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Here Comes the Big One: The ReformCA Marijuana Legalization Initiative [FEATURE]

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.

The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs.

"We believe this effort has the most statewide input and consensus, and thus the greatest likelihood of succeeding on the 2016 ballot," ReformCA said. "We engaged in extensive discussions with thousands of stakeholders across California, including community leaders, activists, elected officials, city and county employees and locals."

ReformCA also consulted with the California NAACP, the Latino Voters' Leagues, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and medical, health care and environmental groups. It took part in lengthy discussions with the Drafting Advisory Group, which includes state and national activist and industry groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, the Emerald Growers Association, New Approach, the Harborside Group, and the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation.

"We've filed our proposed initiative language based on the policy priorities and common sense reforms Californians have been asking for for six years now" and the Manatt, Phelp and Phillips Law Firm has created "an elegant policy document," ReformCA said, adding that it was crafted to comport with the guidelines laid down by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy and to complement the statewide medical marijuana regulation scheme approved last month by the legislature.

A handful of other legalization initiatives have already been filed, and some are approved for signature gathering, but there isn't much sign that any of them have the bucks or the organization to get the job done. It takes some 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 elections, a number that means paid signature gathering at a cost that could run a million dollars or more.

And that's just to get on the ballot. With 38 million residents and some of the country's largest media markets, California is an expensive place to run an initiative advertising campaign -- as in $10 million or $20 million or more.

Let the campaign begin! (reformca.com)
There is money out there, and unlike 2010, when Richard Lee's Proposition 19 came up short, both financially and at the polls, the state's already existing legal (medical) marijuana industry looks to be gearing up to help. Earlier this year, Weedmaps.com contributed $2 million toward the cause, with half going to an initiative campaign committee that will spend it on the initiative it likes best. The other half is going to a PAC that will work to elect pro-legalization candidates. Facebook cofounder Sean Parker, who did support Prop 19, says he will probably invest in a legalization initiative, too.

But if, as expected, both the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project get behind the ReformCA initiative -- they were a teensy bit nervous last week -- that should help open the floodgates and pave the way to getting those signatures and making the ballot.

This is a first draft of the initiative, and the campaign is seeking feedback before filing a final version, but only until midnight Pacific Time this Wednesday. Here's what it will do:

  • Personal Use and Cultivation. Legalizes possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over and allows for personal cultivation of up to 100 square feet and the possession of "the results of lawfully harvested homegrown cannabis."
  • Unlawful Acts. A $100 fine for minors possessing or sharing not more than an ounce with other minors; a $500 fine for adults providing less than an ounce to minors, for minors who possess more than an ounce but less than a pound, for adults who possess more than an ounce, for public consumption, and for smoking up in a moving vehicle; either a misdemeanor or infraction (prosecutor's choice) for possessing more than a pound, selling more than an ounce but less than a pound, growing marijuana beyond 100 square feet without a license or as a minor; a felony for providing pot to minors under 18, distribution to other states, growing on federal or state protected lands, or engaging in violence.
  • Driving. No measuring metabolites. Instead: "A person shall be deemed to be under the influence of cannabis if, as a result of consuming cannabis, his or her mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle or operate a vessel with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances. This standard shall be the sole standard used in determining driving under the influence allegations."
  • Employment. Does not affect employers' ability to fire employees for marijuana use.
  • Medical Marijuana. With limited exceptions, "does not infringe upon the protections granted under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996," grants business licenses to existing, compliant medical marijuana businesses.
  • Regulated Marijuana Commerce. Establishes the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs to regulate and rule-make; envisions licenses for cultivation, nursery, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, retail, and testing enterprises.
  • Local Control. Cities and counties can ban marijuana commerce, including retail outlets, but not delivery services, but only by popular vote -- not by executive or legislative action. This means the default position is "no ban."Localities cannot ban personal cultivation.
  • Taxation. Tax on cultivators of $2 per square foot licensed; production tax paid by first purchaser of $15 an ounce ($5 an ounce for first 500 pounds from small producers); 10% retail sales tax -- half to the state and half to the locality.

Remember this is just the draft, but ReformCA is finally out of the gate. California should join the ranks of the legalization states next year, and the Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 is the most likely vehicle.

