Criminal Justice

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: DC Smoke-In Saturday to Press Obama, VT Legalization Bill Hearing, More... (3/31/16)

DC activists plan to smoke-out the White House Saturday, Vermont's legalization bill gets a hearing this evening, California's historic Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana will soon be able to reopen, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Rally Saturday Will Feature Smoke-In, Mass Civil Disobedience. DC marijuana activist Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful marijuana legalization initiative, is leading a protest Saturday in front of the White House to protest President Obama's lack of action on undoing pot prohibition. "Obama - he smokes, maybe not now, but he did smoke," Eidinger said. "So for him to oversee an enforcement regime that has arrested five million people for marijuana... I'm very motivated because I think it's a discriminatory practice." Eidinger and the DC Cannabis Campaign have moved their 4/20 celebration to 4/02 because Obama is "a big zero" on further marijuana reforms. They will be marching to the White House with a 51-foot joint and will engage in mass pot smoking at 4:20pm.

Vermont Legalization Bill Gets Hearing This Evening. The House Judiciary and Government Operations committees will be hearing testimony on the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, between 5:00pm and 7:00pm this evening. Each speaker will be limited to two minutes. The bill passed the Senate last month, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) says he supports the measure.

Washington State Legal Marijuana Sales Exceeded $700 Million Last Year. The marijuana market research group ArcView has pegged the state's legal marijuana sales at $709 million in 2015. That accounts for nearly half of legal adult use sales nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

California Historic Marin County Dispensary Cleared to Reopen. The Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana has won a federal court case that should clear the way for it to reopen soon. The dispensary, the first to operate in the state under the auspices of Proposition 215, was forced to shut down in 2011 during an offensive by then US Attorney Linda Haag. But in a Monday ruling, US District Judge Charles Breyer held that the injunction used to close it is unenforceable because it conflicts with a 2014 budget amendment approved by Congress that bars the Justice Department from going after law-abiding marijuana operations in states where they are legal.

Kansas Protest for Veteran Whose Kids Were Taken Away Over Medical Marijuana Use. US Navy veteran Raymond Schwab, who lost custody of his five kids after his mother-in-law took them and reported them as abandoned to state officials, told a crowd of supporters Wednesday at the state capital in Topeka that he lost custody because of his use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD, not because of minor legal scrapes. Schwab accused the state of "illegally kidnapping" his kids as he was preparing to move his family to neighboring Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. He said the state has ordered him not to use medical marijuana for four months if he wants the kids back. Schwab is now two weeks into a 30-day vigil at the statehouse. He isn't the only medical marijuana parent to face problems in the state; just last week, Garden City resident Shona Banda sued the state, the city, and the police department over the seizure of her son after he spoke out in school about his mother's medical marijuana use.

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations, SC Town Pays Big for Killing Teen in Pot Bust, More... (3/30/16)

The president has commuted sentences for another 61 federal drug offenders, Maine legalizers are fighting to get their signatures validated and their initiative on the ballot, a South Carolina town pays out big for the death of a local teen in a small-time pot bust, and more.

Zach Hammond's family has settled a lawsuit over his death in a small-time pot sting operation gone bad. (Hammond family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Senate Approves Marijuana DUID Bill. The Senate voted 19-14 Wednesday to pass LD 1628, which establishes a blood level for THC over which the driver is presumed to be impaired. The bill sets the limit at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the same as the states of Colorado and Washington. The bill now goes to the House.

Maine Legalization Campaign Gets Hearing On Invalidated Signatures. At a court hearing Wednesday, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fought to get more than 17,000 invalidated signatures reinstated. The campaign accused Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of using an "unconstitutionally vague" interpretation of election laws to invalidate the signatures -- all of which were notarized by the same person. Dunlap said the notary's signature didn't match his on-file signature. By invalidating the 17,000 signatures, Dunlap ensured that the initiative campaign would not qualify for the November ballot. The court has until April 11 to render a decision.

Oregon Governor Signs Marijuana Edibles Bill. Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1511, which allows people 21 and over to purchase edibles and extracts at dispensaries. The bill also allows recreational pot stores to sell medical marijuana tax-free to registered patients.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Patients Protest Proposed Medical Marijuana Tax. Protestors gathered at the State House Tuesday to just say no to Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) plan to impose a tax on patient and caregiver growers. "We have pain, we have cancer, taxing us is not the answer," they chanted. Under her plan, caregivers would have to pay $350 per plant and patients who grow their own would have to pay $150. The protest took place just before the House Finance Committee took up the proposal.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Full Transcript of President Obama's Atlanta Remarks on Heroin and Pain Pills. The White House has released the full transcript of the discussion panel in which President Obama took part Tuesday as part of the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. Click the title link for the transcripts.

