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Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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 today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

The New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office reported today.

It won't get a measure number until next month.

First word came in an email from New Approach Oregon's Anthony Johnson. When the Chronicle contacted Johnson to confirm the email, he said "I got the call from the secretary of state's office today."

The initiative had needed some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify; it handed in about 145,000 a couple of weeks ago.

That means Oregon will join Alaska in voting on marijuana legalization this year. The District of Columbia is also likely to join that list; the cultivation and possession legalization initiative there is awaiting certification after handing in more than twice the number of signatures required to make the ballot.

Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012. Now, at least two more states, and probably DC, have the chance to legalize it this year. And then comes 2016.

Eugene, OR
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 22, 2014

This is the Drug War Chronicle, not the Marijuana Policy Chronicle, but that's how the news breaks sometimes. It's all marijuana and medical marijuana news today. Let's get to it:

Medical marijuana -- on the move worldwide. (Colorado DOT)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon's Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. New Approach Oregon, sponsors of an initiative to legalize sales, possession and home growing of marijuana, announced today that the Secretary of State's office has qualified the initiative for the ballot. Voters will get to decide on it in November. If the initiative passes, the state will have until January 2016 to put together a regulatory structure.

Coloradans Still Like Their Marijuana Law, But Not Public Pot Smoking. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Coloradans support legal marijuana by a margin of 54% to 43%. Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana passed in November 2012 with 54.8%. But respondents oppose allowing marijuana to be smoked in bars (65%), other entertainment venues (63%), and a plurality (49%) even opposed allowing it to be smoked at invitation-only events.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Debated. Proponents and opponents of Ballot Measure 2, the Alaska legalization initiative, debated the merits and demerits of the measure at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce's luncheon Monday. Representatives of the Yes on 2 campaign duked it out with representatives of the No on 2 campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Patients, Advocates to Protest Problems With New Hampshire Program Wednesday. Tomorrow, the one-year anniversary of Gov. Hassan's (D) signing of the state's medical marijuana law, patients and advocates will gather at the statehouse in Concord to protest delays and other problems with the implementation of the law. It starts at 9:30am.

Veterans Gather at University of Arizona to Demand Reinstatement of Medical Marijuana Researcher. A group of veterans is gathered today at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix to protest the firing and demand the reinstatement of Dr. Sue Sisley, who was set to do FDA-approved research into medical marijuana for veterans with PTSD before she was fired. Sisley accuses political opponents of medical marijuana of being responsible for her termination.

Arkansas Attorney General Reject Medical Marijuana Initiative Wording. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of an initiative aimed at putting medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot. The initiative is sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which tried unsuccessfully to get a similar initiative on the ballot this year.

International

German Court Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can Grow Their Own. The Cologne Administrative Court ruled today that patients can grow their own marijuana -- if no alternative to medical marijuana exists and buying it at a pharmacy is too expensive. The state health insurance system doesn't cover the cost of medical marijuana, so five patients sought a legal exemption to grow their own. Now, they have it. Currently, 270 people in Germany hold permits to buy and consume cannabis for medical purposes.

Medical Marijuana Gaining Ground in Australia's New South Wales. Premier Mike Baird, Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner, and opposition leader John Robertson have all said this week that they support the idea of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, as long as concerns over regulation and supply are addressed. The state Green Party also supports it. One member of parliament, Kevin Anderson, said he will file a private member's bill next month to allow for patients and caregivers to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.

Colombia's Liberal Party Wants to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The Liberal Party will support a bill to legalize medical marijuana, according to national media reports. Senator Juan Manuel Galan said that he would introduce such a bill. The move comes a few months after the mayor of Bogota asked the national government to begin a debate on the topic.

Chronicle AM -- July 21, 2014

The World Health Organization calls for drug decriminalization (and more), international drug reform and harm reduction groups warn of an AIDS prevention crisis, marijuana policy is popping up in some Republican primaries, and more. Let's get to it:

Times are changing when marijuana legalization becomes an issue in Republican primaries. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Urges Votes for Bob Barr in Georgia Republican Congressional Primary Tomorrow. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on its Georgia supporters to get out and vote for Republican congressional candidate Bob Barr in the primary tomorrow in the state's 11th congressional district. Barr made a reputation in the 1990s as an arch-drug warrior, but has since become a staunch supporter of drug policy reform and civil liberties.

Kansas GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Challenges Incumbent With Platform That Includes Legalizing Marijuana. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is facing a long-shot challenge from Jennifer Winn, a small businesswoman whose son is facing a murder charge over a marijuana deal gone bad. She says she entered the race out of anger over that, and her platform includes legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp, as well as a broader call for drug policy reform. Her race is being watched as a sign of how damaged the state GOP is after years of Brownback's ultraconservative social and economic policies.

Washington State Rang Up $1.2 Million in Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of stores were actually open and supplies were limited, but the first week of legal marijuana sales in Washington still generated more than $1.2 million in sales, according to the state Liquor Control Board. It also generated $318,043 in taxes collected so far.

Despite Philadelphia City Council's Decriminalization Vote, Marijuana Possession Arrests Continue. Last month, the city council voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, but Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill, and Police Chief Charles Ramsey vowed to continue marijuana possession arrests. He's lived up to his word. Since the bill was passed, 246 people have been arrested for pot possession, 140 of them charged only with pot possession. Of the 124 people charged with additional crimes, the vast majority were only drug charges. Mayor Nutter has until September to act on the decriminalization bill. He can sign it, veto it, or do nothing, in which case it becomes law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) yesterday signed into law a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing people with seizure disorders to use it and by allowing minors to participate in it with parental consent. The measure is Senate Bill 2636.

New Mexico Backs Off on Medical Marijuana Program Changes. The state Department of Health announced last Thursday that it will not move forward with proposed rule changes that included limiting the number of plants patients could grow and requiring criminal background checks for patient growers. The department said there will likely be another hearing for public comments before new rules are finalized this fall.

Psychedelics

Memorial Event for Sasha Shulgin in Berkeley Next Month. The psychonauts at Erowid are hosting a memorial and community gathering in Berkeley next month to honor the memory of Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the legendary scientist of psychedelics who died early last month. Please RSVP if you are planning to attend; click on the link to do so.

Drug Policy

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Broad Drug Policy Reforms. In a report on HIV treatment and prevention released earlier this month, the World Health Organization quietly called for drug decriminalization, needle exchanges, and opiate substitution therapy. The WHO's positions are based on concerns for public health and human rights.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Hearing on Welfare Drug Test Law Tomorrow. The Department of Human Services is holding a hearing tomorrow in Jackson to hear public comment on a new welfare drug testing law that was supposed to have gone into effect July 1. It was delayed to allow for a public hearing. The law is opposed by the ACLU and racial and social justice activists. Click on the link for time and location details.

