Drug War Chronicle

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Obama's Heroin Initiative: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? [FEATURE]

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

The White House Monday announced a new initiative to combat heroin that will pair law enforcement and public health in what it called a bid to shift the focus of the fight from punishing drug addicts to treating them. Under the plan, drug intelligence officers will work with public health officials to track heroin supplies, how it gets to street-level dealers, and how and where it's getting cut with sometimes deadly adulterants.

The initiative has won support from some elected officials in states hard-hit by rising levels of heroin use and heroin overdose deaths. But drug reform advocates called it "one step forward, two steps back."

Under the plan, announced today as part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) funding program by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, $5 million will go to "a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin," with half of that funding a Heroin Response Strategy involving an "unprecedented partnership" of five HIDTA programs -- Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore -- to fight smack.

Another $4 million in HIDTA funds will go toward prevention in 18 HIDTAs, including programs that feature "key partnerships between law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in public health and education," the announcement says. Another $1.3 million will go to five Southwest border HIDTAs "to enhance investigational efforts" against the Mexican trafficking organizations supplying most of the nation's heroin.

"The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. "The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue 'smart on crime' approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery."

Branded heroin packet from New Jersey (NJ State Police)
The funding will pay for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within the HIDTA programs. The narcs will gather information on trafficking patterns and trends and feed it to street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts will increase overdose monitoring, look for dope cut with dangerous adulterants, and train first responders on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The announcement comes amidst rising clamor over heroin's comeback and increasingly lethality in recent years. While the causes of the increase in heroin use are multifaceted and debatable, the reality of it doesn't seem to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control in a report released last month, more than half a million people were using heroin in 2013, up 150% from 2007.

The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing even faster. The CDC reported that fatal overdoses hovered around 2,000 a year in the early 2000s before doubling to around 4,000 in 2011, and then doubling again to 8,257 two years later in 2013.

The sound of more federal funding is music to the ears of politicians in states like New Hampshire, which saw more than 300 heroin overdose deaths last year and where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over how much money to spend on drug treatment. Elected officials across the political spectrum had kind words for the initiative Monday.

People lining up to score in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
"While the announcement of additional federal support for New England is an important first step, we must see these resources move as quickly as possible and we will need continued engagement from our federal partners to help combat this pressing public health and safety challenge," said Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).

"Stemming the tide requires investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and broad cooperation at the federal, state and local levels," said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D).

"Today's announcement is welcome news for New Hampshire and other New England states that are confronting this crisis," added US Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). "We must take a multi-pronged approach in this fight, and prevention is a key part of that."

But the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took a more skeptical view.

"Half of what they're doing is right -- the focus on health and overdose prevention -- but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail," said Bill Piper, director of the group's office of national affairs.

DPA took particular exception to the use of the HIDTA program as a vehicle for addressing heroin use, noting that even though its mandate was originally to focus on high-level drug traffickers, its programs "lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes."

HIDTAs came into being in 1988, with five being created to focus on "top priority" areas. But since then, the HIDTA program has swollen to 28 different regional HIDTAs covering more than 60% of the US population, including such major drug trafficking hotbeds as South Dakota and Wyoming.

And, thanks to Congress, since 1998, no HIDTA money can be spent on drug treatment. DPA and other advocates have pointed out that this statutory ban reduces program flexibility and access to treatment, and have called on Congress to repeal the ban, eliminate the HIDTA program altogether, or move it out of the White House and into the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush administration once proposed.

If the Obama administration wants to really address drug use as a public health issue and not throw away more money on failed drug war policies, DPA had some suggestions:

  • "Shifting federal resources from enforcement and incarceration to treatment and public health program funding to save more lives and realize substantial savings for taxpayers. The federal government's drug control budget has increased exponentially throughout the years. Despite a recent change in rhetoric, the federal government still focuses the vast majority of its drug-related spending on interdiction, enforcement and incarceration.
  • "Committing more federal investments into naloxone access, overdose prevention, and greater access to methadone and buprenorphine and other forms of evidence-based treatment.
  • "Funding community-based initiatives such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that reduce barriers to drug treatment and other health services.
  • "Removing barriers to methadone and other forms of medication assisted treatment in military treatment facilities that care for active duty and veterans.
  • "Investing more funding into making overdose prevention and medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals who are at elevated risk of substance use and overdose.
  • "Eliminating federal legal barriers to research trials for supervised injection facilities and heroin assisted treatment."

How to Deal With New Psychoactive Substances? [FEATURE]

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

In recent years, we've been inundated with wave after wave of media panics over strange new drugs. First came "fake weed" (or as NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton called it last week, "weaponized marijuana"); then came "bath salts," with the infamous face-eating episode that wasn't; and most recently, "flakka," labeled as "$5 insanity" by one media outlet.

mephedrone (wikimedia.org)
These new (to the recreational drug market) substances mimic the effects of currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines, or ecstasy. The states and Congress have rushed to address the drugs by prohibiting them, but that has proven to be a game of cat and mouse, with innovative chemists and manufacturers replacing banned drugs with new variants faster than politicians can act.

"In recent years, lawmakers have moved to ban wave after wave of NPSs, only to see more emerge," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "All 50 states have passed laws against synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, and federally, there are 26 unique compounds under Schedule I. And the DEA, which has legal authority to criminalize drugs administratively, has banned more than two dozen. These laws take time, which allows manufacturers to create new compounds."