Law Enforcement

Family of Zach Hammond Settles Police Killing Lawsuit. The South Carolina teenager was shot and killed by police last summer as he sat in his pick-up truck. The teenage girl who was his passenger was the target of an attempted bust over the sale of a bag of weed, and police shot Hammond as he attempted to pull away from the scene. His family has settled the lawsuit for $2.1 million. State investigators last year concluded that the killing was justified, but the city has just paid up.

Sentencing

Obama Pardons More Drug Offenders. President Obama today granted clemency to 61 more federal drug offenders, more than a third of whom were serving life sentences. That brings to 248 the number of sentences commuted by Obama, more than the six previous presidents combined. He was also set to meet today with people whose sentences had been commuted by previous presidents to discuss their experiences with reentry and how the process can be strengthened. On Thursday, he will hold a Life After Clemency briefing at 2:00pm EDT, which can be viewed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Chronicle AM: New Obama Opioid Initiative, DOJ Backtracks on Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/29/16)

The drug czar uses a recycled and updated version of the gateway theory to oppose marijuana legalization, the Justice Department restarts its Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, the president announces a new package of initiatives to fight heroin and opioid death and addiction, and more.

Obama has plans for fighting heroin and prescription opioid death and addiction. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Leans On Gateway Theory Variant to Explain Opposition to Legalization. In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy head Michael Botticelli reaffirmed the Obama administration's opposition to marijuana legalization, using a familiar, if discredited, argument to do so: "I think the evidence is pretty clear that early use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana -- often used together -- significantly increases the probability that someone will develop a more significant addictive disorder later in their life," he said. "Early substance use actually effects brain development and predisposes people for more significant vulnerabilities later in their life." That sounds a whole lot like an updated version of the roundly criticized gateway theory.

Hawaii Resolution Seeks Study on Marijuana and Driving. Rep. Cindy Evans (D-North Kona) and 15 other lawmakers have introduced a resolution asking the state health department to study the effect of marijuana on driving. State law bans people from driving under the influence of impairing drugs, but there is no threshold set for marijuana because there is no widespread consensus on what an acceptable level might be.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Announces New Moves to Fight Heroin and Opioid Abuse. In a speech in Atlanta today, President Obama unveiled a package of new initiatives to help stem the tide of death and addiction from prescription and non-prescription opioids. These initiatives are above and beyond the $1.1 billion in new spending he proposed last month. The package includes expanded access to medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine) for addicted users, doubling the cap on the number of patients to whom a doctor may prescribe buprenorphine, increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe it, funding an increase in access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), ensuring that substance abuse and mental health benefits are offered for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and $7 million for the Justice Department to conduct law enforcement operations aimed at heroin distribution.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Resumes Equitable Sharing Program -- More Money for Cops. The Justice Department has announced it is resuming its program that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to do an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing investigations over to the feds. State laws may mandate that seized funds go in the general fund or other specified funds, but under the federal program, 80% of the seized funds go to the seizing law enforcement agency, not the state's general or other specified funds. Law enforcement lobbying groups had been loudly protesting the program's shutdown last fall, claiming they needed the windfalls to do their jobs. Now, the program is back on line.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Has Saved 2,500 Lives in North Carolina. In less than three years, some 2,500 North Carolinians have had their heroin or prescription opioid overdoses reversed by people using naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Center reported today. As of today, the number stands at 2,503. "Through distributing naloxone with NCHRC, I have been able to save the lives of many of my friends, loved ones and peers," says Kendra, a volunteer distributor in Wilmington. "Without this amazing group of people and this life-saving drug, many people who are very close to me may not have had a second chance at life. In the last few months alone I have had close to 100 reversals reported to me personally and many of those people are now in recovery because they were ready to make a change in their lives after overdosing."

International

Mexican Popular Support for Marijuana Legalization Rising, But Still Low. This year's officially-supported debate on marijuana legalization appears to be having an impact. Mexico has never been a legalization-friendly country, and in October, daily polls had support for legalization at only 7%, with 92% opposed. But six months later, after the issue has been publicly debated, pro-legalization sentiment has increased four-fold, to 29%, with opposition dropping to 66%. The trend is in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.

