Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

URGENT: Call Congress TODAY to Save DC Marijuana Legalization!

Last month, 70% of voters in Washington, DC approved an initiative to legalization possession and home growing of marijuana. Later in the month, a committee of DC's city council advanced "tax and regulate" legislation that would authorize store sales too. Unfortunately, drug warriors in Congress led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) got language included in the pending "Continuing Resolution" omnibus bill to fund the government that would block tax and regulate legislation in the District, and which might block the initiative too. The rumor is that some (not all) Republicans wanted to stop DC from moving ahead, and that Democrats cut a deal.

There is only a little time left to influence this process. Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators and ask them to block the Harris Amendment to the omnibus spending bill that would block marijuana legalization in the Districut of Columbia. You can reach your legislators (or find out who they are) through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, You can also look up that information on our web site's Congressional lookup tool here. When you're done, please send us a note to let us know what they said. (If you'd like a little help with what you're going to say on the phone, you can find a sample script from our friends at the "Just Say Now" campaign here.)

If you're in DC, there's a protest you can join today (Wednesday 12/10) -- a march from the Dept. of Justice at 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, to the US Capitol, meeting at 5:00 with the march starting at 6:00pm.

Thank you for taking action -- time, and the truth are on our side!

Budget Bill Seeks to Block DC Pot Legalization, But…

The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. But there may be some wiggle room.

A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District."

The bill summary doesn't mention decriminalization, which was approved earlier this year by the DC city council and has already gone into effect.

Rumors had swirled throughout that day about what was being hammered out, with hopes raised at various points that some less onerous deal might be reached, perhaps one that would bar the DC city council from passing and implementing marijuana taxation and regulation. Such a DC bill is already in the works.

While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

This is not the first time Congress has acted to block the will of District voters on marijuana reform issues. In 1998, DC voters approved medical marijuana with 69% of the vote, but Congress blocked it for more than a decade. Now, DC voters, who approved legalization with 70% of the vote, are once again being given the back of the hand by the folks on Capitol Hill.

The omnibus budget bill is almost certain to pass Congress this week and be signed into law by President Obama. Then the legal battle to recognize the will of the people in Washington, DC, will commence.

Washington, DC
United States

Budget Bill Curbs Federal Medical Marijuana, Hemp Enforcement

In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May.

No more DEA medical marijuana raids? (justice.gov)
The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

The hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.

"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."

The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."

"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."

If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.

"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."

Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.

Washington, DC
United States

GOP Effort to Block DC Marijuana Reforms Continues, Advocates Pressure Dems [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Reflecting the will of the voters, the elected representatives of the people of Washington, DC -- the DC city council -- approved marijuana decriminalization earlier this year. District voters went even further than the council in last month's elections, approving an initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot with a whopping 70% of the vote.

Now, congressional Republicans are working feverishly to block the District from putting the results of this exercise in democracy into effect. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for DC pot law reforms. Harris has crafted an amendment to the DC appropriations bill that would bar the use of federal or local funds to implement the reforms, and Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee, has agreed to include Harris's amendment in the bill.

And, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been deeply involved in DC marijuana reform efforts, "Democrats are rumored to be cutting a deal with Republicans" that would sacrifice legalization in order to save decriminalization."

[Update: Late Tuesday afternoon, DPA released the following report: "Currently, sources are reporting that Congress is considering allowing Initiative 71, approved by 70% of District residents, to stand while preventing future action on the District of Columbia's ability to tax and regulate marijuana. These reports stand in sharp contrast to a previously reported deal that would have stopped the ballot measure from taking effect."]

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hasn't exactly quelled those rumors. At a press conference last Friday, she said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. (Republicans are also seeking to use the appropriations bill to overturn DC firearms safety laws.)

The pressure is on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (house.gov)
"I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation."

That not-so-ringing endorsement of the District's ability to democratically determine its own drug policies, as well as the rumored deals, has prompted DPA and other reform supporters to ramp up the pressure on congressional Democrats. In an open letter to the Democratic leadership today, a number of civil rights and other advocacy groups, including DPA, DC Votes, and the DC branches of the ACLU, NAACP, and NOW, called on the Democrats to grow a backbone.

"As you conclude negotiations over the FY15 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, we urge you to reject all efforts to include undemocratic restrictions on DC's rights," said the letter addressed to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "As you know, the spending bill passed by the House included new provisions that would interfere in the District of Columbia's local affairs, including language intended to overturn the results of a local voter initiative. The undersigned organizations advocate on diverse issues, but are united in our opposition to the inclusion of social policy riders targeting the District of Columbia in the appropriations bill."

"Democratic leadership made it clear they would stand with voters on this crucial racial justice issue, and push back against Republican opposition to the DC law," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "Democrats have always made claims of supporting DC home rule now is their chance to stand with 70% of voters in the District who voted for marijuana reform," Collins said.

Advocates are particularly dismayed given the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws in the District. According to a 2013 ACLU report, not only did DC have the highest per capita number of pot possession arrests -- more than three times the national average -- but it also saw black people arrested for pot possession at a rate more than eight times that of whites. In that regard, DC was second, trailing only the state of Iowa among the 50 states.

The Republican efforts to interfere -- and block these moves to reduce racial disparities in the District -- takes on added salience in the context of weeks of protests nationwide over racially biased policing.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it is particularly disturbing that Congress would choose to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which was responsible for the passage of Initiative 71, the legalization initiative. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress is poised to undermine that."

But the Republican Party is no longer a monolith when it comes to marijuana law reform. On at least five votes this year, some Republican legislators voted in favor of such reforms. It is questionable whether the GOP could block DC's reforms on a straight up-and-down vote. By tying the effort to the broader appropriations bill, however, the issue is placed in the hands of the congressional leadership, and that could leave the District hanging out to dry. It's time for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to stand up for the District and for democratic principals, the advocates say, and they are prodding them today.

Chronicle AM: NV Marijuana Init Qualifies for 2016, Iran Meth Up, SE Asia Poppy Production Up, More (12/9/14)

A Nevada legalization initiative is the first to qualify for the 2016 ballot, a new poll identifies an amorphous "marijuana middle," meth is on the rise in Iran, and so are poppies in the Golden Triangle, and more. Let's get to it:

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

"Marijuana Middle" Identified in Third Way Poll. A new national poll from the centrist think-tank Third Way finds Americans almost even split on legalization (50% yes, 47% no), but with a broad and deep "marijuana middle" that may not support legalization in its own state, but does support federal action to allow states that have legalized it a "safe haven." Two-thirds said Congress should pass a "safe haven" law, while 60% said legalization should be up to the states, not the federal government. The poll also examined the demographics of the "marijuana middle." Click on the link for all the details.

JAMA on the Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Monday published "The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado." (Click the title link to read the article.) The authors found an increase in reports of emergency room visits for marijuana intoxication, as well as problems related to the production of new marijuana products, ranging from burns caused by exploding hash-oil labs to problems associated with the overindulgence in edibles. But the authors also found that legalization was increasing access to marijuana for medical reasons, including pain control, where it is much safer than opiates.

Anchorage Assembly to Hold Hearing on Banning Pot Businesses. At the behest of Assembly member Amy Demboski, the Anchorage Assembly will hold a hearing on her proposal to ban licensed pot businesses in the city one week from today. Supporters of legalization are looking for people to show up. Click on the link for more information.

Illinois Appeals Court Rules Worker's Admission of Off-Duty Marijuana Use Not Sufficient to Deny Unemployment Benefits. A worker who was fired from his job after admitting smoking marijuana when confronted with a random drug test (which he passed) cannot be denied unemployment benefits, the state's 5th District appellate court has ruled. The case is Eastham v. The Housing Authority of Jefferson County.

It's Official -- Nevada Initiative Qualifies for 2016 Ballot. Nevada is first out of the blocks to legalize marijuana via an initiative in 2016. Secretary of State Ross Miller Monday certified that the initiative had qualified for the ballot. Now, voters will have the opportunity to legalize it in the 2016 elections -- unless the state legislature acts first to approve the measure.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors Are Cutting Back on Prescriptions for Pain Relievers. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers report that half of primary care physicians are reducing their prescribing of opiate pain relievers compared to last year and that 85% of doctors believe they are overprescribed. The doctors reported concerns about addiction, overdoses, and traffic accidents. But an even greater number -- 90% -- were confident in their own ability to correctly prescribe opiates.

International

Meth in Iran. Reuters has a report on the increase of methamphetamine use in the Islamic Republic. The news agency notes that meth seizures more than doubled between 2008 and 2012 and that last year alone, the government seized 3.6 tons of speed. The report cites experts as saying the rise of meth is being driven by increased development in the country and a more complicated and faster-paced lifestyle.

Opium Production Thriving in the Golden Triangle, UN Reports. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle has increased for the eighth straight year, the UN said Sunday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014. The acreage under cultivation increased slightly, giving the region to ability to produce about 76 tons of heroin. Myanmar accounts for most of the Golden Triangle production, and the Shan State accounts for most of Myanmar's production. The Golden Triangle is the world's second largest opium production region, behind Afghanistan, but only produces about one-fifth the amount Afghanistan does.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Battle Unsettled, Federal Racial Profiling Ban, Budapest Drug Testing, More (12/8/14):

DC's marijuana reforms remain under threat from congressional Republicans, Washington state's pot-sellers are feeling burdened by taxes, California doctors reject denying transplants to medical marijuana patients, the Justice Department issued racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Nancy Pelosi Pledges Support for DC Autonomy as Possible Battle Over Marijuana Reforms Looms. At a press conference last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. "I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation." Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for pot law reforms, and the Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee wants to see Harris's amendment included in the appropriations bill. Stay tuned.

