Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

DC City Council Okays Marijuana Decriminalization

Washington, DC, is set to become the next entity to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession after the city council Tuesday gave final approval to a decriminalization bill. The bill must still be approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, who has signaled support for decriminalization.

But even after the mayor signs off, the measure will not become law until Congress has completed a required legislative review. That process could last into the summer.

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized. In setting the fine so low, council members cited homelessness in the District and high poverty rates in areas of the city that have seen the highest numbers of arrests.

Police still can, however, seize your marijuana and whatever you used to smoke it. And public use of marijuana remains a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

"This is a big step forward for our nation's capital, as well as our nation as a whole. Clearly, marijuana prohibition's days are numbered in the United States," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill. "We should not be saddling people with criminal records simply for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol," Riffle said. "Law enforcement resources should be used to address serious crimes, not to arrest and prosecute adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neither the District nor any of the states can afford to continue criminalizing adults for marijuana possession."

"For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia. DC council members took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, which also supported the bill.

"Council members heard the public's demand that marijuana arrests end and have passed model legislation that is one of the strongest marijuana decriminalization laws in the whole country," Smith continued. "Mayor Vincent Gray should sign and ensure this bill goes to Congress for its review without delay. With every day that passes, more District residents' lives are irrevocably harmed with these senseless marijuana possession arrests."

Passage of the decrim bill is by no means the end of pot politics in the District this year. Two other marijuana-related bills are still before the council, one (Council Bill 20-467) that would seal marijuana arrest and conviction records and one (Council Bill 20-466) that legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce for adults.

And looming over the legislative activity is the DC marijuana legalization initiative, which is awaiting approval for signature-gathering from the Board of Elections.

Washington, DC
United States

War of Words: The International Narcotics Control Board vs. A Changing World [FEATURE]

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy's watchdog group, the International Drug Control Board (INCB) released its Annual Report 2013 today, voicing its concerns with and wagging its finger at drug reform efforts that deviate from its interpretation of the international drug control treaties that birthed it. The INCB is "concerned" about moves toward marijuana legalization and warns about "the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states."

"We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis," INCB head Raymond Yans said in introducing the report. "INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory."

For some years now, some European and Latin American countries have been expressing a desire to see change in the international system, and "soft defections," such as the Dutch cannabis coffee shop system and Spain's cannabis cultivation clubs, have stretched the prohibitionist treaties to their legal limits. But legal marijuana in Uruguay is a clear breach of the treaties, as Colorado and Washington may be. That is bringing matters to an unavoidable head.

After surveying the state of drug affairs around the globe, the 96-page INCB report ends with a number of concerns and recommendations, ranging from non-controversial items such as calling for adequate prevention and treatment efforts to urging greater attention to prescription drug abuse and more attention paid to new synthetic drugs. [Ed: There is some controversy over how to best approach prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs. e.g. the type of attention to pay to them.]

But the INCB is clearly perturbed by the erosion of the international drug prohibition consensus, and especially by its concrete manifestations in legalization in Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington and the spreading acceptance of medical marijuana.

"The Board is concerned that a number of States that are parties to the 1961 Convention are considering legislative proposals intended to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical and scientific ones" and "urges all Governments and the international community to carefully consider the negative impact of such developments. In the Board's opinion, the likely increase in the abuse of cannabis will lead to increased public health costs," the report said.

Similarly, the INCB "noted with concern" Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which "would not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, particularly the 1961 Convention" and urged the government there "to ensure the country remains fully compliant with international law, which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Ditto for Colorado and Washington, where the board was "concerned" about the marijuana legalization initiatives and underlined that "such legislation is not in conformity with the international drug control treaties." The US government should "continue to ensure the full implementation of the international drug control treaties on its entire territory," INCB chided.

But even as INCB struggles to maintain the legal backbone of global prohibition, it is not only seeing marijuana prohibition crumble in Uruguay and the two American states, it is also itself coming under increasing attack as a symbol of a crumbling ancien regime that creates more harm than good with its adherence to prohibitionist, law enforcement-oriented approaches to the use and commerce in psychoactive substances.

"We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realize that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fueled the rise of organized crime," said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. "As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games."

"For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis," agreed Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory. "Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people's health, safety and human rights. Reform won't be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how."

"This is very much the same old stuff," said John Collins, coordinator of the London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and a PhD candidate studying mid-20th Century international drug control policy. "The INCB views its role as advocating a strict prohibitionist oriented set of policies at the international level and interpreting the international treaties as mandating this one-size-fits-all approach. It highlights that INCB, which was created as a technical body to monitor international flows of narcotics and report back to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has carved out and maintains a highly politicized role, far removed from its original treaty functions. This should be a cause for concern for all states interested in having a functioning, public health oriented and cooperative international framework for coordinating the global response to drug issues," Collins told the Chronicle.

"The INCB and its current president, Raymond Yans, take a very ideological view of this issue," Collins continued. "Yans attributes all the negative and unintended consequences of bad drug policies solely to drugs and suggests the way to lessen these problems is more of the same. Many of the policies the board advocates fly in the face of best-practice public health policy -- for example the board demanding that states close 'drug consumption rooms, facilities where addicts can abuse drugs,'" he noted.

"If the board was really concerned about the 'health and welfare' of global populations it would be advocating for these scientifically proven public health interventions. Instead it chooses the road of unscientific and ideological based policies," Collins argued.

The INCB's reliance on ideology-driven policy sometimes leads to grotesque results. There are more than 30 countries that apply the death penalty for drugs in violation of international law. Virtually every international human rights and drug control body opposes the death penalty for drugs including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial killings, torture and health, among many others.

INCB head Raymond Yans (incb.org)
But when an INCB board member was asked in Thailand -- where 14 people have been executed for drugs since 2001 -- what its position on capital punishment was, he said, "the agency says it neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses," according to the Bangkok Post.

Human rights experts were horrified and immediately wrote asking for clarification, to which the INCB responded, "The determination of sanctions applicable to drug-related offenses remains the exclusive prerogative of each State and therefore lie beyond the mandate and powers which have been conferred upon the Board by the international community," according to Human Rights Watch.

Another area where the board's concern about the health and welfare of global populations is being challenged is access to pain medications. A key part of the INCB's portfolio is regulating opioid pain medications, and this year again it said there is more than enough opium available to satisfy current demand, although it also noted that "consumption of narcotic drugs for pain relief is concentrated within a limited number of countries."

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees about that latter point. A 2011 study estimated that around 5.5 billion people -- or 83% of the world population -- live in countries with 'low to non-existent' access to opioid pain relief for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. These substances are listed by the WHO as essential medicines, and the international drug control conventions recognise explicitly that they are 'indispensable' to the 'health and welfare of mankind.'

Adding to the paradox -- the global supply is sufficient, but four-fifths of the world doesn't have access -- the INCB calls on governments to "ensure that internationally controlled substances used for pain relief are accessible to people who need them."

What is going on?

"The INCB uses totals of requirements for opioid medicines compiled by the UN treaty signatory states," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, which keeps an eye on the agency with its INCB Watch. "Unfortunately there is often a huge gap between these administrative estimates and the actual medical needs of their populations."

The prohibitionist slant of global drug control also creates a climate conducive to understating the actual need for access to pain relief in other ways, Fordham told the Chronicle.

"Many governments interpret the international drug control conventions in a more restrictive manner than is necessary, and focus their efforts towards preventing access to the unauthorized use of opioids rather than to ensuring their medical and scientific availability," she said. "This is a grossly unbalanced reading of the conventions, underpinned by fear and prejudice regarding opioids and addiction."

Although the agency has cooperated somewhat with the WHO in attempting to enhance access to the medicines, said Fordham, it bears some blame for rendering the issue so fraught.

"The INCB has continually stressed the repressive aspect of the international drug control regime in its annual reports and other public statements, and in its direct dealings with member states," she said. "The INCB is therefore responsible for at least some of the very anxieties that drive governments toward overly restrictive approaches. This ambivalence considerably weakens the INCB's credibility and contradicts its health-related advocacy."

Fordham joined the call for a fundamental reform of global drug prohibition, and she didn't mince words about the INCB.

"The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already," she said before leveling a blast at Yans and company. "But the INCB is notable as the most hard line, backward-looking element, regularly overstepping its mandate in the strident and hectoring manner its adopts with parties to the treaties, in its interference in functions that properly belong to the WHO and in its quasi-religious approach to a narrow interpretation of the drug control treaties."

The INCB should get out of the way on marijuana and concentrate on its pain relief function, said Collins.

"The INCB should stay out if it," he said bluntly. "It is a technocratic monitoring body. It should not be involving itself in national politics and national regulatory systems. So it doesn't need to be either a help or hindrance on issues regarding cannabis reform. It has no reason to be involved in this debate. It should be focusing on ensuring access to essential pain medicines. These debates are a distraction from that core function and I would argue one of the reasons it is failing to meet this core function."

Sorry, INCB. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM -- March 3, 2014

DC should decriminalize tomorrow, New Mexico looks to expand its medical marijuana program, harm reduction bills move in a couple of states, Mexican police repress a pro-El Chapo demonstration, and more. Let's get to it:

The shrine to narco-saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan. (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2008)
Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Expected to Get Final Vote Tomorrow. The District of Columbia city council is expected to give final approval tomorrow to a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, with a $25 fine. It has the support of eight of 13 council members, so it should be a done deal, but stay tuned tomorrow.

Legalization Bill Introduced in Florida. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Orlando) has introduced a legalization bill in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1562 was filed Friday. The proposal comes as Florida voters prepare to cast ballots in November on legalizing medical marijuana. Also, lawmakers are considering proposals to legalize a marijuana extract that can help some children who have a form of epilepsy and suffer from severe seizures.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Has Support of Cops, Cities. For the first time, California law enforcement and local government associations are backing legislation to regulate the medical marijuana industry. The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California cities are supporting Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), but the bill is opposed by friends of medical marijuana, who object to its provisions setting limits on doctors who recommend it.

New Jersey Annual Medical Marijuana Reports Out. The state Department of Health has released the 2013 Annual Report and the 2013 Biennial Report on the status of the state's medical marijuana program. The state has 1,585 active registered patients, 121 active registered caregivers, and six registered dispensaries. Both reports are at the link.

Massachusetts Caregiver Flouts Regs, Grows for More than One Patient. Longtime Bay State marijuana activist Bill Downing has gone public with his flouting of the state's medical marijuana regulations. He says he is providing medical marijuana to some 350 patients, but state regulations say he can be a caregiver for only one. Downing says it's the regulations that are in conflict with the state's medical marijuana law, not him. "The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for caregiving. The regulation does not," he said. And the state Health Department knows what he is up to, he added.

