, except for the occasional intrusions of police or military raiding parties, the formal power is in residents' associations, but the real power is almost always the crime overlord.

And bizarrely enough, those Brazilian crime lords are as strong and organized as they are because of a fateful decision by the military dictatorship back in the 1970s, when the generals, in all their wisdom, decided to punish imprisoned leftist guerrillas by putting them in the general prison population with Rio's criminal masterminds. Grillo interviews some of the hard men behind what became the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the largest and most powerful of the criminal gangs, unraveling that fateful decision decades ago and unspooling the consequences that still play out today.

The imprisoned guerrillas imbued the criminals with a Marxian social critique and their habits of political organization, and the criminals applied those lessons well in building their organizations. The nascent alliance between the left and the lumpenproletariat fell apart when the ex-guerrillas won amnesties and began political careers (they were white), leaving their darker hued criminal compatriots to their own devices. Now, all that's left is the organizational ability, along with some limited social solidarity in the form of Robin Hoodism -- stealing from the rich to give to the poor, at least to the degree that the commands provide services and goods to the poor in their districts.

Relations between the commands and the state are complex, intricate, and finely balanced -- or else there could be real trouble. While generally content to be left to run their affairs in their favela strongholds, the commands have repeatedly, and spectacularly, shown they have the ability to bring serious mayhem down from the hills to the "asphalt," as the poor refer to the thriving city that surrounds them.

When Sao Paulo's First Capital Command, the largest criminal organization in the country, grew unhappy with the government -- or more precisely, with the police -- in 2006, it unleashed a wave of attacks that unnerved the city, with assaults on police stations and buses burned on city streets. It did the same thing again six years later, complaining that cowardly police were killing its members and responding by executing one or two police officers every day for a month until suddenly and without explanation stopping. Maybe the command figured the cops had gotten the message.

As Grillo reports, when the commands killed 139 police in a burst of mayhem, the whole world took horrified note. The more than 500 killings committed by police in the days that followed didn't make the global news.

It's worth mentioning that the number of killings by trigger-happy police in the US has risen to the level of national political discourse, American cops are like school crossing guards compared to their bloody-handed brethren in places like Brazil and Jamaica. Indeed, as here in the US, the thuggery of the state's agents leads to festering hatreds and their being seen as if they were an occupying army, only more so.

Grillo reports similar intricate relationships between the criminals and the state in Jamaica, where the leaders of the neighborhood "posses" in tough neighborhoods like West Kingston become intermediaries between residents and the state, which, again, is generally absent except in the form of the police and military. Posse leaders and their paramilitarized gangs work with competing political factions, who cede effective responsibility and control for votes at election time.

In all the cases, the trade in prohibited drugs is providing the oxygen that the criminal organizations breathe. Brazil's favelas are the ground zero of the retail cocaine trade in the world's second largest cocaine market, where the nice, white, middle-class kids of the city go to score and dance the night away at favela funk balls. In Jamaica, the neighborhood gangs of the 1970s metastasized into powerful and deadly posses with international reach thanks to the cocaine trade. And in Mexico and Central America, it is again the cocaine traffic that has enabled what were once ma-and-pa smuggling operations and neighborhood street gangs to morph into the cruelly violent cartels of today.

Grillo, along with policymakers throughout the hemisphere, doesn't know quite what to make of this phenomenon. These groups are not simply gangs, and they're not guerrillas. Grillo calls them "criminal militias," which is as good a phrase as any, but simply naming them isn't making it any easier for governments to figure out how to deal with them.

Journalist Misha Glenny, another veteran of the global crime scene, drills down a bit deeper in Nemesis, his account of Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes ("Nem"), a former favela crime boss now ensconced for the next few decades in a Brazilian supermax prison. Glenny focuses on a single, famous favela, Rocinha, nestled on a hillside above the Copacabana, and home to 200,000 people with a birds-eye view of the riches beyond their grasp.

Like Grillo, Glenny does extensive interviews, including hours' worth with Nem over a period of years, as well as favela residents, gang members, police, politicians, and analysts, and he is able to shed considerable light on the shadowy interconnections between the powers that be in the favela and the various police forces, most of which are thuggish and corrupt, as well as the politicians that reach out to favela voters at election time.