Tax Issues Fueling Concerns Among Washington State Pot Retailers. The state's 25% excise tax and the federal government's refusal to let pot businesses to deduct legitimate business expenses -- such as state taxes -- is putting the squeeze on the state's fledgling retail industry. That's helping to contribute to retail marijuana prices that are higher than black market prices, but still not enough to be profitable under the weight of the state and federal taxes. There could be a fix coming in the state legislature; efforts are also underway to change the federal tax code to recognize legal pot businesses.

Medical Marijuana

California Doctors Reject Denying Organ Transplants to Medical Marijuana Patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use. "I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices," said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Unveils Racial Profiling Ban for Federal Law Enforcers. The Justice Department today issued guidelines that will ban federal law enforcement agents from profiling on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics. The guidelines cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on joint task forces alongside federal agents. The new guidelines will not apply to security screeners in airports and at border checkpoints, nor are they binding on state and local police forces.

International

Budapest Mayor Wants Mandatory Drug Tests for Teenagers, More. Mayor Mate Kocsis wants mandatory annual drug testing for city teenagers, as well as for elected officials and journalists. He said the idea was to target "those most at risk, decision-makers and opinion-formers." Kocsis is a member of the governing Fidesz Party, whose parliamentary group will discuss his proposal today. In August, Kocsis managed to get a needle exchange program for injection drug users shut down. He has also introduced legislation to ban picking through garbage and sleeping on the streets.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Governor's Bid to Drug Test Welfare Applicants [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Florida Governor Rick Scott's (R) drug testing crusade hit yet another roadblock Wednesday as a federal appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that his plan to make welfare applicants submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests was unconstitutional.

As other Republican governors -- most notably Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Paul LePage in Maine -- did in this year's election campaign, Rick Scott made drug testing a key campaign promise in his 2010 election campaign. The following year, the Republican-dominated state legislature acceded to Scott's request and passed a welfare drug testing law.

Welfare applicants weren't the only target of Scott's drug testing push. He also sought to impose random, suspicionless drug testing on state employees through an executive order. But that was struck down by the federal courts as violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. The US Supreme Court denied his appeal of that ruling in August.

And now, the second prong of Scott's drug testing thrust has been struck down. The decision came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families, in which Navy veteran, college student, and single father Luis Lebron filed for food stamp assistance, but was denied after he refused to undergo a drug test. Supported by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, Lebron sued to have the law overturned.

Citing a lengthy history of federal court precedents, Lebron's legal team argued that like the random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers, the mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. US District Court Judge Mary Scriven agreed, ruling in 2011 that the policy was unconstitutional.

The never-say-die Scott appealed that decision. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta held a hearing on the case on November 20. It then took less than two weeks to reach its decision.

The bipartisan panel of federal judges ruled unanimously that the state of Florida had failed to provide any evidence that there was a strong government need to strip welfare applicants of constitutional protections.

"We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the court. "The State has presented no evidence demonstrating that drug testing saves a significant portion of TANF funds that could otherwise be spent on drugs," he added, pointing to a 2000 state study that found welfare applicants were less likely to use drugs than the general population and noting that in the three months the drug testing program was in effect, only 2.76% of applicants tested positive.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gets shot down again on drug testing (florida.gov)
"In the final analysis, the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment. On this record, the State has not demonstrated a substantial special need to carry out the suspicionless search -- we see no concrete danger, only generalized public interests," Marcus wrote.

Marcus also noted that "citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance" and that "by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy." Having to urinate in a cup in front of another person "intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable," he added.

Nor were the judges buying the state's argument that welfare applicants effectively waived their constitutional rights by consenting to drug tests as a condition of receiving benefits or that the state had a "special need" to protect the children of drug-using welfare applicants.

"[T]he State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis," the court held. "We respect the State's overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that [the welfare drug testing law] crosses the constitutional line."

While, given a solid line of federal court setbacks for the law, the 11th Circuit's decision was not exactly a surprise, advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"The 11th Circuit has affirmed that the 4th Amendment applies to everyone, even those applying for government assistance, said Florida Justice Institute executive director Randall Berg. "The same rationale for requiring suspicionless drug tests of TANF recipients could be used to require suspicionless searches for any kind of government benefit, whether it is social security, farm subsidies, or student scholarships. Today, the court has rejected that rationale, drawing a clear line that will keep us from going down that slippery slope."

"We are very pleased by the Court's opinion, which once again makes clear that the US Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches," said ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan.

"This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects -- that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike," she continued. "The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they've asked the State for temporary assistance."

While the federal courts have been clear that, with limited exceptions, mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Constitution, Republican governors and legislators in other states have responded by passing public benefits drug testing laws that can pass constitutional muster by first establishing some sort of "reasonable suspicion" before requiring drug testing. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, at least 11 states have done so.

The results have not been particularly impressive. In Kansas, only 20 people have been tested in the first four months the law has been in effect; four failed the drug test. Next door in Missouri, the state is spending $336,000 a year on its welfare drug testing. It has tested 655 people; 69 failed the drug test. But 711 others refused to take it. In Utah, a year after it passed a 2012 welfare drug testing law, the state had spent $30,000 to drug test applicants, but only came up with 12 who tested positive. In Tennessee, where a similar law went into effect this year, the state has tested 800 applicants, with only one person testing positive.

But whether public benefits drug testing programs actually either save states money by reducing welfare rolls or help families by encouraging recipients to go straight is probably not as important to politicians as the political calculus behind them. With its coded appeal to racial and class hostilities wrapped in a guise of caring and fiscal responsibility, it's a red meat issue for the Republican base.

Atlanta, GA
United States

White Phoenix Cop Shoots, Kills Unarmed Black Man in Attempted Drug Bust

A Phoenix police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man while responding to reports of a drug deal taking place Tuesday night. Rumain Brisbon, 34, becomes the 37th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Unlike most drug war deaths, and undoubtedly because of the context of police officers escaping criminal charges in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this one led to angry protests.

An estimated 200 people rallied Thursday night in Phoenix to protest the killing. At press time, they were planning on marching to police headquarters to demand answers, including the name of the officer who shot and killed Brisbon.

According to KPHO TV News, citing police accounts, the unnamed Phoenix police officer had been on a burglary investigation when he learned that the driver of an SUV was allegedly selling drugs at a nearby 7-Eleven. After obtaining a description of the suspect and the license number of the vehicle, they officer get the address of the vehicle's owner and went to the apartment complex listed.

When he got to the apartment complex, someone told him the occupants of the SUV were selling drugs. When he approached the vehicle, the driver, later identified as Brisbon, got out, opened a rear door, and reached into the back seat. As Brisbon then closed the door, the officer ordered him to show his hands, but Brisbon instead placed one or both of them near his waistband.

The officer then drew his weapon. Brisbon fled into a corridor, where the officer caught up with him, and a struggle ensued. Brisbon put his left hand into his pocket, and the officer grabbed his hand, while telling him to keep his hand in his pocket. The officer wrote in his report that he believed he felt the handle of a gun while holding Brisbon's hand in his pocket.

The officer was not able to maintain his hold on Brisbon's hand and, fearing he had a gun, fired twice, striking Brisbon in the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police didn't find a gun in Brisbon's pocket. Instead, they found a bottle of oxycodone tablets. Police did find a gun in the vehicle, along with a jar containing marijuana.

The officer was not injured.

Brisbon's criminal record included a DUI, two aggravated DUIs, driving with a suspended license, and two separate counts of "marijuana use and possession and failure to pay a fine."

Chronicle AM: GOP Still Going After DC Pot Laws, FL Welfare Drug Test Law Blocked, More (12/4/14)

The GOP is yet to give up the ghost on blocking DC marijuana reforms, NYC Mayor de Blasio's new no-arrest pot possession policy is having an impact, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing bill gets rejected by a federal appeals court, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Republican Effort to Block DC Decriminalization, Legalization Still Lives. Key Republican House and Senate members are set to decide whether to accept a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that would block federal funds from being used to legalize or reduce penalties for pot, Roll Call reports. The rider is the form of an amendment to the DC appropriations bill. "It seems like the marijuana issue has been kicked up to the 'big four.' So that'll get settled," Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) said Tuesday, referring to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who are negotiating the spending package. Harris's amendment passed the House in June, but was not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Alaska Could Generate $7 Million in Pot Tax Revenues in First Year, Report Finds. A Legislative Research Service report commissioned by Alaska lawmakers estimates that the state could take in $7 million in marijuana taxes in its first year. But the report also noted that the cost of implementing rules and regulations to govern the newly legal industry could be about as much.

Georgia Lawmaker Files Legalization Initiative Bill. Sen. Curt Thompson (D-DeKalb County) has pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which would, if passed, put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana before the voters. "I anticipate us having a discussion this session. I don't know where it will lead, but if you don't ask you don't get," Thompson said.

New York City Mayor Says Pot Arrests Down Dramatically With New Policy. In the first two weeks of a new policy directing the NYPD to merely ticket -- not arrest -- people for small-time marijuana possession, pot arrests have dropped more than 60%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Wyoming Not There Yet on Legalization. A University of Wyoming poll found that only 35% approved of the personal use of marijuana by adults, with 60% opposed. But, hey, that's up 12 points from a similar question asked by the same pollsters in 2000. Cowboy State residents, however, do come down in favor of medical marijuana, with 72% approving. That number is unchanged from the 2000 poll.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Filed. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

DC Council Passes Bill to Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The council Tuesday approved a bill that will bar employers from drug testing potential new hires before a job offer is made. The bill is B20-0728, the "Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Emergency Act of 2014." While the bill bars pre-employment testing for marijuana, it does allow for on-the-job testing for marijuana, noting that employees "must still adhere to the workplace policies set forth by their employer."

