Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (law.pace.edu)
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Amen
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte
amen

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Comes Up Short -- Maybe, MI Dispensary Busts, OK Forfeiture Abuses, More (7/20/15)

Ohio election officials have disqualified more than half the signatures gathered for the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but the battle isn't over; a Michigan legalization initiative gets rolling, an Oklahoma report raises the curtain on asset forfeiture abuses, and more.

Will they make the ballot or not? Check back in 10 days.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Officials Say ResponsibleOhio Initiative Short on Signatures, But… The office of Secretary of State Jon Husted said today that the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative had come up 29,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. The campaign had gathered nearly 700,000 and needed only 305,000 to qualify, which would suggest a bad signature rate far, far above what the conventional wisdom suggests, maybe 25% or 30%. But it ain't over yet. ResponsibleOhio now has 10 days to try to make up the shortfall, and it says it will go to the state Supreme Court to fight over some 40,000 signatures that "remain unaccounted for" in the secretary of state's tally.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Kicks Off Signature Gathering Drive. Supporters of the Michigan Legalize initiative held a volunteer kickoff meeting in Marquette last Saturday. They will need to gather some 315,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. There is at least one competing initiative in the state, too.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Cops Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Police departments in the greater Detroit area have shut down several dispensaries in the past week, in some cases bringing felony charges against the operators. Raids, arrests, and seizures took place in Shelby Township and Detroit last week. While the city has an estimated 180 dispensaries, they are illegal under the state's medical marijuana law.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Reports Show Asset Forfeiture Abuses. Audits by the State Auditor and Inspector's Office for the past five years show many district attorneys didn't have formal policies for dealing with seized property and that, in many cases, police didn't keep inventories of seized items. In some cases, seized money was spent before in was legally forfeited; in others, forfeiture cases were never filed for seized money. The report also found that seized money was used to pay for retirement plaques, a retirement party, doughnuts for a "spring roundup," and for a prosecutor's student loans and house rental. In the latter case, the prosecutor justified the rent payments saying that he spent most of his time on drug cases. Click on the link for more.

Drug Testing

Indiana Town to Stop Drug Testing Welfare Applicants… For Now. Black Township has agreed to stop drug testing applicants to its public assistance program until a lawsuit over whether the practice is constitutional is decided. The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit in federal court in June. The judge in the case last week signed an order approving the agreement to stop drug testing until the case is settled.

Opiates and Heroin

New Jersey Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed a bill that will expand and tighten the state's prescription management program, one of a series of bills intended to combat the state's problem with heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill requires all doctors to register for the program and to check the program when patients return for a second refill on medications. The law is part of a 21-bill package targeting opioid and heroin abuse in New Jersey.

International

Australia Greens Call for Adoption of Portugal Drug Model. The Australian Green Party is calling for the country to follow the example of Portugal and decriminalize drug possession. It says Australia's current drug policies have failed, and the Portuguese model is the best path forward.

Interview with "The Cartel" Author Don Winslow [FEATURE]

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

Internationally acclaimed novelist Don Winslow's The Cartel, a hard-hitting and gut-wrenching tale of the Mexican drug wars, hit the stands late last month and is currently #17 on the New York Times best seller list. A sequel to his best-selling novel of the cartels, The Power of the Dog, Winslow's latest effort is a true-to-life, ripped-from-the-headlines story of power, greed, corruption, brutality, revenge, and justice set in the past decade of spiraling prohibition-related violence in Mexico.

Roughly 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since 2006, and another 20,000 or so have simply vanished. That blood-drenched history is the spindle from which Winslow unspools his story, featuring a veteran DEA agent locked in a decades-long feud with the head of the world's most powerful cartel. It's a grim, nail-biting crime thriller.

But Winslow, who also authored 2012's Savages, another fictional treatment of the cartels turned into an Oliver Stone movie, isn't just writing for the sake of selling books. He has used the publication of The Cartel to pen op-eds calling the war on drugs a counterproductive failure and publish a full-page ad in the Washington Post telling Congress and the president "It's Time to Legalize Drugs."

On Friday, Winslow traveled to Houston to sit down for an interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network for the network's Cultural Baggage radio program. Here's the interview:

DEAN BECKER: Hello, dear listeners, this is Dean Becker and I want to thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Well folks, I've been enjoying this new book, it's a powerful indictment of this war on drugs, it's written by the author Don Winslow, the name of the book is The Cartel, and we have him with us today. Mr. Winslow, your book is a powerful indictment of the futility of this drug war, and first off, I just want to thank you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, sir, for that kind comment, and I appreciate it.

DEAN BECKER: Now, with the release of this book you also took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post decrying that futility and calling for the powers that be to take another look at the results of this drug war, and once again, I commend you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you. You know, I felt it was important to do something like that. At the end of the day, I'm a novelist and I write fiction, and I'm an entertainer, at the same time we're dealing with obviously serious issues that have had serious consequences on so many people in the United States, but of course particularly in Mexico. And so I just thought that I should try to do something.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, The Cartel, this new book, it's a follow-up to The Power of the Dog, and I think much of your similar or previous writings, and it continues the story of Agent Keller and a couple of others from that first book, but it's more, it's much more, and would you please just kind of give us a summary of your new book, The Cartel.

DON WINSLOW: Well, yes, thank you. The Cartel as you said is a follow-up to a book I did ten years ago called The Power of the Dog, which follows a DEA agent named Art Keller, who arrives in Mexico in the 70s full of idealism, and is over the years sort of schooled out of that by reality. But, he ends up in a vendetta with a drug lord, if you will, named Adan Barrera. And, so The Cartel continues that story. But, you know, it's not a book I really wanted to write, Dean. I really fought against writing it for a long time, but as things spiraled out of control in Mexico, you know, far beyond our worst nightmares, really, and I thought, well, I'll try a in fictional sense, you know, to crime readers, to try to explain what was going on down there.

DEAN BECKER: Well, a few years back I took a one-day junket into Ciudad Juarez, and the machine gun nests in the city park, cops on every street corner -- I didn't see the violence myself, but it was palpable, it was, it was, just -- scary, for lack of a better word. Your thoughts, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, the estimates vary of course, but during this era something like 100,000 Mexican people were killed, 22,000 missing. Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, and Tijuana, and the Frontera Chica, and the Texas border -- you know, all became battlegrounds in a multi-fronted war, cartel versus cartel. The military versus the cartels, the military versus the police, certain police forces versus other forces, and of course, you know, many, too many, innocent civilians got caught in the crossfire.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, you state in your acknowledgements that The Cartel draws deeply on real events, and I see many of them, I've been following the war in Mexico for several years, and it just seems that, you know, it made it more compelling to be based on a true story, so to speak.

DON WINSLOW:I'm an historian by training and inclination, and so I usually like to keep my stories pretty, pretty close to the bone. But I think that in a way, novelists can do things that journalists aren't allowed to. You know, we're allowed to imagine the inner life of characters, we're allowed to make up dialogue that perhaps brings out some of these events in a maybe more visceral way to readers who might not, you know, pick up a piece of journalism on this subject. And so, I like that combination between fiction and reality, and as long as I sort of keep their thoughts and their emotions fairly realistic, I think the novel can work well for that.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, back in 2012, with my group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I rode across the country with Javier Sicilia and about a hundred family members of those butchered in Mexico on the Caravan for Peace, and most of them were women who had these horrible stories that made me cry every night, I'll be honest with you. And your book includes the stories of some of these women, and the pain and misery they endure as well.

DON WINSLOW: As you know when you deal with this topic, it's all too easy to lose your faith in humanity. But, in researching the stories and writing the stories about some of these women, it's awe-inspiring. You know? There's no other word for it. The courage and the moral fortitude, and I think in the video I saw of the Caravan, the word grace is used, and I think that that might be absolutely the perfect word to describe these women, who have lost so much and have moved ahead and have moved on and tragically, you know, too often at the cost of their own lives.

DEAN BECKER: It seems that media everywhere is starting to recognize this futility of the drug war, and is starting to expose it for what it is, and that is hopeless.

DON WINSLOW: We've been doing the same thing for coming on now 45 years, and not only is it not working, it's made things worse. Drugs are more plentiful, more potent, cheaper than ever, and again, it's had a hideous effect on American society in terms of the number of people we imprison, in terms of the alienation of our police forces with our inner city communities. I think the militarization of police really began with the war on drugs, and of course, it's had the worst effect on the people of Central America, particularly Mexico. So, if something after 45 years has not improved a situation, but made things worse, then I think it's time that we looked at different solutions.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed.

DON WINSLOW: And I think that that's pretty obvious, really.

The face of the cartels. Has anyone seen El Chapo?
DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. If you will allow me, I want to read just a paragraph here from your book, this is from Alvarado. He states: "You North Americans are clean because you can be. That has never been a choice for us, either as individuals or a nation. You're experienced enough to know that we're not offered a choice of taking the money or not, we're given the choice of taking the money or dying. We've been forced to choose sides, so we choose the best side we can and get on with it. What would you have us do? The country was falling apart, violence getting worse every day. The only way to end the chaos was to pick the most likely winner and help him win, and you North Americans despise us for it. At the same time you send the billions of dollars and the weapons that fuel the violence. You blame us for selling the product that you buy. It's absurd, John."

DON WINSLOW: I don't know how to respond to my own writing. I think it's the truth. Couple of thoughts: You know, we're very good up here at wagging the finger of corruption at Mexico. Is there corruption in Mexico? Of course, and I write a lot about it. I'm not alone in that. But as that passage indicated, what we don't understand is that police and journalists and average citizens are not offered the choice: take the money or leave it. They're offered the choice: take the money or we kill you. And very often, or we kill your family.And you know, the so-called Mexican drug war is one of the most tragic misnomers of the last half century. It's not the Mexican drug problem; it's the American drug problem. We're, we're the buyers, and it's the simultaneous appetite, American appetite for drugs and prohibition of them that creates the power of the cartels and that shields this violence. And, if I were on the other side of the border looking north, I'd talk about corruption, I would ask what kind of corruption exists in American society that makes you Americans the largest drug market in the world? At a rate of five times your population.

DEAN BECKER: And the world's leading jailer.

DON WINSLOW: The world's leading jailer. Not only the world's leading jailer, Dean. In the history of the world we have the largest prison population.

DEAN BECKER: Kind of tied in with your action to do that full-page ad in the Washington Post, I tried last summer to wake up our nation's leaders with release of my book. We hand-delivered a copy of my book to the president, his cabinet, every senator, representative, all nine Supreme justices, and we mailed a copy to all fifty governors, to pretty much little avail. And I'm hoping that your book lights a bigger bonfire on their conscience.

Waiting to cross from Mexico into the US (wikimedia.org)
DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, I hope so too. You know, I deliberately put that ad in the Washington Post in order to do it in Congress's home town, hoping that that paper would arrive on their desks with their coffee. I think that ad was two weeks ago or three weeks ago, I don't remember, it's been a little bit of a blur, you know, I'm out on a book tour. But, I've not heard from a single politician. Who I have heard from? Cops.

DEAN BECKER: What was their response?