Along the way, he opens a window on the class and race stratification pervasive in Brazil, but also shows how the gang lords make the favelas work for their residents. It is the gang lords who donate food and clothing to the poorest, provide security for all (at the price of outbreaks of exemplary violence aimed at lawbreakers like rapists and murderers), and even take over the administration of "justice" in the areas they control.

Nem's story is a classic favela crime lord tale. Born poor, he quit school in order to earn his keep, got work in the legitimate service economy, got married, had a child, and was on the path to the straight and narrow when his daughter's illness forced him to turn to the local crime boss to pay for her treatment. That led to working for the boss to pay off his debt, and that in turn led to his march to the top (however briefly) of the criminal command.

Unlike many of his peers, who were uneducated and largely uninterested in conventional life, Nem had management and accounting skills, and the kind of temperament that led him to negotiate conflict when possible and avoid indiscriminate violence. In an ideal world, he might have been a Payless Shoe Store manager. Instead he became a crime lord.

The reporting from Glenny and Grillo is mind-bending and terrifying, rich in detail and nuance, and both books come highly recommended. But neither seem to fully confront the role of drug prohibition within poverty-stricken, highly unequal countries. Grillo at least devotes a few pages at the end of his book to denouncing the drug war, but Glenny seems to just take it, and the social injustices of late Latin American capitalism, as givens. He shines a bright line of them, but really has nothing to say about them. That's too bad.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is not reportage, it is fiction, thinly-veiled, but is included here because fine literature can educate and illuminate as well as the finest journalism. Kingston-born Marlon James won the prestigious Booker Prize for this sprawling, horrifying, and intensely rich novel centered around the attempted assassination of reggae superstar Bob Marley in 1976.

James treads some of the same ground as Grillo, who reported on the Shower Posse and its leader, "Jim Brown," whose son, Dudus Coke, was the object of a military raid on the Tivoli Gardens shantytown that left 73 dead in 2010. "Jim Brown," Dudus Coke, and other real life posse leaders are barely fictionalized in James' work, which follows their ascent from local bosses to fearsome international crime bosses thanks to Colombian cocaine.

But where Grillo is limited to factual reporting, James can soar, and soar he does. His writing takes us deep into the minds of posse gunmen, their bosses, and the politicians that embrace them from a safe distance, laying bare the machinations and entanglements that seemingly compromise everybody on the island. He immerses the reader in the political intrigues, including the involvement of the CIA in a Cold War struggle against left-leaning Michael Manley and on behalf of his rival Edward Seaga, he illuminates the role and stature of Marley as cultural icon and political focal point, and he lays bare more than enough of the brutal nastiness of life for poor Jamaicans.

But the attempted murder of Marley, who was seen as a Manley supporter ("Rasta don't work for no CIA," he sang), by gunmen working for a posse leader allied with Seaga, and the fates of those who ordered and carried out the failed hit, are only part one of the novel. In part two, James follows the posses from their two-bit shantytown kingdoms to their rise as global, and brutal, players in the burgeoning US cocaine markets of the 1980s and 1990s.

It isn't pretty. In fact, the craziness (much of drug induced, some of it deprivation-induced) and the wanton brutality, the glaring sexism and homophobia of Jamaican yardie life can make for some difficult reading. But you don't learn about ugly things by only looking at pretty ones.

"Seriously, Alex, prison library serious to fuck," says a posse leader imprisoned in the US. "Me go to plenty library in Jamaica and not one have book like the number of books me see in Rikers. One of them is this book Middle Passage. Some coolie write it, V.S. Naipaul. Brethren, the man say West Kingston is a place so fucking bad that you can't even take a picture of it, because the beauty of the photographic process lies to you as to just how ugly it really is. Oh you read it? Trust me, even him have it wrong. The beauty of how him write that sentence still lie to you as to how ugly it is. It so ugly it shouldn't produce no pretty sentence, ever."

