Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The stench grows in Philadelphia, a parole officer gets caught stealing parolee's pills, a reserve cop tries to trade dope for sex, and jail guards continue to go wild. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, seven police officers have been pulled from drug investigations amidst an ongoing corruption probe. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey confirmed Friday that the Philadelphia police Internal Affairs unit is working jointly with the FBI and federal prosecutors in the probe that has already seen one of the officers arrested and led to the dismissal of hundreds of drug charges. Although the officers were transferred out of narcotics in December 2012, it wasn't officially acknowledged until Ramsey's comments. Since then, the city and the department have also been sued 40 times in federal court, with some lawsuits alleging officers framed people with false evidence and testimony and others alleged police stole their property and roughed them up.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a Prairieville Township Police reserve officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he solicited sex in exchange for drugs. Michael Strong, 37, went down after a tipster talked to authorities, and the Michigan State Police and Southwest Enforcement Team set up a sting. Strong was arrested after he met an undercover officer at a local hotel and offered drugs for sex. He is charged with one count of delivery of amphetamine and one count of felony firearms. The drugs reportedly came from "friends," not the evidence room. He's looking at up to seven years in state prison.

In Paris, Kentucky, a Bourbon County Regional Jail guard was arrested last Wednesday for smuggling drugs into the jail after state police raided his home and found narcotics. Officer Jimmy Billups, Jr., 45, came under suspicion during an investigation by the State Police. He is charged with conspiracy to traffic in a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance. He was last reported on the other side of the bars at the neighboring Scott County Detention Center.

In Greenwich, New York, a state parole officer was arrested last Thursday on charges she took drugs from her parolees for her own use and falsified records to cover it up. Stacey Sullivan, 43, would find the drugs on her parolees, but instead of turning them in for parole violations, would keep and use them herself. She went down after colleagues saw her seizing drugs, but failing to log them in. She faces a felony count of falsifying business records and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. She has been released pending prosecution.

In Vidalia, Louisiana, a Concordia Parish jail guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he smuggled synthetic marijuana and cell phones into the jail. David Earl Bell, Jr., 23, went down after surveillance cameras caught "strange activity," and the parish sheriff's office investigated. He confessed when confronted by police. He is charged with introduction of contraband into a penal institute and malfeasance in office.

In Plainfield, Indiana, a Plainfield Correctional Facility jail guard was arrested last Friday after he got caught smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the jail inside a bowl of frozen food. James Thomas was carrying 69 grams of weed and a half-pound of tobacco when he got nailed. He is charged with trafficking and dealing in marijuana. He's been suspended without pay and was last reported residing at the Hendricks County Jail.

In Washington, DC, a former Price Georges County (MD) officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to providing law enforcement information to a drug trafficking group. Vanessa Edwards-Hamm was one of 17 people indicted in July 2013 in connection with a major DC trafficking ring that purveyed cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and prescription pills. She was indicted on one count each of tampering with documents or proceedings and unlawful notice of electronic surveillance, but copped to a single count of unlawfully disclosing information about a wiretap being used on a target of a law enforcement investigation. She's looking at up to five years in the federal pen.

Chronicle AM -- January 21, 2014

The war on weed may be beginning to wheeze toward its end, a researcher reports, and legislators continue to introduce bills to help it on its way. Meanwhile, harm reduction down South gets some attention, a bad bill targets medical marijuana-using parents in Michigan, and Bermuda gets a decrim bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Intensity of Marijuana Enforcement Declining, Keith Humphreys Says. Academic marijuana policy watcher and addiction specialist Keith Humphreys reports that even though marijuana use is up -- measured by total days of use nationwide -- the intensity of enforcement -- measured by overall arrests divided by total days of use -- is down by as much as 40%. Humphries attributes it to decriminalization and medical marijuana, but also notes that such policy changes often merely formalize what is already occurring on the ground.

Texas Legislature Will Be Faced With Marijuana Reform Bills Again This Year. Two Democratic Texas legislators say they will reintroduce marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana bills that have gone nowhere in past sessions. Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) will try for a fourth time to get a bill to decriminalize the possession of under two ounces passed, while Rep. Eliot Naishtat (D-Austin) will try for the seventh time to get his medical marijuana bill to a House floor vote.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Oklahoma. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2116. The bill would legalize possession of up to an ounce and allow for the regulation and taxation of marijuana commerce. The legislative session begins February 3. Here's what she's up against: Mark Woodward, with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said, "I've seen it wreck more lives than any other drug."

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Targets Patients Who Are Parents. Republican state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Rapids) has introduced a bill designed to make it easier for the state to remove children from the homes of parents who are medical marijuana patients. Senate Bill 736 would allow judges to inspect parents' medical records to see if medical marijuana use is "appropriate" and, if the judge decides it is not, to order the parent to stop using marijuana or designate him or her an unfit parent. Jones said he introduced the bill after hearing complaints from judges. "They want it clarified that they do have the power, as judges, to consider whether or not there's medical marijuana in the home and that there will be access to children and problems," he said.

Meetings on Hawaii Medical Marijuana Law Coming to Hilo, Pahoa. The Drug Policy Action Group and the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii are holding meetings later this month in Hilo and Pahoa to provide information and get public input on what's right and what's wrong with the state's medical marijuana law, as well as discussing broader marijuana policy reform. Click on the link for details.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition OD Prevention Program Gets Noticed. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) was crucial in getting comprehensive drug overdose prevention laws passed in Raleigh last year, and now they are getting both results and national notice. Click on the title link to read more and see video from CNN and Fox News Charlotte about the laws and the successful use of naloxone to reverse an overdose.

International

Bermuda Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. A senator from the opposition People's National Party (PNP) has filed a marijuana decriminalization bill in Bermuda. The bill would remove all criminal penalties and sanctions for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana or hashish. At a Tuesday press conference, bill sponsor Sen. Marc Daniels said, "There appears to be a tidal wave of change taking place with our neighbors to our West and South regarding cannabis and cannabis usage. Some US States are making cannabis legal for both medicinal purposes as well as recreational use. The question is whether Bermuda wants to wait until all of our neighbors make changes, or will we be bold enough to chart a new destiny and seek new ways of generating revenue; perhaps with an influx of tourists and/or from local taxes and license fees. The possibilities are endless if we only dare to be different and seize the moment as opposed to playing catch up.'

Obama Marijuana Remarks Spur Finnish Debate. President Obama's weekend remarks on marijuana are spurring debate on marijuana law reform in Finland. "The USA is the number one country in the war on drugs, so if it begins legalizing the use of marijuana, it will surely have a major effect on Europe," sociologist Jussi Perala said. "Making marijuana legal in Finland is utopic, but at some stage something should happen about it. In Finland, harsh punishment can be meted out merely for the intention to use drugs," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 20, 2014

Marijuana law reform bills just keep coming, a most likely unconstitutional food stamp drug test bill gets filed in Georgia, Australian regulators block urine drug testing of state energy company workers, Jamaican legalizers grow impatient, and more. Let's get to it:

Jamaican marijuana users want something to smile about (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Resolution Introduced in New Mexico Senate. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo County) Friday pre-filed Senate Joint Resolution 10, which would amend the state constitution to tax and regulate marijuana use by persons 21 and older. If the bill passes the legislature, the amendment would be placed on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Indiana Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) last week introduced Senate Bill 314, which would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Similar legislation was defeated there last year.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Health Department Rejects Adding New Medical Marijuana-Eligible Conditions. The Arizona Health Department last Friday decided not to approve adding post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and migraines to the official list of debilitating conditions that are treatable by medical marijuana. Director Will Humble said the decision was due to a lack of published data regarding the risks and benefits of using medicinal cannabinoids to treat or provide relief for those conditions. The department will accept new petitions January 27 through 31.

Bill to Undo Virginia's Already Toothless Medical Marijuana Law Filed. Virginia has had a law allowing for the medical use of marijuana on the books for years, but it has never actually been used. Now, a Republican legislator, Delegate Robert Marshall of Manassas, has filed a bill to repeal even that. House Bill 684 (click on the link) was set for a hearing today.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Providers Drop by Half. The number of medical marijuana patients registered with the state declined slightly in 2013, but the number of providers declined much more dramatically, by nearly 50%. The number of patients dropped from 124,000 to 118,000, a 5% decline, while the number of providers dropped from 50,000 to 27,000, according to two annual reports required by the state legislature. The decline in providers is attributed to new laws regulating the industry and adverse court rulings and prosecutions. The state did, however, realize a $6.9 million profit in receipts from fees over program costs, up from a $6.3 million profit in 2012.

New York Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A poll released Monday (see questions 36 and 37) showed strong support for medical marijuana in the Empire State. The Sienna Poll found majority support for the legislature taking action on the issue, while a smaller number of respondents favored Gov. Cuomo's limited pilot program. Only about one out of five respondents wanted medical marijuana to remain illegal and unavailable.

