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Chronicle AM: US Gets More HIDTA Counties, Indiana Voters Ready for MedMJ, More... (10/15/16)

Los Angeles attempts to prepare for a new era, HIDTA gets an expansion, Indiana voters signal they are ready for medical marijuana, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new WTHR/HPI Indiana poll finds nearly three-quarters of likely Hoosier voters are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had 73% in support, with only 25% opposed. Even among Republicans, support was at 59%. Medical marijuana bills have been introduced, but have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Los Angeles Marijuana Regulation Initiative Qualifies for March 2017 Ballot. The Los Angeles Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act has qualified for the March 2017 ballot, the city clerk confirmed Thursday. A campaign led by the United Cannabis Business Alliance and the Citizens' Coalition to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods has collected enough validated signatures to qualify, the clerk said. The act would bring the city in compliance with new state medical marijuana regulations.

Law Enforcement

Drug Czar Designates More Counties as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli announced Thursday that an additional 18 counties have been granted the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation. That designation will allow them access to federal anti-drug resources granted to HIDTAs. Six counties were added to the Appalachian HIDTA, two to the New York/New Jersey HIDTA, four to the Ohio HIDTA, two to the Baltimore/Washington HIDTA, and six to the Wisconsin HIDTA. Created by Congress in 1988, there are now 28 HIDTAs located in 49 states, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.

International

Turkey Okays Cannabis Production in 19 Provinces. The Turkish Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry announced late last month that it will allow marijuana production in 19 provinces across the country "in a bid to combat illegal production." News reports are unclear about whether this refers to recreational or medical marijuana or industrial hemp.

Chronicle AM: Strong MD Legalization Poll, UT Gov Candidate Wife MedMJ Case, More... (10/14/16)

The bud business is booming in Boulder, Marylanders like marijuana legalization, another Michigan city legalizes weed, and more.

Maryland could go green if legislators listen to the voters. (Tumblr/Shanti's Favorites)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Pot Shop Sales Hit Another Record High. Legal marijuana shops, both recreational and medical, took in $126 million in sales in August, setting a new monthly record. The previous record was $122.7 million, set the month before.

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, up from 49% two years ago. Three-quarters (74%) of liberals, two-thirds (65%) of moderates, and nearly half (45%) of conservatives now support legalization.

East Lansing, Michigan, Legalizes Use and Possession of Up to An Ounce. The city of East Lansing has approved an ordinance legalizing the possession of up to an once by people 21 and over. Possession still remains a misdemeanor under state law, but local police say they normally don't arrest anyone for possession unless they are known drug dealers. Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing have all passed similar measures.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Amendment. The state's high court has rejected a bid by medical marijuana opponents to prevent state officials from counting votes for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, on the ballot as Issue 6. A competing medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Issue 7, is also on the ballot, but still faces a court challenge over signature submissions.

Feds Won't Prosecute Utah Governor Candidate's Wife, But State Will. Mike Weinholtz (D) is running for governor of Utah, and his wife is being prosecuted for medical marijuana offenses. Donna Weinholtz, who "uses marijuana to seek relief from chronic neck, back and knee pain brought on by arthritis," was the subject of a federal investigation after she got caught attempting to mail a package containing marijuana, but the feds have declined to prosecute, saying the case would more appropriately be handled by Utah authorities. The Tooele County prosecutor is moving forward with the case.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Prison guards go bad on a massive scale in Maryland, a Pennsylvania narc's police station overdose creates problems for his boss, an Iowa trooper cops to stealing pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the police chief was suspended last Friday after one of his officers broke through a wall into the evidence room, stole drugs, consumed them, and was found suffering an overdose on the police station floor. Police Chief Craig Foust knew about security problems with the evidence room and failed to act on them, leading to his suspension, the county prosecutor said. The officer who overdosed, William Slisz, is a multi-year veteran and member of the Cambria County Drug Task Force.

In New Britain, Connecticut, two New Britain police officers were suspended last Friday for interfering in a federal drug investigation. Officer Brian Shea and Brian Solek were suspended for 25 days after they engaged a drug suspect in a high-speed pursuit just after he had been involved in an under-surveillance fentanyl deal. The pair were aware of the federal probe and "directly jeopardized the integrity of the investigation," Police Chief James Wardwell said.

In Baltimore, 18 state prison guards were arrested last Wednesday in a massive bust that led to 80 arrests, including guards, prisoners, and "outside facilitators. Most are charged with orchestrating a vast smuggling operation into the Eastern Correctional Institution, the state's largest prison. Guards smuggled heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and suboxone in exchange for cash, money orders, and in some instances, sexual favors from inmates.

In Mason City, Iowa, a former Iowa State Patrol trooper pleaded guilty last Wednesday to stealing drugs from the evidence room. Michael Haugen, 32, admitted taking over $500 in pain pills by removing them from evidence bags and then altering the labels to cover up the thefts. He has agreed to plead guilty to tampering with official records and 3rd degree theft. Prosecutors are recommending a suspended sentence.

Medical Marijuana Update

With all eyes on the November elections, it's pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front. Minors get admitted to the program in Connecticut, and, speaking of the elections, we have news from Florida.

Connecticut

Last Thursday, minors became eligible to qualify for medical marijuana. Under changes in the state's medical marijuana system that went into effect this week, minors with certain specified conditions can now enroll in the program. Those conditions include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, irreversible spinal cord injury with intractable spasticity, severe epilepsy, intractable seizure disorders, and terminal illness.

Florida

On Monday, money was flowing into the state over the medical marijuana initiative. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson kicked in another $500,000 in the last week of September to help defeat the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative. That brings Adelson's total for the campaign to $1.5 million. He kicked in $5.5 million to defeat a similar proposal in 2014. All told, the opposition raised $560,000 in the last week of September. Meanwhile, Amendment 2 backers took in $1.07 million in the same period, all but $7,000 from the New Approach PAC. Florida attorney John Morgan has also kicked in $2.3 million of his own money. The no side spent more than $700,000 last week, mainly on TV ads, while the yes side spent $326,000.

On Wednesday, a new poll had the initiative winning big. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.

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

Chronicle AM: DEA Kratom Ban Retreat, France's First Supervised Injection Site, More... (10/12/16)

A new Pew poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57% nationwide, the DEA is forced to back away from its kratom ban, France opens its first supervised injection site, and more.

