Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: ME Legalizers Vow Court Fight Over Rejected Signatures, LA Won't Ban Music Festivals, More... (3/4/16)

The Maine marijuana legalization campaign will fight to get its signatures counted, Tampa takes a first vote to decriminalize pot possession, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative gets pulled, a West Virginia welfare drug testing bill gets a hostile reception, and more.

Electronic music festivals will continue in Los Angeles County, but with restrictions. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalizers Vow Court Fight to Get Signatures Counted. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will appeal the state's ruling that its legalization initiative did not qualify for the ballot after the state rejected 17,000 signatures certified by one notary. "We think they've made a big error in judgment," said campaign director David Boyer. The campaign had handed in 99,000 raw signatures and only needed 61,000 to qualify, but after the 17,000 signatures in question were disallowed, the campaign only had 51,000 valid voter signatures. The campaign has 10—make that nine—days in which to appeal the decision, and the courts must decide the issue within 30 days after that.

Maine Bill Would Set Blood Level for Marijuana-Impaired Driving. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is considering LD 1628, which would set the level for operating under the influence of marijuana at 5 nanograms of THC per 100 milliliters of blood. If the bill passes, Maine would become one of a half dozen states that have adopted such laws

Tampa City Council Takes First Vote to Decriminalize. The city council voted 5-1 Thursday to pass a marijuana decriminalization ordinance. A second and final vote will take place on March 17. The ordinance would decriminalize the possession of up to 20 grams of pot, with a $75 fine for a first offense, $150 for a second offense, and $450 for subsequent offenses.

Medical Marijuana

Florida House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Thursday approved House Bill 307, which allows terminal patients to use nonsmokable marijuana and adds regulations for dispensing groups, patients, and doctors under the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Similar legislation is moving in the Senate.

Idaho Activists Stop Initiative Campaign in Wake of Misstated Petition Language. New Approach Idaho has stopped its petition campaign after the American Academy of Pediatrics objected to being identified on the front page of the petition as medical marijuana supporters. New Approach Idaho said the misrepresentation of the academy's position—it has called for rescheduling marijuana—was unintentional.

Rhode Island Bill to Double Dispensaries Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) has filed House Bill 7808, which would increase the number of dispensaries in the state from three to six

Drug Testing

Alaska Bill to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons Would Require Drug Testing. Alaska is one of only 10 states that still bar people with drug felonies from obtaining food stamps, and legislation to end the ban is progressing, but the latest version of the bill, Senate Bill 91, would require drug felons getting food stamps to pass both scheduled and random drug tests. The bill also contains a provision stating that if the drug testing provision is overturned in the courts, the state would revert to the blanket ban on drug felons receiving food stamps. The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which helped shape the bill, had recommended removing the ban without any eligibility restrictions, including drug testing.

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bill Gets Criticized at Hearing. A measure to require welfare recipients to first be screened for drug use, Senate Bill 6, got a hostile reception from witnesses at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.  "Investing in substance abuse treatment is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars, but expensive and unnecessary policies that are based more on stereotype and punishing the poor rather than on facts and evidence are not," said Sean O’Leary, policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. The state ACLU affiliate called it an invasion of privacy. The bill has already passed the Senate.

Festivals and Clubbing

Los Angeles County Won't Ban Electronic Music Festivals, But Will Add Restrictions. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to reject a total ban on music festivals, instead approving an ordinance that will allow it to approve them on a case-by-case basis. The county has been under pressure to do something after two young women died of drug overdoses during the HARD Summer music festival last year. 

Chronicle AM: Senate Kills $600 Million in Emergency Heroin Funding, UT Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (3/3/16)

The Utah (!) legislature has passed a resolution calling for marijuana rescheduling, there will be no pot drive-throughs in Oregon's largest city, Senate Republicans kill $600 million in emergency funding to fight heroin and opioid abuse, and more.  

"Strike Dead" brand heroin. (New Jersey State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Pot Legalization in the US Is Hurting Mexican Marijuana Exports. According to data from the U.S. Border Patrol, marijuana seizures along the US border are at their lowest level in at least a decade, with agents seizing 1.5 million pounds of pot, down from 4 million in 2009. Even government officials, such as Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head Michael Botticelli, have suggested the decline is the result of increasing domestic production with four states have legalizing it already.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Ordinance Being Fine-Tuned. The decrim  ordinance passed by the city council last week is on hold as city lawyers try to figure out how to impose fines on violators. The head of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Jeffrey Manning, says the city can't file the citations with the court because the court must enforce state law. In the meantime, police continue to file misdemeanor pot possession charges instead of citations.

Portland, Oregon, Kills Drive-Through Pot Sales. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to ban recreational marijuana drive-through sales, even though no one has any planned for the city. State law bans drive-through alcohol sales, but is silent on marijuana. At least one Oregon town, Gold Beach, has a drive-through slated to open next month.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawmakers Call for Marijuana Rescheduling. Both houses of the legislature have now unanimously approved a resolution, SCR11, which calls on the federal government to reschedule marijuana after the House approved it yesterday. The resolution now goes to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Republicans Block $600 Million in Funding to Tackle Heroin and Opioids. In a 48-47 procedural vote on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524) Wednesday, Senate Republicans killed a $600 million emergency funding amendment intended to improve prescription monitoring, fund treatment and prevention, and help law enforcement fight heroin and opioid use. Nearly half ($240 million) of the funds would have gone to law enforcement. Republican critics called it "duplicative," while drug reformers scorned its law enforcement funding component.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed. Despite strong bipartisan support, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, Assembly Bill 537, is dead, killed by fevered law enforcement lobbying and the strong opposition of a Republican committee chair. Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) refused to move the bill.  

Law Enforcement

New Jersey Lab Tech Faked Results in Drug Case, Thousands More Cases Now in Question. A State Police lab technician has been caught faking the results in a drug case, throwing into doubt more than 7,000 drug cases on which he had worked. Tech Kamlkant Shah "dry labbed" a suspected marijuana sample, meaning he ran no tests on it before writing "test results" that identified it as marijuana. He has been suspended without pay since January. Although he has only been caught "dry labbing" that one sample, all of his cases are now in doubt, prosecutors said.

International

Mexico Suffering Crisis of "Violence and Impunity," Human Rights Report Says. In a new report, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission said tens of thousands of cases of torture, disappearances, and killings go uninvestigated in Mexico, leading to a "a serious crisis of violence and impunity." More than 120,000 have been killed in the country's drug wars since 2006 and another 27,000 have disappeared.  

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pair of Louisiana deputies on a DEA task force are accused of moonlighting as drug dealers, a sticky-fingered Miami narc goes down, and more. Let's get to it:

In Amite City, Louisiana, two Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics officers were arrested last Wednesday on drug distribution charges. Deputies Karl Newman and Johnny Domingue are accused of being members of a drug distribution conspiracy operating in neighboring St. Tammany Parish. Newman is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and abuse of office, while Domingue was hit with 18 counts of principal to distribute Schedule I drugs and conspiracy. Both deputies worked closely with a DEA drug task force.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade Police narcotics bureau detective was arrested last Friday on charges he pocketed $1,300 in cash seized during a street-level drug sales bust. Detective Armando Socarras, 30, went down after detectives seized $17,400 in suspected drug money, but he reported seizing only $16,100. He has been charged with grand theft and suspended without pay.

In Farmington Hills, Michigan, a state prison guard was arrested Monday after he was caught selling prescription drugs near a high school. Michigan Department of Corrections officer Lawrence Tylutki went down after police set up surveillance on him after receiving a tip. Tylutki was busted after selling more than 250 pills, including Adderall and Xanax, to an informant for $1500. After cops arrested him, they found another 290 pills in his car. He is now charged with six unspecified felonies. 

Chronicle AM: INCB Rejects Drug War, ME Pot Legalization Init Rejected, More... (3/2/16)

The International Narcotics Control Board takes a surprising stand, Maine's pot legalization initiative hits an unexpected roadblock, Denver NORML files a pot social club initiative, a Florida needle exchange bill heads to the governor's desk, and more.

INCB head Werner Sipp: "The conventions never called for a war on drugs." (incb.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Says Legalization Initiative Short on Signatures, Campaign Strongly Disagrees. The secretary of state's office today rejected the legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, saying it had failed to hand in a sufficient number of valid voter signatures. The group handed in more than 99,000 signatures and only needed 61,000 valid ones to qualify for the November ballot, but the state rejected more than 48,000 signatures, and now the campaign is crying foul. "Based on documents they have provided, it appears that more than 17,000 valid signatures from registered Maine voters were excluded from the count because the signature of a single notary — whose notary commission has not expired — did not exactly match the signature the state has on file for that notary," MPP Maine political director David Boyer said in a written statement. "We are exploring all legal means available to appeal this determination and we sincerely hope that 17,000-plus Maine citizens will not be disenfranchised due to a handwriting technicality."