Drug Testing

Georgia Suspicionless Food Stamp Drug Testing Filed. A bill that would require all food stamp applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing was filed last Friday. House Bill 772 is the brainchild of Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia). A similar bill passed the state legislature in 2012, but was put on hold after Florida's mandatory suspicionless drug testing was successfully challenged in the federal courts.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Meth Crackdown Bill Gets Hearing Date. A bill that would make pseudoephedrine a Schedule III controlled substance requiring a prescription and would heighten penalties for some methamphetamine possession and trafficking offenses will have a January 27 hearing. The bill, House Bill 1248 (click on the link), is sponsored by Indianapolis Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz.

International

Vietnam Sentences 30 Drug Traffickers to Death. A court in Quang Ninh province has sentenced 30 people to death in a massive heroin smuggling conspiracy case involving over two tons of the drugs. Dozens of others got prison sentences of from two years to life in the largest drug trafficking trial in Vietnamese history. Vietnam sentenced at least 86 people to death in 2012, but it's unclear how many were drug offenders.

Australia's New South Wales Unions Welcome Drug Test Ban. Unions in New South Wales cheered after the state's Fair Work Commission last week upheld a 2012 decision to block a state-owned energy company from doing drug testing based on urine samples. Such testing, which measures off-duty drug use (as opposed to on-the-job impairment), is "unjust and unreasonable," the commission said, ordering the company to use mouth swab drug tests, which would detect only immediate recent use. "While oral testing accurately identifies recent drug use... urine tests unfairly monitor workers' private lives," Neville Betts, from the Electrical Tr ades Union's NSW branch, said in a statement.

Jamaica Marijuana Reformers Want to Step Up Pressure on the Government to Act. The Jamaican Ganja Law Reform Coalition wants a more aggressive campaign to pressure parliament to act on legalizing marijuana. "We need a young MP to break the party ranks and put forward proposals for more meaningful legislation than the half steps that they are taking," coalition chairman Paul Chang told the opening session of the Cannabis Stakeholders Conference organized by the coalition. Parliament is currently dithering with bills that would decriminalize pot possession and expunge arrest record for marijuana offenses, but that's not enough, coalition members said.

Obama: Marijuana Less Dangerous Than Alcohol, But...

In an interview with The New Yorker released Sunday, President Barack Obama said he didn't think marijuana was more dangerous than alcohol and that the legalization experiments going on in Colorado and Washington were "important." But he also said marijuana use wasn't something he could encourage and he worried that pot legalization could lead to a slippery slope where the decriminalization or legalization of other, more dangerous, drugs might be considered.

President Barack Obama (whitehouse.gov)
The comments came as interviewer David Remnick prodded Obama on the issue of marijuana policy in the midst of a whopping 15,000-word profile of the president. Remnick described Obama's position on pot as an area of shifting public opinion where "he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue."

"As has been well documented," Obama said in response to a Remnick question, "I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

But is it less dangerous, Remnick asked?

It is "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer," Obama conceded. "It's not something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy."

Perhaps marijuana smoking is a bad habit, but racially biased marijuana law enforcement is bad policy, Obama said.

"Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties. We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing."

And thus, the administration's hands-off policy toward marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington:

"It's important for it to go forward because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."

But then, the professorial president argued the other side of the issue.

"Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that's going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge."

Legalizing marijuana could open the door to talk about legalizing other drugs, he cautioned.

"I also think that, when it comes to harder drugs, the harm done to the user is profound and the social costs are profound. And you do start getting into some difficult line-drawing issues. If marijuana is fully legalized and at some point folks say, 'Well, we can come up with a negotiated dose of cocaine that we can show is not any more harmful than vodka,' are we open to that? If somebody says, 'We've got a finely calibrated dose of meth, it isn't going to kill you or rot your teeth,' are we OK with that?"

Chronicle AM -- January 17, 2014

Washington's attorney general has dealt a body blow to the statewide legalization of marijuana commerce there, medical marijuana continues to keep state legislatures busy, a New Mexico town and county pay out big time for a horrid anal search, heroin legislation is moving in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Washington Attorney General Rules Localities Can Ban Marijuana Businesses. In a formal opinion released Thursday, the Washington attorney general's office held that "Initiative 502 as drafted and presented to the voters does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions." The ACLU of Washington said the attorney general's opinion is mistaken and it "will go to court if necessary" to see it overturned, while the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 said that the "opinion would be a disappointment to the majority of voters who approved the law."

Marijuana Reforms Will Be on the Legislative Agenda in Louisiana Again This Year. State Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has already introduced House Bill 14, which would dramatically lessen the state's draconian marijuana penalties, and further-reaching bills could be forthcoming. The Badon bill passed the House last year before dying in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Hearing This Month. State Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R) said Thursday he had scheduled a public hearing for January 28 on a medical marijuana bill introduced this week. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, is cosponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R).

Hawaii House Speaker Says State Needs Dispensaries. House Speaker Joe Souki said Wednesday that the lack of places for medical marijuana patients to obtain their medicine was "a gap in the law" that needs to be addressed. That patients can use medical marijuana but have no place to obtain it is "an anomaly," he said. Addressing dispensaries is a "humanitarian" issue, he added.

Utah Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new Salt Lake Tribune poll has 51% of Utahns supporting medical marijuana, but 67% opposing decriminalization or legalization.

Georgia Poll Finds Narrow Majority for Medical Marijuana. A new InsiderAdvantage poll has 51% of Georgians supporting medical marijuana "in very specific instances, such as in a liquid form to reduce seizures from young children." Some 27% were opposed, and 22% undecided. "The key here is that any legislation must be on a limited basis. That said, Republicans and Democrats both support this legislation by well over 50 percent, while independent voters are close to a majority as well," said Matt Towery, president of InsiderAdvantage and a former legislator.

Heroin

Kentucky Senate Approves Bill to Reduce Overdose Deaths, Increase Trafficking Penalties. The state Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 5, which would create more treatment beds for heroin users and lengthen prison sentences for heroin and methamphetamine traffickers. A similar version of the bill passed the Republican-led Senate last year, but stalled in the Democratic-led House. The bill would require the state Medicaid program to cover several inpatient and outpatient treatment options for people addicted to opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers. It also would divert some of the state's hoped-for savings from a 2011 prison sentencing reform package to expand treatment programs. But the bill would also stiffen penalties for people convicted of trafficking in larger quantities of heroin, methamphetamines or both, requiring them to serve at least half of their prison sentences before they are eligible for shock probation or parole.

Search and Seizure

New Mexico Town, County Pay Out Big Time for Forced Anal Searches of Drug Suspect. A Deming, New Mexico, man who was subjected to a hospital anal exam involving three enemas, a colonoscopy, and being forced to defecate in front of police and medical personnel in a fruitless search for drugs will get $1.6 million in damages in a settlement from Deming and Hidalgo County. David Eckert will most likely win additional damages from a local hospital where doctors agreed to perform the exam.

Sentencing

Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Funded in Federal Spending Bill. The omnibus federal spending bill filed this week and expected to pass quickly includes $1 million to establish the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, an independent, bipartisan grouping that will examine a number of challenges facing the federal correctional system, including overcrowding and ways to minimize growth, violence behind bars, rehabilitation, and reentry. Colson was a Nixon administration official jailed in the Watergate scandal who became a prison reformer in the wake of that experience.

International

Spurred by Attorney, Bermuda's Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up. Attorney Alan Gordon's online petition to have the Bermudan government allow emergency access to medical marijuana for cancer patients has spurred considerable notice on the island, with National Security Minister Michael Dunkley and Gordon publicly clashing over the law and whether Dunkley can act. Click on the link to see Dunkley's comments and Gordon's well-publicized written response.

Vietnam Sentences Three Drug Offenders to Death; Iran Executes Six. And the resort to the death penalty against drug offenders continues. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, three Vietnamese men charged with heroin trafficking got death sentences, while Iran, the world's leading drug offender execution, hung another six.

The Specter of Municipal Marijuana Legalization Looms Over DC [FEATURE]

The District of Columbia city council this week took a preliminary step toward decriminalizing marijuana possession in the nation's capital, with a bill to do just that winning a unanimous committee vote. But the council's belated response to decades of racially biased pot policing may end up just being a blip on the path to outright legalization.

That's because District activists, led by the indefatigable Adam Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign have filed a marijuana legalization initiative with DC officials and are determined to move forward with it.

According to the campaign, the Legalization of Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014 would "make it lawful for a person 21 years of age or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use; to grow no more than three mature cannabis plants within the person's principal residence; and to transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person 21 years of age or older; and to use or sell drug paraphernalia for use, growing or processing of marijuana or cannabis that is made legal by the Initiative."

The act does not address legal marijuana commerce because under District law, initiatives cannot deal with matters having to do with District government revenues. In the event the initiative passed, the council would have to come up with any regulatory and taxation scheme.