In a historic move, the DEA was forced to back away from enacting an emergency ban on kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Legalization. A new Pew Research Center poll released today has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 57%, with 37% opposed. A recent Gallup poll had it at 58%. Pew says the numbers show that public opinion on the issue has flipped in the past decade. In 2006, only 32% supported legalization, with 60% opposed.

Delaware Legislator Vows to File Legalization Bill Next Year. State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), the Senate majority whip, said she will introduce a pot legalization bill in January. "It's certainly being considered. It's going to be an uphill battle," Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. "But it's time, quite frankly. It's time to certainly look at it."

Nevada's Largest Labor Union Endorses Legalization Initiative. Culinary Union Local 226, the largest labor union in the state, is getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. The union represents some 60,000 workers in the Silver State.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll Has Initiative With Strong Lead. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.

Kratom

In Unprecedented Move, DEA Backs Away from Kratom Ban -- At Least for Now. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has posted a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is withdrawing its plans to ban kratom using emergency scheduling powers. The DEA instead is opening a public comment period ending December 1st. The official notice indicates that comments received by the DEA will be considered -- along with formal input from the Food and Drug Administration -- before a determination is made about scheduling kratom. The DEA's proposed ban on kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently by millions in the US, was anticipated to go in effect as early as September 30. The DEA retreat came amidst enormous pressure on the agency from the public and lawmakers to halt the ban.

International

France's First Supervised Injection Site is Open for Business. France has now joined a growing list of European countries that operate supervised injection facilities for drug users. After the Socialist government pushed through legislation allowing them last year, the first one in France opened Tuesday near Paris's Gare du Nord train station.

Peru Renews Military Operations in Key Coca Growing Area. The Peruvian government announced last week that it is declaring a 60-day state of emergency in parts of the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a key coca producing region. The area had been under a state of emergency for 30 years until last year, when the government ended it after capturing several Shining Path operatives. But now, the military is back with twin briefs to fight drug trafficking and "narcoterrorism."

Cayman Island Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill.Lawmakers in the Caribbean island nation voted Monday to legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The measure still faces one final vote, and could require some tweaking before such medicines become available. No one in the Cayman Islands produces CBD cannabis oil, and it could be problematic to try to import it from the US because of federal marijuana prohibition.

A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

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

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Weed is Going to Win Big in November [FEATURE]

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

A month out from Election Day, it's looking like marijuana legalization is going to be a big winner. Initiatives are on the ballot in five states, including California, and all indications are that they are going to pass in all of them, with one possible exception.

In what is the closest thing ever to a national referendum on weed, states on the West Coast, in the Southwest, and in New England with a total of more than 55 million residents will be rendering their verdict. That's about one-sixth of the national population.

The four states that have already legalized marijuana -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- have about 17 ½ million residents. Even if California were the only state to see a victorious legalization initiative -- and it very likely won't be -- victory there would triple the number of people living in pot-legal states. A clean sweep would quadruple it.

Nationally, attitudes toward marijuana have undergone a sea change in recent years. Gallup's annual polls show that only a decade ago, support for legalization was at a mere 36%. But by 2012, when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize it, nationwide support had climbed to 50%, and by 2014, when Alaska and Oregon (and Washington, DC) followed suit, it was at 58%. It blipped down last year in the Gallup poll, but this year, it's back to 58% again.

The national polls are encouraging, but just as in the presidential race, they don't really matter when it comes to the nitty-gritty of winning state-level elections. What does matter are the state level polls, and at this point, they're looking pretty damned good for legal weed.

And a good November for marijuana legalization could be the turning point on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition. Championing an end to federal pot prohibition has been a lonely stance so far -- thanks, Bernie Sanders! -- but with more states, and especially California, set to go legal next month, the next Congress is going to have a considerable contingent of members whose constituents have already embraced legalization.

Now, the votes haven't been cast yet, there are opposition campaigns of varying strength in the different states, and there are untoward surprises that could happen -- say, a teenager on pot runs over a bunch of school kids -- but as we enter the final weeks of the campaign season, it's increasingly looking like weed is going to win big.

Here's the state-by-state rundown:

Arizona

This is the tightest race, with the Prop 205 legalization initiative leading by 10 points, but only hitting 50% in an August Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll. Other recent polls have showed the initiative narrowly losing. Voters in this red state approved medical marijuana in 2010, but only by the narrowest of margins. If legalization can pass in Arizona this year, that will be a real sign that support for prohibition is crumbling.

Still, the initiative faces a vigorous and well-funded opposition campaign led by state officials, and it has more money in the bank right now than the pro-legalization forces. The Prop 205 campaign has raised more money than the opposition ($3.2 million versus $2 million), but the opposition still has $1.4 million to do damage, while the legalizers only have $170,000 in cash on hand.

California

The Big Enchilada is ready to pop out of the oven. California tried to be first out of the gate with 2010's Prop 19, but it came up just a few points short. This time will be different. Polls this year have consistently shown support for the Prop 64 legalization initiative at over 50% and mostly in the upper fifties. The latest poll, a September survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, had support at 60%. An August poll that did not ask specifically about Prop 64 but asked whether respondents believed "marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally" garnered 64% support.

Support for legalization has gone mainstream in California, with the initiative campaign fronted by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), endorsed by the state Democratic Party (among many others), several sitting US representatives, and leading newspapers in the state, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

And the initiative campaign has big, big bucks. Yes on 64 has raised more than $20 million, including more than $7 million from tech billionaire and philanthropist Sean Parker and has a war chest of more than $14 million. The campaign has committed nearly $7 million to campaign TV ads that began airing last week, and that leaves a big, fat bankroll for any last minute expenditures. The opposition, on the other hand, has raised only a fraction as much money, mainly from law enforcement groups and conservative philanthropists.

The Golden State is going green next month.

Maine

New England aims to become the first region outside the West to embrace legal weed, and it's looking like Maine's Question 1 legalization initiative will help lead the charge. A March poll had support at 54%, while a Portland Press Herald poll two weeks ago had it at 53%. Only 38% were opposed, and the number of undecideds is smaller than the gap between "yes" and "no" votes.

There is virtually no organized opposition, nor any sign of opposition fundraising. And the Question 1 campaign had $1.7 million in the bank last month. That's plenty of money for last-minute ad buys in a small-market state.

