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Drug War Chronicle

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Chronicle AM: NYC Council Head Says Legalize, UT Drug Defelonization Move, Burma Opium, More (11/14/14)

New York's city council speaker says legalize it, there are medical marijuana moves in Connecticut and Maryland, a Utah commission suggests defelonizing drug possession, a Peruvian petition seeks to end arrests for drug use, which is not a crime in Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

image from the Peruvian petition drive campaign to stop illegal drug use arrests
Marijuana Policy

New York City Council Speaker Says Legalize It. Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, has come out for marijuana legalization. "It's not something we can just do randomly, but with a thought process, and looking how it's being implemented in other areas. But I do support the legalization of marijuana," she said in response to a reporter's question. "States are speaking. Based on the conversations that we see happening nationally, and how people feel about it, I think that it's just something that is appropriate at this time." At least four other council members, including Rafael Espinal, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, and Jumaane Williams, have also pronounced in favor of freeing the weed.

Medical Marijuana

San Diego Moves Ahead on Shutting Down Unpermitted Dispensaries. San Diego officials forced yet another unpermitted dispensary to shut down Thursday after shutting down four others three weeks ago. About 50 unpermitted dispensaries still operate in the city, which is going to allow permitted dispensaries to begin operating early next year.

Maryland Commission Approves Medical Marijuana Regulations. The commission charged with drafting the regulations approved them Thursday, but they still need to be approved by a legislative panel and the state's health secretary. The approval came after a delay last month, when some critics said fees for growers and dispensaries were too high. They still ain't cheap: Fifteen licensed growers will have to pay $250,000 every two years, while dispensaries will have to pay $80,000 every two years. The program isn't expected to be operational until 2016.

South Carolina Senator Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who sponsored a successful low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, said Thursday he will sponsor a full-fledged medical marijuana bill next year. He made the announcement at a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Study Committee at Clemson University.

Connecticut to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The state Department of Consumer Protection is considering whether to expand the state's quite restrictive list of qualifying medical conditions to include sickle cell anemia, Tourette's syndrome, "failed back syndrome," severe psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. The Board of Physicians will hold a public hearing on the matter on November 26. Click on the title link for more information.

Asset Forfeiture

The Orange County Register Calls for Federal Asset Forfeiture Reform. In a Thursday editorial, The Orange County Register wrote that one way a divided Congress could show some bipartisanship is by passing asset forfeiture reform legislation. "Civil asset forfeiture hasn't made many headlines until this year. But its very obscurity has bred a degree of corruption that badly undermines the integrity of law enforcement -- from local police all the way to the FBI," the newspaper noted, calling the process "rife with abuse." The suburban Los Angeles daily, California's 5th largest circulation newspaper, also said asset forfeiture too often resembled "literal highway robbery -- committed by the very people charged to serve and protect." The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (HR 5212) is pending in the Congress.

Harm Reduction

Report on the 10th National Harm Reduction Coalition Conference. The Harm Reduction Coalition's 10th national conference took place late last month in Baltimore. Click on the title link to get a lengthy and informative report on it from the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Tessie Castillo.

Sentencing

Utah Crime Commission Calls for Defelonzing Drug Possession. In a report released Thursday, the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission rolled out a package of recommendations for controlling prison population growth, including making first-time drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. All of the report's recommendations were approved unanimously by the commission. Now, it will be up to the legislature to enact them.

International

Another Year of Rising Opium Production in Burma. The Irawaddy Journal and Magazine has a lengthy report on this year's opium crop in the Shan state. Production is up for the sixth year in a row, and Burma now accounts for 18% of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "We could not grow any other plants here to make a living, except poppy. If they [the government] ban it, we will have no other jobs," said a 50-year-old villager. A good read; check it out.

Petition Urging Peruvian Government to Stop Arresting People for Drug Use, Which is Not a Crime. Drug use is not a crime under Peruvian law, but more than half of all drug trafficking charges are for drug use -- not drug trafficking. Activists in Peru have been working to get police to actually obey the law and not arrest drug users, but so far to no avail. Now, there is a petition directed at Interior Minister Daniel Urresti and the National Police, urging them to abide by the law. Click on the link to sign it. They are seeking 25,000 signatures, but only have 526 so far. Okay, make that 527 now.

Saudi Arabia Executes Another Drug Offender, 22nd This Year. A Pakistani man convicted of smuggling heroin into the kingdom in his intestines was beheaded in Kharj Thursday. Niaz Mohammed Ghulam Mohammed was the seventh person beheading for drug trafficking this month, and the 22nd of the year. Drug offenders account for about 40% of all Saudi executions so far this year.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium Funds Elections, Big WA Pot Auction, NV Signatures Handed In, More (11/13/14)

More poppies are growing than ever in Afghanistan, and they helped fund the recent presidential election; the UNODC head tsk-tsks at US legalization votes, Nevada petitioners hand in 2X the signatures needed, federal bills get more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

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

UN Anti-Drug Chief Says Legalization in US States Violate Drug Treaties. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Wednesday that American states that have legalized marijuana are not in line with international drug conventions. "I don't see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions," he told reporters. Fedotov is coming to Washington next week to discuss the issue with the US State Department and other UN agencies.

US Representatives from Marijuana States Urge Colleagues Not to Interfere. Members of Congress from states that have legalized marijuana held a press conference in Washington, DC, today to urge Congress not to try to interfere with state-level legalization. Democrats from Colorado (Jared Polis), Oregon (Earl Blumenauer), and the District of Columbia (Eleanor Holmes Norton) were joined by Republican California Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher. With some congressional Republicans grumbling, DC would appear to be at some risk of interference, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Nevada Legalization Petitioners Turn in Twice the Number of Signatures Needed. It looks like Nevada is going to vote on legalization in 2016 (if the legislature doesn't act first). The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada Wednesday turned in 200,000 signatures for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. It only needs 101,667 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Once the signatures are validated, the measure will head for the 2016 ballot unless the legislature decides to just pass it itself next year.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Has Updated FAQs for Recreational Marijuana. In response to public queries, the commission has updated its recreational marijuana FAQs page. Click on the link to see the updates. Here is the full FAQs page.

RAND Briefs Vermont Lawmakers on Legalization Issues; Public Hearing, Too. The RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center, which has been contracted by the state to prepare an in-depth report on the potential financial and social impact of legalization, briefed lawmakers Wednesday with the report's outlines. Center co-director Beau Kilmer told the lawmakers the report will cover the state's marijuana "landscape," analyze health and safety issues, review alternate approaches to taxation and regulation, and provide financial projections. Kilmer identified nine questions lawmakers should be asking themselves; click on the link to see them. The briefing was followed by a public hearing that took place on closed circuit television on towns around the state. The RAND report is due in January.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The bill will be considered in the new session beginning in January. It is SB 686.

Washington Pot Farmer to Auction Off A Ton of Weed. Well, this should help with those reported shortages plaguing the Washington state legal marijuana market. Fireweed Farm, a licensed marijuana producer in Prosser, has announced that its crop is in and processed, and it will be selling its one-ton harvest to the highest bidder (heh) on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill would remove low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It's newest sponsors are Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Allen Lowenthal (D-CA). The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 32 cosponsors -- 18 Democrats and 14 Republicans. It has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce Committees.