Not only is the prohibitionist reflex ineffective, it arguably increases the harms associated with the use of these drugs. But to ignore them or ban them aren't the only policy choices, and some advocates are calling for these novel substances to instead be controlled and regulated. One model they point to is New Zealand, which instead of banning "legal highs," moved to regulate them in 2013.

New Psychoactive Substances

Before turning to policy options, though, it's worth a moment to figure out just exactly what we're talking about when we talk about "new synthetic drugs," and why maybe that isn't the best term to use to describe these substances.

In a conference call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for regulation over prohibition, Earth and Fire Erowid, the administrators of the Erowid drug information web site -- "Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives" -- tried to bring some rigor to a domain where science too often gets lost in the distortions of moral panic.

"Synthetic drugs is a term used to imply scary new street drugs," said Earth Erowid. "But nearly all pharmaceutical drugs are synthetic, whether they're cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants, or sedatives. You don't want to use the phrase 'synthetic drugs' unless you're talking about every pharmaceutical developed over the past 50 years."

"A more accurate and appropriate term is "new psychoactive substances," he said. "That's the standard term in Europe."

NPSs can be grouped into some general categories, based on the effects they seek to replicate, the Erowids said:

synthetic cannabinoids (wikimedia.org)
Replacement Cannabinoids. Sometimes sold as powders, sometimes sprinkled on herbal blends. These are not cannabis, but new synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists. The specific compounds include JWH 018 and AB-PINACA, among many others. Several of these have been associated with death and serious medical complications.

Replacement Euphoric Stimulants. These include cathinones like methedrone, MDPV ("bath salts"), and Alpha PDP ("flakka"), as well as compounds related to Ritalin.

Replacement Psychedelics. The best known are the NBOMe series ("N-Bomb"). They are often distributed on blotters, and many people who think they're buying LSD are getting this. The NBOMe class has been linked to about 20 deaths.

Replacement Dissociatives. These are PCP-like chemicals, including various ketamine variants and methoxetamine.

Replacement Opioids. These include chemicals such as AH 7921 and U4770.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a similar, if not quite identical, taxonomy here.

The deaths and other adverse reactions that have been linked to NPSs have occurred under regimes of either prohibition or its opposite -- no regulation. "Legal highs" were just that, NPSs yet to be banned but lacking any sort of reliable labeling or quality control. Many formerly "legal highs" are now illegal, but the harm continues, and new NPSs continue to come on the market, legal until the politicians get to work.

"There's a reason for that, said Earth Erowid. "People are looking for legal replacements for illegal drug effects," he explained. "Most people simply want a stimulant or a psychedelic, and they're willing to try anything if it's legal."

"That may hold true for "fake marijuana" users than other NPS users," said Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"Synthetic marijuana users have different profiles from other NPS users," he said "They are resorting to using it as a legal replacement for marijuana as a means of avoiding arrest, especially minorities. Other NPS users, especially clubbers and ravers, may be taking them unwittingly, Palamar added, pointing a finger especially at "Molly," which is supposed to be pure MDMA in powder form, but often isn't.

"Molly is the biggest system of unintentional NPS use that ever came around," said Palamar. "A lot of the drug users, especially Molly users, are unknowingly taking NPSs.

(The Erowids helpfully pointed out that there are a number of web sites where users can submit their Molly for testing, including one they run at EcstasyData.org.)

What's in your ecstasy tablet? (pillreporter.org)
There are other options for dealing with NPSs beyond the extremes of prohibition on the one hand and laissez-faire on the other. In some cases, it may be politically feasible to simply legalize the currently prohibited drug they are imitating.

Roger Goodman, chairman of the Washington state House Public Safety Committee and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that legalizing weed is a start.

"By legalizing marijuana, we have no problem with synthetic marijuana," said Goodman. "No one wants to use that. We have a rational regulatory approach. Prohibition is in the past for us. Marijuana is a good first step for us. We know better than to impose prohibition and outlaw any particular substance."

Legalizing marijuana more widely could put a real dent in the synthetic cannabinoids market, but there is no immediate prospect for legalizing drugs such as meth, cocaine, and the psychedelics and putting a dent in the market for other NPSs that way. That means if we're not going to prohibit them and we're not going to ignore them, we're going to have to regulate them.

That's what New Zealand did with its 2013 law, which transformed unregulated "legal highs" into regulated "legal highs" sold with labels at established stores. Drug makers were required to submit their products for testing and labeling before they could be approved for legal sale.

"I really look to the New Zealand law," said Goodman. "It provided for licensing and testing, and it got rid of the criminal actors. It seemed like a very rational way to go."

"That model would encourage manufacturers to make safer products," DPA's Smith concurred.

But, alas, the New Zealand law is no more. It was overturned and replaced with a more prohibitionist retrenchment a year later amidst complaints that drug users were getting high and hanging around the dope shops like winos in front of liquor stores. That is a lesson for legalizers (or regulators) here. Not only are progressive drug reforms difficult to enact, they also sometimes require a strong defense.

Chronicle AM: White House Focuses on Heroin, Peru Coca Tensions Rise, CO Pot Sales Hit Record, More (8/17/2015)

It's big bucks for the Colorado marijuana industry (and the state's tax revenues), there's more initiative news, the White House takes on heroin, Peruvian coca farmers are feeling the pinch of eradication, and more.