New Mexico to Address Medical Marijuana Shortage, Adds New Conditions. Acknowledging that a shortage of medical marijuana exists in the state, the Department of Health Friday proposed increasing the number of plants and seedlings that licensed producers can grow and opening the application process to allow more producers to apply for licenses. There are only 23 licensed producers in the state, and demand is rising. Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list. The number of patients in the state jumped to more than 10,000 last year, an increase of 1,200 over the previous year. The department also announced it was adding Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.

Solid Majority Favors Medical Marijuana in Iowa Poll. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans (59%) support legalizing medical marijuana, according to the latest Iowa Poll. But only 28% support legalization. Medical marijuana bills are introduced in the legislature every year, but have yet to go anywhere.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Moving in Ohio. A bill that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) remains alive after the House voted to concur in changes made to it in the Senate. Substitute House Bill 170, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) has an emergency clause and will go into effect immediately upon signature by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Good Samaritan 911 Bill Moving in Georgia. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution on drug charges for people who seek emergency treatment for drug overdose victims has passed the House. House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, now awaits action in the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill Gets Hearing in Maryland. A bill that would require police to report the type of property seized, the crime with which it is supposedly linked, and the disposition of any related criminal cases has been heard in the Maryland Senate. Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), got a hearing last week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but no vote was taken.

International

Mexican Police Arrest 40 in Pro-El Chapo Guzman Demonstration in Culiacan. Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested about 40 people Sunday who were planning to demonstrate in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. About 150 supporters had gathered at the shrine to Jesus Malverde, informal patron saint of drug traffickers, in Culiacan, and about 40 were arrested when they refused to disperse. Some shouted "Long live Chapo." More than a thousand people marched for Guzman in Culiacan last week, and police wanted to prevent a repeat of signs of public support.

Drug Reformers Head to New Zealand for Conference on Regulating Legal Highs. Drug reformers from around the globe are heading to Auckland later this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform. The Pathway to Reform conference will take place on March 20.

Conservative Norwegian MP Charged in Hash Scandal Case. Erik Skutle, the Conservative Party member of parliament who took Prime Minister Erna Solberg's seat when she took the leadership position, has been charged with hashish use in a case that has embarrassed his "zero tolerance" political party. He was charged Thursday, a day after he publicly proposed decriminalizing cannabis possession as the scandal emerged. But it looks like he will retain his seat in parliament.

Chronicle AM -- February 28, 2014

Another state, another poll, more support for marijuana reform, plus a Good Samaritan 911 bill moves in Maryland, a welfare drug testing bill moves in Indiana, Minnesota takes a chagrined second look at its welfare drug testing law, Norway's conservatives have a hash scandal, Dutch cops warn against legalizing grows, and more. Let's get to it:

Dutch police oppose legalizing the supply of marijuana to the country's famous cannabis cafes. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization, Supermajority for Medical Marijuana. A Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization in the Keystone State at 48%, with 42% opposed. A solid majority, 59%, supported decriminalization. On medical marijuana, a whopping 85% believe patients should be allowed to use it when prescribed by a doctor. "Our findings suggest that the position of Pennsylvanians on the legalization of marijuana is largely consistent with the nation as a whole," MCAP Director Joseph Morris said in a statement.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Dispensary Applications Start Monday. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program will begin taking applications for a dispensary license Monday. Click on the link to go the Oregon Health Authority's relevant pages.

Maryland Draft Regulations for Medical Marijuana Programs Released. The Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission has released its proposed regulations for medical marijuana programs and growers. The commission is looking for comments, and interested parties have two weeks to get them in. Click the link to read the draft regs.

Drug Policy

Drug Reform Journalist Dean Becker Publishes Book to End the Drug War. And it's called To End the War on Drugs. Becker is the man behind the Houston-based Drug Truth Network, where he has hosted more than a thousand Pacifica Radio programs going out to 90 affiliates and interviewed just about everybody is who is anybody in the world of drug reform (and many of the opposition, too). It's available as a paperback or e-book; click on the title link for all the details.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Revisiting Much Criticized Felon Welfare Drug Testing Law. A law that went into effect last year requiring counties to determine which welfare applicants had felony drug convictions and subject them to drug tests to qualify for benefits would be changed under a bill heard Tuesday by the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. House File 1987, introduced by Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul), would make participation by counties optional. Counties and welfare rights and civil liberties advocates have argued that the law is a costly unfunded mandate that has little real world effect because the number of people who test positive for drugs under it is miniscule. The committee held the bill for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. A similar measure awaits action in the Senate.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill that would require welfare recipients previously convicted of a drug crime to pass a drug test before receiving benefits passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. House Bill 1351 has already passed the House and another Senate committee and now heads for a floor vote.

No Link Found Between Positive Tests for Marijuana and Work-Related Accidents. Past marijuana smoking, as indicated by the presence of inert metabolite in standard urine tests, is not associated with work-related accidents, according to a new study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. "This study fell short of finding an association between marijuana use and involvement of workplace accidents," the author concluded. He added, "This study cannot be taken as definitive evidence of absence of an association between marijuana and work related accidents but the findings are compelling."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Bill Passes House. A bill that would provide limited immunity for anyone seeking medical assistance for a potential overdose victim unanimously passed the Maryland House of Delegates Thursday. Passage of House Bill 416 would mean that no person can be charged with possession of drugs or alcohol, or violation of an outstanding non-violent arrest warrant, if police or emergency personnel are called to administer aid to an overdose victim. This applies to the individual overdosing and a friend or bystander calling on the victim's behalf. The bill now moves to the Senate.

International

Mexican Vigilantes Take Cartel Fight to Key Port. Vigilante groups that emerged in the western state of Michoacan to fight off the grip of the Knights Templar drug trafficking organization have now moved to the outskirts of the key Pacific port city of Lazaro Cardenas. The move comes as the Mexican government attempts to integrate the vigilantes into a military-controlled Rural Defense Force. The groups first sprang up a year ago, when state and local authorities proved ineffective against the cartel, and now, they and the military have driven the Knights out of a number of Michoacan communities.

Dutch Police Fear "Extreme Violence" if Marijuana Cultivation is Legalized. The Dutch National Police have come out against legalizing marijuana cultivation because they fear criminals will attack the pot farms with "extreme violence," according to a letter to regional governments from Deputy Chief Constable Ruud Blik. Mayors of more than 50 cities had recently called for growing to be legalized, and the Heerlen Mayor Paul Depla found himself "bewildered" and "disconcerted" by Blik's remarks. "We want to take marijuana cultivation out of the criminals' hands with legal plantations. But the National police says: no, we're not doing that, because then criminals threaten to rip our plantations. Out of fear of reprisals we do nothing, then, and leave the marijuana cultivation in the hands of criminals. That is an upside down world, and unworthy of the rule of law," Depla said.

Hash Smoking Scandal for Norway's "Zero Tolerance" Conservative Government. A Norwegian politician with links to the prime minister in Norway's new conservative coalition government has admitted smoking hashish "on one occasion," embarrassing the government, which campaigned on "zero tolerance" drug policies. To make matters worse, one-time toker and alternative MP Erik Skutle then spoke out against the policy, saying marijuana should be sold in pharmacies in state-owned shops. "I think we have a better chance of controlling and reducing consumption if we sell them over the counter, rather than having a total ban," he said.

British Drug Minister Will Ask China and India to Crack Down on New Synthetic Drugs. British drug minister Norman Baker said after a Home Office summit on "legal highs" that he would approach the Chinese and Indian governments in a bid to curb new synthetic drugs not covered by existing drug laws. Baker said he hoped to have "frank and honest" discussions about curbing the illicit laboratories' activities with source countries such as China and India at next month's meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. While Britain and other countries have moved to quickly ban new synthetics, New Zealand has instead chosen to regulate them.

Chronicle AM -- February 27, 2014

A thousand people march in support of "El Chapo" Guzman in his home state, Alaska makes it official that legalization is on the August ballot, another poll has a nationwide majority for marijuana legalization, medical marijuana bills move in a pair of states, there are a pair of moves to tighten up on pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro or No-hydro? A move is on to get the new hydrocodone-based pain medication killed.

Marijuana Policy

It's Official -- Alaska Lieutenant Governor Signs Off on Legalization Initiative. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell Wednesday made it official: Alaska will vote on a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which is working with the Marijuana Policy Project. "I have determined that the initiative sponsors have timely filed the petition and that the petition is signed by qualified voters… the Director of the Division of Elections shall place the ballot title and proposition on the election ballot for the Primary Election on August 19, 2014," Treadwell wrote in his official statement.

CBS News Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization, Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 51% of Americans think marijuana should be legal, according to a new CBS News poll, and a whopping 86% think doctors should be able to prescribe it for medical use. Just three years ago, the CBS News poll had support for legalization at only 40%. CBS News now joins pollsters at Gallup, Pew Research, CNN,Quinnipiac, PPP, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, who have have all found that a majority of the country supports marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for children suffering epileptic seizures won a unanimous vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday. House Bill 885 was approved after sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) amended it to allow for cultivation of marijuana at Georgia medical research universities. Producers of CBD cannabis oils cannot legally import them to Georgia.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill that would allow people suffering from conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), and HIV/AIDS to use medical marijuana by a vote of 9-5 today, following a public hearing. The Cannabis Compassion Act, or House Bill 350, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) and cosponsored by Committee Chairman Tom Burch (D-Louisville), would permit licensed patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana, and it would establish regulations to operate a limited number of medical marijuana compassion centers and testing facilities.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Wants $4.5 Million for Drug Court Expansion. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced Wednesday that his proposed 2015 budget includes $4.5 million to pay for an expansion of the state's drug court program, but the sponsor of the bill that created the expansion says that isn't enough. The budget also includes half a million dollars to help provide drug offenders with employment services and another half million to allow drug court clients to obtain job training, skills acquisition, and job placement. But critics said if the state wants to provide drug treatment, it should do so without forcing people into drug court. "If you're really going to talk about the shift from addiction to treatment, it's not just for those who get arrested," said Roseanne Scotti, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office.

Opioid Pain Medications

Coalition Calls on FDA to Reverse Approval of Zohydro. Zohydro, a hydrocodone-based opioid pain reliever, was approved by the FDA last fall, but now a coalition of drug treatment, healthcare, and consumer groups led by Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing is calling on the agency to reverse that decision. "It's a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule," said the group's Dr. Andrew Kolodny. "It will kill people as soon as it's released." But Zogenix, Zohydro's manufacturer, and the FDA both insist that the drug's benefits outweigh its risks.