Oakland, CA 95472
United States

Chronicle AM: Late Uncertainty on CA Initiatives, FL Heroin Deaths at Record High, More (10/2/15)

There are signs of dissension around the ReformCA legalization initiative, Oklahoma medical marijuana supporters are searching for signatures, a federal bill to require police to report lethal force incidents is introduced, and more.

Heroin killed a record number of people in Florida last year, but more died of prescription drug overdoses. (NJ State Police)
Marijuana Policy

Last Minute Uncertainties for California's ReformCA Initiative. There are signs the unified front behind the pending ReformCA legalization initiative isn't as unified as was thought. The LA Weekly is reporting that one of its key backers, the Drug Policy Alliance, might go its own way. "We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," said Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward." DPA, NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project had been listed on the ReformCA website as supporters; now they're not. MPP has confirmed that it asked for its name to be removed. But Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for ReformCA, downplayed the situation. "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Signature Gathering Goes Forward. The Green the Vote medical marijuana initiative campaign was doing signature gathering in Ardmore Thursday. The group has 90 days to gather 130,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Florida Heroin Deaths at All-Time High. Heroin was detected in 447 fatalities last year, according to state medical examiners. That's more than double the 199 people who died with heroin in their bodies in 2013. Fentanyl was also surging; there were 538 deaths of people who had the powerful prescription opioid in their systems, nearly double the 292 from the previous year. While heroin deaths were at record levels, more than twice as many (978) people died with oxycodone in their systems. There were 8,587 fatal drug overdoses reported in Florida last year; many of them included multiple substances.

Drug Policy

New Hampshire GOP Lawmakers Want Online Drug Dealer Registry. Three GOP lawmakers have presented slightly different bills that would create an online drug dealer registry similar to sex offender registries, but advocacy groups said such a move is unfair and unnecessary. "It's a stupid, gratuitous and entirely unnecessary proposal," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. ''It reminds me of the sort of foolish rhetoric and foolish laws that flowed from back at the height of the drug war." Click on the title link for more detail.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Requiring Police to Report Use of Lethal Force Filed. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Thursday filed S. 2112, "a bill to require law enforcement agencies to report the use of lethal force, and for other purposes."

Chronicle AM: Senate Has Deal on Sentencing Reform, OR Legal Pot Sales Begin Today, More (10/1/15)

Oregon dispensaries can now sell marijuana to all comers (21 and over), a bipartisan group of senators announces a deal on major sentencing reform, Albuquerque's mayor vetoes decrim again, heroin policy on the campaign trail is featured, and more.

now on sale to adults in Oregon (wikimedia/Mangokeylime)
Marijuana Policy

Family Physicians Say Marijuana Should Be Decriminalized, Rescheduled. Meeting in Denver, the American Academy of Family Physicians has passed two resolutions on marijuana policy. The first originally called for legalization, but was watered down to decriminalization, while the second calls on the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. Click on the link for details on the debate.

California Marijuana Arrests Decline to Lowest Level Since 1966. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that pot arrests in the state are at the lowest in nearly 50 years. Some 19,711 people were arrested on marijuana charges last year, down slightly from 20,346 in 2013. Arrests have nose-dived since the state decriminalized possession in 2008. But some things apparently never change: Blacks were arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate more than twice their percentage of the state's population.

Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Now Underway in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state began selling pot to anyone with an ID showing he is 21 or over today. State officials moved to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational marijuana early in order to allow Oregonians to have a place to legally purchase it until adult use shops open next year. Not all dispensaries are participating; about 200 of the 345 in the state are.

Albuquerque Mayor Vetoes Decriminalization (Again). Mayor Richard Berry has vetoed a decriminalization ordinance passed by the city council. He vetoed a similar measure last year. In a veto statement, he said he had a "hard time signing legislation that preempts state and federal law." Except that it doesn't. Decriminalization has majority support in the city and Bernalillo County, but the mayor doesn't appear to be listening.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Heroin As a Campaign Issue. This USA Today story looks primarily at the attention Hillary Clinton is paying to heroin and opiate addiction in New England and the role of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) in advising her on drug policy, but also mentions Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush has also been talking about addiction this week.