Heroin is on the White House agenda today. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Sold a Record $50 Million Worth of Recreational Marijuana in June. Recreational pot sales totaled $50.1 million in June, a record high, and up 7.6% over the previous month, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Medical marijuana sales also hit a record, with $35.2 million taken in. The state took in $10.9 million in combined marijuana taxes in June, putting the year's total tax haul to date at nearly $42 million. For all of last year, the total was $44 million.

Idaho Initiative Would Decriminalize, Allow Medical Marijuana and Hemp. Activists with New Approach Idaho have crafted a three-pronged initiative that would decriminalize up to three ounces, allow for medical marijuana, and allow for hemp. The group needs more than 47,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Illinois Governor Wants Changes in Marijuana Bills. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) last Friday used his veto authority to alter two marijuana bills on his desk. A decriminalization bill would make possession of up to 15 grams punishable by a fine of between $55 and $125; Rauner wants to decrease the amount to 10 grams and increase the fines to between $100 and $200. A medical marijuana bill would extend the state's medical marijuana program; Rauner wants an extension of only four months. The bills now go back to the legislature.

With ResponsibleOhio on the Ballot, Organized Opposition Emerges. A coalition of business groups are organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The Greater Cleveland Partnership is one member, so are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau. The Cuyahoga County drug and alcohol abuse board is also opposing, as are all Republican state higher officeholders.

Wyoming Moves to Criminalize Marijuana Edibles. After rulings by state court judges that state felony marijuana laws only criminalize its possession in plant form, the legislature's Joint Justice Committee is pondering how to deal with edibles. One proposal is to make possession of more than three ounces of an edible a felony. The committee will hold further discussions on the issue in November.

Medical Marijuana

New Version of Michigan Dispensary Bill Could Throttle Medical Marijuana. The House Judiciary Committee will be presented with new versions of the Provisioning Centers Act and the Smoking Alternative Bills that failed to get through the legislature in the 2013-14 session. But advocates say the new versions are less patient-friendly than business-friendly. Click on the link to get the lowdown on the legislature's medical marijuana shenanigans.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Families who don't trust the legislature to act are preparing to push for action through the initiative process. Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis says it won't make a final decision until next month, but is exploring its options. Another, NORML-affiliated state group is already working on a medical marijuana initiative signature-gathering campaign, but said it could merge efforts.

Heroin

White House Focuses On Heroin. The White House announced today an initiative aimed at reducing heroin use by pairing public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the focus from punishing addicts to treating them. The plan will pair drug intelligence officers with public health officials to increase epidemiological knowledge about heroin use. The plan is being criticized by some reform advocates. Look for a Chronicle feature story later this week about the initiative and the critique.

International

Peruvian Coca Farmers Take Financial Beating from Eradication, Start to Fight Back. Peru has eradicated more than 210 square miles of coca crops this year, winning kudos from the US, but impoverishing thousands of coca farmers and their families who have lost their livelihoods. Government eradicators are manually destroying the crops in the field. "This is what we live off," said one farmer, surveying what's left of her family plot after eradication. The Peruvian government says some 42,000 families received financial help or support with alternative crops last year, but another 53,000 affected families did not. Grower anger is rising, with a July protest by 5,000 people in Ciudad Constitution ending with one farmer killed by police and 23 wounded. It was the first violent cocalero protest since 2012.

South Australia Bans Synthetic Cannabinoids. State Attorney-General John Rau has added two new psychoactive substances, a pair of synthetic cannabinoids, sold as Full Moon and Sinsence, to the state's list of banned substances. The move comes after reports of deaths and other adverse effects.

Chronicle AM: WY MedMJ Init Underway, DOJ Investigating Police Killing of SC Teen, More (8/14/2015)

CBD cannabis oil goes on sale in England, a medical marijuana initiative is getting underway in Wyoming, the Justice Department will look into the police killing of teenager Zach Hammond in a small-time marijuana bust, and more.

The DOJ will investigate the police killing of Zachary Hammond during a small-time marijuana bust. (Hammond family)
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Expansion Bill Filed. Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube (R) filed a bill Thursday that would expand the state's CBC cannabis oil program. The measure, House Bill 63, would lower barriers to entry for would-be medical marijuana growers and manufacturers, particularly by removing limits on the number of manufacturers.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Signature-Gathering Campaign Getting Underway. An initiative campaign led by Wyoming NORML is getting underway this weekend. The group is set to unveil the initiative this weekend. They will need to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

New Psychoactive Substances

Vermont Lawmakers Add 75 New Drugs to State's List of Controlled Substances. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules Thursday approved an amendment to the state's law on controlled substances that adds 75 new substances to the list. Most of them are synthetic cannabinoids, but the list also includes aceto-fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Will Investigate Killing of South Carolina Teen in Pot Bust. The Justice Department announced Wednesday night that it will investigate the killing of Zachary Hammond, 19, who was shot and killed by a Seneca police officer on July 26. Hammond was the driver of a vehicle whose passenger was targeted by police for selling small amounts of marijuana. Police claimed he threatened them by driving toward an officer, but Hammond's family says autopsy results show he was shot through the driver's side window from behind, suggesting that the officer was not in danger.

International

First Legal CBD Cannabis Oil Goes on Sale in England. A London and Kent-based company has begun distributing "Charlotte's Web" cannabis oil in England. Authorities had approved such sales last month.