"Under DC law, voters can't interfere with the city's tax and spending authority," explained Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "And the courts have read that so broadly that they ruled that a ban on public smoking in bars would lead to less smoking, which would interfere with the city's revenue authority."

The time for a legalization push appears to be ripe. Public sentiment in the District, long a bastion of liberal politics, is swinging in favor of legalization, not least because of increased public awareness of the racially disparate impact of marijuana prohibition.In a June report, The War on Marijuana in Black and White, the American Civil Liberties Union found that Washington, DC, had one of the highest racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the country, second only to Iowa. In DC, blacks were 8.05 times more likely to face arrest for pot possession than whites. Numbers such as these are driving the reformist impulse in the District.

A Washington Post poll released Wednesday is a case in point. In that poll, 63% of DC residents favored legalizing small amounts of marijuana, up from only 46% in 2010. And among the District's black residents, support increased even more dramatically, from only 37% in 2010 to 58% now.

Adam Eidinger before the microphone (dcmj.org)
Not only does legalization appear to have public opinion on its side, the District is also easy pickings for initiatives. The number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot is relatively small, and, in advertising market terms, DC is only a medium-sized market, meaning that the cost of a campaign is also relatively small.

"We only need 25,000 valid signatures, although we're going for 30,000, just to be on the safe side," said Eidinger. "I think we can do that in four months," even though DC law gives them up to six months.

The veteran DC activist estimates that the campaign needs $500,000 to be successful.

"I think we need about $300,000 for signature gathering," he said. "We'll need about half a million to be also be able to fight off any counter-campaign that emerges."

Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign aren't there yet. He said the campaign had received a $100,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and an additional $10,000 in bitcoins (!). The drug reform community needs to step up, he said.

"If we don't raise at least $350,000, I don't know if we can move forward," he said. "That's the bare bones. And if we do get this on the ballot, the drug reform community here in Washington should come up with the money. This is the nation's capital," he exclaimed. "It's a twofer. If we can legalize it here, we can legalize it anywhere."

But drug reform organizations that serve as major funding conduits have yet to get on board, at least with their checkbooks.

"We don't have a position so far on the initiative," said Dan Riffle, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We generally support legalization, but it's a question of whether we want to put our resources into a campaign that would improve on a very good law."

Riffle was referring to the District's decriminalization bill, which he described as "the best decriminalization law in the country," with maximum $25 fines and no probable cause for a search based on smell alone.

DPA was similarly focused on the decriminalization bill and perhaps going even further with the council.

"Our first goal is eliminating the mass arrests of people of color in DC, which is why we're working with the council to support the decriminalization bill," said Piper. "And then we will support legalization, either through the initiative process or through the council or both," he said.

"We've had a lot of discussions with Adam," said Piper. "They're in the process of figuring out how much money they can raise to support this, while we're working with Councilmember Grosso and others on a tax and regulate bill."

That's all well and good, said Eidinger, but the initiative campaign needs money now.

"Early donations are the most important," he emphasized. "I think we can get the money to get this on the ballot, but we need money to defend it, and we need to hire good people early. People need to donate now!"

Marijuana reform is happening in the District of Columbia. The question now is how far it goes, and by what route. Decriminalization looks like a done deal, but having a legalization initiative hanging over the city council's head may prod it to take the next step as well.

"The council will for sure decriminalize in the next month," Piper prophesied. "But will they then take up legalization? Having an initiative on the ballot is a good way to force their hand. We're hopeful that the council will realize that they will either end up in a situation where marijuana is legal with no controls, or they can take action and adopt a regulatory approach."

The initiative now awaits approval by the Board of Elections of its language, which could take up to a month. Then, it's on to signature gathering. Then it's winning an election. And then, Congress would have to refrain from blocking it -- or be forced once again to contravene the democratically expressed will of the voters of the nation's capital.

"There are lots of hurdles, but now is the time to move forward with righteous indignation," Eidinger said. "Those people who were talking about decriminalization aren't talking about it now; instead, the goal now is legalization. This is the time for everyone to think big and win!"

Washington, DC
United States

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Supports Medical Marijuana

In a Thursday interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said towns in his home state should not be blocking medical marijuana dispensaries, but should instead be embracing medical marijuana. The Nevada Democrat, while not going as far as embracing marijuana legalization, also had some harsh words about prohibition's current implementation in the US.

Harry Reid
"If you'd asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer -- I would have said no, because (marijuana) leads to other stuff," Reid told the Sun. "But I can't say that anymore. I think we need to take a real close look at this," Reid went on. "I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana."

Reid, a 74-year-old Mormon and former boxer and football player, is not known as a cutting edge drug reform type, but he said his opinion on marijuana had evolved over the years, and was informed by both hearing about people it had helped and by actually knowing some, including one young man suffering from severe kidney failure.

"He was so skinny and doing so poorly and somebody told him and his mom, you know, you should smoke some marijuana, because one of the side effects is… you get the munchies, you get extremely hungry," Reid said. "He tried it and sure enough, he was able to eat for the first time, he got hungry. So I thought, you know there might be some medical reasons for taking another look at this."

When the Sun asked Reid about whether Nevada should follow the path of Colorado and Washington and just legalize it, Reid demurred, although he did suggest that law enforcement had better things to do.

"I don't know about that. I just think that we need to look at the medical aspects of it. I guarantee you one thing," Reid said. "We waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana."

Reid's comments were music to the ears of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Majority Leader Reid is right -- marijuana has medical value and too much time and law enforcement recourses are wasted arresting people for marijuana," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper. "Twenty states have legalized marijuana for medical use and three-quarters of Americans support it. The 40 senators representing those states should follow Reid's lead and support marijuana law reform. It's time to change federal law to allow states to adopt their own marijuana policies without federal interference."

Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

Marijuana Legalization Will Hurt Mexican Cartels, But How Much? [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Bernd Debusmann, Jr., who is currently studying for an MA in International Journalism at City University London. Prior to that, he lived and worked in his native Mexico, most of it as a full-time freelancer for Reuters TV, also contributing to Fox Latino. Earlier he worked as a reporter in New York City and as a freelance producer for the Reuters Latin American Television Desk in Washington DC, during which time he dealt with many drug trafficking stories. During 2010 and 2011 he authored the weekly Mexico Drug War Update published by this newsletter, available in our Mexican Drug War archive section.

Seven tons of Mexican brick weed seized in Arizona (cbp.gov)
On January 1, Colorado made history by becoming the first American state where marijuana can be purchased for recreational purposes, and in which marijuana is regulated from the seed to the actual sale of product. As attitudes in America begin to shift in favor of outright legalization, it increasingly seems possible that more states -- and eventually the entire country -- might follow. But what does this mean south of the border, where Mexican cartels make enormous profits by trafficking this illegal commodity?

Given the nature of the illegal drug business, arriving at a precise figure is impossible. At times, the Office of National Drug Policy has said that as much as 60% of cartel profits come from the production and sale of marijuana. On the other hand, a 2010 RAND study estimated the percentage to be between 15 and 26 percent. More recently, research by the Mexican Institute of Competiveness released in October 2012 suggests that if only Washington, Colorado and Oregon legalized marijuana, then cartel profits would fall as much as 30 percent.

Another variable which must be taken into account when analyzing the impact of legalization on the cartels is the nature of the organizations themselves. All of Mexico's criminal groups have a range of diverse business interests aside from marijuana, and most are considered poly-drug organizations, which make huge profits from methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs. Some cartels, including the notorious Zetas, have gone beyond trafficking illicit goods and are now involved in prostitution, migrant smuggling, extortion, human trafficking, counterfeiting and oil theft.

On its own, legalization would not be able to bring an end to the activities of these groups, but -- whatever the actual figure -- legalization would have a definite financial impact. By some accounts, legalization in Colorado kept $5 million from the hands of criminals the first week, much of which, if the US government is to be believed, would have gone to Mexican traffickers.

The most immediate effect in Mexico would likely be felt in areas heavily involved in production, such as Michoacán or the "Golden Triangle" region that straddles Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua. Parts of this region are completely dominated by the cartels, who pay farmers to grow marijuana (and poppy, to a lesser extent). If the price of marijuana were to suddenly drop, the cartels that manage the production in that area would experience a significant decline in profits. Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope estimated that the Sinaloa Cartel stands to lose up to half of its profits from legalization in Colorado, Oregon and Washington alone.

Much of the power of cartels in Mexico stems from their ability to corrupt local authorities and buy protection. Whatever the precise figure, any legislation that disrupts the flow of money into cartel coffers benefits the Mexican government by allowing it to focus their resources elsewhere.

Mexico

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization!

The New Hampshire House Wednesday afternoon approved a bill that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. The measure, House Bill 492, passed on a vote of 170-162.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester) with a bipartisan group of four cosponsors, would make the private possession and home growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.