DEA Publishes Proposal to Move Hydrocodone Combo Products to More Restrictive Schedule II. The DEA today published in the Federal Register notice that it intends to reschedule the opioid pain reliever hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II, making it more difficult to access, when it is sold in products that also contain substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Hydrocodone by itself is already Schedule II, but Congress placed the combination products in Schedule III when it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The DEA says Schedule III opioids are more likely to be abused than the more tightly controlled Schedule II ones. Public comment on the proposed rule must be made by April 27 and can be done at www.regulations.gov. A request for a hearing can be made at the same web site, but the deadline for that is March 31.

Sentencing

Sentencing Discrepancies Under Scrutiny in Minnesota. Widespread disparities in Minnesota drug sentencing revealed in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story Sunday led to a legislative hearing Wednesday in which legislators offered up fixes ranging from stiffer sentences for drug "kingpins" to lesser penalties for low-level drug offenders. But even though Minnesota has tougher drug sentences that surrounding states, increased penalties appeared to have more traction than decreased ones.

International

A Thousand March for "El Chapo" Guzman in Culiacan. More than a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Wednesday. The largely young crowd, many dressed in white, bore signs that read "We want Chapo Freed" and "We demand no extradition" as they filed across the center of Culiacan.

Bermuda Activist Challenges Bias of Speaker Chosen By Government to Address Medical Professionals. Attorney Alan Gordon, one of Bermuda's most prominent marijuana activists, is raising concerns about the government's selection of Dr. Andrea Barthwell to address medical professionals there. Barthwell, a former deputy drug czar under George W. Bush, has "a long history of credible accusations" made against her "one-sided and heavily misleading information which could harm Bermuda health care," Gordon said. "Dr. Barthwell's bias against medical cannabis, historically, is so strong that she is not a credible source of information until she meaningfully addresses the allegations," said Gordon. He had a lot more to say about Barthwell, too. Click on the link to read it all.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Epilepsy Foundation comes out in support of medical marijuana, the feds delay a PTSD study, CBD bills are popping up, and a battle over local dispensary bans looms in Oregon, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the National Epilepsy Foundation endorsed medical marijuana. "The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. Nothing should stand in the way of patients gaining access to potentially life-saving treatment," according to the statement from Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO Philip M. Gattone and Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Warren Lammert. "If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now -- not in five years or ten years. For people living with severe uncontrolled epilepsy, time is not on their side," according to their statement.

Last Friday, researchers charged federal bureaucrats with blocking the supply of marijuana for a research study on PTSD in veterans. The study has been approved by the FDA and the University of Arizona's Institutional Review Board, but the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said the US Public Health Service has for the past 3 ½ months refused to act on its request to purchase marijuana for the study. The PHS marijuana review process exists only because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-protected monopoly on the supply of marijuana legal for use in FDA-regulated research. This additional review is not required for research on any other Schedule I drug.

California

Last Tuesday, the Diamond Bar city council voted to ban dispensaries. The council first approved an extension of a temporary ban on medical marijuana clinics that will last until January 2015. It also introduced a second ordinance that will permanently ban medical marijuana operations from the city. The permanent ban gets a second reading next week. The city had one dispensary, Farm Assist Caregivers, but it was shut down by the feds last year.

On Tuesday, the San Diego city council approved up to 30 dispensaries to operate in the city. The council voted 8-1 to create new zoning laws for medical marijuana dispensaries after years of debate about providing access for patients while at the same time protecting neighborhoods. The rules limit dispensaries to some commercial and industrial zones and require them to be at least 1,000 feet from one another as well as schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care and youth facilities, parks and churches. They must operate as nonprofits, have curtailed business hours and hire security guards.

Also on Tuesday, a San Jose initiative began gathering signatures for the 2014 ballot. The San Jose Medical Marijuana Regulation for San Jose Act (MMRSJ) is designed to put in place "reasonable regulations" for dispensaries and is a response to a city council stance that "all dispensaries are illegal" until it comes up with its own regulations. The supporters of MMRSJ would like to collect 30,000 signatures before the March 18 San Jose City Council meeting on the topic, but have set a goal of completing the signature drive on April 20.

Florida

On Monday, Tampa was the scene of a rowdy debate over medical marijuana. With a medical marijuana initiative headed for the voters in November, initiative proponent and prominent attorney John Morgan and NORML head Alan St. Pierre faced off against Project SAM spokesman Kevin Sabet and prehistoric prohibitionist Dr. Eric Voth. "Screaming, yelling, and even people dragged out" were all part of the action, as WTSP News 10 reported.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was stalled in committee. The bill, House Bill 885, would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children is stuck in committee as lawmakers grapple with the issue of how to obtain it. Either growing it or importing it would violate state law.

Iowa

Last Friday, a judge rejected an activist's lawsuit challenging the state Board of Pharmacy's refusal to recommend rescheduling of marijuana. Carl Olsen had brought the suit after the board denied his request to recommend a change in classification, and he says he will appeal.

Kentucky

On Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. A bill to allow trial use of cannabis oil for severe childhood seizures passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and now goes to the full Senate. The measure is Senate Bill 124.

Nevada

On Tuesday, the Boulder City council voted to ban dispensaries. The unanimous vote came after council members said they didn't think the businesses were "a good fit" for the town. Boulder City becomes the first town in Clark County to ban them. Las Vegas has a moratorium, but only while city staffers research the issue.

New York

On Tuesday, a new Sienna poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. A third of respondents (32%) said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pilot medical marijuana program was sufficient, but 45% said the state should implement a full-fledged program. The poll comes as pressure rises on the state Senate to approve pending legislation.

Ohio

On Monday, a Quinnipiac poll showed nearly nine out of 10 Ohioans favor medical marijuana. The poll had support at 87%. Medical marijuana activists are trying to get an initiative on the ballot there.

Oregon

On Monday, a House committee amended the dispensary regulation bill to allow local bans. The Senate earlier passed a version of the bill that allowed localities to regulate, but not ban them. Senate Bill 1531 still has to pass the House, and if the ban still stands, the Senate must vote to concur in the change or the two versions will have to be reconciled in conference committee.

Also on Monday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries until year's end. The measure passed 6-0.

On Tuesday, the Beaverton city council voted to ban dispensaries for at least six months. Councilors said they voted for the moratorium to figure out the best options for city regulations regarding dispensaries, including zoning and business license requirements.

South Carolina

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was introduced. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) and six GOP cosponsors filed the bill primarily to help patients who suffer from a severe form of epilepsy. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

Utah

Last Friday, a CBD medical marijuana bill advanced on a House committee vote. The House Law Enforcement Committee approved a substitute version of House Bill 105 that would also allow institutions of higher education to petition the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for the purposes of research.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Posted in:

A drug court probation officer parties down with one of his clients, a Georgia cop goes to prison for ripping off a drug dealer, and so does a Philadelphia cop. Keep an eye on Philly. The stench is really rising there. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia narcotics officer pleaded guilty Monday to attempted robbery and firearms charges for stealing $15,000 from a Southwest Philly drug dealer after planting cocaine in his car. Jeffrey Walker, a 24-year veteran of the department, also agreed to testify against his former colleagues in a widening federal probe of corruption in the dope squad, and his lawyer said his crimes paled in comparison with those of other implicated officers.

In Atlanta, a former Clayton County police officer was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in federal prison for conspiring with a drug dealer to do a fake traffic stop on a car so they could steal the cocaine inside. Dwayne Penn copped to one count of conspiracy to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine.

In Springfield, Illinois, the former head probation officer for the Adams County drug court was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail and 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to turning his home into a "drug house." John Grotts was arrested in April 2012 after a search of his home turned up meth and a female drug court probationer, who was also arrested.

Chronicle AM -- February 26, 2014

A Maryland police chief embarrasses himself with bogus marijuana death claims, welfare drug testing bills face challenges in the Deep South, a hemp bill advances in Indiana, Russia's drug czar says "nyet" to legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Get Hearing; Police Chief Cites Hoax Story About Pot Overdose Deaths. Sen. Robert Zirkin's (D-Baltimore) Senate Bill 364, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and Sen. Jamie Raskin's (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 658, which would legalize marijuana, got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Law enforcement opposed the bills, while leaders of the ACLU and NORML members supported it. The lowlight of the hearing was Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop's testimony mentioning an article about 37 overdose deaths the day marijuana became legal in Colorado. After being called out for repeating the hoax story by Sen. Raskin, Pristoop quickly backtracked.

Iowa Semi-Decriminalization Bill Introduced. A bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce and a half of marijuana has been introduced by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines). It's not a true decriminalization bill because it would keep simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. House File 2313 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link to read the bill.

Texas Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization. Almost half -- 49% -- of Texans surveyed in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing weed in either small quantities (32%) or any quantity (17%). Another 28% supported legalization only for medical purposes, while only 23% opposed any form of legalization.

New York Poll Finds Majority Oppose Legalization. A new Siena poll has support for legalization at only 43%, with 53% opposed. That contrasts with a recent Q Poll that had New Yorkers supporting legalization 57% to 39%. Differences in the questions asked and the margin of error in the polls may account for the difference. Or New Yorkers are conflicted.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for the trial use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat childhood epileptic seizures was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 124 now heads for the Senate floor.

Hemp

Hemp Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp passed the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday and now heads for the House floor. The bill is Senate Bill 357. It has already passed the Senate.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Georgia. A bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday. House Bill 772 now moves to the House floor.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Stalls in Alabama Senate. A bill requiring drug testing of some welfare applicants hit a roadblock in the Senate Tuesday when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) adjourned the body after Democrats began fighting the bill. Senate Bill 63 would require drug testing of any applicant with a drug conviction in the last five years. It is just one of five bills in the Republican agenda to tighten regulations for public assistance.

Sentencing

West Virginia Senate Approves Draconian Drug Sentencing Bill. A bill that would increase the penalty for bringing drugs into West Virginia from one year to up to 15 years passed the Senate Monday. It now goes to the House.

International

Russian Drug Czar Rules Out Marijuana Legalization, Methadone Maintenance. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service has called marijuana a dangerous gateway drug and said the authorities did not plan to legalize it, or to allow methadone treatment for heroin addicts. "Marijuana users have a 50 or 60 times higher risk of switching to heroin. There is one step from dope to heroin," Viktor Ivanov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He completely ruled out legalization, saying it was too risky in an advanced society. "Today we live in the age of high technology, a lot of things are managed with the help of computer systems. Someone who works at a nuclear power plant can wreak real havoc after smoking marijuana," he said. Ivanov also scoffed at needle exchange and methadone maintenance, saying there was little reliable evidence methadone maintenance worked. [Ed: Ivanov must have missed the entirety large body of research done on both needle exchange and methadone maintenance, which has found them to be effective and of paramount importance.]