Chronicle AM: OH Will Vote on Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Program Finds One User, More (8/13/2015)

Ohio could be the next state to legalize marijuana, a union boss gets busted for taking bribes from dispensaries, "fake weed" is the subject of repression in Boston and New York state, Maine's welfare drug test program finds a single drug user, and more.

New psychoactive substance like these synthetic cannabinoids face bans, not regulation.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization has qualified for the November ballot. Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot. The initiative is controversial among marijuana legalization supporters because it creates a "monopoly" of ten allowed locations for commercial marijuana grows, which are owned by the people who funded the campaign. The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Again Considers Licensing Medical Marijuana Farms. The city is in the process of crafting regulations and issuing licenses for medical marijuana grows, as well as other marijuana-related businesses. The city had proposed something similar in 2011, but retreated after federal prosecutors criticized the plan. But now the federal position has changed, and Oakland is ready to try again.

UFCW Official Accused of Taking Bribes from Dispensaries. Dan Rush, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division, has been charged in federal court with taking bribes or kickbacks to endorse potential dispensary operators. The feds accuse Rush of taking a $600,000 loan from one dispensary operator, and when he was unable to repay it, working with an attorney on "steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers," the complaint says.

Oregon Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Task Force Bill. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 844, which establishes a task force to research the medical and public health properties of marijuana. The task force will make a report with recommendations to the legislature on developing a medical marijuana industry that supplies patients with products that will meet their needs.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Lawmakers Want Tougher Laws Against "Fake Marijuana." Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) imposed an emergency ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, but legislators want more. "Unfortunately, it is not doing the trick," said state Sen. Jeff Stein (D-Bronx). "We need a law on the books in Albany and we need a law right now. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children." He's supporting a bill that would make selling more than 25 grams of the stuff a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Boston City Council Bans "Fake Weed." The city council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred as "fake marijuana" or "synthetic marijuana." People caught selling the stuff will face a fine of $300, and police can now seize the drug.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Found Only One Drug User. The state began screening welfare applicants in April, but so far only one person has tested positive for drugs. The program screens all applicants for "reasonable suspicion" of drug use or if they have drug felonies, then subjects those it deems likely to be drug users to drug testing. But only 15 people have been referred to drug testing. Thirteen were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn't show up for either the initial screening or the drug test, and one tested positive. The results are in line with results from other states, whether drug screening and testing has also found very small numbers of drug users.

International

British Pot Farm Raids Decline. The number of police raids on commercial marijuana grows dropped by more than 17% last year. Observers cited law enforcement budget cuts and other factors. "Recent budget cuts appear to be reducing the amount of proactive policing that's going on," said Matthew Atha of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. "One of the main methods of detecting cannabis growers is police helicopters with infrared cameras and they cost a lot of money to keep in the air." This year, some British police forces have said they were going to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, but that wouldn't explain the decline last year.

ResponsibleOhio Marijuana Initiative Qualifies for 2015 Ballot

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

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative is controversial for creating a "monopoly" of 10 allowed commercial marijuana grows, and those spots have already been allocated to people who funded the campaign.

The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

"It's time for marijuana legalization in Ohio, and voters will have the opportunity to make it happen this November -- we couldn't be more excited," said ResponsibleOhio spokesman Ian James after Husted's announcement. "By reforming marijuana laws in November, we'll provide compassionate care to sick Ohioans, bring money back to our local communities and establish a new industry with limitless economic development opportunities."

Look for extensive coverage of the initiative and the campaign from the Chronicle in coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out our in-depth coverage of the initiative and the controversy from last month here.

Medical Marijuana Update

With state legislatures adjourned and the dog days of summer upon us, it's pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front this week. But there is some news from the Northeast.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, what could be Boston's first dispensary came a step closer to opening. Patriot Care Corporation received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

On Monday, patient advocates protested the slow pace of medical marijuana implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

New Jersey

On Monday, a judge ruled that a junior high girl cannot be given her edibles at school. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina cop already in prison for stealing pain pills is now charged with marijuana trafficking, a Texas narc gets probation for stealing and using drug dog training drugs, and another prison guard goes down. Just another week of drug war-related law enforcement corruption. Let's get to it:

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former New Hanover County Sheriff's Office narcotics officer was charged last Thursday with marijuana trafficking and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Joseph Antoine LeBlanc, 43, is already doing more than four years in prison after pleading guilty last October to more than a hundred counts of stealing evidence -- prescription pain pills -- and forging court orders to obtain more from local pharmacies. The new charges arise from a pot stash found on his property after he was already jailed.

In Princeton, Kentucky, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday after a tip to the State Police led to a drug dog search of his car, which in turn led to the discovery of four packages of marijuana and prescriptions. A later search of his residence turned up three more bags of weed. Officer Geoffrey Nettesheim was arrested and jailed on as yet unspecified charges.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a former Grapevine K-9 officer was sentenced last Friday to five years' probation for stealing and consuming drugs used for training drug dogs. Danny Macchio, 50, had reported that someone had broken into his official patrol/K-9 vehicle while parked at his Fort Worth home and stolen a case of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, along with a personal handgun. Grapevine police began an internal investigation and required Macchio to take a drug test, but his family reported him missing the next day. After being found in the Panhandle, he confessed that his vehicle hadn't been robbed and that he taken and used the drugs himself. He was originally charged with misuse of government property and abuse of official capacity, but a Tarrant County grand jury also indicted him on a charge of evidence tampering, and that's what he copped to.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Claims to Make Ballot, Clinton Talks Drug Abuse in NH, More (8/12/2015)

Legal marijuana states still have issues, an Ohio group says it has qualified a legalization initiative for the November ballot, a video game league institutes drug testing, Hillary Clinton talks drugs on the campaign trail, and more.

