Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: MA Inits Filed, Pill Crackdown Hurts Patients, Yemen War Snarls Drug Trade, More (8/05/15)

Competing legalization initiatives get filed in Massachusetts, pain patients face obstacles amidst the pill mill crackdown, the Yemen war is messing up the peninsular drug trade, and more.

Bags of the popular Middle Eastern amphetamine Captagon seized by Saudi officials. (moj.gov.sa)
Marijuana Policy

Two Competing Groups Filed Massachusetts Legalization Initiatives. Both the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts and the local group Bay State Repeal today filed initiatives to legalize marijuana in the state. Bay State Repeal actually filed three versions of its initiative. Click on the organization link to get details on the various proposals.

Medical Marijuana

Leaked Document Shows DOJ Misled Congress on Impact of Medical Marijuana Amendment. In the days before Congress voted to approve an amendment limiting the Justice Department's ability to interfere in medical marijuana states, an internal memo obtained by Tom Angell at Marijuana.com shows that the department tried to mislead Congress by falsely claiming that the amendment could "in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department's ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well," according to the document. [Emphasis added.] The memo admits that the DOJ talking points were "intended to discourage passage of the rider," but "do not reflect our current thinking." Click on the link for more.

Under-treatment of Pain

Pill Mill Crackdown Hurting Pain Patients. New Hampshire Public Radio has done a lengthy report on the impact of the pain pill crackdown on pain patients. One patient who moved to Florida reports that his pharmacy runs out of pain medications, and the pharmacy owner reported that pharmaceutical wholesalers will no longer distribute the amount of drugs he needs to serve his clients. There's much more there, too; click the link to read the whole thing.


Yemen War Messing Up Arabian Peninsula Drug Traffic. Saudi Arabia's four-month bombing campaign against Houthi rebels is not only killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Yemenis, it's also choking off the supply of Middle Eastern amphetamines and hashish that have been being trafficked across the Yemen-Saudi border. Saudi border guards say the war has shut down trafficking, while Riyadh residents complain that supplies are drying up. The article also provides an overview of drug use in the region; click on the link to get it all.

Chronicle AM: Music Festival Drug Deaths Spark Controversy, GOP Candidates on MedMJ, More (8/4/15)

GOP presidential contenders talk pot, drug overdose deaths at an LA music festival and an Italian nightclub excite controversy over how to respond, and more.

How to deal with drugs in club land -- bans, cops, or harm reduction? (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Says Strictly Regulated Medical Marijuana Okay, But Not Legalization. The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender told a crowd in Cedar Falls, Iowa, last Friday that medical marijuana should be allowed through tightly regulated, state-run programs, but that he would enforce federal law on recreational marijuana. "This is a decision on medical marijuana that I think needs to be made state-by-state," Christie said. "I don't want it used recreationally, but for medical purposes, it's helpful for certain adult illness and certain pediatric illness. So where it's helpful and when a doctor prescribes it, I have no problem with it."

Marco Rubio Says He's Willing to Look at Medical Marijuana, But Not Legalization. Florida senator and Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio said Tuesday that he could support medical marijuana if it went through an FDA approval process, but that he did not support full legalization. "I'm not in support of any additional intoxicants being legalized," he said at a Republican presidential forum in Manchester, New Hampshire.


In Wake of Two Overdose Deaths at HARD Summer Festival, LA Considers Ban on Music Festivals. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she planned to introduce a motion today to ban major music festivals on county property after two women died from suspected drug overdoses during the HARD Summer Festival in Pomona last weekend. "No one -- no one should have to lose their life while attending a public concert," Solis said, adding that she and Supervisor Michael Antonovich would propose a ban on "these kinds of events on county-owned land until we conduct a full investigation into this matter."

In Wake of Two Overdose Deaths at HARD Summer Festival, Experts Call for New Approaches to Festival Drug Use. The correct response to drug use at festivals is not to ban music events or focus on heavier policing, but to turn to harm reduction measures such as abundant free water and calm open spaces and to make drug information more available, experts responding to last weekend's overdose deaths at the HARD Summer Festival said. "What I want is for people to be safe, and we should be treating this as a public health issue," one expert said. "There needs to be a public health movement about this with education on campuses." Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Ohio Republicans Revive Welfare Drug Testing Push. Legislators are preparing to once again try to pass welfare drug testing in the Buckeye State. Under the as yet un-filed bill, people applying for cash assistance would be forced to undergo screening for substance abuse. If the initial screening showed a likelihood of drug dependence, the applicant would be subjected to a drug test. If the applicant tests positive, he or she would be barred from receiving benefits for six months and would be referred to drug treatment.


Famous Italian Nightclub Closed After Ecstasy Overdose Death. Italian authorities have ordered a four-month closure of one of the country's most well-known nightclubs, Cocorico, after a 16-year-old died after taking Ecstasy there. The club is renowned for its enormous glass pyramid, which held raves with thousands of attendees. The move is proving controversial, with some consumer and health groups saying it didn't go far enough, while others said it was a severe overreaction.

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

Memphis Cop Killed After Interrupting $20 Marijuana Deal

The Memphis police officer who was shot and killed last Saturday night died after approaching a vehicle and interrupting an apparent marijuana transaction. Officer Sean Bolton was shot in the head during the incident and died that same evening.

Officer Bolton becomes the 37th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. All the others are civilians, except for a pair of Mississippi police officers killed in April in a traffic stop turned drug search.

At a Sunday press conference, Memphis Police Chief Toney Armstrong said Officer Bolton saw a vehicle parked illegally, pulled in front of it, and turned on his spotlight. As Bolton approached, a passenger got out and fought with Bolton, then shot him.

"After inventorying the suspect vehicle, it was found that Officer Bolton apparently interrupted some sort of drug transaction," Armstrong said, noting that police found a digital scale and 1.7 grams of marijuana. "We're talking about less than 2 grams of marijuana. We're talking about a misdemeanor citation. We probably would not have even transported for that."

That such a seemingly petty offense resulted in an officer's death galled the police chief.

"You gun down, you murder a police officer, for less than two grams of marijuana," he said. "You literally destroy a family. Look at the impact this has had on this department, this community, this city, for less than two grams of marijuana."

But for someone on parole, getting caught with even a little weed could have serious consequences. The man who police have identified as the suspect, 29-year-old Tremaine Wilbourn, was on parole after serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. Now he's back behind bars, awaiting trial for murder.

Memphis, TN
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA "Fake Heroin" Ban, Canada Salvia Ban, London Laughing Gas Protest, More (8/3/15)

Rand Paul benefits from MPP's largesse, California tax officials eye a pot bank, medical marijuana is okayed for autistic kids in Michigan, Canada moves to ban salvia, Brits hold a laughing protest over a proposed legal highs ban, and more.

Salvia divinorum -- still not a controlled substance in the US, but about to be banned in Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project PAC Gives $15,000 to Rand Paul. MPP's PAC has given three $5,000 donations to groups supporting the Kentucky senator and Republican presidential contender's political ambitions, according to midyear Federal Election Commission filings. That makes some sense, given that Paul received the highest grade of any candidate of either party on marijuana policy issues in a recent MPP report. They gave him an A-.

California Tax Officials Want State-Run Marijuana Bank. With an eye toward looming legalization in the Golden State, the state Board of Equalization is signaling its interest in a state-run bank to allow marijuana industry operators to move away from an all-cash business. "We're a big state, and we have very creative minds," said Democratic board member Fiona Ma said at a meeting on the topic she called Friday with fellow board member George Runner. "We lead in many first-in-the-nation initiatives, and I believe we could create some sort of state depository that could handle cash deposits and also be available for the industry to make electronic transfers to make their payments."

Medical Marijuana

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley Stalls Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would reschedule marijuana and let states set their own medical marijuana policies has some congressional support, but with only two Republican cosponsors, Rand Paul (KY) and Dean Heller (NV), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said the bill was not exactly a priority. "I'm going to wait until I talk to other Republican members," he told Politico.

Florida Poll Has Two-Thirds Supporting Medical Marijuana. A new survey from St. Pete Polls has more than 68% of respondents saying they would vote for a new medical marijuana initiative if it makes the ballot. An effort last year got 58% of the vote, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass. These poll results strongly suggest it will pass next time around. Click on the link for more poll results.

Veterans With PTSD Line Up for Free Medical Marijuana in Denver Protest. Hundreds of Colorado veterans lined up to receive free medical marijuana products Saturday as part of a protest against the state health board's refusal to include PTSD among conditions treatable by medical marijuana. The protest was organized by Grow4Vets. "We're tired of waiting around for the government to do something to help veterans," cofounder Richard Martin said. "We're losing over 50 American heroes every single day as a result of prescription drug overdose or suicide, and the VA's position up until this point has pretty much been let's just keep them in a drug stupor."

Michigan Panel Okays Medical Marijuana for Autistic Kids. In a 4-2 vote last Friday, the state Medical Marijuana Review Panel okayed medical marijuana for kids with severe forms of autism. Its use must be approved by two doctors, and the kids wouldn't smoke it, but would use it in edible or concentrate form.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

In Emergency Move, DEA Makes "Fake Heroin" a Schedule I Controlled Substance. The DEA has responded to rising concern from both the medical and law enforcement communities over acetyl fentanyl by temporarily reassigning the substance as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The compound is related to the prescription painkiller fentanyl and a small amount can produce a euphoric response in users that resembles a high from heroin or oxycodone, which led to it being dubbed "fake heroin."


Canada Moves to Ban Salvia Divinorum. The Ministry of Health last Saturday announced new regulatory amendments that would effectively ban salvia divinorum. Once the regulations are published on August 12, the sale or distribution -- but not the possession -- of salvia will be illegal. It will also be scheduled as a controlled substance.

London Laughing Gas Protest. Dozens of demonstrators against the British government's proposed ban on legal highs broke out in giggles last Saturday as they simultaneously inhaled nitrous oxide in laughing protest of the move. "The whole drug laws need looking at," said one demonstrator. "If we are going to have legal tobacco and alcohol with all their side effects, why can't we have legal highs?"

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

Four July Drug War Deaths

The recent drug war killing of South Carolina teenager Zachary Hammond is drawing national attention, but he wasn't the only one to be killed by police enforcing drug laws in the month of July. At least three others have been killed as well.

July's deaths mark the 33rd, 34th, 35th, and 36th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Hammond's case appears especially outrageous -- it was a small-time pot bust, he wasn't even the target, and there is evidence he was shot from behind -- but the three other cases ought to also be cause for concern.

In two of them -- both young black men -- the victims were unarmed, but both cases also included automobiles as threats. In one, the dead man hit and injured an officer before fleeing on foot and then being shot while "reaching for his waistband" (no gun was found); in the other, the dead man attempted to flee in a deputy's police cruiser.

The third case -- a middle-aged white man -- appears more easily justifiable. The man allegedly fired at police coming to arrest him. But that begs the question of why police are arresting drug users and small-time sellers in the first place.

In any case, the combination of aggressive drug law enforcement, widespread access to guns, racially-tinged policing, and -- apparently -- cars, ensures that readers come back and read another story just like this one next month. At least now, in this period of intense scrutiny on police use of force, some of them will get the attention they deserve.