Mississippi House Rejects Legalization. Offered unexpectedly as an amendment to a drug penalties bill, House Bill 701, a bid to legalize marijuana went down 90-29 Tuesday. Lawmakers said it was the first time in decades, and possibly ever, that the House had voted on marijuana legalization.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. Some 62% of adults polled in a new WMUR Granite State survey favor legalizing marijuana, and 72% of those surveyed said they would approve of selling it in licensed retail outlets.

Denver NORML Files Marijuana Social Club Initiative. The group today submitted an initiative to legalize marijuana consumption clubs and special events. "Denver residents and visitors alike need places other than private homes to legally and responsibly enjoy legal marijuana with other adults," said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML. "This submission to city council is the first step. We’ll get feedback from the city, finalize the language, then start gathering signatures to put it on the ballot," Person said.

Heroin

Maine Bill to Refelonize Heroin Possession Advances. Last year, legislators voted to make small-time heroin possession a misdemeanor; this year, they are on a path to reverse themselves. On Monday, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved LD 1554, which would let prosecutes charge anyone possessing heroin, meth, or more than 14 grams of cocaine with a felony. The bill is supported by the administration of Gov. Paul Le Page (R).

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. The House today approved Senate Bill 242, which authorizes the creation of pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County.  The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott (R).

International

INCB Rejects War on Drugs. In its

released today, the International Narcotics Control Board criticized militaristic approaches toward drugs and said excessive punishments of drug users run counter to UN treaties. "As the Board has stated on numerous occasions, the international drug control conventions do not require the incarceration of drug users," wrote the 13 medical and legal experts who make up the board. "The conventions never called for a war on drugs," added INCB President Werner Sipp.

Bill Maher-Inspired Protest Will Smoke Out the White House

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

Inspired by a warning from comedian Bill Maher that progress on marijuana reform could be rolled back after President Obama leaves office, advocates in the nation's capital have announced a bold protest next month to press Obama to move on marijuana while he still can.

While Obama has largely not interfered with marijuana legalization in states that have approved it, he has also signaled that he is not going to be proactive on the issue. A little more than a month ago, he said marijuana reform is not on his list of end-of-term priorities, and his press spokesperson, Josh Earnest, paraphrased his position thusly: "'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Led by indomitable DC activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, the DC Cannabis Campaign is instead calling for supporters to gather in front of the White House to demand that Obama reschedule marijuana through executive action as he has the power to do, and that he pardon people jailed for marijuana crimes. Attendees will be encouraged to fire up in acts of civil disobedience.

In an interview with US News and World Report, Eidinger predicted at least a thousand people would show up, and maybe many, many more.

"There is a huge pent-up demand for this right now, we actually do have the support to do this," he said. "We're calling on the whole country to come. This is a national mobilization. Some of us may end up in jail, and that's fine. It's actually necessary at this point."

Eidinger said the DC Cannabis Campaign has polled its supporters on whether to organize the protest after Maher warned on his HBO show legalization in the states is at risk as long as federal pot prohibition remains. Maher toked up on air as he issued his warning. Maher will be invited to attend the protest, Eidinger said.

"We have to take action now, that's the idea," Eidinger explained. "If it's not going to happen under Obama, it's sure as hell not going to happen with Hillary."

Obama, who has said he considers marijuana no more harmful than alcohol, represents the best chance for rescheduling marijuana, and for emptying the prisons of pot offenders, Eidinger argued.

"He should pardon tens of thousands of marijuana growers in jail right now. And he should be pardoning them all," he says. "The war on drugs is a failure? Mass incarceration is a failure? Then do something about it."

Protestors are not anti-Obama, Eidinger said, they just want him to do the right thing.

"This is going to be an extremely personal protest with the president," Eidinger says. "It is not going to be Trump people out there. This is going to be his so-called base that thought he would do something for us essentially giving up. The only way to stop this protest is to start doing something. We threw the gauntlet down today, essentially."

See Maher's comments here:

Washington, DC
United States

Review Essay: Drugs and the Mutation of Criminality in Latin America

Posted in:

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

Ioan Grillo, Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America (2016, Bloomsbury Press, 377 pp., $28.00 HB)

Misha Glenny, Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio (2016, Alfred E. Knopf, 293 pp., $27.95 HB)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014, Riverhead Press, 688 pp., $28.95 HB)

Beginning in the 1960s, following the success of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, popular guerrilla movements rose up across Latin America as masses of people revolted against poverty, inequality, and dictatorial rule, and between then and now, hundreds of thousands were killed in the conflicts that followed, usually with the US on the counter-revolutionary side. Now, with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC set to put down their guns in the wake of drawn out negotiations with the Colombian government, the last remnant of armed insurgency in the region is about to come to an end.

But the violence hasn't stopped -- it has only been displaced from the sphere of politics to the sphere of criminality. As Ioan Grillo notes early on in Gangster Warlords, his sterling reportage on the leaders of the powerful of Latin American crime organizations, more than a million people have died in the criminal conflicts (and state response to them) around these groupings.

The so-called cartels in Mexico, their brethren in Colombia, the "posses" of Jamaica, the criminal "commands" of Brazil, and the transnational gangsters of Mara Salvatrucha are all in Grillo's sights as examples of a new, and deeply disturbing, form of crime, largely unmoored from ideological struggle yet acting as parallel power or alternative to the state. Whether it's the government yards of Trenchtown, the favelas of Rio and Sao Paulo, the mean streets of Tegucigalpa and San Salvador, or the fields of western Mexico, national governments have effectively ceded control of huge segments of the population to criminal overlords.

In Rio de Janiero alone, more than two million people live in the favelas, the unsanctioned, unsupported, and poverty stricken communities crawling up the hillsides above the Copacabana and the city's other glorious beaches. There, the presence of the state is almost nil, except for the occasional intrusions of police or military raiding parties, the formal power is in residents' associations, but the real power is almost always the crime overlord.

And bizarrely enough, those Brazilian crime lords are as strong and organized as they are because of a fateful decision by the military dictatorship back in the 1970s, when the generals, in all their wisdom, decided to punish imprisoned leftist guerrillas by putting them in the general prison population with Rio's criminal masterminds. Grillo interviews some of the hard men behind what became the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the largest and most powerful of the criminal gangs, unraveling that fateful decision decades ago and unspooling the consequences that still play out today.

The imprisoned guerrillas imbued the criminals with a Marxian social critique and their habits of political organization, and the criminals applied those lessons well in building their organizations. The nascent alliance between the left and the lumpenproletariat fell apart when the ex-guerrillas won amnesties and began political careers (they were white), leaving their darker hued criminal compatriots to their own devices. Now, all that's left is the organizational ability, along with some limited social solidarity in the form of Robin Hoodism -- stealing from the rich to give to the poor, at least to the degree that the commands provide services and goods to the poor in their districts.

Relations between the commands and the state are complex, intricate, and finely balanced -- or else there could be real trouble. While generally content to be left to run their affairs in their favela strongholds, the commands have repeatedly, and spectacularly, shown they have the ability to bring serious mayhem down from the hills to the "asphalt," as the poor refer to the thriving city that surrounds them.

When Sao Paulo's First Capital Command, the largest criminal organization in the country, grew unhappy with the government -- or more precisely, with the police -- in 2006, it unleashed a wave of attacks that unnerved the city, with assaults on police stations and buses burned on city streets. It did the same thing again six years later, complaining that cowardly police were killing its members and responding by executing one or two police officers every day for a month until suddenly and without explanation stopping. Maybe the command figured the cops had gotten the message.

As Grillo reports, when the commands killed 139 police in a burst of mayhem, the whole world took horrified note. The more than 500 killings committed by police in the days that followed didn't make the global news.

It's worth mentioning that the number of killings by trigger-happy police in the US has risen to the level of national political discourse, American cops are like school crossing guards compared to their bloody-handed brethren in places like Brazil and Jamaica. Indeed, as here in the US, the thuggery of the state's agents leads to festering hatreds and their being seen as if they were an occupying army, only more so.

Grillo reports similar intricate relationships between the criminals and the state in Jamaica, where the leaders of the neighborhood "posses" in tough neighborhoods like West Kingston become intermediaries between residents and the state, which, again, is generally absent except in the form of the police and military. Posse leaders and their paramilitarized gangs work with competing political factions, who cede effective responsibility and control for votes at election time.

In all the cases, the trade in prohibited drugs is providing the oxygen that the criminal organizations breathe. Brazil's favelas are the ground zero of the retail cocaine trade in the world's second largest cocaine market, where the nice, white, middle-class kids of the city go to score and dance the night away at favela funk balls. In Jamaica, the neighborhood gangs of the 1970s metastasized into powerful and deadly posses with international reach thanks to the cocaine trade. And in Mexico and Central America, it is again the cocaine traffic that has enabled what were once ma-and-pa smuggling operations and neighborhood street gangs to morph into the cruelly violent cartels of today.