Hillary Clinton. The Democratic contender said people are telling her drug abuse is a big issue. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Under Proposed Rules, Colorado Edibles Would Be Marked With Stop Sign. A working group tasked with finalizing labeling requirements for marijuana edibles is calling for such products to be marked with the letters "THC" inside a stop sign -- not only on the package, but on the product itself. Some people in the industry think that could be problematic. The working group has until the end of the month to finalize the rules. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Qualified for Ballot. Ohio officials haven't confirmed it yet, but ResponsibleOhio, the group behind this year's controversial legalization initiative, says it has handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group needed 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. It handed in nearly 700,000 last month, but came up some 30,000 short. Under state law, it had another 10 days to make up the shortfall, and it handed in 95,000 raw signatures last week. The group has been tracking the counting in each county in the state and now says: "It is with the greatest sense of humility that we let each of you know that we have crossed the signature threshold based on what the boards have reported so far!"

No Adult Pot Lounge at Hempfest This Year -- It Would Be a Felony. Last year, in keeping with the spirit of marijuana legalization, Seattle's Hempfest set up "adult lounges" where the over-21 set could toke up. Not this year. That's because the omnibus legislation to regulate legal marijuana that went into effect last month makes providing a place for public pot use a Class-C felony.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Girl Can't Be Give Her Edibles at School, Judge Rules. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Panel Ponders Reforms Today. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is meeting today to consider tightening the state's asset forfeiture laws. One proposed bill would limit asset forfeiture by first requiring a felony conviction; another would raise the legal standard from "probable cause" to "clear and convincing evidence" that a crime had been committed. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have eliminated civil forfeiture by first requiring a conviction.

Drug Policy

At New Hampshire Forum, Hillary Clinton Pledges to Elevate Issue of Drug Abuse. After hearing from a variety of stakeholders, the Democratic presidential contender said drug abuse has emerged as a consistent issue as she travels the country. "I have to confess -- I was surprised," she said. "I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went." She said advisers are speaking with medical professionals as the campaign develops policy proposal later this year, and that substance abuse should be treated as a health issue.

Drug Testing

Video Game League Announces Drug Testing Specifics. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), the premier professional video gaming organization, has announced that it will subject players to the possibility of saliva tests to detect the presence of banned substances, including opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and marijuana. ESL says marijuana use will only be banned during tournaments. Drug testing for the league has come about after a scandal this spring over the use of the stimulant Adderall by some gamers.

International

Canada's Harper Campaigns on Hard Line on Drugs. Facing an October election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to reject marijuana legalization, saying that most Canadians agree with him even though a government opinion poll released a year ago had more than two-thirds supporting either legalization or decriminalization. Where marijuana is easily available and legal, "more people get addicted," he warned. "We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem." He also reiterated Tory opposition to safe injection sites.

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

Chronicle AM: AK Regulators Want to Ban MJ Social Clubs, ME Gov Threatens to Call Out Guard, More (8/11/2015)

Alaska regulators want to ban marijuana social clubs, Chris Christie signs a bill allowing methadone in drug court programs, a new report says Illinois needs to do better on heroin treatment, Russia wants to censor Reddit, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. Illinois ranks 44th in spending for heroin treatment. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Want to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The Marijuana Control Board has presented its final set of proposed regulations and is generating controversy with a provision that bans social clubs. The board argues that since Alaska law doesn't allow BYOB bars, it shouldn't allow BYOM clubs.

California Governor Signs Law Targeting Illegal Pot Grows. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed a law that will impose steep fines on marijuana grows that cause environmental harm by dumping chemicals and wastewater, removing trees, and killing animals. The measure is Senate Bill 165. Last year, investigators found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams linked to marijuana cultivation, resulting in the theft of about five million gallons of water.

California Governor Signs Bill to Increase Penalties for Residential Butane Hash Oil Manufacture. Gov. Brown also last Friday signed Senate Bill 212, which will increase penalties for people caught making butane hash oil. The process has been linked to numerous fires and explosions in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Protest Slow Pace of Medical Marijuana Implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medication Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 2381, which will allow people under the jurisdiction of the state's drug courts to complete their programs while using opiate-substitution medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine. Despite decades of evidence and the recommendations of treatment providers and even the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, most drug courts in the state required clients to quit medication-assisted treatment to complete the program. "Medication assisted treatment for drug court attendees, like all other clinical decisions made by a provider for their patient, is a critical component in a person's treatment and recovery plan. I thank the governor for his support of this legislation and his continued leadership and support of Drug Court programs," said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).