July's drug war dead:

Kevin Lamont Judson

On July 1, in McMinnville, Oregon, a Yamhill County sheriff's deputy shot and killed Judson, 24, after he fled a traffic stop, ran across the highway, and jumped into the deputy's car. He was unarmed.

According to KOIN TV, citing police accounts, a deputy stopped a motorist at 7:30 a.m., and during the stop, Judson bolted from the vehicle, dropped a meth pipe, and took off running. Deputy Richard Broyles chased him in his patrol vehicle, and the two were "involved in a struggle." Broyles shot Judson twice, killing him.

"At the time he was shot, (Judson) was alone in the driver's patrol vehicle," McMinnville police said in a release.

The Yamhill Valley News-Register quoted Yamhill County District Brad Berry as saying he didn't know if Judson was armed or trying to arm himself.

"I don't have that information," he said. "I'm not in a position at this time to state factually the sequence of events, and I won't be until the investigation is completed."

Surveillance video from a local business showed Deputy Broyles and Judson struggling at the vehicle's driver side door, but the video is truncated -- showing only the roof of the vehicle and the tops of their heads. Broyles appears to shoot Judson through the open door, and the vehicle then takes off in reverse, arcing backwards until it crashes into an antenna and stops.

Two weeks later, the Yamhill County District Attorney announced that the killing was justified.

Judson may have fled because not only was he in a vehicle with meth, he was already wanted for failure to appear on probation violation charge related to a 2011 meth possession conviction.

Clay Alan Lickteig

On July1, in Franklin, North Carolina, police officers serving a felony drug probation violation warrant shot and killed Lickteig, 52, after a confrontation at his home.

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, citing police sources, Lickteig was standing in his driveway when officers arrived, threatened them, and refused to show his hands. They then tased him, and he pulled a pistol from behind his back and fired at them. The officers then returned fire, killing Lickteig.

One officer suffered a slight injury and was treated and released at a local hospital.

Two weeks later, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Macon County District Attorney's Office announced that the killing was justified.

Victo Larosa

On July 2, in Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office undercover officers doing a day-long operation targeting street drug sales shot and killed Larosa, 33, after he struck one officer with a vehicle while attempting to flee. But he wasn't killed while driving the vehicle.

According to Action News Jacksonville, citing police sources, once cops made a drug buy from Larosa, he began driving off before their "apprehension team" could arrive to bust him. Sgt. D.R. White, a member of the team, signaled for Larosa to stop, but Larosa instead struck White. It's not clear if White was in uniform or undercover.

Larosa then drove off, striking multiple vehicles before his car was pinned by a police cruiser. He then took off running, but tripped and fell with an officer in close pursuit. He was then shot multiple times and killed.

According to the Florida Times-Union, again citing police accounts, the police shooter was narcotics detective Mike Boree, who said Larosa tripped jumping over a fence, landed on his hands in a push-up position, then turned toward Boree and "reached for his waistband."

No weapon was found.

Police could have thought they were dealing with a cop-killer. Sgt. White, who had been struck by Larosa as he made his escape, hit his head on the pavement and lost his weapon on impact.

"Officers on the scene, detectives at the scene thought he was dead right there," sheriff's office director of investigations and homeland security Mike Bruno said.

But White was treated and released from a local hospital the same day.

Zachary Hammond

On July 26, in Columbia, South Carolina, Hammond , 19, was shot and killed by an undercover Columbia police officer after driving a woman friend to fast food restaurant parking lot so she could sell a small amount of marijuana.

According to the Columbia Daily Journal, citing police accounts, the undercover officer pulled up beside Hammond's car, and a uniformed officer was approaching to help with arrests when Hammond drove toward the officer, forcing him to open fire.

But that account has been challenged by Eric Bland, an attorney representing Hammond's family. Bland said that the autopsy report showed that Hammond had been shot from behind and that the vehicle was not moving. The autopsy showed a first shot entering the teen's left rear shoulder and a second in his side five inches away that went through his heart and lungs before exiting his lower right side.

"It is clearly, clearly from the back," Bland said after viewing pictures of the bullet wounds at the coroner's office. "It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him. This is a 19-year-old kid without a weapon in his car, clearly in the Hardee's parking lot on a date, and within five minutes he has two shots that appear to be in his back and his side, from an officer shooting him from the back -- and he's dead and this family needs answers."

Bland is calling on the state attorney general to convene a statewide grand jury investigation of the shooting.

Chronicle AM: High Drama in Ohio, Congressmen Seek DOJ Investigation Into MedMJ Harassment, More (7/31/15)

It's the dog days of summer, and it looks like not much is going on except marijuana-related issues. Will ResponsibleOhio make the ballot, will the Justice Department ease up on medical marijuana where it's legal? Stay tuned.

Marijuana Policy

It's do or die today for ResponsibleOhio. They handed in more signatures, but will they be enough?
Federal Reserve Blocks Marijuana Credit Union. The Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City has denied an application for a "master account" from a Denver-based credit union created to serve the legal marijuana industry. The credit union is chartered in Colorado, but can't open its doors without the "master account." If the Fed had approved the account, it could have led to banking access for the state's marijuana industry. In response to the denial, the Fourth Corner Credit Union has now filed a lawsuit against the Fed and the National Credit Union Administration.

ResponsibleOhio Hands in Another 96,000 Signatures; Only 29,000 Valid Ones Needed. Late today, the controversial ResponsibleOhio monopoly marijuana legalization initiative campaign handed in 96,000 signatures to state officials in a bid to overcome a signature shortfall after the state threw out more than half of the nearly 700,000 signatures the group originally handed in. The deadline for handing in signatures is 11:59pm tonight. The group needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. According to state officials, it had about 275,000 valid ones before this latest and last batch was handed in.

Medical Marijuana

Congressmen Want DOJ Inspector General to Look Into Harassment of Medical Marijuana Providers in Wake of Vote Barring Same. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) Thursday sent a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz asking him to clarify whether continued prosecutions against medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal violate a successful budget rider that prevents the department from spending money to interfere in those states. "Cases such as the Kettle Falls Five case in Washington, asset forfeiture actions against dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay area, or the Lynch case now pending in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, are all instances of DOJ expending dollars it does not have the legal authority to spend," Rohrabacher and Farr write. "Consequently, we believe there is sufficient cause for your office to investigate potential violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act by the Department with regard to its prosecution and other enforcement actions against persons and businesses conducting legitimate medical marijuana activities under state law." That act makes it a crime to use federal funds for purposes not approved by Congress.

Nevada's First Dispensary Opens Today. Silver State Relief was set to open its doors today in the Reno suburb of Sparks. It's the first to open in the state, and one of two approved by city fathers.

New York Awards Five Medical Marijuana Licenses. The Department of Health today announced the names of five groups that will be allowed to sell medical marijuana in the state. Each group can open up to four dispensaries across the state. They are required to be open for business within six months, meaning patients may be able to buy it before year's end. Click on the link to see who the groups are.

Chronicle AM: MS Legalization Initiatives, SD Decrim Initiative, AZ MedMJ PTSD Restrictions, More (7/30/15)

All eyes are turning to 2016 when it comes to marijuana reform, PTSD gets second-class status under Arizona's medical marijuana law, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Now There Are Two Mississippi Legalization Initiatives. Mississippians will have two chances to support marijuana legalization this year and next. Initiative 48 was filed earlier this year by Kelly Jacobs of Hernando, and now, Initiative 52, the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act, has been filed as well. The proposed ballot summary for that initiative reads as follows: "Initiative Measure No. 52 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to include the Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act ('the Act'). The Act legalizes cannabis for persons eighteen years of age and older, legalizes cannabis for medical purposes, authorizes the collection of taxes on cannabis, and includes various other definitions and mechanisms for implementation of the Act. For purposes of this measure, 'cannabis' means hemp, weed, herd, marijuana, grass, wax, concentrate extract, and hashish." Each initiative will need 107,000 valid voter signatures by October 2 to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

South Dakota Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Officially Kicks Off. South Dakotans Against Prohibition officially began its campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the November 2016 ballot at a confab in Sioux Falls Wednesday night. Signature-gathering actually began several weeks ago, but this event signals the beginning of the big signature push. Proponents have until November 9 to collect 14,000 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Next Year. At a meeting earlier this week in Brattleboro, state Sen. Jeannette White (D-Putney) vowed to write and file a legalization bill next year. The promise came at a meeting called by the Vermont Cannabis Collaborative and Vermont Home Grown, advocates for legalization and the pot industry.

Wyoming Panel Begins Studying Legalization Issues. The state's Marijuana Impact Assessment Council, which is to study how legalization might affect the state, held its first meeting Wednesday. The council, appointed by anti-legalization Gov. Matt Mead (R) includes one Mead advisor and no marijuana reform advocates.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Judge Blocks Effort to Remove Limits on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. In a ruling Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge rejected efforts by patient advocates to overturn a decision by then state health chief Will Humble that medical marijuana could be used for PTSD, but only for palliative care. Judge Crane McClennen said there was "substantial evidence" to support Humble's restrictions.


Drug Abuse Up Threefold in Indian State After Bars Are Closed. The state of Kerala has shut down all but a handful of bars serving alcohol, but the results weren't exactly what the state government expected. "After the bars were closed, the use of drugs has gone up by three times in the state," Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told the state Assembly. He said there had been an increase in young people using drugs and psychotropic substances, some 228 of which are available at local "medical stores."

2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiatives: An Overview [FEATURE]

Marijuana is going to be part of the political conversation between now and Election Day 2016. Support for legalization is now consistently polling above 50% nationwide, four states and DC have already voted to legalize it, and activists at least ten states are doing their best to make it an issue this time around.

In those states, they're working to take marijuana legalization directly to the voters in the form of initiatives. Not all of those efforts will actually make the ballot -- mass signature-gathering campaigns require not only enthusiasm but cold, hard cash to succeed -- and not all of those that qualify will necessarily win, but in a handful of states, including the nation's most populous, the prospects for passing legalization next year look quite good.

Presidential contenders are already finding the question of marijuana legalization unavoidable. They're mostly finding the topic uncomfortable, with none -- not even Rand Paul -- embracing full-on legalization, most staking out middling positions, and some Republicans looking for traction by fervently opposing it. Just this week, Chris Christie vowed to undo legalization where it already exists if he is elected president.

It's worth noting that it is the initiative process that is enabling the process of ending marijuana prohibition. Only half the states have it -- mostly west of the Mississippi -- but it is the use of citizen initiatives that led the way, first for medical marijuana and now with outright legalization.

In the face of overwhelming support for medical marijuana, state legislators proved remarkably recalcitrant. It took five years after California voters made it the first medical marijuana state for Hawaii to become the first state to pass it through the legislature. Even now, with nearly half the states having approved some form of medical marijuana, getting such bills through legislatures is excruciatingly difficult, and results in overly restrictive and ineffective state programs.

It's been the same with legalization. Voters approved legalization via initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia last year. But even in states with majorities or pluralities in favor of legalization, legalization bills haven't gotten passed.