Massachusetts

The Bay State is the second New England state poised to go green this year, with the Question 4 legalization initiative polling at 53% in a new WBZ-TV/ UMass Amherst poll. Only 40% were opposed. Voting for marijuana reform is nothing new for Massachusetts residents: A series of non-binding district level public policy questions on pot law reform has won an unbroken string of victories since 2002 and voters approved both medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization (2012) by nearly two-to-one margins.

Support for marijuana reform has typically outpaced the polls. When, for instance, voters approved medical marijuana with 63% of the vote in 2012, the last polls before election day had it only at 58%.

There is a serious bipartisan organized opposition campaign underway that includes both Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), along with the usual suspects in law enforcement and some of the medical establishment. The opposition has been up to some dirty dealing and is getting some support from local alcohol interests.

There is some cause for concern with the state of campaign finances, though. While the pro-legalization side has out-fundraised the opposition by a wide margin -- $2.4 million to $363,000 -- the opposition still has $320,000 in the bank, while legalizers had only $22,000 left in mid-September. That could mean a late onslaught of unanswered attack ads.

Nevada

Just across the Sierra Nevada from California, the Silver State looks to be catching green fever, too. The Question 2 legalization initiative appears to be pulling away. Earlier polls had support hovering around 50%, but a KTNV/Rasmussen Reports poll last month had support at 53%, and the most recent poll, just two weeks ago from Suffolk University, had support rising to 57%, with only 33% opposed. That's a huge gap.

Organized opposition has been all but invisible, with No on 2 campaigns reporting having received only $30,000 by mid-summer. That could have changed since then, but there is no sign of any big cash infusions by the opposition side. Conservative Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal and managed to flip its editorial stance from "pro" to "con" earlier this year, but even the state's largest newspaper doesn't seem to carry enough weight to defeat legalization.

Meanwhile, the Yes on 2 campaign has raised over a million dollars, locked in $900,000 in TV ad buys back in June, has billboards up, and is ready to hit the airwaves in these final weeks.

Chronicle AM: Vatican Restates Opposition to Legalization, Worrisome AZ Poll, More... (10/10/16)

The Pope says nope to dope, an Arizona poll has the marijuana legalization initiative trailing, big bucks are flowing in the Florida medical marijuana battle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Trailing. For the second time in as many months, a poll from OH Predictive Insights has the Prop 205 legalization initiative losing. An end of August poll from the group had 40% in favor and 51% opposed, while a new end of September poll had 43% in favor and 47% opposed. Other recent polls have the initiative faring better, such as an August Arizona Republic poll that had it at 50%, with 40% opposed.

Poll Finds New Mexicans Ready to Legalize It. An Albuquerque Journal poll released over the weekend has support for generic marijuana legalization at 61%. If respondents over 65 are excluded, that number jumps to a whopping 82%.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Battle Seeing Huge Cash Flows. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson kicked in another $500,000 in the last week of September to help defeat the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative. That brings Adelson's total for the campaign to $1.5 million. He kicked in $5.5 million to defeat a similar proposal in 2014. All told, the opposition raised $560,000 in the last week of September. Meanwhile, Amendment 2 backers took in $1.07 million in the same period, all but $7,000 from the New Approach PAC. Florida attorney John Morgan has also kicked in $2.3 million of his own money. The no side spent more than $700,000 last week, mainly on TV ads, while the yes side spent $326,000.

Kratom

American Kratom Association Seeks Legal Help. Faced with an impending -- but indefinitely delayed -- move by the DEA to place kratom on Schedule I as an emergency measure, the group is seeking legal assistance. "If you are a law student, Paralegal, Attorney, Law Teacher or Professor We Need You Now! We've come a long way in such a short amount of time; the push back on the DEA from our Congressional allies, the media and all of you, has been nothing short of phenomenal. But our fight is nowhere near over. We are forming a team to execute our legal strategy should the DEA move forward with this unconstitutional action on Kratom. We are ready with a few powerful arguments, and we must to be ready to go the full distance. This will not be a one round fight. We need people well versed in constitutional law, professors, teachers, lawyers, qualified
paralegals and law students to form a voluntary working group to assist us and support our fight for the long term. A group to help, with the legal arguments our lawyers have already presented, to take this all the way to the SUPREME COURT if we have to!!! If you have these skills, are you willing to help us make history? If so, please email Robin Graham at robin.graham@americankratom.org. Please be prepared to submit a resume and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Please feel free to share this email with anyone that may be able to help us in this fight."

International

Vatican Reiterates Opposition to Drug Legalization. In a speech last Thursday, the Vatican reaffirmed its opposition to legalizing drug use as a means of fighting addiction. "The Holy See believes that the fight against the drug problem must be guided by the fundamental principles of respect for human dignity, of the primacy of prevention, and of the role of the family as a bulwark for both drug prevention and addiction treatment," Archbishop Bernardito Auza said. But not drug legalization: "My delegation wishes to reaffirm the Holy See's opposition to legalizing drug use as a means to fight drug addiction. As Pope Francis stated in his June 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome, 'The fight against drugs cannot be won with drugs. Drugs are an evil, and with evil there can be neither surrender nor compromise.'"

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, Filipinos Like Duterte's Drug War, More... (10/7/16)

The president continues granting clemency to federal drug war prisoners, Iran executes more drug prisoners, Filipinos approve of their president's dirty, deadly drug war, and more.

Thanks, Obama! (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Minors Can Now Qualify for Medical Marijuana. Under changes in the state's medical marijuana system that went into effect this week, minors with certain specified conditions can now enroll in the program. Those conditions include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, irreversible spinal cord injury with intractable spasticity, severe epilepsy, intractable seizure disorders, and terminal illness.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Civil Asset Forfeiture Law Challenged in New Lawsuit. The Institute of Justice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an elderly Washington state couple who loaned their car to their adult son so he could drive to Florida, but had their vehicle seized after the son was arrested in Arizona with a "personal use quantity" of marijuana. The state's asset forfeiture laws are unconstitutional, the lawsuit alleges. This case was filed against the sheriff of Navaho County. The ACLU of Arizona is pursuing a similar case in Pimal County.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Commutes Sentences of 102 More Drug War Prisoners. President Obama Friday granted clemency to another 102 imprisoned federal drug offenders, bring the total so far to 774. Obama has now freed more prisoners that the previous 11 presidents combined, but advocates want him to do more. "The President is doing the right thing, but we hope to see many more commutations," said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We also need Congress to remain engaged on this issue." Congress has pending sentencing reform bills before it.