Georgia Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Be Debated in January. Lawmakers who tried and failed to get a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana passed this year will be back at it in the coming session. The bill sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), said he will introduce an improved bill to be debated in January. He said he hopes to file it next month.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, is sponsored by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI) and would tighten requirements for asset forfeiture. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Henry Johnson (D-GA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI). The bill now has 19 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and four Democrats. It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Pardons and Clemency

Arkansas Governor Pardons Son for Marijuana Conviction. Gov. Mike Beebe (R) has issued a pardon for his son, Kyle Beebe, who was convicted in 2003 of marijuana possession with intent to deliver. It is one of 25 pardons he is issuing before leaving office in January. Beebe has issued more than 700 pardons during his time in office, including a number of other first time drug offenders.

Sentencing

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Sponsors. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill would expand grant programs aimed at helping people upon their release from prison. The House version, HR 3465, has now picked up Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), while the Senate version, S 1690, is now cosponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The House version now house 44 cosponsors (36 Democrats and eight Republicans), while the Senate version, introduced by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), now has 22 cosponsors (17 Democrats, four Republicans, one independent).

Drug Testing

Key West Settles With Job Applicant Who Refused Drug Test. The city of Key West, Florida, will pay $75,000 to a former resident who refused to take a pre-employment drug test after applying for a position with the city and was then eliminated from consideration. The city will also pay $60,000 to the ACLU of Florida, which represented Karen Cabanas Voss. She had sued, arguing that the city's drug testing policy was unconstitutional, and a federal district court judge found in her favor.

International

Opium Helped Fund Afghan Elections, UNODC Says. The amount of land planted with opium poppies this year is at record levels, UN officials said Wednesday, and they said this year's presidential election campaign was part of the reason. "With the presidential election ongoing, there was a huge demand of funding," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a senior official with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "And that funding is not available in the licit economy, and that money has to come from somewhere, so they turned to the illicit economy." In its annual opium survey, UNODC found that the area under cultivation had increased 7%, while eradication decreased by 63% between last year and this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a quiet week on the medical marijuana front, perhaps a post-election lull. But there is news from California, Colorado, and Rhode Island. Let's get to it:

California

On Tuesday, activists complained that California veterans were being denied pain medications over their medical marijuana use. California NORML reported that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from Canorml and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado reported another $30 million month in medical marijuana sales. September sales were at $31.6 million, down slightly from August's $33.4 million. The all-time high was in February, when medical marijuana sales totaled $36 million. Recreational sales are also running about $30 million a month.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over medical marijuana employment discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a pain internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. A crooked FBI agent is wreaking havoc with drug cases in DC, rip-off cops get busted in Chicago and Philly, an Alabama cop gets nailed for making a woman cook meth for him, and more. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, a federal judge threw out 13 more tainted drug cases last Friday. US District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed 13 criminal indictments against defendants in major drug cases as a scandal around FBI agent Matthew Lowry, 33, continues to unravel. Lowry is accused of tampering with drugs, guns, and other evidence seized in the cases, but he has not yet been charged with any criminal offenses. A day earlier, prosecutors dropped charges against 10 other defendants, some of whom had been serving lengthy prison sentences.

In Chicago, a Cook County sheriff's deputy was arrested on drug corruption charges last Monday. He killed himself the next day. Officer Stanley Kogut apparently hanged himself at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was being held. He and his partner, Robert Vaughan, had been arrested in an FBI sting after they robbed an agent posing as a drug dealer of 70 pounds of marijuana.

In Salem, West Virginia, a Salem Correction Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday after she was caught bringing pills, powders, and paraphernalia into the jail. Guard Philomena Liberty got caught during a random pat down at the start of her shift. Officers found she had six different types of pills, a cardboard envelope containing a white powder, and drug paraphernalia. She denied that she intended to traffic the drugs, saying she was going to crush and snort them herself. She is charged with transporting drugs into a correctional facility.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly ripping off drug dealers and buyers along with three middlemen. Christopher Saravello is accused of using the middlemen to buy or sell drugs to others and then providing him with information on their locations. Saravello would then show up in uniform in his police vehicle, pretend to lock up his middlemen, and then let the buyers and dealers go, but only after stealing their cash and drugs. Saravello had resigned from the department in 2012, as it prepared to fire him for being strung out on prescription drugs.

In Mt. Vernon, New York, a former Mt. Vernon police officer was arrested Monday for illegally obtaining nearly 4,000 hydrocodone pills. Joseph Russo used forged prescriptions in his and his wife's name to obtain the pills. He also filed fake insurance claims to pay for the prescriptions. He is charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first degree scheming to defraud, but, oddly enough, not drug possession.

In Colchester, Vermont, a Colchester police detective was arrested Tuesday after a gun that was supposed to be in the department's evidence room turned up at a house in a Burlington drug raid. Corporal Tyler Kinney, 38, is now accused of taking drugs and the gun from the evidence room. He was expected to be charged in federal court today with drug distribution and gun trafficking offenses. The Colchester Police say they have now ordered an external audit of the evidence room and procedures for handling evidence.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a former Winston County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges that he forced a woman to cook meth for him. Grady Concord, 42, had been hit with a single count of meth manufacture in June, but prosecutors added new counts of extortion under color of law, meth manufacture, and meth distribution where children are present. The woman said Concord threatened her with arrest if she didn't cook for him and provided pseudoephedrine tablets for her. Some of them were stolen from the department evidence room. Concord copped to the three later counts Monday and is looking at up to 20 years in prison at sentencing.

Chronicle AM: AR Marijuana Init, Nadelmann TED Talk, Colombia MedMJ, Dutch Grower Crackdown, More (11/12/14)

An Arkansas legalization initiative moves forward, Massachusetts' new GOP governor-elect will oppose legalization, Ethan Nadelmann gives a sizzling TED Talk, Colombia moves toward approving medical marijuana, the Dutch move resolutely backward, and more. Let's get to it:

Arkansas Attorney General Approves Legalization Initiative. A marijuana and hemp legalization constitutional amendment initiative sponsored by Arkansas CALM (Citizens' Alliance for the Legalization of Marijuana) has won ballot title approval by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The Secretary of State's office must still approve the Arkansas Hemp & Marijuana Amendment's petition wording instructions. The amendment would legalize the cultivation, production, distribution, sale, purchase, possession and use of the cannabis plant, prohibiting sale to anyone under the age of 21. It would let people to grow up to 36 plants.

For First Time, Colorado Monthly Recreational Pot Sales Don't Increase. Recreational marijuana sales totaled $31.6 million in September, down from $34.1 million in August, the first time month-over-month sales have not increased. It's not clear why this is, but some observers point to the time of year -- in between the state's summer tourism high season and its winter tourism high season.

Massachusetts' New Republican Governor Will Oppose Legalization. Incoming Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker has pledged to "vigorously oppose" marijuana legalization in the Bay State. "I'm going to oppose that and I'm going to oppose that vigorously... with a lot of help from a lot of other people in the addiction community," he said in an interview. Massachusetts has already approved medical marijuana and pot decriminalization through the initiative process, and seven elections worth of successful nonbinding public policy questions suggest that Baker is out of touch with his constituents on the issue.

Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Challenge to Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The appeals court will hear arguments Friday from Kent County prosecutor Bill Forsyth challenging the voter-approved 2012 decriminalization ordinance in Grand Rapids. He will argue that voters there cannot trump the state's marijuana law. Forsythe lost in district court, with the judge in the case ruling that the city's ordinance didn't make marijuana legal, but merely adapted a policy about how police should deal with it.