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has upheld a lower court ruling that Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional. The ruling came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families and is in line with other federal precedent on the issue. The federal courts have held that, with few exceptions, suspicionless drug testing is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

Michigan House Approves Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 275, which would create a pilot program mandating suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The measure has already passed the Senate, but now awaits a concurrence vote after the bill was amended in the House. One of those amendments stripped a provision from the bill that would have allowed the Department of Human Services to provide cash assistance to "an appropriate protective payee" for children if their parents lose benefits because of failing the drug test.

New Synthetic Drugs

Another Bill to Ban New Synthetic Drugs Filed in Texas. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 199, which would add specified newly discovered synthetic drugs to the Texas Controlled Substances Act and create a provision designed to ban analogues as well. Two other bills aimed at new synthetics have already been filed for next year's session.

Chronicle Review Essay: The Rise of the New Synthetics

Drugs Unlimited: The Web Revolution That's Changing How the World Gets High by Mike Power (2014, Thomas Dunne Books, 316 pp., $25.99 HB)

Thanks, Mr. Power, for making me feel like an old fogey. My personal psychedelic career ended sometime back in the last century. I wouldn't know N-Bomb (25C-NBOMe) from Europa (2C-E), and I wouldn't know MDPV (Ivory Wave) if it came up and bit my face off (which, lurid press reports notwithstanding, it won't).

Fogey that I may be, I was in Austin, Texas, in the mid-1980s and remember quite clearly the arrival of Ecstasy (MDMA) on the scene, first in the gay clubs, then spreading into the student party scene. Just as Ecstasy was a substitute for amphetamines, and amphetamines were a substitute for cocaine, many of these new synthetics appear aimed at getting a niche in that perpetual psychedelic-tinged stimulant club drug circle currently dominated by Ecstasy.

Thousands danced the Texas night away on Ecstasy for a few halcyon months in the 1980s before the feds realized that the drug had escaped into the mainstream and criminalized it. They could ban the drug, but they couldn't ban the rave/club culture that both nurtured and evolved from it. Instead, that culture has gone worldwide. Now, whether you're in Joliet, Illinois or Jakarta, Indonesia, you can go and dance the night away to thumping beats under the influence of a drug (almost) nobody ever heard of a decade ago -- and, thanks to the wonders of the Internet age, you can have it delivered to your door with little threat of problems with the police.

In Drugs Unlimited, British journalist Mike Power provides an authoritative, well-researched, and engagingly written account of the rise of these new drugs and the inextricably interwoven links between the new drugs and the rise of the Internet. Along the way we drop in on the godfather of the new drugs, Sasha Shulgin, visit the Chinese chemical factories where many of them are produced, revisit the first economic transaction made on the Internet (a drug deal), and investigate the Dark Web drug marketing scene made famous by sites like Silk Road.

Drugs Unlimited is actually the American edition of Drugs 2.0, which was published more than a year ago in Great Britain. I mention this only because that will explain why it doesn't have the absolute latest information on the newest new drugs, or why it seems like Power was unaware that Silk Road had been busted. (He does add a new chapter at the end of the American edition to examine the Silk Road bust.)

Power traces -- pretty accurately, I think -- the rise of the new synthetics back to Dr. Shulgin and his astounding work of synthesizing hundreds, if not thousands, of compounds of the phenethylamine and tryptaminegroups. That work was made publicly available in the books PIKHAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved) and TIKHAL (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved), and people have been synthesizing and experimenting with the results ever since.

Some of those same psychonauts were also involved in the genesis of electronic information technologies, holding dear to the principles of individual autonomy, intellectual freedom, and disdain for an overweening state in both cases. Power is very good at tracing that tangled evolution.

And now, we are in a spot where we can open our TOR browsers, find our way to any of the dozens or hundreds of online drug supermarkets, and buy whatever drug we want -- including not just those new-fangled ones, but old favorites like cocaine, LSD, heroin, and weed -- using encrypted communications and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, and have them delivered to our doors in nice packages.

The genie is out of the bottle and, as Power shows, no one is going to get it back in. Governments are hopelessly ham-handed, reactive, and behind the game. They don't even know about these new drugs until thousands of people have tried them, and then they move to ban a new drug or a class of them, and some chemist tweaks a molecule or two, and then there's a whole other set of drugs to ban. They bring down places like Silk Road, but up pops Silk Road 2.0, or the Agora Marketplace, or Evolution or any number of heavily-protected competitors.

And some young people die using them, and we have another drug panic. Just this week, for instance, CNN is running a special, "Deadly High: How Synthetic Drugs Are Killing Kids," and the British media seems to trumpet every Ecstasy death it comes across (too often without considering the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who took Ecstasy at the same time without dying).

These drugs can kill, but they rarely do, and the media spotlight on each death distorts reality. It's difficult to know how prevalent use of these drugs is, but the number of deaths that can be fairly attributed to them is in the single- or double-digits each year. Compare that to the 21,000 or so opiate overdose deaths reported in 2012, and you see what I mean.

Anything can be a "killer substance" if you take too much of it, even water. And that's what appears to be behind the deaths and other adverse consequences associated with these drugs. People died because they didn't know what they were taking. They may be used to a drug whose active dose is measured in milligrams, but now have a substitute drug whose active dose is measured in micrograms. Take a hundred times the recommended dose of anything and see what happens.

That has happened. And so have labeling mistakes at Chinese factories with poor or non-existent quality controls. And so has the criminally stupid packaging of very strong new synthetics cut with substances that feel superficially like cocaine. Users get the cocaine taste and the cocaine numbness and make cocaine-sized lines to snort, and ingest way too much of the drug. And die.

These problems, tragic as they can be, are largely functions of drug prohibition -- not the drugs themselves. Anything is less dangerous when you know what it is, what it is supposed to do, and how much you can safely take. But criminalized substances are unlikely to be quality-controlled. The problem is different, but related, with new synthetics that are not yet criminalized. In these cases, manufacturers and vendors strive not to identify what the substance is or what its effects are in hopes of coming in under the radar of regulators. That's why we have new synthetics marketed as "plant fertilizer" or "bath salts." Those can get through Customs when something marked "New amphetamine-type psychedelic, recommended dose 100 micrograms" can't.

It almost goes without saying that neither Power nor the people involved in or studying this phenomenon have use for dealing with it through prohibition and criminalization. But that doesn't mean that laissez faire rules.

"We are currently unprepared legislatively, socioculturally, and practically for this, the next phase in the drug market," he writes. "Legalization is not the answer, banning drugs is not the answer, leaving things as they are -- in complete unregulated anarchy in both the old and the new drug markets -- is not the answer… There must be a concerted effort not only of harm reduction, but of urgent damage limitation… The explicit and implicit message from drug users themselves is that no law will ever change nor has ever changed their desire to get high."

Ultimately, the lesson of the new synthetics and the increasingly easy access to them is one of responsibility, both personal and collective. Drug users have the responsibility to be smart, educated consumers, and they can do that. The answers are out there, and these days, they're just a click or two away. And we as a society have a responsibility to understand that people are going to take drugs regardless of whether we want them to or not, and to find ways to minimize -- not increase -- the harm.

Drugs Unlimited is a guided tour through this new world of new drugs and new ways to get at them. And it's provocative, unsettling, and eye-opening along the way. Highly recommended.

Chronicle AM: TX Marijuana, TN Asset Forfeiture Reformer, LA DA MedMJ Delivery App Lawsuit, More (12/314)

Houston's police chief criticizes marijuana prohibition, marijuana reform will be before the Texas legislature, LA's DA sues to block a medical marijuana delivery app, a Massachusetts activist pushes boundaries, a Tennessee DA vows to end civil asset forfeiture, and more. Let's get to it:

Will the Lone Star State become the Lone Leaf State?
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Reform Bills Coming in Next Texas Legislature. There will be at least two bills seeking to reform the Lone Star State's marijuana laws when the legislative session begins next month. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has pre-filed HB 00414I, which would move simple possession from a more serious to a less serious misdemeanor, but would leave intact the possibility of arrest, as well as impose a stiff $500 fine. The Marijuana Policy Project says the bill doesn't go far enough and that it is working with Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to introduce a full-blown decriminalization bill, with no arrest and a maximum $100 fine.

Houston Police Chief Says Marijuana Prohibition Failed Policy, Feds Need to Step Up. In an in-depth interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland described marijuana prohibition as a failed policy and said the federal government needed to address it. "Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot (continue) to criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use," McLellan said. "We can't, you just can't continue to do that, we understand that." Click on the links to hear the full interview.

Medical Marijuana

Head of Epilepsy Foundation Wants CBD Cannabis Oil Available Nationwide. Warren Lammert, chairman of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, and father of an epileptic child, has said he wants CBD cannabis oil used to treat seizures made available nationwide. The Epilepsy Foundation has determined that "an end to seizures should not be determined by one's zip code," and that more research is essential.

Massachusetts Activists Pushes Boundaries With Allston CBD Shop. Veteran Bay State marijuana reform activist Bill Downing has opened a shop called CBD Please in Allston. He claims that his operation is legal because the products he offers are made from high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils. And he's not too concerned about any reaction from authorities. "The state can do anything they want. They can throw me in jail. They can do whatever they want," said Downing. "But I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm doing it for the patients here in the state and I really don't care about the bureaucracies trying to stop me because they're immoral. And because the public does not support them." When asked if what he was doing was legal, Downing replied: "I don't know, and I don't care."