DON WINSLOW: Agreeing with it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear. I mean, it puzzles me that the evidence is so glaring, we can cut down on death, disease, crime, and addiction were to legalize and control it for adults, but no one wants to talk about that. Certainly not at the presidential level.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, I think, Dean, for so many years it's been the fourth rail of American politics. You know, you start talking about a sane drug policy and your opponent then starts talking about you being soft on crime, and, you know, oh he wants our kids to have access to dope. Which of course they do now, because it's not working. What I would like is some politician to stand up and talk back with the facts. The numbers are there, the solid data are there. If you want to talk about being soft on crime, I would say that the fact that 60 percent of rapes and 40 percent of murders now go unsolved, because we're so focused on busting drugs. To me, that's soft on crime. And I think police want to go back to doing real police work.

DEAN BECKER: I'm with you, sir. Now, it seems like every week I see another headline about another bust of a quote top narco-trafficker, but the fact is, it's just a chance for another corn farmer to get down off the tractor and attempt to become a billionaire, isn't it?

DON WINSLOW: Listen, it's never worked. We have tried to attack the drug organization pyramid from the bottom, the street-level kids selling crack on the corner, to the middle, the traffickers coming across the border, to the top, going after these top drug lords. None of these strategies work because the amount of money they can make is so great that there is always someone willing to step into any of those roles. So, you know, there was great celebration when for instance Chapo Guzman was captured. That's fine, I have no tears for Chapo Guzman, I'm glad he's in prison, I have no tears for any of these drug lords who've been killed by the police. However, it makes no difference. Nothing was disrupted, nothing was even slowed down. The drugs just keep coming. The strategy does not work. And as long as we approach this as a law enforcement problem or god help us a military problem, we're, the same thing is going to on and on and on.

DEAN BECKER: You know, a couple of portions of the book touched me deeply. One was about the old farmer, Don Pedro, and his battle for his ranch with the Zetas. That one made me cry, I'm an old man, I'm sorry, and it just made me think of, you know, these bandits, these rapscallions, what they're up to, the Zetas. Would you talk about that situation?

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, that is based on a real incident. It was impossible to resist writing about it, but, you know, I think there are two parts to your question, so let me take the first one first. Back in, you know, 2010, '11, and '12, various cartels were forcing people off their land because either it was strategically located along the border or just because they could. The Zetas that you mentioned were looking for land for training camps and secret bases, and they were all-powerful, or so they thought, and they could just go tell people, get out. In northern Chihuahua, along the Texas border, the Sinaloa Cartel was fighting the Juarez Cartel, and they were literally colonizing the area. They were telling, you know, people in that area, in the Juarez Valley that had been there for generations, to get out, and moving Sinaloans in, almost like colonists, in order to secure that area. Who's on first now? Without a doubt the Sinaloa Cartel. They're the dominant cartel in Mexico now. They basically won the war. There's a sort of an upstart cartel, the new generation Jalisco Cartel, and we're in a bit of a lull, but that's about to collapse. You know, over the past month or so violence has drastically increased again in the Tijuana area. So, stay tuned.

DEAN BECKER: Your book references some of the videos that get circulated by the cartels, showing their commitment to outdoing each other in the way they torture and kill members of the opposite cartel. I saw one of those that, where one cartel had grabbed the wives and girlfriends of another cartel. They pulled out axes and chainsaws, and built piles of arms...

DON WINSLOW: That sounds familiar, that video.

DEAN BECKER: Oh god. And, my Spanish was not good enough to understand all they said, but it was a strong message, for sure.

DON WINSLOW: You know, lately we've been as a nation very absorbed with ISIS, and those videos, and they took that page out of the cartel playbook. What you're looking at is basically terrorism in Mexico. And, you know, the cartels are in the territory business, they need to control territory, and to do that, they need to control the population. And they do it through a variety of methods, but one of them is terror. And, and when they put out videos like that, they are really saying to the people, you don't want this to be you. The Spanish that is being spoken in many of these videos is to get these people to confess their roles in the rival cartel, sometimes to confess their crimes because these videos are also a means of propaganda, and a means of the cartels justifying, or attempting to justify, the horrors that they commit, in a very similar way to the ISIS videos. The really sad aspect, or more tragic aspect of these videos, is that they're used as tools of recruitment. Particularly young people, both men and women, see these videos, and see them as demonstrations of power. And I think that there are few things more seductive to people who see themselves as powerless than to see power, and just as the ISIS sadistic videos have been great recruiting tools for ISIS, the videos that you alluded to have been recruiting tools to the cartels.

DEAN BECKER: The hundred thousand dead, approximately, the 20,000 missing, the tens of thousands of children without parents -- it's just so enormous, and yet somehow it's ignored. That doesn't count in the US's drug war equation.

DON WINSLOW: The modern day Mexican drug war, the contemporary period that we're looking at, coincides almost exactly with the post-911 era. And I think that the United States has been, and it's understandable, Dean, because of 911, because of the lives lost, because we've had people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our soldiers dying and wounded, we have been obsessed with, and most of our attention has gone to the Middle East. That, that's understandable, I think. I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying it's good, but I think that, that people can only absorb so much violence and sorrow and tragedy. I think though that the other part of the equation is that, that we don't want to look at it down there. It's something we don't want to see because I think on some level we are aware of the role that we play in it, and our own responsibility for it, and I think that that can be a hard mirror to look into. And sometimes people, and particularly our politicians, frankly, would rather look away.

DEAN BECKER: It kind of draws a parallel with the cops busting somebody and accusing them of being the cause of the problem here in the US -- if they weren't buying drugs then these other situations would not occur. But the same could be said about the US and as you stated earlier, our addiction to these drugs coming through Mexico.

DON WINSLOW: I think we are addicted to the drugs. Now obviously, we have a population in the United States that is literally addicted to drugs. The percentage of that never changes very much over the years. There are some spikes with certain drugs at certain times, but the level of drug addicts remains about the same, that's sort of one topic. The other topic is recreational drug users, and they need to look at their responsibility. I can't understand for instance why a person who would be so concerned about buying free trade coffee or fair trade coffee would then think nothing of buying marijuana that has blood all over it. You know? I don't understand people who go out and protest against big business but then will come back and buy a product that's been shipped to them by a cartel that tortures and slaughters and rapes. This makes no kind of moral sense to me. So, in my perfect world, all drugs would be legal and no one would use them. But certainly, in the time until the United States straightens out its drug laws, until we've stopped forcing the hands of these sadistic criminals, I'd love to see a movement where particularly young people in America boycotted these drugs, the way they boycott other products.

DEAN BECKER: The book was a follow-up to Power of the Dog, and it seems that there may be, as you mentioned earlier, a need for another book in this series, if Los Pinos and the White House continue to believe this drug war to be necessary.

DON WINSLOW: It's my fondest hope and prayer that there's no need for a third book. I would love it if Los Pinos and the White House took me out of this business. I don't have plans to write another drug book, you know, next or for a few years, but then I'm really hoping at that point when I look around this landscape that we have come to some sort of sanity, and some sort of wiser policy, and that there's no need for a third book.

DEAN BECKER: Well, me too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and deep prayer in that regard. Well, Don, here's hoping we can continue this discussion again soon and that just maybe, the politicians will read your book and pull their heads out soon. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you'd like to share with the listeners, Mr. Don Winslow?

DON WINSLOW: I have a website, DonWinslow.com, and, you know, always happy to hear from anybody. I have been very encouraged over the past two weeks by the number of police officers and DEA people that have contacted me. And I think there is a little momentum right now. You know, yesterday the United Methodist Church came out calling for war, an end to the war on drugs, addressing Congress. So I think that there might be a little bit of a groundswell, and I'm going to choose to go with that optimism.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, I want to thank Don Winslow, author of The Cartel.

Ohio Marijuana Monopoly Madness: ResponsibleOhio and Its Foes [FEATURE]

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

Ohio may about to legalize marijuana, but not the way other states have done it. A constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November would create a virtual monopoly on commercial marijuana grows for the entire state. That's not sitting well with a number of Ohioans, including the Republican state legislature and a good number of Buckeye State legalization and medical marijuana activists. It's also leaving major national drug reform organizations deeply ambivalent.

The ResponsibleOhio initiative is almost certain to qualify for the ballot any day now. Its well-financed campaign has handed in more than 700,000 signatures to state officials, nearly twice the 305,000 valid voter signatures needed. Those officials have until later this week to verify the signatures. [Update: Monday, state officials said the initiative was 29,000 signatures short, but ResponsibleOhio has another 10 days to make up the shortfall and it says it will challenge the disqualified signatures at the state Supreme Court.]

ResponsibleOhio

The initiative allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. It even has provisions for medical marijuana. None of that is controversial.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state. The sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and are prepared to spend $20 million or more convincing the public to vote for it.

The investors include a number of Ohio business interests -- real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- as well as some home state big names who could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

While this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem so strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging for donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. An April Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

Strange Bedfellows

But ResponsibleOhio is facing a head-on challenge from the legislature, attacks from legalizers left out in the cold, and a more general discomfort with constitutionally-mandated monopolies.

Late last month, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any addition to the state constitution that created "a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to distribute a federally controlled substance. The proposed amendment specifies that if it passes, any initiative that conflicted with it -- i.e. the ResponsibleOhio initiative -- "shall not take effect."

If both initiatives passed, rest assured that lengthy legal battles would ensue, but in the meantime, marijuana legalization in Ohio would be dead in the water. While legislative leaders paid lip service to concerns about anti-competitiveness, the amendment is clearly designed to stop legalization and is the instrument of a body that has steadfastly refused to consider legalization for nearly 20 years.

That didn't stop some legalization supporters -- and ResponsibleOhio foes -- from applauding the move, and even encouraging it.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told AlterNet.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

"The current system is actually better than their plan. It gives them a monopoly where only these 10 groups get the right to cultivate commercially, and that's bad policy for the state," Kavuru argued. "It creates an environment that allows a black market to thrive, and it doesn't eliminate arrests. The purpose of legalization is supposed to be to get rid of criminal arrests."

The ResponsibleOhio initiative would increase penalties on some cultivators and would leave people under 21 subject to arrest, Kavuru charged. He also attacked its medical marijuana provisions.

"It doesn't actually give any protection for patients and only says a commission 'may' implement a medical program," he said. Everything for recreational is 'shall.'"

Ohio Families CANN is also not satisfied with ResponsibleOhio's initiative, said Nicole Scholten, a spokesperson for the group, which seeks access to marijuana to treat sick children.

"We are wary of ResponsibleOhio's approach," she said. "We are not convinced it would yield the type and volume of medical cannabis that would be effective for our children. Legalization does not equal sustainable medicine. The medicine that would help our kids requires specific strains of cannabis and vast quantities. ResponsibleOhio's plan to have only ten grow sites is problematic. There is no guarantee these businesses would devote the grow space to the kind and volume of cannabis we need."

But another patient-activist organization that has tried unsuccessfully for years to get an initiative on the ballot, the Ohio Rights Group, is less negative. Its executive director, Jack Pardee, noted that the legislature has refused for nearly 20 years to even discuss marijuana legalization bills.

"We've been having a debate in our community about the merits of what the legislature is trying to do with this thing and, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with protecting Ohioans from economic forces," Pardee said. "ResponsibleOhio isn't perfect, but it has a lot of the pieces that ending prohibition needs to be successful."