Sentencing

Senators Reach Deal on Sentencing Reform Package. A bipartisan group of senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform Thursday, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Look for a Chronicle feature story on this in coming days.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A criminal gang of Puerto Rican cops gets indicted, prison guards run wild all over the country, and more cops get in trouble for stealing dope and cash. Let's get to it:

In Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly smuggling cell phones and marijuana into the prison. Damond Lamar Johnson is charged with possession of a controlled substance and contraband, conspiracy, and criminal use of a telecommunications device. He went down after he was found with marijuana during a pre-shift search and later confessed to other instances of smuggling pot and cell phones into the joint.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Jackson police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he was aiding some local drug dealers by pulling over their rivals and seizing their cash during illegal stops. Officer Bryan Jones went down after a tip from the community. He's been charged with extortion. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Atlanta, a former Georgia prison guard was indicted last Thursday on charges related to the use of cell phones to facilitate drug trafficking and other crimes behind bars. Anekra Artina Williams, 20, a guard at Valdosta State Prison, was charged with extortion and distributing methamphetamine and extortion. She is one of a dozen people rounded up in the federal bust, including current and former inmates and a prison cafeteria worker.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, 10 police officers were indicted last Friday for allegedly participating in a criminal organization run out of the police department. They are accused of using their positions to make money through selling drugs, robbery, extortion, and manipulating court records. The officers are Shylene López-García aka "Plinia"; Ángel Hernández-Nieves, aka "Doble"; Xavier Jiménez-Martínez, aka "Negro"; Alvin Montes-Cintrón, aka "Vinillo"; Ramón Muñiz-Robledo, aka "Marmota"; Guillermo Santos-Castro, aka "Caco Biftec"; Luis Flores-Ortiz, aka "Piquito"; José Neris-Serrano; Manuel Grego-López; and David Centeno-Faría, aka "David Bisbal." They are charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, as well as extortion, drug trafficking, civil rights violations, and making false statements.

In State College, Pennsylvania, a former State College police officer was sentenced last Friday to 23 months in jail for stealing drugs from the evidence room. Thomas Dann, 56, stole cocaine and prescription medications while serving as the evidence room custodian, and originally faced dozens of counts. He pleaded guilty to four counts of felony acquisition of a controlled substance by fraud for stealing three pounds of cocaine, as well as dozens of prescription opioids.

In Baltimore, a former jail guard was sentenced last Friday to six years in prison for his role in a Baltimore jail racketeering conspiracy. Travis Paylor, 27, is one of 40 people convicted in the wide-ranging prison corruption case involving the Black Guerrilla Family and got the longest sentence because he continued to engage in illegal activity even after he was charged. He was convicted of smuggling contraband, including drugs, into the prison.

In Los Angeles, a former LAPD officer pleaded no contest Tuesday to offering to sell drugs to an undercover officer last year. Randolph Agard pleaded guilty to two counts of possession for drugs for sale, and was sentenced to 480 hours of community service and three years' probation. Agard had responded to an online ad seeking drugs placed by police. When he arrived at a meeting place, he was arrested by LAPD narcs, who found 20 hydrocodone tablets in his pocket and 35 more in his car.

Medical Marijuana Update

Last week's reservation raid in California reverberates, dispensaries move a step closer in Maryland, a medical marijuana bill advances in South Carolina, and more.

California

Last Friday, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation responded to a raid on its collective grow operation. The tribe said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman "overstepped his authority, violated tribal sovereignty, and acted outside of his legal jurisdiction" in the raid last Tuesday, in which deputies "seized and destroyed property that belonged to the tribe's cannabis collective." Allman argued that the operation was illegal because it was for profit, but the tribe says it will "seek all legal remedies against the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office" for damages from the raid.

Maryland

Last Thursday, the attorney general's office clarified that counties cannot ban dispensaries. Faced with an effort by Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh to ban medical marijuana facilities in the county, the office of the attorney general issued a non-binding legal opinion saying that while state law allows counties to decide where such facilities may locate, it does not allow them to ban them.

On Monday, the state began taking applications for medical marijuana businesses. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for state licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The commission will issue 15 licenses for growers, up to 92 for dispensaries, and an unlimited number for processors. The deadline for applications is November 6, and dispensaries could be stocked and open by next fall. Click on the commission link for more details.

Minnesota

Last Friday, lawmakers and regulators got an earful from patients at a hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill won a Senate panel vote. A Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee today approved Senate Bill 672 a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The vote was unanimous. The bill will head to the full committee early next year. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oregon

Beginning Thursday, some dispensaries will start selling to non-medical users. More than half of the state's 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have told the Health Authority they plan to sell recreational marijuana starting Thursday, October 1. Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state since July 1, but recreational pot shops won't be open until next year, so the state is allowing dispensaries to fill the void.