Grillo, along with policymakers throughout the hemisphere, doesn't know quite what to make of this phenomenon. These groups are not simply gangs, and they're not guerrillas. Grillo calls them "criminal militias," which is as good a phrase as any, but simply naming them isn't making it any easier for governments to figure out how to deal with them.

Journalist Misha Glenny, another veteran of the global crime scene, drills down a bit deeper in Nemesis, his account of Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes ("Nem"), a former favela crime boss now ensconced for the next few decades in a Brazilian supermax prison. Glenny focuses on a single, famous favela, Rocinha, nestled on a hillside above the Copacabana, and home to 200,000 people with a birds-eye view of the riches beyond their grasp.

Like Grillo, Glenny does extensive interviews, including hours' worth with Nem over a period of years, as well as favela residents, gang members, police, politicians, and analysts, and he is able to shed considerable light on the shadowy interconnections between the powers that be in the favela and the various police forces, most of which are thuggish and corrupt, as well as the politicians that reach out to favela voters at election time.

Along the way, he opens a window on the class and race stratification pervasive in Brazil, but also shows how the gang lords make the favelas work for their residents. It is the gang lords who donate food and clothing to the poorest, provide security for all (at the price of outbreaks of exemplary violence aimed at lawbreakers like rapists and murderers), and even take over the administration of "justice" in the areas they control.

Nem's story is a classic favela crime lord tale. Born poor, he quit school in order to earn his keep, got work in the legitimate service economy, got married, had a child, and was on the path to the straight and narrow when his daughter's illness forced him to turn to the local crime boss to pay for her treatment. That led to working for the boss to pay off his debt, and that in turn led to his march to the top (however briefly) of the criminal command.

Unlike many of his peers, who were uneducated and largely uninterested in conventional life, Nem had management and accounting skills, and the kind of temperament that led him to negotiate conflict when possible and avoid indiscriminate violence. In an ideal world, he might have been a Payless Shoe Store manager. Instead he became a crime lord.

The reporting from Glenny and Grillo is mind-bending and terrifying, rich in detail and nuance, and both books come highly recommended. But neither seem to fully confront the role of drug prohibition within poverty-stricken, highly unequal countries. Grillo at least devotes a few pages at the end of his book to denouncing the drug war, but Glenny seems to just take it, and the social injustices of late Latin American capitalism, as givens. He shines a bright line of them, but really has nothing to say about them. That's too bad.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is not reportage, it is fiction, thinly-veiled, but is included here because fine literature can educate and illuminate as well as the finest journalism. Kingston-born Marlon James won the prestigious Booker Prize for this sprawling, horrifying, and intensely rich novel centered around the attempted assassination of reggae superstar Bob Marley in 1976.

James treads some of the same ground as Grillo, who reported on the Shower Posse and its leader, "Jim Brown," whose son, Dudus Coke, was the object of a military raid on the Tivoli Gardens shantytown that left 73 dead in 2010. "Jim Brown," Dudus Coke, and other real life posse leaders are barely fictionalized in James' work, which follows their ascent from local bosses to fearsome international crime bosses thanks to Colombian cocaine.

But where Grillo is limited to factual reporting, James can soar, and soar he does. His writing takes us deep into the minds of posse gunmen, their bosses, and the politicians that embrace them from a safe distance, laying bare the machinations and entanglements that seemingly compromise everybody on the island. He immerses the reader in the political intrigues, including the involvement of the CIA in a Cold War struggle against left-leaning Michael Manley and on behalf of his rival Edward Seaga, he illuminates the role and stature of Marley as cultural icon and political focal point, and he lays bare more than enough of the brutal nastiness of life for poor Jamaicans.

But the attempted murder of Marley, who was seen as a Manley supporter ("Rasta don't work for no CIA," he sang), by gunmen working for a posse leader allied with Seaga, and the fates of those who ordered and carried out the failed hit, are only part one of the novel. In part two, James follows the posses from their two-bit shantytown kingdoms to their rise as global, and brutal, players in the burgeoning US cocaine markets of the 1980s and 1990s.

It isn't pretty. In fact, the craziness (much of drug induced, some of it deprivation-induced) and the wanton brutality, the glaring sexism and homophobia of Jamaican yardie life can make for some difficult reading. But you don't learn about ugly things by only looking at pretty ones.

"Seriously, Alex, prison library serious to fuck," says a posse leader imprisoned in the US. "Me go to plenty library in Jamaica and not one have book like the number of books me see in Rikers. One of them is this book Middle Passage. Some coolie write it, V.S. Naipaul. Brethren, the man say West Kingston is a place so fucking bad that you can't even take a picture of it, because the beauty of the photographic process lies to you as to just how ugly it really is. Oh you read it? Trust me, even him have it wrong. The beauty of how him write that sentence still lie to you as to how ugly it is. It so ugly it shouldn't produce no pretty sentence, ever."

Marcus James can write some pretty sentences, but they serve to make the ugly even uglier. And the reality, whether it's Kingston or Rio or San Salvador or Michoacan, is pretty ugly. Grillo, Glenny, and James don't let us turn our eyes away from the festering sores, and that's a good thing. We need to try to understand what is going on. Because it's crazy down there.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana continues its painful progress through statehouses across the land, Montana sees medical marijuana sales curtailed, New Mexico posts info on growers and sellers, and more.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, a House panel approved expanding qualifying conditions. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Wednesday approved adding seven medical conditions to the state's CBD cannabis oil program. Included are autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and HIV or AIDS, among others. The bill, House Bill 722, now goes to the House Rules Committee. But bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) isn't so pleased -- the bill was designed to allow cultivation of CBD cannabis oil in the state, but that provision was gutted in committee.

Last Thursday, a new poll found strong support for allowing cultivation for CBD cannabis oil. An 11Alive News/Survey USA poll has support for growing marijuana for medical purposes at 66%, with only 23% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature is advancing a bill that would have allowed that, but had that provision stripped out in committee. The bill in question is House Bill 722.

On Monday, the House approved CBD cannabis oil expansion, but still no legal source. Lawmakers approved House Bill 722, adding seven new conditions to the list of those qualifying to use CBD cannabis oil. But much to the dismay of bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state. To obtain their medicine, patients must thus resort to violating federal law by importing the medicine. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland

Last Friday, the House approved a medical marijuana expansion bill. Lawmakers approved House Bill 104, filed by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County). The bill would allow midwives, nurses, podiatrists, and dentists to certify patients for medical marijuana. The bill has no immediate practical implications because there are not yet any dispensaries open in the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Montana

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court radically limited medical marijuana sales. In its decision, the state's high court ruled that medical marijuana providers could be paid for their services, but limited each provider to no more than three patients, banned medical marijuana advertising, and upheld automatic reviews of physicians who recommend it to more than 25 patients. In the decision, the court largely upheld a 2011 law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature aimed at gutting the state's then free-wheeling medical marijuana program.

New Mexico

On Monday, the state posted the names and addresses of medical marijuana growers and sellers. The state Health Department posted on its website the names and addresses of non-profits licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state. The move is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in a lawsuit brought by a reporter and a public interest group.

Ohio

On Tuesday, MPP rolled out its medical marijuana initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has debuted its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, a key legislator agreed to let a medical marijuana bill move forward. A long stalled medical marijuana bill will get a House vote after House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) agreed to quit holding up the measure. The move prompted a supportive statement from Gov. Bill Wolf (D), who said, "I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth… It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy. I urge quick action by the legislature to legalize medical marijuana."

Texas

On Tuesday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The survey found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Utah

Last Thursday, the medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The Senate voted 17-12 to approve Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), which would allow a medical marijuana program in the state, but now allow patients access to raw buds. The vote to approve came despite the opposition of the Mormon Church. The measure now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain.  [For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

Chronicle AM: "Baby Bou Bou" Wins $3.6 Million Settlement, Pill Testing Battle Looms Down Under, More... (2/29/16)

Justice at last for Baby Bou Bou, Minneapolis decriminalizes, Ohio lawmakers resort to more drug war, Iran executes all the males in a village for drugs, Australian harm reductionists pledge to open a pill testing center at festivals despite government opposition, and more.

"Baby Bou Bou" before and after a Georgia SWAT team raided his home. (Family photos)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Activists Hand In Revised Initiative. Organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative that was earlier rejected by state officials resubmitted their proposal last Friday. The secretary of state now has about one month to review the petition and draft a summary that could be used during the signature gathering process.