Marcus James can write some pretty sentences, but they serve to make the ugly even uglier. And the reality, whether it's Kingston or Rio or San Salvador or Michoacan, is pretty ugly. Grillo, Glenny, and James don't let us turn our eyes away from the festering sores, and that's a good thing. We need to try to understand what is going on. Because it's crazy down there.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana continues its painful progress through statehouses across the land, Montana sees medical marijuana sales curtailed, New Mexico posts info on growers and sellers, and more.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, a House panel approved expanding qualifying conditions. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Wednesday approved adding seven medical conditions to the state's CBD cannabis oil program. Included are autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and HIV or AIDS, among others. The bill, House Bill 722, now goes to the House Rules Committee. But bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) isn't so pleased -- the bill was designed to allow cultivation of CBD cannabis oil in the state, but that provision was gutted in committee.

Last Thursday, a new poll found strong support for allowing cultivation for CBD cannabis oil. An 11Alive News/Survey USA poll has support for growing marijuana for medical purposes at 66%, with only 23% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature is advancing a bill that would have allowed that, but had that provision stripped out in committee. The bill in question is House Bill 722.

On Monday, the House approved CBD cannabis oil expansion, but still no legal source. Lawmakers approved House Bill 722, adding seven new conditions to the list of those qualifying to use CBD cannabis oil. But much to the dismay of bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state. To obtain their medicine, patients must thus resort to violating federal law by importing the medicine. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland

Last Friday, the House approved a medical marijuana expansion bill. Lawmakers approved House Bill 104, filed by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County). The bill would allow midwives, nurses, podiatrists, and dentists to certify patients for medical marijuana. The bill has no immediate practical implications because there are not yet any dispensaries open in the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Montana

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court radically limited medical marijuana sales. In its decision, the state's high court ruled that medical marijuana providers could be paid for their services, but limited each provider to no more than three patients, banned medical marijuana advertising, and upheld automatic reviews of physicians who recommend it to more than 25 patients. In the decision, the court largely upheld a 2011 law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature aimed at gutting the state's then free-wheeling medical marijuana program.

New Mexico

On Monday, the state posted the names and addresses of medical marijuana growers and sellers. The state Health Department posted on its website the names and addresses of non-profits licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state. The move is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in a lawsuit brought by a reporter and a public interest group.

Ohio

On Tuesday, MPP rolled out its medical marijuana initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has debuted its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, a key legislator agreed to let a medical marijuana bill move forward. A long stalled medical marijuana bill will get a House vote after House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) agreed to quit holding up the measure. The move prompted a supportive statement from Gov. Bill Wolf (D), who said, "I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth… It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy. I urge quick action by the legislature to legalize medical marijuana."

Texas

On Tuesday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The survey found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Utah

Last Thursday, the medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The Senate voted 17-12 to approve Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), which would allow a medical marijuana program in the state, but now allow patients access to raw buds. The vote to approve came despite the opposition of the Mormon Church. The measure now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain.  [For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

Chronicle AM: "Baby Bou Bou" Wins $3.6 Million Settlement, Pill Testing Battle Looms Down Under, More... (2/29/16)

Justice at last for Baby Bou Bou, Minneapolis decriminalizes, Ohio lawmakers resort to more drug war, Iran executes all the males in a village for drugs, Australian harm reductionists pledge to open a pill testing center at festivals despite government opposition, and more.

"Baby Bou Bou" before and after a Georgia SWAT team raided his home. (Family photos)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Activists Hand In Revised Initiative. Organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative that was earlier rejected by state officials resubmitted their proposal last Friday. The secretary of state now has about one month to review the petition and draft a summary that could be used during the signature gathering process.

Minneapolis Softens Pot Penalties. The city council voted last Friday to reducing small-time pot possession from a misdemeanor to a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors are not crimes under state law because they are not punishable by jail time. The move is more symbolic than anything, since pot possession is already a petty misdemeanor under state law.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion, But Still No Legal Source. The House Monday approved House Bill 722, adding seven new conditions to the list of those qualifying to use CBD cannabis oil. But much to the dismay of bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state. To obtain their medicine, patients must thus resort to violating federal law by importing the medicine. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House last Friday approved House Bill 104, filed by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County). The bill would allow midwives, nurses, podiatrists, and dentists to certify patients for medical marijuana. The bill has no immediate practical implications because there are not yet any dispensaries open in the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

New Mexico Reveals Names, Addresses of Medical Marijuana Growers, Sellers. The state Health Department has posted on its website the names and addresses of non-profits licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state. The move is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in a lawsuit brought by a reporter and a public interest group.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Injured in Georgia Drug Raid Wins $3.6 Million Settlement. The family of "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, who was burned by a flash bang grenade during a misbegotten, failed drug raid in Cornelia in May 2014, has been awarded $3.6 million in damages. No police were charged in the raid, which hit the wrong home. The infant's medical bills are estimated at $1 million. The Georgia county where the raid took place refused to pay them.

