Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a veritable cornucopia of corrupt cops this week. Major corruption scandals wind down in the Chicago suburbs and the Rio Grande Valley, LA deputies get popped planting guns in a dispensary, a Philly narc sleeps with his snitch and whispers DEA secrets in her ear, and more. Let's get to it:

In Reading, Pennsylvania, a Reading police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole at least $16,500 seized from drug suspects as evidence. Officer Jodi Royer, 47, He is charged with theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence and unlawful use of a computer and related counts. He came under suspicion in March when his supervisor discovered cash missing from the evidence property room in the basement of City Hall. Investigators said Royer stole the money to support his gambling habit. Royer was transferred to the evidence department in April 2011. The Berks County District Attorney's audited the evidence and allege Royer tampered with evidence in six cases, stealing $14,484 in four cases and returning $2,214 from two other cases but with bills of the wrong denomination, including some that were not in circulation at the time of the original case.

In Los Angeles, two former LA County sheriff's deputies were arrested last Thursday on charges they planted guns in a medical marijuana dispensary and used the planted weapons as the basis to falsely arrest two men. Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence as a peace officer. The two officers allegedly turned off the electricity and a security camera system inside the dispensary as they planted guns. They then wrote a report saying they spotted a drug deal involving a person with a gun and claimed to have followed him into the dispensary. But surveillance video from the dispensary was "inconsistent" with their report. They pair of crooked cops are looking at up to seven years each.

In Houston, Texas, a former Houston police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he provided security and cover for drug dealers. Marcos Carrion, 36, is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The case allegedly involves cocaine shipped between 2013 and April 2014. Carrion resigned from the department in February 2014. He's now out on $5,000 bond.

In Warsaw, Indiana, a Warsaw police officer was arrested last Friday on charges she was peddling pain pills after she was caught on video selling oxycodone to an undercover officer. Officer Lacy Ward is charged with conspiracy to deliver Schedule II controlled substances and interfering with an investigation.

In Columbus, Ohio, a former Columbus police officer was sentenced last Friday to 57 months in federal prison for protecting a suspected heroin dealer. Stevie Billups, 57, blamed his misbehavior on a raging gambling habit. He pleaded guilty in November to attempted distribution of heroin. He also had been charged with carrying a gun during a drug-trafficking crime and money laundering after he hooked up with the drug dealer last summer at the Hollywood Casino Columbus. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia narcotics officer was sentenced Monday to a year in prison for lying about his relationship with a confidential informant. Robertito Fontan, 42, was romantically involved with his snitch and tipped her off that the DEA was investigating her former boyfriend. He then lied to FBI investigators who were looking into the leak. He was convicted in January of making false statements.

In Wheaton, Illinois, a former Schaumberg police detective was sentenced Tuesday to 26 years in prison for seizing drugs from dealers and reselling them. Matthew Hudak had pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, official misconduct, burglary, and armed violence for his role in a trio of crooked narcs in the Schaumberg Police Department. One of Hudak's buddies is now doing 24 years; another still faces trial. The three officers allegedly took part in an elaborate plan for at least six months that involved withholding drugs taken during arrests, then reselling them through a street dealer, prosecutors said. The drugs included marijuana and cocaine. Prosecutors also claimed the trio stole $20,000 from a storage locker belonging to a drug dealer, prosecutors said. They went down after an informant approached another local police department to report the officers had contacted him about selling drugs for them.

In Bryan, Texas, a former Madisonville police sergeant was sentenced Tuesday to five years probation for having drugs planted in his ex-wife's vehicle during a 2011 custody dispute. Jeffrey Covington had been convicted last week on retaliation charges after drug possession and official oppression charges were dropped. Covington had an informant plant meth in Laura Covington's vehicle and arranged for her to be pulled over and arrested on drug charges, but those charges were later dropped.

In McAllen, Texas, four former Hidalgo County law enforcement officers were sentenced Tuesday to prison terms ranging from eight years to nearly 12 years for using their positions with a local drug task force to sell drugs and provide protection to drug traffickers, before recessing to continue the others Wednesday morning. Members of the department's Panama Unit also stole money and drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy. Sometimes, members of the unit initiated the thefts themselves, while other times they were hired to do them. Mission police officer Jonathan Trevino, son of the then-Hidalgo County sheriff, decided which jobs they took and how the proceeds were divided. In some instances members coerced their way into homes wearing body armor and carrying their guns, looking for drugs. In other cases -- which turned out to be an undercover federal operation -- members escorted cocaine loads moving through the area. Former Deputy Jorge Garza got 10 years, former deputies Fernando Guerra Sr. and his son got eight years each, and former Deputy Gerardo Mendoza-Duran got eight years, while former Deputy Claudio Mata got 12 years. Nine more are set to be sentenced later this week.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) today signed into law a bill that will allow the state to file criminal charges against pregnant women who use drugs on the grounds that they are potentially harming their fetuses, even though there is little scientific evidence that being exposed to illicit drugs in the womb causes long-term harm to children.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) (tn.gov)
In his signing statement, Haslam said he signed the bill after "extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials" and will "be monitoring the impact of the law through regular updates with the court system and health professionals."

The bill foresees prison sentences of up to 15 years for women who used drugs and whose babies were stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed.

Haslam's move comes just one day after acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) slammed the notion in a visit to the state.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," said acting drug czar Michael Botticelli. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease."

Haslam's approval of the measure, Senate Bill 1391, also comes in the face of a massive outcry from reproductive rights and criminal justice groups across the country, who say that criminalizing pregnant women is the wrong policy approach. Those advocates argue that criminalizing pregnant women who are using drugs works against getting them to come forward to seek medical treatment and that the law will disproportionately impact poor, non-white women.

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

It isn't just activists who are upset. According to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, most medical expert groups oppose such laws. And specialists in obstetric medicine and drug addiction called on Haslam to veto the measure.

"Tennessee has become the first state to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes," the pregnancy advocacy group said this afternoon.

Nashville, TN
United States

Chronicle Review Essay: Marijuana Policy Past and Future

A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian (2014, The New Press, 264 pp., $17.95 PB)

After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy by John Walker (2014, FDL Writers Foundation, 194 pp., $14.99 PB)

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/after-legalization.jpg
It has been fewer than 20 years since California voters ushered in the modern era of marijuana policy by approving a loosely-written initiative to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Since then, medical marijuana laws have spread to almost half the states (and that's not including those CBD-only bills in vogue this year), nearly as many states have decriminalized small-time pot possession, and two have taken the plunge into full (more or less) legalization.

I'm optimistic that the pace of change is only going to accelerate. I can foresee Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia legalizing it at the ballot box this year; with California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana all good candidates for doing the same in 2016. And if advocates in big Midwest states like Ohio and Michigan can ever manage to get a legalization initiative on the ballot there, we could pick up critical states in the Heartland.

It'll be a tougher slog in the states, mainly in the East, that don't have the initiative process. I would be surprised to see any of them legalize it until after 2016, in part because the legislative process is typically so slow, but also in part because after 2016, legislators will begin to understand that they're about to miss the marijuana revenues boat. While legalization bills are already popping up around the country, I'm not holding my breath, but I expect one or more of the New England states to legalize it at the statehouse in the months following the 2016 election, and then the race will really be on.

I have to thank Firedoglake's Jon Walker for helping to clarify my thoughts on this. With After Legalization, he posits what the near future of pot policy is going to look like, and he presents a convincing scenario similar to that which I have just advanced. Walker uses the rhetorical conceit of looking back from the year 2030 and argues that by that point, federal marijuana prohibition will be history (having ended sometimes in the 2020s) and 43 of the 50 states will have legalized it. (Two more, Idaho and Wyoming, in Walker's scenario, will have chosen to allow people to grow and consume their own, but won't allow marijuana sales.)

But After Legalization is much more than mere wishful prognosticating. It is an in-depth, thoughtful, and insightful look at how our approach to legal marijuana will evolve, what the issues are likely to be, where the battle lines are likely to be drawn, and who the players will be (you might be surprised). Walker provides concrete hypothetical examples of different approaches to legalization (available at state stores only, available from private stores, available from gourmet boutique stores), different product lines, and differing tax and regulation schemes, as well as delving into the minutiae of state and local regulation.

One thing that struck me was Walker's assertion that the wholesale cost of high quality marijuana under general legalization would be about $37 an ounce, and that good pot would probably sell for something like $75 an ounce retail -- more at those fancy boutiques. That's way cheaper than what we're currently seeing in Colorado, where legal pot is fetching near black market prices, but I suppose that black market premium will go down in the face of broader legalization.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/a-new-leaf.jpg
Relatedly, Walker also argues that the federal government can effectively set retail marijuana prices. It can do so by imposing a two-tiered excise tax that only kicks in if individual states have not passed their own excise tax. California could choose to impose no excise tax on pot, but it would gain no competitive advantage in pricing because then the federal excise tax would come into play. Such a system would, however, discourage states from setting excessive excise taxes because they could be undercut by neighbors.

After Legalization is an exercise in serious marijuana wonkery -- and I mean that in a good way. After legalization, the struggle won't be one of freedom and liberation, but of legislative committees, zoning boards, and product packaging disputes. Multiple interests will be at play, and pot smokers will only be one of them. Walker's work unpacks these intricacies, lays out the possibilities, and still manages to be entertaining. It should be required reading for policy-makers, legislators, and staffers beginning to grapple with these issues, but it's a comprehensive and provocative read for anyone with a serious interest in the future of pot policy.