Minneapolis Softens Pot Penalties. The city council voted last Friday to reducing small-time pot possession from a misdemeanor to a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors are not crimes under state law because they are not punishable by jail time. The move is more symbolic than anything, since pot possession is already a petty misdemeanor under state law.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion, But Still No Legal Source. The House Monday approved House Bill 722, adding seven new conditions to the list of those qualifying to use CBD cannabis oil. But much to the dismay of bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state. To obtain their medicine, patients must thus resort to violating federal law by importing the medicine. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Maryland House Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House last Friday approved House Bill 104, filed by Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County). The bill would allow midwives, nurses, podiatrists, and dentists to certify patients for medical marijuana. The bill has no immediate practical implications because there are not yet any dispensaries open in the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

New Mexico Reveals Names, Addresses of Medical Marijuana Growers, Sellers. The state Health Department has posted on its website the names and addresses of non-profits licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state. The move is in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in a lawsuit brought by a reporter and a public interest group.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Injured in Georgia Drug Raid Wins $3.6 Million Settlement. The family of "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, who was burned by a flash bang grenade during a misbegotten, failed drug raid in Cornelia in May 2014, has been awarded $3.6 million in damages. No police were charged in the raid, which hit the wrong home. The infant's medical bills are estimated at $1 million. The Georgia county where the raid took place refused to pay them.

Sentencing

Ohio Bill to Heighten Punishments for Drug Dealers is Moving. The measure, House Bill 171, would lower the threshold for labeling someone "a major drug offender" from 250 grams of heroin to 100 grams. It passed the House last year and is currently in Senate committee hearings. The Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the ACLU of Ohio are opposing the measure, arguing that is just another criminalizing response to what should be viewed as a public health and safety issue.

International

Poll Finds Strong Majority of Canadians Support Pot Legalization. A new Globe & Mail poll has support for legalization at 68% nationwide, with majority support (55%) even in the conservative-leaning prairie provinces. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize it and has called on former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to come up with the best model for legalization. The poll found Canadians split on home cultivation, with 49% in favor and 48% opposed.

Iran Executed Every Adult Male on Drug Charges in One Village. Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi told the semi-official Mehr news agency last week that every adult male drug crimes were rampant in some areas, including "a village in Sistan and Baluchistan province where every single man was executed." Molaverdi pointed to the executions as an example of the government failing to deal with drug trafficking in its southern regions and said Tehran needs to better support the families of those executed. "Their children are potential drug traffickers as they would want to seek revenge and provide money for their families,” she said. "There is no support for these people. We believe if we do not support these people, they will be prone to crime."

Australian Festival Pill Testing Battle Heightens. Harm reductionists seeking to reduce deaths and injury among music festival goers are planning an unsanctioned pill testing scheme and will result to civil disobedience if necessary. The New South Wales government today reaffirmed its opposition to the pill testing pilot project, but activists said they will go ahead with a van staffed with toxicologists and shielded from police by barriers of supporters who will risk arrest to protect the testers from prosecution. The project is still months away from being implemented, though. 

Chronicle AM: 60% Say Legalize It in CA Poll, AK Pot Shops to Open This Fall, UT MedMj Bill Moves, More... (2/26/16)

Pot shops will come to Alaska this fall, a new poll suggest legalization will come to California this fall, a medical marijuana bill advances in Utah, the Montana Supreme Court puts the hurt on medical marijuana sales, and more. 

Opinion polls suggest marijuana is pretty well normalized in California. (Darrin Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Retail Marijuana Sales to Begin This Fall. The state's Marijuana Control Board has released an updated timeline that says growing and testing licenses will be issued in June and the first retail and manufacturing facility licenses will be issued in September. Shops should open shortly after that. The Board began taking business license applications Wednesday and had 68 the first day.

New California Poll Has 60% for Legalization. A new Probolsky poll asked respondents if they would support a pot legalization initiative "likely bringing in millions in new revenues for government programs." Some 60% said they did, with only 37% opposed. Legalization was supported by all age groups except people over 65. The poll's margin of error was +/- 3.1%.

Michigan Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) has introduced Senate Bill 813, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the state. The bill was filed Wednesday and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.   

Wyoming House Committee Strips Felony Penalty from Pot Edibles Bill. The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to remove language from Senate File 96 that would make possession of more than three ounces of edibles a felony. Instead, the bill now calls for increasingly stiff misdemeanor penalties for second and subsequent convictions for possessing them. The bill has already passed the Senate, so the changes will have to be thrashed out in conference committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil Cultivation. An 11Alive News/Survey USA poll has support for growing marijuana for medical purposes at 66%, with only 23% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature is advancing a bill that would have allowed that, but had that provision stripped out in committee. The bill in question is House Bill 722.

Montana Supreme Court Radically Limits Medical Marijuana Sales. In a decision Thursday, the state's high court ruled that medical marijuana providers could be paid for their services, but limited each provider to no more than three patients, banned medical marijuana advertising, and upheld automatic reviews of physicians who recommend it to more than 25 patients. In the decision, the court largely upheld a 2011 law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature aimed at gutting the state's then free-wheeling medical marijuana program.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted 17-12 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), which would allow a medical marijuana program in the state, but now allow patients access to raw buds. The vote to approve came despite the opposition of the Mormon Church. The measure now goes to the House, where its prospects are uncertain.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on Jails Released. As part of its Incarceration Trends Project, Vera has released The Human Toll of Jail, which aims to raise the public perception of jail incarceration by shedding light on the everyday experiences of those who pay that toll, or work to decrease it. The report launched Wednesday with 10 stories told in interviews, video, photography, and comics journalism, including people who have been in jail and their families, a prosecutor, a public defender, a judge, and others on the frontlines of local justice systems.

International

Clashes Break Out Between Burmese Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes and Opium Farmers. Members of the vigilante group, Pat Jasan, who had been in a stand-off with security forces near opium growing region, reported they had been ambushed by opium farmers, leaving three people injured and about 30 others taken prisoner by the farmers. Security forces had allowed the vigilantes to clear some opium fields, but they then engaged in skirmishes with farmers who have vowed to protect their crops. 

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana, DC Pot Arrests Plummet, More... (2/25/16)

The Vermont Senate passes marijuana legalization, DC enjoys the benefits of legalization, Pennsylvania will finally get a vote on medical marijuana, and more.

Legalization advances at the statehouse in Montpelier. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration. The measure, Senate Bill 241, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but not to grow it after some powerful lawmakers said that provision would be a deal-breaker. Instead, the bill now contains a provision to create a study commission to examine home cultivation and the issue of edibles, which are also not allowed. The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.

DC Marijuana Arrests Plummet in Year After Legalization. On Friday, the District celebrates a year of marijuana legalization, and one of the things it's celebrating is a dramatic decrease in people being sucked into the criminal justice system for pot. Overall, marijuana arrests declined 85% from 2014 to 2015, and pot possession arrests declined by an amazing 98%, from 1,840 in 2014 to only 32 in 2015.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get House Vote. A long stalled medical marijuana bill will get a House vote after House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) agreed to quit holding up the measure. The move prompted a supportive statement from Gov. Bill Wolf (D), who said, "I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth… It is time to legalize medical marijuana because we should not deny doctor-recommended treatment that could help people suffering from seizures or cancer patients affected by chemotherapy. I urge quick action by the legislature to legalize medical marijuana."

Georgia House Committee Expands Qualifying Conditions. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Wednesday approved adding seven medical conditions to the state's CBD cannabis oil program. Included are autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and HIV or AIDS, among others. The bill, House Bill 722, now goes to the House Rules Committee. But bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) isn't so pleased -- the bill was designed to allow cultivation of CBD cannabis oil in the state, but that provision was gutted in committee.

Asset Forfeiture

US Senator Kelly Ayotte Files Bill to Restore Asset Forfeiture Funding for Cops. Sen. Ayotte (R-NH) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 2576, which would require the federal government to recommence distributing funds from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Program. The Justice Department turned off the asset forfeiture spigot last year, and state and local law enforcement agencies have lost nearly $1.2 billion they would have used for drug investigations.

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Legislature. The House Wednesday gave unanimous final approval to Senate File 46, which would reform -- but not end -- civil asset forfeiture. It requires law enforcement officials to consult with the attorney general on whether to proceed with forfeiture and a hearing before a judge within 30 days. It also shifts the burden of proof to the government to show there is "clear and convincing" evidence the property was involved in a crime. Gov. Matt Mead (R) last year vetoed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture, and similar legislation this year went nowhere.

Drug Testing

Michigan Driver Drug Testing Bill Stirs Opposition. A bill that aims to set up a pilot program allowing state police to conduct roadside saliva testing for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs has passed the Senate, but is stirring opposition as it moves through the House. The bill, Senate Bill 434, is "bad science" and would set a "dangerous precedent," said criminal defense attorney Neil Rockind. "A pilot program is a test program and, in this case, treats people as guinea pigs to be studied," he said. "People are not guinea pigs. No citizen should be the subject of a test program when their liberty and way of life are on the line." The bill is currently before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee.