Efforts are afoot at a number of statehouses, and one of them will eventually be the first to legislate legalization, maybe even next year -- it's not outside the realm of possibility. But for now, if legalization is going to continue to expand, it's going to come thanks to the initiative states. In fact, marijuana policy reform is an issue on which elected officials have been so tin-eared and unresponsive to the will of the voters that their failure is an advertisement for the utility of direct democracy.

By the time the polls close on Election Day 2016, we could see the number of legalization states double and the number of Americans living free of pot prohibition quadruple to more than 60 million -- or more. Attitudes on marijuana are shifting fast, and by this time next year, the prospects of even more states actually approving legalization could be even higher.

But right now, we have five states where the prospects of getting on the ballot and winning look good, three states where it looks iffy but could surprise, and two states where it looks like a long-shot next year.

Looking Good for Legalization:


A June Rocky Mountain Poll from the Behavioral Research Center has support for legalization at 53%, and Arizonans could find themselves having to decide which competing legalization proposal they like best.

The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of buds or five grams of concentrates, as well as allow for home grows of up to six plants per person, with a cap of 12 plants per household. The initiative also envisions a system of regulated marijuana commerce with a tax of 15%. Localities could bar marijuana businesses or even home growing, but only upon a popular vote.

The second initiative, from Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of buds or concentrates, as well as allow for home grows of up to 12 plants -- and home growers could keep the fruits of their harvests. The initiative envisions a system of regulated marijuana commerce with a 10% tax on retail sales. It would allow localities to regulate -- but not ban -- marijuana businesses.

Both campaigns are in the signature-gathering process. They will need 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot and they have until next July to get them.

Will the Buckeye State do it this year or next?

A May PPIC poll had support for legalization at 54%, and Californians have a variety of initiatives to choose from. At least six legalization initiatives have already been cleared for signature-gathering by state officials, but everybody is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That would be the much anticipated initiative from the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which represents many of the major players in the state, as well as deep-pocketed outside players from all the major drug reform groups. The coalition's initiative was delayed while it waited for the release of a report from Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). That report came out last week, and the coalition says it expects to have its initiative ready within a few weeks.

The delays in getting the initiative out and the signature-gathering campaign underway are going to put pressure on the campaign. To qualify for the ballot, initiatives must come up with some 366,000 valid voter signatures, and that takes time, as well as money. Most of the other initiatives don't have the money to make a serious run at signatures, but the coalition does. All of the California initiatives have until at least the third week of April to gather the needed signatures -- after that they can still gather signatures, but risk getting pushed to the 2018 ballot.


The most recent polling, a Public Policy Polling survey from 2013, had only a plurality (48% to 39%) favoring legalization, but that's nearly two years old, and if Maine is following national trends, support should only have increased since then. Maine is winnable.

This is another state where a Marijuana Policy Project-backed initiative has competition from local activists. The MPP-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would legalize possession of up to an ounce of buds and allow for six-plant home grows. It would also create a system of regulated marijuana commerce with a 10% tax above and beyond the state sales tax, and it would allow for marijuana social clubs as well as retail stores.

The competing initiative, from Legalize Maine, is a bit looser on possession and home grows, allowing up to 2.5 ounces and six mature and 12 immature plants. Unlike the MPP initiative, which would have the Alcohol Bureau regulate marijuana, this one would leave it to the Department of Agriculture. It would also allow for marijuana social clubs as well as pot shops and would impose a 10% flat sales tax.

Initiatives need 61,126 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaigns have until next spring to get them in.


A Suffolk/Boston Herald poll from February has support for legalization at 53% in the Bay State, where activists have since the turn of the century been laying the groundwork for legalization with a series of successful non-binding policy questions demonstrating public support, not to mention voting to approve decriminalization in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012.

Like Arizona and Maine, Massachusetts is another state where a Marijuana Policy Project-backed initiative is being contested by local activists. The MPP-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is still in the initiative-drafting process and details of its initiative remain unknown.

Meanwhile, local activists organized as Bay State Repeal have come up with a very liberal initiative that would legalize possession and cultivation -- without limits -- allow for marijuana farmers' markets and social clubs. This initiative would also create a system of licensed, regulated, and taxed marijuana commerce.

Neither Massachusetts initiative has been approved for signature-gathering yet. The state has a two-phase signature-gathering process, with a first phase for nine weeks between September and December. Then, if sufficient signatures are gathered, the legislature must act on the measure before next May. If it fails to approve the measure, a second, eight-week signature-gathering process commences. Initiatives will need 64,750 valid voter signatures for the first phase, and an additional 10,000 signatures for the second phase. 


A Moore Information poll from 2013 had support for legalization at 54%, and legalization supporters will most definitely have a chance to put those numbers to the test next year because the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative has already qualified for the ballot. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of buds and an eighth-ounce of concentrates, and it would allow for the home growing of six pot plants per adult, with a household limit of 12. Home growers could keep the fruits of their harvest. The initiative would also create a legal marijuana commerce system with a 15% excise tax.

There's a Decent Chance:


An April Michigan Poll had support for legalization at 51%, which doesn't leave much margin for error. Nonetheless, at least two groups are embarked on legalization initiative campaigns. (A third appears to have gone dormant.)

The more grassroots Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces by adults and allow home grows of 12 mature plants and an unlimited number of immature ones. Home growers could possess the fruits of all their harvest. The non-commercial transfer of up to 2 ½ ounces would also be legal. A system of regulated marijuana commerce is included and would feature a 10% tax.

The competing Michigan Cannabis Coalition initiative appears to have no personal possession limits, but would only allow for home grows of two plants. It provides an option for localities to ban home grows, or to raise the limit to four plants. It envisions a system of regulated marijuana commerce, with taxes to be set by the legislature.

Michigan only rates the "decent chance" category because of its razor-thin support for legalization and because of its history of marijuana legalization initiatives failing to qualify for the ballot. Initiatives will need more than 250,000 voter signatures to qualify, and they have until next June 1 to do so. Both campaigns have just gotten underway with signature-gathering.


A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll from February showed only 45% in favor of marijuana legalization, but Missouri activists organized as Show-Me Cannabis have been waging a serious, hard fought campaign to educate Missourians on the issue, and it could pay off next year.

Their initiative would legalize up to 12 ounces of buds, one ounce of concentrates, a pound of edibles, and 20 ounces of cannabis liquids, as well as allow for home growing of up to six plants. It would also create a medical marijuana program and a legal, regulated marijuana commerce.

Since it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative will need at least 157,788 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Organizers will have until next May to get them.


Ohio is a special case. By the time you read these words, the ResponsibleOhio initiative either will or will not have qualified for the ballot. [Editor's Note: As of August 3, we're still waiting to see.] If it qualifies, the state could well be the next one to legalize marijuana, since it would go to a vote this November. An April Quinnipiac University poll had support for legalization at 52%.

If it doesn't qualify, others are lined up to take another shot. Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis have a constitutional amendment initiative with no specified possession limits for people 18 and over. It also allows home grows of 24 plants per person, with a limit of 96 plants per household.

Another effort, Legalize Marijuana and Hemp in Ohio, is mainly a medical marijuana initiative, but does allow for the possession of up to an ounce by adults.

Constitutional amendments need 385,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot; initiated statutes only need 115,000. Like Michigan, however, Ohio is a state with a history of initiatives failing to make the ballot.

Not Likely Next Year:

In the states below, activists are undertaking efforts to get on the ballot next year, but the odds are against them, either because of poor (or no) polling, or lack of funds and organization, or both.


The Mississippi Alliance for Cannabis is sponsoring Proposition 48, a constitutional amendment initiative which "would legalize the use, cultivation and sale of cannabis and industrial hemp. Cannabis related crimes would be punished in a manner similar to, or to a lesser degree, than alcohol related crimes. Cannabis sales would be taxed 7%. Cannabis sold for medical purposes and industrial hemp would be exempt from taxation. The Governor would be required to pardon persons convicted of nonviolent cannabis crimes against the State of Mississippi."

There is no recent polling on attitudes toward legalization in the state, but it is one of the most conservative in the country. To get on the ballot, supporters need to gather 107,216 valid voter signatures by December 17, one year after they started seeking them.


Ballot Issue 7, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults, but not create legal marijuana commerce, is the brainchild of a Glendive man who says he plans to bicycle across the state to gather support and signatures.

Prospects for 2016:

Five states are well-positioned to legalize marijuana via initiatives next year, another three could possibly do it, and that would be further evidence that the apparent ongoing sea change in marijuana policy is no aberration. Five, six, or seven would be a good year for marijuana, eight or more would be evidence of a seismic shift. It's going to be interesting.

Marijuana Market Data Report from ArcView

Our August sponsor, The ArcView Group, has released its 3rd edition of the State of Legal Marijuana Markets. The first 100 people to use the discount code SDW100 will get a $100 discount, and StoptheDrugWar.org will receive a $75 donation too.

In the report, ArcView found that the legal marijuana market grew 74% from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014. That's incredible growth driven almost entirely by the passing of new state-level marijuana laws.

This is the definitive market report covering the economic side of this remarkable moment in history.


So much happened in 2014 that the report is has over 340 pages of beautiful charts, graphs and other insightful information that The ArcView Group made very easy and fun to read and digest.

Some things you'll find in this report:

  • The inside scoop on the unique market dynamics playing out in each of the state markets (plus Washington, DC).
  • Predictions on the next states to pass new cannabis laws.
  • Review of the top 13 trends driving the cannabis industry today and in the near future.
  • Retail and wholesale sales estimates nationally and in each state for 2014, projections for 2015 and 2016, and a 5-year forecast.
  • Ranking of each state in terms of consumer access, opportunities for new entrants, market growth, sales, and other key market statistics.
  • Market trend information on ancillary products and services categories, such as insurance, product testing, software development, information data services, tourism, and more.
  • Profiles of 22 leading companies in the cannabis industry, featuring company overview, industry sector SWOT analysis, industry advice, and "The ArcView Bottom Line."
  • A detailed timeline of important industry moments, from the founding of NORML in the 70's to the Founder's Fund investing in the industry in 2015.
  • Access to an easy to reference matrix of the key regulatory elements that drive business decisions in each state, such as whether licenses are given out by a lottery or merit system, whether there is broad consumer access or limited consumer access, whether out-of-state investment is allowed or not, and many more key elements crucial to the decision to enter any given state market.

This report digs deep below the surface to give you insider analysis on each of the key trends along with high-level analysis of each state's economic and regulatory microclimate and interviews with the top players.

If you plan to make any expensive decisions regarding the legal cannabis industry this year, you deserve to have access to the most actionable and detailed data and analysis by the top insiders in the industry.

For the cost of one or two hours of a top experts time, you get the benefit of hundreds of their hours and original data all distilled down into a primer for making economic history.

Order your copy today to get digital access now and the full 340 page full-color hardcover collector's edition in a few weeks. Remember, if you use the discount code "SDW100" you will receive $100 off and StoptheDrugWar.org will receive a $75 donation.


David Borden, Executive Director
Washington, DC

P.S. ArcView's other division, The ArcView Investor Network, hosts members-only "Arc Tank" events in cities around the country. To get more info and to see if you qualify to join the ArcView Investor Network, please inquire here.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's a CDC warning on "potential danger" from edibles, a Northern California US attorney who went after dispensaries steps down, Washington state medical marijuana enters a new, uncomfortable era, and more.