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

Chronicle AM: Midwest Asset Forfeiture Moves, Puerto Rico Decriminalizes, More (9/30/15)

Puerto Rico decriminalizes, polls in Texas and Canada show strong majorities for marijuana law reform, Ohio and Michigan are moving on asset forfeiture reform, DEA agents flunk drug tests with few consequences, and more.

The Dutch Supreme Court says foreigners can be banned from cannabis cafes, but the cafes don't seem to be paying attention.
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Decriminalizes Possession of Up to Six Grams. Gov. Alejandro Padilla Garcia Monday signed an executive order decriminalizing the possession of up to six grams of marijuana. Instead of criminal proceedings, people caught with small amounts of pot will be subject to a fine, or possibly drug treatment. The governor cited the high cost of prosecuting small-time offenders.

Texas Poll Has Three-Quarter Support for Marijuana Reform. Nearly three out of four Texans are ready to liberalize the state's marijuana laws, according to a new Texas Lyceum Poll. The poll had support for legalization at 46%, with another 28.5% supporting decriminalization. That's 74.5% for liberalization. Only 19.5% opposed both legalization and decriminalization. Clink on the link for more poll details and methodology.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Attorney General Backs Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) is supporting a package of civil asset forfeiture reform bills. The bills, which have already passed the House, wouldn't entirely eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but would increase the burden of proof on law enforcement to keep seized property and would require more transparency. "On this issue of forfeiture and transparency, as a lawyer and as attorney general, I'm in support of these seven bills," Schuette said Tuesday during a press call organized by Fix Forfeiture, a national and bipartisan group advocating for reform. "This is a good effort. A good team effort."

Ohio GOP Legislators File Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Nineteen House Republicans cosponsored a bill Tuesday that would eliminate civil forfeiture under state law and only allow criminal forfeiture after a defendant is convicted of a crime. The lead sponsor is Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon). The bill is not yet on the legislative website.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agents Fail Drug Tests, But Face No Serious Consequences. At least 16 DEA employees have failed drug tests, but only got short suspensions or other minor punishments, according to newly released documents. None was punished with being fired, and most were suspended for a day or two. Click on the title link for much, much more.

International

Canada Poll Has Strong Majority Supporting Marijuana Reform. A new Vote Compass poll has support for marijuana legalization at 56%, with another 30% saying they supported decriminalization. That's 86% in favor of liberalizing the country's marijuana laws. Only 14% said possession should remain a criminal offense, the position of the Conservatives in next month's elections. The Liberals are calling for legalization, while the New Democrats are calling for decrim. Click on the link for more polling details, methodology, and discussion.

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Tourists in Cannabis Cafes. The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the country can ban foreign nationals from cannabis cafes because such a move does not conflict with European anti-discrimination legislation. The Supreme Court cited a 2010 European Court of Justice ruling that said restricting sales to foreigners is "justified by the objective of combating drug tourism." But the ban appears to operate mainly in the breach. A 2013 survey showed two-thirds of cannabis cafes were selling to foreigners.

Despite Legalization and Decrim, Marijuana Arrests Spiked Last Year [FEATURE]

Despite marijuana legalization being in effect in two states last year and decriminalization laws in nearly 20 more, the number of marijuana arrests actually increased last year, according to data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Pot arrests accounted for nearly 45% of all drug arrests, which totaled 1.56 million last year. Drug arrests were the single largest category of offenses. There were three times as many drug arrests last year as there were arrests for violent crimes.

There were 700,993 marijuana arrests in 2014, compared with 693,000 in 2013. More than 88% of those arrests were for simple possession -- also an increase over 2013, by 2%.

Last year, people were being arrested for marijuana offenses at a rate of one every 45 seconds. That compares with one every half hour in 1965 and one every two minutes in 1990, when marijuana arrests really started skyrocketing. In that year, there were some 330,000 pot arrests; they peaked in 2007, with nearly 900,000. Last year's number represent a 20% decline from the 2007, but is still an increase over 2013.

The spread of legalization and decriminalization in the West is reflected in the numbers. Marijuana arrests were more likely to occur in the Midwest and South, while many fewer arrests were reported in the West.

Marijuana reform advocates were quick to denounce the uptick.