LA City Attorney Sues to Block Medical Marijuana Delivery App.The LA city attorney's office Tuesday filed a lawsuit to close down a mobile phone app that sets up home deliveries of medical marijuana. The lawsuit alleges that Nestdrop is a "flagrant attempt" to get around restrictions imposed by voters last year. The city argues that its medical marijuana ordinance only allows patients or caregivers to pick up the medicines themselves and does not allow delivery services. Nestdrop isn't the only the only app offering deliveries in Southern California, but it's the only one that's been targeted.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee DA to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Ray Crouch, DA for the 23rd Judicial District, has announced that his office will no longer pursue civil asset forfeiture cases. The state's civil asset forfeiture has come under repeated criticism for abuses, and Crouch is responding. "I will sit here and guarantee you do not have to be afraid of our office, of the Drug Task Force seizing your property if you're not committing a criminal act," Crouch said. "We're not going to be using civil forfeiture to take anybody's money. If we do, it will be in criminal court because you will be charged with a crime." Click for more detail on the policy changes under Crouch.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, S 2839, is a wide-ranging effort to deal with rising levels of opiate addiction and addresses prevention, naloxone access and training, alternatives to incarceration, "criminal justice medication-assisted treatment and interventions," and more. It has seven cosponsors -- five Democrats and two Republicans. The latest is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, HR 3465 (companion legislation is S 1690) would extend and expand grants for drug treatment, "offender reentry substance abuse and criminal justice collaboration," and other grants under the 1968 omnibus crime control act. It has 46 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and nine Republicans. The latest is Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). It is currently before the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Houston cop gets caught transferring cocaine, a New York narc gets nailed for tipping off his neighborhood buddies about looming drug raids, and another prison guard goes down for contraband. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Houston police officer was indicted November 20 for transporting cocaine. Officer Jasmine Renee Bonner, 26, had been arrested in August after a "lengthy ongoing investigation" led by DEA and ATF officers when she was observed removing cocaine from the trunk of her car and giving it to a coconspirator. Both were then pulled over separately in traffic stops. She is charged with first-degree felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and is being held in the Montgomery County Jail on a one million dollar bond.

In Troy, New York, a Troy police officer was indicted last Friday on charges he tipped off a friend about an impending drug raid. Patrolman Brian Gross had been arrested in July, and the arrest and the indictment were part of a five-month investigation by the attorney general's office and the State Police. Gross was assigned to the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, "and thus had knowledge of and access to investigative intelligence, suspect information and details concerning the timing and location of search warrants," according to an attorney general's office. The investigation started after police raids aimed at known drug houses turned up no activity. The houses were all in Gross's neighborhood. He was indicted for tampering with physical evidence, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of divulging an eavesdropping warrant, two counts of official misconduct and a count of obstructing governmental administration.

In Orlando, Florida, a former prison guard was sentenced last Monday to 18 months in prison for smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Leesburg. Jason Epstein, 29, copped to receiving hundreds of dollars in payments in return for smuggling in goodies "at least three or four times." He had pleaded guilty to one count of bribery.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Kettle Falls Five case gets postponed, ASA starts a petition to protect California patients who need organ transplants, Minnesota begins implementing its new medical marijuana law, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, the head of the Epilepsy Foundation said he wants CBC cannabis oil available nationwide. Warren Lammert, chairman of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, and father of an epileptic child, has said he wants CBD cannabis oil used to treat seizures made available nationwide. The Epilepsy Foundation has determined that "an end to seizures should not be determined by one's zip code," and that more research is essential.

California

On Monday, ASA announced a petition drive seeking support for a California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Accessis leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles announced it had shut down more than 400 dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Also on Tuesday, the LA city attorney sued to block a medical marijuana delivery app. The LA city attorney's office filed a lawsuit to close down a mobile phone app that sets up home deliveries of medical marijuana. The lawsuit alleges that Nestdrop is a "flagrant attempt" to get around restrictions imposed by voters last year. The city argues that its medical marijuana ordinance only allows patients or caregivers to pick up the medicines themselves and does not allow delivery services. Nestdrop isn't the only the only app offering deliveries in Southern California, but it's the first to be targeted by authorities.

Colorado

Last Thursday, an Arizona professor fired for medical marijuana research got new funding to continue her work. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, a Massachusetts activist went public with his boundary-pushing Allston CBD shop. Veteran Bay State marijuana reform activist Bill Downing has opened a shop called CBD Please in Allston. He claims that his operation is legal because the products he offers are made from high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils. And he's not too concerned about any reaction from authorities. "The state can do anything they want. They can throw me in jail. They can do whatever they want," said Downing. "But I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm doing it for the patients here in the state and I really don't care about the bureaucracies trying to stop me because they're immoral. And because the public does not support them." When asked if what he was doing was legal, Downing replied: "I don't know, and I don't care."

Minnesota

On Monday, the state named two medical marijuana growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

Oregon

Late last month, the state decided to appeal a lower court ruling that cities can ban dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Washington

On Monday, trial in the Kettle Falls Five federal medical marijuana case was postoned.A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

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

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths, Naloxone Price Hikes, How Weed Can Win in 2016, New Synthetics, More (12/2/14)

A new report suggests how to win pot legalization initiatives in 2016, a closely watched medical marijuana trial is delayed, there's naloxone and overdose death news, Mexican pot farmers are getting squeezed from competition north of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Moms Key Demographic for Winning Initiatives, Research Report Argues. Women between 30 and 55 are the key demographic group for winning marijuana legalization initiatives, according to a new report from the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The report, "Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012," analyzed the 2012 initiative efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as looking at the 2010 Prop 19 effort in California. The campaigns in Colorado and Washington successfully targeted that key demographic, the analysis found. The report also found that key messages to voters were that legalization would free up scarce law enforcement resources and that it would create new tax revenues. There's plenty more to read in the report; click on the link for the whole thing.

Marijuana DUI Breathalyzer Test Coming? Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that could detect THC on a driver's breath. The researchers said the device would probably not provide an exact reading of the amount of THC, but could help officers determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. But a follow-up THC blood test would still be necessary for use as evidence in court. Researchers said they hope to start testing this device in the first half of next year.

Arizona Legislative Analysts Say Legal Pot Could Generate $48 Million a Year in Tax Revenues. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has produced a report estimating tax revenues from legalization at $48 million a year. The report was produced in September, but details were not released until the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times obtained a copy Monday. The report was in response to a Democratic bill to legalize marijuana. That bill was killed in April, but could be back next year. And there is a legalization initiative effort underway for 2016, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical Marijuana

Trial Postponed, New Judge Assigned in Widely Watched Federal Medical Marijuana Case of Kettle Falls Five. A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

Los Angeles Has Shut Down More Than 400 Dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Members Save Over 200 North Carolinians From Drug Overdoses With Naloxone. The Coalition announced today that it had received a report of its 208th overdose reversal using the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Coalition has distributed over 5,100 overdose prevention kits containing naloxone since August 2013. That was made possible by the passage of a 911 Good Samaritan/naloxone access law in April 2013. For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, go here.

Naloxone Price Going Up Dramatically. Just as police departments across the country make plans to stock up on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, manufacturers are jacking up prices. In Georgia, police report the price of a kit jumped from $22 to $40, while New York City is reporting a 50% price increase. Manufacturers have not explained the increases, but some activists have suggested that with the surge in orders from government entities, the makers have seen a chance to grab windfall profits."We've had a pretty steady price for several years now,"said Matt Curtis, the policy director of VOCAL-New York, an advocacy group. "Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we're seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable."

CDC Reports Drug Overdose Deaths More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, more than 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, more than doubling the figure of 17,000 in 1999. Of the 41,000 drug overdoses in 2012, 16,000 were from opioid pain relievers (although that number actually decreased 5% from 2011), while nearly 6,000 were from heroin. Thus, legal and illegal opioids accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2012. The overall overdose death rate also doubled, from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. The highest rates of overdose deaths were in West Virginia (32 per 100,000), Kentucky (25 deaths per 100,00 people), New Mexico (24.7 per 100,00 people), Utah (23.1 per 100,00 people) and Nevada (21 per 100,00 people). The report is "Trends in Drug Poisoning Deaths, 1999-2012."

Law Enforcement

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is seeking an emergency appropriation for a "heroin surge" to combat increased heroin addiction and overdoses. He wants $100 million appropriated to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The move would increase HIDTA funding to $338 million nationwide, if the funding is approved in the federal budget.

Drug Testing

Kansas Welfare Drug Testing Law Not Catching Many. That's at least in part because the state is not actually testing many welfare applicants. After four months in effect, the state has tested only 20 applicants, of whom four tested positive. The testing is only required for people who are visibly using drugs, been recently arrested on a drug charge, or were found during a questionnaire screening to be likely to be using drugs. The state has paid $500,000 for the program so far, but has not achieved the $1.5 million in savings from people being disqualified for benefits earlier estimated because it has tested and disqualified so few people.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Synthetics and the Changing Global Drug Marketplace. Stanford University drug policy analyst Keith Humphreys has penned an informative piece on the increasing shift from natural, plant-based drugs to synthetic ones as well as the shift to on-line drug selling and buying. This phenomenon could "upend traditional understanding of drug markets and drug policy," he writes. There's much more; check it out at the link.