Last Friday, the CDC warned of "potential danger" from edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.


On Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors delayed discussions on repealing the county's ban on new dispensaries. No dispensaries have been allowed to open in the county since December 2011, when supervisors enacted a moratorium on them. Prospective dispensary operators who have been waiting for more than four years will have to wait a little longer. Supervisors said they would discuss the issue at their August 18 meeting.

On Wednesday, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag said she is stepping down. Haag earned the antipathy of medical marijuana advocates for her crackdown on Northern California dispensaries, which she accused of being fronts for illegal dealers. Advocates harshly criticized her for attempting to shut down the Harborside dispensary in Oakland, the nation's largest. It's still open for business as the legal wrangle continues.


Last Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled that a medical marijuana card doesn't grant sweeping immunity, but... In a pair of cases regarding medical marijuana caregivers, the state's high court has ruled that the medical marijuana law does not grant sweeping immunity to cardholders, but sent the cases back to lower courts to determine whether the defendants are entitled to immunity. The court seems to be getting tired of medical marijuana. It has addressed the issue nine times in the past seven years. "The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it," wrote Justice Bryan Zahra.


Last Thursday, the second dispensary in the state opened for business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester opened its doors. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.


On Wednesday, the attorney general rejected the wording of a medical marijuana petition. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that he had rejected a petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, saying he had found several defects in the language. Now, the group will have to address those defects, gather another 1,000 initial signatures, and try again.


Last Friday, changes to the state's medical marijuana program went into effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system are now active. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.

Also last Friday, a member of the Kettle Falls Five got 16 months in federal prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

On Tuesday, King County said it will force unlicensed dispensaries to close. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that dispensaries operating illegally in unincorporated areas of the county will have to shut down soon. He said that he would be serving up lawsuits against 15 collectives in coming days. "Their days as marijuana sellers where they never had a license, and they never paid taxes, those days are over," he said. He added that the businesses had a couple of months to shut down before he goes after them in court.


Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Probation officers on drugs, perjuring narcs, and cops helping out drug dealers. Just another week of drug war-related police corruption. Let's get to it:

In Waynesville, North Carolina, a Buncombe County probation officer was arrested last Thursday on multiple charges for allegedly trying to buy 60 oxycodone tablets from an undercover officer posing as a drug seller. Jill Suddreth allegedly tried to flush the pills down the toilet when taken to the detention center. She is charged with solicitation to commit a felony, conspiracy, possession and more. She out on bond right now.

In San Luis Obispo, California, a former San Luis Obispo County DA's investigator was arrested Monday on charges he lied in a search warrant affidavit to a judge while a member of the Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force. AJ Santana filed an affidavit for a search warrant in August 2014 and successfully had it sealed "to protect an ongoing investigation," but officials discovered he had lied. Then they dropped the charges against the man Santana targeted. He's looking at up to 18 months in state prison.

In Houston, Texas, a former Houston Police officer was convicted Tuesday of helping her drug-dealing boyfriend transport cocaine between Huntsville and Houston. Jasmine Bonner, 27, went down after a confidential informant set up a sting in which Bonner and her boyfriend took possession of a kilo of cocaine. They were arrested as they drove away with the dope. She copped to one count of aiding and abetting possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, and is looking at up to 40 years in federal prison, with a mandatory minimum of five years.

In Miami, a Miami-Dade County police detective was sentenced last Wednesday to three years in prison for giving information and tips to a marijuana trafficking organization. Roderick Silva admitted tipping off the Santisteban family pot crew to a police list of suspected grow houses and accepted $1500 for his trouble. He copped to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

Chronicle AM: Chris Christie Picks Fight With Weed, New DEA Head Concedes Pot Might Not Be as Bad as Heroin, More (7/29/15)

Chris Christie is beating up on marijuana again, Ohio officials continue to play hardball with ResponsibleOhio, DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg takes a tiny step forward, Colombian peasants are grumbling at a rumored renewal of aerial crop eradication, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands firm against marijuana legalization. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Vows to Roll Back Legalization in the States if Elected. New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender Chris Christie said Tuesday marijuana users in legal states should enjoy their highs while they have the chance because if he's elected, he will enforce federal prohibition. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," said Christie at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws. If you want to change the marijuana laws, go ahead and change the national marijuana laws," he added. Christie is currently struggling to break out of the bottom of a crowded field of GOP contenders.

Ohio Secretary of State to Investigate Legalization Petitions for Possible Fraud. Secretary of State Jon Husted said today he had named a special investigator to look into "discrepancies" in petitions from the controversial legalization group ResponsibleOhio. He said the review would look into "significant disparities" between the number of petitions the group claimed to have gathered and the number actually turned in. If the discrepancies constitute fraud, they could lead to criminal charges, he said. ResponsibleOhio, on the other hand, has accused state election officials of losing some 40,000 signatures and wrongfully invalidating others and is threatening to go to the state Supreme Court over the issue. The group had handed in nearly 700,000 signatures and needed only 305,000 valid ones to qualify for the 2015 ballot, but state officials last week said they were about 30,000 short. ResponsibleOhio has until midnight tomorrow to try to make up for the signature shortfall.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Petition Wording. Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that he had rejected a petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, saying he had found several defects in the language. Now, the group will have to address those defects, gather another 1,000 initial signatures, and try again.

Washington's King County Will Force Unlicensed Dispensaries to Close. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Tuesday that dispensaries operating illegally in unincorporated areas of the county will have to shut down soon. He said that he would be serving up lawsuits against 15 collectives in coming days. "Their days as marijuana sellers where they never had a license, and they never paid taxes, those days are over," he said. He added that the businesses had a couple of months to shut down before he goes after them in court.

Drug Policy

New DEA Head Concedes Marijuana Might Not Be As Dangerous as Heroin. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Tuesday conceded during a conference call that heroin is probably more dangerous than marijuana, but that he was no expert. "If you want me to say that marijuana's not dangerous, I'm not going to say that because I think it is," Rosenberg said. "Do I think it's as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I'm not an expert." Coming from anyone other than a DEA head, the statement would be considered mealy-mouthed, but it actually marks a break with Rosenberg's hardline predecessor, Michele Leonhart, whose refusal to make the distinction helped contribute to her being forced from the position.


Irish Officials Say They Have a "Wide Consensus" for Drug Decriminalization. After a "think tank" on drug problems in Dublin today, Minister of State of the National Drugs Strategy Aodhan O'Riordain said there was a "wide consensus within the room for decriminalization," but there were also "some question marks and some discussion points as to how to get wider society on board with the idea. People in the sector may be convinced, but the terminology and the language is going to be important."

Colombia Coca Farmers Threaten Protests Over Reports Government Might Resume Aerial Spraying. Amid rumors that authorities plan to restart efforts to eradicate coca crops by spraying them with glyphosate, farmers in the north are vowing to fight such plans. "The moment they begin the fumigation, the peasant strike will begin," said a spokesman for the Campesino Association of Catatumbo. With US backing and encouragement, the Colombian government sprayed the herbicide on coca crops for years despite peasant protests that it was causing illness and damaging other crops and livestock. Earlier this year, the government halted the practice after the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a carcinogen. Nearly 2,500 police are being sent to the region in anticipation of protests, even though the interior minister denied any plans to begin spraying anew, saying it was only under discussion.

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

Chronicle AM: OR Gov Signs Marijuana Sales Bill, More British Cops Turning Blind Eye to Marijuana, More (7/28/15)

Any adult will be able to buy marijuana at Oregon dispensaries beginning October 1, some British police are moving toward de facto decriminalization, dirty Philly cops beat a corruption rap and are now suing city officials, and more.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed a bill allowing recreational marijuana sales at dispensaries beginning October 1. (or.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Governor Signs Bill Allowing Recreational Marijuana Sales to Begin October 1. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 460, which will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to all adults on October 1. Pot shops other than existing dispensaries won't come on line until next year.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Supreme Court Says Medical Marijuana Card Doesn't Grant Sweeping Immunity, But… In a pair of cases regarding medical marijuana caregivers, the state's high court has ruled that the medical marijuana law does not grant sweeping immunity to cardholders, but sent the cases back to lower courts to determine whether the defendants are entitled to immunity. The court seems to be getting tired of medical marijuana. It has addressed the issue nine times in the past seven years. "The many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion for medical marijuana caregivers and patients, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, and have consumed valuable public and private resources to interpret and apply it," wrote Justice Bryan Zahra.

Law Enforcement

Acquitted Philly Cops Sue City Officials for Defamation. Five members of a notorious Philadelphia Police dope squad who managed to avoid federal corruption convictions and who have won the right to return to work are now suing the district attorney, the mayor, and the police commissioner. They say they were unfairly maligned and fired. After numerous reports of corrupt activities, DA Seth Williams began refusing their cases in 2012 and that "started a gigantic, destructive avalanche of severe and permanent wrongs, damages and injustices" that continues to affect the officers today," their attorney wrote. They had been accused of routinely beating drug suspects, stealing money, and lying on police reports. One member of the squad pleaded guilty and testified against the others, but the jury did not convict.


Three More British Police Forces Will Basically Ignore Small Pot Grows. Police in Derbyshire, Dorset, and Surrey are joining police in Durham in quietly turning a blind eye to small-scale marijuana cultivation and use. While the Conservative government continues to have a hard-line stance on marijuana, the cops say they have better things to do. "On the list of priorities cannabis moves a long way down the chain," one police official explained.

Chronicle AM: Reuters on West African Meth, Brit Pot Petition Goes Viral, Mexico Ibogaine Conference, More (7/27/15)

Lot's of international news today, plus Minnesota gets a second dispensary, Vermont seeks to prohibit more new synthetics, New Hampshire is worried about heroin, and more.

Iboga, the African herb from which ibogaine is derived (ibogaineconference.org)
Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Member Gets 16 Months in Federal Prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Second Minnesota Dispensary Opens for Business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester, opened last Thursday. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.


Global Ibogaine Conference to Be Held in Mexico in March 2016. The conference will take place in the charming hipster town of Tepoztlan, about an hour south of Mexico City, and will feature speakers including Claudio Naranjo, Stanton Peele, and Andrew Tatarsky. Click on the link for all the conference and registration information.

New Synthetic Drugs

Vermont to Add 75 New Synthetic Drugs to Controlled Substances List. State officials are set to outlaw 75 new synthetic drugs after earlier moves against synthetics resulted in new ones being produced. "The people who design and create what people think of designer drugs are very creative chemists," said State Toxicologist Sarah Vose. "And they can change molecules very easily to avoid being regulated," Vose said. "So the updates to this list are an attempt to keep ahead of that trend in designer-drug creation." The new list of regulated compounds includes stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens. Among the soon-to-be-illegal compounds is acetyl-fentanyl, a derivative of a powerful opiate. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will convene a hearing on the regulated drug rule proposal next week.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Drug Abuse Second Most Pressing Problem in New Hampshire. Concerns about drug abuse were second only to concerns about the economy for New Hampshire residents surveyed in a WMUR Granite State Poll released last Thursday. Some 25% of respondents said the economy was the main concern, while 14% said drug abuse. Pollster Andy Smith said it was the most concern he's heard about drugs in the 15 years he's conducted the survey. But respondents were divided on what to do about it, with 42% saying the government should spend more to address heroin use, 20% saying the government is spending enough, and 38% saying they didn't know enough to respond.