"These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana. Could you imagine if hundreds of thousands of adults were arrested last year simply for possessing alcohol? That would be crazy. It's even crazier that hundreds of thousands of adults were arrested for possessing a less harmful substance," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Marijuana busts can happen at home, at a concert, on the sidewalk, when driving...
"It's hard to imagine why more people were arrested for marijuana possession when fewer people than ever believe it should be a crime," Tvert continued. "Law enforcement officials should not be wasting their time and resources arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana. While law enforcement was busy making nearly three quarters of a million marijuana arrests, more than 35% of murders went unsolved, the clearance rate for rape was less than 40%, and for robbery and property crimes, it was below 30%."

"It's unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon. There's just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved."

The numbers should decrease next year. By the end of 2016, legalization will have been fully in effect in Alaska, DC, and Oregon, as well as in Colorado and Washington, where it was in effect all of last year. But for the numbers to have gone up last year even as legalization and decriminalization expanded across the country strongly suggests that enforcing the marijuana laws continues to be a favorite pastime for law enforcement.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Sales Begin This Week, FDA Defends Oxycontin for Youth, More (9/29/15)

Half of Oregon's dispensaries will start selling marijuana to any adult beginning this week, the FDA fires back at critics of its pediatric prescribing rules for Oxycontin, a prominent UN official lists the ways the drug "problem" impacts human rights, and more.

The FDA counters critics who say its rules for pediatric prescribing will increase availability. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinke Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. The measure is House Bill 4021. This is the second time she has filed the bill.

Oregon Dispensaries to Start Selling to Recreational Users This Week. More than half of the state's 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have told the Health Authority they plan to sell recreational marijuana starting Thursday, October 1. Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state since July 1, but recreational pot shops won't be open until next year, so the state is allowing dispensaries to fill the void.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Now Taking Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. As of Monday, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for state licenses for growers, processors, and dispensaries. The commission will issue 15 licenses for growers, up to 92 for dispensaries, and an unlimited number for processors. The deadline for applications is November 6, and dispensaries could be stocked and open by next fall. Click on the commission link for more details.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

FDA Rejects Critics on Oxycontin for Youth. In response to critics including US senators, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defended its decision last month to allow the prescribing of the powerful opioid to pediatric patients. Critics accused the agency of expanding access to the drug, but the FDA said doctors could already prescribe Oxycontin to pediatric patients and the agency was merely setting prescribing standards. "It's important to stress that this approval was not intended to expand or otherwise change the pattern of use of extended-release opioids in pediatric patients," said FDA spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement. "Doctors were already prescribing it to children, without the safety and efficacy data in hand with regard to the pediatric population."

Drug Policy

UN Official Says Drug "Problem" Violates Human Rights in Five Areas. UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said Monday that the global drug "problem" violates human rights in the areas of the right to health, rights relating to criminal justice and discrimination, the rights of the child, and the rights of indigenous peoples. "It is clear that the world's drug problem impacts the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, often resulting in serious violations," said Pansieri, "It is, nevertheless, a positive development that human rights are increasingly being taken into account in the preparations for the General Assembly's Special Session on the world drug problem to be held in April 2016." The remarks came during her report to the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Harm Reduction

New York Governor Signs Bill to Expand Opiate Maintenance in Drug Courts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 4239, which prohibits drug court judges from forcing defendants to withdraw from opiate maintenance treatments as a condition of avoiding prison. Click on the title link for more details.

International

New Zealand Activists Call for Party Pill Drug Testing. The New Zealand Drug Foundation is calling on the government to legalize pill testing services. Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said it was only a matter of time until someone died taking pills of unknown provenance. He added that the government routinely tests drugs for criminal justice purposes, and that those results should be made available as a public health measure. The government said it hadn't considered pill testing, but was open to the possibility in the future.

Mass High Court Rules Police Can't Search Vehicles Based Solely on Suspicion of MJ Possession

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

Civil rights advocates and marijuana legalization supporters are welcoming a decision from the state Supreme Judicial Court that says police can't stop motorists solely because they suspect the vehicle's occupants are carrying marijuana. The decision came in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez.

The Rodriguez in question was Elivette Rodriguez, who was a passenger in a car stopped by New Bedford police in 2012 after they allegedly detected the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle. During the stop, police found a bag containing 60 Percocet pills, and Rodriguez was charged with possession of a Class B substance with intent to distribute, as well as other offenses.