It would also direct the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration to license and regulate marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities. As amended by the House, it would enact a wholesale tax of $30 per ounce and a sales tax of 15% per ounce. The House voted down a similar bill 228-89 in 2012.

The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee to review its revenue aspects. However that committee votes, it will return to the House floor for a second vote. If approved again, it then goes to the Senate.

"House members made history today, and they are clearly on the right side of it," said Matt Simon,the New Hampshire-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the bill. "Marijuana prohibition has been an enormously expensive failure. Most Americans, including 60% of New Hampshire residents, agree that it is time to adopt a more sensible policy."

Unfortunately for marijuana advocates, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is not one of them. She said only yesterday that she would veto the bill because it would send the wrong message to kids. To actually achieve marijuana legalization in the Granite State, both the House and the Senate would have to override her veto. The margin of victory in this first House vote isn't enough to do so.

Concord, NH
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Action is really picking up as state legislatures get back into session. Meanwhile, the long battle over regulating medical marijuana in California continues. Let's get to it:

Alabama

On Tuesday, the Alabama legislature began its session with a pre-filed CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill, known as Carly's Law, is named for a Birmingham girl who suffers seizures and would allow for the use of CBD oil for specified medical conditions. It is cosponsored by Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), and Allen Farley (R-McCalla).

California

Last Monday, the city of San Rafael forced a delivery service operating there to shut down. The Caregiver Compassion Group had been quietly doing deliveries since 2011, when it lost its lease in Sausalito, and operated out of a San Rafael office. The city has banned dispensaries since 1997, and a delivery service with an office in the city is apparently close enough for city officials.

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles city attorney said he would step up enforcement against dispensaries operating in violation of Proposition D, which limited the number of dispensaries in the city to 135. City Attorney Mike Feur spoke as his office obtained an injunction against a real estate business that brokered a deal for a medical marijuana dispensary. The city has so far brought 68 criminal cases against unpermitted dispensary operators and property owners.

On Monday, San Jose medical marijuana supporters filed an initiative asking voters to keep dispensaries open in most of the city. City officials have been moving to close down some dispensaries near homes and are preparing to enact sweeping new restrictions on dispensaries. The initiative calls for a minimum of 50 dispensaries, along with the creation of a "cannabis commission" to regulate them. Advocates hope the council simply adopts their measure when it votes on regulations in March, avoiding a ballot box fight. After the city clerk's office approves the ballot title and summary, the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition will have until May 16 to gather 20,372 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors gave initial approval to their tightest cultivation rules yet. Marijuana grows would limited to 50 square feet on parcels of less than 5 acres, 100 square feet on parcels of less than 10 acres, and 150 square feet on parcels greater than 10 acres. The unanimous vote came after more than three hours of testimony in which virtually everyone speaking called for tightening restrictions on growers. The rules face two additional votes, one and the end of this month and one in February.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors ordered public hearings on regulations for dispensaries and cultivation centers that might open in unincorporated areas of the county. The board directed the Zoning Board of Appeals to conduct the hearings. The board is working from a draft ordinance that would bar medical marijuana operations from doing business near schools, parks, and day care centers, limit signage, and ban edibles.

On Wednesday, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from dispensaries as well as landlords and customers challenging the federal government's enforcement of federal marijuana laws. The dispensaries had sought injunctions blocking enforcement, but the appeals court shot them down.

Last Wednesday, the East Hartford planning commission award a special-permit application for a dispensary on Pitkin Street. The dispensary, Constitution Care LLC, must still receive approval from the state Department of Consumer Protection, which is expected to grant licenses by next month.

Florida

Last Thursday, a powerful legislator agreed to file a CBD medical marijuana bill after hearing from the families of children who suffer from epileptic seizures. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), head of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, made the vow after the panel heard two hours of testimony from parents who said high-CBD strains helped their children.

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative organizers said they had gathered more than a million signatures. People United for Medical Marijuana needs 683,149 certified signatures to qualify for the November ballot, so they have created a margin of comfort to account for invalid signatures. The campaign must also meet minimum signature numbers in half of the state's 27 congressional districts. The initiative is also before the state Supreme Court, where it has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Kentucky

Last Thursday, a House panel held a hearing on medical marijuana. An overflow crowd attended the hearing of the House Health and Welfare Committee where the topic was discussed, even though no particular bill was at issue. But one could be soon. The same day, Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) filed Senate Bill 43, which would legalize medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing on medical marijuana. The committee chair, Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) said she is only interested in high-CBD cannabis oil. The committee will not vote because it is not addressing a specific bill, even though one such bill, Senate Bill 43, has already been filed.

Minnesota

On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said he was not ready to allow medical marijuana, but would be open to a study on the issue. "I've said since I ran for office that law enforcement has enough to contend with, and I am not going to support something that has the adamant opposition of law enforcement in Minnesota, and that is still the case," he said."I'd be supportive of funding for an independent, objective study of what other states have done, what have the results been," he said. Then, maybe in 2015, he suggested.

Missouri

On Tuesday, Rep. Rory Ellinger filed a medical marijuana pilot program bill. The University City Democrat introduced House Bill 1324. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Pennsyvlania

On Tuesday, a bipartisan medical marijuana bill was filed. Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) introduced Senate Bill 1182, marking the first time such a measure has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Washington

On Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters in the legislature filed a bill to protect patient rights and preserve the state's medical marijuana program by establishing a firm regulatory framework for it. House Bill 2233 would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulation of commercial businesses, while also preserving a patient's right to grow their own cannabis, both individually and cooperatively. It would also restore vital provisions passed by the legislature in 2011, but later vetoed by Governor Gregoire (D).

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

Chronicle AM -- January 15, 2014

As the legislative season gets underway, bills are being introduced all over the place -- good, bad, and ugly. And there's trouble in Mexico, peace talks in Colombia, and more. Let's get to it:

The FARC are negotiating peace and coca crop reductions in Colombia.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Bill Would Ban Local Bans on Marijuana Businesses. A bill introduced Tuesday with 10 cosponsors would essentially bar local governments from banning pot businesses by requiring them to cooperate with state regulators in allowing marijuana stores, grows, and processing facilities to operate. Under House Bill 2322, local governments would have to treat licensed marijuana enterprises the same as any other business that attempts to locate within their boundaries. They'd be barred from adopting zoning or other regulations that impede the establishment of pot businesses. Another measure, House Bill 2144, would offer a carrot to localities by giving them 30% of the state's excise tax on marijuana sales.

New Hampshire Governor Would Veto Legalization Bill. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) said Tuesday that she would veto a pending marijuana legalization bill because she thinks it would send the wrong message to the state's youth. The House is voting on the bill today.

Missouri Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1325. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Rhode Island Legalization Proponents Form Coalition. And then there was Regulate Rhode Island. Click on the link to check out the new coalition and its web site.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1324. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Florida Initiative Campaign Passes Million-Signature Mark. The People United for Medical Marijuana campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot passed the million-signature mark this past weekend, campaign director Ben Pollara said. The group needs 683,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot -- if the state Supreme Court allows it. The initiative has been challenged by state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Pennsylvania. Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The filing of the bill, Senate Bill 1182, marks the first time such a measure has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Kentucky Senate Committee Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is holding a public hearing today on medical marijuana, although the committee chair, Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) said she is only interested in high-CBD cannabis oil. The committee will not vote because it is not addressing a specific bill, even though one medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 43, has already been filed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House Committee. A divided House Public Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug tests. House Bill 49 would require new recipients to be assessed to see whether there was a high probability they were using drugs, and if so, to undergo a drug test. It was expected to go to a full House vote today.

Florida Governor Appeals Federal Court Ruling on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Monday asked the US Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a drug testing policy aimed at state employees. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last year found the measure unconstitutional. Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made a high-profile issue of requiring drug tests for state employees and welfare recipients. But federal courts have ruled against him on both issues, as opponents have argued that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Arizona Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. Republican Reps. Phil Lovas and David Livingston and Republican Sen. Judy Burges have filed a bill that would require people seeking unemployment benefits to undergo drug screening, with drug testing mandated for those who appear likely to be using drugs. The bill, House Bill 2030, is similar to one passed in Texas last year, but put on hold because the federal Department of Labor has yet to determine which professions regularly require drug testing.

International

Colombia's FARC Presents Plan for Reducing Coca Cultivation. Colombia's FARC guerrillas, now in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, have presented a plan to reduce coca cultivation. The plan calls for demilitarizing the countryside and suspending aerial spraying of coca crops. Negotiations to end the country's 50-year-old insurgency have been going on for months and will continue.