Harm Reduction

Drug Reform and AIDS Groups Warn of "Global Crisis" in HIV Prevention Funding, Especially for Injection Drug Users. As the 20th International AIDS Conference gets underway in Melbourne, Australia, three drug reform, harm reduction, and AIDS groups have issued a report, The Funding Crisis for Harm Reduction, warning that because of donor fatigue, changing government policies, and an over-reliance on drug law enforcement, the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" risks slipping away. The three groups are Harm Reduction International, the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Law Enforcement

In Forsythe County, North Carolina, Majority of SWAT Deployments are For Drug Raids. SWAT teams were designed to be used in extreme situations -- hostage-taking events, terrorist attacks, and the like -- but have been subject to mission creep over the years. Forsythe County is one example. In an in-depth report, the Winston-Salem Journal found that the Forsythe County SWAT team had been deployed 12 times in the past year and the Winston-Salem Police SWAT team had been deployed 40 days in the past year "mostly to execute search warrants for drugs."

International

Report on Illicit Drug Corridors Between Bolivia and Peru Published. In a report based on on-the-scene investigation, the Bolivian NGO Puente Investigacion y Enlace (PIE), led by former human rights ombudsman Godo Reinicke, has studied the drug and precursor chemical networks straddling the Peru-Bolivia border. Read the report, Corredores ilicitos entre Boliva-Peru, ¿Rutas escondidas y extrañas? in Spanish, or click on your translate button.

(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.)

US Drug Policy and the Border Child Immigration Crisis [FEATURE]

The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.

At the border. (COHA)
The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.

A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.

And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.

The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.

They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)

Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.

"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.

"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."

While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.

"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.

"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."

"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikipedia.org)
At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.

"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."

"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.

"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."

"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."

"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."

Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.

"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."

"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.

Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.

"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.

"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."

"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."

This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.

Sentencing Commission Makes Drug Sentencing Reductions Retroactive

The US Sentencing Commission Friday voted unanimously to make previously agreed upon federal drug sentencing reductions retroactive. That means tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could see sentence cuts beginning in November 2015.

The move comes after the Commission's April decision to amend federal sentencing guidelines by lowering base offense levels in the guidelines' Drug Quantity Table across all drug types, which should lead to lower sentences for most federal drug offenders. Today's vote means that sentencing judges can extend that reduction to people currently serving drug sentences.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

"We did it! We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment," an elated Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), wrote to supporters. "Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. The average sentence reduction for those who qualify will be two years!"

The Sentencing Commission had asked for public input on its pending decision and was swamped with some 65,000 letters. FAMM took credit for much of that.

"I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," Stewart wrote. "With your help, we generated most of the 65,000 letters the US Sentencing Commission received about this issue. And more than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 to reject the amendment to reduce drug guidelines. If it fails to act by then, federal courts could begin considering petitions for sentence reductions, but no prisoners would be released under the reductions until November 15, 2015.

"The delay will help to protect public safety by enabling appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges, ensuring effective supervision of offenders upon release, and allowing for effective reentry plans," Saris said.

Look for a Chronicle feature article on this ground-breaking move early next week.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 18, 2014

Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners could get out early after the US Sentencing Commission votes to make guideline reductions retroactive, the Ohio Supreme Court moves to cut some crack sentences, FedEx gets indicted for shipping pills for Internet pharmacies (and not taking a deal with the feds), and more. Let's get to it:

Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, CO. There may soon be room at the inn. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Business Alliance Formed. Albany-area medical marijuana lobbyists have formed a business alliance to jointly fight for their interests. The group is called the Medical Cannabis Industry Alliance of New York. Members will include growers, advocates, real estate interests, and other businesses associated with medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Advocates to Demonstrate at Statehouse Next Wednesday to Criticize Medical Marijuana Program Delays. Next Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Gov. Maggie Hassan's signing of the state's medical marijuana bill, but the state's program is beset with needless delays, say advocates, who will gather at the statehouse in Concord next Wednesday to shine a media spotlight on the problem. Click on the link to RSVP.

Northern California Congressman Calls on US Attorney to Go After "Trespass" Marijuana Growers, Not People Complying With State Law. US Rep. Jared Hoffman (D-CA) sent a letter Wednesday to Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag urging her "to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law." Hoffman called "trespass" growers "the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health" in Northern California. Click on the link to read the letter in its entirety.

New Synthetic Drugs

Alaska Tries New Tactic in Battle Against Synthetics -- Fining Stores That Sell Them. Gov. Sean Parnell (R) Wednesday signed into law a bill designed to block the retail sale of synthetic drugs by defining them as products with "false or misleading labels" and imposing fines similar to traffic tickets on people who sell or possess them. The move comes after earlier efforts to suppress the new synthetics were undermined by manufacturers who adjusted their recipes to avoid lists of banned synthetics.

Law Enforcement

FedEx Hit With Criminal Indictment for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs. A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments. Read the indictment here.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously for Retroactivity in Drug Sentencing, Could Affect 46,000 Federal Prisoners. The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015. The Commission estimates that more than 46,000 offenders would be eligible to seek sentence reductions in court. These offenders' sentences could be reduced by 25 months on average. Click on the link for more information.

Ohio Supreme Court Rules Crack Defendants Sentenced After New Law to Reduce Disparities Went Into Effect Must Be Resentenced. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants convicted before laws reducing the penalty for possessing crack cocaine went into effect, but sentenced after they went into effect must be resentenced under the new law. The case is State v. Limoli.

International

Australia Drug Use Survey Released. The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, was released Thursday. Cigarette smoking is down, youth drinking is down, and so is the use of heroin, ecstasy, and GHB. The misuse of pharmaceuticals is up, and the use of meth remains steady.

Ending Moratorium, Singapore Executes Two Convicted Drug Dealers. Singapore today hanged two convicted drug dealers, the first executions for drug offenses since it imposed a moratorium on them in 2011. Tang Hai Liang, 36, had been convicted of trafficking 89.55 grams (3.2 ounces) of pure heroin and Foong Chee Peng, 48, had been found guilty of dealing 40.23 grams of the same illegal drug. Both are Singapore citizens. They had chosen not to seek resentencing under a 2012 law that abolished mandatory death sentences in some drug trafficking cases.

FedEx Indicted on Criminal Charges for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs

A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments.

FedEx truck, Chicago (wikimedia.org)
Read the indictment here.

The move comes after FedEx rejected offers from federal prosecutors to cut a deal. FedEx's chief competitor, UPS, settled a similar case last year by agreeing to pay $40 million after being linked to the shipment of prescription drugs by illegal online pharmacies. Both cases were brought by US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag. [Ed: Haag is loathed by the medical marijuana community for action taken against northern California providers.]

But unlike UPS, FedEx refused to settle. And now, it is vowing to fight the charges.

"FedEx is innocent of the charges," the company said in a statement. "We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees."

In the past, the company has said it wouldn't settle because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong. FedEx argues that it should not be held responsible for the contents of the tens of millions of packages it ships each year. The company has acknowledged that it has been under grand jury scrutiny for several years.

The grand jury indictment accuses FedEx of knowingly shipping prescription drugs for two different online pharmacy operations, both of which were prosecuted by the Justice Department. It accuses FedEx of ignoring warnings about doing so for years.

"The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides," said US Attorney Haag. "This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior."