If Walker attempts to answer the question "Where do we go from here?" Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian attempt to tell us how we got here in the first place with A New Leaf. With the pair of investigative journalists, we're off on a journey into the recent history of marijuana law reform. Regular readers of the Drug War Chronicle will know the stories the pair tell and the people they talk to -- this is exactly what I've been covering for the past 13 years -- but Martin and Rashidian manage to turn the whirlwind of events into a seamless, comprehensive narrative that explains the rise of the marijuana movement, culminating with the election day victories in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

They interview patients, growers, researchers, businesspeople, legislators, activists, and more as they tease the tale of marijuana reform from those first federally approved patients in the 1970s and 1980s through the AIDS crisis and the rise of medical marijuana in California, and beyond. Anyone wanting to join the conversation about the rapidly changing landscape of marijuana reform would be well-served to have A New Leaf on his bookshelf.

Like Walker, Martin and Nushidian see pot prohibition imploding in short order, and that brings us to the next order of business. With marijuana no longer illegal, the broader war on drugs loses its primary raison d'etre. Marijuana users constitute the vast majority of all illicit drug users -- with pot legal, the number of illicit drug users would drop from more than 20 million to somewhere around 2 million.

That could mean that the drug war collapses for lack of a suitable target. Or it could mean that the resources of the law enforcement juggernaut are focused all the more intensely on the remaining illicit drugs and their consumers. Even when marijuana legalization is a done deal, our work isn't done until we manage to kill the beast of prohibition once and for all.

Chronicle AM -- April 29, 2014

Pressure builds for marijuana legalization in Illinois, a California medical marijuana patient is bumped off the liver transplant list, the drug czar's office slams the idea of criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, and the founder of the Pirate Party has some choice words on drug policy. And more. Let's get to it:

The founder of Sweden's Pirate Party has some choice words about Swedish drug policies.
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Lawmakers Call for Legalization. Three Chicago-area Democratic state legislators and a Cook County commissioner held a press conference Monday to call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession, to be followed by complete legalization. The three reps are Mike Zalewski, Kelly Cassidy, and Christian Mitchell, ahd the commissioner is John Fritchey. They have not filed any legislation, but want fellow Democrats in the General Assembly to green-light a task force to study the issue.

Coloradans Still Favor Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Colorado voters support their legalization law, with 54% in favor. Only two demographic groups -- Republicans and voters over 65 -- thought it was a bad idea; in all other demographic groups, there was majority support. A majority of respondents also agreed that driving has not become more dangerous and that legalization would save money in the criminal justice system. Only 15% of respondents said they had bought pot since it has been legalized.

Hawaii THC Ministry's Roger Christie Gets Five Years in Prison; Already Served Four Awaiting Trial. A Big Island man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison for having 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring. Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, has served nearly four years in federal detention. Based on how credit for time served is calculated, he could be released in a month or two. A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail. Christie and his wife had tried to fight the charges on religious freedom grounds, but lost in the courts. They then pleaded guilty.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Passes Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday approved a bill that allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Minnesota Senate Committee Approves Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Colorado Bill to Make PTSD as Qualifying Medical Condition Killed in House Committee Vote. A bill that would have added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of 'debilitating medical conditions' that qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation was killed in committee Monday. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

California Patient Denied Liver Transplant Over Marijuana; Sign the Petition Here. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 333 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Prescription Opiates

New York Lawmakers Introduce Package of Bills Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates. New York lawmakers have introduced a set of bills to help fight heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased better coverage for treatment. The six bills would increase penalties for selling opioids -- a class of drugs including heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone -- that result in death; equip first responders with overdose-reversal drugs; require health insurance providers to cover rehab programs and anti-addiction medication; create a public service announcement targeted at teenagers; and provide rehabilitation in communities.

Reproductive Rights

Drug Czar's Office Slams Tennessee Bill Criminalizing Drug Use by Pregnant Women. As Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ponders whether to sign a recently passed bill criminalizing drug use by pregnant women, acting Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli visited the state to say it was a bad idea. "Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease." The proposal has garnered national attention and vocal state and nationwide opposition from constitutional and reproductive rights groups. More than 10,500 people signed a petition asking for the governor's veto. Today is Haslam's deadline to act.

International

Tory Think Tank Urges British Conservatives to Decriminalize Drugs, Embrace Marijuana Reform. The Conservative Party think tank Bright Blue has issued a series of policy proposals to reinvigorate Conservative electoral support, including abandoning the war on drugs and embracing at least partial marijuana legalization. While the proposal is unlikely to find favor with Home Secretary Theresa May and others on the Tory right it does reflect a growing international trend following the legalization of marijuana in some US states. The Liberal Democrats have already said they will set up a Royal Commission to overhaul Britain's drugs rules and some within Labor would back a similar approach.

Pirate Party Head Admits Drug Use, Tells Sweden to "Get Real" About Drug Policy. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, has been identified as one of eight European Parliament candidates who have tried drugs. He is unapologetic: "No, I haven't 'tried' drugs. I have 'used' drugs, and enjoyed it. That's the whole damn point," he wrote. "The Swedish elitist debate is seriously deranged on these issues -- to start getting realistic, we must first acknowledge that people are using drugs because they enjoy doing so. It's really no difference from enjoying a glass of wine or a fine cognac. Or for that matter, a cup of coffee, which is a very common drug that was once banned in Sweden as -- wait for it -- a 'gateway drug to heavier abuse'. Yes, you read that right." The Pirate Party aims to decriminalize the personal use of controlled substances as well as the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. "This is a very firm anchor in our civil liberties platform," he said. The Pirate Party earned 7.1% of the vote in the 2009 European elections. It was founded amid the debate about illegal downloading of film and music. It initially focused on promoting looser copyright laws and restrictions on the authorities' powers to snoop on computer users. The party now campaigns on a wide range of issues.

Uruguayans Still Oppose Marijuana Legalization Law, But Want to Give It a Chance. A new poll from CIFRA finds that 64% still oppose the country's legalization law, basically unchanged from 65% against it before the law was passed last year. But a narrow majority, 51%, said "it is better to wait until the bill is in effect to see if it truly works before rejecting it." Meanwhile, 46% of respondents want the bill "abrogated immediately."

Chronicle AM -- April 28, 2012

Medical marijuana continues to be contested terrain, a legalization bill gets a hearing in Boston, hemp is on the move in Hawaii and New York, New Zealand cracks down on its regulated synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

New Zealand is taking regulated synthetic drugs off the shelf until they can be proven "low risk." (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Seal Past Marijuana Convictions. Marijuana convictions that predate current Colorado law could be sealed under a bipartisan proposal being floated inside the Capitol -- a move that could potentially impact thousands of Coloradans. The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westminster) and Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), allows anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that would now be legal under Amendment 64 to have their records sealed. Also, a draft of the bill says that a person convicted of "any other marijuana offense" beyond the scope of Amendment 64 would also be allowed to file a petition with a district attorney to have their record sealed. If the district attorney does not object, the court would then be required to seal the conviction record.

Massachusetts Legislators Hear Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on Judiciary held a well-attended and well-covered hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 1632, Thursday. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act Initiative Goes Signature-Gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida Sheriffs to Fight Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Iowa Federal Marijuana Patients in Danger of Losing Access After Their Doctor Leaves the State. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Businesses Owned By Sponsor of Proposed Anti-Marijuana Initiative. Supporters of medical marijuana protested outside two of the businesses co-owned by the sponsor of a proposed initiative that would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Pennsylvania Legislator and Parents of Sick Kids Plan Sit-In at Governor's Office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children said Monday they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said.

Rhode Island Cops Want to Amend Medical Marijuana Law for "Public Safety" Reasons. Law enforcement officials are pushing to amend Rhode Island's medical marijuana law to address what they say are public safety problems, but patient advocates say the changes would jeopardize access to medicine. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Hemp

Hawaii Hemp Bill Passes Legislature. Last week, Hawaii legislators approved a bill that will focus on the study of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and phytoremediation resource. The bill, House Bill 1700, authorizes the dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. It does have quite a few strict stipulations to prevent undesired consequences.

New York Hemp Bill Introduced. Growing industrial hemp for research purposes would be legal in New York under a bill proposed last week by a pair of Southern Tier lawmakers. An amendment to the federal farm bill this year allowed for hemp research programs in states that allow industrial hemp growth. The New York bill, Senate Bill 7047 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwel), and Sen. Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats).

Drug Policy

Big Congressional Drug War Hearings This Week. This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10:00am there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled "Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships," held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration." The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Georgia Leaders Consider Expanding Drug Testing of Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was exploring a plan that would require drug tests those who apply for unemployment benefits, and would set aside funding for treatment programs if they fail. The move would require legislative approval in 2015 as well as signoff by the US Department of Labor. He also hinted he would sign House Bill 772, which would require drug testing for some food stamp recipients. He said he believes it strikes a "delicate balance" between helping the neediest and protecting taxpayer dollars, though he would not say definitively whether he would sign the measure into law. He has until Tuesday to decide.

International

New Zealand Backpedals on Regulating Synthetics; Will Pull Drugs Off Shelves Until Proven Safe. All synthetic drugs will be pulled off the shelves within two weeks until individual testing has proven each brand is "low-risk," the government has announced. Citing reports of severe adverse reactions and the government's inability to determine which of the regulated synthetics are causing them, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he would introduce emergency legislation to remove the remaining 41 allowed synthetics from store shelves until they are tested. "I will bring to Parliament amending legislation to put this measure in place, to be introduced and passed through all stages under urgency on May 8 and come into force the day after receiving the Royal Assent," he said.

Israeli MP Admits Regularly Smoking Marijuana. Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said she occasionally smokes marijuana, which is illegal, in an interview Friday. Zandberg is one of the most outspoken proponents of legalizing cannabis in the Knesset, together with MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), who says he has never used the drug. "Like everyone else, I smoke sometimes. I'm not a criminal and I'm not a delinquent," she said.

Poppies Bloom in Egypt's Sinai. A sharp slump in tourism is rippling across the southern Sinai, where resorts catering to foreigners line the Red Sea coast, and as a result, Bedouins are turning to the opium poppy to make a living. The Christian Science Monitor has an in-depth report; just click on the link.