National Drug Reform Groups Ambivalent

The divisions among Ohio activists are somewhat reflected by the national groups that have so far been the big players in marijuana legalization. None of them are directly involved with ResponsibleOhio -- it certainly doesn't need their fundraising abilities -- but they are watching with great interest and concern.

"It doesn't resemble our initiatives," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert. "We have not proposed such laws in the past, and it's not the type of law we would draft," he told AlterNet.

"It's up to Ohio voters to decide if this is the kind of system they want to replace marijuana prohibition with," said Tvert. "It would get the job done, but we think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and there should be a system where there can be a lot of competition and different businesses out there producing this product."

And he had a word of advice to Ohio activists opposing ResponsibleOhio.

"If they want to end marijuana prohibition, they need to weigh their opposition to this initiative against the possibility of having to wait longer for a better initiative," Tvert said.

"A lot of legalizers, we feel like the movement has been hijacked by the money people," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But the bottom line for NORML is that we want to legalize marijuana," he told AlterNet.

"While we'd have a preference for the little or medium-sized guy, we're not that concerned about who gets rich off it," the movement veteran said. "We're about not treating marijuana users like criminals, and we can speed that process along by three or four or five years because some rich investors run their own initiative, if it actually legalizes pot smoking and dispensaries where they can buy, if they qualify for the ballot, we will support it even if it's not perfect."

Stroup took great umbrage with the legislature's move to block the initiative.

"That's a bad faith move by the legislature," he growled. "The reason we have the initiative process is because legislatures were not responsive to the will of the people, and now we have a case where the people are going around the legislature, and the legislature is going to try to go around the people."

Stroup prophesied high-stakes litigation if ResponsibleOhio wins at the ballot box, but its victory is nullified by passage of the legislature's initiative.

"That undermines the basic purpose of initiatives, and we have at least one legal opinion that nothing in that resolution would in any way affect the initiative if it were to pass," he said. "I hope the courts act in that case."

"We've fought for a long time to end marijuana prohibition for civil rights, social justice, public health, and public safety reasons, and to create a legal market," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "But to then have some folks come along trying to create a constitutionally-mandated oligopoly kind of sticks in everybody's craw."

DPA has worked and is working on legalization in a number of states, and was consulted in the drafting of the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but is not endorsing it. Nadelmann's ambivalence was indicative of the mixed feelings the measure is arousing among activists.

"The fact is, we have investors putting up $20 or $30 million to win this thing in a state that will be the center of national political attention next year -- no one else is going to do it in Ohio. There is a possibility the oligopoly provision could get knocked out. The best outcome would be for this initiative to win, and then get that knocked out," he said.

"Aside from the oligopoly provision, it's actually pretty good," Nadelmann continued. And after criticism of an earlier draft, "they were actually pretty solicitous, they added home grow, medical marijuana protections, and the distribution model is pretty good."

Who Will Be in the Driver's Seat?

But the ResponsibleOhio move also signals the emergence of monied interests whose deep pockets could leave activists and the drug reform movement on the sidelines -- and who may not share the same interests dear to the hearts of reformers.

"There's something similar going on in Michigan," Nadelmann noted, referring to an as-yet-to-filed initiative from the Michigan Responsibility Council, one of three groups planning legalization initiatives in the state right now. "And look at Arizona, there's a lot of industry funding there, and there's been hard negotiations between MPP and those guys."

"The influence of DPA, MPP, and other activists is going to diminish rapidly," he predicted. "This is going to be increasingly driven by industry, and a lot of competing interests within the industry. And as this evolves into legislative processes, other forces are going to come into play and certain players will be able to make their demands felt. Social justice concerns could get knocked out."

If Not ResponsibleOhio, Who, and When?

The unhappy Ohio legalization activists and other ResponsibleOhio critics say that if and when it is defeated, they can move forward with their own legalization plans. Given the legislature's recalcitrance, that means they would have to run their own initiative campaign.

They haven't been able to do that so far, and while some, such as OTEP's Kavuru, say they can do it now, others aren't so sure.

"We have access to a lot of money," Kavuru said. "And we have a real solid political team. We're in negotiations right now for significant funding, and it's much easier to raise money for a recreational initiative than a medical one, because people are also looking at it as an investment."

But ResponsibleOhio is here and now, and if it goes down, it remains to be seen if anyone else can actually get on the ballot.

"If this is defeated this year, I doubt any major funders would step in to play a role in 2016," said NORML's Stroup. "I understand. The people in Ohio feel they were doing a great grassroots effort and hear these rich guys came along and bought the space. But the Ohio activists so far haven't shown they can get the funding to do good surveys, let alone pay for signatures or a professional campaign. This year may be our chance to take a conservative state like Ohio and leapfrog it ahead on legalization. I'm not real comfortable with ResponsibleOhio, but I just want it legalized."

The fun is just beginning in Ohio.

Chronicle AM: Obama Visits Prison, OH Gov Okays Naloxone, Ohio Init Could Come Up Short,More (7/17/15)

A surprising analysis suggests the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative could come up short on signatures, Guam releases medical marijuana program draft regulations, Obama visits a federal prison, Ohio's governor okays naloxone over-the-counter, and more.

Pres. Obama delivers statement during prison visit (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Fall Short on Signatures, But Will Fight If It Does. Columbus's 10 TV is reporting that its analysis of signatures gathered to put the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative on the November ballot shows the initiative coming up 48,000 valid voter signatures short. That would be truly surprising, given that the group turned in 700,000 raw signatures and it only needs 305,000 valid ones to qualify. The group told 10 TV, however, that it could still collect signatures during a 10-day review period and that it could file legal challenges on signatures that were invalidated.

Michigan Democrat Will Introduce Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said today that support for legalization has reached critical mass and that he will introduce a bill to do just that. "You've got people on the left who are saying that people should not be having their lives ruined over something like marijuana and you've got people on the right who are saying marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs," said Irwin. "It makes sense from a public safety and public health perspective to bring that activity into the regulated space where we can make sure that consumers are protected. And we can also take the hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending on prosecuting marijuana offenders and direct those resources towards real criminals with real victims." There are also at least three groups working on legalization initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Releases Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Increase Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access. Gov. John Kasich (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that will make the overdose reversal drug naloxone available over the counter. This is the third year in a row Kasich has signed a naloxone bill, each one more expansive than the one before. Two years ago, he authorized a pilot program for naloxone and last year, he signed a bill allowing friends and family members of drug users to carry the drug.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Bill to Ban N-Bomb Heads to Governor's Desk. The General Assembly Thursday approved House Bill 341, which would classify the synthetic psychedelic NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, as an illegal controlled substance. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCroy (R). If he signs it, N-Bomb and its derivatives will become Schedule I controlled substances.

Criminal Justice

Obama Visits Federal Prison, Calls for Lesser Sentences for Drug Crimes. Wrapping up a week heavy on criminal justice, President Obama Thursday visited the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. While there, he met with six drug prisoners and called for lesser sentences for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Big CA Legalization Init Coming Soon, Italian Legalization Bill Filed, More (7/16/15)

We're waiting for the big one to drop in California, there's marijuana arrest expungement news from Jamaica and Ohio, Colorado rejects medical marijuana for PTSD, Chris Christie talks crime and drug policy, and more.

Jamaica will expunge the records of people with minor ganja convictions. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Big California Legalization Initiative About to Drop. A handful of marijuana legalization initiatives have already been filed in the Golden State, but many observers have been waiting for the one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and now the group has announced it will file its initiative within the next few weeks.

Ohio Officials Approve Initiative to Expunge Marijuana Convictions. The Ohio Ballot Board voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the Fresh Start Act for signature-gathering. The initiative would allow convictions to be expunged once marijuana is legal in the state. The initiative is another project of ResponsibleOhio, the people behind the controversial marijuana legalization initiative almost certainly headed to the ballot there this year.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Rejects Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Colorado health officials voted Wednesday against adding PTSD to the list of qualifying ailments for medical marijuana. They cited scant research on the issue. "We can't have physicians counseling people in favor of it because we don't have data to show it's correct," said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, one of the board members who voted no.

Hawaii Moves to Begin Licensing Dispensaries. After Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill Tuesday allowing for eight dispensaries to operate in the state, state officials are moving forward with developing rules and regulations for the program. They say to they will begin accepting license applications early next year. The move comes 15 years after Hawaii became the first state to okay medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Aimed at Opiate Problems. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) Wednesday signed into law House Bill 6856, which is meant to combat opiate addiction and overdoses by increased prescription drug monitoring and increased access to naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal drug. Prescribers must now report each opioid prescription to the state's Prescription Monitoring Program within 24 hours instead of the previous seven days.

Criminal Justice

Chris Christie Calls for "Fresh Approach" on Criminal Justice. The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender today unveiled criminal justice reform proposals, including allowing nonviolent drug offenders a better shot at rehabilitation. He also emphasized "community policing" in his policy speech in the crime-ridden city of Camden. "As governor, there are few things I've worked on harder, or that I believe as strongly as this: Drug addiction, just like cancer, is an illness," Christie said. "Instead of settling for jail time every time, we need to give people the chance to get help," he said. "Our drug court program works, and we've opened a new front in the fight against drugs -- one that saves money, keeps people out of prison, and is just good policy generally. There's no reason we can't replicate this nationally, and as president this is something I'll absolutely make happen."

International

Colombia Outpaces Peru in Coca Production, UNODC Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that Colombia had overtaken Peru in the sowing of coca crops. That's mainly because Peru reported a 14% drug in the area under cultivation in the face of aggressive measures by the government of President Ollanta Humala. But Peru may still be the world's largest cocaine producer, because its crop is more mature and higher yielding.

Jamaican Justice Minister Signs Order to Expunge Minor Marijuana Convictions. Justice Minister Mark Golding signed the expungement order Wednesday. The move comes after the island nation decriminalized marijuana earlier this year. Now, possession of less than two ounces is no longer a crime. Before that, an estimated 300 people a week were getting criminal records and possible life-long stigma for possession arrests.

Italian Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Benedetto Della Vedova, a junior minister for foreign affairs, Wednesday introduced a bill that would legalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana, allow for growing small quantities, and set up government-licensed marijuana retail outlets. The bill is cosponsored by more than 200 members of the country's 900-member parliament. The bill is supported by members of the governing Democratic Party and two opposition parties, the Left, Ecology and Freedom Party and the Five Star Movement.

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

Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reforms [FEATURE]

In a 45-minute speech at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia Tuesday, President Obama laid out a far-reaching roadmap for criminal justice reform, including calls for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reviewing the use of solitary confinement, and eliminating barriers to reentry for former prisoners.

c-span.org
The president has touched on many of the themes before, but the Philadelphia speech was the first time he tied them all together into a plan for action. The speech likely signals upcoming executive actions on criminal justice reform.

Obama recited the by now well-known statistics demonstrating American's over-reliance on incarceration: America is home to 5% of world's population but 25% of world's prisons; that African Americans and Latinos make up 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of American inmates; that one out of three black men are now likely to serve time in prison, among others.

While the United States has 2 ½ million people behind bars, only about 200,000 of them are in the federal prison system that Obama has the ability to impact. Of those, 98,000 are doing time for drug offenses.

He used those stats to bolster his case for broad criminal justice reform, calling the criminal justice system an "injustice system."