Chronicle AM: TN Pregnant Women Drug Law Fails, AR Welfare Drug Testing Starting, More... (3/24/16)

An asset forfeiture reform bill moves in New Hampshire, Arkansas and West Virginia advance welfare drug testing, a global commission on public health calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Committee Approves Bill to Set Up Medical Marijuana Shops. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 446, sponsored by Rep. H. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte). The bill would create a licensing scheme for the distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. It must still be approved by the Senate.

More Michigan Protests Over Dispensary Raids. Dozens of patients, advocates, and supporters took to the steps of the state capitol in Lansing Tuesday to protest a new wave of raids by the Michigan State Police and local narcotics teams. Both state Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit) and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) addressed the crowd.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Senate Restores Funding for Heroin Fight. The Senate Wednesday agreed to restore $12 million in funding for anti-heroin efforts that had been proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin (R), but cut by the House last week. House Democrats had slashed the $32 million over two years proposed by the governor to $20 million. Now, the House and Senate will have to thrash out the difference in conference committee.

Asset Forfeiture

New Hampshire House Approves Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House Wednesday approved House Bill 636, which would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized and which would move seized goods from the drug forfeiture fund to the state's general fund. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is threatening to veto the bill, saying that because of the state's opioid crisis, this isn't the time to eliminate law enforcement resources.

Drug Policy

Hawaii Lawmakers Take Up Resolution Urging Study on Drug Decriminalization. The House Judiciary Committee today is hearing a resolution, HCR 127, that calls on the state's Legislative Research Bureau to "conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of decriminalizing the illegal possession of drugs for personal use in Hawaii" so that it "would constitute an administrative or civil violation rather than a criminal offense." If the resolution passes both chambers, the study would be due before year's end to be ready for next year's legislative session. The study would examine Portugal's experience with decriminalization as a possible model for the state.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing to Begin Within Days. The head of the Department of Workforce Services, Daryl Bassett, said Wednesday that the state's welfare drug testing program would get underway within "seven to 10 days." Under the program, all applicants for government aid would be screened for possible drug use and those deemed likely to have been using drugs would have to undergo drug testing. Refusal to take the drug test will result in being denied benefits for six months. Someone who tests positive can continue to receive aid if he follows treatment and recovery plans set by state officials.

West Virginia Governor Signs Welfare Drug Test Bill. Gov. Early Ray Tomblin (D) today signed into law a bill that mandates screening of all welfare applicants for drug use and drug testing those for whom case workers have "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. Applicants who fail drug tests can continue to receive benefits as long as they enroll in drug treatment and job training programs, but a second failed test could mean loss of benefits for up to a year, and a third would earn a lifetime ban.

Harm Reduction

King County Sheriff Says He Would Not Arrest Drug Users Going to Seattle Safe Injection Site. King County Sheriff John Urquhart edged ever closer Tuesday to outright support of a safe injection site in Seattle. "I guarantee you," said Urquhart, "that if you're going into a safe injection site, you will not be arrested by any of my deputies, period." But he was careful to add that while he was "intrigued" by the success of Vancouver's InSite supervised injection facility, he is not yet ready to endorse them for Seattle.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Law That Allows Assault Charges for Pregnant Drug Users Not Renewed. The state's two-year experiment with arresting pregnant drug users is about to come to an end after the legislature failed to re-authorize the law this week. At least a hundred women have been prosecuted under the program, which has been condemned by human rights, civil rights, and pregnant women's rights advocates.

International

Leading Global Health Commission Calls for Reform of Drug Policies Worldwide. A leading global public health commission is calling for new policies that would transform our approach to drug use, addiction and control worldwide, including the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug offenses. According to a report released this morning by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Lancet, the war on drugs and zero-tolerance policies have undercut public health across the globe and have directly contributed to many of today's most urgent public health crises, while doing little to affect drug markets or drug use. The Johns Hopkins University -- Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy calls for worldwide reform of drug policies, including: the decriminalization of minor and non-violent drug use, possession and petty sale; enactment of policies that reduce violence and discrimination in drug policing; increased access to controlled medicines that could reduce the risk of overdose deaths; and greater investments in health and social services for drug users. The report is based on an extensive review by the Commissioners of the published evidence, and on original analyses and modeling on violence, incarceration and infectious diseases associated with drug policies.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A crooked Louisiana deputy working on a DEA task force pleads guilty, an Ohio reserve police officer gets caught slinging ecstasy, and more. Let's get to it:

In Rocky River, Ohio, a Linndale reserve police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges she was slinging marijuana and ecstasy. Reserve Officer Jonida Alicka and her sister, Denisa, are accused of obtaining ecstasy in Canada and distributing it in Ohio. They are both charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and ecstasy.