Mexican Soldiers Meet Resistance in Bid to Disarm Vigilantes. Anti-cartel vigilantes in Michoacan offered up fierce resistance Tuesday as soldiers began trying to disarm the groups, which have taken control of a number of towns in the agricultural west-central Mexican state. Vigilantes said four people were killed in confrontations with the army; the army said one. The vigilantes said they would not give up their weapons until the government arrested top leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, which is based in the state and headquartered in the town Apatzingan. Vigilantes have taken several villages on its outskirts.

Turin Approves Medical Marijuana, Challenges Harsh Italian Drug Laws. The city council in the northern Italian city of Turin Tuesday approved a measure allowing for medical marijuana and rejecting a 2006 Italian law that undid the legal distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs. The medical use of marijuana has been already allowed in some Italian regions like Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto, but the recreational consumption of the drug is still taboo there. Turin's move could spur more movement toward allowing recreational marijuana use.

Bermuda Activist Starts Online Petition for Medical Marijuana. Marijuana reform activist and attorney Alan Gordon has started an online petition asking Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley to allow emergency medical cannabis permits for cancer patients with a doctor's recommendation. Gordon says that Bermuda's drug law allows the minister to make case-by-case exceptions to the general ban on marijuana. He also wants the minister to publish rules for making applications for a waiver.

DC Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Wins Key Vote

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in the nation's capital easily won a key committee vote today, and is expected to pass the full council in a matter of weeks. The bill passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on a 5-0 vote.

The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409) would eliminate criminal penalties and instead subject a person in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine. The legislation was introduced in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) with the support of ten out of thirteen council members.

The council was spurred to act at least in part by reports on racial disparities in marijuana arrests from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. The ACLU, for example, found that black District residents were more than eight times more likely to be arrested than white ones, the nation's second highest disparity rate.

"Marijuana possession arrests have disproportionately criminalized African American residents and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "This legislation represents a critical first step toward bringing DC law into step with public opinion and common sense."

Even as the District council advances the decriminalization bill, deeper reforms are looming. Local activists filed a marijuana legalization initiative with city officials Friday. The council may also address legalization, but if it doesn't, look for the initiative campaign to pick up steam.

Washington, DC
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, we have a trio of jail guards gone bad, as well as another cop with a pain pill problem and sticky fingers. That's a bad combination. Let's get to it:

In Miami, a Miami-Dade jail officer was arrested last Friday on charges he smuggled drugs and cell phones into the Miami-Dade County Jail. Officer Lavar Lewis, 27, also known as "The Love Doctor," went down after a 19-month investigation into persistent smuggling at the jail. At least three other jail guards are under investigation in the ongoing probe. Lewis, a day shift officer since his hire in November 2008, has been suspended since September 2013. He was charged with unlawful compensation and conspiracy to introduce contraband into a jail and was being held Friday night at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade.

In Honolulu, a Halawa prison guard was arrested Monday on charges he was smuggling methamphetamine into the prison. James Sanders III was indicted by a federal grand jury after an FBI investigation. The indictment accuses him of distributing at least five grams on one occasion and at least 50 grams on another. He is charged with two counts each of distributing methamphetamine, conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and bribery. He's out on bond already, but forbidden from working in any prison.

In Baltimore, a jail guard was sentenced last Wednesday to 3 ½ years in prison for her role in a vast drug-smuggling operation at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Adrena Rice is one of nine jail guards who have pleaded guilty in the conspiracy. She admitted to smuggling contraband including marijuana and prescription pills into the lock-up. She had copped to one count of racketeering conspiracy.

In Price, Utah, a former Carbon County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail for stealing drugs out of the evidence room. Christopher Howard Basso, 38, must also undergo substance abuse treatment and limit himself to one doctor and one pharmacy. Basso was put on leave in January 2013 after failing two drug tests, but suspicious colleagues noticed he was continuing to enter the sheriff's office without permission and set up a surveillance camera that caught him breaking into the evidence room. In a plea bargain, the 13-year veteran copped to possession of a controlled substance, tampering with evidence, and trespassing.

Chronicle AM -- January 14, 2014

Lots of activity on the marijuana and medical marijuana fronts today, and an academic study casts doubt on the utility of student drug testing. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Vote Tomorrow. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana goes for a vote before the city council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is expected to pass. The measure is also expected to get through a vote of the full council later.

Pennsylvania NAACP Backs Away from Legalization. The president of the Pennsylvania NAACP said Monday that even though one state branch supported marijuana legalization last year, that support was "illegal" and didn't reflect the state group's position. The Cheltenham branch had supported a legalization bill introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), but state NAACP head Jerome Mondesire said that was a no-no. "That can't be done locally," he said. "They've been asked to back away from it and they have."

Colorado Marijuana Possession Cases Dropped Big-Time After Legalization, But Didn't Disappear. Figures from the Colorado judiciary show that marijuana-related cases dropped 77% between 2012 and 2013, and the number of simple possession cases has dropped from 714 a month in the first part of 2012 to just 133 a month a year later. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana only remains illegal for people under 21.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Activists with Wyoming NORML last week filed a proposed initiative with state officials that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow 12 plants and let all Wyoming adults 21 and over possess marijuana for personal use. Organizers are aiming at the 2016 ballot. The proposed initiative would decriminalize recreational use and public displays of 3 ounces or less of marijuana.

Project SAM to Help Fight Legalization in Alaska. Project SAM, the anti-marijuana legalization group headed by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former drug czar's office employee and media go-to guy Dr. Kevin Sabet, will assist local efforts to defeat a proposed marijuana legalization initiative. The initiative has handed in signatures and awaits signature verification. Sabet said Monday he had been asked by a "handful of leaders" to help fend off legalization. Sabet also repeated his favorite frightening refrain -- that legalization would not lead to regulated marijuana sales, but to "Big Marijuana," supposedly something akin to Big Pharma or Big Tobacco.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Dispensary Initiative Filed. California's third largest city (sorry, San Francisco) could see a popular vote to block a ban on dispensaries after activists filed an initiative Monday with city officials. City officials have been moving to close them down, but initiative backers hope to get enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The city has been sending "cease and desist" letters to dispensaries and is set to vote on an ordinance that would effectively ban them in 99% of the city. The initiative would set a minimum of 50 dispensaries for the city. Organizers need 20,372 valid voter signatures by May 16 to qualify.

Alabama Medical Marijuana CBD Bill Filed. The Alabama legislative session begins today, and a medical marijuana bill awaits. The bill, House Bill 104, was pre-filed last week and is sponsored by Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), and Allen Farley (R-McCalla). It would provide a medical necessity defense for people seeking to be treated with cannabidiol (CBD).

Minnesota Governor Not Ready for Medical Marijuana, But Open to Study. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Monday he is not ready to allow medical marijuana in the state, but would be open to a study on the issue. "I've said since I ran for office that law enforcement has enough to contend with, and I am not going to support something that has the adamant opposition of law enforcement in Minnesota, and that is still the case," he said. "I'd be supportive of funding for an independent, objective study of what other states have done, what have the results been," he said.

Key Supporter Says New York Medical Marijuana Bill Not Ready for Senate Vote. State Sen. Diane Savino (D) said Monday that a pending medical marijuana bill "isn't ready" for a Senate vote. Medical marijuana bills have repeatedly passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a handful of independent Democrats, including Savino. "We're not playing politics with this issue," Savino said. "There are patients whose lives are being affected by this issue. We're going to build support for this the way we build support for everything else. There is sufficient support in both conferences." But, she added, "...You can't force a bill to the floor until the bill is ready. The bill will be ready when I let you know it's ready."

Washington State Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Patients, Program. In the wake of legalized marijuana under I-502, medical marijuana supporters have filed a bill, House Bill 223, to keep some key medical marijuana provisions from being swept away in the legalization tide. The bill would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulating dispensaries and preserve patients' rights to grow their own medicine. I-502 legalized sales and possession of marijuana, but not home growing, and there have been some efforts within officialdom to wipe out or reduce personal cultivation for patients as well under its rubric. (The bill was not up on the legislative web site as of Tuesday.)

Drug Testing

Study Finds Student Drug Testing Ineffective; Positive School Environments Better. A study published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that school drug tests don't deter kids from smoking marijuana, but that creating a positive school environment may be more effective. Researchers tracked students from schools with and without drug testing policies and found no significant differences in the likelihood that students would try marijuana. "Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it's not working," said study author Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center.

International

Kazakhstan MP Wants Marijuana Farms Leased to Pharmaceutical Companies. A Khazakh member of parliament -- who also just happens to be the president's daughter -- has suggested leasing broad swathes of land currently using for illicit marijuana farming to major pharmaceutical companies. MP Dariga Nazarbayeva suggested to parliament that "We review our attitude to cannabis." The interior minister, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, appeared receptive, saying, "You can't just seal off 140,000 hectares of land. Cannabis is spreading across our country." Decades of eradication efforts in Kazakhstan have proven ineffective.