Colombia's FARC Calls for Dismantling Drug-Paramilitary Nexus. Colombia's FARC guerrilla army called Tuesday for the dismantling of drug and paramilitary organizations it said were embedded within the Colombian state. The call was part of the FARC's six-point program to deal with the drug issue in the country, which is the fourth item on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

British Chief Constable Says Give Heroin to Addicts. Mike Barton, Chief Constable for Dunham Constabulary, is calling for heroin maintenance for addicts. Such a move would "take money out of drug dealers' pockets," he said, adding that it "isn't practical" to simply arrest addicts. His comments come in a BBC documentary in which he went to Copenhagen to visit drug consumption rooms there.

Chronicle AM -- February 25, 2014

A Europe-wide marijuana legalization initiative campaign is underway, a Republican legalization group will hold its first meeting in Texas, there's still a California legalization initiative trying to make the ballot this year, state legislatures deal reflexively with familiar drug issues, and more. Let's get to it:

The times they are a-changing.
Marijuana Policy

DC Election Board Hears Arguments to Allow Legalization Initiative on Ballot. The District of Columbia Board of Elections heard proponents of a DC legalization initiative argue Tuesday that they should okay the measure for the ballot. The hearing comes days after DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan urged the board to reject the measure because it would conflict with a provision of federal law requiring that residents of public housing be evicted for drug possession. Nathan's opinion is not binding. The board said it would act on the matter within a week.

One California Legalization Initiative Remains and is Seeking $2 Million. And then there was one. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative has fallen short of its signature-gathering goal and will not make the ballot this year. The Drug Policy Alliance-backed initiative has been set aside for this year, and the Ed Rosenthal initiative designed as an alternative to it, has now likewise been set aside. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which has until April 18 to gather more than 500,000 valid voter signatures. San Jose dispensary operator and initiative proponent Dave Hodges said the campaign needs $2 million to gather those signatures, and it is still doable. Click on the link for more details.

Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition to Hold First Meeting in Houston. Yeah, you read that right. Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, a national caucus founded in 2012 by Ann Lee, mother of Oaksterdam's Richard Lee, will host its inaugural meeting March 15 in Houston. Click on either link for more details.

New Georgia Poll Has Majority for Legalization. A new Public Policy polling survey finds that 54% of Georgia voters want to see marijuana legalized for recreational use. Support for decriminalization was at 62%. Click on the survey link for further demographic info.

Medical Marijuana

Fed Delay in Supplying Marijuana Blocks PTSD Research. The US Public Health Service (PHS) is blocking researchers who are seeking to learn more about the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat PTSD, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said Monday. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved protocol for a study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in US veterans, sponsored by MAPS, has been on hold for over 3½ months, as researchers wait for the PHS to respond to their request to purchase marijuana for the study. The study would explore the safety and effectiveness of smoked and/or vaporized marijuana for 50 U.S. veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Animal studies have already shown that marijuana helps quiet an overactive fear system, but no controlled clinical studies have taken place with PTSD patients. The PHS marijuana review process exists only because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-protected monopoly on the supply of marijuana legal for use in FDA-regulated research. This additional review is not required for research on any other Schedule I drug.

Tampa Medical Marijuana Debate Gets Rowdy. Tampa Bay area residents got an earful at a debate over medical marijuana Monday night. Local news reports said there was "screaming, yelling, and even people dragged out" as Alan St. Pierre of NORML and Florida attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's medical marijuana initiative, squared off against Kevin Sabet of Project SAM and prehistoric prohibitionist Dr. Eric Voth.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled in Committee. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children is stuck in committee as lawmakers grapple with the issue of how to obtain it. Either growing it or importing it would violate state law. The bill is House Bill 885, which is stuck in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Amended to Allow Local Bans. The Oregon bill to legalize and regulate dispensaries statewide, Senate Bill 1531, was amended in a Senate committee vote to allow localities to not just regulate dispensaries, but to ban them. The bill has passed the Senate and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. The statewide dispensary regulation system is scheduled to begin March 3.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Bills to Restrict Pseudoephedrine Purchases Moving. A package of bills designed to crack down on the use of pseudoephedrine in the manufacture of meth passed the state Senate last week. They would ban the sale of the chemical to people with meth convictions and make it a 10-year felony to buy the stuff knowing it's intended to make meth. The bills, sponsored by Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) are Senate Bill 535, Senate Bill 563, Senate Bill 564, and Senate Bill 756.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Prescription Drug Database Bill Moving. A bill that would require doctors to check an online prescription database before prescribing drugs with abuse potential passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. Senate Bill 1821, sponsored by Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie) now heads for a Senate floor vote.

International

European "Weed Like to Talk" Citizens' Initiative Underway. In the European Union, voters can submit "citizen initiatives" that require EU legislators to propose legislation if they reach a million signatures. The "Weed Like to Talk" initiative began collecting signatures last week for an effort to legalize marijuana. It has about 35,000 signatures so far. Click here to see a by-country count.

Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

The Capture of El Chapo: A Capo Gone, But the Trade Goes On [FEATURE]

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

At around 06:40 on the morning of Saturday, February 22nd, Mexican marines and police officers arrested Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a condominium in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Without a doubt, Guzman is the most significant organized criminal captured or killed since the current Mexican drug war began in December 2006. But what effect will his capture have on the violence in Mexico and the flow of drugs to American consumers? Not much.

El Chapo in the custody of Mexican Marines Saturday (sedena.gob.mx)
Guzman was widely regarded as the world's most powerful drug trafficker, and his aggressive organization has been a significant contributor to the violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years. This is especially true in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where the Sinaloa Cartel's bloody and drawn-out takeover of the access routes to the US drug market left thousands dead over the course of a three year orgy of violence.

Since his January 2001 escape from prison, Guzman turned into a mythic figure, Mexico's answer to Osama bin Laden. For much of his administration, former president Felipe Calderon was dogged by accusations that he was protecting Guzman, and ridiculed for not being able to find him. In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named him "Public Enemy #1" for his role trafficking wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin to the city.

Given his notoriety, Guzman's successful capture is a significant PR victory for the PRI administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as for the DEA and other American law enforcement agencies. But the victory may well prove much more symbolic than strategically meaningful.

Guzman's capture does not mean an end to the Sinaloa Cartel, a long-established and sophisticated organization whose tentacles spread across the world. The cartel is often referred to as "The Federation," of which Guzman was not the only leader. In his absence, much of the organization will likely come under the control of Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka "El Mayo," a capable and intelligent career drug trafficker considered by many to have been Guzman's equal. The organization can also count on the services of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka "El Azul," a crafty former police officer well known for serving as a peacemaker between rival criminal organizations.

Another possibility is that Guzman may well be able to continue to exercise some control over the organization from inside prison, as he did the last time he was incarcerated. Mexico's prisons are notoriously corrupt, and many drug traffickers and criminals have been able to continue to direct the day-to-day operations of their organizations in relative comfort in posh cells.

Guzman's capture is very unlikely to have an effect on the overall level of violence in Mexico, and may actually lead to an increase in more bloodshed and mayhem if the Federation were to break up into rival factions fighting to fill the vacuum. Many Mexican narco-blogs are already theorizing that Guzman was given up by members of his own organization, perhaps even El Mayo himself.

This was the case after the 2009 killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, which led violence to spike as his underlings fought amongst themselves to fill the void. It should also be noted that Beltran Leyva's organization was considered part of the Sinaloa Cartel until a violent split with Guzman in 2008, demonstrating the fickle and fluid nature of these organizations.

Another possibility is that -- sensing an opportunity -- Sinaloa Cartel rivals such as the notoriously violent Zetas will take advantage of the arrest and go on the offensive in Sinaloa's turf. This is not without precedent. In mid-2012, the Zetas, along with elements of the Beltran-Leyva organization and the Juarez Cartel, made a push into Sinaloa-controlled territory in mountains of the Sierra Madre.

By the American government's own admission, the Sinaloa Cartel has dozens -- if not hundreds -- of distribution cells across the US, as well as Europe. Additionally, the cartel is thought to have an organized logistical network across Central and South America. Guzman's arrest leaves these networks intact, and business will continue regardless of who is in charge.

That happened after the 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar in Colombia. Despite having eliminated the world's most wanted drug trafficker of the time and leaving the Medellin Cartel in tatters, the northbound flow of cocaine continued. His organization splintered into several smaller organizations, which, while being less capable of challenging the state, were more than up to the task of keeping business going at a steady pace.

Guzman was an immensely important drug trafficker with few equals and had the blood of thousands on his hands. His freedom had become an embarrassment to the Mexican government, and his eventual downfall was inevitable. But it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the flow of drugs from and through Mexico, or on the violence that continues to plague large swathes of the country.

As long as Mexican cartels can deliver the illegal commodities that American (and European) customers want, drug trafficking organizations will continue to exist. While there are very few drug traffickers currently of the same calibre as Guzman, as long as prohibition continues there will be ruthless, violent and intelligent individuals who want to profit from it. This means that there will always be a pool of people to replace men like Guzman. Only through sensible drug laws and demand reduction can these organizations be weakened and eventually driven out of business.

Chronicle AM -- February 21, 2014

Marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia hits a bump, the Epilepsy Foundation comes out for medical marijuana, India passes landmark access to pain medication legislation, and more. Let's get to it:

"Big Plans, Little Brains." Canada's criminally cretinous Trailer Park Boys fight marijuana legalization in their latest flick.
Marijuana Policy

DC's Top Lawyer Says Proposed Legalization Ordinance Can't Go to Voters. District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan issued a formal opinion yesterday saying the proposed DC marijuana legalization initiative should not go before the voters because it violates federal law. His opinion is not binding, but carries weight with the Board of Elections, which meets on the issue next Tuesday. Initiative backers are scrambling to see if they can't fix the language in question before then.

New Mexico House Approves Study of Legalization Effects. The state House late Wednesday passed a nonbinding memorial (bill) that calls for studying the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. Under the measure, the Legislative Finance Committee would conduct the study and report its findings later this year. The committee will be looking specifically at state revenue and agricultural production levels as well as addiction rates and the availability of law enforcement resources. The bill is House Memorial 38.