"Any system that allows us to turn a blind-eye to hopelessness and despair, that's not a justice system, that's an injustice system," Obama said. "Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it's the presence of opportunity."

Washington has seen limited criminal justice reform during the Obama years, particularly with legislation partially undoing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and later actions making it retroactive. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder signaled to federal prosecutors that they should move away from mandatory minimums, and the Obama administration has asked federal drug prisoners to seek sentence commutations.

At the convention, Obama also touted initiatives including the Department of Justice's Smart on Crime program aimed at reducing the impact of our harsh laws, My Brother's Keeper, and the Clemency Project.

The president commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders on Monday, and applications from some 30,000 more are in the pipeline.

Obama said the time was ripe for further reforms, citing bipartisan interest in the issue, and even mentioning the Koch Brothers and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul as allies in the fight. They made "strange bedfellows" with Democrats and the NAACP, he said, but that's what sometimes happens in politics.

"We're at a moment when some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter. To make it work better and I'm determined to do my part, wherever I can," Obama said a day earlier in announcing the sentence commutations.

On Thursday, Obama will continue his criminal justice-themed week with a visit to the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma -- the first visit ever to a federal prison by a sitting president. He is expected to meet with inmates there, and he told the NAACP crowd he met with four former prisoners -- one white, one Latino, and two black -- before taking to the podium there.

Philadelphia, PA
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The beat goes on. Cops stealing weed in Texas, heroin in DC, and big sums of cash in Virginia, jail guards dealing smack, and more. Let's get to it:

In Sullivan City, Texas, a Sullivan City police officer was fired last Thursday amid accusations he stole marijuana from the evidence room. Angel de la Mora admitted having stolen the weed, and went down after a fellow officer noticed him "behaving oddly." He had mixed some of the marijuana with rubbing alcohol, a local folk remedy for aches and pains.

In New York City, a Rikers Island jail guard was arrested last Wednesday in a sweep that netted 12 alleged members of the Bloods on drug charges. Rikers guard Covel Duncan and the other 11 are all charged with intent to distribute over a kilogram of heroin between November 2014 and June 2015, authorities said. They're all looking at up to life in prison.

In Leesburg, Virginia, a former Loudon County sheriff's deputy was indicted by a federal grand jury last Thursday on charges that he embezzled $200,000 from a sheriff's office asset forfeiture fund. Frank Michael Parsons, 44, faces four counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal benefits. Parsons oversaw the asset forfeiture program, and is accused of stealing the money over a three-year period.

In Easton, Connecticut, four Connecticut law enforcement officers were arrested Tuesday on federal they were involving in a steroids and prescription opiates distribution ring. Easton Police Commissioner Raymond Martin, 48, went down after what the DEA and FBI called a long investigation into steroid shipments from China. He is charged with conspiracy to possess oxycodone with the intent to distribute. Also arrested in the case were a Newtown police sergeant and dispatcher and a state judicial marshal.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, a former Palm Beach County Sheriff's narcotics detective pleaded guilty last Friday to charges he trumped up a drug charge against a Riviera Beach man. Joaquin Fonseca-Ortiz, 49, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges of official misconduct. In return, prosecutors dropped three other charges, including possession of cocaine, a felony. Under the agreement, he will serve six months house arrest and will have work release.

In Washington, DC, a former FBI agent was sentenced last Thursday to three years in federal prison for stealing heroin seized as evidence. Matthew Lowry's thefts, which he said were to feed his own habit, resulted in the dismissal of cases against 28 drug defendants, including 25 who had pleaded guilty and were freed from prison.

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis police officer was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for giving a gun to a drug dealer in order to help him stay in business. Don McGhee pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in April, about a week after being indicted. He went down after a pistol-grip shotgun he had given to the dealer was seized in a later drug raid and traced back to him.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana continues to be an issue in Congress, medical marijuana programs in Illinois and New York move ahead, a federal appeals court decision hits dispensaries in the pocketbook, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, House Republicans blocked a bid for more marijuana studies. Republicans in the House killed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have reclassified marijuana so laboratories could conduct "credible research on its safety and efficacy as a medical treatment." The amendment would have encouraged the DEA and the National Institutes of Health to work together to allow studies of the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat various diseases and conditions. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sam Farr (D-CA), as well as marijuana legalization foe Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would have created a new designation in the federal drug scheduling scheme, Schedule 1R, for research.

On Monday, US senators sought information from federal agencies on progress on medical marijuana research. A group of eight United States senators Monday sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting information about the agencies' efforts to facilitate and coordinate scientific research on medical marijuana. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

California

Last Thursday, a federal appeals court ruled that dispensaries can't deduct business expenses. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that they can't take the deductions because their product is prohibited under federal law. The ruling came in the case of the embattled Vapor Room dispensary, whose owner had claimed $650,000 in business expenses in 2004 and 2005. The IRS balked, and now the appeals court has sided with the IRS.

Florida

On Monday, state officials said the CBD cannabis oil grow program had 24 applicants. Some 24 commercial plant nurseries have applied for state licenses to grow marijuana and produce CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions. The state is divided into five regions, and only one license will be awarded for each region.

Illinois

On Monday, the first cultivation center in the state began medical marijuana production. The Ataraxia cultivation center announced that it is beginning to grow medical marijuana. The group says it thinks it is the first in the state to do so. The grow is located in Albion.

New York

Last Friday, the Department of Health said the medical marijuana distribution program had 43 applicants. Nearly four dozen companies have applied for licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana under a program approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The state Department of Health is expected to decide which applicants will get licenses sometime within the next couple of weeks.

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

Chronicle AM: Obama Calls for More Criminal Justice Reforms, Israeli Knesset Pot Brouhaha, More (7/15/15)

The president gives a major speech calling for greater criminal justice reform, there's a revised version of a California marijuana legalization initiative, North Carolina is moving to ban new synthetic drugs, the Israeli Knesset squabbles over marijuana policy, and more.

Wisconsin's Republican governor wants to drug test food stamp recipients and is going to court to fight for it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Second Version of California Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act Filed. The folks behind the initiative have revised and updated it. This is one of four legalization initiatives already filed. Everyone is still waiting for one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform to drop. To read the latest version of the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act, click on the title link.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Set to Ban N-Bomb, Other New Synthetics. A bill that would make the synthetic drug NBOMe (N-Bomb) and other designer drugs illegal is one vote away from passage. House Bill 341 would add 12 known variants of NBOMe to the state's Schedule I list. It would also add methoxetamine, a synthetic form of ketamine often marketed as Special K, and acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of the opioid fentanyl. Variants of methylphenidate (Ritalin) would also be banned, and some recent synthetic cannabinoids, too. The bill has passed the House and now awaits a final Senate floor vote.

Criminal Justice

President Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reform. In a speech before the NAACP Tuesday, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, reconsidering solitary confinement, increased reentry programs for people leaving prison, and an end to asking about criminal histories on job applications. He also called on Congress to pass sentencing reform legislation by year's end. Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Challenges Federal Ban on Food Stamp Drug Testing. The state attorney general Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to clarify whether federal law would allow the state to drug test food stamp recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) earlier this week signed a measure to do so into law. The US Agriculture Department says that drug testing food stamp recipients is not allowed, but Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) said that policy is contrary to federal law that allows states to test them.

International

Israeli Knesset Members Boycott Marijuana Policy Meeting to Protest "Pro-Legalization" Views of Panel Head. Most members of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse failed to show up for a committee meeting on "progressive cannabis policies" Tuesday, saying they were protesting the pro-legalization stance of committee chair Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party. Conservative MPs accused Zandberg of "turning [the committee] into the caucus to promote cannabis... instead of the goal for which the committee was formed: to fight drug abuse and drug-related crimes, rehabilitation of users, and public campaigns to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in general and especially among youth." Zandberg was unbowed. "I support legalization and I have never hidden it, and I plan to lead the committee with up-to-date and relevant discussions based on data," she added. "The committee will seriously deal with a long line of topics, including medical marijuana, dealing with alcoholism, and trying to change the policy of criminalizing cannabis." She accused the protesting members of being a "nature reserve of moralizers."

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

Chronicle AM: Using RICO Against Legal Cannabusinesses, Last Minute Move Kills WA Social Clubs, More (7/14/15)

A novel legal tactic by marijuana foes rears its ugly head, last minute maneuvering scuttled pot social clubs in Washington state, Bernie Sanders wants cheaper Naloxone prices, Illinois' first medical marijuana grow gets underway, and more.

Bernie Sanders calls for lower Naloxone prices (sanders.senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Foes Using RICO To Go After Legal Marijuana Businesses. A Washington-based "anti-crime" group, the Safe Streets Alliance, is using a federal law crafted to fight organized crime to go after marijuana businesses in Colorado. It recently forced one shop out of business after suing not just it but a laundry list of businesses associated with it, and has another lawsuit pending in southern Colorado. None of the lawsuits has been decided, but the mere filing was enough to get rid of one business.

No Marijuana Social Clubs for Washington State. In a last minute amendment to House Bill 2136, the recently passed legislation tweaking the laws around the state's marijuana industry, the legislature outlawed the establishment of marijuana social clubs. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is unhappy: "It makes it a felony to actually operate a business like this. Frankly, it's a stupid provision and I think that it's overkill," Holmes said. Holmes had been working on a model social club ordinance for Seattle. He said he was irked that the amendment was added and approved without notice.

Medical Marijuana

US Senators Seek Info from Feds on Progress on Medical Marijuana Research. A group of eight United States senators Monday sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting information about the agencies' efforts to facilitate and coordinate scientific research on medical marijuana. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

First Illinois Cultivation Center Begins Medical Marijuana Production. The Ataraxia cultivation center announced Monday that it is beginning to grow medical marijuana. The group says it thinks it is the first in the state to do so. The grow is located in Albion.

Harm Reduction

Bernie Sanders Calls on State Governments to Lower Price of Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender says other states should emulate New York, which negotiated a price cut with the manufacturer of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. "The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone," Sanders joined Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in saying in a letter to the National Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General.

International

Colombia Marijuana Price Plunge Sees Farmers Switching to Coca, Avocados. Prices for Colombian marijuana have dropped by two-thirds in the past year, largely because of oversupply due to a bumper crop last year. That has farmers getting out of the pot business and looking for alternatives, including coca and avocados. Marijuana was a decent cash crop for impoverished farmers; now, they'll have to try something else.

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

Chronicle AM: El Chapo Escapes from Mexican Prison, Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences, More (7/13/15)

More marijuana reform initiatives get filed, Wisconsin's governor modifies a food stamp drug test bill to make screening mandatory, the world's wealthiest drug lord breaks out of prison, and more. ;

Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiatives Filed. At least two marijuana legalization initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state this month. One would direct revenues generated by legalization to pay teacher salaries. Neither appears to be a serious, well-financed effort. They will need 680,000 valid voter signatures to make the 2016 ballot.