Chronicle AM -- January 13, 2014

Marijuana legalization is one step closer in the nation's capital, even Georgia Republican legislators are getting on the medical marijuana bandwagon, Syria's civil war is being fueled by speed, and more. Let's get to it:

Captagon, Middle Eastern speed. Just what every brutal civil war needs. (wikimedia.org)
DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Marijuana legalization activists filed an initiative with city officials last Friday to legalize the possession of up to two ounces and three plants by adults. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this later this week.

St. Louis Mayor Ask Residents to Weigh In on Marijuana Policy. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D) is asking residents what they think about marijuana legalization. His web site has the poll online (click the link above). The poll comes as activists organized as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation beat the bushes statewide in an effort to get legalization on the ballot in Missouri.

Maine US Senate Candidate Supports Legalizing Marijuana. Democratic Party US Senate candidate Shenna Bellow is making marijuana legalization a key plank in her platform. A former director of the ACLU of Maine, Bellow calls herself a progressive and a libertarian, and also supports bold action on climate change, less government surveillance, and raising the minimum wage. She also said she envisioned herself as a Senate leader on marijuana reform.

Maryland Republican State Senator to Cosponsor Legalization Bill. State Sen. Allen Kittleman (R-Howard) said last Friday he will cosponsor a marijuana legalization bill. The bill's other sponsor is Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), but neither has actually filed the bill yet, according to the legislature's web site.

Dane County, Wisconsin, to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Dane County (Madison) supervisors voted last Thursday to put an advisory referendum asking "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?" on the spring ballot. In 2010, Dane County voters approved a medical marijuana advisory referendum with 75% of the vote. The spring election is set for April 1.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Albany. Saying Gov. Cuomo's move last week to institute a limited medical marijuana program doesn't go nearly far enough, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Albany Monday to urge the state Senate and the governor to pass comprehensive pending legislation.

Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Oregon Later This Month. As Oregon prepares to enter the dispensary era, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference will be held January 30 and 31 to discuss issues surrounding dispensaries, ranging from banking problems to licensing and beyond. Click on the link for more details.

Georgia Republican Legislators Signal Openness to Medical Marijuana. Last Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) called for hearings on medical marijuana. Two days later, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he was open to the idea. The moves come after local activists with the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (Georgia CARE) met with state officials about the issue. Peachtree NORML has also been working the issue there.

Drug Testing

Texas Unemployment Beneficiary Drug Screening Delayed. Texans applying for unemployment benefits were supposed to start being screened for evidence of drug use beginning February 1, but that isn't going to happen just yet. The Texas Workforce Commission, which is charged with implementing the law, says the US Labor Department has not provided guidance on who should be screened. The state was able to implement the law requiring screening of first-time applicants in some professions, Senate Bill 21, after Congress passed a law allowing states to drug test people receiving unemployment benefits, but the Labor Department has yet to outline which occupations fall within the parameters of the federal law.

Alabama State Senator Will File Welfare Drug Testing Bill. State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) says he will sponsor legislation requiring drug testing of some welfare recipients. Pittman wants anyone convicted of a drug offense within the last five years to have to undergo a drug test. A similar Pittman bill got through the Senate last year, only to die without a vote in the House. While Pittman said he filed the bill already, it hasn't appeared on the state legislative web site. The Alabama legislative session begins tomorrow.

Tennessee Nurses Sue Over Drug Test Strip Searches. Four Nashville nurses who say they were forced to remove all their clothing and submit to drug tests after hospital officials said drugs were missing are now suing St. Thomas Hickman Hospital. No drugs were found and none of the nurses tested positive for drugs. Now, each is seeking $75,000 in damages. Click on the link for the gory details.

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Naloxone Pilot Program Getting Underway. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has selected 47 state agencies to participate in a one-year pilot program allowing all emergency medical responders to administer the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Some emergency personnel are already authorized to use naloxone, and is it being used with increasing frequency, from 2,900 times in 2010 to 3,700 in 2012.

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Controller Issues Report on Meth. The Tennessee Controller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability have issued an updated report on meth production that finds that two popular methods for curbing production have not been proven effective. Those measures are the electronic tracking of cold medication purchases, which has not resulted in a decline in the number of home meth labs in the state, and requiring prescriptions to purchase cold medicines, which has been associated in declines in some states, but other states have shown declines without imposing such laws. Click the link to read the report.

International

Speed Use, Production Cranking Up Amidst Syrian Civil War. Syria has become a major amphetamine exporter and consumer, Reuters reported Sunday. The county's brutal civil war is fueling demand, and the central government's loss of control over vast swathes of the country is creating opportunity for producers. The speed in question is Captagon, whose active ingredient, fenethylline, is metabolized by the body into the stimulants amphetamine and theophylline. Production has moved out of Lebanon and Turkey and into war-torn Syria, the report said. Captagon is a favored black market stimulant throughout the Middle East.

Fight Between Vigilantes and Knights Templar Cartel Continues in Mexico's Michoacan. Hundreds of armed vigilantes took over the Knights Templar Cartel stronghold of Nueva Italia Sunday. The vigilantes say they formed because the state and federal governments were not protecting their communities from the drug traffickers. Since the new year began, the vigilantes have taken over several other communities on the outskirts of Apatzingan, which is considered the Knights' stronghold. On Friday, masked men set fire to city hall there and burned and looted several local shops. The governor said he had asked for additional federal forces.

Second Singapore Drug Trafficker Escapes Death Sentence. Last week, the Singapore High Court resentenced a man to life imprisonment instead of death for a drug trafficking offense. The man, Subashkaran Pragasam, becomes the second person to escape the gallows since Singapore reformed its Misuse of Drugs Act in 2012 to allow judges to avoid a mandatory death sentence if the offender was low-level and cooperated with police.

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

Chronicle AM -- January 10, 2014

The marijuana issue continues hot and heavy, one of our favorite authors is nominated for an award, harm reduction bills move in Wisconsin, and the US Sentencing Commission wants to cut drug sentences. And more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Carl Hart, nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "High Price" (columbia.edu)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Hit $5 Million in First Week. Sales of legal marijuana in Colorado since January 1 are estimated to have exceeded $5 million, with some 100,000 people lining up to buy it, according to industry insiders.

Colorado Republicans File Bill to Ban Food Stamps in Marijuana Shops. File under: solutions in search of problems. There is no evidence that anyone has ever used a food stamp EBT card to purchase marijuana products, but that hasn't stopped a handful of GOP state legislators to file a bill to outlaw it. "We need this bill, if for nothing else, as a statement," said Rep. Jared Wright (R-Grand Junction). "We shouldn't be enabling anyone to buy a substance that is banned under federal law. It's not a good use of taxpayer money," he said. The bill is Senate Bill 37.

New Hampshire House Didn't Vote on Marijuana Legalization. The House was set to vote Wednesday on a bill to legalize marijuana, but it didn't happen. The vote has instead been pushed back for a week as legislators dealt first with attempts to override vetoes on bills passed last year. The bill is House Bill 492.

No Marijuana Legalization Bill for Ohio This Year. The only Ohio legislator to push for marijuana legalization last year won't try it again this year. Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) said he had no plans to introduce a measure this year after last year's effort to pass a resolution to let residents vote on the issue was sidelined.

Washington Congressman Urges Feds to Act Quickly on Marijuana Banking. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) Friday called on federal regulators to move swiftly to resolve the issue of financial institutions being able to do business with legal marijuana businesses. In a statement, the coauthor of pending federal legislation that would do just that said that "it is urgent federal regulators come to a resolution on this issue as soon as possible."

Powerful Maryland Pol Comes Out for Marijuana Legalization. Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) has joined the list of powerful state legislators calling for marijuana legalization. She said legalization is one of "the biggest, most important issues" facing the General Assembly this year. She joins Senate President Thomas Miller (D) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur in supporting legalization, but Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D) both oppose it.

Steny Hoyer Opposes Marijuana Legalization in Maryland. US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Thursday he opposes legalizing pot in the state. "I'm not a proponent of legalizing marijuana," he said. "As I talked to people who deal with drug abuse issues, with rehabilitation issues, I became convinced that marijuana was, in fact, a threshold drug and it would lead to the use of harder, very harmful drugs," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky House Panel Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The House Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss medical marijuana. No specific bill was under discussion, but one legislator, Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) filed a bill this week, Senate Bill 43, which would legalize medical marijuana.

Florida House Committee Chair Will Propose Bill to Legalize High CBD Strains for Seizures. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said Thursday he would introduce a bill to allow for the medical use of marijuana strains that are high in CBDs. The vow came after a heart-wrenching hearing from parents of children who suffer seizure disorders, who called on the legislature to legalize strains such as "Charlotte's Web."