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana!

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

The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration.

The measure, Senate Bill 241, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, but not to grow it after some powerful lawmakers said that provision would be a deal-breaker. Instead, the bill now contains a provision to create a study commission to examine home cultivation and the issue of edibles, which are also not allowed.

The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who backs the bill, has not yet responded to today's vote, but congratulated lawmakers after Wednesday's preliminary vote to approve the bill.

"I want to thank the Senate for their courage in voting to end the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition," Shumlin said in a statement. "When this debate began a month and a half ago, there were many who said it had no chance of passage in either chamber. Today it passed the Senate. This is a big moment for Vermont that should give Vermonters faith that our democracy still works," he said, noting that some 80,000 Vermonters use marijuana on a monthly basis.

"The shadows of prohibition have prevented our state from taking rational steps to address marijuana use in our state," the governor continued. "This bill will allow us to address those important issues by driving out illegal drug dealers, doing a better job than we currently do of keeping marijuana out of the hands of underage kids, dealing with the drugged drivers who are already driving on our roads, addressing treatment, and educating Vermonters to the harmful effects of consuming marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes."

"Now is the time to move forward with ending the failed policy of prohibition in Vermont. I am proud of the Senate for taking the lead and I look forward to working with the House to get a bill to my desk," Shumlin added.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working closely with elected officials on the bill, also pronounced itself pleased.

"We applaud the Senate for advancing this important legislation," said Matt Simon, MPP's Montpelier-based New England political director. "Like most Vermonters, most members of the Senate recognize that prohibition is a failed policy. They voted to regulate marijuana because it will make our communities safer. We are confident that House members who take an objective look at the evidence will arrive at the same conclusion as their colleagues in the Senate."

Political pressure is mounting on the House to do just that. In addition to support from the governor, and now, the Senate, but also from sitting state Attorney General William Sorrell and two of his predecessors, as well as clergy and faith leaders. And on Monday, Vermont Public Radio released poll results showing that 55% of Vermonters support the bill, with only 32% opposed.

New England is a real hotbed of marijuana reform this year, with bills also under serious consideration in Connecticut and Rhode Island and with Maine and Massachusetts poised to vote on legalization initiative in November. But it's starting to look like Vermont could be the first state in the region to make it to the finish line, and the first in 2016.

Montpelier, VT
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Sleazoid LAPD cops get nailed on sex charges, an Ohio drug task force officer gets nailed and hangs himself, a Kentucky special deputy gets charged (again) in a drug trafficking scheme, and more. Let's get to it:

In Los Angeles, two former LAPD officers were arrested last Wednesday on charges they extorted sexual favors from four women they had arrested on drug charges. James Christopher Nichols and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela face multiple counts of forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation under color of authority, and oral copulation by force. The pair of officers had been investigated for "luring women into cars and forcing them to perform sex acts" in 2013, but that investigation only gained traction when multiple women came forward. They are now looking at up to life in prison.

In Delaware, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was peddling various drugs. Officer Tye Downard, 43, a veteran SWAT officer and member of the department's drug task force, was accused of making more than 20 drug deliveries to another person since October and was charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance. Early Monday morning, he committed suicide at the jail where he was being held.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a former Bullitt County special deputy was arrested last Friday as part of a bust of six people charged with distributing large amounts of cash and more than a ton of marijuana from Bullitt County. Chris Mattingly is accused of being the head of a drug cell that coordinated with a drug cartel operation in Riverside, California. He is charged with marijuana and methamphetamine distribution offenses, and he is also accused of plotting to kill a drug task force member investigating him. He was earlier indicted last October after being arrested with $237,000 in cash in California and has been in jail ever since.

In Tucson, Arizona, a former Customs and Border Patrol officer was sentenced last Wednesday to eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to smuggle marijuana and accepting bribes to let loads of pot through. Johnny Acosta was a port of entry inspector at the Douglas, Arizona, port of entry. He had attempted to flee to Mexico last October, but was caught by the FBI at the International Bridge in Nogales.

Medical Marijuana Update

The former attorney general speaks out on rescheduling, Ohio polling looks good for a medical marijuana initiative this year, and medical marijuana is before several state legislatures, too.

National

On Tuesday, former Attorney General Eric Holder said he now supports rescheduling marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, the attorney general approved a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has certified the popular name and title of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. Now, initiative backers can begin the process of gathering some 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, legislators expanded qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill key cultivation provision was gutted. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted to cut a provision allowing for the in-state cultivation of marijuana for CBD cannabis oil production from House Bill 722, which was filed to allow for in-state cultivation. "I can't come before you today without saying how disappointed I am that we're not moving forward with cultivation in this bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). "That was the heart of the bill." Although the state approved CBD cannabis oil last year, there is no way for Georgia patients to legally procure their medicine.

Michigan

Last Thursday, Detroit's dispensary boom was facing a looming crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Ohio

On Monday, a new poll had a strong majority supporting a medical marijuana initiative. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the November ballot, has support for the notion at 74%, with only 22% opposed. This was not a generic question. The poll asked specifically if voters favored or opposed "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it."

South Dakota

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was amended into a CBD cannabis oil bill. A bill that would have allowed full-plant access for medical marijuana patients was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but only after it was amended to only allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil. The measure is Senate Bill 171. The bill is expected to be heard on the Senate floor this week.

Utah

Last Friday, a CBD cannabis oil bill passed the Senate, and a medical marijuana bill remained alive. The Senate approved Senate Bill 89, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but which patient advocates say does not go far enough. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, that appeared doomed after the Mormon Church came out in opposition, remained alive and was picking up support. Patient advocates have threatened an initiative campaign if the bill does not pass.

On Monday, the Senate approved a the medical marijuana bill. The Senate Monday narrowly approved Senate Bill 73, which would allow patients to use marijuana in edible, extract, and oil form. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), overcome opposition from the Mormon Church.

West Virginia

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. A bipartisan group of Senate leaders has introduced a bill that would make medical marijuana legal. The bill, Senate Bill 640, is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Kessler (D-Glen Dale), Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley), and three other senators. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources. The bill would allow qualifying patients to cultivate up to 12 mature plants and possess up to six ounces. It would also allow state-regulated dispensaries that would supply patients with medical marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Gives First Approval of Legalization Bill, CT MedMJ Expansion, More... (2/24/16)

Marijuana legalization advances in Vermont; medical marijuana advances in Connecticut, Australia, and Canada; Eric Holder says it's time to reschedule marijuana, Obama says restricting pain pills won't solve the opioid crisis, and more.

Busy, busy in New England. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has again rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, citing ambiguities in the text. The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, filed by Mary Berry, was rejected the first time earlier this month.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalization in Preliminary Vote. The Senate voted 16-13 to approve Senate Bill 241, which would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana. The bill, which is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), faces one more Senate vote before heading to the House. That vote is expected to come tomorrow.

Minneapolis City Council Takes Up Decriminalization. The council will decide this week whether small-time marijuana possession should be a misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor under city ordinance. The current ordinance makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, jail time, and a criminal record. That's tougher than state law, which makes it a petty misdemeanor, which is punishable only by a fine and carries to criminal record.

Medical Marijuana

Former Attorney General Eric Holder Now Supports Rescheduling Marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Connecticut Legislators Expand Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Heroin and Opiates

Obama Says Restricting Opiate Prescriptions Won't Solve Crisis. At the National Governors' Conference last weekend, the governors recommended limiting the number of opioid pain relievers doctors can prescribe, but President Obama wasn't buying that. "If we go to doctors right now and say 'Don't overprescribe' without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we're not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real, the mental illness is real," Obama said in a meeting with governors Monday. "In some cases, addiction is already there."

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Unveils Comprehensive Drug Policy Plan. At a press conference today, Ithaca officials unveiled a comprehensive plan to deal with drug use from a public health perspective with a strong harm reduction component. The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy, calls for the creation of a Vancouver-style Four Pillars (prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement) approach to the city's problems, particularly with heroin and opioid drug use. The plan recommends allowing supervised injection facilities and heroin maintenance, among other proposals.

International

Canadian Federal Judge Throws Out Ban on Patient Medical Marijuana Grows. A Vancouver-based federal judge ruled Wednesday that Health Canada regulations restricting patient medical marijuana grows violating charter rights and thus have no force and effect. But Judge Michael Phelan also gave the government six months to come up with new rules. In the meantime, an injunction allowing thousands of patients to grow their own remains in effect.

Australian Parliament Approves Medical Marijuana. Medical marijuana cleared the upper house Wednesday, clearing the way for its use Down Under. But several steps remain to be taken before a program gets up and running.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor, Burma Opium Vigilantes, More... (2/23/16)

Marijuana legalization should get a vote in the Vermont Senate this week, a Utah medical marijuana bill advances, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill is filed, Christian anti-drug vigilantes threaten Burmese opium crops, and more.