The charges carry with them a sentence of up to five years probation and fines totaling "twice the gross gains derived from the offense," or $820 million. Because no individuals are named in the indictment, however, it's not clear who or what would be on probation if FedEx is tried and convicted.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 17, 2014

Marijuana decriminalization comes to the nation's capital, Vermont is set to study marijuana legalization, New Jersey residents press for "decarceration," Canadians are ready for marijuana reform, and more. Let's get to it:

Decriminalization is now the law in the District of Columbia.
Marijuana Policy

The District of Columbia is Decriminalized. The decriminalization of the possession of an ounce of less of marijuana is now the law in the nation's capital. A law passed by the DC city council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray (D) went into effect one minute after minute. Small time pot possession is now punishable only by a fine of $25. But the cops can still take your stash.

Vermont Launches Study of Marijuana Legalization. The state has hired the RAND Corporation to sort through the issues around legalizing marijuana in the Green Mountain State. The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) says the study is needed because lawmakers are expected to take up the issue during the legislative session next year. A report is expected to be issued by January.

Medical Marijuana

UFCW to Start Representing Washington State Medical Marijuana Workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 367 announced this week that it expects to represents workers at a Puyallup medical marijuana collective. The UFCW represents a variety of retail, food processing, manufacturing, and production workers, but has also been active in the medical marijuana industry and has a Cannabis Workers Rising campaign, especially in California, where it has organized numerous work sites.

Drug Policy

Netroots Nation Gathering to Take Up Drug War Issues Friday. The ninth annual gathering of progressive voices known as Netroots Nation, meeting in Detroit this week, will address the war on drugs during a panel Friday. The panel is called "Marijuana Arrests: The Gateway to Mass Incarceration." The panel will take place at 4:30pm and can viewed live online here.

Sentencing

New Jersey Campaign to Reduce Incarceration Gets Underway. Residents of Essex County have launched a campaign to get lawmakers to pass legislation that would reduce incarceration in the Garden State. More than a thousand of them have signed a Change.org petition urging legislators to pass a bill they call the New Jersey Decarceration Act, which would lead to a large-scale release of nonviolent drug and other offenders.

International

Canadians Ready for Marijuana Reform, Poll Finds. An Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by the Department of Justice has found that seven out of 10 Canadians are ready to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. Some 37% of respondents said it should be legalized, while another 33% said it should be decriminalized. Only 14% supported the status quo, while 12% wanted harsher penalties. The poll was commissioned by the government in December, but it hid the results until the newspaper The Star managed to obtain them.

Malaysian Court Sentences Nigerian Student to Death for Marijuana Trafficking. A Malaysian High Court judge sentenced Nigerian college student Uchechukwu Nelson Ohaechesi to be hanged after he was convicted of trafficking 26.5 kilograms of marijuana.

New Offers: "After Legalization" E-Books, and "High Price" Signed for Reduced Price

Posted in:

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Dear StoptheDrugWar.org supporter:

For the first time ever we are offering an "E-Book" as our latest membership premium. The book is "After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy," by John Walker of Firedoglake. Read our review of the book, by Drug War Chronicle editor Phil Smith, here. Donate $12 or more to StoptheDrugWar.org, and we will email you a code and instructions for downloading After Legalization (epub or mobi format).

We also continue to offer author-signed copies of Dr. Carl Hart's "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society" -- now for a reduced minimum donation amount of $35. (Author-signed copies will be sent for as long as current stocks last. After they run out, we reserve the right to send unsigned copies if necessary.)

For a minimum donation of $40, you can request both High Price and After Legalization. For any premium order, make sure to specify your request using our donation form's drop-down menu, or use the comment box for any special instructions.

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Although we've asked for the above-listed minimum donation amounts to qualify for these gifts with your membership, I also hope you'll donate more if you can afford to. Things have changed in the drug reform funding scene, making our organization more dependent on membership to continue our programs.

Also note that donations to StoptheDrugWar.org can be tax-deductible, supporting our educational work, or non-deductible, supporting our lobbying work. (Note that selecting any gift items reduces the amount of your donation that is deductible -- which with a smaller gift amount can be most of it.) Donations can be made by credit card or PayPal at http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate, or sent by mail to P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016. If you are donating by check, please make it payable to DRCNet Foundation (if tax-deductible) or Drug Reform Coordination Network (if not deductible). If you wish to donate stock, the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC#0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts -- please make sure to contact us if donating in this way.

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David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Chronicle Interview: Drug Policy Researcher Beau Kilmer [FEATURE]

Beau Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he codirects the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. His research lies at the intersection of public health and public safety, with a special emphasis on substance use, illicit markets, crime, and public policy. Some of his current projects include estimating the size of illegal drug markets, assessing the consequences of alternative marijuana policies, measuring the effect of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program on drunk driving and domestic violence outcomes, and evaluating other innovative programs intended to reduce violence. Kilmer's research has appeared in leading journals such as Addiction, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and his essays have been published by the BBC, CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. His book on marijuana legalization, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" (co-authored with Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Mark Kleiman) was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Before earning his doctorate at Harvard University, Kilmer received a Judicial Administration Fellowship that supported his work with the San Francisco Drug Court.

Beau Kilmer (rand.org)
The Chronicle interview took place by phone Wednesday morning.

Drug War Chronicle: What are we learning from marijuana legalization so far in Colorado and Washington, especially about prices, tax rates, and regulatory structures?

Beau Kilmer: With respect to prices, I think it's too soon to make a serious judgment. I would expect them to fall eventually as the number of producers increases and there is more competition. Regarding taxes, there is clearly tax revenue coming in, but not as much as expected, partly because medical marijuana markets don't face the same taxes. These markets are in transition, and there are data lags. It's too early to do cost-benefit analyses, and when the data does start coming in, what happens a year or two from now, good or bad, could be completely different from what happens in five or 10 years.

There are two other things we need to consider in doing a cost-benefit analysis. First, when you hear that factor X or Y has decreased or increased, it's important to ask: Compared to what? People will say that this changed in Colorado, but how did it change or not in other states? This is often outside the capacity of news organizations, but when you hear people making these claims, you need to be asking questions. What about neighboring states? If media organizations did that, it could actually improve the quality of the discussion we're having.

The second thing is, don't forget about alcohol. If people are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana together, you have to worry about driving under the influence. Marijuana impairs you somewhat, alcohol impairs you more, and the interaction between marijuana and alcohol can increase the probability of impairment. On the other hand, if they are economic substitutes, if some heavy alcohol users are moving away from consuming it and consuming more marijuana, that could potentially be a net win for society. There are social costs associated with heavy marijuana use, but the social costs associated with alcohol are much greater -- fatal overdoses, chronic disease, violence. We really need to pay close attention to how legalization influences not only marijuana consumption, but also alcohol consumption. We will be watching this, not only in Colorado and Washington, but also in Uruguay.

Chronicle: How worried do we have to be about marijuana dependence, anyway? Is it any worse for the individual or society than, say, dependence on coffee?