Medical Marijuana

Epilepsy Foundation Calls for Access to Medical Marijuana, Tells DEA to Back Off. "The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. Nothing should stand in the way of patients gaining access to potentially life-saving treatment," said Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO Philip M. Gattone and Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Warren Lammert. "If a patient and their healthcare professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical marijuana for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option now -- not in five years or ten years. For people living with severe uncontrolled epilepsy, time is not on their side." The foundation said it was moved to act after getting repeated inquiries about the use of medical marijuana, especially high CBD cannabis oils. It also urged the DEA to get out of the way. Click on the link to read the press release.

New Jersey Patients Air Grievances Before Assembly Committee. Medical marijuana patients and advocates got a chance to lay out their problems with the state's medical marijuana program Thursday at a hearing of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee. Click on the link to get all the details.

Maryland Medical Marijuana Program Still 18 Months Away, Official Says. Dr. Paul Davies, head of the commission set up to oversee the implementation of a medical marijuana program told lawmakers Thursday that the initiative is at least 18 months away from offering pain relief to the first patients. And that's the best-case scenario.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone (Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug) Bills Move in Ohio, Wisconsin. Bills that would expand access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) are moving in Ohio and Wisconsin. The Christian Science Monitor mentions these bills in a broader article on states moving to respond opioid overdoses. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

International

India's Rajya Sabha Passes Bill to Increase Access to Opiate Pain Medications. India's parliament has passed a bill that will ease access to opiate pain medications. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was passed by the Rajya Sabha, or upper house Friday. It had passed the Lok Sabha, or lower house, the day before. The law will bring relief to thousands of cancer patients in the country who use opiates for acute and chronic pain relief. It had been pushed by the Indian Association for Palliative Care, among other groups.

Canadian Pro-Legalization Group Seeks Candidates to Support in Next Year's Elections. A new organization, Legalize Canada, has popped-up with the intent of "supporting strong and vocal pro-legalization candidates for public office" in the 2015 federal election. The group said it had identified 95 to 100 ridings (legislative districts) out of 338 in the country where support for legalization could be a critical, election-winning issue. The group says it is aiming for a $7 million budget.

Canada's Trailer Park Boys Say Don't Legalize It. Canada's cult TV and movie phenomenon, Trailer Park Boys, is back with a new sequel, Trailer Park Boys 3: Don't Legalize It. Ricky, Julian, Bubbles, and the rest of the crew have too much invested in their latest criminal pot growing scheme to put up with legal weed.

Seven Killed in Philippines Drug Raid. Philippines anti-drug police killed seven suspected drug dealers and arrested several more in a Friday raid on the outskirts of Davao City. "They put up a fight and were killed in the process," Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said here when asked about the deaths. Duterte has long been suspected of being behind extrajudicial killings in Davao City, an accusation the Aquino administration ally has repeatedly denied.

Top Lawyer's Opinion Threatens DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative

The District of Columbia's attorney general, Irvin Nathan, has issued an opinion saying that the proposed DC marijuana legalization initiative should not go before the voters because it violates federal law. Nathan sent the opinion to the DC Board of Elections Thursday, ahead of its Tuesday meeting to decide whether or not to approve it.

Nathan's opinion is not binding, board spokesperson Tamara Robinson told the Washington Times.

"We take all comments into consideration, whether they are from the AGs office or written from DC residents," Robinson said. "At times we have agreed with the attorney general's office on certain matters and at times we don't."

But if the board agrees with the city's top lawyer next week, that could mean back to the drawing board for the initiative's proponents, the DC Cannabis Coalition. That in turn could mean its chance of actually gathering enough signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot before the clock ran out would be greatly diminished.

In his opinion, Nathan took issue with a passage in the initiative that says "no district government agency or office shall limit or refuse to provide any facility service, program or benefit to any person" based on the legalization of marijuana."

That language conflicts with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which "requires that public housing leases make 'drug-related criminal activity' on or off public housing premises a cause for terminating a public housing lease," he wrote. "The proposed initiative would prohibit leases from containing such language and prohibit the District from evicting a public-housing tenant who, in violation of federal law and the lease, possessed small quantities of marijuana."

The coalition's Adam Eidinger told the Times said he is working with coalition lawyers from his to see if the questioned wording in the initiative can be changed ahead of the Tuesday hearing.

"It might just be a matter of four words that have to be changed," Eidinger said. "I don't want to lose our opportunity to collect signatures."

The initiative would legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and allow for growing up to six plants. It would not legalize the sale of marijuana or allow for marijuana retail stores.

The DC city council is preparing for a final vote to decriminalize marijuana possession next month, and there are efforts underway to get a legalization bill moving in the council, but initiative advocates hope that they can either get on the ballot and let voters decide or use the initiative as a sword over the head of the council to prod it to act.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 20, 2014

Colorado is rolling in the marijuana tax dollars, Washington state gets closer to licensing legal grows, a New Hampshire patient grow bill is moving, the Europeans are worried about some new drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

The Europeans are worried about "N Bomb"
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Announces Marijuana Tax Revenues Plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Wednesday announced his plan to start spending tax revenues from legalized marijuana. He said he would spend $99 million next fiscal year, with half of it going to youth use prevention, another 40% going to substance abuse treatment, and more than $12 million for public health. His proposal must be approved by the legislature.

Washington State Regulators Announce Rules Modifications. The Washington State Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that it will limit marijuana business applicants to one pot grow each, down from the three-license limit it originally set. The board also reduced by 30% the amount of grow space that licensees can use. The board is trying to address how to equitably distribute the two million square foot of grow space it has set as a statewide cap. The move also opens the way to the actual issuance of grow licenses, which could come as soon as early next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Cultivation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate a limited amount of medical marijuana in New Hampshire was approved this morning in a 13-3 vote by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. The bill will be considered by the full House sometime in March. Sponsored by Rep. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro), House Bill 1622 would patients or their designated caregivers to possess up to two mature plants and twelve seedlings. The cultivation location would have to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, and patients would lose their ability to cultivate when an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) Wednesday introduced a bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy seizures. Senate Bill 1035 has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

Arizona Bill Would Use Medical Marijuana Fees to Fund Anti-Drug Campaigns. A bill approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee would set up a special fund using fees from medical marijuana user and dispensaries to "discourage marijuana use among the general population." House Bill 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is being derided by the Marijuana Policy Project, whose spokesman, Mason Tvert, said "It is remarkable how much money some government officials are willing to flush down the toilet in hopes of scaring adults away from using marijuana."

Heroin

Vermont Law School Symposium Will Address Heroin Addiction and New Solutions. The Vermont Law Criminal Law Society is hosting a symposium on heroin and opiate addiction and responses to it on Monday. "This event is about new ideas from new sources," said Vermont Law JD candidate George Selby ', one of the panel organizers. "We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to." Panelists will include addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They will discuss whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackle a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction? One of the featured speakers is Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, who plans to call for action in Vermont. Click on the title link for more details.

International

Europeans Issue Alert on Four New Synthetic Drugs. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has issued an alert and announced a formal risk assessment of four new synthetic drugs. They are the hallucinogenic phenethylamine 251-NBOMe ("N-Bomb," linked to three deaths), the synthetic opioid AH-7921 (15 reported deaths in Europe), the synthetic cathinone derivative MDPV ("legal cocaine," linked to 99 deaths), and the arylcyclohexamine drug Methoxetamine (linked to 20 deaths). Click on the link above for more details.

British Columbia Judge Rules Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Unconstitutional. A judge in Canada's British Columbia ruled Wednesday that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders under the federal 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act are unconstitutional. In November, an Ontario judge struck down a similar sentence for a weapons offense, but BC is the first province to have the drug offense sentences quashed. Crown prosecutors are expected to appeal.

India Asset Forfeiture Bill Passes Lok Sabha. A bill that would increase the Indian government's ability to seize assets from drug traffickers was approved Wednesday by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed on a voice vote after members took turns worrying aloud about the spread of drug use in the world's most populous democracy.

Chronicle Book Review: Meth Mania

Chronicle Book Review: Meth Mania: A History of Methamphetamine by Nicholas Parsons (2014, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 241 pp., $58.50 HB)

What is the "drug menace" du jour? Crack cocaine? Nah, been there, done that. Bo-ring. Marijuana? Some people still try to find scary things to say about pot, but it just doesn't seem to really resonate anymore. Meth? Been there, done that, too, several times, as you'll see below.

Heroin seems to be a good candidate. After all, if you read the newspapers, especially after a celebrity overdose death, you'll know there's an "epidemic" of heroin use (and related overdose deaths) happening. Except that, while heroin use has increased in the last few years (primarily as a consequence of crackdowns on opioid pain pills), it is hardly an "epidemic." According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people using heroin on a regular is one-tenth of one percent of the population 12 and over. That number stayed stable from 2010 to 2012, the last year available for the survey, although it has apparently increased somewhat since then. And while overdoses are up, they are nowhere near the number of deaths for prescription pills.

But heroin, too, is old hat. One of the elements of a good drug panic is novelty. On that count, both "bath salts" (synthetic stimulants derived from cathinones) and "Molly" (a powder form of MDMA) are contenders for the crown. There's nothing like a zombie cannibal ripping someone's face off to propel a good drug panic, as was the case with bath salts, even if he didn't actually eat the guy's face and even, as it turned out, if he wasn't on bath salts.

While bath salts users are portrayed as scary insane people who aren't us, Molly users, on the other hand, are our sons and daughters, the innocent victims of evil drug dealers. Innocent victimhood is always good in whipping up a drug panic.

But again, the number of people actually consuming bath salts and Molly is miniscule. By far the biggest psychoactive drug problem in America, in terms of effects on the health of consumers, adverse impacts on others, and criminal justice system impacts, is alcohol. Yet, somehow, the country's most widely used and misused drug doesn't merit the screaming headlines, the hyperbole, the hysteria, and the hand-wringing. Why is that?

In Meth Mania, Nicholas Parsons provides some hints of an answer. While the book delivers what its title promises -- a critical history of meth, written with verve and insight -- it is also an exercise in applying the framework of social constructionism to the way we define and create social problems in general and drug panics in particular. Social constructionists, Parsons explains, attempt to understand how, why, and when certain social phenomenon come to be defined as social problems.

At any given moment, there are a panoply of issues -- child abuse, pornography, homosexuality, drug use, poverty, inequality, among others -- that could be defined as social problems. And social problems require solutions, darn it, otherwise, they wouldn't be problems. What social problems also require is someone to define them as such.