International

Iran Hangs Seven More for Drug Offenses. Even as the parliament considers ending the death penalty for drug offenses, executions continue apace. Seven prisoners were hanged in late September for drug offenses at Minab's Central Prison. Last year, drug offenders accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 970 people executed in the Islamic Republic.

Filipinos Overwhelmingly Approve of Duterte's Deadly Drug War. A national opinion poll finds that 84% of Filipinos surveyed said they were satisfied or moderately satisfied with the president's harsh anti-drug campaign, which has left more than a thousand people killed by police and twice that number killed by vigilantes. Some 94%, though, said suspects should be brought to trial alive, but despite Duterte's call for killing them, most respondents still rated his efforts as "excellent."

Chronicle AM: MA Init Leads in New Poll, Iran Ponders End to Drug Death Penalty, More... (10/6/16)

We have Massachusetts legalization news today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gets slapped down in his bid to drug test food stamp applicants, Iran's parliament ponders ending the death penalty for drugs, and more.

It looks like another bumper opium harvest next spring in Afghanistan. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Another Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new Western New England University Polling Institute poll has the Question 4 leading a month out from election day. The poll had support at 55% among all registered voters, with 39% opposed. When it came to likely voters, the initiative's lead shrunk slightly, with 52% in support and 42% opposed.

Massachusetts ACLU Report Highlights Continuing Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. Even after decriminalization, people continue to get arrested for marijuana offenses, especially if they're black, a new ACLU report has found. Black Massachusetts residents were 3.3 times more likely to get popped for pot than white ones even though they use it at the same rate. For marijuana sales offenses, the disparity was even more striking: Blacks were 7.1 times more likely than whites to get busted for peddling pot. "Racial disparities are a disturbing feature of our current marijuana policy. Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 10 times the rate of white people in some counties -- despite the fact that black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate," ACLU Racial Justice Director Rahsaan Hall says in a prepared statement. "Taxing and regulating marijuana is an important step towards reducing the harm that current policies cause to people of color, particularly Black people, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested in our communities."

Drug Testing

Federal Court Rejects Wisconsin's Bid to Drug Test Food Stamp Applicants. A federal judge in Washington has rejected a challenge from Gov. Scott Walker (R) to a federal law that blocks states from drug testing food stamp applicants. Walker had challenged the policy last year as he launched a doomed presidential bid, but the federal judge ruled that Wisconsin filed its complaint too soon, before it had actually implemented the policy, and without giving the Obama administration a chance to formally reject it.

International

Afghan Opium Production Expands to Near Record Levels. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production this year to one of the highest levels on record. Illicit cultivation has expanded to nearly half a million acres, making it one of the biggest years for poppy since 1994, when the UNODC began estimating the crop size. The all-time record is about 600,000 acres, reported in 2014.

Iraqi Forces Burn ISIS Opium Poppy Crop. Iraqi security forces Wednesday burned a four square acre field planted with opium poppies belonging to ISIS in Salahuddin province. The move was described as an effort to cut ISIS financing through the opium and heroin trade. Iraqi officials said ISIS used laboratories at Mosul University to process the raw opium into heroin.

Iran Moving to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses. One of the world's leading drug executioners may be about the change its ways. A bill that would end capital punishment for drug trafficking now has the support of a majority in the parliament. If the parliament actually approves the bill, it would have to be ratified by the Guardian Council of Islamic jurists, which has opposed any relaxation of the country's death penalty regime. But executing drug smugglers "will not benefit the people or the country," said Yahya Kamalpur, deputy head of the parliamentary legal and judicial committee. Parliament "wants to eliminate the death penalty for criminals who [smuggle narcotics] out of desperation" and replace it with long prison sentences or hard labor. We are after a scientific and not emotional solution in confronting drug smugglers," he said.

Danes to Consider Bill Easing Marijuana-Impaired Driving Rules. A bill filed in the parliament this week would the country's zero tolerance policy toward drivers with marijuana in their systems in favor of a "stepladder" approach in which the penalty for driving while impaired would depend on the level of marijuana in the driver's system. Under current law, driving with marijuana in one's system can result in the loss of a driver's license for three years. That's too much for bill sponsor Jan Jorgensen of the Liberal Party. "You can actually drive pretty well, even after having smoked hash. There is obviously a limit to how much, but we believe a minimum threshold should be introduced now," he said. "The problem is that we have punished a lot of people who have not been of any danger to traffic at all, simply because they might have smoked marijuana a fortnight ago, and it still could be measured in the blood."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Louisiana cops go down in a contraband cigarette conspiracy, a Massachusetts narc gets suspended for threatening to plant dope on a teenager, a Tennessee chief deputy gets popped for stealing from the drug fund, and more. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, two New Orleans police officers and an Orleans County sheriff's deputy were arrested last Wednesday for their roles in an interstate cigarette smuggling conspiracy. Officers Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon and Deputy Garrett Partman are accused of accepting bribes and agreeing to protect shipments of contraband smokes across state lines. The conspiracy involved at least 15,000 cartons of cigarettes from North Carolina, where taxes are low. The trio, along with three civilians arrested in the scheme, face a host of charges, including conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes, evading federal excise tax, and interstate transportation in aid of a racketeering enterprise.

In Monroe, Washington, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly accepting bribes to smuggle meth into the prison. Guard Michael Bowden, 31, went down after an FBI investigation using confidential sources turned up information he was accepting bribes and then created a sting where Bowden thought he was carrying meth into the prison. He is charged with three counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of attempted distribution of methamphetamine.

In Jackson, Tennessee, a former Wayne County chief deputy was arrested last Friday on charges he stole more than $7,700 from the department, including money from the agency's drug buy fund. Gerald Baer, 62, now faces two counts of theft over $1,000, 111 counts of forgery, and one count of official misconduct. He's now out on $75,000 bond.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, a Springfield narcotics detective was suspended Monday for threatening to kill and plant drugs on two teenagers who stole an unmarked police car. Detective Greg Bigda is suspended for 60 days after video of his encounter with the youths showed he threatened to crush the skull of one of the teens and plant a kilo of cocaine in his pocket. Local defense attorneys are now using the video to impeach Bigda's testimony in pending drug cases, and two cases have already been dropped. Bigda has not been charged with any crime, but the Hampden District Attorney continues to investigate the incident.