In Mount Holly, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he was selling drugs to inmates. Guard Jacquae Hollinshead went down after a long-term investigation by the Department of Corrections into prisoner drug use at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. She is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, official misconduct, money laundering, and providing contraband to inmates.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former Tangiapahoa Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty March 11 in a scheme to re-sell seized drugs. Johnny Domingue, 27, was arrested in January for crimes that occurred while he was a member of DEA task force. A second Tangipahoa deputy was arrested on similar charges last month. They were both accused of stealing oxycodone pills and cash during one drug raid, stealing methamphetamine and cash in another, and Domingue was accused of also breaking into the evidence room and stealing 20 pounds of marijuana.

Chronicle AM: Pain Pills to Get "Black Box" Warning, FL to Get Syringe Exchanges, More... (3/23/16)

The Vermont marijuana legalization bill gets a first House hearing, it's do or die tomorrow for Georgia CBD legislation, the FDA orders "black box" warnings for quick-acting prescription opioids, Florida's governor has signed a syringe exchange bill into law,and more.

The FDA is mandating a "black box" warning for opioid pain pills. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Has Raised Ten Times More Funds Than the Opposition. According to a new report from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $1.1 million for its legalization effort, while the leading group opposing legalization, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, has raised only $90,000. The legalization campaign needs 150,642 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It already has 180,000 raw signatures and says it aims to collect 225,000 to have a nice cushion.

Vermont Legalization Bill Gets House Panel Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Tuesday heard testimony on the legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, from representatives of state police, prosecutors, and sheriffs. The witnesses said legalization would not end the black market, worried about out-of-state pot tourists driving under the influence, and called for a marijuana DUID law. More hearings are coming.

Dallas City Council Rejects Ticketing Instead of Arresting Pot Possessors. The city council has backed away from a plan to ticket small-time pot possessors after realizing that state law prevents the city from imposing the policy outside of Dallas County. Tiny portion of the city of Dallas extend into neighboring Collin, Denton, Kaufman, and Rockwell counties. The idea had been supported by the police chief and several council members.

Medical Marijuana

Last Chance for Georgia CBD Expansion Tomorrow. The legislative session ends at midnight tomorrow, and lawmakers will have a chance to take up a bill that would expand qualifying conditions for the state's CBD medical marijuana registry. The measure, House Bill 722, was defeated earlier in the session, but lead sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has added it as an amendment to another bill to try to get it through tomorrow.

Iowa Patients, Supporters Rally in Des Moines. Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program. "This is not a partisan issue. This is something for the health and safety of our citizens," said Windsor Heights Mayor Diana Willits. "It truly is heartbreaking that legislators are not paying attention to their citizens and their constituents. It's time for everybody to put their political obstacles aside and do what's right in a nonpartisan way." The state passed a 2014 law allowing patients with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil, but that law did not provide for manufacturing or distributing the medicine in the state. A bill this year, House File 2384, would establish two grow facilities in the state and allow use of CBDs by patients who suffer from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or terminal cancer. It is still being debated at the committee level. A recent poll had support for medical marijuana at 78%.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said Tuesday he plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill shortly. Yuko said the legislature needs to act on medical marijuana this spring or see the decision possibly taken out of its hands by the voters. There are at least three medical marijuana initiative campaigns brewing.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Survives Legislative Deadline. Tuesday was the day bills approved by one chamber had to see committee action in the other chamber or die, and House Bill 1410, the Asset Forfeiture Transparency Act, survived. It was approved by the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee Tuesday afternoon and is now headed for a Senate floor vote. The bill would not end civil asset forfeiture, but require state officials to maintain a searchable database of all cash and property seized by law enforcement.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Says Opioid Pain Relievers Will Have to carry "Black Box" Warnings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday it will require immediate-release opioids to carry a "black box" warning label alerting users to the risks of misuse, addiction, overdose, and death. The warnings will refer users to the manufacturer's website for details. "Opioid addiction and overdose have reached epidemic levels over the past decade, and the FDA remains steadfast in our commitment to do our part to help reverse the devastating impact of the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids," FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD said in a news release. "Today's actions are one of the largest undertakings for informing prescribers of risks across opioid products, and one of many steps the FDA intends to take this year as part of our comprehensive action plan to reverse this epidemic."