Kilmer: Some people do run into problems. It affects their relationships, their employment, their daily behaviors, and can impose costs on them and some of their intimates. Some of those people may benefit from substance abuse treatment. On the other hand, some users get arrested and diverted into treatment when they don't really need it. Many experts agree that it poses less addictive risk than other drugs, not only in the likelihood of addiction, but also the degree. Having a cannabis use disorder is different from having a heroin use disorder.

When it comes to costs to society, a lot of it comes down to different intangibles. It's hard to quantify consequences, say, in terms of relationships with family members. We reviewed studies that look at marijuana compared to other substances, and when it comes to addiction risk, marijuana seems to be at the bottom of the list. It's not that it's not without costs, but in terms of harms associated with it, there seems to be much more harm associated with cocaine, heroin, or alcohol use disorders.

Chronicle: There are several different legalization models out there -- state monopoly stores vs. private stores, for example. Do you have a favorite model?

Kilmer: I completely understand why some jurisdictions would try something other than marijuana prohibition. There's a lot I don't like about it, especially the collateral consequences, but I'm not sure what the best alternative regime is. What's best for one jurisdiction may not be best for another. It's not clear that one size fits all. My opinion is that I will pay close attention to what happens in Colorado and Washington and Uruguay and some of these other places and use that information to update my opinions about marijuana policy. I hope other people do the same.

It's important to keep in mind that there is a lot of policy space in between prohibition and what we see in Colorado and Washington. There are a lot of options out there. You could just allow home cultivation, or you could do something like production co-ops or collectives. It will be really interesting to watch Uruguay, which has three routes: grow your own, join a co-op, or go to the pharmacy.

From a public health perspective, a state monopoly makes a lot of sense. It makes it easier to control prices and advertising. There is a lot of research that has looked at the state monopoly model for alcohol, and it tended to be better for public health. This model doesn't get a lot of attention in the United States, but there are other jurisdictions that may want to think about it.

The other potential advantage of starting with a state monopoly, is that it gives you more options. If a jurisdiction later decides it wants to allow commercial business, you can transition to a commercial model. But once you go from prohibition to a commercial model with for-profit firms and lobbyists, it gets a lot harder to put that genie back in the bottle. It gets entrenched. That's something to keep in mind.

The commercialization aspect is something we need to pay close attention to. In Uruguay, there is no advertising. The folks in Colorado and Washington are working hard to develop reasonable restrictions on advertising, but with the First Amendment here, we can't ban it.

Sunset laws may be advisable. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we don't know what the best model might be. You could start with a co-op model, try that for five or 10 years, then make a decision about whether to continue or go in a different direction. There are a lot of options, and we don't necessarily have to treat policy changes as permanent.

Another thing jurisdictions will want to think about it designing in some flexibility, especially with respect to taxes. No one knows the best way, and there are a number of different models. Colorado and Washington tax as a function of weight, but you could tax as a function of amount of THC, for instance. The takeaway is that we want to make sure that as we get information, we can incorporate that information in our decision-making about how to tax.

Chronicle: What about eliminating black markets?

Kilmer: You have to think about this over time. No one thinks we're going to eliminate the black market overnight. In both Colorado and Washington, it's been a slow roll-out of the stores, especially in Washington, so you have to look at this over the long run. Also in the long run, prices will fall, and as prices fall, ad valorem taxes based on price will fall, too. That's something else to think about.

Another issue to consider is that we have to remember that depending on where you are in the country, people under 21 will account for 20%-25% of consumption. It will be interesting to see what happens when they catch them, what penalties are imposed on the users and those that supply them. Will it be like the alcohol model or more severe? These are the kinds of issues that can be addressed in new initiatives or legislation.

Chronicle: Where and how does medical marijuana fit into all this?

Kilmer: Good question. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out with regard to medical marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, there were very robust medical markets before legalization. In other jurisdictions, as they write initiatives or bills, will they try to build that in? I don't know what's going to happen.

Chronicle: Where is this all heading? We could have 10 legal states after 2016. Then what?

Kilmer: I guess we'll see how far we get.

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses

In an historic vote Wednesday, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses in states where it is legal.

The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

This is the second time in less than two months that the House has voted to roll back marijuana law enforcement. In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.

"Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart."

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More cops with pill problems, more jail guards looking to earn a little easy money. Just another week in the corrupt cop front of the drug war. Let's get to it:

In Hughestown Borough, Pennsylvania, a former Hughestown Borough police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was selling oxycodone tablets. Robert Evans, 38, went down after an investigation by the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Glouster, Ohio, a former Chauncey marshal was indicted last Thursday for his role in a multi-state drug ring involving marijuana. Charles Wachenschwanz, 46, faces seven charges, including one second-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity; one second-degree felony count of illegal cultivation of marijuana; one third-degree felony count of endangering children; one fifth-degree felony count of possessing criminal tools; one third-degree felony count of having weapons while under disability; one first-degree misdemeanor count of possessing a defaced firearm (with the serial number filed off); and one first-degree misdemeanor count of petty theft. Police found a marijuana grow when they raided Wachenschwanz's home earlier this month.

In Opelousas, Louisiana, a county jail guard was arrested Tuesday on charges he smuggled contraband into the jail. David Wayne Clark, 55, is charged with introducing contraband into a penal institution and malfeasance in office. He is accused of smuggling synthetic cannabinoids, as well as cell phones and tobacco into the jail.

In Pacific, Missouri, a former Pacific police officer was arrested Tuesday for allegedly stealing drugs from the evidence locker. Arthur Tullock faces two counts of felony theft for stealing oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets.

In Belleville, Illinois, a former Washington Park police office was sentenced Wednesday to probation after admitting he took drugs to the county jail for an inmate. Douglass Young, 61, had pleaded guilty to one count of official misconduct for taking narcotics and prescription pills to a female prisoner. He must also undergo drug treatment.

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for his role in a ring smuggling contraband, including drugs, into the Ancora State Hospital, a satellite facility on the grounds of Bayside State Prison. Conrad Jackson, 40, had pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit official misconduct. He admitted smuggling contraband in to inmates twice a week for about a year.

Medical Marijuana Update

A CBD cannabis oil bill becomes law in Missouri, the District of Columbia expands its medical marijuana program, Michigan prepares to improve its program, Berkeley will provide free medical marijuana for the poor and homeless, an LA medical marijuana farmers' market gets an injunction slapped on it, and more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Wednesday, the Department of Health authorized medical marijuana for PTSD. The Department of Health Services announced that it is authorizing the use of marijuana for patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Its use is not approved for treatment of the condition itself, but only for palliative care of PTSD symptoms.

As of this Wednesday, thousands have signed a petition supporting a fired University of Arizona medical marijuana researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley make no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council gave initial approval for free medical marijuana for the poor and homeless. The council has given gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against a medical marijuana farmers' market. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors imposed the largest medical marijuana fine yet. Supervisors levied a $99,000 fine against a man caught growing 99 plants on his property near Laton earlier this year. The county has imposed a fine of $1,000 per plant for cultivating marijuana, which it has banned. Supervisors also approved raising the cap on spending to defend its medical marijuana ordinance from $50,000 to $210,000.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, the city council approved medical marijuana expansion. The council approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Iowa

Last Thursday, a terminally ill cancer patient was convicted of growing his own medicine. A state court jury in Davenport that never heard Benton Mackenzie's medical marijuana defense has convicted the terminally ill cancer patient on four felony drug charges related to growing marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. The 48-year-old angiosarcoma sufferer now faces a possible mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, although prosecutors could seek probation.