Medical Marijuana Update

Chelsea Clinton retracts an errant statement, a California bill creating a "micro farm" license for ma-and-pa growers is signed into law, Massachusetts moves toward being more patient-friendly, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a spokesman conceded that Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" about the risk of marijuana fatalities. Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" when she suggested that using medical marijuana along with other medications could be fatal, a spokeswoman has conceded. "While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths," the spokeswoman said. While campaigning for her mother, the former first daughter told students at Youngstown State University in Ohio over the weekend that "some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medicinal] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."

California

Last Thursday, the governor signed the medical marijuana "micro farmer" bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, regulators proposed expansions in the medical marijuana program. The Department of Public Health has submitted a collection of proposed changes to the Public Health Council. The proposals include allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients and allowing dispensaries to post prices online. Allowing nurse practitioners to certify would boost patient numbers and allowing online price posting should encourage competition and drive prices down, the department said.

Utah

On Monday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll finds strong support for medical marijuana, with nearly two-thirds (63%) in favor. A medical marijuana bill failed earlier this year after the Mormon Church warned it could do more harm than good, but expect another one to be filed next year. Utahns may be down with medical marijuana, but they don't go for legalization. Only 22% were prepared to endorse that.

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

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

Chronicle AM: CA Legalization Ads Roll Out, NFL Bans "Synthetic Marijuana," More... (10/6/16)

Tennessee's two largest cities have semi-decriminalized small-time marijuana possession, California pro-legalization ads roll out, the NFL bans "fake weed," and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Marijuana Legalization Ads Hit the Airwaves Statewide. TV ads in support of marijuana legalization hit the airwaves Monday up and down the state of California. The campaign's ads in support of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, are running on both broadcast and cable channels. The first ad highlights in a straightforward way how the tough restrictions will keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. It explains how only adults 21 and older will be allowed to purchase at licensed businesses. The initiative bans ads directed at kids, there are strict labeling and child proof packaging and would ban edibles that appeal to children. The second ad also reinforces that marijuana will only be legal for adults over 21 and bans marijuana use in public. The ad also explains that the money in new revenue will fund after school job training and placement initiatives.

Maine ACLU Endorses Legalization Initiative."Legalizing, regulating and taxing the use of marijuana by adults 21 and older will bring a new approach to our marijuana laws, making them more fair, more compassionate and better at improving public health and increasing public safety. For those reasons, the ACLU endorses a 'yes' vote on Question 1 in November, wrote ACLU of Maine executive director Alison Beyea.

Memphis Decriminalizes (Sort of). The Memphis city council Tuesday night voted 7-6 to approve an ordinance that gives police the discretion to issue a fine instead of arresting people possessing less than a half ounce of marijuana. Nashville approved a similar ordinance last month. Full decriminalization would make the penalty for small-time possession only a fine and would not give police officers the ability to choose which offenders get ticketed and which get arrested.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Regulators Propose Expansions in Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Public Health has submitted a collection of proposed changes to the Public Health Council. The proposals include allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients and allowing dispensaries to post prices online. Allowing nurse practitioners to certify would boost patient numbers and allowing online price posting should encourage competition and drive prices down, the department said.

New Psychoactive Substances

NFL Bans "Synthetic Marijuana". The National Football League has added synthetic cannabinoids ("fake weed") to its list of banned substances in an agreement with the NFL Players Association announced Wednesday. Players whose drug tests reveal more than 2.5 nanograms per milliliter of synthetic cannabinoids will be considered in violation of the league's drug policies and subject to intervention and discipline.

Chronicle AM: DEA Cuts Prescription Opioid Production Quotas, Legal Pot Sales Keep Getting Higher, More... (10/4/16)

The campaign ads start rolling out in Maine and Massachusetts, legal pot sales keep getting higher, the DEA cuts quotas for prescription opioid manufacturing, and more.

The maker of Suboxone is accused of price gouging and patent manipulation. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Pot Sales Keep Going Up, Up, Up. This year is on track to be another record-setter when it comes to legal marijuana sales. A new report from the financial services company Convergex finds that sales growth at legal pot shops in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington was "impressive." Through July, Colorado has already done $458.7 million in revenues, while Washington has come in at $415.8 million through August. The Colorado figure is only 20% below the total for all of 2015, while the Washington figure already exceeds sales for all of last year. Oregon dispensaries reported $42.4 million in retail sales in June and July.

New England Legalization Initiatives Launch First TV Ads. The Question 1 campaign in Maine and the Question 4 campaign in Massachusetts both rolled out their first television ads Monday. The Massachusetts ads feature a former Boston police officer who is now a criminal justice professor, while the Maine ad also features a former law enforcement official, former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Reduces Amount of Opioid Controlled Substances. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is reducing quotas for the amount of Schedule II opiates and opioid medications that can be produced in the US next year by 25% or more. DEA said it is responding to decreased demand for these substances, based on reduced prescribing of them. The quota has been cut by 25% for oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and other such medications and a whopping 66% for hydrocodone.

Thirty-Five States and DC Sue Suboxone Maker Over Price Gouging. Illinois is among the 35 states and the District of Columbia that have filed a lawsuit against the drugmaker Indivior over its maneuvers to keep a monopoly on the market for Suboxone, which is used to treat patients addicted to heroin and other opioids. The lawsuit charges that Indivior changed Suboxone from a tablet to a dissolving film only in order to get a new patent that would protect it from competition and allow it to charge exorbitant prices. The company has made over a billion dollars in annual sales every year since 2009, when the original patent was set to expire. "These companies rigged a system to ensure they profited at the expense of the people who depended on this drug to treat and recover from addiction," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.

Chronicle AM: OR MJ Shops Open for Business, NV Question 2 Polling Strongly, More... (10/3/16)

We're little more than a month out from election day and Nevada is looking good, Arizona legalization foes have a big war chest, Germany okays its first medical marijuana patient grow, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Foes Have Big War Chest. The organized opposition to the Prop 205 legalization initiative is well-positioned to do damage in the final weeks leading up to election day. According to financial reports filed with the secretary of state's office, the anti-205 Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has more than $1.4 million in the bank right now, while the pro-Prop 205 forces have only $170,000 on hand. The pro forces have raised more money ($3.2 million versus $2 million), but they've already spent most of it.