International

US Marijuana Production Hurting Mexican Pot Farmers. National Public Radio's John Burnett reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa that Mexican marijuana producers are being squeezed by made-in-America weed. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,"one grower there told him. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground." That grower said if matters continued as they were, he would plant opium poppies instead. The report also quotes a DEA official as saying Mexican cartels are now importing high-quality American weed to Mexico for high-end customers.

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Petition, PA Harm Reduction Law, TX Fake Pot Bill, More (12/1/14)

Oregon's dispensary law continues to be thrashed out in the courts, a Pennsylvania 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access law has gone into effect, Minnesota gets medical marijuana growers, there's a Texas bill targeting synthetic cannabinoids, and more. Let's get to it:

"Spice" and other synthetic cannabinoids are under the gun in Texas. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

APA Call for Papers on Marijuana Legalization. The American Psychological Association's (APA) journal, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, is seeking empirical (research, both original and meta-analyses) and theoretical (review) papers examining trends in marijuana use and use disorders and clinically-related research on the drug's addictive potential and health effects. The APA notes that policy is shifting "toward medicalization and legalization of marijuana" and says that "research on the potential effects of this drug is critical as the public health significance of marijuana is debated in this country." Click on the link for submission requirements and deadlines.

Alaska Marijuana Business Group Angling for Industry-Friendly Rules. A small number of people interested in getting into the marijuana business in Alaska have formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation to advocate for regulations and rules that will "let the market decided who makes it or who fails," said the Coalition's Bruce Shulte. The group says it will work with legislators and the Alcoholic Beverage Review board to guide rulemaking. The state has until late next year to come up with regulations and to decide whether to use the review board to regulate marijuana or create a new entity.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon to Appeal Court Ruling that Cities Can Ban Dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Minnesota Names Two Medical Marijuana Growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

ASA Petition for California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Law Goes Into Effect. A state law that puts the opiate overdose reversal drug into the hands of first responders went into effect today. The law also contains a 911 Good Samaritan provision, providing some legal protections for people who witness and report overdoses. The law is Act 139. The state has recorded more than 3,000 opiate overdose deaths since 2009.

New Synthetics

Texas Bills to Ban Synthetic Marijuana Proposed. State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) has pre-filed two bills aimed at criminalizing synthetic cannabinoids in the Lone Star State. The two bills, Senate Bill 172 and Senate Bill 173 designate certain synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances under the state Controlled Substances Act. Huffman is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus and vice-chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. She won Texas Monthly's award for "worst legislator of 2013," in part because of her intransigently conservative stands on criminal justice issues.

International

Uruguay Ruling Party Keeps Presidency, Marijuana Law Should Be Safe. Pepe Mujica's legacy as the man who legalized marijuana in Uruguay should be safe after his Broad Front's candidate, Tabare Vazques, won Sunday's election to succeed him. Center-right opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had threatened to repeal much of the law if he was elected. Vazquez, however, is not as enthusiastic about the law as Mujica was, and has said he might modify it. Roll out of the pharmacy sales portion of the law was supposed to happen at year's end, but was just pushed back until at least March.

Australia Goes Wild With Drug Dog Searches, Doesn't Find Much. Police in New South Wales are subjecting thousands of people to "intrusive and humiliating" police searches after being falsely identified by drug-sniffing dogs as carrying drugs, according to statistics revealed after a request from the New South Wales Green Party. Nearly 17,800 people were searched after being alerted on by drug dogs, but in nearly two-thirds (64%) of those cases, no drugs were found, and only 2.4% of searches led to successful prosecutions. The Greens complained that the use of drug dogs outside festivals was potentially dangerous, causing some users to either take all their drugs before traveling to events and others to consume them in a panicked fashion when it becomes evident a drug dog sniff looms.

New Zealand Meth Use Up After "Legal Highs" Banned. Addiction specialists are reporting that former meth users have gone back to the drug after the country reversed course and criminalized new synthetic drugs. The country had sought to regulate the new synthetics, but reversed course in May after loud public discontent with open drug use and strange behavior. "People who have used methamphetamine in the past are now going back to using it after the legal highs came off the market," explained one addiction counselor.

Chronicle AM: Green Friday, CA Drug Prisoners Walk Free, Mexico Crime Plan, N Korea Meth, More (11/28/14)

California's Prop 47 sentencing reform is kicking in with a vengeance, it's Green Friday in legal pot states, and there's a whole raft of international news. Let's get to it:

Mexican President Pena Nieto finds himself in a tight spot as anger over corruption and impunity reach the boiling point.
Marijuana Policy

In Legal Marijuana States, Black Friday is Green Friday. Legal marijuana retailers in Colorado and Washington are getting in the holiday spirit by offering "Green Friday" specials to customers. Kindman Premium Cannabis in Denver is offering $50 ounces to the first 16 Colorado residents today and tomorrow, while the Green Room in Boulder has their $50 eighths on sale for $40. Some Washington state retailers are offering similar deals.

With Threat of Initiative Looming, Some Key Massachusetts Lawmakers Start Talking Legalization. Some Bay State lawmakers are saying it's time to pass a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, or else the voters are going to do it themselves. "It's almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right," said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee. "I don't think it's wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question." Not everyone agrees, including Committee on Public Health Chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker. But if the legislature doesn't act, an initiative looks very likely in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona University Professor Fired for Medical Marijuana Research Gets Colorado Grant to Study Pot and PTSD. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.

Sentencing

California Drug Offenders Being Freed Under Prop 47. Hundreds of jail and prison inmates have already been released in the three weeks since California voters approved Proposition 47, which retroactively reduced drug possession (and some other minor offenses) from a felony to a misdemeanor. Scores more people are flooding courts with applications to have their records cleansed of felonies. Nearly 5,000 people in state prison and tens of thousands more in county jails and on probation are probably eligible for resentencing. Those who completed their sentences years ago also can have their felonies erased. Also, thousands of probationers will be released from regular monitoring. Foes expect the worst, but time will tell.

International

Mexican President Announces National Anti-Crime Plan. Under intense political pressure after the apparent kidnapping and murder of 43 radical teachers' college students in Guerrero in September in a collaboration between corrupt politicians, corrupt police, and drug gangsters, President Enrique Pena Nieto Thursday announced a plan designed to cool public outrage and reform the nation's notoriously corrupt police forces. Pena Nieto is proposing giving Congress the power to dissolve corrupt municipal police and also placing local police under the control of the nation's 31 state governments. The same day Pena Nieto made the announcement, police in Guerrero announced the discovery of 11 burned and decapitated bodies (not the missing students). Similar anti-crime plans aimed at corrupt local police were announced in 2004 and 2008, but didn't succeed in rooting out the problem.

Colombia President Announces Crop Substitution Pilot Program, Says Will End Need for Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday a pilot program for crop substitution in southern Putumayo state and said there will be "no more need" for aerial fumigation of crops once it is implemented. The pilot program is set to start in April. Crop substitution is a key part of the interim agreement on drugs between Colombia and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The two forces have been in extended peace negotiations for the past two years.

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Pharmacy Sales. Although the Uruguayan government had initially planned to start allowing the sale of marijuana in pharmacies by year's end, it has now pushed that goal back to March, and perhaps further. National Drugs Board General Secretary Julio Calzada told reporters Wednesday that the delay loomed. The Reuters report linked to here mentioned "a variety of hurdles," but didn't specify what they are. Under Uruguay's legalization, people can grow up to six plants at home, organize into collectives to grow jointly, or register with the government and buy their pot at the drug store -- once the government crosses those hurdles.

Malay Man Gets Death Sentence for 20 Pounds of Weed. The Malaysian High Court in Alor Setar has sentenced a 37-year-old Penang man to death for trafficking 9.4 kilos of marijuana. Akbar Ali Abdul Rahman was convicted under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for some drug offenses.

North Korea as China's Meth Supplier. The Guardian has in-depth reportage on North Korea's methamphetamine industry, which it says is flooding northwest China with the drug. The report says the Hermit Kingdom's meth industry has shifted from centralized and government-controlled production to decentralized, privatized production. North Korea denies it's doing any such thing. A very informative read.

Australia Report Finds Drug Enforcement Doesn't Affect Drugs on the Street. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has released "the most comprehensive assessment of drug law enforcement ever undertaken in Australia," and found no evidence that increased drug law enforcement -- as measured through seizures and arrests of drug dealers -- affected the amount of drugs on the street or reduced hospital admissions related to hard drugs. The report is "Supply Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm."

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Australia's Tasmania. A bill to allow for medical marijuana and set up a controlled farming regime was filed Thursday in the Tasmania state parliament. Local media says the bill has "broad support," and was cosponsored by a Liberal, a Liberal Democrat, and a Green. The bill is not yet available on the Tasmania parliament web site.

The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 and Beyond [FEATURE]

State-level marijuana law reform won big in this month's elections, with legalization initiatives triumphing convincingly in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. The Florida medical marijuana initiative lost, but only because it had a higher bar of 60% of the popular vote. It ended up with 57%, a clear sign of solid majority support. And don't forget Guam -- the US territory approved medical marijuana with 56% of the vote.

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform is laying the groundwork for 2016. (CCPR)
Local marijuana reform initiatives also fared well. In Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, activists built on earlier successes to win more victories this year, while in New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe voted in favor of decriminalizing pot possession.

All in all, a good year for marijuana law reform, the second good election year in a row. Since 2012, voters in four states and DC have been asked to legalize marijuana. They've now said yes in all of them.

And now, eyes to turn to 2016 and beyond. There are excellent prospects for more victories in the West, as well as in the Northeast. And there could be some surprises lurking out there in the middle of the country.