South Dakota Decriminalization Initiative Filed. A group of activists has filed an initiative to decriminalize the possession of an ounce of less of weed in the state. The effort is being led by South Dakotans Against Prohibition, and is being portrayed as providing protections to medical marijuana patients as well as recreational users. A medical marijuana initiative in the state is already in the signature gathering phase.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC Mayor Signs Into Law Bill With Harsh Civil Penalties for Selling Synthetics. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) last Friday signed into law a bill that imposes harsh penalties on retail outlets selling synthetic marijuana. The legislation gives the DC Metro Police immediate authority to close businesses found selling the drugs and gives the mayor the power to impose a $10,000 fine.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Modifies Food Stamp Drug Test Bill, Removes "Reasonable Suspicion" Requirement. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed his state budget into law Sunday, but not before making two changes in the part of the law that authorizes drug testing of food stamp recipients. The testing was limited to people whom state workers had "reasonable suspicion" were using drugs, but Walker removed that language, saying there shouldn't be limits on who it can drug test. That means the law will almost certainly face a constitutional challenge since similar suspicionless, mandatory drug testing laws have been overturned by the federal courts. Walker also removed language that would have provided free drug treatment to people who tested positive. He officially announced today that he is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for 46 Drug Offenders. President Obama announced today he has granted clemency to dozens of federal inmates, the vast majority of them sentenced under draconian crack cocaine laws. More than 30,000 federal prisoners have applied for clemency since the Obama administration issued a call for them to do so last year. Click on the title link for our feature story on this.

International

Chapo Guzman Breaks Out of Mexican Prison. In a huge embarrassment to the Mexican government, imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman tunneled his way to freedom out of the Almoloya de Juarez maximum security prison west of Mexico City Saturday night. This is the second time Guzman has broken out of a Mexican prison. In 2001, he escaped from another high-security prison and wasn't recaptured until last year. Guzman is likely the world's wealthiest drug trafficker. His cartel is responsible for tens of thousands of killings in Mexico's drug war in the past few years.

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

Obama Commutes Sentences for 46 Drug Offenders [FEATURE]

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

President Obama announced today he has granted clemency to dozens of federal inmates, the vast majority of them sentenced under draconian crack cocaine laws. More than 30,000 federal prisoners have applied for clemency since the Obama administration issued a call for them to do so last year.

President Obama (whitehouse.gov)
The remaining clemency applications are still being processed, but many more could be released before Obama's term expires in January 2017. The Justice Department says it prioritizes applications from low-level, nonviolent offenders who have already serve at least 10 years behind bars and who would have been sentenced to much less time if convicted for those same offenses today.

"We spend over $80 billion incarcerating people, often times who've only been engaged in nonviolent drug offenses," Obama said in his announcement of the commutations. "I'm commuting the sentences of 46 prisoners who were convicted many years or in some cases decades ago. These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years. Fourteen of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses so their punishments didn't fit the crime. I believe there's a lot more we can do to restore the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system and to make sure our tax dollars are well spent even as we are keeping our streets safe."

Drug offenders account for nearly half of the more than 200,000 doing time in federal prisons. That is a more than 20-fold increase in the number of federal drug prisoners in 1980, just before the start of the Reagan-era war on drugs.

The federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, (bop.gov)
Today's commutations of 46 sentences bring to 90 the number of people to whom Obama has granted clemency during his administration. While more are expected, administration spokesmen made clear that merely wielding the clemency power is not enough.

"While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term, it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies," said White House counsel Neil Eggleston.

This is just the beginning of a week heavy on criminal justice issues for the president. Tomorrow, Obama is expected to make a major speech on criminal justice reform before the NAACP, and on Thursday, he is scheduled to visit a federal prison, which would make him the first president to ever do so.

"I am elated that President Obama continues to use his executive powers to grant freedom to those drug offenders who have served draconian sentences," said Anthony Papa, media relations manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. "I hope this sends a message to governors of states that have the power to grant clemencies to those who deserve a chance to be reunited with their families."

The United States remains the world leader in incarceration. (nadcp.org)
The president sent a letter to the prisoners whose sentences he commuted: "I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," he wrote. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances."

He urged the soon-to-be-freed prisoners to lead by example.

"Remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so, you will affect not only your life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future. I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Court Says Dispensaries Can't Take Biz Expenses, CT Sentencing Reform Becomes Law, More (7/10/15)

Nearly half the country thinks roads will be less safe with pot legalization, researchers debunk the gateway theory... again, applicants pile up for medical marijuana programs in Florida and New York, Connecticut's governor signs a bill doing away with mandatory minimums for drug possession, and more.

A new law should reduce prison overcrowding in Connecticut. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Gateway Theory Debunked… Again. A new study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse has found that while marijuana use may typically precede the use of other drugs, there is no evidence it causes people to move on to them. Teens smoke pot for specific reasons, the researchers found, and it is those reasons -- not marijuana use itself -- that prompt them to try other drugs as well. Kids who smoke pot because they are bored are more likely to try cocaine, while teens who smoke pot for personal insights are more likely to try psychedelics. "We found that marijuana use within itself wasn't a risk factor for use of other drugs," said lead author Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the New York University Langone Medical Center's department of population health. "People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn't mean marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs." The study was based on data from the annual Monitoring the Future study of American high school students.

Gallup Poll: 47% Say Marijuana Makes Roads Less Safe. Public attitudes toward marijuana and driving are fairly evenly split, with 47% saying it would make the roads less safe and 50% saying it would make no difference, according to a Gallup Poll released today. The poll results present a potential point of attack for legalization opponents, who have increasingly resorted to fears of drugged driving as other arguments against legalization have evaporated. But as Gallup notes, "… these data may defuse arguments that increased legalization across the US will influence driver safety. With just 30% of Americans currently saying that an increase in legal marijuana would make driving a lot less safe, and 50% saying it will not make much difference, the pro-legalization forces may have an advantage." Click on the link for more details and methodological notes.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Trade Group Forms. The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association formally announced its existence Thursday at an Anchorage press conference. The nonprofit group intends to represent marijuana business owners in the state, once those businesses are licensed.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rules Dispensaries Can't Deduct Business Expenses. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that they can't take the deductions because their product is prohibited under federal law. The ruling came in the case of the embattled Vapor Room dispensary, whose owner had claimed $650,000 in business expenses in 2004 and 2005. The IRS balked, and now the appeals court has sided with the IRS.

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Grow Program Gets 24 Applicants. Some 24 commercial plant nurseries have applied for state licenses to grow marijuana and produce CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions. The state is divided into five regions, and only one license will be awarded for each region.

New York Medical Marijuana Program Gets 43 Applicants. Nearly four dozen companies have applied for licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana under a program approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The state Department of Health is expected to decide which applicants will get licenses sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Sentencing

Connecticut Governor Signs Drug Sentencing Reform Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed into law his "Second Chance Society" legislation, which eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug possession and caps those sentences at one year. The measure also speeds up the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders. About 500 people are estimated to be imprisoned in the state solely for drug possession.

Chronicle AM: Fed Marijuana Banking Bill, Flying High Out of PDX, Pope Sips Coca Tea, More (7/9/15)

A bill to allow marijuana businesses access to banking services has been filed in Congress, Oregon's largest airport okays flying with pot (in-state only), Indiana's Church of Cannabis is suing the state, the Pope drinks coca tea on his way to Bolivia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Legislation Filed. Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, a bill that would allow banks to provide depository and other financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses. Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.

Indiana Marijuana Church Sues State to Block Enforcement of Marijuana Laws. The Indianapolis-based First Church of Cannabis is going to federal court to try to stop the state from enforcing marijuana prohibition against church members. The church argues that doing so prevents members from fully exercising their religion. Their attorney says he will rely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make his case.

Flying With Marijuana Now Okay at PDX. Now that pot is legal in Oregon, Portland International Airport (PDX) has announced that passengers can travel with their marijuana -- as long as they don't leave the state. The airport said that if TSA agents find marijuana on travelers, they will notify Port Police, who will then check to see if the amount is less than the legal limit, the passenger is old enough to carry it, and that the boarding pass shows the passenger is on an in-state flight. If those conditions are met, passengers can fly with their weed. Passengers caught trying to fly out of state with legal amounts of weed will be asked to leave the line and get rid of it before boarding.

Poll: 56% Support for Denver Marijuana Social Use Initiative. A Public Policy Polling survey released today has a solid majority supporting an initiative to allow the use -- but not the sale -- of marijuana at businesses restricted to those 21 and over. The initiative specifies that businesses with liquor licenses would have the option of allowing marijuana use on premises. The Campaign for Limited Social Use needs to collect 4,726 signatures by early August to qualify for the November 2015 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

House Republicans Block Bid for More Medical Marijuana Studies. Republicans in the House Wednesday night killed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have reclassified marijuana so laboratories could conduct "credible research on its safety and efficacy as a medical treatment." The amendment would have encouraged the DEA and the National Institutes of Health to work together to allow studies of the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat various diseases and conditions. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sam Farr (D-CA), as well as marijuana legalization foe Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would have created a new designation in the federal drug scheduling scheme, Schedule 1R, for research.

International

Pope Francis Drinks Coca Tea On Flight to Bolivia. The Pope sipped on a brew of coca, chamomile, and anise seeds as he flew from Ecuador to the high-altitude airport at La Paz, Bolivia. The drink, made from leaves of the coca plant, is commonly used by travelers to fight altitude sickness. The airport at La Paz is at nearly 14,000 feet.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival Back On, Will Do Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival will go on as scheduled in Nova Scotia beginning tonight and will still offer the harm reduction measure of offering pill testing for attendees. Festival organizers announced earlier this week they would offer pill testing, but their insurer then canceled their liability insurance, leaving the event in doubt. But now, a new insurer has been found, and organizers say they will do pill testing.

ProCon.org: What Have US Surgeons General Had to Say About Medical Marijuana?

What have US Surgeons General had to say about medical marijuana? Read "11 US Surgeons General and Their Views on Medical Marijuana, 1961-Present" to find out, on MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the final installment in a six part Drug War Chronicle series of "Did You Know" items from ProCon.org. Sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed to stay in touch with ProCon.org. You can read last week's Chronicle ProCon.org installment here, and follow the similar links in each of them to view all the installments in this series.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A New Mexico cop gets hoisted by his own petard, a DC cop won't get to keep her drug-money Maserati, a border guard gets popped stealing pain pills from drivers, and more. Let's get to it:

In Roswell, New Mexico, a Roswell police officer was arrested last Wednesday after his claim that a fast food worker spit in his drink went bad. When investigators watched video from the restaurant, they saw no evidence of the misdeed, and Officer Christopher Ray Moreno then admitted that he made it up because he didn't like the worker, whom he had arrested for petty crimes in the past. Knowing he faced firing over the incident, he resigned and turned in his equipment. When police searched the trunk of his police car, they found meth, drug pipes, a BB gun, and a suspect's driver license. He is now charged with a variety of offenses, including make false reports, drug possession, and theft.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, a Northampton County jail guard was arrested last Friday on charges he smuggled drugs and a cell phone into the jail. Brian Keith Jenkins, 30, faces one count of providing a controlled substance to a confined person and one count of providing a telecommunications device to a confined person.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former Starr County narcotics investigator pleaded guilty last Tuesday to trafficking cocaine. Formed investigator Noel Pena, 29, who had been assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, went down in a sting operation after he met an undercover agent and agreed to stage a fake bust where the trafficker could tell his employers the drugs had been seized, but he would really split them with Pena. Pena copped to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. He's looking at a 10-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence.