Medical marijuana legislation advances in Utah, is introduced in West Virginia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The measure, Senate Bill 241, was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday. It has already passed the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes the Senate, it must still get through the House.

Vermont Faith Leaders Express Support for Legalization Bill. In a letter sent today, a diverse group of more than a dozen local clergy and faith leaders from across Vermont said they have "a moral obligation to support change" because the state's current marijuana prohibition laws "have caused more harm than good for the people of Vermont." The marijuana laws are "disproportionately enforced against the poor and people of color," the religious leaders added.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill's Cultivation Provision Gutted. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted Monday to cut a provision allowing for the in-state cultivation of marijuana for CBD cannabis oil production from House Bill 722, which was filed to allow for in-state cultivation. "I can't come before you today without saying how disappointed I am that we're not moving forward with cultivation in this bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). "That was the heart of the bill." Although the state approved CBD cannabis oil last year, there is no way for Georgia patients to legally procure their medicine.

Utah Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Monday narrowly approved Senate Bill 73, which would allow patients to use marijuana in edible, extract, and oil form. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), overcome opposition from the Mormon Church.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A bipartisan group of Senate leaders has introduced a bill that would make medical marijuana legal. The bill, Senate Bill 640, is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Kessler (D-Glen Dale), Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley), and three other senators. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources. The bill would allow qualifying patients to cultivate up to 12 mature plants and possess up to six ounces. It would also allow state-regulated dispensaries that would supply patients with medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed. A bill to overhaul the state's civil asset forfeiture program has died after the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to include it on its agenda as a Thursday deadline for committee reports looms. Instead, the committee advanced another, less far-reaching asset forfeiture reform bill that would require compensation for attorney fees, court costs and interest on properly determined to be unlawfully seized.

International

Canadian MP Will Propose Federal 911 Good Samaritan Bill. Liberal MP Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, BC) says he will introduce a bill granting protection from prosecution for people who call 911 during a drug overdose. The "Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act" was expected to be filed in the House of Commons this week.

Burmese Anti-Drug Vigilantes Face Off With Security Forces, Opium Farmers. As many as 3,000 Christian anti-drug vigilantes are camped at a military roadblock in Kachin state, blocked by security forces from pursuing their goal of destroying poppy production in the area. The group is called Pat Jasan and was set up by local Baptist elders two years to counter the influence of drug traffickers. They claim to have already destroyed up to 3,500 acres of poppy fields at a time when the harvest is in full swing. One vigilante has been killed in violence with farmers, and the military and police are now blocking the vigilantes amid threats of further attacks from farmers. Burma is the world's second largest opium producer.

Chronicle AM: VT Poll Has Majority for Legalization, OH Poll Has Supermajority for MedMJ, More... (2/22/16)

NORML gets on board with California's AUMA, New England continues to progress on pot legalization, the mayor of Ithaca, New York, unveils a comprehensive drug strategy that includes supervised injection sites, and more.

Marijuana Policy

NORML Endorses California AUMA Legalization Initiative. The nation's largest marijuana consumers' group has formally endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. "The Board took this action aware there are other proposed initiatives in California that include provisions that are even more consumer-friendly, but those alternatives have little chance of qualifying for the ballot or being approved by a majority of the state's voters," the group said. The AUMA is backed by tech billionaire Sean Parker, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, and other reform organizations.

Key Rhode Island Politico Now Supports Legalization. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero (D-North Providence) is now supporting marijuana legalization in his state. He has become a cosponsor of the legalization bill, Senate Bill 2420, filed by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston). Companion legislation in the House is sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence).

New Vermont Poll Has Majority for Legalization. A new Vermont Public Radio poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55%. The poll comes as a legalization bill supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is making its way through the state legislature. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Medical Marijuana

New Ohio Poll Has Strong Majority for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the November ballot, has support for the notion at 74%, with only 22% opposed. This was not a generic question. The poll asked specifically if voters favored or opposed "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it."

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Becomes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. A bill that would have allowed full-plant access for medical marijuana patients was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last Friday, but only after it was amended to only allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil. The measure is Senate Bill 171. The bill is expected to be heard on the Senate floor this week.

Utah CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes Senate; Medical Marijuana Bill Still Alive. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 89, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but which patient advocates say does not go far enough. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, that appeared doomed after the Mormon Church came out in opposition, remains alive and is picking up support. Patient advocates have threatened an initiative campaign if the bill does not pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Second Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee voted last Thursday to approve a bill that would create a civil court procedure to weigh the state's claims when it attempts to seize private property. The bill is Senate File 46. Unlike ending civil asset forfeiture, which Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed last year, this bill has the support of the administration.

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Mayor Calls for Supervised Injection Sites. Mayor Svante Myrick this week will roll out a comprehensive new drug policy approach, "the Ithaca Plan," which relies on the Four Pillars harm reduction strategy, including a call for supervised injection sites.

International

Belize Moving Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. The Attorney General's office has begun working on amendments to the country's criminal code that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of weed. The move comes after the cabinet approved policy recommendations made by a study group last year.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: WA Drug Task to Disband, Cites Legalization; Harm Reduction Bills Advance in FL, NM, More... (2/18/16)

Even South Carolinians want drug policy reform, a Washington state drug task force calls it quits after marijuana legalization, harm reduction measures advance in Florida and New Mexico, and more.

With marijuana legal, drug task forces are having to reassess. (Darrin Frisby Harris/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon House Passes Marijuana Fine-Tuning Bill. The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve House Bill 4014, one of three bills this session aimed at fine tuning the state's marijuana legalization program. The bill removes residency restrictions for owning cannabusinesses, reduces some penalties for marijuana offenses, and adjusts licensing requirements to fit the needs of small farms, among other provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has certified the popular name and title of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. Now, initiative backers can begin the process of gathering some 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Punts on Asset Forfeiture Reform. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday took up Senate File 2166, which would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state, but after a contentious hearing, the subcommittee voted to simply study the issue and develop recommendations for addressing it next year.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds South Carolinians Surprisingly Open to Drug Reforms. According to a a new poll released by the Drug Policy Alliance, a large majority of South Carolina's notably conservative primary voters supports ending mass incarceration, even across party lines. A substantial majority, furthermore, supports decriminalizing drug possession. Some 70% said they considered reducing incarceration rates an important issue and 59% said they favored decriminalizing drug possession.

Drug Testing

Maine Moves to Make It Easier for Employers to Do Drug Testing. The Department of Labor is calling on lawmakers to streamline the approval process for employee drug testing policies and to implement a program to train managers to spot drug-related impairment in the workplace. The proposal comes as an amendment to LD 1384, which is the subject of a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee work session today.

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Advances. The House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 81, which would create a pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 242, also awaits a floor vote.

New Mexico Legislature Approves Overdose Prevention Bills. A pair of bills that would allow individuals and organizations to possess and distribute the opioid reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) have passed out of the legislature and are headed for the governor's desk. The measures are House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 262.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force to Disband, Cites Marijuana Legalization, Funding Cuts. The East Side Narcotics Task Force is going out of business in June after a quarter-century of fighting drug offenses. "The member agencies did an evaluation of the task force and its mission, and what we decided was that the task force had run its course and that due to a variety of challenges, it was time to sunset the task force and look at other options," Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett explained. One of those challenges was marijuana legalization: "When the state law changed, it made us pause and take a look at our mission," Mylett said. "When I arrived in Bellevue (in April 2015), the police chiefs were already discussing how marijuana laws were changing the whole drug trade landscape." He also complained that federal grants to fund such task forces were declining.

International

Saudis Execute Two Yemenis for Smuggling Hash. Yemeni citizens Ahmed Mubarek and Abdul Salam al-Jamali were executed in the Saudi border city of Jazan Wednesday after being convicted of smuggling hashish into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has already executed 62 people this year, putting it on a pace to exceed last year's 153 executions, the highest number in two decades. It's not clear how many people have been executed for drug offenses.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A massive bust of corrupt prison guards in Georgia, drug prosecutions halted over sleazy police tactics in Waco, a San Antonio cop gets his hand slapped for stealing from citizens, and more. Let's get to it:

In Waco, Texas, drug prosecutions were put on hold last Thursday after a narcotics detective was accused of putting false information in a police report. Waco Police Detective David Starr allegedly made false claims in a report and an affidavit from Starr regarding a February 2015 drug case. The report claimed the bust resulted from "interdiction" operations conducted by the Waco Police, but Starr later admitted the bust arose from a confidential informant and that he was ordered to misleadingly word the reports. Now, the Texas Rangers are investigating and hundreds of drug cases are at risk. "Unfortunately, as a further result of this unacceptable conduct, I will be forced to dismiss certain cases while an investigation into this matter is conducted," the McLennan County prosecutor said.