Mexican Vigilantes Must Turn in Weapons By May 10. Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups who have been battling the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan for more than a year have signed an agreement spelling out the timetable for the militias to disarm. The self-defense groups must begin surrendering their guns, which include AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, on Monday and completely disarm by May 10, officials said. The militia leaders inked the disarmament deal Friday in a meeting at the headquarters of the 43rd Military Zone in Apatzingan, Michoacan, the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region.

Brazil Marchers Demand Legalization. Brazilian police said about 2,000 people gathered in downtown Sao Paulo Saturday in a demonstration demanding the legalization of the production and sale of marijuana in Latin America's largest country. Several of the demonstrators were smoking marijuana cigarettes while carrying posters reading "Legalize Marijuana Now," and "Marijuana is Medicine." Police say the demonstration was peaceful. No arrests have been reported.

Chronicle AM -- April 25, 2014

An Oregon congressman fights to end federal marijuana prohibition, a DC congresswoman vows to fight for decrim in the District, a Brooklyn DA gets support for his stance on small-time pot charges, some Philly narcs escape justice, and more. Let's get to it:

DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton will stick up for District decrim. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Congressman Launches Ad Campaign to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today began an advertising campaign to win support for ending federal marijuana prohibition. Blumenauer is a cosponsor of House Resolution 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2014. "Our marijuana laws don't work and cost the government billions," he said. "Federal drug law says that marijuana is more dangerous than meth or cocaine, and that is false."

DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton Vows to Defend District Marijuana Reforms from Congressional Republicans. In an effort to stop what could be the first step to overturn the District of Columbia's local marijuana decriminalization legislation, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has announced she will testify at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations in May on the District's newly-passed decriminalization law. Norton said that she was surprised to learn of a hearing that will single out the District's locally passed law. "It is appropriate for Congress to examine how the Obama administration will enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana in jurisdictions that have legalized or decriminalized it, as the subcommittee has done in two hearings this Congress," Norton said. "It is also appropriate to examine whether the federal marijuana prohibition preempts such local laws, but no local officials were called to testify at those hearings. It is inappropriate to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana. There is nothing that distinguishes the District from these states except for Congress's illegitimate power to overturn the democratically enacted local laws of the District." Congress has 60 days to attempt to block the DC decriminalization law.

Brooklyn DA's Decision to Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases Garners Support. Today, Brooklyn elected officials, community groups, and advocates rallied on the steps of Borough Hall to support District Attorney Ken Thompson's proposal to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. A memo outlining DA Thompson's proposal, shared with the press, states that when the police make a low-level marijuana arrest and the defendant has no criminal record or a minimal criminal record, "there will be a presumption that such case will be immediately dismissed." Click on the link for more reaction to Thompson's move.

Child Psychiatry Group Opposes Legalization. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has released a policy statement opposing efforts to legalize marijuana. Instead, "AACAP supports efforts to increase awareness of marijuana's harmful effects on adolescents and improve access to evidence-based treatment, rather than emphasis on criminal charges, for adolescents with cannabis use disorder. AACAP also urges careful monitoring of the effects of marijuana-related policy changes on child and adolescent mental health. Together, these efforts may help with the prevention of teen marijuana use during a critical period of ongoing brain maturation."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The long, strange saga of Minnesota medical marijuana continues. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing today approved Senate File 1641, which would give patients with certain medical conditions access to a limited amount of marijuana. The measure now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia's "Tainted Justice" Narcs Avoid Criminal Prosecution, Could Get Jobs Back. After years of investigation, federal and local prosecutors have decided not to file criminal charges against four Philadelphia narcotics officers accused of lying about evidence on search warrants and stealing from corner stores during raids. One of the officers was also accused of sexually assaulting three women. Sources familiar with the investigation said authorities cited weak witnesses and a lack of evidence as factors in their decision not to bring charges. The officers -- who were at the heart of a scandal that shook the department five years ago -- now face possible disciplinary action from the Police Department. But it is likely they will soon be placed back on the street and even awarded lost overtime pay. The officers were the subject of a 2009 series by the Philadelphia Daily News that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The series, "Tainted Justice," detailed dozens of narcotics cases in which officers were alleged to have stolen, lied, and mistreated suspects. Click on the link for the whole sleazy story.

Wisconsin Becomes First State to Require Outside Agency Involvement in Investigating Deaths in Police Custody. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has signed into law Assembly Bill 409, under which Wisconsin will become the first state in the nation to require outside investigation when people die in police custody. The new law is the result of years of activism on the part of family members and a Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel investigation into five years of in-custody deaths in Milwaukee. Despite circumstances of detainees' deaths, officers were typically quickly cleared of wrongdoing.

Connecticut Bill to Shrink "Drug Free Zones" Dies. Legislation to reduce the size of "drug free zones" around schools died quietly in the Education Committee on Thursday. Senate File 609 failed on an 11-17 vote with no discussion. The bill's failure is frustrating for proponents who have sought the legislation for years. The proposal has twice been endorsed by the state's nonpartisan Sentencing Commission. The bill made it as far as a floor debate in the House last year, but was shelved when support began to wane among Democrats.

International

Drug Decriminalization Coming to Malta? Maltese Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said Thursday that a proposed drug law reform his government is working on will be "significantly broader" than previous failed reform efforts and hinted broadly that it would include drug decriminalization. But details remain sketchy, so stay tuned.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens Says Legalize It

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said on Thursday that the federal government should follow the lead of states that have legalized marijuana. That makes him the first Supreme Court justice -- retired or otherwise -- to endorse legalization.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (SCOTUS)
"Yes," Stevens replied when asked by NPR's Scott Simon as to whether marijuana should be legalized under federal law. "I really think that that's another instance of public opinion [that's] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction. Alcohol, the prohibition against selling and dispensing alcoholic beverages has I think been generally, there's a general consensus that it was not worth the cost. And I think really in time that will be the general consensus with respect to this particular drug."

This isn't the first time Justice Stevens has taken a progressive stand on drug policy. In a 2011 interview in Time magazine, the bow-tied jurist slammed harsh drug sentencing. "The use of mandatory minimum statutes has had a very adverse effect on the overall system, and I think generally, the so-called war on drugs has emphasized more-severe punishment than is appropriate throughout the country," Stevens said then. "There are some instances where penalties are so disproportionate that they could well violate the Eighth Amendment."

And although Stevens authored the Supreme Court opinion in Gonzales v. Raich upholding federal preeminence over state medical marijuana laws, he has also called it "most unwise" to prohibit the medical use of the drug.

Stevens' latest remarks were cheered by Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

"Justice Stevens is right. Public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of marijuana legalization," said Angell. "Polls now consistently show that a clear majority of the public supports ending prohibition and, as this trend continues, we'll start to see more prominent people and politicians saying it's time to change the laws."

Stevens served as Supreme Court justice from 1975 to 2010.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 24, 2016

Marijuana, weed, pot, cannabis, whatever you call it, it's sure making a lot of news these days. Plus, harm reduction comes to Georgia, and Bolivia wants to shoot down drug planes. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, Aims At 2016. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Wednesday filed a petition with the Nevada Secretary of State to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Silver State. The group needs to get 101,667 signatures by November 11 to move the process forward. If the signatures are collected on time, the initiative would then go before the state legislature in 2015. The legislature can approve it or vote it down, but if it is voted down, it would go before the voters in the 2016 general election.

Colorado Edibles Regulation Bill Passes House. A bill to tighten laws governing the sale of marijuana-infused edibles in Colorado was unanimously passed by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday after two deaths possibly linked to the ingestion of cannabis products shed light on the lack of guidelines for edibles. With House Bill 1361, Colorado lawmakers are aiming to limit the amount of concentrated marijuana that can be sold through a bill requiring more specific labeling of pot-laced products, such as candies and baked goods, as well as restricting the amount of the THC chemical in edibles.

Possession Of Marijuana In Brooklyn Decriminalized In Small Quantities. Marijuana users in Brooklyn will get slapped with a mere $100 fine for possession so long as they don't have a criminal record. Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said he will no longer be prosecuting marijuana smokers for possession provided they have no previous criminal history or have been busted for weed before. The DA said in a memo made public by the New York Post Wednesday that marijuana laws disproportionately hurt youths of color, especially those without previous records.

New York Poll Has Support for Legalization at 43%. A new Siena Poll has support for legalization in the Empire State at 43%, with 52% opposed and 5% undecided. There were majorities for legalization among Democrats, liberals, men, and people under 35. Medical marijuana fared better, with 51% backing a full medical marijuana law, 26% favoring Gov. Cuomo's (D) limited program, and only 21% opposed to any medical marijuana. Click on the link for the cross-tabs.

DC Legalization Initiative Gets Go-Ahead for Signature Gathering. The DC Board of Elections gave a green light Wednesday for campaigners to begin collecting signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot. The campaign must turn in approximately 22,373 valid signatures by July 7 to score a spot on the November ballot. More than 5 percent of registered voters in five of the eight city wards must sign the petition.

Medical Marijuana

Nevada's Clark County (Las Vegas) Receives More Than 200 Applications For Medical Pot Businesses. A total of 206 applications for medical marijuana businesses were filed by 109 legal entities with the county's Business Licensing Department before yesterday's deadline. That total includes 90 applications for dispensaries, 70 applications for cultivation facilities, 45 for production facilities and one for an independent testing laboratory. Businesses who met today's deadline will have until May 2 to submit a zoning application and the accompanying $5,000 fee for the special-use permits needed to operate a medical marijuana establishment. The county commission plans to review and award a limited number of special-use permits at a June 5 public meeting. Businesses can apply for one of four license types.

Vermont House Passes Dispensary Bill, Includes Study of Legalization. The House Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a medical marijuana dispensaries bill, endorsing an amendment that calls for a study of potential tax revenue from legalizing and taxing pot. Senate Bill 247 has already passed the Senate, but have to go back for concurrence with changes made in the House.