In Washington, DC, a former DC Metro Police detective was sentenced last Thursday to 15 months in prison after using money she got in a drug conspiracy to buy a motorcycle and several cars. Stephanie Ellison, 51, and her drug-dealing accomplice bought a Maserati, a BMW, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a bid to conceal their drug money. She pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering in March.

In Burlington, Vermont, a former Customs and Border Patrol officer was sentenced Monday to two years' probation for stealing oxycodone pills while on the job at the Highgate border crossing with Canada. Christopher Van Zandt, 30, admitted stealing drugs while searching a vehicle entering the country.

Medical Marijuana Update

With state legislative sessions winding down, its been pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front, except for California, where both localities and the legislature continue to grapple with the issue.

California

Last Thursday, an attorney representing collectives filed a lawsuit challenging Riverside County's new restrictions on grows in unincorporated parts of the county. James De Aguilera, representing Chronic Relief and others, seeks an injunction to block implementation of an ordinance passed in May, which is set to go into effect Thursday. The ordinance bans commercial grows, but allows patients and caregivers to grow up to 12 plants.

On Monday, the governor signed the medical marijuana organ transplant bill into law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill advanced. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.

Also on Tuesday, Monterey County supervisors adopted a temporary dispensary and cultivation ban in unincorporated areas of the county. They approved a 45-day interim ordinance to allow them time to write and enact regulations for what they think will be a burgeoning industry.

On Wednesday, Senator Feinstein was delivered petitions demanding she get on board with medical marijuana. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to change her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

Louisiana

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana bill into law. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) Monday signed into law Senate Bill 143, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. The law foresees an extensive regulatory process to select and supervise a state-authorized grower and 10 licensed distributors, but some advocates are concerned that the prescribing language will make the law meaningless. The DEA will pull prescribing privileges from doctors who prescribe marijuana, which is why other states say doctors can recommend it. The bill originally called for recommendations, but the language was changed at the behest of social conservative groups in the state.

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

Chronicle AM: Chile Decriminalization Vote, Miami Beach Decriminalizes, CDC Heroin Warning, More (7/8/15)

A bill decriminalizing marijuana possession and allowing personal cultivation is moving in Chile, a bill regulating the medical marijuana industry is moving in California, the CDC issues another warning about heroin, Miami Beach is the latest South Florida community to decriminalize, and more.

Heroin overdoses nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, according to the CDC. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Filed. Two separate marijuana reform initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state's office recently. They are ballot issues #7 and #8 on the official website. Ballot Issue #7 is the legalization initiative, submitted by a Glendive man who says he plans to bicycle the state to gather signatures. Ballot Issue #8 is the medical marijuana initiative. Both initiatives are now being reviewed by legislative services and must be okayed before signature gathering can begin.

Miami Beach Decriminalizes Possession. Miami Beach city commissioners voted unanimously today to approve an ordinance to fine those caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and jailing them. Under the ordinance, police will have the option of issuing a $100 ticket to people caught with less than 20 grams, but could still arrest them at the officer's discretion. Miami-Dade County recently passed decriminalization, and Palm Beach is considering a similar move.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.

Opiates

CDC Again Sounds Alarm on Rising Heroin Use. In a report released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that heroin use in the US has grown at "an alarming rate," with overdose deaths doubling between 2011 and 2013. Heroin use is up among multiple demographic groups, but the biggest increases were among white people, women, and people with higher incomes and private insurance. "Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response -- to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."

International

Chilean House Approves Decriminalization, Personal Cultivation Bill. The lower house of the Chilean congress has approved a measure that would decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use of up to 10 grams and allow people to grow up to six plants of their own. Now, the bill must be reviewed by a health committee before the lower house votes again on its specific elements. The bill would then go to the upper chamber.

Poll: BC Residents Say Legalize It! A new Insights West poll has support for marijuana legalization at 67% among adult residents. Support was even higher among young adults, with the 18-to-34 age bracket coming in at 72%. Click the link for more details.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival in Doubt After Offering Pill Testing Services. Just yesterday, we noted that the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival set for this weekend in Nova Scotia had taken the ground-breaking harm reduction step of offering pill testing services for attendees. But now there's a hitch: As a result of the pill testing plan, his insurance company underwriters have pulled its liability insurance, and now the festival may not be able to go on at all. Organizers are looking at their options.

Moroccan Head of State Rejects Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation. Head of state Abdelilah Benkirane said Tuesday his government will not allow the legalization of cannabis cultivation, and that those who claim differently are selling "illusions" to the country's hash farmers. Morocco is one of the world's leading hash producers. Opposition parties have called for the legalization of cultivation.

Chronicle AM: Iran Drug Executions Increasing, Feinstein Pressed on MedMJ, OH Pot Politics, More (7/7/15)

Midwest marijuana legalization initiatives make news, Sen. Feinstein feels some heat, some European countries keep giving Iran anti-drug aid despite a rising number of executions, California's governor signs a bill barring discrimination against medical marijuana patients in organ transplants, and more.

Sen. Feinstein is being urged to support medical marijuana. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Greens Endorse MILegalize Initiative. The Green Party of Michigan has endorsed the more grassroots of two competing Michigan legalization initiatives, the MILegalize initiative sponsored by the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. The Greens say they like the "craft beer" model in the initiative, as opposed to the "industrial" model adopted by the other active Michigan initiative this year.

ResponsibleOhio "Fresh Start Act" Initiative Certified by Attorney General. ResponsibleOhio, the same people bringing you the controversial "monopoly" marijuana legalization initiative, are also moving forward with an initiative that would expunge the criminal records of people with past marijuana convictions. Their Fresh Start Act initiative has been certified by Attorney General Mike DeWine. It must now be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board for review before signature gathering can begin. It is aiming at the 2016 election.

UFCW Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said Monday it is supporting the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The UFCW has been organizing industry workers in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states for some years now.

Medical Marijuana

Senator Feinstein Gets Petition Demanding She Get on Board With Marijuana Reform. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance today delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to chance her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Court Says Urine Drug Testing Rules Don't Apply to Hair Testing. In upholding the dismissal of a man who was fired after a hair follicle drug test came back positive, a state Superior Court judge ruled that regulations that restrict urine drug testing do not apply to hair drug tests, which can detect drug use for months into the past. The court conceded that the disparate protections offered against urine and hair drug testing create a "seemingly irrational inconsistency," but that "the task of changing the law lies with the legislature and not with the judiciary."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Congressman Calls for Price Cuts on Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is accusing the maker of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone of "taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland" by overcharging for the drug. On Tuesday, Cummings wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) urging him to reach a deal with the company to reduce the cost of the drug. "I believe the State of Maryland is being overcharged for a critical drug called naloxone that is used by first responders and medical personnel to reverse the life-threatening effects of heroin and other opioid overdoses, and I urge you to make sure that the company charging these prices is not allowed to continue taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland," Cummings wrote. Other states have managed to get discounts from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals after getting aggressive with the company.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Increasingly Used for Minor Drug Raids. Documents made public today by the ACLU of Massachusetts show that SWAT teams in the state are increasingly used to undertake small-time drug raids. The ACLU filed suit against the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to force it to reveal the records. The records show that of 79 SWAT deployments between 2012 and 2014, 21 were for drug-related search warrants, but that only five resulted in any mention of drug seizures. "The drug hauls are not exactly Pablo Escobar-levels of seriousness," said ACLU's Kate Crockford, referring to the notorious Colombian drug lord. "In one case they found some pills. In another case they found some marijuana. It's important for local communities who pay those police department salaries to understand what's really going on here," she said.

International

Canadian Electronic Music Festival Organizers Will Offer Free Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia is set for this coming weekend, and beginning Friday, people arriving at the festival can submit small samples of their stashes to have them tested. Festival organizers say the move is an effort to reduce harm and overdoses.

European Countries Continue to Fund Iran's Drug War Despite Rampant Resort to Death Penalty. Iran Human Rights reports that nearly 400 people have been executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, accounting for nearly two thirds of all executions. That's not stopping the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and some European countries from continuing to fund Iran's anti-drug efforts. France has provided over a million dollars' worth of aid to the Anti-Narcotics Police, while Germany has contributed more than five million to UNODC projects to train and equip the police. Faced with pressure from campaigners such as the British nonprofit Reprieve, other European countries, including Denmark and Great Britain, have stopped such aid. "Even as Iran's execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for nonviolent offenses. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal," said Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's death penalty team. "It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions."

The Report Card: Grading the Presidential Candidates on Marijuana Policy [FEATURE]

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

Marijuana is already legal in Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon (as of Wednesday), and Washington. With legalization initiatives looming this year and next in states as diverse as Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, and Arizona, marijuana policy is most definitely on the agenda in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Candidates and presumed candidates from both parties have staked out a wide array of positions on the issue (although none have taken the bold step of actually advocating for legalization). Now, thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project, we have a scorecard to keep them all straight.

The pro-legalization advocacy group has released its Voters Guide to the 2016 Presidential Race, detailing the candidates' positions on marijuana policy and assigning them grades based on where they stand. The candidates were graded on actions they have taken and statements they have made indicating their support for ending pot prohibition, allowing legal access to medical marijuana and defending states' rights to set their own marijuana policies.

"Most Americans recognize that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and they think it should be made legal for adults," said MPP spokesperson Mason Tvert. "Voters should know which candidates support rolling back prohibition and which ones are fighting to maintain it. People are becoming increasingly wary of the federal government's role in our nation's marijuana policies."

Protecting the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies will be increasingly important in coming years, Tvert said, adding that, "Several states are likely to adopt new approaches to marijuana policy between now and when our next president takes office. She or he should be willing to work with Congress to ease the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. If states are to be our nation's laboratories of democracy, our next president needs to respect their right to experiment. They should also be committed to basing marijuana laws on science and evidence instead of ideology and politics."

While Democratic candidates found themselves in the middle of the road (with grades ranging from B to D), Republicans were all over the letter-grade spectrum, with Rand Paul pulling down an A- (it seems you'd have to actually support legalization to get an A grade from MPP), and two GOP candidates, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum getting flunked with Fs.

"Some of these guys who tout states' rights, fiscal responsibility, and getting the government out of people's private lives want to use federal tax dollars to punish adults for using marijuana in states that have made it legal," Tvert said. "They say using marijuana is immoral or just too dangerous to allow, but serve alcohol, a more dangerous substance, at their fundraisers. The hypocrisy is astonishing."

Here are the candidates, by party and grade.

Democrats

Lincoln Chafee, Grade: B+

The former Rhode Island governor signed a decriminalization bill into law in 2013 and has expressed a willingness to explore the potential benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana, but he wants to wait and see what happens in states that have adopted such laws.