Sentencing

Ohio Bill to Heighten Punishments for Drug Dealers is Moving. The measure, House Bill 171, would lower the threshold for labeling someone "a major drug offender" from 250 grams of heroin to 100 grams. It passed the House last year and is currently in Senate committee hearings. The Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the ACLU of Ohio are opposing the measure, arguing that is just another criminalizing response to what should be viewed as a public health and safety issue.

International

Poll Finds Strong Majority of Canadians Support Pot Legalization. A new Globe & Mail poll has support for legalization at 68% nationwide, with majority support (55%) even in the conservative-leaning prairie provinces. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize it and has called on former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to come up with the best model for legalization. The poll found Canadians split on home cultivation, with 49% in favor and 48% opposed.

Iran Executed Every Adult Male on Drug Charges in One Village. Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi told the semi-official Mehr news agency last week that every adult male drug crimes were rampant in some areas, including "a village in Sistan and Baluchistan province where every single man was executed." Molaverdi pointed to the executions as an example of the government failing to deal with drug trafficking in its southern regions and said Tehran needs to better support the families of those executed. "Their children are potential drug traffickers as they would want to seek revenge and provide money for their families,” she said. "There is no support for these people. We believe if we do not support these people, they will be prone to crime."

Australian Festival Pill Testing Battle Heightens. Harm reductionists seeking to reduce deaths and injury among music festival goers are planning an unsanctioned pill testing scheme and will result to civil disobedience if necessary. The New South Wales government today reaffirmed its opposition to the pill testing pilot project, but activists said they will go ahead with a van staffed with toxicologists and shielded from police by barriers of supporters who will risk arrest to protect the testers from prosecution. The project is still months away from being implemented, though. 

Chronicle AM: 60% Say Legalize It in CA Poll, AK Pot Shops to Open This Fall, UT MedMj Bill Moves, More... (2/26/16)

Pot shops will come to Alaska this fall, a new poll suggest legalization will come to California this fall, a medical marijuana bill advances in Utah, the Montana Supreme Court puts the hurt on medical marijuana sales, and more. 

Opinion polls suggest marijuana is pretty well normalized in California. (Darrin Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Retail Marijuana Sales to Begin This Fall. The state's Marijuana Control Board has released an updated timeline that says growing and testing licenses will be issued in June and the first retail and manufacturing facility licenses will be issued in September. Shops should open shortly after that. The Board began taking business license applications Wednesday and had 68 the first day.

New California Poll Has 60% for Legalization. A new Probolsky poll asked respondents if they would support a pot legalization initiative "likely bringing in millions in new revenues for government programs." Some 60% said they did, with only 37% opposed. Legalization was supported by all age groups except people over 65. The poll's margin of error was +/- 3.1%.

Michigan Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) has introduced Senate Bill 813, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the state. The bill was filed Wednesday and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.   

Wyoming House Committee Strips Felony Penalty from Pot Edibles Bill. The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to remove language from Senate File 96 that would make possession of more than three ounces of edibles a felony. Instead, the bill now calls for increasingly stiff misdemeanor penalties for second and subsequent convictions for possessing them. The bill has already passed the Senate, so the changes will have to be thrashed out in conference committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil Cultivation. An 11Alive News/Survey USA poll has support for growing marijuana for medical purposes at 66%, with only 23% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature is advancing a bill that would have allowed that, but had that provision stripped out in committee. The bill in question is House Bill 722.