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Qualifies for April Ballot. The Southcentral Kansas Peace and Justice Center reports that a municipal initiative to make marijuana and pot paraphernalia possession a citable offense with a $50 fine has qualified for the April ballot. An earlier effort was derailed by disallowed signatures, but activists this time concentrated on gathering signatures from people leaving the polls on election day -- and it worked.

Medical Marijuana

ACLU Files Rhode Island Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a paying internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.

Drug Policy

Ethan Nadelmann TED Talk on Why We Need to End the War on Drugs. Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann has given a fiery and visionary TED talk in Rio de Janiero analyzing US drug policy and how society can more effectively and humanely deal with drugs. "The reason some drugs are legal and others are not has nothing to do with science or health or the risk of drugs, and everything to do with who uses, and is perceived to use, certain drugs," he said in the talk. "If the principal smokers of cocaine were affluent older white men and the principal users of Viagra were young black men, using Viagra would land you time behind bars." The speech was made last month, but was just made available today. Click on the TED talk link to hear the whole thing.

International

Colombia Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate's First Commission Tuesday approved a medical marijuana bill on a 13-2 vote. The bill authored by Sen. Juan Manuel Galan would allow the use of marijuana by people suffering from terminal illness or chronic painful conditions, including cancer and AIDS. It was amended during debate to clarify that marijuana-containing medications could not be imported into the country. The bill has the support of Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria.

Dutch Crack Down on Illegal Marijuana Grows, Suppliers. Anyone involved in the illegal production of marijuana is subject to up to three years in prison under a proposal from Justice Minister Opstelten that has been approved by the Senate. The new measure will go into effect on March 1. Under this new law, not only growers, but also grow shops, landlords, electricians who install illegal grow equipment, financiers, and anyone else involved in the illegal grows can be punished. Where the country's famous cannabis coffee shops are supposed to get their product will now be even more of a mystery.

Chronicle AM: No More Portland Pot Cases, Senior Drug Testing Racket, Vets' MedMj Problems, More (11/11/14)

The fallout from last week's legalization votes begins, California veterans are reporting medical marijuana problems with the VA, doctors are billing Medicare for largely needless senior drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Sante Cannabis, Montreal's first doctor-on-site medical marijuana clinic, opened today.
Marijuana Policy

No More Pot Prosecutions in Portland. That didn't take long. Less than a week after Oregon voters approved the Measure 91 legalization initiative, prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) announced Monday that they will dismiss all pending violation-level marijuana possession cases and won't bother to prosecute any future ones. "Because it is clear that a significant majority of voters in Multnomah County support the legalization of marijuana in certain amounts, this office will dismiss the pending charges related to conduct which will otherwise become legal July 1, 2015," said a statement from Multnomah County DA Rode Underhill. "Any remaining charges not impacted by Ballot Measure 91 will be prosecuted." Prosecutors in other Oregon counties are still figuring out how to respond.

Alaska Legislator Getting to Work on Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations. That didn't take long, either. Less than a week after Alaska voters approved the Measure 2 legalization initiative, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) said Monday he plans to file legislation in January that would restrict pot shops within a certain distance of schools and public parks, limit advertising, and bar people with felonies from working in the industry. Lynn said he expects his proposals to attract plenty of discussion among lawmakers.

Opposition Coalition Forms in Vermont. A coalition to oppose marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State has announced itself. SMART VT calls itself a "grassroots coalition" of "concerned Vermonters" and is now calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to not take up legalization this legislative session. Too late, though: A public hearing on legalization is set for Wednesday. Click the last link for hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

US Veterans Denied Pain Medications Over Medical Marijuana Use. California NORML is reporting that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from CANORML and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Happy Veterans Day!

Drug Testing

Pain Docs Getting Rich Doing Useless Drug Tests on Seniors, Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab. In an expensive side-effect of the "war" on pain pill addiction, pain specialists are now ordering costly testing of seniors for recreational drug use, and Medicare is stuck footing the bill. The doctors are also responding to a Medicare crackdown on abusive billing for simple urine drug screens by moving to high-tech testing methods for which billing is not limited. Now, doctors are testing for a number of different drugs -- including illegal ones rarely used by seniors, such as cocaine, ecstasy, and PCP -- and raking in the tax dollars. Medicare spending on drug testing has increased an incredible 1,423% since 2007 to $445 million in 2012. That included $14 million for testing seniors for PCP, for which one lab director with 25 years in the business told The Wall Street Journal she had never seen a positive test result in people over 65. The comprehensive article is worth the read; click on the link to get it.

International

Montreal Gets First Medical Marijuana Clinic. Montreal's first medical marijuana clinic is opening today. Sante Cannabis does not sell medical marijuana, but its doctors and staff guide patients on how to use marijuana, proper strains to use, and determine whether to smoke, vape, or use edibles. The city has had dispensaries or "compassion centers" for years, but Sante Cannabis is the first medical marijuana business to have doctors on staff.

British Lib Dem Leader, Former Colombian President Team Up to Fight for Drug Reform. Liberal Democratic party leader and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to work together to help forge an alliance between European and Latin American countries aiming to reform global drug prohibition. They are taking aim at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs set for 2016.

Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)

Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

The election was only last week, but eyes are already turning to 2015 and 2016. (www.regulateri.org)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.

Law Enforcement

Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

Sentencing

ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.

International

Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.

Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.

In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.

Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.

Marijuana Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year [FEATURE]

More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today.

One drug arrest out of 1.5 million last year. (www.justice.gov)
That's about one pot bust and slightly more than one other drug arrest every minute, 365 days a year. The vast majority of them are for simple possession. Over 87% of all marijuana arrests and 82% of all drug arrests were for possession only.

Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

In 2008, marijuana arrests accounted for a majority (52%) of all drug arrests. Now, it is down to 40.6%.

Some of the decline in marijuana arrests can be attributed to the passage of decriminalization and legalization laws, particularly in the West, where pot arrests accounted for only 18% of all drug arrests. California decriminalized pot possession in 2011, and Colorado and Washington legalized it in the 2012 elections.

The move to marijuana legalization is helping shrink pot bust numbers. (Sandra Yruel/drugpolicy.org)
In other parts of the country, marijuana arrests continued to roll along, even in the Northeast, where they accounted for 46% of all drug arrests. In the South, the figure was 49.8%, and in the Midwest, pot accounted for 51.7% of all drug arrests.

When it comes to race, blacks continue to be disproportionately represented among drug arrestees. African-Americans accounted for 30.7% of all drug arrests, but they only make up about 13% of the population. That means blacks are being arrested for drugs at 2 ½ times the rate their percentage of the population would predict.

Drug arrests were the single largest category of arrests made in the US and accounted for about 13% of all arrests. The 1.5 million drug arrests well exceeded second place larceny-theft (1.232 million) and third place driving under the influence (1.167 million). More than three times as many people were arrested for drug offenses than for all violent crimes combined (480,000).

The continued law enforcement emphasis on drug enforcement drew criticism from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

But this attitude still persists among law enforcement. (bartoncounty.org)
"Police made more drug arrests than for any other single category of crime. Meanwhile, only 64% of murders and 48% of violent crimes generally are being solved," said LEAP executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), citing the FBI statistics. "We clearly have our priorities in the wrong place."

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), fresh from last week's successful "marijuana midterms," pronounced itself pleased with the decline in pot busts, but called for them to end, not just diminish.