Chafee on marijuana and drug policy:

"We'll see what comes out of the legislature. We're just still putting in the medical marijuana component and we'll certainly see what's happening in Colorado… Certainly the revenue is enticing for all governors. Somebody was saying to me back with the bad weather we've had back home, and all the potholes, we should have the revenue go to infrastructure. 'Pot for potholes.'" -- Huffington Post, Feb. 24, 2014

"I think it should be an international discussion over our drug policy, whether its winning or losing the war on drugs, and the destabilizing effect the illicit drug trade has […] It should be an international discussion: is this working?" -- YouTube, April 2013

Jim Webb, Grade: B+

The former Virginia senator and Reagan-era secretary of the Navy has come out for marijuana decriminalization and is an outspoken opponent of the war on drugs. As a senator, he introduced legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Webb on marijuana and drug policy:

[In response to a question about whether marijuana legalization would be part of his criminal justice reform efforts:] "I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country. And we'll get it to the people who have the credibility and the expertise and see what they come up with. [Asked specifically about regulating marijuana:] I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy. I've done a couple of very extensive hearings on this, so we'll wait to see what they say about that." -- Huffington Post, April 27, 2009

"He also shied away from supporting or opposing marijuana legalization, calling state laws 'an interesting national experiment' that should be allowed to play out further." -- Washington Post, March 10, 2015

Bernie Sanders, Grade: B

The insurgent Vermont senator has been a longtime critic of the war on drugs and supports medical marijuana, but has so far shied away from supporting pot legalization because of his concerns about other illegal drugs.

Sanders on marijuana and drug policy:

"I have real concerns about implications of the war on drugs. We have been engaged in it for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities."

"I'm going to look at the issue. It's not that I support it or don't support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I'll look at it. I think it has a lot of support and I'll be talking to young people and others about the issues. But there are two sides to a story." -- TIME, March 4, 2015

"The state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do. Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months." -- Reddit AMA, May 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Grade: B-

The Democratic favorite says she is open to more research on medical marijuana and that she supports Colorado and Washington's rights to set their own marijuana policies. She says she is interested in seeing the results of their experiment before taking a position for or against legalization.

Clinton on marijuana policy: "I don't think we've done enough research yet although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances."

"States are laboratories of democracy. I want to wait and see what the evidence is." -- CNN, June 2014

Martin O'Malley, Grade: C+

The former Maryland governor has repeatedly spoken out against using marijuana for any reason, including medical, but he also signed into law in 2014 bills that decriminalized possession and established a medical marijuana program.

O'Malley on marijuana and marijuana policy:

"I'm not much in favor of it. We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city. This drug, its use and its abuse can be a gateway." -- Mark Steiner radio show, Jan. 7, 2014

"As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety. I now think that [it] is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health." -- Washington Post, April 7, 2014

Joe Biden, Grade: D

The vice president has not formally announced, but is still considered a potential contender. Throughout his career, Biden has been a hardline drug warrior, spearheading legislation that created the drug czar's office and sponsoring the RAVE Act, as well as backing bills to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for federal marijuana offenses. He continues to oppose the legalization of marijuana, but has spoken in favor of reducing enforcement of federal marijuana policies.

Biden on marijuana and drug policy:

"I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources. That's different than [legalization]. Our policy for our administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy."

"I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I'm also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee], trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine, for example, crack and powder." -- TIME, Feb. 6, 2014

"I still believe it's a gateway drug. I've spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize." -- ABC News, Dec. 2010

Republicans

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gets the highest grade. (senate.gov)
Rand Paul, Grade: A-

The libertarian-leaning junior senator from Kentucky has been a vocal supporter of states' rights to set their own marijuana policies, as well as decriminalizing small-time pot possession. He is also a sponsor of a bill that would let states set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference, a bill that would let marijuana businesses gain access to the banking system, and a bill seeking drug sentencing reforms.

Paul on marijuana policy:

"I'm not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven't taken a stand on… the actual legalization. I haven't really taken a stand on that, but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't." -- Roll Call, Nov. 4, 2014

"If your kid was caught selling marijuana or growing enough that it's a felony conviction, they could be in jail for an extended period of time, they also lose their ability to be employable. So I want to change all of that. I want to lessen the criminal penalties on it."

Rick Perry, Grade: B

The former Texas governor opposes marijuana legalization, but supports states' rights to set their own marijuana policies and has voiced support for reducing penalties for pot possession.

Perry on marijuana and drug policy:

"After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can't change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that's what we've done over the last decade." -- Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2014

"I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment. States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, then people will decide where they want to live." … [S]tates should be allowed [to decide whether to legalize marijuana]." -- U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 23, 2014

Ted Cruz, Grade: C+

The junior senator from Texas opposes marijuana legalization, but believes states should have the right to set their own marijuana policies.

Cruz on marijuana and drug policy:

"I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the laboratories of democracy. If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative. I don't agree with it, but that's their right." -- CPAC, Feb. 26, 2015

"I don't support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution. I think individual states can choose to adopt it. So if Texas had it on the ballot, I'd vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies." -- Texas Tribune, March 24, 2015

"That's a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington State have come to a different conclusion. They've decided that they want to legalize it. I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision. One of the benefits of it… is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State." -- Hugh Hewitt Show, April 16, 2015

Carly Fiorina, Grade: C+

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO does not favor legalizing medical marijuana for any purpose, including medical use, but has recently supported decriminalization and the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies.

Fiorina on marijuana and drug policy:

"I remember when I had cancer and my doctor said, 'Do you have any interest in medicinal marijuana?'; I did not. And they said, good, because marijuana today is such a complex compound, we don't really know what's in it, we don't really know how it interacts with other substances or other medicines." -- Slate, Feb. 2015

"I'm opposed to Prop 19 and the legalization of marijuana. Sending billions of dollars in new tax revenues to Sacramento is exactly the problem… because Sacramento has a spending problem and will continue to spend the money we send them." -- 10 Questions, October 2010

"Drug addiction shouldn't be criminalized. We need to treat it appropriately." -- Washington Post, May 4, 2015

"I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth. But I think Colorado voters made a choice. I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice." -- The Hill, June 9, 2015

George Pataki, Grade: C

The former New York governor does not support legalization for any reason, including medical, but has come out for the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies.

Pataki on marijuana policy: "I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but having said that I am a great believer that states are the laboratory of democracy." -- Bloomberg, Jan. 14, 2014

"So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they've had a referendum, the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it, except for two factors. One is we have to know that neighboring states or the rest of the country are not being subjected to illegal marijuana because of the free selling of it and marketing in those states, and second with respect to young people." -- HughHewitt.com, April 23, 2015

How many GOP contenders still view marijuana users.
Donald Trump, Grade: C

The businessman and television personality supported legalizing all drugs in 1990, but has since changed his tune. He opposes marijuana legalization, but supports access to medical marijuana and has suggested support for letting states decide their own pot policies.

Trump on marijuana and drug policy:

"I'd say [regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it's bad and I feel strongly about that. [In response to states' rights argument] If they vote for it, they vote for it. But, you know, they've got a lot of problems going on in Colorado right now. Big problems. But I think, medical marijuana, 100%." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

"We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars." -- Miami Herald, April 14, 1990

Lindsey Graham, Grade: C

The South Carolina senator opposes marijuana legalization, but supports legal access to medical marijuana. Graham has not taken a strong position on states' rights to set their own pot policies, and he voted against a bill designed to block the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states (though he later tried unsuccessfully to switch his vote).

Graham on marijuana policy:

When asked whether he supports letting states decide or keeping marijuana illegal federally: "I don't see a real need to change the law up here [in DC]. If marijuana is half as bad as alcohol, that's probably enough reason to keep it illegal." -- Just Say Now, Aug. 10, 2010

"I'm against legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. But when it comes to medical marijuana and this [CBD] oil, I think politicians should embrace what makes sense. When it comes to issues like this, I don't want to be academic in thought. This is about people. This is about families with sick children. Why should someone in my position get in the way of helping a child, if you can reasonably and logically do it?" WBTV, Feb. 24, 2014

Bobby Jindal, Grade: C

The Louisiana governor has offered limited support for medical marijuana, but opposes legalization and does not support states' rights to set their own policies. Just last week, he refused clemency for a black man sentenced to 13 years in prison for possessing two joints, saying he hadn't served at least 10 years. As a member of Congress, he voted against measures trying to block federal interference in medical marijuana states in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Jindal on marijuana policy:

"I don't think anyone should be legalizing marijuana, I think that's a mistake. When it comes to the issue of medical marijuana, I've said as long as it's done under tight restrictions, I can be okay with that." -- ABC News, Feb. 26, 2015

[When asked if he would "bring down the hammer" on pot stores in states with legalization laws] "I don't think you can ignore federal law. Federal law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be enforced." -- Washington Times, April 1, 2015

John Kasich, Grade: C

The sitting Ohio governor is "totally opposed" to marijuana legalization, including for medical purposes, but would allow states to set their own marijuana policies.

"In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country." -- HughHewitt.com, April 21, 2015

"[The] answer is, no, I am not in favor of [medical marijuana]." -- WLWT, March 19, 2014

"On medical marijuana, doctors that I know tell me we don't need that, there are other ways to [treat pain]." -- OhioCapitalBlog, March 30, 2012

Jeb Bush, Grade: D

The former Florida governor is a long-time drug warrior who sits on the advisory board of the Drug Free America Foundation, a radical anti-pot group. He opposes marijuana legalization for any purposes, but has suggested states have the right to set their own pot policies.

Bush on marijuana policy: "I thought [legalizing marijuana in Colorado] was a bad idea, but states ought to have that right to do it. I would have voted 'no' if I was in Colorado." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

Mike Huckabee, Grade: D

The former Arkansas governor and Fox News host opposes marijuana legalization for any purpose, including medical use.

Huckabee on marijuana policy:

"You know, I don't support the idea of legalizing marijuana, so I want to be honest about that. I don't think that there are as many wonderful things to come from it as there are some dangers to come from it. You know, if they're targeting people [who use marijuana for medical purposes], I don't know if that makes good sense. But I wouldn't go and say, 'You shouldn't follow the law.'" [He is then asked whether he would stop the federal government's raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, to which he responds:] "Probably not." -- C-SPAN, January 2008

"I think the question is would I favor the legalization [of medical marijuana] at a federal level. And until there's some stronger scientific evidence I'm unlikely to do that. I don't support the idea of legalizing marijuana." -- NH Marijuana Policy Initiative, October 2007

"Those who argued that legalizing marijuana would result in a boom in tax revenues have some preliminary proof… But at what cost? The money is earmarked for youth prevention services, substance abuse treatment and public health. But what is a young person supposed to think when the state says, 'Don't do drugs… even though everyone around you is… and the same authority figures who tell you it's bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it'?" -- Facebook post, March 13, 2014

Ben Carson, Grade: D

The author and retired neurosurgeon, a hero of social conservatives, rejects marijuana legalization and cites the discredited "gateway theory" for doing so, but has expressed some openness toward medical marijuana.

Carson on marijuana policy:

"I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful. But recognize that marijuana is what's known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs -- sometimes legal, sometimes illegal -- and I don't think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we're gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity and you know, it's just, we're changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because, you know, it's taboo. It's politically incorrect. You're not supposed to talk about these things." Fox News, Jan. 2, 2014

Marco Rubio, Grade: D

The young Florida senator staunchly opposes marijuana legalization, but has expressed some support for medicinal use of non-psychoactive forms of medical marijuana (CBD cannabis oil). He has wobbled on the states' rights issue.