Montana Supreme Court Radically Limits Medical Marijuana Sales. In a decision Thursday, the state's high court ruled that medical marijuana providers could be paid for their services, but limited each provider to no more than three patients, banned medical marijuana advertising, and upheld automatic reviews of physicians who recommend it to more than 25 patients. In the decision, the court largely upheld a 2011 law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature aimed at gutting the state's then free-wheeling medical marijuana program.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted 17-12 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), which would allow a medical marijuana program in the state, but now allow patients access to raw buds. The vote to approve came despite the opposition of the Mormon Church. The measure now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on Jails Released. As part of its Incarceration Trends Project, Vera has released The Human Toll of Jail, which aims to raise the public perception of jail incarceration by shedding light on the everyday experiences of those who pay that toll, or work to decrease it. The report launched Wednesday with 10 stories told in interviews, video, photography, and comics journalism, including people who have been in jail and their families, a prosecutor, a public defender, a judge, and others on the frontlines of local justice systems.

International

Clashes Break Out Between Burmese Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes and Opium Farmers. Members of the vigilante group, Pat Jasan, who had been in a stand-off with security forces near opium growing region, reported they had been ambushed by opium farmers, leaving three people injured and about 30 others taken prisoner by the farmers. Security forces had allowed the vigilantes to clear some opium fields, but they then engaged in skirmishes with farmers who have vowed to protect their crops. 

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana, DC Pot Arrests Plummet, More... (2/25/16)

The Vermont Senate passes marijuana legalization, DC enjoys the benefits of legalization, Pennsylvania will finally get a vote on medical marijuana, and more.

Legalization advances at the statehouse in Montpelier. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration. The measure, Senate Bill 241, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but not to grow it after some powerful lawmakers said that provision would be a deal-breaker. Instead, the bill now contains a provision to create a study commission to examine home cultivation and the issue of edibles, which are also not allowed. The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.

DC Marijuana Arrests Plummet in Year After Legalization. On Friday, the District celebrates a year of marijuana legalization, and one of the things it's celebrating is a dramatic decrease in people being sucked into the criminal justice system for pot. Overall, marijuana arrests declined 85% from 2014 to 2015, and pot possession arrests declined by an amazing 98%, from 1,840 in 2014 to only 32 in 2015.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get House Vote. A long stalled medical marijuana bill will get a House vote after House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) agreed to quit holding up the measure. The move prompted a supportive statement from Gov. Bill Wolf (D), who said, "I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth… It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy. I urge quick action by the legislature to legalize medical marijuana."

Georgia House Committee Expands Qualifying Conditions. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Wednesday approved adding seven medical conditions to the state's CBD cannabis oil program. Included are autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and HIV or AIDS, among others. The bill, House Bill 722, now goes to the House Rules Committee. But bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) isn't so pleased -- the bill was designed to allow cultivation of CBD cannabis oil in the state, but that provision was gutted in committee.

Asset Forfeiture

US Senator Kelly Ayotte Files Bill to Restore Asset Forfeiture Funding for Cops. Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 2576, which would require the federal government to recommence distributing funds from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Program. The Justice Department turned off the asset forfeiture spigot last year, and state and local law enforcement agencies have lost nearly $1.2 billion they would have used for drug investigations.

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Legislature. The House Wednesday gave unanimous final approval to Senate File 46, which would reform -- but not end -- civil asset forfeiture. It requires law enforcement officials to consult with the attorney general on whether to proceed with forfeiture and a hearing before a judge within 30 days. It also shifts the burden of proof to the government to show there is "clear and convincing" evidence the property was involved in a crime. Gov. Matt Mead (R) last year vetoed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture, and similar legislation this year went nowhere.

Drug Testing

Michigan Driver Drug Testing Bill Stirs Opposition. A bill that aims to set up a pilot program allowing state police to conduct roadside saliva testing for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs has passed the Senate, but is stirring opposition as it moves through the House. The bill, Senate Bill 434, is "bad science" and would set a "dangerous precedent," said criminal defense attorney Neil Rockind. "A pilot program is a test program and, in this case, treats people as guinea pigs to be studied," he said. "People are not guinea pigs. No citizen should be the subject of a test program when their liberty and way of life are on the line." The bill is currently before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee.

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana!

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

The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration.

The measure, Senate Bill 241, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, but not to grow it after some powerful lawmakers said that provision would be a deal-breaker. Instead, the bill now contains a provision to create a study commission to examine home cultivation and the issue of edibles, which are also not allowed.