California, of course, is the big prize, and efforts are already well underway to ensure that legalization is on the ballot in 2016 -- and that it actually wins this time. Arizona and Nevada are also on the radar, and the Nevada initiative campaign has already turned in twice the number of signatures needed to make the 2016 ballot.

In the Northeast, both Maine and Massachusetts are initiative states, and legalization appears headed for the ballot in both. In Rhode Island and Vermont, the push will come in the state legislatures.

"Things are clearly headed in the right direction," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Mason Tvert, scanning the post-election terrain. "Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities."

MPP will be backing 2016 initiatives in five states, Tvert said, although the Nevada legislature could ease its burden by just approving an initiative rather than punting to the voters.

"In Nevada, the petition drive has just wrapped up. At this point, our goal there is to pass the ballot initiative; if the legislature chooses to take an objective look and give it some real consideration, that would be excellent, too," he said.

"We also have committees filed to support initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts," Tvert said. "In California, we want to begin to raise money to support that effort, but it's pretty early in the process. We expect to see very solid support for such a measure in California, especially running in a presidential election year when support for legalizing marijuana has been growing nationwide. Prop 19 got 47% in 2010; that will be six years ago come 2016."

"We have a pretty comprehensive statewide coalition working on this," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which is a key part of that grouping, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. "The coalition includes us, the Prop 19 people, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, MPP, the Emerald Growers Association, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a partner in this, too."

A little less than two years out, it's a work in progress, said Gieringer.

"Pretty much all the leading groups interested in drug reform are interested in collaborating, but exactly how that will work hasn't been settled yet," he said.

Now that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, Gieringer sees some political space for pushing the envelope.

"Home cultivation will be in it," he said. "They have that in Oregon and Colorado, and we're going to have it in California. I also want to provide for on-site consumption; we're working to get that instituted here in Oakland. In Colorado, they banned public use, which is one thing if you mean smoking pot on the street, but governments tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes public use, like a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. I think we can provide for licensed on-site consumption, at least by local option."

And no reason to make what he called "unnecessary concessions."

"We have a DUID law, and we don't need to change that," he said. "They didn't do that in Colorado and Oregon, and we don't need to do it. We learned a lesson in Washington -- that lack of an express DUID provision didn't make a difference -- and we're not going to repeat that."

Although more than any other group in the coalition, CANORML represents the interests of marijuana consumers, Gieringer said it's not pot smokers or growers who are going to make an initiative victorious.

Maybe Missouri's Show Me Cannabis will show us all.
"Marijuana users are 12% to 15% of the population here; we really have to depend on more than that," he said. "The users and growers will not determine this campaign. And I'm sure there will be people discontented with however the initiative turns out; there always are. But there aren't that many growers in the state, anyhow. Some growers didn't like Prop 19, but it failed for other reasons. It didn't win in Los Angeles County, and that's not because of the growers."

In some states, such as Massachusetts, activists have been piling up marijuana reform victories for years. MassCANN/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have an unbroken record of winning non-binding public policy questions on marijuana reform issues going back seven election cycles. Voters in the Bay State have also signaled their approval of marijuana law reform by passing statewide medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization initiatives (2012).

Now, Bay State Repeal has formed to free the weed in 2016, and it has a pot populist tinge to it. The group wants home cultivation, not just to keep prices down, but "to keep the cops from busting through the door just because there is marijuana growing there" and it wants taxation and regulation, but only "moderate," not "cash-cow taxation or giant licensing fees."

In Maine, where MPP has been active, putting successful municipal legalization initiatives on the ballot in Portland and South Portland (but losing one in Lewiston), there could be not one but two legalization initiatives unless differing actors come together. In addition to the MPP effort, a new group, Legalize Maine, is also moving forward with plans for an initiative.

As with Bay State Repeal, there is a pot populist tinge. Legalize Maine couches its argument not only in terms of justice and common sense, but also talks about jobs and economic development. And it wants marijuana regulated in a way that "focuses on people instead of large economic interests that seeks to dominate the marijuana industry."

Legalization could also pop up in some unexpected places, too. While the major movement organizations already have selected targets for 2016 and have plans well afoot, things could break faster than the big players anticipate, and local activists in some states -- Arkansas and Missouri, for example -- may manage to get initiatives on the ballot without significant outside support.

In Missouri, Show Me Cannabis has been undertaking a vigorous and energetic campaign to put an initiative on the ballot in 2016. It submitted its initiative to state officials earlier this month; the first step in getting the measure before the voters. Similar efforts by different groups are also underway next door in Arkansas.

Those Ozark-area efforts don't have the backing of big national organization behind them, but that could change.

The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann wants to see the polling. (OSI)
"If these initiatives are well-drafted and the polling is strong, we'll help as best we can, but we're not making any financial commitments," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "We have a major commitment in California, and we're helping MPP draft initiatives in other states. In Missouri, let's make sure there's a solid draft initiative, and if the polling is there, well, a victory in Missouri would be very compelling."

Seeing marijuana legalization creep along the West Coast, make inroads on the East Coast, and maybe even in the Ozarks would make for a very impressive 2016, but some Midwestern activists are looking further down the road.

Led by indefatigable Tim Beck, Michigan activists have managed to pass municipal personal legalization initiatives in all the state's largest cities in the past few years. This year, they went eight for 13 with similar initiatives in smaller Michigan communities.

Michigan voters also approved marijuana in a statewide initiative in 2008, but, for Beck, getting the state's dispensary situation settled -- not legalization -- is the first order of business.

"Although the state legislature is totally controlled by the GOP, we've been working with them, and they've kind of seen the light on a regulated system with a lot of local control, which is big with Republicans," he said. "We have one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, and it's going to get better with a regulated dispensary system, as well as ingestibles. We won 95-14 in the House, and it's going through the Senate now," he said.

"We have over 1.5 million people now living in cities that have decriminalized," Beck said. "And we liberated 140,000 this year -- on the cheap. This has an impact. When we have dispensaries and when we have decriminalization, local officials won't be able to say 'Oh, we don't want marijuana here,' because the voters do."

Legalization may not be the first order of business, but it is the ultimate goal, Beck said.

"My philosophy has never been that the solution is medical, but straight-out, unadorned legalization, but we're -having to do it on our own," he explained. "Michigan is fly-over country for the big players. It's a large state with a population of more than 10 million, so it's expensive to win a campaign, and it's a bit more conservative than the East or West coasts."

That means Michigan needs to be patient.

"Our realistic priority for the next couple of years is to work with the legislature," Beck said. "We have a new class of entrepreneurs who have come out of the closet, and we've been able to fund our own lobbyist to the tune of about $150,000. Once we get dispensaries, then we'll turn to decriminalization at the statehouse. We had a decriminalization bill this year, but it was introduced by a Democrat and went nowhere."

Beck is also waiting for the opinion polls to move further in the right direction.

"There's a weird dichotomy in our polling," the veteran activist explained. "We get well over 60% saying yes to reallocating police resources away from small-time marijuana users, but when it comes to legalization, that number drops dramatically. We might be at 50%; we'll do another poll at year's end, but I don't think much will change. It's hard to demand that anyone open their checkbook when you're only running 50%. We have to just keep going on an incremental basis. Maybe by 2018 or 2020, we'll be ready."

While Beck counsels patience, Nadelmann is counseling prudence. And while he is of course happy that all the legalization initiatives passed, he doesn't want people to think it's going to be a walk in the park from here on in.

"The downside is a sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself," he said. "That could make it more difficult to fundraise if there's a sense that you can put anything on the ballot and not anticipate serious opposition. There could be a sense in the industry that you can be free riders while the activists raise the money."

There are other potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope could push too far, Nadelmann said.

"Don't forget the Montana disaster," he warned, referring the wide open medical marijuana expansion there that created a backlash that drove the industry back into the ground. "Don't be short-sighted and greedy, and contribute and support the organizations working on this."

And don't forget federal pot prohibition.

It's one thing for a handful of states -- or even more -- to legalize marijuana, but as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, even the legal marijuana states could theoretically face a concerted federal effort to roll back the clock. Using federal marijuana prohibition as a hammer, a hostile Congress and president could wreak havoc with state-level regulation and taxation. (Ironically, a move to do that could result in marijuana being legal to smoke and possess in those states, but not to sell or be taxed or regulated.)

But if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go.

"A lot more states are going to have to approve this before it gets to the point where repeal can pass," said Nadelmann. "When you look at medical marijuana and how slowly that moves on Capitol Hill, you see that it wasn't until this year that we actually got something passed, and that was just to stop federal interference in medical marijuana states. I'm more optimistic about winning votes like that next year, to get the federal government out of the way."

Congress has not been especially responsive to growing support for marijuana legalization, and there's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, Nadelmann said.

"It's hard to imagine Congress playing any sort of leadership role on this stuff," he explained.

Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. That means there's still plenty of work to be done at the state house and the ballot box.