Reuters Does In-Depth Report on Meth in West Africa. The press agency has produced a fairly comprehensive look at the rise of meth, meth trafficking, and meth production in the region. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

More Than One Quarter of Italian Parliamentarians Support Marijuana Legalization Proposal. Some 250 of Italy's 945 members of parliament have endorsed a bill that would legalize marijuana. The proposal would allow anyone 18 or older to grow up to five plants at home or to join a "cannabis social club" with a joint garden of up to 50 people and 250 plants. Marijuana produced by home gardeners or social clubs could not be sold, but marijuana stores would make pot available at retail, with people allowed to possess up to 15 grams at home and to carry up to five grams with them. The proposal has support across Italy's political spectrum, but it remains to be seen if it can pass.

Online Petition Calling for Marijuana Legalization Will Force UK Parliament to Respond. More than 150,000 Britons have signed a government-authorized online petition calling for the total legalization of marijuana. Like the change.gov petition process in the US, policymakers must respond if a certain signature level -- in this case, 100,000 -- is reached. The signatures have come in just five days. The petition now goes to the House of Commons petition committee, which has the power to press for action from the government or the parliament -- or not. But at least the petition committee will have to formally address it.

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Probable Cause Conundrum, CDC Warns on MedMJ Edibles, Peyote Protest, More (7/24/15)

Two Arizona appeals court panels have offered up clashing rulings this week on whether the smell of pot is still probable cause for a search, Michigan initiative fundraising reports tell an interesting story, changes in Washington state's medical marijuana program go into effect today, and more.

Peyote buttons, sacrament of the Native American Church. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Marijuana Odor. Whether the odor of marijuana is probable cause for a search or a search warrant now looks like an issue heading to the state Supreme Court. Just days after one appeals court panel ruled that the state's medical marijuana law means it is not grounds for a search warrant, a second panel has ruled that it is. In Thursday's case, the appeals court upheld the actions of police officers who searched a vehicle after they smelled burnt marijuana. The panel held that the medical marijuana law didn't make marijuana legal, but only provided immunity from prosecution to those who had medical marijuana ID cards. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity from arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession of use of marijuana .... does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case," Judge Samuel Thumma wrote.

Grassroots Effort Leads in Fundraising Among Michigan Legalization Initiatives. Campaign finance reports reveal that the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), backed by wealthy Oakland County interests, has only $1,000 in the bank, while the grassroots MILegalize has raised $60,000, with more than $100,000 in matching funds pledged. MCC got a $21,000 donation from an Oakland county Republican political operative, but the same day, it sent a $20,000 check to signature-gathering firm. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, which wants to create a cultivation monopoly like the one championed by ResponsibleOhio, appears to have gone quiet. Its website is defunct, it hasn't displayed any initiative language, and it will not reveal the identities of its leaders.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has support for legalization at 60% and support for decriminalization even higher at 72%. Support has climbed six points for legalization and nine points for decriminalization since the last WMUR Granite State poll in May. The state legislature has considered legalization, but has so far refused to pass it. Click on the link for more poll results and methodology.

Medical Marijuana

CDC Warns of "Potential Danger" From Edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

Washington State Medical Marijuana Program Changes Now In Effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system went into effect today. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.


Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Rally Calls for End to Utah Ban on Sacramental Use. Protesters gathered at the state capital in Salt Lake City Thursday to advocate for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances. The demonstration was organized by the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, which is allowed under federal law to use the cactus for religious purposes. The Utah law bans anyone who is not at least one-quarter Indian from using it for religious purposes. "It's supposed to be 25% [Native American heritage], but what they're really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race," said the church's David Hamblin.

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Fights On, GA Cop Indicted in Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid, More (7/23/15)

ResponsibleOhio has about a week to come up with 40,000 more signatures, more Americans than ever admit smoking pot, e-sports is about to begin drug testing, a Georgia cop gets indicted for lying about probable cause in the Baby Boo Boo SWAT raid case, and more.

The question right now isn't should it or shouldn't it make the ballot, but will it or won't it?
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Still Fighting to Get on Ballot. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative campaign, which state officials say came up 35,000 signatures short in its effort to get its measure on the November ballot, says it is sure it had enough valid signatures and will go to the state Supreme Court to contest the results. "There are over 21,000 voters who were incorrectly identified as invalid. We want to make sure they have their signatures count. We also see that there are 40,000 signatures that weren't reviewed," spokesman Ian James said. The group is also gathering more signatures -- it has a 10-day window to try to make up any shortfall.

Gallup Poll Finds Largest Number Yet of Americans Admitting to Having Smoked Weed. Some 44% of Americans admit to having smoked marijuana, the largest number ever record by the pollsters. When Gallup first asked the question back in 1969, only 4% admitted to having tried it. By 1985, the figure was at 33%. Gallup wasn't sure if the rising numbers reflected more people actually using marijuana or more people being comfortable admitting to it. "The changes over time may reflect either an increase in the percentage who have tried the drug, or an increased willingness to admit to having done so in the past," Gallup explained.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves DC Pot Shops, Marijuana Banking Bill. The committee today approved a bill today allowing the nation's capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. The votes came on the financial services spending bill, which includes language removing a federal ban on regulated marijuana commerce in the District, which legalized possession and cultivation last year. The committee also approved an amendment allowing banks to provide services to marijuana businesses where they are legal.

Marijuana Policy Project Report Criticizes New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Program. In a report marking the two year anniversary of the signing into law of the state's medical marijuana program, the activist group is harshly critical of the state's failures in implementing the law. The report title pretty much says it all: Confusion, Delays, and Continued Arrests: A Two-Year Retrospective on New Hampshire's "Therapeutic Use of Cannabis" Law. Click either link to read the report.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona ACLU Files Lawsuit Claiming State's Asset Forfeiture Laws Are Unconstitutional. The ACLU of Arizona today filed a federal lawsuit in Phoenix arguing that the laws "have created a lucrative system in which police and prosecutors are heavily incentivized to seize and forfeit property." The group says the law allows "law enforcement [agencies to] supplement their budgets without any legislative oversight." The ACLU is representing a Sun Tan Valley woman whose pick-up truck was seized after her son borrowed it and was arrested for allegedly stealing a hood ornament and putting it on the truck.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Comes to E-Sports. The Electronic Sports League, the largest online gaming organization, has announced that it will adopt policies to keep drugs out of virtual sports. The move comes in the wake of ongoing controversy about the use of Adderall by e-sports players. A high-ranked e-sports player, Kory Friesen, ignited the commotion by not only admitting to use of the drug, but claiming it was prevalent. "We were all on Adderall," he said in a widely-copied interview.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Cop Indicted Over Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid. A Habersham County sheriff's deputy has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the May 2014 raid that left a toddler severely injured by a flash-bang grenade. Nikki Autry, a special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team (NCIS), has been indicted for lying in a search warrant affidavit and providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant in the case. Autry is accused of claiming that one of his informants made a meth buy at the address when the alleged meth purchase was made by someone else and lying about whether it was a "true and honorable informant." Nor had Autry confirmed there was heavy traffic in and out of the house, as he claimed. His alleged lies were the basis for a judge signing off on the "no knock" warrant that resulted in the bad raid.


Marijuana Cultivation on the Upsurge in Sweden. Swedish media are reporting an increasing number of marijuana cultivation busts. There were 904 pot farms reported to police last year, up fourfold from 2011, and police said they were on track for similar numbers this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's medical marijuana news from the far Pacific, with Hawaii okaying dispensaries and Guam releasing draft medical marijuana regulations, plus more.


Last Wednesday, state officials rejected medical marijuana for PTSD. Health officials voted against adding PTSD to the list of qualifying ailments for medical marijuana. They cited scant research on the issue. "We can't have physicians counseling people in favor of it because we don't have data to show it's correct," said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, one of the board members who voted no.


Last Tuesday, Hawaii began moving toward licensing dispensaries. After Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill allowing for eight dispensaries to operate in the state, state officials are moving forward with developing rules and regulations for the program. They say to they will begin accepting license applications early next year. The move comes 15 years after Hawaii became the first state to okay medical marijuana through the legislative process.


Last Thursday, the US protectorate released medical marijuana draft regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.


Last week, Michigan cops raided medical marijuana dispensaries. Police departments in the greater Detroit area have shut down several dispensaries in the past week, in some cases bringing felony charges against the operators. Raids, arrests, and seizures took place in Shelby Township and Detroit last week. While the city has an estimated 180 dispensaries, they are illegal under the state's medical marijuana law.

On Tuesday, a state panel deferred a decision on medical marijuana for autism. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel postponed action on recommending whether or not autism should be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The panel said it wanted more time to review the evidence.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Jail guards smuggling dope, cops helping drug dealers, cops ripping off drug dealers. Familiar stories, repeated over and over. Here's this week's bunch. Let's get to it:

In Hagerstown, Maryland, a Maryland state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was smuggling drugs into the prison. Matthew Charles Scott, 28, went down after he obtained drugs and cash from a snitch working for a county drug task force. He is charged with attempting to possess controlled dangerous substances with the intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

In Lafayette, Louisiana, a Lafayette Parish jail guard was arrested last Wednesday for bringing contraband, including unspecified "illegal substances," into the jail. Jayron Lenoir, 27, went down after authorities received a tip that he was smuggling in goodies. He is charged with introduction of contraband into a penal facility and malfeasance in office.

In Newark, New Jersey, an Essex County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday in connection with a sprawling heroin distribution conspiracy. Officer Robert Andrews, 28, is charged with hindering the investigation into the drug ring and fourth degree obstructing administration of law. He allegedly provided information to one of the subjects of the investigation and assisted in identifying law enforcement officers. More than four dozen people have been arrested in the crackdown on the ring, dubbed Operation TIDE.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Mission police officer was arrested Monday for allegedly stealing several bundles of cocaine from a home and staging a fake drug seizure a few days later to try to conceal the theft. Hector "Jo Jo" Mendez, 45, is charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. The charge carries a maximum life prison sentence and $10 million fine. The 17-year veteran had been assigned to a DEA drug task force.

In Houston, Texas, a former Houston police officer was convicted Monday for her role in a cocaine trafficking operation. Jasmine Bonner, 27, had admitted aiding a major cocaine supplier after he had already been identified as a target of a federal drug investigation. He was her boyfriend. She had been arrested in possession of a pound of cocaine she had agreed to transport. She was convicted of aiding and abetting possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. She's looking at a mandatory minimum five years in federal prison, and up to 40 years.