Nevada Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning Handily. A new Suffolk University poll has the Question 2 legalization initiative favored by 57% of respondents, with only 33% opposed. That's up from the same poll in August, which had 48% in support and 42% opposed.

Oregon's Recreational Pot Shops Are Now Open for Business. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced last Friday it had approved licenses for 26 marijuana retailers. Until now, medical marijuana dispensaries had also served recreational users. But now, with pot shops opening, dispensaries will only be allowed to sell to patients after December 31.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll finds strong support for medical marijuana, with nearly two-thirds (63%) in favor. A medical marijuana bill failed earlier this year after the Mormon Church warned it could do more harm than good, but expect another one to be filed next year. Utahns may be down with medical marijuana, but they don't go for legalization. Only 22% were prepared to endorse that.

International

Germany Okays First Medical Marijuana Patient Grow. The federal agency for medicines and health products for the first time granted a patient the right to grow his own medical marijuana plants last week. The patient already has permission to obtain cannabis through a pharmacy, but he cannot afford to buy enough to treat himself. This could be a stop-gap measure, though; the government has crafted a law that makes medical marijuana available by prescription and covered by health insurance. The patient's ability to continue to grow his own will depend on showing that health insurance has not covered his costs.

Sinaloa Cartel Blamed for Attack That Left Five Mexican Soldiers Dead. In the worst attack on the military in more than a year, attackers believed to be Sinaloa Cartel gunmen ambushed a military convoy on the outskirts of Culiacan, leaving two military vehicles burned out and the bodies of soldiers strewn across the highway. The attack left five soldiers dead and freed a wounded cartel figure being transported in an ambulance being guarded by the convoy.

Chronicle AM: Kratom Ban Delayed (But Still Coming), Mad Drug Arrest Binge in Indy, More... (9/30/16)

California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.

Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Marijuana Policy

Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.

Kratom

DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.

Asset Forfeiture

California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.

Law Enforcement

Family of Massachusetts Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid Awarded $3.75 Million. The town of Framingham has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit in the death of Eurie Stamps, 68, who was shot and killed by a Framingham police officer as he laid on the floor of his home complying with officers' demands. It was the killing of Stamps that inspired the Chronicle's tracking of drug war deaths, a work now in its sixth year.

Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.

Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."

Chronicle AM: Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" on MJ Dangers, NYC Safe Injection Sites?, More... (9/29/16)

No, medical marijuana doesn't kill patients, Chelsea Clinton's spokeswoman admits, New York City is about to embark on a study of supervised injection facilities, and more.

The InSite supervised injection facility in Vancouver. New York City will study whether to have them, too. (vch.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Chelsea Clinton "Misspoke" About Risk of Marijuana Fatalities. Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" when she suggested that using medical marijuana along with other medications could be fatal, a spokeswoman has conceded. "While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths," the spokeswoman said. While campaigning for her mother, the former first daughter told students at Youngstown State University in Ohio over the weekend that "some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medicinal] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."

Harm Reduction

New York City to Study Supervised Injection Facilities. The city council has agreed to fund a $100,000 study into the pros and cons of supervised injection facilities. "The Council's new supervised injection impact study will assess the feasibility and impact of New York City having a program that provides a safe, clean haven to high-risk, vulnerable New Yorkers and will help prevent drug overdoses and disease transmissions, "Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said after passage of the proposal.

Law Enforcement

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Subject Heroin Spiked with Fentanyl Dealers to the Death Penalty. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) has filed a bill that would allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for dealers linked to an overdose death caused by heroin laced with fentanyl. The measure is HR 6158, the Help Ensure Lives are Protected (HELP) Act. The move was quickly criticized by drug reform advocates. "This bill is a doubling down on the very ineffective, harsh and punitive policies that characterized the early war on drugs and which have widely been proven ineffective at reducing drug use," said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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

Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban [FEATURE]

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

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is headed for Schedule I (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powers in announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses "an imminent hazard to public safety," citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That's what sparked Monday's letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders," reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). "This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

"The DEA's decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions -- a significant public health threat," they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead "engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters."

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

Kratom capsules (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

"I didn't really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night," she said Tuesday. "Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization."

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing "our darkest hour," Ash said. "Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition."

"Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences," said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. "The DEA's move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant's uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction."

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn't trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the "holy grail" of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn't kill users and doesn't get them addicted.

"Our research shows that mitragynine and its analogs activate the opioid receptors in a unique way compared to morphine or oxycodone," said Dr. Andrew Kruegel, one of the Columbia researchers. "They activate a certain protein pathway while avoiding other pathways, and that gives you a better safety profile, mostly for respiratory depression. The scientific data is consistent with an improved safety profile from the alkaloids and suggestive of the same with the raw plant," he explained.

"This new prohibition will really restrict our ability to purse new opioid painkillers based on alkaloids and new safer drugs for pain," Kruegel said.

And then some, DPA's Davies added.

"Placing kratom in Schedule I would place regulatory and funding barriers in front of research, drive users into the black market, and leave them facing lengthy prison terms," he said. "It's troubling that the DEA is moving hastily to criminalize kratom at the same time Congress and the president have been made sentencing reform a priority this year and when communities are grappling with unprecedented rates of heroin and opioid overdoses, the DEA is threatening to punish people for using it instead of potent pharmaceutical preparations. Kratom has a role to play in mitigating the opioid crisis."

But not if the DEA refuses to budge from its ban plan. If the DEA cannot be moved, kratom is illegal as of this coming Friday.

Medical Marijuana Update

No medical marijuana for Missouri this year, polling looks good for the Florida initiative and tense for competing Arkansas initiatives, Colorado moves toward adding PTSD as a qualifying condition, and more.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state's highest court threw out a challenge to a medical marijuana initiative. The state Supreme Court has rejected a bid to throw the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (Question 7) off the November ballot. Foes had challenged the initiative's ballot language, but the high court said they had not proven it was insufficient. Two court challenges remain, one against Question 7 and one against the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Question 6), both of which have qualified for the ballot.