"We're pleased to see the drop, but arresting even one adult for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol is inexcusable," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "Every year we see millions of violent crimes attributed to alcohol, and the evidence is clear that marijuana is not a significant contributing factor in such incidents. Yet our laws continue to steer adults toward drinking by threatening to punish them if they make the safer choice. These arrest numbers demonstrate that the threat is very real," he noted.

Tvert also echoed LEAP in criticizing law enforcement priorities.

"Law enforcement officials should be spending their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana," he said. "Every year, these statistics show hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are taking place and countless violent crimes are going unsolved. We have to wonder how many of those crimes could be solved -- or prevented -- if police weren't wasting their time enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

The laws must change, he said.

"A majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal for adults and treated similarly to alcohol. Voters in four states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws that reflect that, and we expect several more will do over the next few years. It's time for our laws to catch up with public opinion."

Chronicle AM: 2016 Plans, Silk Road 2.0 Busted, Canada & Jamaica React to Marijuana Votes, More (11/6/14)

Marijuana reform activists are already eyeing 2016, and so is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the FBI busts the latest incarnation of Silk Road, Tuesday's vote brings some joy in Canada and Jamaica, and more. Let's get to it:

Gary Johnson eyes a 2016 presidential bid (ouramericainitiative.com)
Marijuana Policy

Only 733 Days Until California Legalizes Marijuana. That's the message from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which is already laying the groundwork for a successful statewide marijuana legalization in 2016. Check it out.

Missouri Group Files Petition to Legalize Marijuana in 2016. The activist group Show-Me Cannabis filed a petition Wednesday for a constitutional amendment initiative to legalize marijuana in 2016. It must now undergo a review and public comment process. Once approved, supporters will have to gather 165,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Legalizer Gary Johnson Will Run for President (Again) in 2016. Former Republican New Mexico governor, 2012 Republican presidential nomination seeker, and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson has announced he will run for president again in 2016. He picked up 1.3 million votes as the Libertarian candidate last time. He said he was running as a counter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who he said was only half-right on the issues.

Law Enforcement

FBI Busts Silk Road 2.0. The FBI has arrested a 26-year-old man for allegedly running the resurrected dark web online drug sales web site Silk Road 2.0. Blake Benthall was arrested in San Francisco Thursday. The original Silk Road allegedly generated over a billion dollars in sales before it was busted and its original operator, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested. Silk Road 2.0 was launched a year ago and allegedly was doing $8 million a month in sales, with over 13,000 different listings for controlled substances. Don't be surprised when Silk Road 3.0 pops up.

International

Canada Activists, Liberals Celebrate US Marijuana Legalization Votes. "I'm very happy today," said Vancouver activist Dana Larsen, who led the not yet successful drive for pot decriminalization in British Columbia last year. "It's pouring rain outside, but that's okay, it's sunshining in our hearts. The final argument from prohibitionists in Canada has always been, 'If you legalize it, America will punish us… they'll shut down our border.' That's always been the last refuge of the prohibitionists. [President] Obama is not even punishing his own states for legalizing it. It will definitely make it much easier [for a future Canadian government to legalize it.]" The Liberal Party was also pleased. "Last night, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, DC expressed their democratic will and supported the legalization of marijuana," a party spokesperson said. "A well-regulated, legal system for marijuana access promotes public safety, keeps profits out of the hands of gangs, and helps keep drugs out of the hand of children -- exactly what Liberals have been saying all along."

Jamaica Ganja Task Force Hails US Marijuana Legalization Votes. Canadians weren't the only ones smiling. Jamaica's Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force called the legalization votes in Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, DC, "positive developments" and urged the Jamaican government to get moving. "The CCMRT, while acknowledging the Jamaican government's positive positioning on ganja law reform, urge them to move more decisively at fundamental reform so as to ensure that Jamaica is not left behind," the group said.

Mexican Mayor and Wife Arrested in Case of Missing Student Teachers. Mexican authorities announced Tuesday that they had arrested fugitive former Iguala mayor Jose Luiz Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, in a pre-dawn raid in a Mexico City working class suburb. They fled after 43 radical student teachers went missing more than a month ago in the midst of anti-government demonstrations. Pineda is a accused of being the chief operative of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, to whom the students were handed after being detained by Iguala police. The case is causing huge tremors in a country sick to death of official corruption and impunity.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana initiative won in Guam, but the one in Florida lost despite winning a majority of the votes. There's other news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday,nine Lake County patients filed a $600,000 claim for damages for warrantless raids on their gardens. The move comes two weeks after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring such warrantless raids. The patients claim Lake County law enforcement entered their properties and seized their goods without their consent or a search warrant. They seek recompense for their stolen goods, as well as punitive damages.

On Tuesday, Election Day was a mixed bag for local medical marijuana initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 initiative won a solid majority, but fell short of victory. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Guam

On Tuesday, Guam voted approved medical marijuana. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Illinois

Last Saturday, the state began a second round of patient registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Iowa

On Tuesday, the Board of Pharmacy announced it would hold a hearing on medical marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

New York

Last Thursday, New York US Representatives asked the Justice Department to let the state import high-CBD medical marijuana for sick kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Trouble is brewing in Detroit and DC, a Texas narc gets in trouble, so does a Miami cop, so does a 
Camden cop and a suburban St. Louis one. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, a probe into a possibly crooked FBI agent led to at least a dozen convicts being released from prison by last Friday. The as yet unnamed agent was assigned to a DC police task force, and officials said that more cases, including one with 21 defendants, could be in jeopardy. Those freed so far have not yet had their convictions dropped; that awaits the outcome of the investigation.

In Detroit, four dope squad officers were suspended last Friday amidst an ongoing investigation into the now disbanded unit. Both the FBI and Detroit Police Internal Affairs Investigation are looking into the matter, and criminal charges could be coming. Among other things, the officers are accused of stealing big-screen TVs and video game consoles from drug dealers they raided.

In Grapevine, Texas, a Grapevine K-9 officer was on administrative leave Tuesday after being accused of stealing a case of training drugs and doing some of them. Senior Officer Danny Machio reported on October 7 that someone had broken into his patrol/K-9 vehicle and stolen the drugs, which included heroin, cocaine, and meth. An internal investigation ensued, and Macchio went missing the day he was supposed to take a drug test. He was found in the Panhandle and returned to the Dallas metro area. He now faces possible criminal drug possession and other charges.

In Miami, a Miami police officer was arrested Wednesday on charges he took money to protect drug dealers. Officer Jose Maldonaldo-Dick went down in a sting in which he oversaw drug deals involving half-pounds of cocaine and offered protection to a man he thought was a drug dealer. He got paid $1,900 for his efforts. He is now charged with two counts of cocaine trafficking and two counts of being unlawfully rewarded while working as a police officer. He's looking at to life in prison.

In Camden, New Jersey, a Camden County police officer was arrested last Wednesday in the roundup of more than 40 people allegedly involved in a drug trafficking network. Officer Ashley Bailey, whose husband was part of the network, is accused of accessing confidential law enforcement information and alerting targets of the investigation. She is charged with official misconduct, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and making unlawful threats.

In St. Louis, a former suburban Hillsdale police officer was sentenced last Thursday to nearly four years in prison for helping a drug dealer rob a rival drug courier. Parrish Swanson pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to distribute heroin and attempt to distribute heroin. 