Rubio on marijuana policy:

"If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don't have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to." -- Tampa Bay Times, July 30, 2014

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced." -- ABC News, May 15, 2014

"The bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that's legal is not good for the country, I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that." -- Yahoo! News, May 19, 2014

[Spokesman]: "Senator Rubio believes legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a bad idea, and that the states that are doing it may well come to regret it. Of course, states can make decisions about what laws they wish to apply within their own borders." -- Politico, Jan. 31, 2015

"I'm against the legalization of marijuana." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

[When asked if he would enforce federal law and shut down regulation in Colorado:] "Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don't agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don't have a right to write federal policy as well. It is, I don't believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal." -- Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, April 14, 2015

Scott Walker, Grade: D

The Wisconsin governor opposes either decriminalization or legalization because marijuana is a "gateway" drug, but did sign a limited bill allowing for the use of non-psychoactive CBD cannabis oil by children.

Walker on marijuana policy:

"Now there are people who abuse (alcohol), no doubt about it, but I think it's a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana." -- Huffington Post, Feb. 13, 2014

"From my standpoint, I still have concerns about making it legal. I understand from the libertarian standpoint, the argument out there. I still have concerns. I'm not, unlike the President, I still have difficulty visualizing marijuana and alcohol in the same vein." -- CNN, Jan. 30, 2014

[Discussing a Wisconsin county sheriff who shares his position on marijuana legalization:] "Even there, the Democrat sheriff said to me last year when this issue came up, 'Whatever you do, please do not sign the legalization of marijuana.' This was a guy who spent his whole career in law enforcement. He was liberal on a whole lot of other issues. But he said it's a gateway drug." -- Wisconsin State Journal, March 31, 2015

Chris Christie, Grade: F

The New Jersey governor not only opposes marijuana legalization, but has spoken out repeatedly against states that have legalized it. He opposed the New Jersey medical marijuana law, which was passed before he became governor, and has hampered its effectiveness with strict limitations he has imposed.

Christie on marijuana policy:

"[Marijuana legalization]'s not gonna come while I'm here… See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there's head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it's just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there's no tax revenue that's worth that." -- International Business Times, July 25, 2014

[In response to the question,"If you were president, how would you treat states that have legalized marijuana?"] "Probably not well. Not well, but we'll see. We'll have to see what happens." -- Huffington Post, June 20, 2014

[When asked if he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized and regulated marijuana:] "Absolutely, I will crack down and not permit it." …

"States should not be permitted to sell it and profit [from legalizing marijuana]." -- Huffington Post, April 14, 2015

Rick Santorum, Grade: F

The former US senator from Pennsylvania rejects marijuana legalization for any purpose, does not believe states have the right to set their own pot policies, and supports enforcing federal drug laws even in states that have voted to legalize it.

Santorum on marijuana and drug policy:

"I think Colorado is violating the federal law. And if we have controlled substances, they're controlled substances for a reason. The federal law is there for a reason, and the states shouldn't have the option to violate federal law. As Abraham Lincoln said, you know, states don't have the right to wrong." -- HughHewitt.com, April 16, 2015

"The federal government does have a role in making sure that drug use -- that states don't go out and legalize drugs. That there are drugs that are hazardous to people, that do cause great harm to the individual as well as society to the whole. And the federal government has a role in making sure those drugs are not in this country and not available and that people who use them illegally are held accountable. Ideally states should enforce these laws but the federal government has a role because it is a public health issue for the country." -- Santorum campaign event, Jan. 9, 2012

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

Chronicle AM: WA Gets Big Bucks From First Year Pot Taxes, Synthetic Drugs Now Banned in NH, More (7/6/15)

Marijuana sales tax revenues exceeded expectations in Washington state, New Hampshire bans new synthetics, Colombia's FARC rebels say they're ready to move on implementing drug provisions of the long-negotiated peace plan, and more.

You can't sell or possess this stuff in New Hampshire anymore. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Collected $70 Million in Marijuana Taxes During Its First Year of Sales. As its first year of legal marijuana sales came to an end, state officials reported that pot sales had generated $70 million in tax revenues and that sales are now topping more than $1.4 million a day. The state had originally forecast it would take in about $36 million in marijuana taxes in the first year. More much at the link.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Governor Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) today signed into law Senate Bill 106, which bans the sale and possession of new synthetic drugs. Businesses that sell the drugs could be hit with fines and civil violations, while people caught in possession will have their drugs seized and be hit with a fine. The new law goes into effect immediately.

International

FARC Says It's Ready to Move Forward With Implementing Drug Provisions of Colombia Peace Plan. FARC negotiators in peace talks with the Colombian government said they were ready to agree on procedures necessary for implementing that part of the peace plan. "To establish the basis for building a stable and lasting peace it is necessary, among other things, to find a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, including the cultivation for illicit use and the production and commercialization of illicit drugs. One step in that direction, accompanied by other gestures of de-escalation, which in a short time may lead the parties to definitively suspend armed actions, would not only restore the confidence and credibility of the process but would also put it in a new place, safe from pressures and provocations of its enemies," said a communique read by FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, whose real name is Luis Antonio Losada. The agreement on drugs includes three provisions: crop substitution programs, public health efforts toward prevention, and dealing with drug trafficking.

Call for Ecstasy to Be Sold Over the Counter in Australia. A leading Australian pharmacist and a drug policy expert are calling for ecstasy to be sold legally to make it safer. Pharmacist Joshua Donelly, former chair of the Victoria drug policy drug policy advisory committee, and Professor David Pennington said most of the risks associated with ecstasy are a result of users taking adulterated black market pills. "Australians are one of the highest consumers of MDMA in the world, yet we resolutely resist exploring the fact that most of the uncommon ill consequences of its use arise from impurities in the illicitly manufactured drug and the 'illicit', uncontrolled circumstances of its use," Professor Penington said. Donnelly added that ecstasy caused "negligible" harm to users and people around them and was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Chronicle AM: Oregon Pot Sales Could Start in October; MT & NM Forfeiture Reforms in Effect, More (7/3/15)

Oregon is working to expedite the beginning of legal pot sales, Rand Paul rakes in the campaign cash at a pot industry confab in Denver, asset forfeiture reforms go into effect in Montana and New Mexico, law enforcement naloxone access goes into effect in Virginia, Colombia's coca crop jumps, and more.

Coca cultivation and potential cocaine production jumped last year in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature Okays Retail Marijuana Sales Beginning October 1. With a 40-19 vote in the House Thursday, the legislature has sent a bill temporarily allowing tax-free marijuana sales through existing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin October 1. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has not indicated whether she will sign it. If she doesn't, sales wouldn't begin until sometime next year.

Rand Paul Raises At Least $120,000 at Marijuana Industry Fundraiser in Denver. The Republican presidential contender pulled in the campaign cash at a private fundraising event at the National Cannabis Industry Association's Cannabis Business Summit. At least 40 people paid a minimum of $2,700 each to take part, and the Marijuana Policy Project also kicked in another $15,000. This is the first time a major presidential candidate has taken big money from the pot industry.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana, New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reforms Now in Effect. Both states passed reform bills earlier this year, and they went into effect July 1. The Montana law requires a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can proceed. The New Mexico law is even tougher. It abolished civil asset forfeiture outright. The New Mexico law also requires that all seizures go into the general fund, preventing them from being used as a law enforcement slush fund.

Harm Reduction

Virginia Law Allowing Cops to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Now in Effect. A series of bills approved by the General Assembly this year dealing with heroin and prescription opiate use went into effect July 1, including a provision that allows police officers to carry the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone. More than 3,000 Virginians have died of heroin overdoses in the past five years.

International

Big Increase in Colombian Coca Crop Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that Colombian coca cultivation jumped 44% last year, to about 430,000 acres. Potential cocaine production jumped from 290 tons in 2013 to 442 tons last year, an increase of 52%. Colombian officials said the increase showed the ineffectiveness of aerial eradication, which Colombia halted earlier this year after a UN agency linked the herbicide used in the spraying to cancer in humans.

Thai Anti-Drug Officials Prepare to Drug Test Entire Village. All 500 residents of the community of Suan Son Soi 9 are set to be drug tested next Friday after the Narcotics Suppression Bureau said recent inspections had found a seven-year-old child already using drugs and a mother who fed her infant child the mild stimulant drug kratom mixed with water.

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

ProCon.org: 192 Performance Enhancing Drugs That Are Banned From Sports

Posted in:

Did you know there are 192 drugs and methods that have banned from sports as "performance enhancing"? Read about it on SportsAndDrugs.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the fifth installment in a Drug War Chronicle "Did You Know" series of important facts from ProCon.org. Check out the Chronicle next two week to read the last installment, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's installment here.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Chronicle AM: Denver Activists Want Pot Social Clubs, Vancouver Cannabis Day Clashes, More (7/2/15)

Marijuana legalization comes with some additional sentencing reforms in Oregon, Denver activists roll out a pot social club initiative, Louisiana becomes the latest medical marijuana state, Vancouver cannabis clashes, and more. 

Cops and weed lovers squared off at Vancouver's Cannabis Day. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Governor Signs Legalization Implementation Law, Includes Sentencing Reform. Gov. Kathleen Brown Tuesday signed into law House Bill 3400, an omnibus bill designed to implement the Measure 91 legalization initiative approved by voters last November. In addition to implementing legalization, the new law reduces most marijuana felonies to misdemeanors or lesser felonies with significantly reduced sentences. These changes allow eligible persons with prior marijuana convictions to have their convictions set aside, sentences reduced, and records sealed. Click on the link for more details.

Denver Public Consumption Initiative Rolls Out. Some of the same folks who brought marijuana legalization to Colorado are now rolling out a Denver municipal initiative that would allow for limited public consumption of the weed. City officials today approved the final language for the measure, which would allow social use in businesses that choose to allow it. The initiative needs 4,700 valid voter signatures by September to qualify for the November ballot. Click on the link to read the initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) Monday signed into law Senate Bill 143, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. The law foresees an extensive regulatory process to select and supervise a state-authorized grower and 10 licensed distributors, but some advocates are concerned that the prescribing language will make the law meaningless. The DEA will pull prescribing privileges from doctors who prescribe marijuana, which is why other states say doctors can recommend it. The bill originally called for recommendations, but the language was changed at the behest of social conservative groups in the state.

Drug Policy

Jim Webb Talks Serious Drug Policy Reform. The former Navy secretary and US senator from Virginia formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Earlier this week, speaking before the National Sheriff's Association Conference, Webb suggested he supported decriminalizing drug use. "Just as in mental health issues, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to put someone in jail when they have a disease, when they have an illness, a physical illness," Webb said Tuesday. "There've got to be better ways for us to approach the issues of drug use in America. We didn't make cigarettes illegal," said Webb. "We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm."

International

After City Vows Crackdown, Clashes Mar Vancouver's Cannabis Day. The pro-pot event organized by Vancouver's first couple of cannabis, Marc and Jodie Emery, had gone on peacefully for two decades, attracting thousands to downtown Vancouver to celebrate the herb. But this year, the city tried to block the event, and when Cannabis Day rolled around, police were out in force. When they tried to arrest someone for allegedly selling pot to minors, a fracas broke out, with police deploying pepper spray and physical force. Four people ended up being arrested, and angry crowd trailed police down the street, blocking an intersection. "I’ve never seen the cops act so violent," said Jeremiah Vandermeer, a Cannabis Day organizer and editor-in-chief of Cannabis Culture magazine. "I’m shocked and appalled. This is horrifying behavior from the police, I’ve never seen anything like this," Vandermeer said. 

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

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