Michigan

Last week, a key legislator said he expects the Senate to vote on improving the state's medical marijuana law this week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

Minnesota

Last Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) named 16 people to the medical marijuana task force. The panel is charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. Two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety are also on the panel. Click on the link for a list of members.

Missouri

On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a CBD cannabis oil bill. He signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

New Mexico

Last Wednesday, the New Mexico US Attorney said he wouldn't prosecute patients busted at border checkpoints. New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez has assured New Mexico politicians that he will not prosecute patients caught with medical marijuana at US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints. Martinez made the vow in a letter Monday to Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park), who had sought assurances. But Customs and Border Patrol officers would still seize the medicine, he warned.

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

Chronicle AM -- July 16, 2014

The House okays marijuana banking, DC decriminalizes tomorrow, DC expands its medical marijuana program, Miami-Dade taxpayers pay for a particularly heinous killer drug raid, a lot of states did sentencing reforms last year, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana businesses could go to the bank under a measure passed by the House today. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
Marijuana Policy

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses. In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

DC Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of one minute after midnight, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be decriminalized in the nation's capital. Jail time for pot possession will be replaced with a $25 fine. A Republican-led effort in the House to block it remains alive, but will not stop the law from taking effect -- at least for now. That effort still has to get through the Congress and overcome White House opposition, and that looks like a long-shot at this point.

Grosse Point, Michigan, Initiative to Legalize Up to an Ounce Turns in Signatures. A municipal initiative campaign to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point turned in more than 600 signatures today. The group needs 493 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Grosse Point is one of a handful of Michigan towns with similar campaigns this year, including Berkley, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Turns in Signatures. Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action (the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance) have submitted more than 7,000 signatures for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an once of marijuana. They need 5,763 to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

DC City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city council Tuesday approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Michigan Legislature Set to Vote on Medical Marijuana Improvement Measures This Week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

LA Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market Hit With Temporary Injunction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Thousands Sign Petition Supporting Fired University of Arizona Researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley made no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Cops Slow to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a law allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone in March, but Ohio police are slow to get with the program. Police in Columbus said they have no plans to carry it "anytime soon," and many rural agencies are also unwilling to do it. About 17 people a week are dying from opiate overdoses in Ohio. Under the new law, the drug is also available to friends, family members, and "others who may be in a position" to assist with reversing overdoses.

Law Enforcement

Miami Agrees to Pay in Death Squad-Style Police Drug Robbery Sting Killings. Miami-Dade taxpayers will shell out $600,000 to the families of three men killed by a Miami-Dade SWAT team during a drug house robbery sting. Four men, including an informant for the police, were gunned down when they appeared on the scene of a home they had been told was stuffed with drugs for them to rob. The informant's family didn't join the settlement; it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. Police video of the raid shows officers firing dozens of shots into the body of a man already on the ground. It also shows the informant surrendering to police moments before they shot and killed him, too. Prosecutors suspect police officers of misconduct but were unable to develop enough evidence to charge any of them.

Almost All US Wiretaps Are for Suspected Drug Deals. A new Administrative Office of US Courts report reveals that not only did wiretaps hit an all time high last year, but that nearly 90% of them were for drug investigations. Of the 3,576 wiretaps sought by federal law enforcement agencies, 3,115 were for drug investigations.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Releases Report on 2013 State Sentencing Reforms. The report, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends, finds that 35 states passed at least 85 bills to reform sentencing and corrections last year. The legislation generally focused on reducing prison populations, strengthening community-based corrections, supporting reentry, and creating better research and analysis to drive policy decision-making.

International

Dutch Border Town Cannabis Café Owner Cleared of Most Charges. The owner of the Checkpoint Café in the in the town of Ternuezen near the Belgian border has been cleared of most charges against him by an Amsterdam appeals court. The café was closed in 2007 for violating government rules on soft drug sales, and the owner was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. But the appeals court ruled that the state had not proven Checkpoint knowingly broke the rules. It was the second such decision in the past month.

White House Weighs in on DC Marijuana Reform Battle [FEATURE]

The city of Washington, DC, is a marijuana policy hothouse these days. It's expanding its medical marijuana program, it has a new decriminalization bill set to go into effect Thursday with House Republicans trying to stop it, it has a marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative poised to make the November ballot, and it has legislation that would allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce already pending before the city council. Now, the White House is weighing in too.

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014," adopted by the council in April, replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

DC's decriminalization effort has clearly caught the attention of House Republicans -- one of whom, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), introduced an amendment to the DC appropriations bill to block its implementation. That amendment has already won a House committee vote.

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee adopted Harris's amendment. If included in the 2015 federal budget, the rider would block the District from carrying out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.

That has sparked irate reactions from both DC elected officials and advocates alike.

"These Members violated their own principles of limited government by using the power of the federal government to dictate to a local government how it can use its own local funds," DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a statement after the vote. "They apparently could not keep their own states from decriminalizing marijuana, so they have turned to a district where they are not accountable to the citizens to do what they couldn't convince their own states to do. Their constituents may be surprised to learn that their Members are spending their time interfering with the local laws of another district instead of devoting their time to issues affecting their districts and the nation."

"That Congressman Andy Harris would try to kill DC's efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "This amendment is an affront to the District's right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following DC's example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision."

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sticks up for her constitutents. (house.gov)
District residents have begun organizing a boycott of Ocean City, MD, part of Rep. Harris's congressional district, as a show of their disapproval his intervention in District affairs. That was an idea that came from none other than Washington, DC, Mayor Vincent Gray.

"It's become a sad tradition that members of Congress with no ties to the District use their outdated, undemocratic and unjust authority over the District's budget to further their own political and personal agenda," Gray said in a pre-4th of July statement.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate David Catania even stormed Harris's DC office after the vote demanding to discuss his efforts to block the District from implementing decrim. Harris wasn't there.

"I'm here to address what has become a congressional pastime, which is interfering in the local affairs of the District of Columbia," Catania said at the time.

And now, the effort to block the District from implementing decrim -- or any other marijuana reforms -- has caught the attention of the White House, which yesterday slammed it in no uncertain terms.

"[T]he Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule," the White House said in a statement of administration policy on the Financial Services and General Government Administration Act of 2015, which contains appropriations for DC. "Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District."

(The statement of administration policy also criticized Congress for including a ban on the funding of needle exchanges in the District, as well as language restricting the District's ability to provide abortion services.)

"It is great to see the White House accepting that a majority of Americans want marijuana law reform and defending the right of DC and states to set their own marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "The tide has clearly shifted against the failed war on drugs and it's only a matter of time before federal law is changed."