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Trifecta, CA Sentencing Reform Passes, FL MedMJ Fails, More (11/5/14)

Marijuana wins in Alaska, DC, and Oregon; medical marijuana barely loses in Florida, California defelonizes drug possession offenses, New Jersey reforms the bail system, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana. In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so. It won with 52% of the vote. Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana. Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.] Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana. Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital. Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.] That was enough for supporters to call the election. Because of District law, the initiative could address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

GOP Congressmen Threatens to Try to Block DC Legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is saying he will try to block the legalization initiative just passed by DC voters. "Actions by those in DC will result in higher drug use among teens," Harris told The Washington Post. "I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase." Earlier this year, Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back a rider that would have blocked the DC city council's decision to decriminalize marijuana, but that rider didn't make it into the final DC appropriations bill.

South Portland, Maine, Votes to Legalize; Lewiston Does Not. Voters in South Portland voted 52% to 48% to approve a local legalization initiative, but voters in Lewiston did not. The measure there got only 45% of the vote. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar measure last year.

Massachusetts PPQs on Marijuana Legalization Pass. Non-binding public policy questions asking voters whether they approved telling their elected representatives they wanted to legalize marijuana passed in all 14 districts where they were on the ballot. Activists have been placing marijuana reform PPQs on the ballot each election since 2000, and they've never lost one. This year, most passed with more than 70% approval; the lowest passed with 54%.

Michigan Towns Split on Marijuana Initiatives. Marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or lowest law enforcement priority measures were on the ballot in 11 towns. They won in Saginaw, Berkeley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Mt. Pleasant. They lost in Lapeer, Harrison, Onaway, Frankfort, and Clare. The state's largest cities have already approved similar measures.

New Mexico Non-Binding Decriminalization Initiatives Pass Big in Bernalillo, Santa Fe Counties. Non-binding, county level decriminalization initiatives won big in the state's largest and third-largest counties. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) voted 59% in favor, while Santa Fe County (Santa Fe) produced an impressive 73% in favor.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Wins Majority, But Not Enough to Pass. Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Mixed Bag for California Local Initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Fails. Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history. It ended up with only 32% of the vote. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

Sentencing Policy

California Initiative to Turn Drug Possession Felonies Into Misdemeanors Passes. Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law. Prop 47 got 57% of the vote.

New Jersey Bail Reform Initiative Passes. New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system.  The narrowly-worded question allows judges to deny bail to dangerous individuals, but it ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. The legislation implements wide-ranging reforms including non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; the use of risk assessments for suspects enabling courts to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishment of a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide appropriate levels of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Ordered to Quit Doing Marijuana "Buy Busts." The NYPD has been ordered by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to quit doing penny ante pot "buy and bust" operations. The head of each borough's dope squad was summoned to NYPD headquarters last week and told to knock it off.  Police were told to focus on more dangerous drugs. The New York Post published the story, replete with unnamed law enforcement sources complaining about the move. 

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana!

In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so.

Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Despite uncertainty generated by inconsistent and conflicting poll results, Measure 2 led throughout the night as the ballots came in. According to the state Division of Election's unofficial results, just before midnight Alaska time, with 42% of the votes counted, Measure 2 was winning with 52.21% of the vote. [Update: Measure 2 finished up with 51.15%.]

But shortly after that, supporters were ready to call the election.

"The results are in, and marijuana prohibition is on its way out," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Americans are fed up with wasteful and ineffective laws that punish adults for using a less harmful substance than alcohol. The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal are relying on the same scare tactics today that they have relied on for decades, but voters just aren't falling for it anymore. The results are particularly encouraging since voter turnout during a midterm election is typically smaller, older, and more conservative. Clearly, support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrums.

Look out for 2016, Kampia said. "Proposals to regulate marijuana like alcohol are headed for the ballots in at least five states in 2016, and they're being considered in legislatures around the country," he revealed. "This year's election was a large step forward, but the 2016 election will be a huge leap toward ending marijuana prohibition in this country once and for all."

AK
United States

California Voters OK Drug Defelonization, Reject Doctor Drug Testing

Voters in California enthusiastically approved an important sentencing reform initiative Tuesday, but overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors in the state.

The sentencing initiative, Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law.

The failed initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors, Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history.

According to election figures from the California Secretary of State, with 45% of the vote counted just before midnight Tuesday, Prop 47 was winning with 56.6% of the vote, while Prop 46 was getting trounced with only 32.3%. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

The Drug Policy Alliance, whose lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, contributed to the smartly named Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools "yes on Prop 47" campaign, pronounced itself pleased with the results.

"The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.

Under Prop 47, up to 20,000 people doing state prison time for simple drug possession will be eligible to seek sentence cuts, and new prison admissions should drop by between 40,000 and 60,000 a year. And hundreds of thousands of Californians with drug possession felony records will be eligible to have those records automatically expunged, removing barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and educational opportunities.

The state's county jails, which are chafing under the state's corrections "realignment," will also see reductions in prisoners, with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 jail beds freed up by Prop 47. Counties look to save somewhere around half a billion dollars a year, according to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

"We’ve been trying to get simple drug possession reclassified as a misdemeanor through Sacramento for years, facing first an unwillingness from the legislature and then last year’s veto by Governor Brown," said DPA state director Lynne Lyman. "With Prop 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

CA
United States

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana!

Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

The District of Columbia earlier today approved an initiative to legalize marijuana possession and cultivation, but that initiative does not allow for taxed and regulated sales. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in 2012. Alaska is voting on a marijuana legalization initiative today, but results have not come in there yet.

According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. That was good enough for the state's largest newspaper to call the election. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.]

Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Personal legalization will not go into effect until next July 1, and legal marijuana commerce will not begin until December 2015.

For drug reformers, Oregon is another feather in the cap on a day that already saw Washington, DC, legalize it.

"It’s always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this, when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today’s victory all the sweeter," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber."

DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, was the single largest donor to the Oregon campaign and was deeply involved in the measure’s drafting and on-the-ground campaign. The campaign benefited from serious financial backing, spending more than $2 million.

"Having spent years as a prosecutor, I know that Oregon will benefit greatly from regulating marijuana, and that the example set here will influence future states in 2015 and beyond," said former Assistant State’s Attorney and Oregon resident Inge Fryklund, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which participated in the campaign.

"With Oregon and DC. coming on board, it's clear that Colorado and Washington voting to legalize in 2012 was no anomaly," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority "The trend is clear: Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end. As 2016 approaches, we can expect to see many more ambitious national politicians finally trying to win support from the cannabis constituency instead of ignoring and criminalizing us."

New Approach Oregon, the campaign behind Measure 91, was apparently too busy savoring its victory to put out a statement by press time. That's okay; we understand. 

OR
United States

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana!

Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital.

Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. That was enough for supporters to call the election. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.]

"You just made history," Dr. Malik Burnett, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's DC-based Office of National Affairs, wrote in an email to supporters shortly after the polls closed. "Voters passed Initiative 71 in Washington, DC."

Along with long-time DC marijuana reformer, hemp entrepreneur, and political gadfly Adam Eidinger, Dr. Burnett co-chaired, the DC Cannabis Campaign. The effort met with some initial reluctance in the DC drug reform community and managed to make the ballot in large part thanks to early financial support from the activist-minded David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. Then DPA came on board, bringing more financial and other resources with it.

Because of District law, the initiative could not address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

"With marijuana legal in the federal government's backyard it's going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "I've been saying for a while that 2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency, and now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory."

For the first time, race played a significant role in a legalization campaign, said DPA director of national affairs Bill Piper.