Medical Marijuana Update

Help for veterans could be on the way, plans for 2016 initiatives are getting underway, Arizona doctors win a court case, existing programs in the Northeast expand, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of legislators filed a bill to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona

Last Thursday,the Arizona appeals court ruled doctors can't be charged for making medical marijuana referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Connecticut

On Wednesday, a state doctors' panel heard requests to add more qualifying conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida

On Monday, Florida advocates announced plans for a 2016 initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fundraising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Iowa

Last Thursday, the state Pharmacy Board punted on reclassification. The Board has decided to defer a decision on whether to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law until its January meeting. The Board could have decided at its Wednesday meeting to recommend to the legislature that marijuana be rescheduled after a public hearing Monday, but while it said marijuana does have medical use, it also worried that it has high abuse potential. The board was (in)acting on a petition from Des Moines medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, state officials announced Nevada will honor out-of-state medical marijuana cards. Once dispensaries begin to open in the state next year, people holding medical marijuana recommendations from other states will be able to purchase marijuana there.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the state approved its fourth dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakota

Last Saturday, activists met to plot next moves on medical marijuana. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Washington

On Monday, a key state senator outlined her medical and recreational marijuana regulation bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult-- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Also on Monday, Seattle's mayor released his medical marijuana regulation plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Posted in:

It never ends. More jail guards with contraband issues, another cop with a serious pill problem. Let's get to it:

In Tabor City, North Carolina, a Tabor Correctional Institute jail guard was arrested last Friday after being recorded giving doses of Xanax to an inmate. Sabrina Wallace, 42, went down after the inmate agreed to cooperate with investigators. She is charged with providing drugs to an inmate and is out on an unsecured bond.

In Kerrville, Texas, a Kerr County jail guard was arrested Sunday on charges he smuggled drugs and other contraband into the jail. Carl Birdwell, 22, went down after an investigation that began in December when administrators noticed "suspicious activity" in and outside of the jail. He was one of 11 people indicted in the contraband scheme. He allegedly smuggled alcohol, tobacco, pills, a cell phone, and more to inmates. He is charged with organized crime offenses.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a former Newport Police detective was sentenced Monday to 7 ½ years in federal prison for peddling pain pills. James Finley Holt, 59, went down after a snitch agreed to help federal law enforcement, telling the feds he had sold him stolen items, which Holt then sold at a convenience store he owned. Further investigation revealed that Holt was buying and selling hydrocodone and Xanax, sometimes in his Newport police cruiser. When agents executed search warrants, they found cocaine, pills, and a bottle of testosterone in his locker, nine different prescription pill bottles, loose pills, and a grinder in a safe under his desk, more pills and pill bottles in his cruiser, and a sawed off shotgun at his home. He was convicted of federal drug distribution charges.

Chronicle AM: Bad Cops in CO, CT MedMJ, VA Decrim Bill, WA Drug Defelonization Bill, More (11/26/14)

We have a couple of disturbing Colorado police stories, a marijuana decrim bill will be filed in Virginia, and a drug decrim one in Washington state, Connecticut patients seek to expand the list of conditions, Florida will try again on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Idaho Group Forms to Fight for Pot Law Reform. A new group has formed to push for marijuana legalization in a most pot-unfriendly place: Idaho. Although it now borders two legal marijuana states -- Oregon and Washington -- Idaho continues its last-century approach to marijuana. Now, New Approach Idaho wants to change that with a new initiative effort. It has its work cut out for it: The last time activists tried to get an initiative on the ballot there, they were only able to come up with 11,000 of the necessary 60,000 voter signatures.

Virginia Legislator Will File Decriminalization Bill in January. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has said he will fill a bill to decriminalization the possession of small amounts for the next session of the legislature. "This is not going to legalize marijuana. It is going to make it no longer have a criminal penalty," he said. Under current law, a first possession offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Ebbin's bill would make possession a civil offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Hears Request to Add More Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard today from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida Advocates Announce Plans for a 2016 Initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fund raising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Law Enforcement

Citizen Video Captures Denver Police Beating Drug Suspect, Knocking Down Pregnant Wife; Cops Tried to Destroy Evidence. Denver resident Levi Frasier happened upon two police officers attacking a man on the ground and began recording with his tablet computer. Police were repeatedly punching the man in the head, and when his seven-month pregnant wife approached the scene, one of the officers swept her legs out from under her, dropping her to the ground. When police noticed Frasier recording the scene, they seized his tablet without his consent or a warrant and erased the video. But Frazier had software that automatically uploaded his videos to the cloud, and now he has made it available to a local TV station, which is raising many questions about the incident. Click on the link to see the video and the TV station's investigative report.

One Colorado Town's Horribly Out of Control Snitch-Driven Drug Busts. The Denver alternative weekly Westword has a lengthy investigative report on a series of drug busts in the town of Trinidad that repeatedly wrapped up innocent people based on the word of confidential informants who stood to benefit from snitching out others. Most of the cases have now been dismissed, but not without severe damage to the innocent. Local police and prosecutors seem not to care much. Click on the link to read the whole damning piece.

Sentencing

Drug Defelonization Bill to Be Filed in Washington State. State Reps. Sherry Appleton (D-Bainbridge Island) and Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) will reintroduce legislation to make drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill will be identical to House Bill 2116, which didn't pass this year. The effort is being supported by Sensible Washington.

International

Cannabis Cafe Quietly Operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A members-only marijuana consumption club, the High Life Social Club, has been open for business since early September. The club doesn't allow pot smoking, just vaporizing, nor does it actually sell marijuana -- it's a BYOB (bring your own buds) operation, and local police seem to be okay with it. The only requirement for membership is a payment of $5 and an ID showing you are over 18.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Bill Moves, Seattle MedMJ Plan, BC Prescription Heroin, Malta Drug Decrim, More (11/25/14)

A marijuana tax and regulate bill advances in DC, a legalization bill gets filed in Georgia, Seattle's mayor has a plan to regulate medical marijuana, prescription heroin is coming to Vancouver, Malta is ready to decriminalize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine AKA diamorphine AKA heroin. Now on prescription for some in Vancouver. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Committee Approves Tax and Regulate Bill. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs today voted in favor of legislation to tax, regulate, and license the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the nation's capital. The bill is B20-466, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act. Movement on the bill comes just three weeks after DC voters overwhelmingly approved the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative. That initiative didn't address taxation and regulation because it could not do so under DC law, which leaves such moves to the council. And the council is moving.

Georgia State Senator Files Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills. State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Norcross) Monday pre-filed bills to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. SR 6 is a resolution calling for a state constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, while SB 7 is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow patients to grow their own and possess up to two ounces, allow registered caregivers to grow for patients, and allow for dispensaries.

New Mexico State Representative Talks Pot Legalization. A marijuana legalization bill died in the legislature this year, and prospects for passage in the incoming, even more heavily Republican legislature next year are not good. But that's not stopping Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces). He says the state needs to have the legalization conversation, and he's making his case today during a meeting of the interim Health and Human Services Committee. Click on the link for some McCamley quotes.

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Mayor Releases Medical Marijuana Plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office Monday unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

International

Australia's Queensland to Toughen Penalties for Drug Dealers in Fatal Overdoses. The Queensland state government is set to introduce a bill today that would compel courts to consider the death of a drug user an aggravating factor in sentencing of drug dealers. Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie said the bill was inspired by a case last year in which a man was sentenced only to probation after supplying a shot of morphine to a minor who died of an overdose.

Prescription Heroin Coming to Vancouver. Doctors in Vancouver have received the first shipment of prescription heroin to be used by former participants in a clinical heroin maintenance trial. In all, 120 severely addicted people have been approved by Health Canada to receive the drugs. The first shipment will begin to be administered this week to the first 26 participants. The patients will go to a clinic two or three times a day to receive and inject the drug. They must then wait at the clinic for at least 20 minutes to nurses can monitor them. The project is an outgrowth of the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) and the follow-up Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME).

Chile Celebrates Fourth Legalize Festival. Thousands of people attended the fourth annual Legalize festival in Santiago Monday. Part pot party, part political protest, the festival includes expositions, panels, and live music. Ancient British rockers Deep Purple were among the bands playing yesterday.

Malta Ponders Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. A major drug reform bill, the Drug Dependence Bill, which would decriminalize the first-time possession of drugs, went to parliament Monday. First offenders would face only fines, but repeat offenders would have to appear before a Drug Offender Rehabilitation Board and could be ordered to drug treatment if appropriate. People could grow one marijuana plant without being subject to mandatory jail time, and the bill would also allow for the use of medical marijuana.

Chronicle AM: US Agents on Mexico Drug Raids, New Federal Cash Seizure Guidance, New Pain Pill, More (11/24/14)

Some House Republicans still want to mess with DC legalization, a key Washington state solon is planning a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the legal regulation system, federal officials issue a new code of conduct for highway asset seizures, US Marshals are reportedly going on drug raids in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

WA state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is moving to fold medical marijuana into the legal pot regulatory system.
Marijuana Policy

Some House Republicans Plan to Try to Block DC Legalization. While some GOP senators have no interest in blocking DC's legalization initiative, some GOP House members do. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said he "absolutely" intends to block implementation, but that he probably wouldn't try to do so until next year. Earlier this year, he successfully attached an amendment to the DC appropriation bill to block decriminalization, and that amendment passed the House, but was never taken up by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Harris called legalization "crazy policy."