The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who backs the bill, has not yet responded to today's vote, but congratulated lawmakers after Wednesday's preliminary vote to approve the bill.

"I want to thank the Senate for their courage in voting to end the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition," Shumlin said in a statement. "When this debate began a month and a half ago, there were many who said it had no chance of passage in either chamber. Today it passed the Senate. This is a big moment for Vermont that should give Vermonters faith that our democracy still works," he said, noting that some 80,000 Vermonters use marijuana on a monthly basis.

"The shadows of prohibition have prevented our state from taking rational steps to address marijuana use in our state," the governor continued. "This bill will allow us to address those important issues by driving out illegal drug dealers, doing a better job than we currently do of keeping marijuana out of the hands of underage kids, dealing with the drugged drivers who are already driving on our roads, addressing treatment, and educating Vermonters to the harmful effects of consuming marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes."

"Now is the time to move forward with ending the failed policy of prohibition in Vermont. I am proud of the Senate for taking the lead and I look forward to working with the House to get a bill to my desk," Shumlin added.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working closely with elected officials on the bill, also pronounced itself pleased.

"We applaud the Senate for advancing this important legislation," said Matt Simon, MPP's Montpelier-based New England political director. "Like most Vermonters, most members of the Senate recognize that prohibition is a failed policy. They voted to regulate marijuana because it will make our communities safer. We are confident that House members who take an objective look at the evidence will arrive at the same conclusion as their colleagues in the Senate."

Political pressure is mounting on the House to do just that. In addition to support from the governor, and now, the Senate, but also from sitting state Attorney General William Sorrell and two of his predecessors, as well as clergy and faith leaders. And on Monday, Vermont Public Radio released poll results showing that 55% of Vermonters support the bill, with only 32% opposed.

New England is a real hotbed of marijuana reform this year, with bills also under serious consideration in Connecticut and Rhode Island and with Maine and Massachusetts poised to vote on legalization initiative in November. But it's starting to look like Vermont could be the first state in the region to make it to the finish line, and the first in 2016.

Montpelier, VT
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Sleazoid LAPD cops get nailed on sex charges, an Ohio drug task force officer gets nailed and hangs himself, a Kentucky special deputy gets charged (again) in a drug trafficking scheme, and more. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, two former LAPD officers were arrested last Wednesday on charges they extorted sexual favors from four women they had arrested on drug charges. James Christopher Nichols and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela face multiple counts of forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation under color of authority, and oral copulation by force. The pair of officers had been investigated for "luring women into cars and forcing them to perform sex acts" in 2013, but that investigation only gained traction when multiple women came forward. They are now looking at up to life in prison.

In Delaware, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was peddling various drugs. Officer Tye Downard, 43, a veteran SWAT officer and member of the department's drug task force, was accused of making more than 20 drug deliveries to another person since October and was charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance. Early Monday morning, he committed suicide at the jail where he was being held.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a former Bullitt County special deputy was arrested last Friday as part of a bust of six people charged with distributing large amounts of cash and more than a ton of marijuana from Bullitt County. Chris Mattingly is accused of being the head of a drug cell that coordinated with a drug cartel operation in Riverside, California. He is charged with marijuana and methamphetamine distribution offenses, and he is also accused of plotting to kill a drug task force member investigating him. He was earlier indicted last October after being arrested with $237,000 in cash in California and has been in jail ever since.

In Tucson, Arizona, a former Customs and Border Patrol officer was sentenced last Wednesday to eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to smuggle marijuana and accepting bribes to let loads of pot through. Johnny Acosta was a port of entry inspector at the Douglas, Arizona, port of entry. He had attempted to flee to Mexico last October, but was caught by the FBI at the International Bridge in Nogales.

Medical Marijuana Update

The former attorney general speaks out on rescheduling, Ohio polling looks good for a medical marijuana initiative this year, and medical marijuana is before several state legislatures, too.

National

On Tuesday, former Attorney General Eric Holder said he now supports rescheduling marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, the attorney general approved a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has certified the popular name and title of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. Now, initiative backers can begin the process of gathering some 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, legislators expanded qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill key cultivation provision was gutted. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted to cut a provision allowing for the in-state cultivation of marijuana for CBD cannabis oil production from House Bill 722, which was filed to allow for in-state cultivation. "I can't come before you today without saying how disappointed I am that we're not moving forward with cultivation in this bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). "That was the heart of the bill." Although the state approved CBD cannabis oil last year, there is no way for Georgia patients to legally procure their medicine.