Chronicle AM: CA Blue Ribbon Marijuana Report is Out, DEA Criticized for Blocking Snitch Probe, More (7/22/15)

A long-awaited (and overdue) report on California marijuana policy reforms is out, an Arizona appeals court rules that the odor of marijuana in a medical marijuana state is not sufficient grounds for a search warrant, the DEA gets criticized over its snitch program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Blue Ribbon Panel on Marijuana Releases Report, Calls for Strict Controls. The panel, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), issued its Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California today, and called for a regulatory system that prevents childhood use and warns that "this industry should not be the next California Gold Rush." The 93-report is a comprehensive look at the range of policy options facing the state. Read it.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

New Hampshire "Drug Czar" Releases Recommendations for Fighting Opiate Abuse. John Wozmak, senior director for Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health, Tuesday released a list of 22 recommendations for fighting opiate abuse, including making naloxone more widely available and strengthening the state's prescription drug monitoring program. Click on the link to see the full list.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Smell of Weed Alone is Not Grounds for Search Warrant. The legalization of medical marijuana in the state means that the odor of weed by itself is not probable cause for obtaining a search warrant. "Medical marijuana use pursuant to AMMA is lawful under Arizona law," he wrote. "Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred." Instead, police must now rely on an "odor-plus" standard where additional evidence is needed to justify a warrant.

Justice Department Inspector Report Criticizes DEA on Informants. DEA agents wrote their own rules for a secret snitch program and then tried to block the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from conducting its probe into the program, the just released OIG report says. "Our audit work thus far has been seriously delayed by numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA," the inspector general wrote. Although the OIG set out to review the confidential informant program in February 2014, the OIG has had only "limited" success, it said. But the OIG's audit isn't yet completed. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: The Case of the Dead ND Student Snitch, Brit Police Force De Facto Decriminalizes, More (7/21/15)

There will be an open container law for weed in Washington state, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) files a bill to expunge some federal marijuana offense records, cops in one British county effectively decriminalize small-time marijuana offenses, there's a mystery surrounding a dead North Dakota student informant, and more.

British police in Durham have decided they have better things to do than go after small-time pot offenders. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Congressman Introduces Federal Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today introduced a bill designed to expunge federal marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal in a number of states. The Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act of 2015 would clear the records of those federally charged with state-legal marijuana activity and those federally charged with possession of less than an ounce. It's not yet up on the congressional web site. Activists said its effects would be mainly symbolic.

Marijuana Legalization Money Being Raised in Maine. There are two competing legalization campaigns in the state, and both are fundraising. The Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $104,166 so far this year, with $50,000 coming from MPP in June, while Legalize Maine has raised $55,575.

Washington State Has Open Container Law for Marijuana. Effective September 26, drivers will be required to store their weed in the trunks of their vehicles in an unopened container, or in a part of the passenger compartment "not normally occupied or directly accessible by" the driver or passengers. That's a provision of House Bill 1276, which Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law on June 30. Medical Marijuana 

Michigan Panel Defers Decision on Medical Marijuana for Autism. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel postponed action on recommending whether or not autism should be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The panel said it wanted more time to review the evidence.


Federal Prosecutors Really Want Their Mandatory Minimums. Although only a tiny fraction of federal drug crimes involve violence, federal prosecutors are demanding that their mandatory minimum sentences be left unchanged. National Association of Assistant US Attorneys head Steve Cook warns that it would be "a huge mistake" to change federal sentencing laws. "The federal criminal justice system is not broken," he added, claiming that "drug trafficking is inherently violent." Oddly enough, only 142 of more than 20,000 federal drug offenses prosecuted last year involved violence or threats of violence. Cook also wants more prisons, calling them "a good investment."

Law Enforcement

Did a North Dakota Student Get Killed After Campus Cops Turned Him Into a Snitch? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a lengthy piece on the case of Andew Sadek, who went missing two weeks before graduation last year. His body was later found in the Red River with a bullet wound to the head and a backpack full of rocks. He had been busted for small-time marijuana sales on campus and agreed to become an informant for campus police. No one has been charged in his death, and police aren't even certain if it was a homicide or a suicide. Read the whole thing.


British Police Force Quits Trying to Find Small Pot Grows. The police in County Durham and Darlington are giving up on proactively tracking down small marijuana grows in a de facto move toward decriminalization. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said police there will also offer people caught with small amounts of weed to avoid criminal prosecution by entering a program aimed at ending low-level offending. "By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it's blatant or we get complaints, officers will act," Hogg said. "It's about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it's about being more productive with the way we approach things. It's also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison."

Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (law.pace.edu)
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Comes Up Short -- Maybe, MI Dispensary Busts, OK Forfeiture Abuses, More (7/20/15)

Ohio election officials have disqualified more than half the signatures gathered for the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but the battle isn't over; a Michigan legalization initiative gets rolling, an Oklahoma report raises the curtain on asset forfeiture abuses, and more.

Will they make the ballot or not? Check back in 10 days.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Officials Say ResponsibleOhio Initiative Short on Signatures, But… The office of Secretary of State Jon Husted said today that the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative had come up 29,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. The campaign had gathered nearly 700,000 and needed only 305,000 to qualify, which would suggest a bad signature rate far, far above what the conventional wisdom suggests, maybe 25% or 30%. But it ain't over yet. ResponsibleOhio now has 10 days to try to make up the shortfall, and it says it will go to the state Supreme Court to fight over some 40,000 signatures that "remain unaccounted for" in the secretary of state's tally.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Kicks Off Signature Gathering Drive. Supporters of the Michigan Legalize initiative held a volunteer kickoff meeting in Marquette last Saturday. They will need to gather some 315,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. There is at least one competing initiative in the state, too.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Cops Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Police departments in the greater Detroit area have shut down several dispensaries in the past week, in some cases bringing felony charges against the operators. Raids, arrests, and seizures took place in Shelby Township and Detroit last week. While the city has an estimated 180 dispensaries, they are illegal under the state's medical marijuana law.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Reports Show Asset Forfeiture Abuses. Audits by the State Auditor and Inspector's Office for the past five years show many district attorneys didn't have formal policies for dealing with seized property and that, in many cases, police didn't keep inventories of seized items. In some cases, seized money was spent before in was legally forfeited; in others, forfeiture cases were never filed for seized money. The report also found that seized money was used to pay for retirement plaques, a retirement party, doughnuts for a "spring roundup," and for a prosecutor's student loans and house rental. In the latter case, the prosecutor justified the rent payments saying that he spent most of his time on drug cases. Click on the link for more.

Drug Testing

Indiana Town to Stop Drug Testing Welfare Applicants… For Now. Black Township has agreed to stop drug testing applicants to its public assistance program until a lawsuit over whether the practice is constitutional is decided. The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit in federal court in June. The judge in the case last week signed an order approving the agreement to stop drug testing until the case is settled.

Opiates and Heroin

New Jersey Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed a bill that will expand and tighten the state's prescription management program, one of a series of bills intended to combat the state's problem with heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill requires all doctors to register for the program and to check the program when patients return for a second refill on medications. The law is part of a 21-bill package targeting opioid and heroin abuse in New Jersey.


Australia Greens Call for Adoption of Portugal Drug Model. The Australian Green Party is calling for the country to follow the example of Portugal and decriminalize drug possession. It says Australia's current drug policies have failed, and the Portuguese model is the best path forward.

Interview with "The Cartel" Author Don Winslow [FEATURE]

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

Internationally acclaimed novelist Don Winslow's The Cartel, a hard-hitting and gut-wrenching tale of the Mexican drug wars, hit the stands late last month and is currently #17 on the New York Times best seller list. A sequel to his best-selling novel of the cartels, The Power of the Dog, Winslow's latest effort is a true-to-life, ripped-from-the-headlines story of power, greed, corruption, brutality, revenge, and justice set in the past decade of spiraling prohibition-related violence in Mexico.

Roughly 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since 2006, and another 20,000 or so have simply vanished. That blood-drenched history is the spindle from which Winslow unspools his story, featuring a veteran DEA agent locked in a decades-long feud with the head of the world's most powerful cartel. It's a grim, nail-biting crime thriller.

But Winslow, who also authored 2012's Savages, another fictional treatment of the cartels turned into an Oliver Stone movie, isn't just writing for the sake of selling books. He has used the publication of The Cartel to pen op-eds calling the war on drugs a counterproductive failure and publish a full-page ad in the Washington Post telling Congress and the president "It's Time to Legalize Drugs."

On Friday, Winslow traveled to Houston to sit down for an interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network for the network's Cultural Baggage radio program. Here's the interview:

DEAN BECKER: Hello, dear listeners, this is Dean Becker and I want to thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Well folks, I've been enjoying this new book, it's a powerful indictment of this war on drugs, it's written by the author Don Winslow, the name of the book is The Cartel, and we have him with us today. Mr. Winslow, your book is a powerful indictment of the futility of this drug war, and first off, I just want to thank you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, sir, for that kind comment, and I appreciate it.

DEAN BECKER: Now, with the release of this book you also took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post decrying that futility and calling for the powers that be to take another look at the results of this drug war, and once again, I commend you, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you. You know, I felt it was important to do something like that. At the end of the day, I'm a novelist and I write fiction, and I'm an entertainer, at the same time we're dealing with obviously serious issues that have had serious consequences on so many people in the United States, but of course particularly in Mexico. And so I just thought that I should try to do something.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, The Cartel, this new book, it's a follow-up to The Power of the Dog, and I think much of your similar or previous writings, and it continues the story of Agent Keller and a couple of others from that first book, but it's more, it's much more, and would you please just kind of give us a summary of your new book, The Cartel.

DON WINSLOW: Well, yes, thank you. The Cartel as you said is a follow-up to a book I did ten years ago called The Power of the Dog, which follows a DEA agent named Art Keller, who arrives in Mexico in the 70s full of idealism, and is over the years sort of schooled out of that by reality. But, he ends up in a vendetta with a drug lord, if you will, named Adan Barrera. And, so The Cartel continues that story. But, you know, it's not a book I really wanted to write, Dean. I really fought against writing it for a long time, but as things spiraled out of control in Mexico, you know, far beyond our worst nightmares, really, and I thought, well, I'll try a in fictional sense, you know, to crime readers, to try to explain what was going on down there.

DEAN BECKER: Well, a few years back I took a one-day junket into Ciudad Juarez, and the machine gun nests in the city park, cops on every street corner -- I didn't see the violence myself, but it was palpable, it was, it was, just -- scary, for lack of a better word. Your thoughts, sir.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, the estimates vary of course, but during this era something like 100,000 Mexican people were killed, 22,000 missing. Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, and Tijuana, and the Frontera Chica, and the Texas border -- you know, all became battlegrounds in a multi-fronted war, cartel versus cartel. The military versus the cartels, the military versus the police, certain police forces versus other forces, and of course, you know, many, too many, innocent civilians got caught in the crossfire.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, you state in your acknowledgements that The Cartel draws deeply on real events, and I see many of them, I've been following the war in Mexico for several years, and it just seems that, you know, it made it more compelling to be based on a true story, so to speak.

DON WINSLOW:I'm an historian by training and inclination, and so I usually like to keep my stories pretty, pretty close to the bone. But I think that in a way, novelists can do things that journalists aren't allowed to. You know, we're allowed to imagine the inner life of characters, we're allowed to make up dialogue that perhaps brings out some of these events in a maybe more visceral way to readers who might not, you know, pick up a piece of journalism on this subject. And so, I like that combination between fiction and reality, and as long as I sort of keep their thoughts and their emotions fairly realistic, I think the novel can work well for that.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Don, back in 2012, with my group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I rode across the country with Javier Sicilia and about a hundred family members of those butchered in Mexico on the Caravan for Peace, and most of them were women who had these horrible stories that made me cry every night, I'll be honest with you. And your book includes the stories of some of these women, and the pain and misery they endure as well.