Before trial, Rodriguez filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the search, arguing that since the state had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, the mere odor of marijuana coming from the car did not create sufficient probable cause to undertake the traffic stop and subsequent search. The trial judge denied that motion, but put the trial on hold while Rodriguez appealed his decision. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative took the case from the appeals court.

In its ruling Tuesday, leaning heavily on the 2008 decriminalization law, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Rodriguez. "Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve [the] objectives" of the law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority. Allowing such stops "does not refocus police efforts on pursing more serious crime," another goal of the law, she wrote.

The court's 5-2 majority ruled that the pills were inadmissible in court because they were "fruit of the poisoned tree," in the classic formulation. In other words, the evidence resulted from an illegal search and thus must be thrown out. Rodriguez' drug case was referred back to district court for "further proceedings consistent with this opinion," but since they now have no evidence against her, prosecutors said they would drop the case.

In arguing the case, Bristol prosecutors had asserted that police can stop vehicles for a civil marijuana offense, just as they can for a civil traffic offense, but the court rejected that argument. While traffic laws are designed to promote road safety, "there is no obvious and direct link" between marijuana possession and maintaining highway  safety.

"The high court was making a statement "about how the police ought to spend their time and the taxpayers' money," ACLU of Massachusetts legal director Matthew Segal told the Boston Globe. Pulling over a vehicle for suspicion of marijuana possession "is not consistent with the Massachusetts constitution, nor is it consistent with the will of the voters who passed decriminalization," he said.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, one of two groups undertaking marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state (the other is Bay State Repeal), was also pleased with the decision. In a statement, campaign spokesman Jim Borghesani said the "provides further clarification for how police officers should handle vehicle stops in the era of decriminalization, and it advances the clear message sent by voters in 2008 to refocus police activity on more serious crimes."

Chronicle AM: The Pope on Dope, Marijuana Arrests Jump, NYC Safe Injection Site Campaign, More (9/28/15)

The pope criticizes the drug war at the UN, the president addresses overdoses and addiction in his weekly address, marijuana arrests jumped last year, a campaign to bring safe injection sites to New York City is launching, and more.

Pots busts jumped last year. Why?
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Lawmakers Get Earful from Patients at Hearing. The task force overseeing the state's medical marijuana program heard from patients and providers at a hearing last Friday, with complaints about high prices and logistical problems getting lots of attention. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

Pope Francis Criticizes War on Drugs. During his address to the United Nations last Friday, Pope Francis turned from criticizing "systemic violence" in places like Syria and Ukraine to addressing violence linked to drug prohibition -- although without calling it that. "Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade," Pope Francis said. The drug war is failing, the pontiff said, and it brings dire consequences. "[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption," he continued. Click on the link for a full transcript of his remarks.

President Obama Uses Weekly Address to Talk About Preventing Substance Abuse. Obama used his weekly radio address last Saturday to encourage people to participate in "National Drug Take-Back Day" that same day, warning that too many Americans are dying of drug overdoses. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes," he said. "And most of those deaths aren't due to drugs like heroin or cocaine, but rather prescription drugs." Click on the link for a full transcript of the president's address.

International Drug Policy Conference in DC in November. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting the world's premier drug policy conference in suburban Washington, DC, on November 18-21. Click on the link for much more information.

Harm Reduction

Campaign for Supervised Injection Sites Coming to New York City. The Open Society Foundation will host a town hall Wednesday on innovative solutions to public drug use and overdosing, including supervised injection sites. It's the opening salvo in a campaign to bring such sites to New York City. While a proven harm reduction measure, no such sites currently operate in the United States. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Nationwide Marijuana Arrests Jumped Last Year. The FBI has released its annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that nearly 701,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2014, up from 693,000 the previous year. Nearly 90% of all arrests were for possession.

International

United Nations Will Monitor Honduras War on Drug Gangs. The UN will open a human rights monitoring office in Honduras to monitor potential human rights violations by security forces as they pursue their war on drug gangs, President Juan Hernandez said Sunday. Hernandez and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, have increasingly relied on the military to fight gangs, and complaints about human rights violations have been piling up.

Bolivian Drug Law Reforms Would Reduce Penalties for "Microtraffickers," Consumers. The government of President Evo Morales has proposed reforms of the country's drug laws that would cut sentences for consumers and small-time traffickers. The proposal has been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Click on the link to read more in Spanish.

Drug War Issues

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