For Parsons and the social constructionists, these people are "claims makers." To be an effective claims maker, you must be credible and you must have access to the media. When it comes to drugs and drug policy, claims makers have traditionally been law enforcement, the medical profession, scientists, and moral entrepreneurs -- individuals or groups who seek power or influence by defining a phenomenon as a social problem and offering to do something about it. (I would posit that the advances we have seen in drug reform are, to some degree, the result of decades of work to both create alternate credible claims makers to cast the debates in new terms and to undermine the credibility ot traditional drug policy claims makers.)

Parsons is especially interesting in his discussion of law enforcement as a claims maker when it comes to drugs. Not only do police have authority and credibility as protectors of the public safety, they also have well-developed PR departments (although they don't call them that) that are constantly churning out press releases, er, I mean crime and arrest reports, they have very close and easy, and long-standing access to the media.

And, of course, law enforcement has its own interests to protect. Parsons notes one particularly brazen example of self-interested panic purveying, the "ice" scare of the late 1980s. The DEA jumped all over that -- until its annual budget was secured, then not so much.

This leads me to something Parsons didn't discuss, but which I have long wondered: Why, exactly, are police considered experts on drugs? Because they arrest drug users? Police arrest domestic violence suspects, too, but that doesn't make them experts on domestic bliss, as their own divorce and domestic assault rates indicate.

Parsons identifies three distinct meth panics -- the Speed Kills! methedrine panic of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the abortive "ice" panic of the late 1980s, and the meth panic that began near the end of the century and peaked around 2005, although its lingering effects still persist. In all three cases, although less clearly so in the latter, Parsons crunches the numbers on meth use and finds that the panics are related less to actual use rates than to media attention paid to the drug. And media attention paid to the drug is likewise driven not so much by actual use as by claims makers managing to get traction for their claims, for a variety of reasons.

Parsons is also good at elaborating how we construct "folk devils" on which to hang our anxieties, and how those folk devils have changed over time. This is the stuff of stereotyping and Othering. Meth users are "zombie McGyvers," tweaked-out tinkerers who haunt Walmarts in the middle of the night. Or they are -- gasp! -- gay nightclub orgiasts in New York City. That's when they're the Other.

In some adumbrations of meth panic, users shift from the scary Other to the innocent victim, who fall prey to evil Other drug dealers. And it's even more helpful when scary Other drug suppliers have brown skins, like the Mexican drug cartels who, in the wake of various moves to repress domestic meth production, such as the current effort in West Virginia to make OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine prescription only, have taken an ever-increasing share of the US meth market.

I refer to those bills generically as "The Mexican Methamphetamine Market Share Enhancement Act," and Parsons makes a similar point: All of the efforts to repress the use and manufacture of meth have had unintended consequences that in most cases have only exacerbated the problems they were supposedly designed to solve. The imposition of controls on prescription meth and other amphetamines in the late 1960s led directly to the first round of outlaw biker-manufactured meth, and the switch from "eatin' speed" to "shootin' speed." They probably also played a role in the expansion of cocaine and crack use in the 1970s and 1980s.

Restrictions on precursor chemicals used in the P2P method led to the explosion of pseudoephedrine-based meth cooking. And continuing and deepening restrictions on meth and precursors have created the space for the new synthetic stimulants, the so-called bath salts, whose effects can be even more intense than meth.

The latest meth panic may be receding, but its effects linger. People making small amounts of meth for personal use in the one-pot method are still being arrested and sentencing as if they were major drug lab operators. New anti-meth laws still emerge at statehouses each year. And people who use meth are still demonized as if far outlier worst cases are the normal meth experience.

Meth Maniais an excellent history of America's love-hate affair with its premier stimulant drug, but it is also a guidebook for deconstructing the making of drug panics in general. As such, its value extends far beyond a single drug. This one needs to be on the bookshelf of any serious drug and drug policy student.

Medical Marijuana Update

California counties continue to struggle with dispensary and growing rules, Reno's mayor has a change of heart, some Oregon cities may have to change their ways, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, a superior court judge threw out Kern County's Measure G, the voter-approved 2012 ordinance limiting where dispensaries can operate in unincorporated areas of the county. Judge Kenneth Twisselman ruled that the ordinance failed to properly consider environmental impacts. But county lawyers said it could clear the way to shut down all dispensaries in the county, so expect more battles to be waged in Kern.

Last Thursday, a petition drive was underway in Shasta County that would put the county's pending ban on outdoor medical marijuana gardens in the voter's hands this November. Organizers need 6,544 valid signatures by February 28. County supervisors last month unanimously voted to ban all outdoor medical marijuana cultivation in the unincorporated parts of Shasta County, and place additional restrictions on in grows. The outdoor ban is set to take effect on February 28 unless the petition proves successful, in which case supervisors could either choose to repeal the ordinance or send it on for voters to decide in the fall.

Guam

Last Thursday, the Guam Election Commission's legal counsel said a medical marijuana bill was "inorganic" and could not be acted on. Senate Bill 215 was amended by its sponsor at the request of other legislators to put the measure to a popular referendum, but the legal counsel said Guam's Organic Act, the law which established democracy in the US territory, does not allow for popular referenda.

Nevada

Last Friday, Reno Mayor Bob Cashdell said he would now push to license dispensaries. That's a change for Cashdell, who was a vocal critic of dispensary legislation when it passed last year. Cashdell said he had a family member who benefited from medical marijuana.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, the House balked at advancing a bill that would modify the state's yet-to-begin medical marijuana program. House Bill 1616 would expand the program to include more medical conditions, but also limit the amount of marijuana patients could purchase each month. House leaders said they would study the bill for the rest of this year.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Health Department released a patient survey that showed that state-licensed growers were growing nowhere near enough marijuana to supply registered patient demand. Patients are using about 11,000 pounds a year, but licensed growers are producing only about 2,250. The Health Department is "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Oklahoma

Last Wednesday, hundreds of people showed up at the state capitol for a hearing on medical marijuana. The hearing addressed the use of high CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for epileptic seizures in children, but others rallied outside calling for full legalization.

Oregon

Last Tuesday, the Tigard city council voted to ban dispensaries. But the council may be open to lifting it in the future and regulating dispensaries.

Also last Tuesday, the Grants Pass city council voted to ban dispensaries. Officials pointed to a longstanding business license ordinance that bars licenses for activities that would not comply with city ordinances, or state, or federal law."

On Tuesday, the Sherwood city council voted to temporarily ban dispensaries. The ban is set to last 150 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Oregon Senate passed a bill that would bar localities from banning dispensaries. Senate Bill 1531 would let city and county governments regulate certain aspects of medical marijuana dispensaries such as hours of operation, location and the manner in which medical marijuana is dispensed, but not ban them. The legislature approved statewide dispensary regulation last year, which will go into effect March 3. The Association of Oregon Cities is grumbling and threatening to sue. Stay tuned.

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

New Report Challenges Meth Misinformation

In a new report released this week, neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart and coauthors Joanne Csete and Don Habibi examines common assumptions about methamphetamine use and users and finds them wanting. Instead of careful, evidence-based analysis, rising concern about meth use has resulted in "a barrage of misinformation and reckless policies," Hart finds.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/methamphetamine-dangers-exaggerated-report.jpg
"The scientific literature on methamphetamine is replete with unwarranted conclusions, which has provided fuel for the implementation of draconian drug policies that exacerbate problems faced by poor people," said Hart.

As its title suggests, the report, Methamphetamine: Fact vs. Fiction and Lessons from the Crack Hysteria, finds clear parallels between the tide of distorted facts, faulty assumptions, and misinformation that characterized the crack cocaine scare of the early 1980s and similar claims made about the most recent drug panic over methamphetamine. Both feature the same sorts of claims, made by the same sorts of claims makers -- largely police, health professionals, and academics.

While the report finds real detrimental health effects with sustained meth use, it says those effects are exaggerated and/or the result of factors other than meth use in or by itself, such as poor overall health, poor nutrition, poor dental care, and poverty. It also challenges claims that meth is more powerfully addictive than other drugs.

In the report, Hart calls on lawmakers at home and abroad to revisit laws that harshly punish methamphetamine possession, to invest in treatment instead of punishment, to reconsider restrictions on access to amphetamines for legitimate medical purposes, and to stop supporting "wasteful and ineffective" scare campaigns replete with misinformation about meth use.

"We've been down this road before with other drugs that were poorly studied and misrepresented by media," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The results included policies that hurt the users, ineffectively addressed the problem and ultimately failed society. We can't afford to repeat these experiences."

Chronicle AM -- February 19, 2014

NORML endorses a US Senate candidate, pressure mounts for medical marijuana in New York, West Virginia wants to make Sudafed prescription only, and more. Let's get to it:

West Virginia cold sufferers watch out! They're coming for your Sudafed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A poll from Arizona's Behavior Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 41% opposed. In recent months, other polls have showed majorities both for and against legalization.

Maine US Senate Candidate Wins NORML PAC Endorsement. NORML PAC, NORML's political campaign arm, has endorsed Shenna Bellows in her campaign to represent Maine in the US Senate. "Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign," stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, "During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach." Bellows is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Almost Nine Out of Ten New Yorkers Support Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds.A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 88%, with only 9% opposed. The poll also had a 57% majority for marijuana legalization. Click on the link for more poll details.

Two New York GOP State Senators Announce Support for Medical Marijuana Bill. Two Republican state senators, George Maziarz (R-Newfane) and Mark Grisanti (R-IP-Buffalo), have announced their support for the pending medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. They are the first Republicans to do so. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, and Governor Cuomo's administration has said the governor would sign it, but the legislation has long been stuck in the Senate.

Oregon Bill to Block Cities and Counties from Banning Dispensaries Passes Senate. The Oregon Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1531, which would let cities and counties regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but not ban them. A number of cities have already passed ordinances banning dispensaries before a new state law allowing them goes into effect next month, and the Association of Oregon Cities is threatening to sue if the bill passes. It now goes to the House.

New Mexico Patient Survey Finds Program Not Providing Enough Medical Marijuana. A state Department of Health survey of patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program finds that only about 20% of patient demand is being met through legal channels. Licensed growers are producing about 2,250 pounds a year, but the survey put the annual demand from patients at more than 11,000 pounds. The Health Department is now "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Drug Testing

Indiana Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Now Targets Only Those With Misdemeanor Drug Convictions. A bill that would have required drug screening for all food stamp applicants and drug testing for those deemed likely to be using has been amended to now apply only to people who have misdemeanor drug convictions in the past 10 years. (People with drug felonies are ineligible for food stamps under a federal law that Indiana has not opted out of.) House Bill 1351 passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee after being amended. It has already passed the House.