On Sunday, Aa new poll showed a tough fight ahead for medical marijuana initiatives shows the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) with 36% in support, 53% opposed, and 11% undecided. "Arkansas voters do appear to distinguish between the two medical marijuana proposals, according to our survey," said pollster Roby. A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has 73% of voters favoring the Amendment 2

Missouri

Last Wednesday, the medical marijuana initiative lost its bid to make the ballot about 2,000 signatures short of qualifying.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Will Not Make November Ballot. A Cole County circuit court judge has ruled against overturning petition signatures ruled invalid by local officials. New Approach Missouri came out just shy of valid signatures after local election officials denied about 10,700 signatures, leaving their initiative about 2,000 signatures short of qualifying.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Texas border town cop gets nailed for helping a cartel, an Indiana cop prepares to head to federal prison for peddling dope in uniform, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lawton, Oklahoma, a Lawton Correctional Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday for smuggling methamphetamine into the prison. Darnell Buckley apparently ratted himself out, showing Lawton police where he had hidden 204 grams of speed. He also admitted that he was being paid money to smuggle the drugs in. He is charged with trafficking illegal drugs.

In Rio Grande City, Texas, a Rio Grande City police detective was arrested last Thursday for allegedly helping a drug cartel smuggle hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the US over a period of years by staging fake drug busts. Detective Ramon De La Cruz allegedly conspired with the Beltran Cartel to stage drug seizures and provide confidential police information to the gang. De La Cruz would allegedly set up busts where only some of the stash was seized, letting the rest get away.

In Brewton, Alabama, a Holman Correctional Facility guard was arrested Sunday for trying to smuggle illegal contraband into the prison. DeJuan Rudolph, 25, got caught with drugs, cell phones, and other contraband as he came to work. He is charged with trafficking cocaine, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, attempting to commit a controlled substance crime, and use of a position for personal gain.

In Indianapolis, a former Anderson police officer was sentenced Monday to eight months in federal prison for selling drugs while on duty and in uniform. Donald Jordan had been charged with one count each of possession with intent to distribute Xanax and hydrocodone and pleaded guilty. He went down last December following a year-long investigation after he sold drugs to a snitch and an undercover FBI agent.

Chronicle AM: CA "Doctor Shopping" Law, Strong FL MedMJ Polling, Iran Executions More... (9/28/16)

The polls are looking good in Florida and Massachusetts, California's governor signs a mandatory prescription monitoring bill, Iran executes more drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Nurses Endorse Legalization Initiative. The California Nurses Association has formally endorsed the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety, "Deborah Burger, the organization's president said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "On balance, Proposition 64 is significantly better for public health and safety than the broken status quo, and we are pleased to endorse it,"she added. The California Medical Association has also endorsed Prop 64; the California Hospitals Association opposes it.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Favored in New Poll. A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll has the Question 4 legalization initiative favored by 53% of respondents, with 40% opposed and 7% undecided. Of demographic groups, only voters over 55 and self-described conservatives opposed the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Cruising to Victory in New Poll. A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has 73% of voters favoring the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative, with only 22% opposed. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to pass, but it is polling well beyond that.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 482, aimed at preventing "doctor shopping." The new law requires doctors to check a database of prescription drug prescriptions before writing prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs. The state already has an electronic prescription database, but until now it's use has been optional. The new law will go into effect in six months.

International

Iran Hangs Five More Drug Offenders. Iranian authorities executed four drug prisoners at Tabriz Central Prison on Saturday and one more at Taybad Prison on Sunday. Their names were Abdolkarim Bapiri, Mehdi Molaie, Salah Ghaderian, Ali Mohtabipour, and Hadi Oskouie. In recent years, Iran has executed hundreds of drug offenders each year.

The Charlotte Killing That Sparked Civic Unrest Began With a Joint

The chain of events that led to the death of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department (CMPD) officers and days of civic unrest in North Carolina's largest city began with a joint, Charlotte police said Saturday.

the fateful, fatal joint (CMPD)
That makes Scott the 38th person to die in domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In an official statement posted on the CMPD's Facebook page and during a press conference last Saturday afternoon announcing that the department was releasing some police body- and dash-cam videos of the fatal encounter, Charlotte police laid out a timeline of what occurred:

Two plain clothes officers were sitting inside of their unmarked police vehicle preparing to serve an arrest warrant in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs, when a white SUV pulled in and parked beside of them.

The officers observed the driver, later identified as Mr. Keith Lamont Scott, rolling what they believed to be a marijuana "blunt." Officers did not consider Mr. Scott's drug activity to be a priority at the time and they resumed the warrant operation. A short time later, Officer Vinson observed Mr. Scott hold a gun up.

Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott being in possession of the gun.

Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns…

And Keith Scott ended up dead. According to his family, he was in his vehicle waiting for his son to get off the school bus. But because he was rolling a joint while waiting, and because police just happened to be engaged in an operation nearby, he caught the attention of the cops.

Even when police said they saw him hold up a gun, they used the joint-rolling as probable cause to investigate the presence of the gun. If not for marijuana prohibition, the whole unraveling of events, with dire consequences for Keith Scott, and lamentable ones for the city of Charlotte, most likely would never have occurred.

Charlotte, NC
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Top Cops Want Defelonization, SC County Wants to Jail Overdosers, More... (9/27/16)

NORML updates its congressional scorecard, Bay State legalizers cry foul over a misleading voter guide, the number of babies suffering from opioid withdrawals has jumped dramatically, Oregon top cops want to defelonize simple drug possession, and more.

Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs jointly call for defelonizing simple drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Releases Updated and Revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. To mark national Voter Registration Day, NORML has released its updated and revised guide to members of Congress. The guide gives letter grades to our representatives based on the comments and voting records. Only 22 of the 535 senators and congressmen got "A" grades, while 32 members got an "F" grade.