DON WINSLOW: As you know when you deal with this topic, it's all too easy to lose your faith in humanity. But, in researching the stories and writing the stories about some of these women, it's awe-inspiring. You know? There's no other word for it. The courage and the moral fortitude, and I think in the video I saw of the Caravan, the word grace is used, and I think that that might be absolutely the perfect word to describe these women, who have lost so much and have moved ahead and have moved on and tragically, you know, too often at the cost of their own lives.

DEAN BECKER: It seems that media everywhere is starting to recognize this futility of the drug war, and is starting to expose it for what it is, and that is hopeless.

DON WINSLOW: We've been doing the same thing for coming on now 45 years, and not only is it not working, it's made things worse. Drugs are more plentiful, more potent, cheaper than ever, and again, it's had a hideous effect on American society in terms of the number of people we imprison, in terms of the alienation of our police forces with our inner city communities. I think the militarization of police really began with the war on drugs, and of course, it's had the worst effect on the people of Central America, particularly Mexico. So, if something after 45 years has not improved a situation, but made things worse, then I think it's time that we looked at different solutions.


DON WINSLOW: And I think that that's pretty obvious, really.

The face of the cartels. Has anyone seen El Chapo?
DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. If you will allow me, I want to read just a paragraph here from your book, this is from Alvarado. He states: "You North Americans are clean because you can be. That has never been a choice for us, either as individuals or a nation. You're experienced enough to know that we're not offered a choice of taking the money or not, we're given the choice of taking the money or dying. We've been forced to choose sides, so we choose the best side we can and get on with it. What would you have us do? The country was falling apart, violence getting worse every day. The only way to end the chaos was to pick the most likely winner and help him win, and you North Americans despise us for it. At the same time you send the billions of dollars and the weapons that fuel the violence. You blame us for selling the product that you buy. It's absurd, John."

DON WINSLOW: I don't know how to respond to my own writing. I think it's the truth. Couple of thoughts: You know, we're very good up here at wagging the finger of corruption at Mexico. Is there corruption in Mexico? Of course, and I write a lot about it. I'm not alone in that. But as that passage indicated, what we don't understand is that police and journalists and average citizens are not offered the choice: take the money or leave it. They're offered the choice: take the money or we kill you. And very often, or we kill your family.And you know, the so-called Mexican drug war is one of the most tragic misnomers of the last half century. It's not the Mexican drug problem; it's the American drug problem. We're, we're the buyers, and it's the simultaneous appetite, American appetite for drugs and prohibition of them that creates the power of the cartels and that shields this violence. And, if I were on the other side of the border looking north, I'd talk about corruption, I would ask what kind of corruption exists in American society that makes you Americans the largest drug market in the world? At a rate of five times your population.

DEAN BECKER: And the world's leading jailer.

DON WINSLOW: The world's leading jailer. Not only the world's leading jailer, Dean. In the history of the world we have the largest prison population.

DEAN BECKER: Kind of tied in with your action to do that full-page ad in the Washington Post, I tried last summer to wake up our nation's leaders with release of my book. We hand-delivered a copy of my book to the president, his cabinet, every senator, representative, all nine Supreme justices, and we mailed a copy to all fifty governors, to pretty much little avail. And I'm hoping that your book lights a bigger bonfire on their conscience.

Waiting to cross from Mexico into the US (wikimedia.org)
DON WINSLOW: Well, thank you, I hope so too. You know, I deliberately put that ad in the Washington Post in order to do it in Congress's home town, hoping that that paper would arrive on their desks with their coffee. I think that ad was two weeks ago or three weeks ago, I don't remember, it's been a little bit of a blur, you know, I'm out on a book tour. But, I've not heard from a single politician. Who I have heard from? Cops.

DEAN BECKER: What was their response?

DON WINSLOW: Agreeing with it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear. I mean, it puzzles me that the evidence is so glaring, we can cut down on death, disease, crime, and addiction were to legalize and control it for adults, but no one wants to talk about that. Certainly not at the presidential level.

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, I think, Dean, for so many years it's been the fourth rail of American politics. You know, you start talking about a sane drug policy and your opponent then starts talking about you being soft on crime, and, you know, oh he wants our kids to have access to dope. Which of course they do now, because it's not working. What I would like is some politician to stand up and talk back with the facts. The numbers are there, the solid data are there. If you want to talk about being soft on crime, I would say that the fact that 60 percent of rapes and 40 percent of murders now go unsolved, because we're so focused on busting drugs. To me, that's soft on crime. And I think police want to go back to doing real police work.

DEAN BECKER: I'm with you, sir. Now, it seems like every week I see another headline about another bust of a quote top narco-trafficker, but the fact is, it's just a chance for another corn farmer to get down off the tractor and attempt to become a billionaire, isn't it?

DON WINSLOW: Listen, it's never worked. We have tried to attack the drug organization pyramid from the bottom, the street-level kids selling crack on the corner, to the middle, the traffickers coming across the border, to the top, going after these top drug lords. None of these strategies work because the amount of money they can make is so great that there is always someone willing to step into any of those roles. So, you know, there was great celebration when for instance Chapo Guzman was captured. That's fine, I have no tears for Chapo Guzman, I'm glad he's in prison, I have no tears for any of these drug lords who've been killed by the police. However, it makes no difference. Nothing was disrupted, nothing was even slowed down. The drugs just keep coming. The strategy does not work. And as long as we approach this as a law enforcement problem or god help us a military problem, we're, the same thing is going to on and on and on.

DEAN BECKER: You know, a couple of portions of the book touched me deeply. One was about the old farmer, Don Pedro, and his battle for his ranch with the Zetas. That one made me cry, I'm an old man, I'm sorry, and it just made me think of, you know, these bandits, these rapscallions, what they're up to, the Zetas. Would you talk about that situation?

DON WINSLOW: Well, you know, that is based on a real incident. It was impossible to resist writing about it, but, you know, I think there are two parts to your question, so let me take the first one first. Back in, you know, 2010, '11, and '12, various cartels were forcing people off their land because either it was strategically located along the border or just because they could. The Zetas that you mentioned were looking for land for training camps and secret bases, and they were all-powerful, or so they thought, and they could just go tell people, get out. In northern Chihuahua, along the Texas border, the Sinaloa Cartel was fighting the Juarez Cartel, and they were literally colonizing the area. They were telling, you know, people in that area, in the Juarez Valley that had been there for generations, to get out, and moving Sinaloans in, almost like colonists, in order to secure that area. Who's on first now? Without a doubt the Sinaloa Cartel. They're the dominant cartel in Mexico now. They basically won the war. There's a sort of an upstart cartel, the new generation Jalisco Cartel, and we're in a bit of a lull, but that's about to collapse. You know, over the past month or so violence has drastically increased again in the Tijuana area. So, stay tuned.

DEAN BECKER: Your book references some of the videos that get circulated by the cartels, showing their commitment to outdoing each other in the way they torture and kill members of the opposite cartel. I saw one of those that, where one cartel had grabbed the wives and girlfriends of another cartel. They pulled out axes and chainsaws, and built piles of arms...

DON WINSLOW: That sounds familiar, that video.

DEAN BECKER: Oh god. And, my Spanish was not good enough to understand all they said, but it was a strong message, for sure.

DON WINSLOW: You know, lately we've been as a nation very absorbed with ISIS, and those videos, and they took that page out of the cartel playbook. What you're looking at is basically terrorism in Mexico. And, you know, the cartels are in the territory business, they need to control territory, and to do that, they need to control the population. And they do it through a variety of methods, but one of them is terror. And, and when they put out videos like that, they are really saying to the people, you don't want this to be you. The Spanish that is being spoken in many of these videos is to get these people to confess their roles in the rival cartel, sometimes to confess their crimes because these videos are also a means of propaganda, and a means of the cartels justifying, or attempting to justify, the horrors that they commit, in a very similar way to the ISIS videos. The really sad aspect, or more tragic aspect of these videos, is that they're used as tools of recruitment. Particularly young people, both men and women, see these videos, and see them as demonstrations of power. And I think that there are few things more seductive to people who see themselves as powerless than to see power, and just as the ISIS sadistic videos have been great recruiting tools for ISIS, the videos that you alluded to have been recruiting tools to the cartels.

DEAN BECKER: The hundred thousand dead, approximately, the 20,000 missing, the tens of thousands of children without parents -- it's just so enormous, and yet somehow it's ignored. That doesn't count in the US's drug war equation.

DON WINSLOW: The modern day Mexican drug war, the contemporary period that we're looking at, coincides almost exactly with the post-911 era. And I think that the United States has been, and it's understandable, Dean, because of 911, because of the lives lost, because we've had people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our soldiers dying and wounded, we have been obsessed with, and most of our attention has gone to the Middle East. That, that's understandable, I think. I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying it's good, but I think that, that people can only absorb so much violence and sorrow and tragedy. I think though that the other part of the equation is that, that we don't want to look at it down there. It's something we don't want to see because I think on some level we are aware of the role that we play in it, and our own responsibility for it, and I think that that can be a hard mirror to look into. And sometimes people, and particularly our politicians, frankly, would rather look away.

DEAN BECKER: It kind of draws a parallel with the cops busting somebody and accusing them of being the cause of the problem here in the US -- if they weren't buying drugs then these other situations would not occur. But the same could be said about the US and as you stated earlier, our addiction to these drugs coming through Mexico.

DON WINSLOW: I think we are addicted to the drugs. Now obviously, we have a population in the United States that is literally addicted to drugs. The percentage of that never changes very much over the years. There are some spikes with certain drugs at certain times, but the level of drug addicts remains about the same, that's sort of one topic. The other topic is recreational drug users, and they need to look at their responsibility. I can't understand for instance why a person who would be so concerned about buying free trade coffee or fair trade coffee would then think nothing of buying marijuana that has blood all over it. You know? I don't understand people who go out and protest against big business but then will come back and buy a product that's been shipped to them by a cartel that tortures and slaughters and rapes. This makes no kind of moral sense to me. So, in my perfect world, all drugs would be legal and no one would use them. But certainly, in the time until the United States straightens out its drug laws, until we've stopped forcing the hands of these sadistic criminals, I'd love to see a movement where particularly young people in America boycotted these drugs, the way they boycott other products.

DEAN BECKER: The book was a follow-up to Power of the Dog, and it seems that there may be, as you mentioned earlier, a need for another book in this series, if Los Pinos and the White House continue to believe this drug war to be necessary.

DON WINSLOW: It's my fondest hope and prayer that there's no need for a third book. I would love it if Los Pinos and the White House took me out of this business. I don't have plans to write another drug book, you know, next or for a few years, but then I'm really hoping at that point when I look around this landscape that we have come to some sort of sanity, and some sort of wiser policy, and that there's no need for a third book.