Michigan

Last Thursday, Detroit's dispensary boom was facing a looming crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Ohio

On Monday, a new poll had a strong majority supporting a medical marijuana initiative. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the November ballot, has support for the notion at 74%, with only 22% opposed. This was not a generic question. The poll asked specifically if voters favored or opposed "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it."

South Dakota

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was amended into a CBD cannabis oil bill. A bill that would have allowed full-plant access for medical marijuana patients was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but only after it was amended to only allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil. The measure is Senate Bill 171. The bill is expected to be heard on the Senate floor this week.

Utah

Last Friday, a CBD cannabis oil bill passed the Senate, and a medical marijuana bill remained alive. The Senate approved Senate Bill 89, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but which patient advocates say does not go far enough. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, that appeared doomed after the Mormon Church came out in opposition, remained alive and was picking up support. Patient advocates have threatened an initiative campaign if the bill does not pass.

On Monday, the Senate approved a the medical marijuana bill. The Senate Monday narrowly approved Senate Bill 73, which would allow patients to use marijuana in edible, extract, and oil form. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), overcome opposition from the Mormon Church.

West Virginia

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. A bipartisan group of Senate leaders has introduced a bill that would make medical marijuana legal. The bill, Senate Bill 640, is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Kessler (D-Glen Dale), Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley), and three other senators. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources. The bill would allow qualifying patients to cultivate up to 12 mature plants and possess up to six ounces. It would also allow state-regulated dispensaries that would supply patients with medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Gives First Approval of Legalization Bill, CT MedMJ Expansion, More... (2/24/16)

Marijuana legalization advances in Vermont; medical marijuana advances in Connecticut, Australia, and Canada; Eric Holder says it's time to reschedule marijuana, Obama says restricting pain pills won't solve the opioid crisis, and more.

Busy, busy in New England. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has again rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, citing ambiguities in the text. The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, filed by Mary Berry, was rejected the first time earlier this month.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalization in Preliminary Vote. The Senate voted 16-13 to approve Senate Bill 241, which would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana. The bill, which is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), faces one more Senate vote before heading to the House. That vote is expected to come tomorrow.

Minneapolis City Council Takes Up Decriminalization. The council will decide this week whether small-time marijuana possession should be a misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor under city ordinance. The current ordinance makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, jail time, and a criminal record. That's tougher than state law, which makes it a petty misdemeanor, which is punishable only by a fine and carries to criminal record.

Medical Marijuana

Former Attorney General Eric Holder Now Supports Rescheduling Marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Connecticut Legislators Expand Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Heroin and Opiates

Obama Says Restricting Opiate Prescriptions Won't Solve Crisis. At the National Governors' Conference last weekend, the governors recommended limiting the number of opioid pain relievers doctors can prescribe, but President Obama wasn't buying that. "If we go to doctors right now and say 'Don't overprescribe' without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we're not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real, the mental illness is real," Obama said in a meeting with governors Monday. "In some cases, addiction is already there."

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Unveils Comprehensive Drug Policy Plan. At a press conference today, Ithaca officials unveiled a comprehensive plan to deal with drug use from a public health perspective with a strong harm reduction component. The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy, calls for the creation of a Vancouver-style Four Pillars (prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement) approach to the city's problems, particularly with heroin and opioid drug use. The plan recommends allowing supervised injection facilities and heroin maintenance, among other proposals.

International

Canadian Federal Judge Throws Out Ban on Patient Medical Marijuana Grows. A Vancouver-based federal judge ruled Wednesday that Health Canada regulations restricting patient medical marijuana grows violating charter rights and thus have no force and effect. But Judge Michael Phelan also gave the government six months to come up with new rules. In the meantime, an injunction allowing thousands of patients to grow their own remains in effect.

Australian Parliament Approves Medical Marijuana. Medical marijuana cleared the upper house Wednesday, clearing the way for its use Down Under. But several steps remain to be taken before a program gets up and running.

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