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Attorney General Sees Asset Forfeiture as Tool against Drug Legalizing Attorneys. After changes to undo asset forfeiture reforms approved by voters in 2000 snuck through the state legislature last year came under this week, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a brief defending the new law. But a bullet point justifying a new cap on attorneys' fees for people who successfully defend their property is setting off alarms among First Amendment advocates. "By setting a limit on attorney's fees it will take away the incentive for attorneys who actively promote the legalization of drugs in the state of Utah from soliciting clients who are engaged in criminal activity," the attorney general's brief said. Click on the link for a lengthier critique.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Coming Back in Indiana. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said Thursday that while welfare drug testing legislation is not part of the House Republican agenda, a pending bill to do just that is "one we're going to enthusiastically endorse and move forward on." The bill, which passed the House, but not the Senate, last year, would require drug testing of welfare recipients based on some form of reasonable suspicion.

Harm Reduction

Push On to End Needle Exchange Ban in Federal Funding Bill. Harm reduction and public health advocates are urging lawmakers to lift the prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for needle exchange programs. The battlefield is the conference committee that will reconcile House and Senate budget bills. The Senate version had language that included funding for needle exchanges, but the GOP-led House is expected to oppose it.

Wisconsin Overdose 911, Naloxone Bills Pass Assembly Committee. A bill to provide limited legal immunity to people who notify authorities of an overdose passed the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee Thursday. So did a bill that would allow first responders to carry and use the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Both now goes to the full Assembly, which should vote on them Tuesday. The bills have the backing of Attorney General JB Van Hollen (R) and are expected to sail through the Senate as well.

Honors

Carl Hart Wins NAACP Image Award Nomination for "High Price." Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Carl Hart's "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Changes Everything You Know About Drugs and Society" has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of literary nonfiction. The awards ceremony takes place on February 22.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Suggests Lowering Drug Guideline Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to publish proposed federal drug sentencing guideline amendments that would include lowering guideline sentences for drug trafficking offenses. The amendments would reduce drug trafficking sentences by about 11 months, leading to a reduction in the federal prison population of more than 6,000 prisoners five years after taking effect. The commission is now seeking public comment on the proposal.

International

Jamaica Marijuana Growers to Organize. Jamaican legalization activists and marijuana growers will form a Cannabis Future Growers and Producers Association as part of a major conference next week. The "Going Forward -- Legalize It" conference is organized by the Ganja Law Reform Coalition, the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, and the National Alliance for the Legalization of Ganja, and hopes to help lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry on the island.

Canada's SensibleBC Sees 2014 as a Building Year. After an effort to put marijuana reform on the provincial ballot via an initiative faltered last year, Sensible BC leader Dana Larsen said this year would be a year of building momentum, training canvassers, and spreading the message of marijuana legalization. Larsen will also be touring the province this spring and summer to build support.

Chronicle AM -- January 9, 2014

Alaska appears poised to vote on marijuana legalization, New York's governor announces a half-step toward medical marijuana, the ACLU fights for our rights on a couple of fronts, and trouble could be coming to the coca fields of Peru. And more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has a new bully pulpit from which to crusade for coca. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of an initiative to legalize marijuana in Alaska handed in 46,000 signatures Wednesday. The campaign only needs 30,000 valid signatures to qualify for the August ballot. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Alabama. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. An as yet unspecified fine would apply to offenders. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and will be scheduled for a hearing when the session gets underway next week.

Alabama Governor Rejects Legal and Medical Marijuana. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Wednesday he opposes legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, although he suggested he would be open to FDA-approved medical marijuana products. "I do believe there are medications out there that will do the same thing," Bentley said. "Now if someone wants to use the medicine that is in marijuana, go through the testing when you do that through the FDA, go through all of that -- that's fine. I have no problem with that."

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Announces Limited Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will initiate a limited medical marijuana program through executive action. Advocates said the measure was not enough and that the state legislature needs to pass pending medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Moving to Undo Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Utah legislature moved late last year to roll back asset forfeiture reforms approved by state voters in a 2000 referendum. In unanimous votes, legislators approved a bill that will kill the provision requiring reimbursement for property owners who win in court and to require prosecutors to file such cases in a timely manner. Read Radley Balko's lengthy report by clicking on the link.

Drugs and Pregnancy

Experts File Brief Challenging Use of Child Abuse Law against Pregnant Women Using Methadone. Some 76 groups and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the New Jersey Supreme Court, urging it to overturn a lower court ruling making the state's civil child abuse law applicable to women who received medically prescribed methadone treatment while pregnant.

Search and Seizure

Indiana ACLU Challenges Pain Medication Drug Test Rules. The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court challenging a new state rule that requires patients prescribed a certain level of pain medications to undergo annual drug tests. The rule concocted by the state Medical Licensing Board last month requires such patients to sign a treatment agreement that includes agreement to undergo the annual tests. The ACLU argues that the rule violates Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Massachusetts ACLU Sues to Block Drug Dog Sniffs of Prison Visitors. The ACLU of Massachusetts and a prisoners' rights group have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court seeking to block the state Department of Corrections from using drug dogs to search prison visitors. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to immediately stop the practice and allow for public comment on the policy, which the department instituted in November. A hearing is set for January 24.

International

Peru Coca Eradication to Target VRAEM for First Time, DEVIDA Head Says. The Peruvian government for the first time will attempt to eradicate large amounts of coca crops in the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM), the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA said Wednesday. The area is the most densely planted coca growing region in the world, accounting for more than half of all Peruvian production, and is the home of Shining Path guerilla remnants who got involved in the drug trade as their rebellion fizzled 20 years ago. DEVIDA wants to eradicate 37,000 acres of coca crops there, about 75% of total plantings in the region. Look for trouble when eradication efforts actually get underway, probably in August.

Bolivia to Use G-77 Post to Push for Legal Coca Leaf Internationally. Bolivian President Evo Morales has assumed chairmanship of the Group of 77 nations, and he said Wednesday that he would use his position to push for removing coca leaf from the 1961 UN Single Convention's list of internationally banned drugs. Bolivia briefly left the treaty in 2012 before returning last year with a reservation that it did not recognize the ban on coca leaf chewing. "Last year, we achieved recognition of traditional consumption of the coca leaf," he said. "Our next task will be to remove the coca leaf from the list of prohibited substances."

Germans Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. Only 29% of Germans said they favored legalizing marijuana in a new poll, while 65% were opposed. The only political party with a majority favoring legalization was the Greens, and just barely, with 51%. A Green politician, Monika Herrmann, is trying to open a Dutch-style cannabis coffee shop in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, but would need federal government approval. This poll isn't going to help.

France Approves Marijuana-Based Medicine for Multiple Sclerosis. France's health ministry announced Thursday it had approved the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray, to treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug is the first marijuana-based medicine to be made available in the country. Sativex is already approved in more than 20 countries.

Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Poised to Make Ballot

Alaska appears to be well-placed to become the third state to legalize marijuana after supporters of a proposed marijuana legalization initiative Wednesday handed in 50% more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot. Some 30,000 valid voter signatures are required to qualify for the ballot; organizers handed in more than 46,000.

Initiative and referendum experts assume that a certain percentage of gathered signatures will be deemed invalid, with a common metric being that 25% to 30% will be thrown out. But even if 30% of the signatures gathered in Alaska were thrown out, that would still have the initiative qualifying by a couple of thousand votes.

Still, it's not official until it's official. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures. If it indeed qualifies, it will appear on the state's August 19 election ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by the local group Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, which is working with the national Marijuana Policy Project.

The Act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana would allow adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and six plants (three flowering). Adults would be allowed to possess the harvest of their plants even in excess of one ounce as long as it remains on the premises where it was grown. The measure would also legalize the production, sale, and possession of paraphernalia.

The measure would allow for marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, infused product manufacturers, and testing facilities. It charges the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board with regulating marijuana commerce, but gives the legislature the authority to supersede it by creating a Marijuana Control Board. A $50 an ounce wholesale transfer tax would be imposed.

The measure does not change existing state laws banning public consumption, driving while impaired, or allowing employers to restrict marijuana use by workers.

It's an idea whose time has come, said proponents.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said Bill Parker, a former Department of Corrections deputy commissioner and one of the initiative's sponsors. "Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

The possession of small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of one's home is already legal in Alaska under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions. But voters have been loath to go further. A broadly-written 2000 legalization initiative got 41% of the vote, and a less expansive 2004 initiative got 44% of the vote.

Times have changed, said Parker.

"I think Alaska and the country are coming to grips with the fact that what we have isn't working," he said.

Juneau, AK
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Regulated dispensaries are coming to Oregon, it's looking increasingly likely that a medical marijuana initiative is coming to Florida, New York's governor sticks a toe in the water, and California battles continue. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a superior court judge upheld Los Angeles' medical marijuana ordinance limiting the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city. Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock ruled that Proposition D, which was approved by voters in May, does not violate the due process or equal protection rights of dispensary owners being forced out of business.