Methamphetamine

Bill Making Sudafed Prescription-Only Passes West Virginia Senate. A bill that would make access to OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House. The measure is aimed at reducing the number of meth labs in the state, although it has had only temporary effects in the other two states where it has been adopted. Pseudoephredrine is a precursor chemical in meth manufacture.

International

Georgia to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoid Chemicals. Georgian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs Davit Sergeenko said Wednesday a law on criminalizing the basic biochemical formulas used to create synthetic cannabis has been almost completed. "From now on, these substances will be considered as illegal and all the control mechanisms and limits that are set on other legal or illegal drugs will be valid for synthetic cannabis too," Sergeenko said.

Myanmar Extends Opium Crop Substitution Program in Northern Shan State. The Myanmar government, working in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is extending its crop substitution program for poppy farmers in Northern Shan State. The idea is to increase farmers' food security in areas where eradication has taken place. Last year, Myanmar eradicated about one-fifth of the estimated poppy crop.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Bad cop, bad cop, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? A Seattle-area drug task force deputy defects to the life, a Louisiana deputy parties too hard with stolen drug evidence, a Georgia cop resigns over pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lilburn, Georgia, a Lilburn police officer resigned last Monday amid an investigation of improper drug handling. Investigator Kim Banks is under investigation by the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office after an officer assigned to the Evidence Unit discovered irregularities in prescription drug evidence. The matter is under both internal and criminal investigation.

In Seattle, a former King County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Monday on drug distribution charges. Mitch Wright, a 10-year veteran who worked on a joint narcotics task force, went down after an investigation involving local law enforcement and the DEA that began when a woman was arrested using drugs in a car belonging to him. That led to evidence of more criminal activity. Wright then resigned before being fired, but his home was searched and he was arrested on state drug, theft, and evidence tampering charges. He then began hanging out in "high narcotic and prostitution areas" in north King and south Snohomish counties, which sparked the DEA's assistance. He now faces federal conspiracy and narcotics distribution charges.

In Denham Springs, Louisiana, a Livingston Parish sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday after shooting a gun in his neighborhood and wrecking his car, where deputies found a sheriff's office narcotics evidence envelope. Deputy Leo Barthelmy, Jr. That led them to his home, where the shots were fired earlier that day. He is charged with malfeasance in office/tampering with evidence, and illegal use of weapons or dangerous instrumentalities. The Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office says he has been released on a $25,000 bond.

In Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was convicted last Thursday of lying under oath in a drug case. Officer Bernardo Ortiz is the third of three LAPD officers convicted over a 2008 drug possession arrest in which they claimed the defendant had thrown down drugs, but surveillance camera video contradicted their testimony. Charges against the drug defendant were dropped, and Ortiz and the other two cops, Evan Samuel and Rachard Amio, were charged. The latter two were convicted in November 2012, but a jury in that trial deadlocked on Ortiz, and he was retried. Ortiz was convicted of one count each of conspiracy and perjury under oath.

In Dallas, a former Arlington police officer was sentenced last Tuesday to a year in prison for tipping off a steroid dealer the cops were after him. Thomas Kantzos, 45, went down for using a law enforcement data base to run a license plate number for his steroid dealer, who correctly thought he was under law enforcement surveillance. He pleaded guilty in October to an indictment charging exceeding access to a protected computer.

Chronicle AM -- February 18, 2014

Marijuana legalization is unlikely to come to California this year, ditto for Missouri, ditto for medical marijuana in Iowa. Meanwhile, a SWAT reporting bill is moving in Utah, Singapore is censoring a pot reform web site, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Big Players Will Wait Until 2016 for California Legalization Initiative. The Los Angeles Times reported today that a deep-pocketed marijuana reform coalition including the Drug Policy Alliance had decided not to move forward this year with an initiative to legalize the weed in the Golden State. Instead, the coalition will aim at 2016. That means marijuana legalization will most likely not be on the ballot in California this year. Three other legalization initiatives have been filed, but two of them appear to lack the funds to complete expensive signature gathering efforts -- 504,000 signatures are needed by April 18 -- and the third has yet to be cleared for circulation.

Colorado Judge Denies Injunction in Marijuana Advertising Lawsuit, Suggests Retailers, Not Magazines, Have Standing. A US District Court judge in Colorado has denied a request from High Times and Westword to issue an injunction blocking the state from implementing regulations that limit marijuana advertising in magazines to those who can show that fewer than 30% of their readers are minors. Judge Marcia Krieger suggested the magazines lack standing to bring their lawsuit, writing that "the regulations in question do not address conduct by the Plaintiffs -- who are publishers. Instead, the regulations limit conduct by advertisers -- i.e, retail marijuana establishments. Thus, it is retail marijuana establishments who seek advertising who are directly affected by enforcement of the regulations." Still, Krieger is giving the magazines until March 7 to make further arguments.

Missouri Legalization Activists Decide to Wait for 2016. Citing recent poll numbers showing support for legalization in Missouri at less than 50%, Show-Me Cannabis has announced that "it would be wise to wait for the presidential election in 2016 to launch an initiative campaign." The group said it would continue to work on building public support in the meantime.

Medical Marijuana

Washington House Passes Bill to Tighten Up on Medical Marijuana Under Legalization. The Washington House passed House Bill 2149 on a 67-29 vote Monday. Sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Tacoma), the bill would reduce the amount of marijuana and plants a patient could possess, do away with collective gardens, and establish a patient registry. It's part of an effort to "realign" the state's medical marijuana law with the state's marijuana legalization law, but is not popular with patients. Similar legislation is moving in the state Senate.

Minnesota Poll Has Narrowest of Majorities for Medical Marijuana. A Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Poll released Tuesday has support for medical marijuana at 51%, with 41% opposed. It also had 63% opposed to marijuana legalization. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to push for medical marijuana later this month.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Dead on Arrival. State Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) filed a medical marijuana bill, Senate File 2215, Tuesday, but immediately declared it dead, saying it had received no support from Republican legislators.

Law Enforcement

Utah Bill Would Require SWAT Reporting. A bill that would require Utah law enforcement agencies to report on how and how often they use their SWAT teams has unanimously passed out of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday. Senate Bill 185 now heads for a Senate floor vote. If the measure passes, Utah would become the second state, after Maryland, to impose such requirements on SWAT teams.

International

Argentine Security Secretary Supports Uruguayan Marijuana Legalization Model. Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni has said he supports the Uruguayan model. In a radio interview, he said his "personal" opinion was that he "would agree if the whole chain was decriminalized, from production to consumption" and that "decriminalizing consumption is not effective enough."

Singapore Censors Marijuana Reform Website. Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) has told the owners of a marijuana reform website to shut it down by Wednesday. The web site has been shut down, but the companion Singapore Cannabis Awareness Facebook page remains up. The website was found to be "objectionable" by the Central Narcotics Bureau because it "promotes or tends to promote the use of a prohibited substance." Activists in Singapore said they had temporarily unpublished the page "pending a total website review to ensure our website meets the Internet Code of Practice," but they vowed to be back.

Dutch Justice Minister Reiterates Opposition to Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said Tuesday he remains opposed to legalizing and regulating marijuana cultivation, saying instead that he favored treating it as a crime and a nuisance. This after the mayors of three dozen Dutch cities signaled the want to experiment with legal production in a bid to solve the country's "back door problem," where cannabis cafes are allowed to sell small amounts of marijuana, but have no legal source of supply.

Big Players Will Wait Until 2016 on California Marijuana Legalization Initiative

The Los Angeles Times reported today that a deep-pocketed marijuana reform coalition including the Drug Policy Alliance had decided not to move forward this year with an initiative to legalize the weed in the Golden State. Instead, the coalition will aim at 2016.

That means marijuana legalization will most likely not be on the ballot in California this year. Three other legalization initiatives have been filed, but two of them appear to lack the funds to complete expensive signature gathering efforts -- 504,000 signatures are needed by April 18 -- and the third has yet to be cleared for circulation.

The coalition, which is supported by billionaire financier George Soros, and which included the late Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, had consistently argued that 2016 was more doable than this year, but filed the Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act late last year after polling numbers suggested victory was within reach.

At the time, spokesmen said they would make a decision on whether to move forward or not around the beginning of February. Now, that decision has been made.

The decision to wait was a "very close" call and "one that came down to the wire," Graham Boyd, counsel to Lewis, told The Times. "We see this as a trial run or dress rehearsal for 2016," he said.

Boyd and DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann told The Times in interviews Monday that they wanted more time to do outreach with elected officials, law enforcement, and public health leaders, an approach they said worked in Washington state. They also said money was an issue, and that the death of Peter Lewis had an impact.

"We believe the best way to go forward with any state ballot initiative is to have a strong funding base in place before launching the campaign," Boyd said. "It is certainly true that Peter Lewis' death made that a much more difficult process to do in the time we had."

The initiatives that in the signature-gathering phase are the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, sponsored by Americans for Policy Reform, and the Hererite California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014. A legalization initiative sponsored by "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, the Cannabis Policy Reform Act of 2014, is still awaiting approval at the attorney general's office.

With the prospects slim for any of those initiatives making the ballot this year, at this point, Alaska is the only state that will definitely vote on a marijuana legalization initiative this year. Oregon is another likely contender, but it remains to be seen whether either of the two initiatives filed there will make the ballot.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

Mexico Marijuana and Drug Reform Bills Filed [FEATURE]

Late last week, lawmakers in Mexico City filed two bills that would begin to radically transform the country's approach to drugs. One was introduced in the Mexico City legislative assembly and one in the federal legislature.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mexico-seal-231px.jpg
The moves come as the debate over drug policy in general and marijuana in particular heats up in the region. The legalization of marijuana in Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington has enlivened ongoing efforts at drug reform in Mexico, and the country continues to bleed from the violence associated with criminal organizations that rose to power on the back of drug prohibition.

They also come just days after four former Latin American presidents -- Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Ricardo Lago of Chile, Fernando Enrique Cardoso of Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia -- penned an open letter in support to Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, himself a proponent of legalization.

"This is a necessary debate to have for Mexico City, Mexico and the entire region," the four ex-presidents said. "Something needs to change as 40 years of immense efforts and funds have failed to reduce both the production and consumption of illicit drugs."

"We believe we're making a very important contribution to a global debate that has to do with rethinking the issue of drugs," Vidal Llerenas, a member of the Mexico City Legislative Assembly and sponsor of the local legislation, said at Thursday news conference announcing the bills.

"The aim of this legislation is not to change the drug sphere in the city, but rather to simply avoid criminalizing those who consume marijuana," said Deputy Eduardo Santillan Perez, another sponsor of the bill.