The White House wasn't the only group trying to send a signal to Congress yesterday. The DC city council passed a pair of emergency resolutions opposing Rep. Harris's effort to use congressional oversight to block the District from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform.

Harris's amendment would, if passed by the Congress, also block the District from enacting the results of the looming marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, which is all but certain to make the November ballot after organizers handed in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify. And it would block the District from implementing the putative legislative follow-up to the initiative, which would allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce in the District.

But that amendment still has not passed the House, let alone the Senate, and now, the Obama administration has made clear that it does not approve of it, either. That puts the administration on the side of the District, its voters (who consistently approve of marijuana legalization in polls), and its elected officials. House and Senate Republicans would be up against a city united against their interference in the District's domestic affairs, backed by a president who agrees with the District. While the Republicans are always eager to pick a fight with the president, this could be one fight they think twice about.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 15, 2014

The Obama administration comes out against congressional interference with the District of Columbia's decriminalization law, Dana Rohrabacher comes out as the first Republican congressman to support marijuana legalization, the Smarter Sentencing Act picks up more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the first sitting Republican congressman to endorse marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

White House Comes Out Against Congress Blocking DC Decriminalization Law. In a statement of administration policy on pending appropriations bills, the White House Monday came out "strongly" against a congressional move to bar the District from spending money to implement its new decriminalization law. "The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District," the statement said.

DC City Council Passes Emergency Resolutions Condemning Congressional Interference. The council Monday approved two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by US House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform. Read more on DC marijuana politics in a feature article here later today.

Dana Rohrabacher, First Republican Congressman to Back Marijuana Legalization. California Republican US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Christian Science Monitor Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana and would "probably" endorse a 2016 California legalization initiative if it qualifies for the ballot. Rohrabacher is the first sitting Republican congressman to explicitly endorse legalization. About 40 congressional Democrats have expressed support for legalization.

National Press Club Newsmakers Event Next Week Centers on Marijuana Policy. The National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC, will host a news conference next Thursday on medical and recreational marijuana legalization. The news conference will feature Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Dr. Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana). The event is open to all credentialed journalists and National Press Club members. Click on the link for event details.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) yesterday signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

Los Angeles Moves to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has said he will today seek a restraining order to block a Boyle Heights medical marijuana farmers' market from doing it again. The farmers' market occurred two weekends ago. It isn't clear if there are plans to do it again.

Prescription Opiates

University of Wisconsin Pain Policy Study Group Releases Two Reports. The reports are Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013) and Achieving Balance in State and Federal Pain Policies: A Guide to Evaluation (CY 2013). The first report contains a grade for each state and the District of Columbia, which represents the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The second report explains PPSG's evaluation method and criteria as well as its "principle of balance," which says that "efforts to prevent drug diversion and abuse are essential and should avoid interfering with healthcare practice and patient care."

Law Enforcement

Oklahoma Narcs on the Lookout for Kratom. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is worried about kratom, a Southeast Asian shrub whose leaves are mildly psychoactive and who some users claim is useful as a means of breaking opiate addictions. The OBN says it is not a "major problem" yet, but that it has received worried phone calls from a half-dozen parents. Kratom is on the DEA's list of drugs to watch, but the federal agency has made no move to ban it.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Two More Cosponsors. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are the latest to sign onto the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce some federal drug sentences by retroactively adjusting crack and powder cocaine sentences and allowing judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases. The act now has 44 cosponsors -- 30 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

Dutch Senate Wants Justice Minister to Explain What He's Doing About Illegal Marijuana Production. The Senate has summoned Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to explain what he is doing about "the backdoor problem" -- the fact that while cannabis coffee shops can sell marijuana without legal penalty, there is no legal source for the marijuana they sell. Opstelten and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk will appear before the Senate in September. Despite the pleas of numerous mayors, Opstelten has refused to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

Chronicle AM -- July 10, 2014

Forget Amazon's promised drone deliveries; the Mexican cartels have beat them to it. Also, Massachusetts cops will need to do more than just smell weed to search you or your vehicle, Arizona PTSD patients are okayed to use medical marijuana, Uruguay delays the roll-out of its legal marijuana sales, and more. Let's get to it:

Mexican cartels find a new way to bring drugs over the border. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Smell of Unburnt Marijuana Not Justification for Police Searches. Because Massachusetts has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, police cannot use the odor of raw marijuana to justify searches of vehicles or persons, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday. The ruling came in a pair of decisions: Commonwealth v. Obermeyer and Commonwealth v. Craan. The court had already ruled that the odor of smoked marijuana was not sufficient cause for a search; now it has included the odor of unburnt marijuana as well.

Missouri Marijuana Lifer in Campaign for Clemency. Sixty-one-year-old Jeff Mizanskey is now in his 21st year of a life-without-parole sentence for non-violent marijuana charges. He wants out, and a campaign to free him as generated nearly half a million signatures on a petition to Gov. Jay Nixon (R). But that hasn't been enough so far. Now, he is asking supporters to write Nixon a letter. Mizanskey has been helped in his campaign by the energetic folks at Show-Me Cannabis, the Missouri-based marijuana reform group.

Montana Initiative to Overturn Medical Marijuana, Block Marijuana Reforms Won't Make Ballot. An initiative that sought to change state law so that no Schedule I drug can be "legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana" isn't going to qualify for the ballot, it's proponent conceded Wednesday. Petitioners only managed to gather 12% of the signatures needed to qualify. But Billings car dealer Steve Zabawa isn't giving up; he says he will ask the legislature to pass a referendum next year to put the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Terminally Ill Iowa Cancer Patient Convicted of Growing Own Medicine. A state court jury in Davenport that never heard Benton Mackenzie's medical marijuana defense has convicted the terminally ill cancer patient on four felony drug charges related to growing marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. The 48-year-old angiosarcoma sufferer now faces a possible mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, although prosecutors could seek probation.

Arizona Okays Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The Department of Health Services announced Wednesday that it is authorizing the use of marijuana for patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Its use is not approved for treatment of the condition itself, but only for palliative care of PTSD symptoms.

New Mexico US Attorney Says He Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Patients Busted at Border Checkpoints, But Feds Will Still Take Their Medicine. New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez has assured New Mexico politicians that he will not prosecute patients caught with medical marijuana at US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints. Martinez made the vow in a letter Monday to Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park), who had sought assurances. But Customs and Border Patrol officers would still seize the medicine, he warned.

International

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Sales until Next Year. President Jose Mujica said Wednesday that legal marijuana sales are being pushed back to next year because of "practical difficulties" in implementing the new law, and he took a jab at legalization in the US as he did so. "If we want to do this sloppily, it is not hard to do that. That's what the United States is doing," the president said. "But if we want to get this right... we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount," he said.

DEA Says Mexican Cartels Using Drones to Deliver Drugs Across the Border. The DEA says Mexican drug cartels are using drones to transport drugs and have been doing so since at least 2011. The agency reported that at least 150 drone flights carrying drugs crossed the border in 2012, and that the cartels have recently intensified efforts to recruit skilled workers to manufacture and operate them.