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to impose regulation on the state's medical marijuana industry passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would make it illegal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot dispensary. It would also let the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforce laws regulating marijuana and develop plans to tax it beyond the sales tax now levied, while ensuring it is grown and processed safely and in ways safe for the environment. A competing bill favored by law enforcement, Senate Bill 1262 by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), was approved a day earlier by the Senate Business Professions and Economic Development Committee. It would regulate medical marijuana through the Department of Public Health and county health departments.

Missouri House Gives First Approval to CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people suffering from seizures. Senate Bill 951 won first round approval by a voice vote. It needs one more vote in the House.

New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board Recommends Adding Alzheimer's Disease to the List of Eligible Conditions. The Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board voted unanimously Wednesday to add neurodegenerative dementia including Alzheimer's disease (AD) to the list of medical conditions eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary of Health will have the final decision. Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the states that authorize its use.

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. A bill that gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol to treat seizures passed the Senate Thursday. Senate File 2360 would require patients or their caregivers to obtain a state-issued license to possess the drug and must have a neurologist's prescription in order to obtain the license.

Drugged Driving

California Bill Would Impose "Per Se" Drugged Driving Standard. Members of the California Assembly are considering amending legislation, Assembly Bill 2500, to impose "per se" criminal penalties to individuals who drive with trace levels (2ng/ml or above) of THC or other controlled substances in their blood -- regardless of whether he/she is behaviorally impaired. NORML and California NORML oppose this bill.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Governor Signs 911 Medical Amnesty/ Naloxone Law.Governor Nathan Deal (R) signed House Bill 965 Thursday, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty bill. Effective immediately, the law grants limited immunity from arrest, charges, or prosecution to people who are experiencing or to those who seek help for a drug overdose in the event that law enforcement find small amounts of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia as a result of the person seeking help. The law also extends legal protections to people who call 911 to report underage drinking poisonings and to those who administer naloxone to someone experiencing a drug overdose. Georgia is the 15th state in the union to enact a 911 Medical Amnesty law and the 19th state to expand access to naloxone through legislation.

International

Bolivia Approves Downing of Drug-Smuggling Planes. A new Bolivian law authorizes the country's military to shoot down planes suspected of smuggling cocaine, though it cannot yet be put into practice because it doesn't have sufficient radar coverage. The law signed Tuesday by President Evo Morales requires that before starting the plan, Bolivia must first purchase and install radar systems, which its borders lack. Other countries in the region with similar shootdown policies include Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela, all cocaine transit countries. Peru had a shootdown policy, but halted it after it accidentally blew a US missionary and her infant out of the sky a decade ago.

DC Event on Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Monday. The Washington Office on Latin America is hosting a discussion Monday on "Launching Uruguay's New Law to Regulate Cannabis." Speakers include Julio Calzada, general secretary of the Uruguayan National Drugs Board, and Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the Transnational Institute Drugs and Democracy Program. Click on the title link for more details.

Uruguay to Limit Marijuana Purchases to 10 Grams a Week. In an attempt to thwart illegal resales, Uruguay is limiting licensed buyers of marijuana to 10 grams a week, as the South American country attempts to write its rules for its legal market in the drug, now two weeks overdue. The Uruguayan authorities are developing fees for pot sales to match highly-taxed cigarette and alcohol sales.

Report from the Denver 4/20 Celebration [FEATURE]

Legal marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and now, just a few months in, Denver already appears to be well-placed to claim the title of America's cannabis capital. This past weekend, tens of thousands of people flooded into the city to celebrate the 4/20 holiday and attend the latest High Times Cannabis Cup.

There is a stage somewhere behind all that smoke.
For blocks around the north side expo center where the Cannabis Cup took place, thousands of eager pot aficionados clogged the streets, bringing traffic to a crawl, while inside, hundreds of exhibitors peddled their wares, demonstrating both the scope of cannabis-related commerce and the grasp of American entrepreneurs. Pot smoking was supposed to be allowed only in designated areas, which didn't include the lengthy lines of people waiting to get in the event, but that didn't seem to stop anybody.

Meanwhile, downtown at the Civic Center plaza facing the state capitol, the state's ban on public marijuana use was again ignored -- blatantly and massively -- at the Official 4/20 Rally. Despite Denver Police digital signs warning that public "Marijuana consumption is illegal" and "Marijuana laws enforced," at precisely 4:20pm on 4/20, the most massive, intense, and long-lasting could of pot smoke your reporter has ever seen wafted over the city. One hesitates to estimate how many pounds of marijuana went up in smoke in a few moments at the Civic Center.

Police made a few dozen arrests for public consumption over the course of the two-day rally, but the event was otherwise peaceable, and police generally kept a low profile.

Walking Raven and other retail marijuana outlets did big business over the 4/20 weekend.
And the city's marijuana retail outlets were doing brisk business, with lines of eager buyers, many from out of state, waiting for their chance to buy weed legally. In one pot store parking lot, middle-aged customers in a pick-up truck with Texas plates shared their happiness with a car-load of 20-somethings from Wisconsin, all of them drawn to Colorado by the chance to experience legal marijuana.

"I didn't think I'd live to see the day," said one of the Texans, smiling broadly, his brown paper bag filled with buds inside a blue prescription bottle with a child-proof cap and a label identifying the plant that grew the buds. "I don't know if I will live to see the day this is legal in Texas, so that's why we came here. This is history."

At the Walking Raven retail store on South Broadway last Saturday, proprietor Luke Ramirez oversaw a handful of employees tending to an unending line of customers. A favorite of customers and staff alike was Hong Kong Diesel, a 30% THC variety with a powerful aroma, going for more than $400 an ounce.

Like all of the first generation retail marijuana stores in the state, Walking Raven began as a medical marijuana dispensary, but transitioned into the adult retail business. That required time and money, Ramirez said.

"It was about $100,000 to start up, and it took about 100 days," he said, quickly adding that it was worth it.

"This is absolutely a profitable business model," Ramirez exclaimed between greetings to customers and issuing orders to his bud sellers. "We're paying a lot in taxes, but we have a large client base -- three million adults in Colorado, plus tourism."

Making the transition from a dispensary to an adult retail outlet also helped, Ramirez said.

"We've gone from about $3,000 a day in sales to $10,000," he explained.

The state of Colorado is making bank off Ramirez and his colleagues in the marijuana business. According to the state Department of Revenue, adult marijuana taxes and fees totaled $2 million in January and $2.5 million in February, the last month for which data is available. Observers expect that monthly figure to only increase as more stores open up.

Walking Raven proprietor Luke Ramirez
It's not all roses for Colorado's nascent pot industry, though. Ramirez ticked off the issues.

"The biggest obstacles are the government and its regulatory bodies," he said. "Will they increase or decrease taxes, what about zoning, how do we get out supply? Heavy regulation is an issue. And the seed-to-sale tracking program is very expensive; I have a full-time employee just for that."

And then there is that pesky federal marijuana prohibition. Although the Justice Department has made soothing noises about not picking on financial institutions that do business with the state's legal pot shops, most banks still have not gotten on board -- and there are other, related, issues, too.

"The federal law inhibits us from doing normal business," Ramirez said. "We can't get bank loans and we don't get the 280E federal tax break. We're classified as drug traffickers, so we can't write off our business expenses."

That's not to mention the security issues around dealing with large amounts of cash because the banks don't want to risk touching it.

"We have to have multiple safes and carry cash around," he said.

Still, Ramirez is open for business, and business is good. And not only is business good, Colorado's experiment with marijuana legalization seems to be advancing with few hiccups.

"Things are generally going quite smoothly," said Mason Tvert, an Amendment 64 proponent who is now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Regulations are still being developed in certain areas, such as concentrates and edibles, but the system is up and running and working more or less as intended."

While it remains to be seen if the estimated $100 million in pot tax revenues this year actually happens, Tvert was confident the income would be substantial.

"We're now seeing a couple of million a month in tax revenues, and money from fees, as well," he said. "We will still see a lot more businesses opening in the future, so we anticipate revenues will increase. Also, all of the current stores were existing medical marijuana businesses that were able to make a tax-free transfer from medical to retail, but now they will have to start paying a 15% excise tax, which will bring in more than is currently being raised."

The state has, however, recently seen two deaths attributed to legal marijuana use, a college student from the Congo who fell from a balcony after eating a cannabis cookie, and a man who shot and killed his wife, also apparently under the influence of edibles (and perhaps pain pills). While the exact role of marijuana in those deaths is unclear, media and opponents have leaped on those tragedies.

The movement needs to address such incidents, said Tvert.

"We've known for some time that some people who have preexisting mental health conditions could find them exacerbated by marijuana," Tvert said. "People need to be educated about that. If marijuana were a major factor in these incidents, that is a rare thing, but it is something we should be looking and determining what we can do to better educate consumers and reduce the likelihood of any problems."

But such incidents notwithstanding, legalization is not about to get rolled back in Colorado. Instead, it's just getting started, and it's off to a pretty good start.

"This is the first quarter in the first year of a system just getting started," Tvert said. "Things are going pretty well."

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Illinois patients can have guns, but New Hampshire patients can't grow their own medicine. And California counties stay busy as the legislature ponders actually regulating medical marijuana there. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Long Beach voters overwhelmingly approved taxing any marijuana dispensary operating in the city. Measure A, which won 74 percent of the vote, would impose a city business tax of 6% of gross receipts per dispensary as well as a $25 to $50 per square foot tax on marijuana grows.

On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won a committee vote. Senate Bill 1262 passed the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and will next be heard in the Senate Health Committee. The bill is supported by police chiefs and the League of Cities and has been amended to make it more palatable to most, but not all, medical marijuana advocates.

Also on Monday, a Fresno County grower sued the county over excessive fines. Phaeth Holapatiphone, a medical marijuana card holder from Manteca, was growing 43 plants on her mother's Del Rey property when deputies ordered them removed in February. Her mother was ordered to pay $43,000 in fines by county supervisors, who authorized a tax lien against the property to collect the fines.

On Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors voted unanimously to ban outdoor grows. The board passed, however, on banning indoor grows. Instead it will work with stake holders to develop an ordinance to cover indoor grows.

Also on Tuesday, Tehama County supervisors banned grows on vacant lots. They also voted to add a requirement for a yearly renewal of marijuana cultivation registrations and transferred enforcement of those registrations from the Tehama County Health Services Agency to the Environmental Health Department.

Florida

On Monday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. House Bill 843 passed the House Judiciary Committee 15-3 and now heads for a House floor vote.

Illinois

Last Friday, llinois regulators said medical marijuana patients can keep their guns. Regulators finalizing the state's conditions for medical marijuana have removed a proposed rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming cannabis-using patients. Some patients had said they would rather continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards. The wording drew numerous complaints in public comments from gun owners who hoped to apply for medical cannabis cards. Many said their rights were being trampled.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana grow bill was detoured and referred to interim study. The Senate Health, Education, and Human Services Committee failed to take decisive action on a bill that would provide licensed patients with legal access to medical marijuana while the state develops a system of regulated cultivation and distribution. Instead, the committee voted 3-1 to refer the bill for interim study. The bill, House Bill 1622, had already passed the House by a margin of three to one.

Wisconsin

Last Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. He signed Assembly Bill 726, which would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for seizures.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Alabama deputy gets stung, a Baltimore cop gets jail for beating on a drug suspect, and a Texas jail guard gets to see the other side of the bars after selling marijuana to prisoners. Let's get to it:

In Camden, Alabama, a former Wilcox County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Tuesday to cocaine distribution charges. Greg Barge had been indicted on eight counts of trafficking cocaine from his patrol car after he got caught up in a sting and was arrested in June 2013 for transporting what he thought was cocaine, but was really a fake substance. He pleaded guilty to three counts: attempting to distribute cocaine powder, knowingly using a firearm in the commission of a drug trafficking crime, and violation of the Hobbs Act in which he unlawfully used extortion during interstate commerce. He's looking at between six and nine years in federal prison.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was sentenced last Thursday to 45 days in jail for assaulting a drug suspect in custody. Officer Anthony Williams was convicted of assault and hindering the investigation that followed in a case known as "Ratgate" because a key witness in the case, also a police officer, had a dead rat left on his car in what authorities described as an incident of witness intimidation. Williams took a man who had been arrested from the police paddy wagon and back into a house, where he assaulted him. Williams said he had done nothing wrong and would do it again.

In Tyler, Texas, a former county jail guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for selling marijuana and other contraband to an inmate at the Troup County Jail. Angel Rafael Vargas, 40, went down after an inmate's mother reported that her son told her jail officers would deliver contraband for payment, and authorities investigated. Vargas copped to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, three counts of furnishing prohibited items to an inmate and one count of bringing contraband into the jail.

Chronicle AM -- April 23, 2014

There's news on the marijuana legalization initiative front, decrim dies in New Hampshire, pot sentencing reform dies in Alabama, Illinois patients can keep their guns, drugged driving and reproductive rights make news, too. And more. Let's get to it:

Former drug offenders will have their voting rights restored in Virginia, thanks to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Vote Pushed Back to November. A ballot initiative that could make Alaska the third US state to legalize recreational marijuana will go before voters in a general election in November rather than in August as previously scheduled, officials said on Monday. Alaska ballot initiatives typically go before voters in primary elections. But a lengthier-than-normal state legislative session this year forced the change because, under state rules, initiatives must go to voters no less than 120 days after the end of a session.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Another Big Bucks Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has given $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign. That's the second $100,000 in a week for the initiative, which has just commenced its signature-gathering phase.

Total Marijuana Ban Initiative Proposed in Montana. A Billings businessman has proposed an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that effectively would ban the possession, use, cultivation, trafficking and transportation of marijuana in Montana. Steve Zabawa submitted the measure last week. If approved, it would change state law to say that any drug listed on Schedule 1 of the Federal Controlled Substances Act "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana."

No Decriminalization for New Hampshire This Year. Criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana will not change, after the Senate refused to consider a House-passed bill. Under House Bill 1625, the penalty for having an ounce or less of marijuana or hashish would have been the same as a traffic ticket, and it would have lowered the penalties for growing less than six marijuana plants. The bill passed the House by a better than two-to-one margin, but the Senate refused to accept the bill. It had killed a nearly identical bill last session.

Louisiana to Retain Harsh Marijuana Penalties. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to kill a bill that would reduce the state's marijuana penalties, some of the harshest in the country. Senate Bill 323 would have made simple possession a misdemeanor punishable by no more than six months in jail. Under current law, repeat pot possession offenders can be jailed for up to 20 years. The measure failed on a 4-3 vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill to allow patients suffering from seizures or severe pain to use high CBD cannabis oil has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 843 passed the committee 15-3 and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Assembly Bill 726, which allows the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures in children.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Patients Can Keep Their Guns. Illinois regulators finalizing the state's conditions for medical marijuana have removed a proposed rule that would have barred legal gun owners from becoming cannabis-using patients. Some patients had said they would rather continue to use marijuana illegally rather than give up their firearms owners ID cards. The wording drew numerous complaints in public comments from gun owners who hoped to apply for medical cannabis cards. Many said their rights were being trampled.

Drugged Driving

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Presence of Marijuana Metabolite Not Sufficient to Prove Impaired Driving. The state's high court ruled Tuesday that motorists with a secondary marijuana metabolite in their system cannot be charged with a DUI on that basis alone, indicating the court was unconvinced the mere presence of the metabolite proves impairment. The state had argued that even the presence of metabolites in the urine of users was sufficient for a conviction, but the high court said "this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct" and "leads to absurd results." The case is Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan.

Michigan Bill Would Allow Police to Saliva Test for Drugs During Traffic Stops. The House Judiciary Committee is considering a package of bills related to drugged driving, including one, House Bill 5385, that would allow police to include saliva testing through a mouth swab. The measure is opposed by medical marijuana advocates, who raised concerns about the accuracy of the tests. The committee will continue taking testimony on the bills, which would also allow for police officers to confiscate driving licenses and issue temporary permits for drugged drivers as they do for suspected drunk drivers now.

Reproductive Rights

Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Criminalizing Pregnant Women for Drug-Related Harm to Fetuses. A bill that holds women criminally accountable for illegal drug use during pregnancy, with punishments of up to 15 years in prison, passed the legislature last week. Senate Bill 1391 punished drug-using women if their babies are stillborn or born addicted or otherwise harmed. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law.

Alabama Supreme Court Rules That Women Can Be Charged With Chemical Endangerment if They Become Pregnant and Use a Controlled Substance. The state Supreme Court last Friday upheld the conviction of a woman who gave birth to a baby that tested positive for cocaine, even though the infant was healthy. In so doing, the court upheld the state's 2006 chemical endangerment law and held that the word "child" in the law includes fertilized eggs. The case is Ex Parte Sara Jane Hicks. Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that authorize the prosecution of pregnant women for drug use, although as we see above, Tennessee could soon join them.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Senate Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Law. The Senate Monday approved a bill adding four additional drugs to the state's Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act. The measure, House Bill 2589, adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepine to the list of controlled substances in the act. Individuals convicted under the act would receive a minimum of 10 years, which is twice the prison term for possession of these substances. The bill is supported by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. It has been amended and will return to the House of Representatives for reconsideration.

Opiate Pain Relievers

FDA Panel Recommends Against Approving Dual Opioid Medication. An advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted Tuesday against approving a combination morphine-oxycodone painkiller. The drug, Moxduo, would be the first medication to combine both opioids in one capsule. Moxduo's manufacturer, QRxPharma, says the drug is intended to provide faster relief from moderate to severe pain, with fewer side effects than currently available opioids. The panel voted unanimously against approving it, concluding that QRxPharma had not proved the drug is less likely to cause potentially life-threatening respiratory suppression, compared with taking oxycodone or morphine alone.

Search and Seizure

US Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Stops Based on Anonymous Tip. An unusually divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that an anonymous 911 phone call reporting a reckless driver justified a traffic stop that led to a marijuana. The 5-4 decision saw Justice Antonin Scalia side with the court's liberal minority, but Justice Stephen Breyer's vote gave the conservative majority the win. The case is Navarette v. California. The ruling means police need not corroborate anonymous reckless driving tips before stopping a vehicle.

Voting Rights

Virginia Governor to Restore Voting Rights for Drug Offenders. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Friday that he will immediately restore voting rights to anyone who has completed their sentence for a drug offense, and reduce the waiting period for other violent felonies from five years to three. Virginia is one of four states that ban all ex-felons from voting for life unless they receive clemency from the governor. But governors in these states can take executive action to alter the policies on these felons.

International

Sinaloa Cartel Losing Ground in Ciudad Juarez, Stratfor Analyst Says. The Carrillo Fuentes drug-trafficking organization, with its enforcement arm La Línea, is moving to regain the El Paso-Juárez corridor from the Sinaloa cartel, whose power in Juarez is eroding quickly, according to a terrorism and security analyst from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Click on the link for more details.

"Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands" Could be Freed Under New Federal Clemency Rules

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will soon release new, more expansive criteria for recommending federal prisoner clemency applications for President Obama to review. That means Obama, who has so far freed a paltry 10 prisoners early in his first six years could free "hundred, perhaps thousands" in his final two, a senior administration official told Yahoo News Monday.

Most of those who will be eligible for clemency under the new criteria are doing time for drug offenses, a category that accounts for 50.1% of the federal prison population, or roughly 100,000 inmates. As the Justice Department noted in its press release, the move will be "an important step to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders in the federal prison system."

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety," Holder said in a video message posted on the department's website. "The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

Later this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce more specific details about the expanded criteria the department will use and the logistical effort underway to ensure proper reviews of the anticipated wave of applications, the press release said.