Massachusetts Legalizers Cry Foul Over State-Issued Voter Guide. Campaigners behind the Question 4 legalization initiative say a state-issued guide sent to voters across the state inaccurately describes the fiscal consequences of the measure. The guide says they are "difficult to project due to lack of reliable data" and cites a report from a committee headed by a top opponent of legalization to the effect that taxes and fee revenues from legal marijuana sales "may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs. The Yes on 4 campaign points out that there is "reliable data" from legal marijuana states and that those states have easily covered administrative and other expenses.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Number of Babies Born Suffering Withdrawal Symptoms More Than Doubles in Four Years. Researchers studying neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results from withdrawal from opioids to which fetuses were exposed in utero, report that the incidence of the syndrome has jumped from 2.8 cases per thousand live births in 2009 to 7.3 cases in 2013. At least some of the surge may be a result of drug policies aimed at cracking down on prescription drug use. "The drug policies of the early 2000s were effective in reducing supply -- we have seen a decrease in methamphetamine abuse and there have been reductions in some aspects of prescription drug abuse," said lead study author Dr. Joshua Brown. "However, the indirect results, mainly the increase in heroin abuse, were likely not anticipated and we are just starting to see these." The researchers also noted wide variations by state, from 0.7 cases per thousand in Hawaii to 33.4 cases in West Virginia.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Criminalize More New Synthetics Passes House. A bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-TX) to add several new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids to the Controlled Substances Act passed the House Monday. The measure, HR 3537, now goes to the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Law Enforcement Calls for Defelonizing Drug Possession. The Oregon Association of Police Chiefs and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association have jointly called for people caught with "user amounts" of illegal drugs to face misdemeanor charges -- not felonies -- and be sent to treatment. Elected officials and prosecutors should "craft a more thoughtful approach to drug possession when it is the only crime committed," the top cops said, because felony charges "include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."

South Carolina County Ponders Mandatory Jail Time for People Who Overdose. The chairman of the county council in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, has inquired during a council meeting about whether to make people who suffer opioid overdoses spend three days in jail. Chairman Mark Lazarus would also like to see mandatory drug treatment required. He added that jailing people who overdose wouldn't discourage them from getting medical help because they're usually unconscious and someone else calls for emergency assistance.

Chronicle AM: Initiative Polls in AR/CA/ME, Marijuana Arrests at 20-Year Low, More.. (9/26/16)

Polls show thing looking good for marijuana legalization efforts in California and Maine, tight for medical marijuana in Arkansas, possession arrests hit a 20-year-low, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Poll Has Prop 64 Support at 60%. The latest Field Poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning handily with 60% of the vote. That's roughly in line with other recent polls, all of which have had it above 50%. The Field poll surveyed likely voters. Among demographi groups, only Republicans and conservatives opposed the initiative.

Maine Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. A new poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has the Question 1 legalization initiative with 53% support, 38% opposed, and 10% undecided. The poll surveyed likely voters.

Massachusetts Congressman Endorses Legalization Initiative. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Salem) has bucked the trend among Bay State politicos and come out in support of the Question 4 legalization initiative. "Let's not kid ourselves -- people are using marijuana," he said. "The problem is now that it operates in the shadows. There's no control. We really have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible."

Wyoming Legislators Ponder Lowering Marijuana Penalty. In off-season discussions, the Joint Judiciary Committee is proposing to make first-offense marijuana possession a misdemeanor, but would make subsequent offenses felonies. The proposal isn't set in stone; a subcommittee is now charged with writing a more detailed one.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Shows Tough Battle for Medical Marijuana Initiatives. A new poll from KATV shows the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) with 49% in support, 43% against, and 8% undecided and the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (Issue 7)with 36% in support, 53% opposed, and 11% undecided. "Arkansas voters do appear to distinguish between the two medical marijuana proposals, according to our survey," said pollster Roby Brock. "With legal challenges remaining, high-profile opposition, and the possibility of national groups spending money in support of the issue, these proposals may be the most contested on the November ballot."

Drug Policy

Marijuana Arrests at 20-Year Low, But Other Drug Arrests Take Up the Slack. While still occurring at a rate of nearly one a minute, simple pot possession arrests have fallen to the lowest number since 1996, just under 575,000. That's a 25% decline from just nine years ago, when they totaled just under 800,000. Marijuana arrests now account for just 43% of all drug arrests, down from 52% in 2010. There were some 928,000 drug arrests overall last year, which is a nearly 14% decline from a decade ago. These numbers are from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report released Monday.

Donald Trump's Bizarre Explanation for Charlotte Unrest: "Drugs"

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

Donald Trumps blames unrest in Charlotte on "drugs." (Gage Whitmore/Wikipedia)
Donald Trump's efforts to reach out to the black community took yet another stumble-footed turn Thursday when he went off-script to blame the unrest shaking Charlotte this week not on police violence or racial inequality, but drugs.

"If you're not aware, drugs are a very, very big factor in what you're watching on television," the GOP contender claimed. He offered no evidence to support his claim.

Charlotte is only the latest American city to see outbreaks of street violence amid protests over the police killings of black men. In this case, it was the gunning down of Keith Scott Tuesday by an undercover Charlotte police officer. Scott's family maintains he was unarmed and holding only a book, while police say he was armed and they recovered a weapon at the scene. Police have so far refused to release body-cam video of the killing.

Casually blaming "drugs" for the community anger over the Scott killing is in line with Trump's effort to portray himself as a "law and order" candidate who will protect the black community. But that's a tough sell in minority areas where relations with police are, to put it mildly, fraught.

Trump is trailing Hillary Clinton by roughly 80 percentage points among African-American voters, and this is just the latest off-kilter attempt to woo them. Telling them they live in blighted communities hasn't worked, telling them they're living in the worst time ever for black Americans hasn't worked, relying on the likes of Don King hasn't worked. Blaming the unrest in Charlotte on "drugs" is unlikely to turn the tide, either.

But Trump is trying to make that "law and order" appeal.

"There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct. Crime and violence is an attack on the poor, and will never be accepted in a Trump Administration," he said at the beginning of remarks to the Shale Insight Convention. "Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the violent disrupter, but to make life more comfortable for the African-American parent trying to raise their kids in peace, to walk their children to school and to get their children a great education. We have to cherish and protect those people."

But then he ad-libbed his "drugs" remark, once again stereotyping the black community and contributing to the suspicion that his efforts to reach out to African-Americans are really aimed not at winning black votes but at convincing moderate Republicans and independents that he's not a racist.

And he followed up with a shoutout to law enforcement. He praised police for risking their lives, although he did acknowledge that they could make mistakes.

"Police are entrusted with immense responsibility, and we must do everything we can to ensure they are properly trained, that they respect all members of the public, and that any wrongdoing is always vigorously addressed," Trump said. "But our men and women in blue also need our support, our thanks, and our gratitude. They are the line separating civilization from total chaos."

And drugs.

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

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