USAID Allots $60 Million for Alternative Development as Part of Fight Against Coca. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has earmarked $60 million to support farmers planting cocoa and coffee instead of coca. The funds will go to alternative development programs and reforestation projects.

European Union Court Rules Synthetic Cannabinoids Not Medicine. The European Court of Justice ruled today that herbal mixtures containing syntheric cannabinoids aren't medicinal products under European law. The court was responding to a request for clarification from Germany's federal court, which is currently considering two cases involving such products.

The 2014 National Drug Control Strategy: Baby Steps in the Right Direction [FEATURE]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its 2014 National Drug Control Strategy Wednesday. While in general, it is remarkable for its similarities to drug control strategies going back more than a decade, it does include some signals suggesting that the Obama administration is ready for a shift in emphasis in the drug war -- from a criminal justice approach to a more public health-oriented approach.

But even that rhetorical positioning is somewhat undercut by the strategy's continuing commitment to the criminalization of drug users and the people who supply them, as well as particular policy prescriptions, such as its support for expansion of drug courts -- the use of the criminal justice system to enforce therapeutic health goals like abstinence from drug use, as opposed to measures that don't involve criminal justice intervention.

The 2014 strategy also continues the roughly 3:2 funding ratio between law enforcement and treatment and prevention spending that has marked federal anti-drug spending since at least the Clinton administration in the 1990s. And it does so somewhat deceptively.

"In support of this Strategy," ONDCP wrote in a press release, "the President has requested $25.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. Federal funding for public health programs that address substance use has increased every year, and the portion of the Nation's drug budget spent on drug treatment and prevention efforts -- 43% -- has grown to its highest level in over 12 years. The $10.9 billion request for treatment and prevention is now nearly 20% higher than the $9.2 billion requested for Federally-funded domestic drug law enforcement and incarceration."

What the press release doesn't mention when claiming that treatment and prevention spending now exceeds spending on law enforcement is that it did not include figures for drug interdiction and international spending on the law enforcement side of the ledger. The White House's proposed federal drug budget for 2015, however, shows that those drug prohibition-enforcement costs add up to another $5.4 billion, or $14.6 billion for enforcing drug prohibition versus $10.9 billion for treatment and prevention.

The strategy does, however, provide a sharper focus than in the past on reducing the harms associated with drug use, such as overdoses and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. It calls for greater access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone and supports needle exchange and state laws that provide limited immunity from prosecution for people suffering overdoses and the people who seek help for them -- the so-called 911 Good Samaritan laws. The strategy also sets a five-year goal for reducing overdose deaths, something drug reform advocates had been seeking.

The strategy also acknowledges the need to reduce mandatory minimum drug sentencing and recognizes that the US has the world's largest prison population, but in absolute terms and per capita. And, implicitly acknowledging that Americans increasingly see the war on drugs as a failed policy, the 2014 strategy has adjusted its rhetoric to emphasize public health over the drug war.

Acting ONDCP head or "drug czar" Michael Botticelli (ONDCP)
But, despite polls now consistently showing majority support for marijuana legalization, and despite the reality of legal marijuana in two states, with two more and the District of Columbia likely to embrace it later this year, the 2014 strategy appears not only wedded to marijuana prohibition, but even disturbed that Americans now think pot is safer than booze.

That puts ONDCP at odds not only with the American public, but with the president. In an interview published in January by the New Yorker, Obama said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

Noting that about three-quarters of a million people are arrested on marijuana charges each year, and nearly nine out of ten of those for simple possession, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) pronounced itself unimpressed with the new national drug strategy.

The drug czar's office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy. It appears to be addicted to marijuana prohibition. Why stay the course when the current policy has utterly failed to accomplish its goals?" asked MPP communications director Mason Tvert.

"The strategy even goes so far as to lament the public's growing recognition that marijuana is not as harmful as we were once led to believe. President Obama finally acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, yet his administration is going to maintain a policy of punishing adults who make the safer choice," Tvert continued. "Most Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and even the Justice Department has acknowledged that regulating marijuana could be a better approach than prohibition. Legalizing and regulating marijuana is not a panacea, but it is sound policy."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), with a wider policy remit than MPP, had a nuanced response to the release of the drug strategy. It was critical of some aspects of the strategy, but had kind words for others.

"The administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better."

Still, said Piper, the drug czar's office deserves some credit for addressing serious issues associated with drug use under prohibition.

"Director Botticelli should be applauded for taking strong steps to reduce drug overdose fatalities and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases," he said. "His leadership on these issues, and his work overall to reduce the stigma associated with substance misuse, are encouraging."

But when it comes to marijuana policy, DPA found itself pretty much on the same page as MPP.

"The Administration continues to keep its head in the sand when it comes to marijuana law reform," said Piper. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being arrested each year for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Once arrested they can be discriminated against in employment and housing for life. The administration can't ignore the destructive impact of mass arrests forever."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, North Carolina becomes a high-CBD cannabis oil state, Utah issues the first permits for high-CBD cannabis oil, Californians prepare to lobby for a statewide regulation bill, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, the San Diego sheriff's office returned marijuana to a raided dispensary. Sheriff's office officials have handed back 20 pounds of marijuana, as well as grow equipment, seized in a raid last year from the SoCal Pure Collective in North County. The legal case against the collective was dropped in April, and a judge ordered all the confiscated goods returned. But collective operator Laura Sharp still fumes over the raid itself, a paramilitarized exercise of police power aimed at patients and providers. "I don't think that we needed to have assault rifles held to our heads. I think we could have been served paperwork," she said.

On Wednesday, ASA set August 4 as this year's annual medical marijuana citizens lobby day in Sacramento. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has announced that its annual citizens' lobby day in Sacramento will be held this year on August 4. The group is supporting the statewide regulation bill, Senate Bill 1262, but wants some changes, too. Click on the title link for more details.

On Tuesday, the Santa Ana city council approved a ballot measure on legalizing and taxing dispensaries. The city-backed ballot measure would compete with another measure that would repeal the city's existing ban on dispensaries. The Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative, which already has qualified for the ballot, would set up a process for dispensaries to register with the city and in return pay a 2% tax. It also limits dispensaries to certain zones and calls for at least one collective or cooperative for every 15,000 residents. The city-backed measure would implement a 5% tax.

New York

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Use Act. In an official signing ceremony Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law the Compassionate Use Act. New York thus becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, even though its law is among the most restrictive and includes a ban on smoking (but not vaping or eating) it.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a limited, low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana became law. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed into law a bill that will allow people suffering from certain epilepsy conditions to use cannabis extracts containing less than 0.3% THC and more than 10% CBD. But only neurologists in a pilot study may recommend it.

Utah

On Tuesday, Utah officials issued the first permits to use high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil. Utah officials Tuesday issued the first permits to use high CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy in children under a law passed earlier this year. That law okays the use of cannabis oils containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.3% THC. But while initial permits have been issued, families are likely to have to wait until September to acquire the cannabis oil because the Colorado non-profit that produces it has a long waiting list and a crop that won't be ready until the fall.