"This was the first legalization campaign in which the racial disproportionality of marijuana enforcement played a major role," he noted. "Initiative 71 sets the stage for the DC council to create a new model for legalizing marijuana – one that places racial justice front and center."

While the voters in DC have now spoken on marijuana legalization, Congress still has a chance to intervene, but that appears unlikely. Congress has 30 days to act or the measure becomes law, but that require a measure to override the will of District votes to be approved by both Houses and signed into law by the president.

Congress could also attach a rider to the DC appropriations bill barring all funding to implement the measure, but it appears that the bill, which should be approved next month or early next year, will be handled through a budget deal with no riders.

Legal marijuana is coming to the nation's capital. 

Washington, DC
United States

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Wins Majority, But Falls Short of Victory

Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

The Amendment 2 campaign was run by United for Care/People United for Medical Marijuana, which spent more than $6 million. Its most prominent figure was attorney John Morgan, a well-known Florida political figure, who contributed $3.7 million to the cause as of September 4, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

But the opposition was also organized and rolling in cash. The Drug Free Florida campaign committee was generously and almost entirely funded by conservative Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who contributed more than $5 million of the $5.6 million the campaign had raised by late October.

Most of that $5 million was spent on fear-mongering TV ads that managed to erode what had been strong initial support for the measure. Up until about a month ago, Amendment 2 had consistently polled above—sometimes well above—60%.

While bemoaning the defeat, drug reformers took some solace in Amendment 2's strong showing, with a majority voting in favor of it.

"A tremendous majority of Floridians voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes today – and that’s what really matters notwithstanding the fact that the initiative will not be implemented," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Today’s vote is a confirmation of medical marijuana's broad support across the political spectrum and sends a powerful message not just to Florida legislators but also throughout the South and even nationally." 

"While it's disappointing that patients in Florida won't be able to find legal relief with marijuana just yet, tonight's result does show that a clear majority of voters in the Sunshine State support a new direction," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "The campaign this year faced several key challenges, including that it took place during a midterm election in which turnout dynamics don't favor marijuana reform. Next time medical marijuana is on the ballot, organizers should put patients and medical professionals at the forefront of the campaign rather than relying on a well-meaning but much less sympathetic political donor as the chief spokesperson."

Angell was referring to John Morgan, but in an email to supporters Tuesday night, Morgan gave no indication he was going away.

"We may not have passed Amendment 2 tonight, but make no mistake, tonight was a victory in the fight for medical marijuana in Florida," he wrote. "Our next governor will take the oath of office having won less than a majority of Floridians' votes. The idea that marijuana is medicine and that those suffering and in pain should not be made criminals, received a larger share of the vote than the winner of the last six gubernatorial elections and every presidential campaign in Florida for decades."

Now, he said, it is time to take the fight to the state legislature in Tallahassee. And if the legislature doesn't act, he's vowing to be back in 2016.

"And the people will not be denied a second time," he vowed.  "I have this final message to the patients in Florida - compassion may have been delayed, but it is coming."

FL
United States

Chronicle AM: Drug Issues on the Ballot, Guam Approves MedMJ, UK Drug Policy Row Continues, More (11/4/2014)

We're waiting for election results--except for Guam, where medical marijuana has already won--Britain's governing coalition continues to implode on drug policy, Paraguay tries to crack down, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

It's Election Day! Marijuana Policy Reform is on the Ballot in Three States, DC, and in Various Local Elections. Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and DC are voting on marijuana legalization, while voters in Florida are voting on medical marijuana. Click on the title link for details on the various state-level initiatives. Local marijuana-related ballot issues are on the ballot in five states. Stay tuned to the Chronicle; we'll be posting election results as they come in through the evening.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. In the first election results of the day, voters in Guam have approved a medical marijuana initiative. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Iowa Board of Pharmacy to Hold Hearing on Medical Marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

Drug Testing

It's Election Day! Drug Testing Doctors is on the Ballot in California. In California, an initiative designed to increase the caps on medical malpractice awards is catching the attention not only of powerful legal and medical interests, but also drug reformers. That's because, in what opponents call a cynical ploy, the malpractice initiative leads with a provision to impose drug testing on doctors. Proposition 46, whose controversial ballot title is "Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors, Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute," would, if passed, make California the first state in the nation to impose drug testing on doctors. Click on the title link to read our feature story on the initiative.

Sentencing Policy

It's Election Day! Defelonization of Drug Possession (and Other Offenses) is on the Ballot in California. Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters. The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state. Click on the link to read our feature story about the initiative.

International

Paraguay Moves to Crack Down on Drug Trafficking and Corruption. Members of the government's legislative, executive, and judicial branches met Monday and agreed on measures to thwart drug trafficking and to prevent people with links to the traffic from seeking public office. The move comes after the murder of a reporter covering the drug trade two weeks ago. In addition to barring political participation, the government agreed to move all drug trafficking trials to the capital, Asuncion. Meeting participants also discussed asset forfeiture measures, but didn't act on them. Paraguay is South America's largest marijuana producer.

British Lib Dem Minister Resigns Over Drug Policy Differences With Tories. Differences over drug policy continue to roil Britain's governing coalition. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has resigned as Home Office minister after coalition senior partners, the Conservatives, rejected plans to liberalize the country's drug laws. Baker said support for a "rational, evidence-based policy" was nonexistent at the Home Office and that working with Home Secretary Theresa May on the issue was like "walking through mud." The Lib Dems have been called for drug decrimilization; the Tories aren't interested. 

Guam Voters Approve Medical Marijuana

In the first election results of the day, voters in Guam have approved a medical marijuana initiative. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote.

The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

The new law is vague and leaves much in the hands of the Department of Health and Social Services. It directs the agency "to regulate the use of marijuana as treatment for medical conditions or diseases specified in the proposal or designated by the Department at a later time. It further directs the Department to develop rules within nine months, consistent with the proposal to regulate all aspects of the use of marijuana for medical purposes on Guam. The proposal further removes the criminal penalties relating to marijuana when used by qualified patients pursuant to the act."

Mainland drug reformers welcomed the results from the far Pacific territory.

"That’s great news, and a positive omen, for marijuana reform efforts across the country," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Guam is quite conservative politically and home to a significant U.S. military presence, so this resounding victory is a confirmation of medical marijuana's broad support across the political spectrum."

 

"The marijuana majority is a truly global phenomenon," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "People all across the world are ready to move beyond failed prohibition laws, especially when seriously ill patients are criminalized just for following their doctors' recommendations. With these election results, US territories stretching from Guam -- where America's day begins near the International Date Line -- to Hawaii and Alaska have sensible laws that let patients use marijuana without fear of arrest. And this is just the beginning of a very big day. It's likely that we'll see other important marijuana reforms enacted today as election results come in from races across the US."

GU
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Measure 91 Looking Good, FL Amendment 2 in Trouble, Iran Drug Executions, More (11/3/14)

It's looking good in Oregon, not so good in Florida; Guam's archbishop comes out against medical marijuana, a conservative PAC funded by the Koch brothers is seeking to peel off "stoner" votes from Democrats, there's cannabis club news from Barcelona and Uruguay, Iran drug executions are in the news, and more. Let's get to it:

Execution by hanging in Iran. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy        

Oregon Measure 91 At 52% in Latest Poll. It looks like Oregon will be the next state to legalize marijuana. The latest SurveyUSA poll, released last week, has the Measure 91 legalization initiate winning with 52% of the vote. Only 41% said they were voting against it. That is generally in line with other recent polls. Late in September, SurveyUSA had Measure 91 under 50%, but leading by four points, with 16% undecided. In mid-October, an Oregon Public Broadcasting poll had the measure winning with 52%, again with 41% opposed. Only one recent poll, an Oregonian poll last week, had Measure 91 trailing. In that survey, 44% were in favor and 46% opposed, with 9% undecided. But the results were well within the poll's +/-5% margin of error, and it was also weighted toward older voters.