The Legislative Assembly in Mexico City
The Mexico City bill would de-emphasize small-time marijuana prosecutions. It would instruct police and judges to deprioritize prosecution of marijuana violations in some circumstances, and it would create a Portugal-style "dissuasion commission" which could impose administrative sanctions on offenders instead of subjecting them to the criminal process.

The bill would also allow for the limited retail sales of marijuana in the Federal District. Such sales could only take place under certain criteria, including posting warnings to consumers about potential health risks. Retailers would not be allowed to sell to minors or be located near schools, and they would not be allowed to sell adulterated marijuana. Retailers who complied with these criteria would be issued permits to sell marijuana by the district government's Institute for the Attention and Prevention of Addictions.

The federal bill would raise possession limits for the amount of drugs decriminalized under a 2009 law. Under that law, the possession of up to five grams of pot was decriminalized; the new bill would increase that to 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce). It would similar increase the decriminalized possession limits for drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

The federal bill would also allow for the use of medical marijuana. And it would devolve some decision making power on drug policy issues from the federal government to states and cities.

There are clear medicinal benefits to using marijuana, said PRD Deputy Fernando Belaunzaran Mendez, and denying these benefits "is like when the clergy denied Galileo's claim that the Earth moves."

The prospects of passage are much better for the Mexico City bill than the federal bill, because the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), whose members introduced both the local and the federal bills, dominates the Mexico City assembly, but not the federal one. Mexico City, which has moved to allow abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriage, is also more socially liberal than the country as a whole. The Mexico City bill is likely to be debated early next month.

Both bills had their genesis in discussions that began last summer, when the Mexico City legislature organized public hearings to explore alternative solutions to the city's drug problems. Civil society groups, including México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD), the Colectivo por Una Politica Integral Hacia las Drogas (CUPIHD), and Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation were deeply involved in the drafting process, along with lawyers, medical professionals, security professionals and drug policy experts.

"Of the four specialists that helped draft the bill, two were from CUPIHD," said Alejandro Madrazo Larous, a constitutional law expert, law professor and CUPIHD member who helped draft the bill.

He told the Chronicle that international reform currents were indeed percolating in Mexico.

"As other countries move forward with reforms, it just seems more and more absurd that we are killing each other in Mexico to ban something that is becoming a regulated business," he said.

Reefer Bender in Mexico City wants to legalize it. (Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle)
"We welcome this attempt to replace stringent cannabis law enforcement with humane, just and effective alternatives," said MUCD's Lisa Sanchez. "Decades of punitive responses have failed to reduce levels of use and have effectively left the market in the hands of criminal entrepreneurs whose watchwords are violence and greed. This is a great opportunity for the government to adopt a new approach to drugs and improve the health and safety of its citizens. Let's not waste it."

"On the heels of historic marijuana legalization victories in Washington, Colorado and Uruguay, it's promising to see other countries and jurisdictions following suit. The innovative nature of the marijuana bill -- which combines elements of marijuana regulation models from around the world -- demonstrates that reforms can be tailored to fit the local context," said Hannah Hetzer, policy manager for the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Mexico has suffered immensely from the war on drugs," Hetzer continued. "Amidst extreme levels of violence and crime, it is encouraging to see Mexico's capital city attempt to refocus its efforts away from marijuana possession and low-level drug offenses and to invest in reducing violent crime instead."

Madrazo Larous said passage of the bills would smartly reprioritize law enforcement, but that it would take work.

"I think they have a chance," he said. "We are reaching out for more support. If we can pass this at the national level, it would free up resources at the local level which would allow for better criminal investigation and prosecution of violent crimes. Today, we waste too many resources running after consumers and petty dealers."

With marijuana legalization also on both the legislative and the popular agenda in Washington, DC, it appears that Mexico City and Washington are in a race to see which North American capital city becomes the first to allow legal marijuana sales. Sorry, Ottawa.

Mexico City
Mexico

Obama Administration Announces Banking Guidelines for Marijuana Business

The Obama administration Thursday afternoon announced new guidelines that will allow financial institutions to provide services to marijuana businesses in states where it is legal. The guidelines will apply to both medical marijuana and legal marijuana states.

Some 20 states and the District of Columbia allow for medical marijuana, while two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana commerce for adults.

Banks and other financial institutions have been increasingly unwilling to deal with marijuana-related businesses for fear of breaking federal laws. That has led to an untenable situation where marijuana businesses are forced to deal in large amounts of cash.

The guidelines were issued by the Department of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in concert with the Department of Justice. Deputy Attorney General James Cole is also issuing supplemental guidance to prosecutors on how to decide whether to prosecute federal money laundering and Banking Secrecy Act violations related to legal marijuana commerce.

In a joint statement, the two departments said the guidelines will provide "greater financial transparency" in an industry where the federal government is concerned about diversion and the encroachment of organized crime. The guidelines envision financial institutions helping law enforcement with "information that is particularly valuable" by filing regular reports that can provide insight into the industry's contours.

The issuance of the guidelines is the next step in the administration's de facto acceptance of legal marijuana and medical marijuana. Last August, the Justice Department announced it would not seek to undermine state marijuana laws and issued guidance to prosecutors (the "Cole memo") telling them to lay off unless businesses or individuals were violating a set of enforcement priorities, such as diverting marijuana outside the state or making money for organized crime.

Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, pronounced it a good thing.

"It appears that the Obama administration is trying to provide as much protection as possible for the marijuana industry, given the constraints of federal law," he said. "The assurances the administration have provided appear fairly substantial and will hopefully prove sufficient so that banks will feel safe doing business with the marijuana industry. I have to say I'm impressed by how the White House is trying to make this work, especially given the inability of Congress to do anything constructive in this area."

So did Steph Sherer, head of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, although she called for a more comprehensive federal response.

"We have been pushing the federal government for years to make these commonsense concessions and we're pleased that the Obama Administration is finally doing so. At the same time, a piecemeal approach to medical marijuana policy is shortsighted and is an issue that deserves a comprehensive public health solution," she said.

"We will certainly be working with banks, credit unions, and credit card companies to ensure proper implementation of this federal guidance," continued Sherer. "Removing the risks of operating as an 'all-cash' business cannot be overstated, but we will also continue to put pressure on the Obama Administration to wrap these types of discrete practices into a more comprehensive medical marijuana policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 14, 2014

Marijuana legalization is dead in the Hawaii statehouse this year, but still kicking at the Oregon capitol, the annual Monitoring the Future survey is out, Uruguay's president chides the US and Europe on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Mujica has some advice for the US and Europe (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Legalization Bill Killed, But Decrim Bill Still Lives. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Aloha State died in a state Senate committee Thursday, but a decriminalization bill still lives. Senate Bill 2733 was "deferred" in committee, or, as Sen. Will Espero, chair of the Public Safety Committee said in remarks reported by the Associated Press, "At this time, the legalization bill is dead." But a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2358, remains alive.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Advances. A bill that would put marijuana legalization to the voters in November advanced on a 3-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Senate Bill 1556 must now pass the Senate Rules Committee before going to a Senate floor vote. Supporters said it would give the legislature more control than a legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach Oregon.

Maryland Bill Would Ban Cooperation With Feds on Marijuana Prohibition. A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would refuse cooperation with federal marijuana prohibition laws. House Bill 1016 prohibits enforcement of any federal law or regulation prohibiting cannabis by any state agency, political subdivision of the state, or any agent or employee of the state or political subdivision of the state acting in their official capacity, or a corporation providing services to the state or political subdivision. The bill relies on the "anti-commandeering" doctrine that says states cannot be compelled to enforce federal laws. Click on the link for more.

Tennessee Poll Reveals Splits on Marijuana Policy. A Middle Tennessee State University poll has found that only 33% said it should be legalized, with 57% saying it shouldn't. But when that 57% was asked if adults should be allowed to have marijuana if prescribed by a doctor, nearly two-thirds of them said yes. When the one-third that said legalize is combined with the 36% that said medical was okay, that creates a strong majority at least for medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Legislative Foes Snub Debate. Key legislators blocking the advance of medical marijuana bills added insult to injury Friday by failing to show up to an informal debate on the issue at the state capitol to which they had been invited. Sen. David Haley (D), author of Senate Bill 9, invited Senate President Susan Wagle (R) and Committee on Public Health and Welfare Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Clark to the event sponsored by Kansas for Change, but they were no-shows.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill "Inorganic," Election Commission Says. The legal counsel for the Guam Election Commission said Thursday a pending medical marijuana bill violates the Organic Act that established democratic government in the US territory. At the request of legislators, Senate Bill 215 sponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) amended her bill to have it approved by voters in a referendum, but the legal counsel said the Organic Act has no provision for such referenda.

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Modification Bill Stalled. A bill that would expand the state's medical marijuana program to include several more diseases, but also limit the amount of marijuana patients could purchase in a month is on hold after key lawmakers said it needed more work. House Bill 1616 has some problematic provisions, including one that would criminalize patients for possessing their medicine in a motor vehicle unless it is in a locked container, legislators said. Lawmakers will continue to review it, they said.

Drug Use

Annual Monitoring the Future Teen Drug Use Study Released. The annual survey of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Thursday. There's not a whole lot shocking in it. Illicit drug use is generally down slightly, except for marijuana, which is up slightly, although in "non-significant" amounts among 8th and 10th graders, and flat for 12th graders. The complete survey is at the link.

International

Uruguay's Mujica Says US, European Drug Policies Must Change. In an interview with Reuters Thursday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, whose country recently legalized marijuana commerce, said the US and Europe need to find a new strategy to deal with drugs. "The industrial societies are the ones that have to change," he said. "For a small country, it's possible to experiment with this, but it's also very possible for a developed country because of the resources it has. There are big markets, they have great buying power, and that is a big economic attraction. Until things change there, it will be very difficult to change elsewhere," said Mujica. "Any North American state is more important than Uruguay, in dimensions, in its economic force," he said. "But it's still a bit like a lady embarrassed to admit her natural sins and lying to herself. What we are doing is much more open."

UNODC Calls on Sri Lanka to Enact More Prohibitionist Laws to Stop Sea Smuggling. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Thursday called on Sri Lanka to enact mechanisms allowing it to prosecute those caught drug smuggling on the high seas. UNODC complained that without such a law, smugglers caught at sea off Sri Lanka are simply set free after their drugs are dumped into the ocean. The Sri Lankan government said it would have to consider the idea. [Ed: The thriving global drug trade and dim interdiction statistics demonstrate the futility of the approach that UNODC is calling for.]

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