In Atlanta, 46 current and former prison guards and staff were arrested by the FBI last Thursday as the result of a two-year undercover operation targeting "staggering corruption within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions," as federal prosecutors put it. Among those arrested were five members of an elite squad charged with targeting drug dealing in the prisons. The guards and staff are accused of smuggling liquor, drugs, cell phones and other contraband into the prisons, as well as facilitating drug deals involving multiple kilos of cocaine and meth on both sides of the prison walls.

In Boston, a Bridgewater state prison guard was arrested Tuesday after state police set up an undercover heroin deal. Stephen Lebreux, 40, sold heroin to undercover officers on multiple occasions while off-duty and not at the prison. He is charged with heroin trafficking.

In San Antonio, a San Antonio police officer was sentenced last Thursday to three years' probation for stealing marijuana, a rifle, and thousands in cash from a local couple. Officer Konrad Chatys had responded to a domestic dispute between the couple when he took the items. As he did so, he told them he was "letting them get away with too much already." Chatys must also pay restitution to the couple.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's busy, busy, busy in legislatures across the land.

Arizona

On Tuesday, state GOP lawmaker seeks to bar use of welfare EBT cards in dispensaries. Rep. Kate Brophy (R-Phoenix) has filed a bill, House Bill 2261, that would add dispensaries to the list of locations where EBT cards that deliver cash cannot be used. Other banned locations include liquor stores, race tracks, casinos, and strip clubs. The bill got a hearing in the House Rules Committee, but was criticized by Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson), a physician. "I have a little trouble just saying you can get your prescription medications but not your medical marijuana," said Friese. "Medical marijuana is used for a variety of things that help people with chronic pain, glaucoma, anorexia, intractable nausea."

Hawaii

On Monday, state lawmakers were pondering a bill to allow outdoor and greenhouse grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the stae doubled the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill got a House committee hearing. The House Emerging Issues Committee heard testimony Monday night on the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 2213), which would allow up to 30 dispensaries and 30 cultivation operations statewide. The committee took no action and no further hearings are currently scheduled.

Oregon

On Tuesday, a bill to let pot shops sell tax-fee medical marijuana advanced. A joint legislative committee approved the bill that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to produce, process, and sell medical marijuana products. Senate Bill 1511 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Utah

On Tuesday, frustrated patients said they would resort to a ballot initiative to get medical marijuana. Last week, the LDS Church came out against Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, severely damaging its prospects in the legislature. That has prompted patient advocates to announce today that they plan to pursue a medical marijuana initiative. They will face a ticking clock: They have less than 60 days to gather 101,744 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

On Wednesday,a new poll found nearly two-thirds support medical marijuana. Some 64% of Utahns support medical marijuana, up from 61% just two months ago, according to a new Utah Policy poll. The poll comes as progress on a full-blown medical marijuana bill in the legislature appears blocked and as patient activists say they are about to embark on an initiative campaign to get around legislative inaction.

Virginia

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill advanced. In a last-minute reprieve, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee Monday night approved a bill that would allow state residents to more easily obtain CBD cannabis oils to treat epilepsy. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, but it has no provisions for legally obtaining the medicine. The bill still awaits floor votes in both the House and the Senate.

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

Chronicle AM: Facebook Goes After Marijuana Businesses, WY Forfeiture Bill Advances, More... (2/17/16)

Facebook is making life hard for marijuana businesses, marijuana and medical marijuana are on the agenda at statehouses across the land, a South Dakota welfare drug testing bill is back in "kinder, gentler" form, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Facebook Shutting Down Marijuana Business Pages. The social media application has recently deleted or suspended dozens of accounts operated by marijuana businesses, without even a warning about possibly offensive material. It's not just businesses that actually deal in marijuana; Facebook has been typically unresponsive, saying only that "These pages have been removed for violating our community standards, which outline what is and is not allowed on Facebook."

Maryland Lawmakers Reject Effort to Increase Penalties for Public Marijuana Smoking. The House of Delegates Wednesday turned back GOP efforts to make it a misdemeanor offense to smoke pot on the Ocean City boardwalk, in state parks, or other public spaces. The move was a proposed amendment to a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to smoke pot in a vehicle. The bill treats in-car pot smoking like an open container violation, with fines, but no jail time.

Oregon House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The House has passed House Bill 4094, which protects banks and credit unions from any state liability for dealing with state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill passed on a 56-3 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Lawmakers Seek to Bar Use of Welfare EBT Cards in Dispensaries. Rep. Kate Brophy (R-Phoenix) has filed a bill, House Bill 2261, that would add dispensaries to the list of locations where EBT cards that deliver cash cannot be used. Other banned locations include liquor stores, race tracks, casinos, and strip clubs. The bill got a hearing Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, but was criticized by Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson), a physician. "I have a little trouble just saying you can get your prescription medications but not your medical marijuana," said Friese. "Medical marijuana is used for a variety of things that help people with chronic pain, glaucoma, anorexia, intractable nausea."

Oregon Bill to Let Pot Shops Sell Tax-Free Medical Marijuana Advances. A joint legislative committee Tuesday approved the bill that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to produce, process, and sell medical marijuana products. Senate Bill 1511 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Utah Poll Finds Nearly Two-Thirds Want Medical Marijuana. Some 64% of Utahns support medical marijuana, up from 61% just two months ago, according to a new Utah Policy poll. The poll comes as progress on a full-blown medical marijuana bill in the legislature appears blocked and as patient activists say they are about to embark on an initiative campaign to get around legislative inaction.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved Senate File 46, which would require a judge to find probable cause property was used or intended to be used in drug trafficking before it could be seized. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does raise the bar for the state. A measure pending in the House would end civil asset forfeiture, but faces a veto from Gov. Matt Mead (R), who vetoed similar legislation last year. The Senate bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Returns in "Kinder, Gentler" Form. After an earlier bill that would have required drug testing for all welfare recipients was killed, Sen. Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) has introduced Senate Bill 153, which would randomly drug test 2% of welfare applicants. The bill was set for a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee today.

New England 2016 is a Marijuana Legalization Hotbed [FEATURE]

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

No state east of the Mississippi has legalized marijuana, but that's very likely to change this year, and New England will be leading the way. Two of the six New England states will likely let the voters make the call in November, while the others all have legalization bills pending.

New England pastoral (wikimedia.org)
So far, with the exception of Washington, DC, where voters elected to legalize the possession and cultivation, but not the sale of marijuana in 2014, all of the legalization action has been in the West. The four states that have legalized it so far -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- are all Western states.

More Western states will likely legalize it this year, including the nation's most populous, California, as well as Arizona and Nevada. The Nevada Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act has already qualified for the November ballot, while the Arizona campaign behind that's state's Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act is well-advanced in signature gathering and appears poised to easily qualify for the ballot as well.

Meanwhile, California's Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is late out of the gate, but well-financed and broadly supported. It, too, should be on the ballot in November.

Another possible legalization state this year is Michigan, where the campaign behind the Michigan Marihuana Legalization, Regulation and Economic Stimulus Act just last week announced that it has 240,000 raw signatures and is aiming for 300,000 by March 15. But it needs 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and with the rule of thumb for petition campaigns being that between 20% and 30% of raw signatures are likely to be invalidated, whether the Michigan initiative will qualify remains to be seen.

But it's Yankee country that will see the most concentrated regional push toward marijuana legalization this year. Initiatives that make the ballot will go before New England populations that are showing majority support for legalization this year, and, while progress toward legalization though the legislative process can be achingly difficult, the region also appears poised to produce the first state to free the weed through the legislature, not the popular vote.

Here's the rundown on New England legalization efforts this year. Chances are good that legalization will happen in two of them -- the initiative states -- and possibly in one or more of the other states:

Connecticut. Earlier this month, Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

Maine. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is poised to. On February 1, the campaign turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures from its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and should have a sufficient cushion to do so. The most recent of Mainers' attitudes toward marijuana legalization, from the spring of 2015, had support at 65%.

Massachusetts. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already qualified for the ballot, but under Massachusetts law, the legislature must first take up the issue. If, as expected, it fails to adopt legalization, the campaign must then collect another 10,000 signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. It should be able to do that easily, and if it gets on the ballot, it should win, although perhaps not as handily as Maine. There are no hot-off-the-press polls, but a 2014 poll had support at 53% and a Boston Globe poll from last year had a dead heat, with 48% in favor, 47% opposed. Numbers this tight means it's not a done deal, but given expected high voter turnout this election year, the Bay State should be able to pull it off.

Fall in New Hampshire (wikimedia.org)
New Hampshire. The House actually passed a legalization bill in 2014, only to see it die in the Senate. This year, there are already three legalization bills filed, but two of them have already been deemed "inexpedient to legislate" in committee. The remaining legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Even if the bill were to pass the House, it faces a tough battle in the Senate. In addition to killing legalization in 2014, the Senate has at least twice killed decriminalization bills that passed the House.