Medical Marijuana

Another Bad News Poll for Florida's Amendment 2. Yet another poll is out showing the medical marijuana initiative, Amendment 2, failing to achieve the 60% of the vote necessary to win.  A new SEA Polling and Strategic Design poll has support for the initiative at 55%. The initiative needs 60% because it is a constitutional amendment. Other recent polls have also shown the initiative coming up short.

On Eve of Election, Guam Archbishop Urges "No" Vote on Medical Marijuana. Guam Catholic Archbishop Anthony Apuron called over the weekend for his flock to vote against the US territory's legislatively-sponsored medical marijuana initiative. Apuron cited Pope Francis's concerns that marijuana is a drug and its effects on users. The island is about 85% Catholic.

Illinois Begins Second Round of Patient Registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Drug Policy

Conservative PAC Courts "Stoner" Vote in Bid to Peel Votes from Democrats. In what The Nation's John Nichols calls "the most cynical ploy" of this year's election season, a Koch brothers-supported group, the American Future Fund (AFF), is using social media campaigns hailing marijuana legalization, "our progressive values," and third-party candidates to attack Democratic candidates and try to peel away Democratic votes in key races. In North Carolina, an AFF ad targets Democratic US Senate candidate Kay Hagan: "Don’t even think about voting for Kay Hagan," the ad says. "She doesn’t share our values. You want legalization of marijuana, she’s against it. You want to stop sending our troops overseas, she voted for it. Vote Sean Haugh: He shares our progressive values: pro-legalization, pro-environment, more weed, less war." Haugh is the Libertarian candidate and could be the spoiler in this close race. Click on the link to read the whole piece; it's a real eye-opener.

International

Iran, Saudi Arabia Execute More Drug Offenders. Saudi Arabia beheaded two people for drug smuggling last week. Pakistani national Mohammed Gul Rahma was executed for heroin smuggling, while Saudi national Mohammed bin Noun bin Nasser Al Dhufairi was executed for smuggling amphetamine pills. Meanwhile in Iran, authorities last week hanged five people convicted of drug smuggling. They were identified only by their initials.

Iran Says Nearly All Executions are for Drug Trafficking. Responding to criticism from the United Nations over its routine resort to the death penalty, Iranian officials explained that almost all executions in the country were for drug offenses. The UN cited at least 852 executions between July 2013 and June 2014. According to Iran Human Rights Council President Javad Larijani, 93% of them were for illegal drug smuggling.

Barcelona to Bar Under-21s from Cannabis Clubs. The Catalonia parliamentary health commission is set to raise the minimum age for membership in cannabis clubs from 18 to 21 when it meets on Thursday. It is also expected to bar new clubs from opening near schools and day care centers. The new rules come after months of discussions between health officials, parliament, and club representatives in the wake of an August crackdown that saw 49 of the clubs closed. The remaining 300 clubs will now have to be licensed and will also have to wait 15 days before supplying marijuana to new members.

Registration Begins for Uruguay Cannabis Growers' Clubs. Registration has begun for marijuana growing clubs under the country's marijuana legalization law. Licensed clubs with up to 45 members will be able to grow 99 plants each year. People can already individually grow up to six plants at home. Under the law, each club member can produce a little over a pound (480 grams) a year.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

Final Poll Has Oregon's Marijuana Legalization Measure 91 With 52%

It looks like Oregon will be the next state to legalize marijuana. The latest SurveyUSA poll, released last week, has the Measure 91 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote. Only 41% said they were voting against it.

That is generally in line with other recent polls. Late in September, SurveyUSA had Measure 91 under 50%, but leading by four points, with 16% undecided. In mid-October, an Oregon Public Broadcasting poll had the measure winning with 52%, again with 41% opposed.

Only one recent poll, an Oregonian poll last week, had Measure 91 trailing. In that survey, 44% were in favor and 46% opposed, with 9% undecided. But the results were well within the poll's +/-5% margin of error, and it was also weighted toward older voters.

In this latest SurveyUSA poll, the measure was more strongly supported by men (56%) than women (49%) and more strongly supported by 18-to-34-year olds (71%) and 50-to-64-year-olds (61%) than voters 65 or over (36%). Voters in the 35-to-49 age group were split evenly, with 46% in support and 46% opposed.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65%) and a healthy majority of independents (57%) were in favor of Measure 91, while fewer than a third of Republicans (32%) supported it.

Oregon is a mail-in ballot state. Most ballots have been cast already. The late polls should reflect what many voters have already decided. Stay tuned tomorrow night, though; it ain't over until it's over. 

OR
United States

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Council Ponders Pot, NJ Cops Get Naloxone, Denmark Funds MedMJ Research, More (10/31/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 is getting big bucks and using innovative outreach techniques in the final days, the DC council ponders how to implement pot legalization, NYC councilmembers demand the cops quit targeting minority men for pot busts, Denmark funds research on medical marijuana (but not underground trolls!), and more. Let's get to it:

Opioid overdose reversal kit handed out to police in Mercer County, NJ. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy       

Last Minute Contributions Boost Oregon's Measure 91. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed another $250,000 to the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative campaign as the clock ticks down toward election day. That means Drug Policy Action has now donated $1.74 million of the $3.9 million raised by the campaign. The campaign is also getting a boost from pot legalization supporter US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has made an in-kind contribution of $40,020 to help pay for TV ads.

Oregon's Measure 91 Campaign Using Innovative "Did They Vote?" Website. The campaign is using DidTheyVote.org, a web site that allows voters in the state to log on and see if their Facebook friends have voted. If the friends haven't voted, people using the web site can "nudge" them to do so. "Check to see if your Facebook friends turned in their ballots! It takes 60 seconds. If it appears the elections office hasn’t received your friends’ ballots yet, you can give them a little nudge by sending them a reminder message," the web site explains. The web site is a project of the progressive non-profit group Our Oregon.

Sacramento Federal Court Hearing on Marijuana Scheduling Ends. In a groundbreaking federal court hearing, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento has heard five days of evidence around whether marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors and scientists made a strong case that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I. The judge issued no immediate ruling, but instead requested extensive briefs from the parties involved. She could rule on the issue two months from now or more. Click on the link to get some flavor of the discussion.

Five NYC Councilmembers Accuse NYPD of Continuing to Target Minority Men for Pot Arrests. Five black or Latino city council members today sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton charging that the NYPD continues to single out young men of color for marijuana arrests. "This is not an abstract issue for us," the letter said. "We approach this issue not just as lawmakers but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices. The NYPD continues to target people who look like us, and we know from our own experiences and those of our peers that these racially skewed arrests create distrust between young men of color and the police." The letter was signed by Councilmen Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), and Donovan Richards (D-Queens). While arrests have declined from the 50,000 in 2011 to some 29,000 last year, minority men are still the primary target, the councilmen said.