Washington State Senator Outlines Marijuana Regulation Bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult -- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Okays Fourth Dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakotans to Try Legislature, But Hold 2016 Initiative in Reserve. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky 911 Good Samaritan Bill Proposed. At a press conference last Friday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to file a bill that would exempt drug overdose victims and people who seek help for them from being charged with drug possession offenses. "This should be another tool to keep people from dying, and that's what we're after," he said. But McDaniel also said such an exemption from prosecution could only be used once.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Officials Issue New Guidance for Highway Seizures. Officials with the White House's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program have issued new guidance for highway police in a bid to curb questionable civil asset forfeiture seizures of cash and property from drivers. The voluntary code of conduct reminds state and local police that the need to observe the Constitution and the civil rights of motorists. "Emphasize interdiction programs are NOT purposed for enhancing agency budgets," the code says. "Underscore forfeited ill-gotten proceeds be spent prudently in accordance with applicable statutes, sound policies and regulations." Asset forfeiture programs are currently under an intense spotlight in the wake of repeated revelations about abuses and aggressive enforcement by police.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Approves Second Hydrocodone-Only Pain Pill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Purdue Pharma's extended-release Hydrocodone tablet Hysingla for use. The agency said Hysingla is designed to be difficult to abuse, but acknowledged it could still be. It is the fourth opioid to be granted abuse-deterrent status, after Purdue's reformulated Oxycontin, it's oxycodone-naloxone combo Targiniq, and Pfizer's morphine-naltrexone combo Embeda. And it is the second hydrocodone-only pill approved by the agency. FDA approved Zohydro in October 2013.

International

US Marshals Are Going on Drug Raids in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal has reported that members of the US Marshals Service have been taking part in drug raids disguised as Mexican Marines. Mexican officials flatly deny the charge, but the newspaper reported that the Marshals Service sends small teams several times a year to help hunt drug suspects, some of whom are not even wanted by the US. The Journal cited a July incident in which a US Marshal was shot and wounded while attached to Mexican Marines patrolling a field in Sinaloa. Six cartel members were killed in the ensuing shootout.

Australian MPs to Introduce Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Members of parliament from the Labor, Liberal, and Green parties will this week file a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be grown under federal license. The bill would not require states to allow medical marijuana, but it would create a federal model and address how medical marijuana would be supplied. The MPs will brief colleagues on the plan Wednesday.

Australia's Tasmania Rejects Medical Marijuana. Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rejected an interim report calling for allowing the use of medical marijuana. He ruled out any changes to current laws, citing advice from the Tasmania Police. He said that Tasmania Police would not seek to criminally pursue terminally ill medical marijuana users.

Chronicle AM: Federal VA MedMJ Bill, CRS Report on Federal Pot Tax, Swiss Cannabis Clubs, More (11/21/2014)

Some Alaska officials are proving recalcitrant when it comes to legal marijuana, there could be a Senate hearing on pot legalization with DC in the cross hairs, congressional researchers release a report on a federal pot excise tax, asset forfeiture could play a role in hearings for the new attorney general nominee, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Who Will Chair DC Oversight Committee Wants Hearing on Legalization. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, said Thursday he wants to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization. He told reporters such a hearing would focus on how legalization has worked in other states. He also said he generally supports more autonomy for the District, but didn't say whether he thought DC should be able to legalize marijuana.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on Federal Marijuana Taxation. Congress's non-partisan research arm has released a comprehensive report on the federal government setting an excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. The report suggests that under nationwide legalization, a $50 an ounce federal excise tax would raise about $7 billion a year, and that prices could drop to as low as $80 a pound. Click on the link for more.

Washington State Pot Tax Revenues Exceed Expectations. State officials said Wednesday that they expect legal marijuana to generate $694 million in revenue through the middle of 2019. That's up from a September estimate of $636 million. The state expects to collect nearly $43 million in pot taxes by the middle of next year, $237 million more in the 2015-2017 budget biennium, and $415 million more in the 2017-2019 budget biennium.

Key Alaska Prosecutor Says Marijuana Prosecutions to Continue. John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's criminal division, said prosecutors will continue to move on marijuana cases despite the voters' approval of legalization earlier this month. "We are not blind or oblivious to the fact that there is a change coming, but the change is not here yet," he said. "We did communicate to our folks that right now it is business as usual. We are evaluating what to do in the future." After Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, many prosecutors quashed pending marijuana cases, and some prosecutors have done the same in Oregon this year.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Wants to Ban Pot Sales. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has prepared an ordinance to prohibit marijuana cultivation, production, testing and sales in Anchorage. Such a move would be legal under the provisions of Measure 2, which allows local option. She said she doesn't want the Alaska's largest city to be "a guinea pig" for the rest of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Files Federal Bill to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Doctors Can't Be Charged for Medical Marijuana Referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Could Be Issue for New Attorney General Nominee. President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, bragged back in January about how her office seized nearly a billion dollars through civil asset forfeiture. But with the issue in the limelight now, it may come back to bite her during her confirmation hearings. Asset forfeiture reform bills have been filed in the Congress, newspapers across the country are editorializing about abuses, and congressional Republicans are sure to use any ammunition they can to try to damage the president's nominee.

International

Cannabis Clubs Coming to Switzerland? Officials in Geneva are exploring whether to allow marijuana social clubs, while the city has joined Bern, Basel, and Zurich in creating an expert working group to craft details for a potential pilot project. Marijuana is not legal in Switzerland, but possession of less than 10 grams is effectively decriminalized. Click on the link for an informative overview.

Chronicle Book Review: Mexico on the Brink

Hidden Dangers: Mexico on the Brink of Disaster by Robert Joe Stout (2014, Sunbury Press, 210 pp., $16.95 PB)

Today is the official 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. The uprising that began then lasted for nearly two decades and by the time it was over, nearly two million Mexicans were dead, and the country was changed forever. That revolution overthrew a sclerotic, encrusted dictatorship that advanced the country materially and brought it to the brink of the modern era, but which ignored the interests of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Are we about to see a repeat? That's probably premature, but it's notable that authorities in Mexico City have canceled the official commemorative parade set for today, afraid of trouble breaking out. There has already been trouble in Mexico City today, anyway -- with masked demonstrators attempted to block access to the international airport -- so that decision may well be a prudent one.

What is motivating the protests today -- and for nearly the last two months -- is the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of 43 radical students from a provincial teachers' college in the south central state of Guerrero. It seems clear that the students and their threats of demonstrations were seen as a threat by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. Pineda, who has been identified as a leader of the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group (commonly referred to as cartels), is believed to have ordered Iguala municipal police to "take care of" the unruly students.

According to a version of events delivered by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Karam Murillo, Iguala police shot up the commandeered public buses the students were riding in (commandeering buses is not unusual in political protests), killing some of the students on the spot. The remaining students were then allegedly turned over by Iguala police to Guerreros Unidos gang members, who, according to Karam, killed them all, burned their bodies, chopped them to bits, and threw them in a river.

Of course, it took Karam a month to make that announcement, and in the meantime, anger over the disappearances grew by the day. Demonstrators attacked and burnt part of the state capitol complex in Chilpancingo; they attacked and burnt municipal buildings in Iguala; they fought pitched battles with police on the road to the Acapulco airport. And the demonstrations and solidarity protests are spreading.

This is a brutal scandal that has shaken even brutal scandal-plagued Mexico. Federal authorities have now arrested the mayoral couple, along with dozens of police men and gang members (some are undoubtedly both). The governor of Guerrero has been forced to resign. And President Enrique Nieto Pena and his government are now besieged, even though the mayor and the governor belonged to another political party.

This may be the landmine that sets off a long pent-up social explosion south of the border. I use the word "landmine" deliberately, for that is the precise term used by long-time journalist and current Oaxaca resident Robert Stout in his new book, Hidden Dangers. Although it appears to have been largely written before Pena Nieto took office nearly two years ago, it seems remarkably prescient.

In Hidden Dangers, Stout identifies several festering -- and interconnected -- problems facing Mexico, the result of ongoing economic and political changes.Looming large among the potential landmines are emigration, the war on drugs, rising popular political movements of resistance, official corruption and impunity, and increasing environmental degradation.

With the case of the missing 43 students, Mexico is stepping on two of those landmines: the war on drugs and the problem of official complicity and corruption. As Stout makes clear, Mexico's drug corporations (he never uses the word "cartels") have thrived in an atmosphere of violence and corruption and official complicity. I wouldn't say that drug money has corrupted Mexico's institutions because they have been deeply corrupted for years, as Stout illustrates throughout the book, but it has deepened the corruption and blurred the line between organized crime and state power.

What Stout has to say about the drug cartels and the counterproductive policies adopted on both sides of the border to stop them is probably not new to regular readers of these pages. Through violence and cold, hard cash, the cartels manage to suborn security forces, elected officials, and legitimate businesses alike. And heavy-handed, militaristic attempts to quash them, especially with an army that seems to have no notion of human rights, has only resulted in more violence and more mistrust of government.

But it is complicated, and looking at Mexico solely through the prism of its war on drugs is too narrow a focus to get a good grasp on the country's realities. Mexico's drug cartel problem doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is part and parcel of a deeper social and political malaise, which, in Stout's view, is related to the country's authoritarian, unresponsive government and its inability or unwillingness to address the country's aching concerns.

And it's not just the PRI, the party that emerged from the Revolution to govern the country as "the perfect dictatorship" until the election of Coca Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000. One of Stout's contributions to our understanding is his explication of the authoritarian character that defines all political parties in Mexico. Whether it’s the PRI or the rightist PAN or the leftist PRD, all have adapted the same top-down, strongman politics that characterized the PRI in its heyday.

It is worth noting that the mayor of Iguala and his wife are members of the PRD, which is a sad reflection on the Mexican left. But Mexicans don't need to read Stout's book to understand that the same rot grips all the parties, and that's part of the reason even the PRIista Pena Nieto is feeling the heat over the Iguala disappearances. The problem is systemic, Mexicans understand this, and that's why they're so angrily taking to the streets right now.

Hidden Dangers does a very good job of tying together the disparate "landmines" facing Mexico right now. Especially for readers who have approached the country primarily through the lens of drug policy, it is a welcome opening of perspective. And, at only a bit more than 200 pages, it's a relatively quick read, packed with information and plenty to ponder. Check it out. 

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