Drug Treatment

Illinois Doesn't Adequately Fund Drug Treatment and Wants to Cut It Even More, New Report Says. A report released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found that the state ranked 44th in the nation in state funded treatment admissions for heroin and that Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) proposed budget would slash funding by another 61%. Chicago ERs rank first in the country in emergency room visits for heroin use, and Cook County is number one in the nation for arrestees who test positive for the drug. Click on the consortium link to read the report.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) today reiterated his threat to call in the National Guard to fight the state's "drug epidemic" if legislators don't give him his way. The legislature has rejected his repeated demands that it deal with the drug issue primarily by hiring more agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and while it did agree to fund six additional agents, two prosecutors, and two judges, that wasn't enough for LePage, who called it "chump change." It's not clear just what LePage what have the Guard do. Click on the link for much more.

International

Australian Parliamentary Committee Approves Medical Marijuana. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that a Green-sponsored medical marijuana bill be passed. The committee called for the bill to be amended to set up a medical marijuana regulatory agency. The bill has cross-party support in the parliament.

Russia Threatens to Block Reddit Over Single Thread on Drugs. The Kremlin's increasingly busy Internet censor has warned that the popular website Reddit will be blocked unless it deletes a thread about growing marijuana plants. The censor said Reddit has so far failed to respond to demands that it delete the thread and asked readers to reach out to Reddit to tell its editors to check their emails. The censor has also blocked Wikipedia pages about how to smoke pot, online anonymity services, Pirate Bay, and made similar threats against YouTube.

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

For Some, Best Cure for Heroin May Be Legality

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

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to deal with heroin addiction among some hardcore users may be to give them heroin. That's the takeaway from a seminal study just published by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Prescription diamorphine could be preferable to street heroin. (New Jersey State Police)
The study, "Heroin on trial: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials of diamorphine-prescribing as treatment for refractory heroin addiction," focused on the findings of six randomized controlled trials on supervised injectable heroin treatment in six different countries: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Canada, and England.

What the meta-analysis found across all trials was a greater reduction in the use of illicit "street" heroin in patients receiving pharmaceutical heroin compared to the control groups (who generally only received methadone). "Heroin-prescribing, as a part of highly regulated regimen, is a feasible and effective treatment for a particularly difficult-to-treat group of heroin-dependent patients," the study concluded.

It's not just heroin users who benefit. In most of the trials, the researchers found reductions in criminal justice, imprisonment, and health care costs, while finding no negative effects on public safety.

Providing heroin to especially treatment-resistant users is known as heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) or heroin maintenance therapy. While heroin maintenance trials have been underway in several European countries, as well as Australia, and Canada, none have ever been done in the United States.

"The feasibility and effectiveness of heroin-assisted treatment has, once again, been borne out in the scientific literature," said Lindsay LaSalle, a harm reduction attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance. "The question that remains is not whether heroin maintenance is backed by science, but whether it will ever be backed by politicians and government officials in the United Sates. As of now, the only thing that stands in our way is ideology and stigma."

Nevada became the first state to try to break down the walls preventing heroin maintenance trials when state Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) introduced a bill that would have created a four-year heroin maintenance pilot project. But that bill didn't pass.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Looks Set, Israel Anti-Drug Unit Shuttered, NY "Fake Pot" Ban, More (8/10/15)

The New York Times has a strong editorial on marijuana reform, the ResponsibleOhio initiative should qualify for the ballot on a second try, Philly pot busts plummet after decrim, Israel zeroes out its anti-drug agency, and more.

Jeff Mirzanskey -- Twenty years in, Missouri's only marijuana lifer gets parole.
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Calls Obama, Congress "Too Timid" on Marijuana Reform. In a Sunday Times editorial, the newspaper of record criticized federal elected officials for just "standing by" as the movement to legalize marijuana gains ground. Instead, the Times editorial board said, they "should be more actively debating and changing the nation's absurd marijuana policies, policies that have ruined millions of lives and wasted billions of dollars." The editorial also called for marijuana to be descheduled. There's more to the editorial; click on the link to read the whole thing.

Marco Rubio Joins Chris Christie in Vowing to Roll Back Marijuana Legalization. A second GOP presidential contender has now joined New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in vowing to undo state-level legalization if he wins the presidency. Florida US Sen. Marco Rubio was asked on Meet the Press Sunday whether he would enforce federal pot laws against states that have legalized it. "Absolutely," he replied. "I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law." While he said he is open to medical marijuana with some important caveats: "I'm not in favor of legalizing marijuana. I'm not. I never have been."

Florida Legalization Initiative Launches. A group of activists organized as Regulate Florida has an initiative drafted that would create legal marijuana commerce in the Sunshine State. No more details yet, but they could come as early as this week.

Missouri Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzansky To Be Freed. Mirzanskey has been behind bars since 1994 for a marijuana offense and was set to die in prison before a campaign spearheaded by Show Me Cannabis led Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to adjust his sentence, making him eligible for parole. His son, Chris, told local media Monday that he has now been granted parole and should be home within two or three weeks.

ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative Looks Close to Qualifying for November Ballot. After the state's two most populous counties, Cuyahoga and Franklin, completed verification of petition signatures last Friday, it appears that ResponsibleOhio will actually make the ballot. The group had originally handed in nearly 700,000 signatures and only needed 305,000 valid ones to qualify, but came up nearly 30,000 short. It then had a 10-day period to make up the shortfall and handed in 95,000 more raw signatures. They had a validity rate of 51% in Franklin County and 40% in Cuyahoga. If that combined 45% validity rate holds, ResponsibleOhio make the ballot.