DC Council Holds Hearing on Moving Toward Legalization. With the marijuana possession and cultivation initiate Measure 71 heading for an apparent victory at the polls on Tuesday, the DC city council is moving to address how to tax and regulate legal marijuana in the District. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and its Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint hearing Thursday to begin to lay the groundwork. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New York US Representatives Ask Justice Department to Let State Import High-CBD Medical Marijuana for Sick Kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

Harm Reduction

Every Cop Car in Mercer County, New Jersey, To Be Armed With Overdose Reversal Drug. Police departments in Mercer County (Trenton) are now armed with 600 naloxone (Narcan) opiate overdose reversal kits. Beginning tomorrow, every patrol vehicle in the county will have one, as will every detective vehicle and detention center. Police in the state have begun carrying the drug since Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered it made available throughout the state following successful pilot programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Officials said naloxone had saved 325 lives in the state so far.  

International

Britain's Cameron Stands Firm: No Drug Policy Review. Facing an insurrection over drug policy from the junior partners in his governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, after a Home Office report found no obvious link between tough drug laws and drug use levels, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is stubbornly refusing to consider any changes to Britain's drug policy. "I don’t think anyone can read that report and say it definitely justifies this approach or that approach, but the evidence is what we’re doing is working," Cameron said, citing falling levels of drug use. "I don’t believe in decriminalizing drugs that are illegal today. I’m a parent with three children; I don’t want to send out a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe." In a sign of the depth of the discord between the coalition partners, Cameron's statement also included a zinger aimed at the Lib Dems: "The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs."

Denmark to Fund Medical Marijuana Research. The Danish government agreed Thursday to distribute at least $6 million for health research that will include research on medical marijuana. The funding is part of a broader agreement to fund socially relevant research. Strangely enough, the Danish newspaper article linked to above ends by noting that "no additional funds were set aside for the study of underground trolls."

Chronicle AM: Cops for Pot Legalization, British Drug Policy Squabble, Afghan Opium Warning, More (10/30/14)

Cops raise their voices in support of marijuana legalization initiatives, the US government's Afghanistan watchdog slams our drug policies there, Louisiana bans a synthetic cannabinoid and Russia wants to do the same, Britain's Lib Dems and Tories are going at each other over drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Synthetic cannabinoid products (Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals)
Marijuana Policy       

Cops Come Out in Support of Oregon Measure 91. Some 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges have come out in support of the Measure 91 legalization initiative. The campaign held a press conference with some of them yesterday and released a letter from them. "Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,"they said. "Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels."

Former Seattle Police Chief Campaigns for Alaska's Measure 2. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is hitting the hustings up north to garner support for the Measure 2 legalization initiative. The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member has also been making the rounds in Anchorage, appearing on talk radio shows and other media in support of the measure. He is attempting to counter opposition to the measure from the likes of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs.

Vermont Sets Public Hearing on Marijuana Policy. The state government has set a November 12 date for a public hearing that will "provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont." The hearing comes ahead of a mandated January report to the legislature on issues related to marijuana legalization from Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. Click on the link for more event details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans New Synthetic Cannabinoid. After more than 125 people got sick in Baton Rouge this month, state officials Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. The state has twice before banned other synthetic cannabinoids, once in March and again in July. The compound has been sold in products with names like "Mojo," "Spice," and "Scooby Snax." Read the emergency rule here.

International

US Afghan Watchdog Warns on Opium. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has warned that the country's opium economy is threatening reconstruction efforts and that the US is not adequately addressing the problem. Anti-drug efforts have "largely fallen off the Afghan agenda," he said in a quarterly report released today. Sopko also criticized the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for "wasting" more than $7 billion on failed drug control policies. "There is nothing that they have said to me or my staff that would indicate that there's any idea of how to improve the situation," he said in an interview ahead of the release of the report. "Has anyone had their job performance -- in the State Department, Department of Defense or [US]AID -- affected by the fact that they failed over the past 13 years to do anything on counternarcotics? No." The report itself is worth a read.

British Drug Policy Squabble. The junior and senior partners in Britain's governing coalition are going after each other in an increasingly nasty fight over drug policy occasioned by a new Home Office report on new synthetic drugs. The report found "there is a lack of clear correlation between tough drugs laws and levels of abuse." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hammered the Tories as being "frightened" of drug reform and having "a totally misplaced, outdated, backwards-looking view" on drug policy. Conservatives shot back that the Lib Dems were using the report for "naked political posturing" and accused the party of pursing "a dangerous and irresponsible" agenda of decriminalization. Get more details by clicking the links.

INCB Meets in Vienna. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) began its 111th session today in Vienna. At the opening, board President Dr. Lochan Naidoo stressed his concerns about insufficient access to medicines containing narcotic or psychotropic drugs and noted the obligation of treaty parties to ensure access to such medicines to ensure treatment and prevent pain and suffering.

Russian Government Submits Bill to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids. President Vladimir Putin today submitted to the State Duma a bill to ban the sale and use of synthetic cannabinoid products. The bill names the cannabinoids as dangerous substances, bans their use, and gives the Federal Drug Control Agency authority to create a registry of such banned substances. The agency reports that more than a thousand users of the drugs have been hospitalized in the last year and 40 have died.

Austrian Neos Party Supports Marijuana Legalization. A neoliberal political party that has just won its first seats in parliament has come out in support of legalization. The Neos (or New Austria) Party embraced the position at its party conference this past weekend.  "We support self- responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense", party leader Mat Strolz said Tuesday. The Neos are the first part to embrace legalization in the wake of a parliamentary citizens' initiative that has so far gathered more than 27,000 signatures, making it the third most popular in Austrian history. It's not just new fringe parties that are considering the issue. The leaders of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats, will vote on legalization at their party convention next month. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

New York, San Francisco, and Phoenix all had corrupt cop cases this week. So did East Orange, New Jersey. Let's get to it:

In East Orange, New Jersey, an East Orange police officer was indicted last Thursday along with two others on charges she was dealing cocaine out of her home. Officer Rajheher Massenburg, 35, now faces charges of official misconduct and conspiracy to distribute narcotics in what appears to be a cocaine ring run by her housemate and father of her children. Her housemate got hit with more serious charges, including multiple counts of cocaine distribution.

In San Francisco, a former San Francisco police officer pleaded guilty last Thursday in a major corruption case that involved stealing money and drugs from suspects and distributing the ripped off drugs. Reynaldo Vargas copped to four felony counts and promised to testify against his former colleagues in their upcoming trial. In his plea agreement, he admitted that "I stole computers and other property from subjects during searches and arrests. I took the computers and other property, including gift cards and money, during law enforcement operations and, rather than booking them into evidence as I was required to do, I kept them for my own personal use and enrichment." He also admitted stealing marijuana from a UPS parcel police had intercepted and turning it over to informants to sell.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer was found guilty Monday of helping what he thought were drug dealers to move several kilos of heroin from the Bronx to Brooklyn. Jose Ramos went down in a sting operation and was convicted of attempted possession of a controlled substance, attempted grand larceny, and attempted robbery. It's not over for Ramos. He still faces a conspiracy count for trying to get an informant killed. The Ramos case also led directly to the NYPD ticket-fixing scandal, in which more than a dozen cops are accused of fixing parking and traffic tickets for friends and family members. Those cops go on trial in January.

In Phoenix, a former Phoenix police officer was sentenced last Friday to 3 ½ years in prison for stealing drugs from the department evidence room. William McCartney had pleaded guilty in June to one count each of theft and fraudulent schemes. He originally faced 40 counts. 

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