Rhode Island. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) said he will file a marijuana legalization bill in the General Assembly last week, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) will file companion legislation in the Senate. As of Saturday, the bills have not yet been posted on the legislative website, but they are definitely coming. This marks the fifth consecutive year legalization bills have been filed in Providence, and they have previously been stifled, but there are signs progress could be made this year. The Senate bill has 17 cosponsors (out of 38 senators), and the House bill has more than 30 cosponsors. Republican House Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) supports it, and House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-Cranston), who has long opposed legalization, is now becoming "more open-minded" as eyes tax revenues from pot in the already legal states.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State is the most likely to actually pass a legalization bill this year. Senate Bill 241, backed by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), has already passed the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and is moving toward a Senate floor vote. But the committees have amended the bill to kill home cultivation and to reduce the legalized amount from an ounce to a half ounce. And if and when the bill gets out of the Senate, it still faces a tough battle in the House.

This could well be the year New England goes green. Winning in three states -- Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont -- would be a big victory; winning in more would be a very pleasant surprise. Not winning in any of them would be a huge setback for the marijuana reform movement, but at this point, that looks extremely unlikely.

Chronicle AM: CA Init Has Big Bucks, Afghan Government Complicit in Opium Trade, More... (2/16/16)

The California legalization initiative has enough money in the bank to easily pay for signature gathering, a Wyoming bill would make possession of three ounces of edibles a felony, Utah medical marijuana patients say they will go the initiative route after the Mormon Church says no to a Senate bill, the New York Times looks at government complicity in Afghan opium production, and more.

In Afghanistan fields the poppies grow, and it's not like the government doesn't know. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Initiative Has $2.25 Million in the Bank. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is financially well-prepared to get the several hundred thousand voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. With a new $500,000 donation from tech entrepreneur Sean Parker, who earlier kicked in another $500,000, the campaign is sitting on $2.25 million. Other major contributors include Weed Maps ($500,000), the Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm ($500,000), and a PAC funded by the heirs of Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis ($250,000). That's enough money to pay for signature gathering and then some.

After South Dakota Vote to Kill Internal Pot Possession Law Fails, Tribe Again Moves Forward With Marijuana Facility Plan. After the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 11-1 Tuesday to kill a bill to end the state's unique law making "internal possession" of marijuana a crime, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe announced it will work with federal officials in an effort to get its marijuana production facility back on track. The tribe last year began production and planned a New Year's Eve bash with legal marijuana, but destroyed its crop in November in the face of uncertainty about the federal response and a hostile response from state officials, who warned that anyone coming off the reservation who had used marijuana could be charged with internal possession.

Wyoming Senate Panel Advances Bill That Makes Possession of Three Ounces of Edibles a Felony. The Senate Judiciary Committee Monday approved Senate File 96, which closes a legal loophole around the legality of edible marijuana products. At least two state judges had ruled that the state law was unclear on edibles. The bill originally made possession of more than a pound of edibles a felony, but under urging from state officials, lawmakers approved an amendment lowering the amount that triggers felony charges to three ounces. The panel ignored complaints from Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) that it was criminalizing the weight of edibles rather than THC content.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Hearing. The House Emerging Issues Committee heard testimony Monday night on the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 2213), which would allow up to 30 dispensaries and 30 cultivation operations statewide. The committee took no action and no further hearings are currently scheduled.

Utah Patients Resort to Ballot Initiative After Mormon Church Warns Legislature on Medical Marijuana. Last week, the LDS Church came out against Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, severely damaging its prospects in the legislature. That has prompted patient advocates to announce today that they plan to pursue a medical marijuana initiative. They will face a ticking clock: They have less than 60 days to gather 101,744 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Virginia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Advances. In a last-minute reprieve, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee Monday night approved a bill that would allow state residents to more easily obtain CBD cannabis oils to treat epilepsy. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, but it has no provisions for legally obtaining the medicine. The bill still awaits floor votes in both the House and the Senate.

International

Afghan Government Profiting Off Poppy Trade. The US has spent more than $7 billion trying to wipe out the Afghan opium poppy industry, but the government the US supports in Kabul is deeply involved in the trade, the New York Times reports: "More than ever, Afghan government officials have become directly involved in the opium trade, expanding their competition with the Taliban beyond politics and into a struggle for control of the drug traffic and revenue. At the local level, the fight itself can often look like a turf war between drug gangs, even as American troops are being pulled back into the battle on the government's behalf, particularly in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan." The Times also quotes researcher David Mansield: "There are phases of government complicity, starting with accommodation of the farmers and then on to cooperation with them," said David Mansfield, a researcher who conducted more than 15 years of fieldwork on Afghan opium. "The last is predation, where the government essentially takes over the business entirely."

Chronicle AM: NH, NM Legalization Bills Killed, FL & WY Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (2/15/16)

A pair of state marijuana legalization bills get defeated, a pair of state asset forfeiture reform bills advance; House Republicans want states to be able to drug test food stamp recipients, Senate Democrats want $600 million in anti-heroin funding, Mexico cartel mayhem continues, and more.

Senate Democrats want $600 million to fight the heroin and pain pill epidemic. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to kill House Bill 1694, which would have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. The House has previously passed legalization, only to see if die in the Senate. Another legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New Mexico Senate Kills Legalization Initiative Bill. The state Senate last Friday voted 24-17 to kill SJR 5, which would have placed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. Six Senate Democrats voted "no" along with all the Republican members.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Needs Redo. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said last Thursday that a legalization petition submitted the day before was flawed because it used a list of Schedule I substances that was not current. Eric Olson, who heads the sponsoring committee for the initiative, said the committee will resubmit the petition. The group has until July 11 to come up with some 13,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Lawmakers Ponder Bill That Would Allow Outdoor, Greenhouse Grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts Doubles Amount of Medical Marijuana Patients Can Purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice last Thursday. The measure is Senate Bill 1044, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday. The measure is House Bill 14. It is nearly identical to a bill that easily passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Matt Meade (R). It looks like another veto showdown could be coming.

Drug Policy

London School of Economics Issues "After the Drug Wars" Report. A new report from the London School of Economics, After the Drug Wars, calls for the war on drugs to be replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report is endorsed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and five Nobel Prize recipients. "The question now is not, whether to end the 'war on drugs', but what to replace its failed policies with," said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report. "The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies. The global priorities should be -- develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this."

Democrats Seek $600 Million for Emergency Heroin Bill. Just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524), Senate Democrats announced they will try to add a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the bill. The measure includes funding for treatment, prevention, and recovery at the state level, as well as funding for treatment and law enforcement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring the Recovery Act to the Senate floor shortly.

Drug Testing

House Republicans Pushing Measure to Allow States to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, last Thursday unveiled a measure that would allow states the option of drug testing people who apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The Agriculture Department, which administers the program, currently says states cannot impose new requirements, such as drug testing, under the program.

Harm Reduction

Alaska Naloxone Bill One Vote Away From Passage. A bill to increase access to opioid overdose reversal drugs passed its final House committee vote last Friday and now heads for a House floor vote. The measure, Senate Bill 23, has already passed the Senate. It grants immunity for those prescribing or administering naloxone (Narcan) and allows pharmacies to legally dispense the drugs to members of the public without a prescription.

Law Enforcement

Maine Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Out of State Drug Dealers Advances. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted mainly along party lines last Wednesday to approve LD 1541, which would increase the sentences for out of state drug dealers. The measure advanced despite criticism that it would be difficult to prove drug importation in court and that the state already sufficiently punishes drug dealers. It is being championed by Gov. Paul Le Page, who was called for the use of the guillotine to execute drug dealers, called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers, and accused black drug dealers from New Year of impregnating white Maine girls.

International

Four Swiss Cities to Create Cannabis Club Pilot Projects. Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich have agreed to launch a pilot project for cannabis clubs where consumers could use the drug. The projects are to be run over four years and will be scientifically evaluated. But they must first be approved by canton governments and the federal office of public health.

Mexican Cartel Prison Battle Leaves 49 Dead. A battle last Wednesday between Zetas cartel members and rivals from other drug gangs left 49 people dead at the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. One inmate was killed by gunfire; the rest by being stabbed with bottles or blades or by being hit with objects. The prison has long housed Zetas, who dominate much of its interior.

Upstart Mexican Cartel Makes a Move on Tijuana. After five years of relative peace in the border town, killings are on the increase, with many of the victims described as low-level members of the city's drug trade. The uptick in violence is being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has been leaving messages with mutilated corpses on city streets or hanging from bridges. People were being killed at a rate of more than two a day in January, making it the most violent January since 2010. Jalisco New Generation is believed to be challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which currently dominates the Tijuana drug trade.

Drug War Issues

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