President Obama has, midway through his second term, begun moving to use his clemency power. In December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. He said the eight men and women had been sentenced under an "unfair system," including the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses that was reduced but not eliminated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

This latest move was foreshadowed by a January announcement that the administration was taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases, and again last week, when White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

Drug reform advocates greeted the announcement as a step in the right direction and as a signal to state governors -- most drug offenders are doing time on state, not federal, charges -- but also as a tail-end fix for a problem that needs front-end solutions.

"This would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our broken criminal justice system. I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families," said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws.

"With half a million people still behind bars on nonviolent drug charges, clearly thousands are deserving of a second chance. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent drug offenses," added Papa.

It could do that by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which has already made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the meantime, liberating some of the thousands of people currently imprisoned with harsh drug sentences is a move that can't come soon enough.

Washington, DC
United States

US Supreme Court Rejects Florida Drug Testing Appeal

The US Supreme Court Monday declined to review a lower court ruling that found Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) plan to randomly drug test state employees unconstitutional.

US Supreme Court
The decision by the nation's highest court means that the ruling by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals finding the plan unconstitutional stands.

The drug test-happy governor had issued an executive order in March 2011 directing all state agencies to drug test new hires and randomly test current employees. But that order was challenged by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 79, representing state workers.

The union argued that random drug testing was a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. In its decision, the 11th Circuit generally agreed with the union, finding the suspicionless drug tests unconstitutional, but also ordered the state and the union to determine which state employees could be subjected to such testing.

The legal proscription on drug testing state employees is not complete. There are exceptions for some public safety and law enforcement workers.

But Gov. Scott's ambitious plan to foist drug testing on all state workers without cause has been squashed.

Chronicle AM -- April 17, 2014

Marijuana legalization initiatives are in the news, the NCAA ponders relaxing marijuana penalties, a vaporizer company wants to drug test its workers, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Starts Signature-Gathering. Signature gathering began today for the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative. Backers need 87,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, and they say they are confident they will get them. Another initiative, Paul Stanford's Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative, is already in the midst of signature-gathering.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets $100,000 Donation from Fragrance Heir. Henry van Ameringen, heir to a fragrance fortune, has donated $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Campaign Challenges Opponents. In a Wednesday morning press conference, supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska stood outside a downtown Anchorage office building with a giant novelty check written out to "No on 2/ Project S.A.M." for $9,015 -- the same amount of money the alcohol lobby donated to former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy during his time in office. Kennedy is the cofounder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group that opposes marijuana legalization. The event served as a challenge to opponents of the Alaska measure -- a group collectively known as "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No On 2" -- to show the public the science proving that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.

Rhode Island House Panel Hears Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a marijuana legalization bill. The measure, House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. The committee took no action. Click on the link to get the flavor of the testimony.

NCAA Ponders Reducing Penalties for Athletes Who Test Positive for Pot. The NCAA is mulling a proposal to reduce the penalty for a student-athlete's positive marijuana test from a full-season suspension to a half-season, according to CBSSports.com. The site's senior college football columnist, Dennis Dodd, reported that the idea, which is likely to be approved, reflects the association's view that marijuana use is not performance enhancing.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has signed Assembly Bill 726, which would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for seizures.

Major Medical Marijuana Industry Company Announces Drug Testing Program, But Not for Pot. OPenVAPE, a vaporizer manufacturer that bills itself as "the nation's largest cannabis brand," announced today that it will begin a drug testing program for employees. But the company won't test for the drug its products are designed to be used with; instead, it will only test for "dangerous drugs." Click on the link to read their press release.

Sentencing

Drug Policy Alliance Intervenes in Case of Louisiana Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. The Drug Policy Alliance has filed an amicus brief with the Louisiana Supreme Court in the case of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years in prison for marijuana possession. "Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, the lead author of the brief for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture." Louisiana has some of the toughest drug laws in the nation.

Faith Leaders Issue Easter Statement on War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release an Easter statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. They said they chose the Easter season to release their statement because of the spirit of the Resurrection, which Easter commemorates and celebrates.

The Rev. Edwin Sanders (cannabisculture.com)
The statement calls for repealing laws that criminalize drug possession and replacing them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.

It also calls for the elimination of policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates and that that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

The United States is the world leader in incarceration, accounting for 25% of the global prison population while only making up 5% of the planet's population. In state prisons, drug offenders typically make up 20-30% of all prisoners, although that proportion has begun declining as nearly half the states have undertaken sentencing reforms in recent years.

But while state prison population numbers have begun a slight decline, the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by the war on drugs. As of this month, there were more than 216,000 federal prisoners, with just more than half (50.1%) doing time for drug crimes, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

"The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives," said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

"We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure," says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

More than 100,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in federal prisons (wikimedia/chris piner)
"We are called upon to follow Jesus's example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world's biggest jailer," added Sanders.

"Resurrection reality commissions and commands us to change these policies, laws and systems that rob whole communities of their most precious resource, their young. These are the ones Jesus faced betrayal, denial and desertion for. These are the ones Jesus gave up everything for. These are the issues Jesus was raised from a 3 day grave to speak truth to power to through our voices, through our crying loud and sparing not and through our organized efforts," added Jackson.

The story of the prodigal son is appropriate to ponder, said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society, in Dothan, Alabama, himself a former drug war prisoner.

"The story of the prodigal son says he went out and lived a riotous life, like somebody who committed a crime or was on drugs or got incarcerated," said Glasgow. "The father of the prodigal son embraced him with open arms, but as a society, we don't do that. We incarcerate instead of trying to treat or restore. His father gave him shoes on his feet and a coat of many colors. These are things we're not doing when it comes to mass incarceration and the war on drugs."

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow (theordinarypeoplesociety.org)
The struggle against the war on drugs is a fight for civil rights and democracy, said Glasgow.

"After they gave us civil rights, they came along with the drug war and took our voting rights back," he said, referring to the hundreds of thousands who have had voted rights restricted or denied after being convicted of drug offenses.

There are concrete steps to take, said several speakers.

"We want to repeal the laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with effective approaches, and put an end to any policy that unjustly excludes people because they have a previous criminal conviction," said the Rev Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, Berkeley, California.

"We are fighting a righteous fight and standing in solidarity in the Holy Week to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration," McBride added. "We are organizing hundreds of faith congregations across the country to build a faith and moral movement to address and redress these unjust policies. Holy Week reminds us that death does not have a final say, but that God is able to bring redemption for the worst things that happen in our lives. Mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our generation, and the faith community is in the forefront."

"For those of us who follow Jesus, this is the time to receive his grace, but also to receive his calling," said Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Church, which has been at the forefront of the faith community's challenge to the drug war. "It is time to proclaim relief for the captives and freedom for the oppressed. Unfortunately, because we are the world's leader in incarceration, we don't have to look far," he noted.

Mefford is the chairman of an interfaith coalition working on Capitol Hill to reform the criminal justice system. It represents 35 faith organizations with millions of members.

"There are steps we can take to rescue ourselves from our own captivity," Medford continued. "We can pass the Smarter Sentencing Act as an incremental step toward justice reform that will address costly overcrowding at the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses."

The Smarter Sentencing Act has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. It has yet to move in the GOP-controlled House.

As Holy Week looms, it is indeed appropriate to ask that rhetorical question. When it comes to dealing with drug use and the drug trade, what would Jesus do?

New York City, NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

With a stroke of the governor's pen, Maryland becomes the 21st medical marijuana state. Meanwhile, those CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move. And more. Let's get to it:

Alabama

Last week, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed into law a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. Known as Carly's Law, Senate Bill 174 creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD (a component of marijuana). It is a strong endorsement by Alabama lawmakers of the medical benefits of marijuana. Unfortunately, the law suffers from several fatal flaws that render it ineffective.

Arkansas

On Monday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected a medical marijuana initiative again. He rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

California

On Tuesday, the Vallejo city council agreed to extend a ban on taxing dispensaries. City officials sought the one-year extension to allow more time to draft regulations for the location and operation of dispensaries, now unregulated and outside city zoning laws. The city has wrestled with the issue since 2011, when voters overwhelmingly approved taxing dispensaries even though the city doesn't recognize them as legitimate businesses. Meanwhile, the police department has conducted raids on several dispensaries, but the cases fell apart in the courts after defense lawyers argued the collectives were following state laws. City officials estimated there are as many as two dozen dispensaries operating in Vallejo without city permission.

Colorado

On Monday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions was introduced. Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), who's been actively involved in marijuana issues, introduced HB 1364, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients for access to medical marijuana.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed into law a a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. The measure, Senate Bill 124, which allows the hospitals at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to provide oil derived from marijuana and hemp to children who suffer from certain severe seizures. The benefits also could apply to adults.

Maryland

On Monday, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, making Maryland the 21st medical marijuana state. The measure is House Bill 881.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, a Senate panel heard, but then tabled, a medical marijuana bill. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

On Monday, a new poll had support for medical marijuana in the state at 68%. The latest KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll asked, "Do you think Marijuana should or should not? be legal ... when used for medical purposes?"

Oregon

As of Monday, at least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature allowed local governments to impose a one-year ban, if enacted by May 1. The law also gives local governments the ability to regulate when and where pot shops may operate. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Tennessee

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure, which was added as an amendment to House Bill 2461, would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures.

Last Thursday, the House approved the bill. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

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

Chronicle AM -- April 16, 2014

President Obama commutes a marijuana offender's sentence, organized opposition to a legalization initiative emerges in Alaska, draconian heroin bills are moving in Louisiana, and more. Let's get to it:

Heroin would get you even more time under draconian bills moving in Louisiana. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Crime Rate Drops in First Months of Legal Marijuana Sales. According to crime statistics from the Denver Police, crime is down over the previous year in the first three months of legal marijuana sales there. Violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Gets Organized Opposition. An organized opposition group has emerged to campaign against the Alaska legalization initiative. A group calling itself "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" officially filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission last week. The group includes only a handful of Alaskans and says it is not affiliated with Project SAM, the anti-legalization group that has been playing up the "Big Marijuana" theme across the country.