Denver Social Use Initiative Hands In Signatures. Backers of a Denver municipal initiative to allow for marijuana use -- but not sale -- in commercial venues limited to people 21 and over handed in more than 10,000 raw signatures today. The Campaign for Limited Social Use needs 4,726 valid voter to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. The city clerk has 25 days to certify the petition.

Philadelphia Pot Arrests Plummet 73% After Decriminalization. In the first six months of 2015, 465 people were arrested for marijuana possession. That's down from 1,681 during the same period in 2014. This after a policy shift toward decriminalization in most cases.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Emergency Regulations to Ban "Fake Marijuana" Now in Effect. Previously announced regulations to ban several synthetic cannabinoids went into effect last Thursday. Under the emergency rules, possessing or selling the stuff is now subject to criminal penalties of up to 15 days in jail.

Law Enforcement

Customs and Border Patrol to Quit Harassing General Aviation Pilots. In the face of loud complaints from general aviation pilots, CBP has greatly reduced the number of unwarranted stops and searches of small planes. The pilots' organization also said there it "has received no new reports of unwarranted stops and searches of GA aircraft or harsh treatment meted out to innocent GA pilots." Click on the link for more.

International

Thousands March for Marijuana Legalization in Berlin. The city's annual Hanfparade (hemp parade) drew an estimated 8,000 people to the streets last Saturday. They demanded the legalization of marijuana for recreational, medical, and industrial use.

Israel Anti-Drug Agency To Be Shuttered. The Israeli Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority will be shut down in what the government calls a cost-cutting move. The agency had attracted criticism for a last-century stance toward marijuana, with a recent campaign warning "It's not that innocent." Despite that campaign, however, the agency green-lighted what is now a thriving nationwide medical marijuana program, as well as research into MDMA therapy for PTSD. The Finance Ministry says the agency is being zeroed-out in an effort to merge programs in the Public Safety Ministry.

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

Chronicle AM: Judge Throws Out More Philly Cases, India Shiva Pilgrims Toke Up, More (8/7/15)

An Oregon congressman calls for down-scheduling marijuana, an Oklahoma US senator wants to punish tribes that allow marijuana, Boston's first dispensary is likely coming soon, drug hair-testing for truck drivers edges closer, and more.

Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage to the Ganges are taking full advantage of wild cannabis on the way. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Earl Blumenauer Calls for Rescheduling or Descheduling Marijuana. The Oregon Democratic congressman sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday urging her to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government's position on this issue." Blumenauer added that "It is clear to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug."

Oklahoma Senator Files Bill to Punish Tribes That Allow Pot. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has filed a bill that would cut all federal funds for any Indian tribes or tribal organizations that allow the cultivation, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana on their reservations. The Justice Department earlier this year gave tribes the go ahead to get into the marijuana business if they wanted. Lankford's bill, the KIDS (Keeping Out Illegal Drugs) ACT, is not yet available on the congressional website, but can be viewed here.

Medical Marijuana

First Boston Dispensary Could Open Soon. Patriot Care Corporation has received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

Drug Testing

Federal Advisory Board Recommends Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMSHA) Drug Testing Advisory Board has recommended that hair testing be approved as an alternative drug screening technique for truck drivers and other "safety-sensitive" federal workers. The recommendation now goes to the head of SAMSHA, and if she approves it, it would then go to the Department of Health and Human Services. Hair drug testing detects drug use for much longer periods of time than urine or blood testing.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Throws Out 158 More Convictions Linked to Corrupt Narcs. Philly's dirty narcs may have managed to avoid criminal convictions for their misdeeds, but their actions continue to reverberate through the city's criminal justice system. A city judge today threw out 158 more criminal convictions linked to the narcs, bringing the total of vacated convictions involving the seven officers to 560, and more are on the way. More than 135 civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the city as a result of cases involving the seven narcotics officers.

International

Indian Shiva Devotees on Pilgrimage Enjoying Roadside Cannabis. Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage route toward the Ganges are staying high on overgrowths of cannabis along the roads. The devotees are big smokers: "Without weed, the yatra remains incomplete," said one. "It brings me closer to Bhole Baba," said another. "Its usage also helps one cover long distances from Haridwar to Meerut on foot, as it keeps the body's energy intact," he added. State officials are supposed to eradicate wild cannabis growth, but are having a hard time: "It has grown almost everywhere. How do we destroy it?" asked one official who declined to be named. Another said that eradication is so ineffective it ought to be decriminalized.

Chronicle AM: Study Supports Prescription Heroin, States Want Feds Out of MJ Policies, More (8/06/15)

The DEA admits the screamingly obvious, the National Council of State Legislatures tells the feds to let states set their own pot policies, another South Florida community decriminalizes, and more.

Prescription heroin. A new study says it is a useful treatment for some addicts. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Finally, DEA Head Admits Heroin More Dangerous Than Marijuana. Former DEA chief Michele Leonhart just couldn't wrap her head around that notion, and her successor, Chuck Rosenberg, was struggling last week, when he conceded that marijuana is "probably not" as bad as heroin. But Wednesday, Rosenberg came clean, admitting that "heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana."