Last Friday, advocates asked the state Supreme Court to review a ruling that allows cities to ban all marijuana growing within in their boundaries. The court is being asked to review an appeals court decision in Maral v. City of Live Oak allowing the ban on personal patient grows. Advocates acknowledge that the Supreme Court decided in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Incthat localities can ban dispensaries, but argue that cultivation for personal medicinal use is specifically protected by statute.

On Tuesday, the Santa Rosa city council eased the rules on dispensaries. The changes, which included elimination of patient caps, expansion of hours of operation, and allowing dispensaries to sell pipes and other devices used to ingest marijuana, were approved by the council unanimously. Dispensaries had labored under a 500-patient cap that only served to lead competitors to open up shop outside the city limits. The number of dispensaries remains capped at two, but now the city manager has discretion to increase that number in the future.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council approved putting a dispensary sales tax on the ballot. The tax would start at 6% and could increase up to 10%. The measure also includes a tax of $15 to $50 per square foot for grow areas in dispensaries. The measure will go to votes on April 8.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors banned all marijuana cultivation in the county's unincorporated areas beginning next month. The move came over the strenuous objections of medical marijuana users. The unanimous vote includes fines of $1,000 per plant and $100 per plant per day for each day the plants remain after being discovered. Fresno becomes the first county to ban all medical marijuana cultivation.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative backers said they were near to a million signatures. It's starting to look like People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may actually qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would institute a limited medical marijuana program. The plan would allow a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana, but relies on the cooperation of federal agencies not known for cooperating with efforts to expand medical marijuana -- the DEA, the FDA, and NIDA. Advocates complained that Cuomo did not call for the passage of comprehensive legislation, which is pending in Albany.

Oregon

On Tuesday, state officials said draft dispensary rules would be posted within a week. The rules, which will be the basis of a statewide dispensary regulations system approved by the legislature, will next undergo public hearings and could be revised before being finalized. In the meantime, dispensary operators can seek temporary operating licenses under the draft rules beginning March 3.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Bad cops get sued in Chicago, drugs are missing in Baltimore, an Ohio cop rips off the DARE program, and a Louisiana jailer gets caught smuggling pot and tobacco. Let's get to it:

In Chicago, a Chicago-area couple sued a local drug task force on December 28, charging that members of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG) illegally detained them without cause and ransacked their vehicle and home for drugs, but, not finding any drugs, instead stole thousands of dollars worth of items, including money orders, which have been cashed by the MEG. MEG has denied stealing the other items, including a flat screen TV.

In Baltimore, drug evidence went missing from the Baltimore Police evidence room last Thursday. The evidence room is on the upper floor of police headquarters in downtown Baltimore. Police would not say what or how much was taken. The department is investigating.

In Amite City, Louisiana, a Tangipahoa Parish jail deputy was arrested Monday on charges he was conspiring to bring drugs into the jail and sell them to inmates. Patrick Collins, 58, went down after the sheriff's office received information that he planned to smuggle drugs in on that day, and he was caught with four separate packages containing marijuana and tobacco. He is charged with one count of malfeasance in office, two counts of introduction of contraband into a penal institution and possession with intent to distribute schedule 1 narcotics. At last report, Collins was still in jail in a neighboring parish.

In Troy, Ohio, a former Troy police officer pleaded guilty December 24 to ripping off the DARE program. Kirt Wright, 41, copped to running up $15,000 in unauthorized charges for his own use on the DARE program credit card. He pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft in office. He's looking at up to three years in prison at sentencing.

Chronicle AM -- January 8, 2014

East Coast governors speak against marijuana legalization, but DC voters may get a chance to have their own voices heard; a new report on Obamacare's implications for drug reform is out; the DEA is reported to have talked to the Sinaloa Cartel; and details of a Mexico City marijuana legalization bill emerge. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists to File Marijuana Legalization Initiative This Week.The nation's capital could vote on marijuana legalization this year. Activists there plan to submit a legalization initiative to city officials by week's end. Because of quirks in District law, the initiative will not seek to allow retail marijuana sales -- that would require action by the DC city council -- but would allow adults to possess and consume marijuana and grow up to six plants.

DOJ Will Reportedly Issue Guidance on Marijuana Banking Soon. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department will soon issue a memo with guidelines for financial institutions dealing with legal marijuana businesses. Insiders said the current draft document emphasizes that federal enforcement priorities will be directed toward those who use legal marijuana sales as a front for other criminal activity, funnel it across state lines, or sell it as part of a broader drug dealing conspiracy. But how financial institutions are supposed to know which of their marijuana customers are drawing federal interest remains unclear, suggesting that, as it stands, the draft memo will not satisfy banks.

Rhode Island Governor Calls Marijuana Legalization "Premature." Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said Tuesday Rhode Island should wait to see how legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before trying it there. He added that it was premature to consider legalization before seeing how the state's 2013 decriminalization law is working out.

Maryland Governor Opposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday that while he was open to expanding access to medical marijuana, he opposed general legalization. "I'm not much in favor of it," he said. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."

Oregon Legislature Could Discuss Legalization Next Month. With plans afoot to field a marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon this year, legislators are hinting they may want to take a crack at it first. Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told a local meeting she expects legislators to take up the issue in the session that begins February 3.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Due in Days. State officials said Tuesday that draft rules for the state's newly-regulated dispensary industry should be posted within a week. Then will come a series of public hearings before the rules are finalized. In the meantime, dispensaries will be able to operate under temporary rules, with applications accepted beginning March 3.

New York Governor's Medical Marijuana Plan "Unworkable," MPP Says. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to announce an executive order allowing limited medical marijuana availability today, but the Marijuana Policy Project called Cuomo's proposal "unworkable," saying it would require the cooperation of the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA, none of which have been amenable to such projects. MPP says the solution is for the legislature to pass pending medical marijuana legalization.

Obamacare and Drug Policy

New DPA/ACLU Issue Brief Discusses Affordable Care Act's Impact on Drug Policy. A new issue brief from the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union reviews provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to drug policy, as well as how the ACA can help recast the drug policy debate. The brief is Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform.

International

DEA Met With Sinaloa Cartel Leaders, Mexican Newspaper Says. Members of the DEA and the Justice Department met secretly with leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to gain information about rival cartels, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Monday. The meetings took place without the knowledge of Mexican officials, although US authorities on some occasions provided Mexican authorities with information derived from the meetings. The newspaper identified the DEA or Justice Department employees present at the meetings as Steve Fraga, Manuel Castañon, David Herrad and Carlos Mitchem.

CuPIHD Publishes Study of Mexico City Drug Markets. Mexico's Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CuPIHD) has published a quantitative and qualitative analysis of Mexico City illicit drug markets, describing the size and characteristics of the drug markets, as well as how drug users perceive and interact with their legal, economic, institutional, and social environments. The English-language version of the study is Drugs DF: The Illegal Drug Markets of Mexico City.

Draft Reveals Details of Mexico City Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Mexico City web site Animal Politico has obtained a draft of a bill being worked on by a team of leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to advance marijuana reform in the federal district. The bill would completely decriminalize the possession of marijuana, make marijuana possession and distribution "zero priority" offenses for law enforcement, and create a system of dispensaries to sell marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The proposed bill would require changes in, or, at least, exemptions from, some existing federal laws.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

NY Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will use his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will sign an executive order to allow the limited use of marijuana, the New York Times reported Saturday. The move comes as the state legislature is set to debate pending medical marijuana legislation in Albany.

Andrew Cuomo
The executive order will cite a 1980 law that allows for the use of controlled substances to treat serious illnesses. The narrowly-tailored program will allow only 20 hospitals statewide to provide marijuana to patients suffering from a short list of specified conditions. The Department of Health, in consultation with experts, will be charged with drafting regulations for the program.

Under that 1980 law, a little-known bit of New York medical marijuana history occurred. The state Department of Health study conducted a large scale clinical trial using NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes to study the effectiveness of inhaled marijuana in preventing nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. That study found that marijuana was as effective or more effective than standard anti-emetics 93% of the time.

The move is a departure for Gov. Cuomo, who has previously expressed opposition to medical marijuana. The governor's apparent change of heart on the issue could spur the state Senate, which has yet to even hold a hearing on the pending bill, to finally act.

The move is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done, said advocates.

"We thank the governor for his leadership and for taking action on behalf of some suffering patients in New York," said Gabriel Sayegh, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With the Senate failing to act, patients have been left to suffer. The governor is doing everything he can within his executive power to help alleviate the suffering of some patients, without having to wait on the Senate."

But, Sayegh noted, a 34-year-old law may not be sufficient to address issues around medical marijuana, and that means the legislature isn't off the hook.

"The legislature still needs to act," he said. "Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation has long languished in Albany. The Assembly has on four occasions passed the Compassionate Care Act, but the Senate has failed to take action or even hold a hearing on the issue. The logjam in the Republican-controlled State Senate has made New York the only state in the Northeast without a medical marijuana program -- so New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief. That's not acceptable."

Albany, NY
United States

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