Legalization Bill Filed in New Jersey Assembly. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) have filed Assembly Bill 3094 to legalize marijuana. The bill is companion legislation to Senate Bill 1986, which was filed by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) earlier this session.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Legislature Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The House voted 97-0 Monday to approve Senate Bill 2531, which would create a four-year study of the use of CBD cannabis oil in treating intractable seizures. The measure passed the Senate last week, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Senate Passes Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill. A bill that would restrict non-prescription purchases of OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical in meth manufacture, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill would cap purchases at 4.8 grams per month and 14.4 grams per year of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without a prescription. The Senate version differs from the House version in the allowable amounts. The House version has already passed, too, so the two will have to be reconciled before final passage.

Heroin

Draconian Heroin Bill Passes Louisiana Senate Committee. A bill to increase maximum penalties for heroin offenses from 50 to 99 years received approved Tuesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), now heads for the Senate floor. Another draconian heroin bill, House Bill 332, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie) would double mandatory minimums for heroin use and distribution. The full House passed that bill 94-1, and it will now be heard in the Senate.

Sentencing

President Obama Commutes Sentence for Marijuana Offender. President Obama Tuesday granted clemency to a marijuana offender sentenced to too much time because of a typographical error. Ceasar Huerta Cantu had been sentenced to 180 months in federal prison for marijuana distribution conspiracy and money laundering. Obama commuted the sentence to 138 months, which is what it would have been had his initial sentence been calculated correctly. That means Huerta will get out more than three years early. Obama commuted only one sentence in his first term but has been using the power more in his second.

International

Mexico Anti-Cartel Militias Refuse to Lay Down Arms. The so-called autodefensa militias in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacán -- which took up arms against the Knights Templar cartel more than a year ago -- are now refusing the government's demand to put down their weapons. The government had allowed them to keep their arms and integrate into the security forces, but early this month, announced its intention to disarm all civilians in the state. But the militias say they will disband only once the leaders of the Knights Templar Cartel are killed or arrested. "We prefer to die at the hands of the government than at the hands of a goddamned son of a bitch who dismembers and butchers you -- without releasing even a fingernail to your family. Because, that's what the criminals do," one militia leader told VICE News.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A notorious New York City narc goes on desk duty, an Alabama prison guard gets mixed up with meth, a Florida cop is in trouble for slinging steroids, and an LAPD cop gets his hand slapped for lying about a drug bust. Let's get to it:

In New York City, NYPD's most sued narcotics officer was off the streets as of last Friday. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a Kilby State Prison guard was arrested last Thursday as part of a federal drug bust targeting a meth trafficking ring stretching from California to Dixie. Guard Phillip Burgin, 23, was arrested along with five other people, including two state prison inmates. The inmates are accused of directing the ring from inside via the use of cell phones. Burgin was stopped in late April by Oklahoma state police with 30 pounds of the drug in his vehicle, and he is charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He was indicted on federal charges Thursday.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, a former West Palm Beach police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he was peddling steroids from businesses he owned. DeWitt McDonald is also accused of making at least one deal while armed and on-duty and of forging prescriptions from doctors who worked in his clinic. He was fired from the force seven months ago, after an investigation into his dealings began.

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years probation for lying under oath in a 2008 drug possession case. Manuel Ortiz, 40, was found guilty of one count each of conspiracy and perjury for falsely testifying about his involvement in a drug bust where the case was dismissed after footage from the apartment building's security camera contradicted the sworn testimony of the officers.

Chronicle AM -- April 15, 2014

The Obama administration punts on marijuana rescheduling, Maryland's decrim excludes paraphernalia (for now), sneaky DEA tactics are being challenged in Arizona, fears of more cartel violence in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, the pot won't get you busted, but the pipe could. (wikimedia/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder Signals Administration Won't Reschedule On Its Own, Wants to Work With Congress. In an interview with The Huffington Post last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would not act unilaterally to reschedule marijuana. "I think that given what we have done in dealing with the whole Smart on Crime initiative and the executive actions that we have taken, that when it comes to rescheduling, I think this is something that should come from Congress," Holder said. "We'd be willing to work with Congress if there is a desire on the part of Congress to think about rescheduling. But I think I'd want to hear, get a sense from them about where they'd like to be."

Maryland Decriminalization Doesn't Include Paraphernalia. The decriminalization bill signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) yesterday does not decriminalize the possession of pipes, papers, and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia. Bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said he intentionally left intact the criminal penalties for having marijuana accessories. He said it could help ensure that if police see marijuana accessories in someone's car, they still have legal grounds to search the car for items like guns and heroin. But he also said the legislature would consider eliminating the paraphernalia penalties next year. In the meantime, prosecutors are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island House Committee to Hold Hearing on Bill That Would Regulate and Tax Marijuana Like Alcohol. The House Committee on Judiciary is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. A press conference will precede the committee hearing. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 174, also known as Carly's Law. The measure creates an affirmative defense for patients suffering from debilitating epileptic conditions -- or their caregivers -- for the possession and use of marijuana extracts that are high in CBD. But it doesn't do anything for other medical marijuana patients.

Minnesota Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 68%. A new KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA poll finds that 68% of registered voters surveyed think marijuana should be legal when used for medical purposes. The poll comes as legislators struggle to push through a bill in St. Paul.

More Than 70 Oregon Cities Have Dispensary Moratoriums. At least 71 Oregon cities have moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more than 40 others are considering bans, according to the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties. The legislature last year passed a dispensary regulation bill, but some localities don't want dispensaries. The new law, however, only allows the moratoriums to stay in place for one year. The state has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties.

Law Enforcement

Arizona "Whisper Stop" Highway Drug Busts Set Up Constitutional Clash. Defense attorneys in Arizona are challenging "whisper stop" highway drug busts, in which the DEA wants to arrest someone they suspect of trafficking drugs, but don't want to alert possible co-conspirators. In such cases, the DEA alerts local and state police to make the stop, but police and prosecutors have been remiss in failing to inform defendants and their attorneys about the reason for the stop, violating the Brady rule, which requires full disclosure of evidence that might help defendants by prosecutors. "We're about to have a big clash on this," said a Flagstaff defense attorney challenging the conduct. Click on the link for more details.

International

DC Event on "Politics of Crime in Mexico" Tomorrow. The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the Inter-American Dialogue are hosting an event tomorrow to present the new book "The Politics of Crime in Mexico: Democratic Governance in a Security Trap," by John Bailey. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP.

Mexican Cartel Conflict Expected to Heat Up in Tamaulipas. At least 30 people have been killed in recent days in fighting pitting factions of the Gulf Cartel against each other in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Most of those killing took place around Tampico, in the far south of the state, but in Mexican border towns like Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas are being blamed for an uptick in kidnappings and extortion. Now, there are fears the Zetas could make moves to try to eliminate the Gulf Cartel once and for all, when it is doubly weakened: by the infighting following the arrest of a major Gulf Cartel leader, and by the February arrest of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was aiding the Gulf Cartel against the Zetas.

Bermuda Medical Cannabis Activist Asks Jamaica Health Minister for Legal Shipment of Medical Ganja Oil. Bermuda medical marijuana advocate Alan Gordon has sent an open letter to Jamaica's health minister asking for a permit to export enough cannabis oil extract to supply some 300 Bermuda cancer patients with a 2-3 month supply. Gordon said that Bermuda's Cabinet has previously approved import permits from elsewhere on a per-patient basis, but were experiencing trouble with availability, price and quality which Jamaica seems well suited to alleviate. Gordon has also specified that the oil must be grown organically by Rastafarians, as a matter of social justice and "fair trade" principles. Gordon says he is not a Rastafarian but says that after the gravely ill patients, first consideration must be given to Rastafarians as a way of expressing society's remorse for oppression of Rastafarians under the old laws. No response yet from Jamaica.

Chronicle AM -- April 14, 2014

Maryland decriminalizes and becomes a medical marijuana state, a Tennessee hemp bill awaits the governor's signature, a Kentucky omnibus heroin bill appears dead for the session, a campaign is underway to free a Missouri marijuana lifer, and more. Let's get to it:

billboard for Missouri marijuana lifer Jeff Mizanskey
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley today signed into law Senate Bill 364, making Maryland the 18th decriminalization state. The new law makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) today signed into law House Bill 881, making Maryland the 21st state with a full-fledged medical marijuana law. The bill allows Maryland residents suffering from qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities will be determined by a state-sanctioned commission prior to implementation. The measure will officially go into effect on June 1.

Kentucky Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 124, which will allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil. Physicians at state research hospitals will be able to recommend use of the drug.

Colorado Bill Would Add PTSD to List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. Even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, one lawmaker, Rep. Jonathan Signer (D-Longmont) has introduced a bill, House Bill 1364, to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the state medical marijuana program's list of qualifying conditions. Because PTSD affects many veterans, who receive federal benefits, Singer said it's important to provide them with the ability to qualify under the state's medical marijuana law.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Again. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has again rejected the popular name and ballot title for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. These are the same folks that put the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act on the ballot in 2012, but this year, another group, Arkansans for Responsible Medicine has claimed that initiative title. The 2014 Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act is now in the signature-gathering phase.

Vermont Lawmakers Advance Dispensary Bill, But Reject Adding PTSD to List of Qualifying Conditions. A bill that would create dispensaries in Vermont has passed out of the House Human Services Committee, but the committee rejected an effort to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. The measure is Senate Bill 247. It has already passed the Senate.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bills Awaits Governor's Signature. Senate Bill 2495 and House Bill 2445, which would reclassify and regulate industrial hemp, have passed the legislature and await the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam (R). The bills would allow Tennessee farmers to grow hemp for research and development purposes. Earlier this year Congress approved language in a federal farm bill that would allow the cultivation of industrial hemp in the agricultural pilot programs in states that have already passed hemp measures.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Appears Dead. A bill that responded to heroin use and sales in the Bluegrass State through a combination of increased treatment, overdose prevention, and harsher criminal penalties will not pass this session, a key legislator said. "There's basically no time left to pass it," Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), cosponsor of Senate Bill 5, said Friday. It had passed the state Senate, but got stalled in the Judiciary Committee in the Democrat-controlled House. The session ends tomorrow.