National Council of State Legislatures Passes Motion Calling for Feds to Butt Out of State Marijuana Laws. The resolution passed today declares that states should have the right to set their own marijuana and hemp policies. "States are increasingly serving as laboratories for democracy by adopting a variety of policies regarding marijuana and hemp," the preamble says, adding that "the federal government cannot force a state to criminalize cultivating, possessing, or distributing marijuana or hemp -- whether for medical, recreational, industrial, or other uses -- because doing so would constitute unconstitutional commandeering." Click on the link to read the resolution.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Has Already Gathered 50,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced Wednesday that it had already gathered 50,000 signatures to get its legalization initiative on the November 2016 ballot. The group needs 150,000 valid voter signatures by July 2016 to qualify. If gatherers keep up their current pace, they could have 300,000 or so signatures by then. They need a cushion to account for gathered signatures that are invalidated, and that would provide one.

Another South Florida Community Decriminalizes. Hallandale Beach has become the first Broward County city to decriminalize pot possession after commissioners Wednesday night approved the measure. People caught with 20 grams or less will be ticketed and fined $100 instead of being arrested. Miami-Dade County passed a similar measure in July. West Palm Beach and Palm Beach counties are also expected to vote on a similar measure.

Addiction Treatment

Important Study Finds Heroin-Assisted Treatment Benefits Users and Society. A research review published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has found that heroin-assisted treatment (or heroin maintenance) is effective for patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as residential treatment or methadone. "Heroin-prescribing, as a part of highly regulated regimen, is a feasible and effective treatment for a particularly difficult-to-treat group of heroin-dependent patients," the study concluded.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana got attention on the national stage this past week, medical marijuana for PTSD sufferers was at issue in two states, Florida looks poised to pass a medical marijuana initiative next time around, and more.

National

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona

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

California

On Tuesday, the first legal dispensary in Santa Ana opened. South Coast Safe Access is the first and only licensed dispensary so far in the city and the country. The city's permitting system has been plagued by division and lawsuits, but now the first dispensary has arrived.

Colorado

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

Florida

On Monday, a poll had support for a medical marijuana initiative above two-thirds. A new survey from St. Pete Polls has more than 68% of respondents saying they would vote for a new medical marijuana initiative if it makes the ballot. An effort last year got 58% of the vote, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass. These poll results strongly suggest it will pass next time around. Click on the link for more poll results.

Michigan

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

Nevada

Last Friday, the state's first dispensary opened for business. Silver State Relief was set to open its doors today in the Reno suburb of Sparks. It's the first to open in the state, and one of two approved by city fathers.

New York

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

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

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We have a Philadelphia twofer this week, an Indiana cop who killed himself after getting busted stealing pain pills, an Oklahoma K9 cop popped for stealing dope, another jail guard in trouble, and more.

In Michigan City, Indiana, a Michigan City police officer was arrested last Tuesday for possession of a "legend drug" without a prescription and two counts of official misconduct. Four days later, Officer Robert Grant committed suicide. He had served 12 years with the department.

In Checotah, Oklahoma, a Checotah K9 officer was arrested last Friday after drugs went missing. Officer Matthew Benton LeMasters, 35, went down after the police chief asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the missing drugs a month ago. He's charged with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

In San Antonio, a Bexar County detention deputy was arrested last Friday after an undercover investigation showed he had provided drugs and other contraband to inmates at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center that morning. Deputy Termaine Elliot, 22, is now charged with bribery and possession of a controlled substance in a correctional facility. Both are felonies with sentences of to 20 years.

In Troy, New York, a former Watervliet police officer was arrested Tuesday as one of 20 alleged members of a Troy-based drug trafficking ring. Nicholas Pontore, 29, is accused of providing protection from the ring and regularly buying cocaine from one of its members, sometimes in uniform while on duty. Police seized more than a kilo of cocaine, more than 100 bags of heroin, and $100,000 in cash during the bust. It's not clear what the exact charges against Pastore are.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police narcotics officer was found guilty last Friday of stealing cash from a drug dealer's Lexus. Gerold Gibson, 45, went down in a sting. The Lexus didn't belong to a drug dealer and it had hidden cameras put there as part of a police "integrity test." The jury convicted him of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, theft by failing to make required disposition of funds, obstruction of the administration of law, and tampering with evidence.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police narcotics officer was sentenced last Thursday to 3 ½ years in federal prison for crimes he admitted participating in while a member of the Narcotics Field Unit. Jeffrey Walker testified against six of his former colleagues, but they were acquitted, so it looks like the one who came clean is the only one going to the slammer. Although they failed to win a conviction in the larger case, federal prosecutors still said Walker was a "credible witness" and the sentencing judge agreed. He granted a downward departure from sentencing guidelines that called for nine to 11 years.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Under-treatment of Pain

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clubland

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

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

Memphis Cop Killed After Interrupting $20 Marijuana Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memphis, TN
United States

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

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

International

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

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

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

Four July Drug War Deaths

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

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

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

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

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

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

July's drug war dead:

Kevin Lamont Judson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clay Alan Lickteig

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

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

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

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

Victo Larosa

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

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

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

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

No weapon was found.

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

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

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

Zachary Hammond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

International

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

2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiatives: An Overview [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Good for Legalization:

Arizona

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

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

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

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

Will the Buckeye State do it this year or next?
California

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

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

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

Maine

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

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

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

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

Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

Nevada

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

There's a Decent Chance:

Michigan

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

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

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

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

Missouri

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

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

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

Ohio

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

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

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

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

Not Likely Next Year:

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

Mississippi

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

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

Montana

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

Prospects for 2016:

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

Marijuana Market Data Report from ArcView

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

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

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

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

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