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

Chronicle AM -- July 9, 2014

The White House issues its annual drug control strategy, the Brooklyn DA announces an end to most small-time marijuana possession arrests, a suburban Maryland county adopts a marijuana reform resolution, the first medical cannabis oil permits are issued in Utah, Lebanese hash farmers vow to fight to protect their crops, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, that bud won't get you arrested, but the pipe will. (wikimedia.org/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Offered a Hit of Weed in Denver; Responds With a Smile. During a visit to a Denver bar last night, President Obama was offered some of the state's legal marijuana. "Do you want to hit this?" came a voice from the crowd. The president did not respond to the offer, except to flash his trademark smile. On route to the event, the president was also confronted by apparently pro-marijuana protestors, including one holding a sign saying "Free Weed for Obama." We won't even mention the guy in a horse head mask who shook the president's hand.

Brooklyn DA Announces No More Prosecutions for First-Time Marijuana Offenders, Except… Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time offenders for small-time marijuana possession charges. "This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns." But Thompson added that he would still pursue charges for public pot smoking, if the defendant is a teen (he will be directed to juvenile court and a diversion program), or if the defendant has a criminal record suggesting he may act violently under the influence of marijuana.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Adopts Marijuana Policy Reform Resolution. The Montgomery County council Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority and for revising the state's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law to include pot-smoking paraphernalia. Under the law as written, people could not be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, but they can still be arresting for possessing the pipe to smoke it in.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Issues First Permits to Use High CBD, Low THC Cannabis Oil. Utah officials Tuesday issued the first permits to use high CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy in children under a law passed earlier this year. That law okays the use of cannabis oils containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.3% THC. But while initial permits have been issued, families are likely to have to wait until September to acquire the cannabis oil because the Colorado nonprofit that produces it has a long waiting list and a crop that won't be ready until the fall.

California Medical Marijuana Citizens' Lobby Day Will Be August 4. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has announced that its annual citizens' lobby day in Sacramento will be held this year on August 4. The group is supporting the statewide regulation bill, Senate Bill 1262, but wants some changes, too. Click on the title link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Releases 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) today released its annual drug control strategy. In the big picture it doesn't appear to be a whole lot different from last year's, or the year before that or the year before that or… But there are some good things to be found. Check back here later today for a feature article on it. In the meantime, click on the link to take a look yourself.

International

Mexico Anti-Cartel Vigilantism Spreads Close to US Border. Vigilante groups targeting criminal drug trafficking organizations first sprung up last year in the west-central Mexican state of Michoacan, where they battled the Knights Templar cartel before eventually being folded into the Mexican police apparatus. Now, they are appearing in Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas. A group known as the Pedro Mendez Column is operating in the city of Hidalgo, where it does nightly patrols to defend the city from the Zetas cartel. It also claims to have killed several Zetas. And the Zetas claim to have killed several people it accuses of being linked to the vigilantes. The Zetas also accuse the rival Gulf cartel of arming the vigilantes.

Lebanese Marijuana Farmers Vow to Fight Back Against Eradication Campaign. The Lebanese government has announced it will begin destroying marijuana farms in the Bekaa Valley tomorrow, but farmers there are vowing to defend their crops with their lives. Ali Nasri Shammas, a major grower and spokesman for the illicit industry, said growers would do what it takes to defend their crops, whether by protesting, blocking roads, or more violent means. "We will also use arms to face the security forces, who will damage the crops, even if it leads to bloodshed. Destroying the crops is forbidden no matter the results," Shammas warned. Given the ongoing Syrian civil war next door, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to actually eradicate much of the marijuana crop.

Russians Say They Lose 100,000 People a Year to Drug Overdoses. Russia's Federal Drug Control Service reports that nearly 100,000 people died of drug overdoses last year and that the rate of drug-related deaths in Russian urban areas was 28.7 per 100,000. That rate is 2.7 times higher than the previous year. By contrast, in the US, some 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida Man Killed in SWAT Raid Over Small-Time Marijuana Sales

A Tampa, Florida, man was shot and killed by members of a SWAT team executing a search warrant over small-time marijuana sales on May 27. Jason Westcott, 29, becomes the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Editor's Note: This case illustrates why we call on readers to let us know if they come across a report of a drug war-related death. Although we run Google searches to find such incidents, this one didn't pop up on the radar until the Tampa Bay Times ran a thorough investigative piece -- a rarity with such incidents -- on it this week. Absent that report, we would have missed it. So, please, feel free to send your tips and links our way.]

According to the Tampa Bay Times article, a Tampa Police SWAT team executing a warrant for marijuana sales knocked on the door of the home shared by Westcott and his roommate on the evening of the 27th, but both men were sleeping. When no one answered, police entered through the unlocked front door.

The roommate, who was sleeping on a couch, was taken into custody without incident, but Westcott, who had been sleeping in a bedroom, picked up a weapon upon hearing the intruders and moved toward the bathroom, from where he could see his surveillance monitor. Upon encountering Westcott in the hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom, two SWAT officers opened fire, shooting him five times with a semiautomatic shotgun and a handgun.

Police claim Westcott pointed his weapon at them. He never fired it. Instead, hit once in the arm and twice in the side, he collapsed on the bathroom floor. He received medical attention from a SWAT medic on scene, then was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Ironically, the only previous contact Westcott had had with Tampa police was several months earlier, when he contacted them to say he was worried that a man who had been at his house planned to rob him and had threatened to kill him. According to people close to Westcott, investigating officers told him: "If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill." Tampa police now deny they ever said anything like that.

The Times investigative piece also looked into the police drug investigation that precipitated the fatal raid. They found that despite police statements that they began looking at Westcott because of complaints from neighbors, the investigation actually began when a snitch reported that he was selling marijuana.

Over a period of months, that same snitch made several small marijuana purchases from Westcott, in amounts ranging from $20 to $60. The grand total of marijuana purchased by the snitch was less than $200. When the raid actually went down, police found a grand total of 0.2 grams of weed.

Westcott's roommate said the pair were habitual pot smokers, but that they never kept more than 12 grams in the house at a time to avoid felony charges. And he said that the pair engaged in a bit of social dealing, nothing more.

"We would just sell a blunt here and there to our friends or whatever. It was no crazy thing," he said. "There weren't people coming in and out of our house every day," he said. "It wasn't paying any bills. We were still broke... going to work every day."

Police initially said an undercover officer had made the drug buys, but later admitted it was the snitch who had done so. The roommate said if police had made the buys themselves, they would have realized that they were not facing violent drug traffickers, and Westcott might still be alive.

"Nobody can believe that this happened to Jason. They can't understand how this could happen to Jason," said Westcott's mother, Patti Silliman of New Port Richey. "No one can figure this out."

But the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has already determined that the two police officers who shot at Westcott -- Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez -- were justified in the use of deadly force. And Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor defended both the drug investigation and actions of the officers involved.

"Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture," Castor said. "If there's an indication that there is armed trafficking going on -- someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm -- then the tactical response team will do the initial entry."

The Tampa Bay Times investigative report is worth reading in its entirety. One could only wish that every drug war death got the same treatment. If that were the case, we might end up with a lot less of them.

Tampa, FL
United States

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