Law Enforcement

DEA in Illinois Spying on Indoor Garden Stores. The DEA in Illinois has investigated and raided at least two people after watching them make purchases at a legal local gardening center. Both had shopped at Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill. One, Angela Kirking, said she and her pet terrier woke to find four flak-jacketed DEA agents and five Shorewood cops in the bedroom of her Ranchwood Drive home at 5:00am on Oct. 11. At least one of the agents held her at gunpoint before 9 grams were allegedly found. A second person, a man from Channahon, was raided and charged with growing marijuana after shopping at Midwest Hydroganics. In both cases, the DEA took interest after it spotted them shopping at the store. Federal investigators then rooted through garbage and compared utility bills to get search warrants. Kirking's attorney said he is challenging the warrants and that he has heard of more cases linked to DEA spying on a legal business since the story broke.

A Quarter Million Immigrants Have Been Deported For Non-Violent Drug Crimes, Report Finds. The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 -- one-quarter of a million -- people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11%) people deported in 2013 for any reason -- and nearly one in five (19%) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction. The report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs. On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

Florida Bill to Raise Drug Possession Thresholds Passes House. The House has passed a bill increasing the weight threshold for trafficking in oxycodone and hydrocodone in a move to ease what have been called overly harsh sentencing guidelines. Senate Bill 360 moves the current threshold of four grams of either drug to seven grams of oxycodone and 14 grams of hydrocodone.

Sentencing

Campaign On to Free Missouri Marijuana Lifer. The ongoing campaign to win the release of Jeff Mizansky, the only man in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge, are continuing this month with help from Show-Me Cannabis and Change.org. Show-Me Cannabis has bought billboard space on I-70 near Kansas City (and near Sedalia, where Mizanskey was arrested) to bring attention to his case, and a Change.org petition calling for his release now has more than 360,000 signatures. Mizansky has three convictions, all for marijuana. Campaigners will hold a press conference at the state capitol on April 28.

International

New WOLA Report on Colombia's Peace Prospects Released. As negotiations between the leftist FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government continue, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new report, Ending 50 Years of Conflict in Colombia, that analyzes the prospects for a peace accord and the challenges that will follow. Click on the title link to read the report.

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Cut Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted unanimously Thursday to reduce sentences for most federal drug trafficking defendants. The move comes as the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by drug offenders, even as prison populations in the states are on the decline.

In the past decade, in many states, the harsh Reagan-era war on drugs approach to drug use and trafficking has given way to smarter approaches geared toward diversion and treatment of drug offenders, but when it comes to reforms, the federal system has lagged behind.

Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders, was a step in the right direction. And passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410), which has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is pending in the House, would be another.

That bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduce mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and apply the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed. It also calls on USSC to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.

But in the meantime, USSC has now, with the administration's support, acted on its own. The commission voted to reduce sentences by amending the federal sentencing guidelines to lower the base offense guidelines in the Drug Quantity Table across various drug types.

The quantity tables place specific quantities of each controlled substance in corresponding sentencing "levels," which in turn contain a range of recommended sentences based on a defendant's criminal history. For instance, under the current guidelines, a drug offense involving at least 10 grams of methamphetamine, but not more than 20 grams, is in sentencing level 18, where the recommended sentence range for an offender with one or no criminal history points is 27-33 months. Under the new guidelines, the same quantity of methamphetamine will be a level 16 offense, which means the recommended sentence range for a first-time offense will be 21-27 months.

The example above is on the low end for federal drug sentences. USSC said the changes would affect about 70% of federal drug trafficking defendants and would result in an average sentence decrease of 11 months. That means the average federal drug trafficking sentence will drop from just over five years to just over four years.

The USSC move could cut the federal prison population by 6,500 over five years. (supremecourt.gov)
This commission has concentrated this year of addressing federal prison costs and capacity. It estimates that the changes it approved Thursday will reduce the federal prison population by more than 6,500 over the next five years and have an even greater impact over the long run.

"This modest reduction in drug penalties is an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner," said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991."

There are currently more than 216,000 federal prisoners, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Slightly more than half (50.1%) are doing time for drug offenses.

Attorney General Holder welcomed the move, calling it "a milestone" in reshaping the way the system deals with drug offenders. He called for Congress to take the next steps.

"It is now time for Congress to pick up the baton and advance legislation that would take further steps to reduce our overburdened prison system," Holder said. "Proposals like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act would enhance the fairness of our criminal justice system while empowering law enforcement to focus limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety. I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on these types of common-sense reforms."

Attorney General Holder approves -- and wants more. (usdoj.gov)
Civil liberties and sentencing reform advocates also pronounced themselves pleased at a step in the right direction.

"We commend the Sentencing Commission for taking this important step toward reforming federal drug sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "This change will save taxpayers money, help to rein in federal prison spending, and bolster the spirits of tens of thousands of federal defendants who are facing impractical and disproportionately long sentences."

"Our country is slowly but steadily reversing the damage done by the failed, racially biased war on drugs," said Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The actions taken by the Sentencing Commission today are another positive move toward reducing unnecessarily long sentences that have led to bloated, overcrowded prisons. Our criminal justice system is smarter, fairer, and more humane than it was a year ago, and we need to make sure momentum continues in the right direction."

"This is a terrific, if modest, first step toward genuine sentencing reform for drug offenders," said Mary Price, legal counsel for FAMM and an expert on the Sentencing Commission. "The next step is for Congress to pick up where the Commission left off by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act."

But first, Congress must allow the USSC recommendations to become law. The drug quantity table amendment, along with others approved by the commission, will go to Congress in May. Barring legislative objections, the new guidelines will become law on November 1, 2014.

Unless USSC votes to make the new guidelines retroactive, they will impact only those defendants sentenced after November 1. The commission voted Thursday to conduct a prison impact study before voting on retroactivity.

Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana remains on the agenda at statehouses across the country, Oregon communities decide whether to bother with temporary dispensary moratoriums, DC looks to expand its medical marijuana program, and more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, medical marijuana advocates began a recall effort against state Sen. Kimberly Yee for blocking funding of a study of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD in veterans. The Phoenix NORML affiliate and the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee have undertaken a campaign to make the Phoenix Republican pay a price. They'll need to collect 18,297 signatures from Legislative District 20 by August 2.

California

Last Thursday, a district judge upheld Bakersfield's ordinance banning dispensaries. A group called Concerned Citizens for Bakersfield had filed a lawsuit to block it, arguing that the city hadn't complied with environmental requirements, but the judge wasn't buying it.

Also last Thursday, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The San Francisco Democrat's new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut

Last Thursday, Connecticut picked locations for six dispensaries. The state Consumer Protection Commissioner announced that facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville had been authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana expansion bill was filed. The bill, sponsored by Councilmembers Yvette Alexander and David Grosso, would permit doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from any condition for which it provides medical benefits. Patients would then be allowed to apply to the Department of Health for acceptance in the District's medical marijuana program. All 13 members of the council are now cosponsors.

Illinois

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill would allow children to use high-CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 now heads for the House.

Maryland

On Monday, the state legislature passed a medical marijuana expansion bill. The bill would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters unleashed TV ads attacking Gov. Dayton for opposing medical marijuana. An aggressive TV ad targeted the DFL governor after he told a St. Paul mother and her seizure-ridden child to just find medical marijuana on the street!

On Tuesday, medical marijuana supporters tried to attach their stalled bill to a broader health bill. A standalone bill, House File 1818, has been stuck in committee, but supporters plan to propose it as an amendment to a separate health bill. The vote will come after the legislature returns from spring break later this month.

Missouri

On Tuesday, a House committee approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would permit use of "hemp extract" with little THC and high CBD. Patients would need to have epilepsy that a neurologist has determined is not responding to at least three treatment options. The bill is House Bill 2238, and it has the support of the Republican House leadership.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a patient sued NJ Transit for denying him a job. A former New Jersey Transit worker and medical marijuana patient who was denied a new position with the agency after testing positive for marijuana is suing in hopes of seeing marijuana recognized as a legitimate medication. Charlie Davis, 57, said he was denied both safety sensitive and non-safety sensitive positions with the agency. Courts in other medical marijuana states have generally upheld the rights of employers to fire workers who use medical marijuana even if it is legal.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, supporters rallied as a Senate committee considered a home cultivation bill. The measure, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Oregon

On Monday, the Newport city council enacted a moratorium on dispensaries. The council said the moratorium would remain until it could get rules and regulations in place, probably a few months. By state law, the moratorium must end by May 1, 2015.

Also on Monday, the Springfield city council rejected a moratorium on dispensaries. Other Lane County communities, including Florence, Junction City and Oakridge have approved one-year bans. Lane County and Veneta considered but decided against imposing moratoriums.

On Tuesday, the Coburg city council approved a moratorium on dispensaries.

South Carolina

Last Wednesday, the House passed a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill allows people suffering from severe epilepsy to legally use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. House Bill 4803 is less restrictive than a Senate measure passed last week. It's unclear what happens next.

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

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More GOP Cosponsors

A sentencing reform measure pending in Congress has picked up more support from four more Republican members of the House this month. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410) now has 26 cosponsors, including 10 Republicans. The Senate version of the bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

The bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and applies the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed.

It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing, but at the same time directs that "penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe."

The act is currently before the House Judiciary Committee. Bill sponsor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) recently held a Republican Study Committee session on the bill, which resulted in four new GOP members signing on in one day.

The new cosponsors are Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Chris Stewart (R-UT). For a complete list of sponsors, click here.

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