DEAN BECKER: Well, me too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and deep prayer in that regard. Well, Don, here's hoping we can continue this discussion again soon and that just maybe, the politicians will read your book and pull their heads out soon. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you'd like to share with the listeners, Mr. Don Winslow?

DON WINSLOW: I have a website, DonWinslow.com, and, you know, always happy to hear from anybody. I have been very encouraged over the past two weeks by the number of police officers and DEA people that have contacted me. And I think there is a little momentum right now. You know, yesterday the United Methodist Church came out calling for war, an end to the war on drugs, addressing Congress. So I think that there might be a little bit of a groundswell, and I'm going to choose to go with that optimism.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, I want to thank Don Winslow, author of The Cartel.

Ohio Marijuana Monopoly Madness: ResponsibleOhio and Its Foes [FEATURE]

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

Ohio may about to legalize marijuana, but not the way other states have done it. A constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November would create a virtual monopoly on commercial marijuana grows for the entire state. That's not sitting well with a number of Ohioans, including the Republican state legislature and a good number of Buckeye State legalization and medical marijuana activists. It's also leaving major national drug reform organizations deeply ambivalent.

The ResponsibleOhio initiative is almost certain to qualify for the ballot any day now. Its well-financed campaign has handed in more than 700,000 signatures to state officials, nearly twice the 305,000 valid voter signatures needed. Those officials have until later this week to verify the signatures. [Update: Monday, state officials said the initiative was 29,000 signatures short, but ResponsibleOhio has another 10 days to make up the shortfall and it says it will challenge the disqualified signatures at the state Supreme Court.]


The initiative allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. It even has provisions for medical marijuana. None of that is controversial.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state. The sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and are prepared to spend $20 million or more convincing the public to vote for it.

The investors include a number of Ohio business interests -- real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- as well as some home state big names who could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

While this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem so strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging for donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. An April Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

Strange Bedfellows

But ResponsibleOhio is facing a head-on challenge from the legislature, attacks from legalizers left out in the cold, and a more general discomfort with constitutionally-mandated monopolies.

Late last month, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any addition to the state constitution that created "a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to distribute a federally controlled substance. The proposed amendment specifies that if it passes, any initiative that conflicted with it -- i.e. the ResponsibleOhio initiative -- "shall not take effect."

If both initiatives passed, rest assured that lengthy legal battles would ensue, but in the meantime, marijuana legalization in Ohio would be dead in the water. While legislative leaders paid lip service to concerns about anti-competitiveness, the amendment is clearly designed to stop legalization and is the instrument of a body that has steadfastly refused to consider legalization for nearly 20 years.

That didn't stop some legalization supporters -- and ResponsibleOhio foes -- from applauding the move, and even encouraging it.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told AlterNet.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

"The current system is actually better than their plan. It gives them a monopoly where only these 10 groups get the right to cultivate commercially, and that's bad policy for the state," Kavuru argued. "It creates an environment that allows a black market to thrive, and it doesn't eliminate arrests. The purpose of legalization is supposed to be to get rid of criminal arrests."

The ResponsibleOhio initiative would increase penalties on some cultivators and would leave people under 21 subject to arrest, Kavuru charged. He also attacked its medical marijuana provisions.

"It doesn't actually give any protection for patients and only says a commission 'may' implement a medical program," he said. Everything for recreational is 'shall.'"

Ohio Families CANN is also not satisfied with ResponsibleOhio's initiative, said Nicole Scholten, a spokesperson for the group, which seeks access to marijuana to treat sick children.

"We are wary of ResponsibleOhio's approach," she said. "We are not convinced it would yield the type and volume of medical cannabis that would be effective for our children. Legalization does not equal sustainable medicine. The medicine that would help our kids requires specific strains of cannabis and vast quantities. ResponsibleOhio's plan to have only ten grow sites is problematic. There is no guarantee these businesses would devote the grow space to the kind and volume of cannabis we need."

But another patient-activist organization that has tried unsuccessfully for years to get an initiative on the ballot, the Ohio Rights Group, is less negative. Its executive director, Jack Pardee, noted that the legislature has refused for nearly 20 years to even discuss marijuana legalization bills.

"We've been having a debate in our community about the merits of what the legislature is trying to do with this thing and, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with protecting Ohioans from economic forces," Pardee said. "ResponsibleOhio isn't perfect, but it has a lot of the pieces that ending prohibition needs to be successful."

National Drug Reform Groups Ambivalent

The divisions among Ohio activists are somewhat reflected by the national groups that have so far been the big players in marijuana legalization. None of them are directly involved with ResponsibleOhio -- it certainly doesn't need their fundraising abilities -- but they are watching with great interest and concern.

"It doesn't resemble our initiatives," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert. "We have not proposed such laws in the past, and it's not the type of law we would draft," he told AlterNet.

"It's up to Ohio voters to decide if this is the kind of system they want to replace marijuana prohibition with," said Tvert. "It would get the job done, but we think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and there should be a system where there can be a lot of competition and different businesses out there producing this product."

And he had a word of advice to Ohio activists opposing ResponsibleOhio.

"If they want to end marijuana prohibition, they need to weigh their opposition to this initiative against the possibility of having to wait longer for a better initiative," Tvert said.

"A lot of legalizers, we feel like the movement has been hijacked by the money people," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But the bottom line for NORML is that we want to legalize marijuana," he told AlterNet.

"While we'd have a preference for the little or medium-sized guy, we're not that concerned about who gets rich off it," the movement veteran said. "We're about not treating marijuana users like criminals, and we can speed that process along by three or four or five years because some rich investors run their own initiative, if it actually legalizes pot smoking and dispensaries where they can buy, if they qualify for the ballot, we will support it even if it's not perfect."

Stroup took great umbrage with the legislature's move to block the initiative.

"That's a bad faith move by the legislature," he growled. "The reason we have the initiative process is because legislatures were not responsive to the will of the people, and now we have a case where the people are going around the legislature, and the legislature is going to try to go around the people."

Stroup prophesied high-stakes litigation if ResponsibleOhio wins at the ballot box, but its victory is nullified by passage of the legislature's initiative.

"That undermines the basic purpose of initiatives, and we have at least one legal opinion that nothing in that resolution would in any way affect the initiative if it were to pass," he said. "I hope the courts act in that case."

"We've fought for a long time to end marijuana prohibition for civil rights, social justice, public health, and public safety reasons, and to create a legal market," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "But to then have some folks come along trying to create a constitutionally-mandated oligopoly kind of sticks in everybody's craw."

DPA has worked and is working on legalization in a number of states, and was consulted in the drafting of the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but is not endorsing it. Nadelmann's ambivalence was indicative of the mixed feelings the measure is arousing among activists.

"The fact is, we have investors putting up $20 or $30 million to win this thing in a state that will be the center of national political attention next year -- no one else is going to do it in Ohio. There is a possibility the oligopoly provision could get knocked out. The best outcome would be for this initiative to win, and then get that knocked out," he said.

"Aside from the oligopoly provision, it's actually pretty good," Nadelmann continued. And after criticism of an earlier draft, "they were actually pretty solicitous, they added home grow, medical marijuana protections, and the distribution model is pretty good."

Who Will Be in the Driver's Seat?

But the ResponsibleOhio move also signals the emergence of monied interests whose deep pockets could leave activists and the drug reform movement on the sidelines -- and who may not share the same interests dear to the hearts of reformers.

"There's something similar going on in Michigan," Nadelmann noted, referring to an as-yet-to-filed initiative from the Michigan Responsibility Council, one of three groups planning legalization initiatives in the state right now. "And look at Arizona, there's a lot of industry funding there, and there's been hard negotiations between MPP and those guys."

"The influence of DPA, MPP, and other activists is going to diminish rapidly," he predicted. "This is going to be increasingly driven by industry, and a lot of competing interests within the industry. And as this evolves into legislative processes, other forces are going to come into play and certain players will be able to make their demands felt. Social justice concerns could get knocked out."

If Not ResponsibleOhio, Who, and When?

The unhappy Ohio legalization activists and other ResponsibleOhio critics say that if and when it is defeated, they can move forward with their own legalization plans. Given the legislature's recalcitrance, that means they would have to run their own initiative campaign.

They haven't been able to do that so far, and while some, such as OTEP's Kavuru, say they can do it now, others aren't so sure.

"We have access to a lot of money," Kavuru said. "And we have a real solid political team. We're in negotiations right now for significant funding, and it's much easier to raise money for a recreational initiative than a medical one, because people are also looking at it as an investment."

But ResponsibleOhio is here and now, and if it goes down, it remains to be seen if anyone else can actually get on the ballot.

"If this is defeated this year, I doubt any major funders would step in to play a role in 2016," said NORML's Stroup. "I understand. The people in Ohio feel they were doing a great grassroots effort and hear these rich guys came along and bought the space. But the Ohio activists so far haven't shown they can get the funding to do good surveys, let alone pay for signatures or a professional campaign. This year may be our chance to take a conservative state like Ohio and leapfrog it ahead on legalization. I'm not real comfortable with ResponsibleOhio, but I just want it legalized."

The fun is just beginning in Ohio.

Chronicle AM: Obama Visits Prison, OH Gov Okays Naloxone, Ohio Init Could Come Up Short,More (7/17/15)

A surprising analysis suggests the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative could come up short on signatures, Guam releases medical marijuana program draft regulations, Obama visits a federal prison, Ohio's governor okays naloxone over-the-counter, and more.

Pres. Obama delivers statement during prison visit (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Fall Short on Signatures, But Will Fight If It Does. Columbus's 10 TV is reporting that its analysis of signatures gathered to put the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative on the November ballot shows the initiative coming up 48,000 valid voter signatures short. That would be truly surprising, given that the group turned in 700,000 raw signatures and it only needs 305,000 valid ones to qualify. The group told 10 TV, however, that it could still collect signatures during a 10-day review period and that it could file legal challenges on signatures that were invalidated.

Michigan Democrat Will Introduce Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said today that support for legalization has reached critical mass and that he will introduce a bill to do just that. "You've got people on the left who are saying that people should not be having their lives ruined over something like marijuana and you've got people on the right who are saying marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs," said Irwin. "It makes sense from a public safety and public health perspective to bring that activity into the regulated space where we can make sure that consumers are protected. And we can also take the hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending on prosecuting marijuana offenders and direct those resources towards real criminals with real victims." There are also at least three groups working on legalization initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Releases Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Increase Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access. Gov. John Kasich (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that will make the overdose reversal drug naloxone available over the counter. This is the third year in a row Kasich has signed a naloxone bill, each one more expansive than the one before. Two years ago, he authorized a pilot program for naloxone and last year, he signed a bill allowing friends and family members of drug users to carry the drug.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Bill to Ban N-Bomb Heads to Governor's Desk. The General Assembly Thursday approved House Bill 341, which would classify the synthetic psychedelic NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, as an illegal controlled substance. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCroy (R). If he signs it, N-Bomb and its derivatives will become Schedule I controlled substances.

Criminal Justice

Obama Visits Federal Prison, Calls for Lesser Sentences for Drug Crimes. Wrapping up a week heavy on criminal justice, President Obama Thursday visited the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. While there, he met with six drug prisoners and called for lesser sentences for drug offenses.

Drug War Issues

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