Democratic Rep. Tears Into Pharma Company for Price-Gouging on Overdose Reversal Drug. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) used his opening remarks at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on heroin use to rip into Amphastar Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), for trying to profit off the crisis. "We can no longer allow drug companies to keep ripping off the taxpayers for life-saving medications," Cummings said. "Cities all around the country have recognized the need to equip their first responders, police officers and public health officials with naloxone -- a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses in a matter of minutes."

Harm Reduction

Florida Governor Signs Syringe Access Bill. Gov. Rick Scott (R) today signed into law the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA Act), which will allow for the creation of needle exchanges.

International

Commission on Narcotics Drugs Meeting Ends, Now on to the UNGASS on Drugs. The 59th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) ended Tuesday in Vienna. The meeting and its outcome document are laying the groundwork for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs at UN headquarters in New York next month.

Latin America's Largest Medical Marijuana Crop Now Being Harvested. Workers near the city of Colbun in central Chile have begun harvesting some 6,000 marijuana plants destined for 4,000 Chilean medical marijuana patients. The operation is being overseen by the Daya Foundation, which has hired 60 local temporary workers for the job. "It is an important day. We want it to be the first harvest of many more to come in Latin American countries," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation.

Drug War Idiocy: One Indiana Deputy Killed, Another Wounded in Midnight Drug Raid Over a Syringe

Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Carl A. Koontz, 27, was shot and killed and Sgt. Jordan F. Buckley, 35, was shot and wounded in a midnight drug raid gone wrong Sunday night in Russiaville, Indiana. The target of the raid, Evan Dorsey, 25, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the mobile home that was raided.

According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to nine. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is right on track.

In this case, they died over a syringe. That's right -- as the Indianapolis Star reported, the deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Dorsey for failure to appear in court over possession of a syringe.

The deputies went to the mobile home where Dorsey was staying shortly after midnight Sunday. According to Howard County Sheriff Steven Rogers, they were part of a team that included sheriff's deputies, Kokomo police officers, and the Russiaville town marshal.

Rogers said officers knocked on the door and announced their presence, but got no answer. He said the deputies "were shot as they entered the home."

Roger's account (or the Star's reporting) doesn't make clear just exactly how officers "entered the home." No one answered the door, so they either just opened it and entered or broke it down and entered. In either case, there were now armed intruders in the residence in the middle of the night. They were met with gunfire from Dorsey.

A SWAT team was called to the scene, but got no response from Dorsey. Two hours later, the SWAT team entered the home and found Dorsey dead of a gunshot wound. An autopsy released Monday described the wound as self-inflicted.

The death of a sheriff's deputy and a citizen in this incident should call into question the decision-making that led to the fatal encounter. Is failure to appear in court for possession of a syringe such a serious offense that it requires a midnight drug raid? In a nation where owning guns is seen as an inalienable right, should police be risking their lives breaking into homes in the night when they could reasonably assume an armed resident might mistake them for intruders? And above all, in retrospect, was it worth it?

While some states have legalized the possession of syringes without a prescription, many continue to criminalize their possession through drug paraphernalia laws. In Indiana, possession of a syringe is a violation of the paraphernalia law, and possession of a syringe with any detectable amount of an illicit drug exposes carriers to drug possession charges.

Russiaville, IN
United States

Chronicle AM: Joep, We Miss You; Supreme Court Rejects NE, OK Pot Lawsuit; Bud Business Going Big, More... (3/21/16)

The international drug reform movement has lost a valued member way too soon, the Supreme Court rejects Nebraska and Oklahoma's efforts to derail Colorado's pot law, a new report says the pot business is going big, Ohio medical marijuana initiatives keep hitting roadblocks, and more.

A $23 billion industry by 2020? Arcview thinks so. (wikimedia.org/hampuforum)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Rejects Nebraska and Oklahoma Lawsuit Over Colorado Marijuana Legalization. The US Supreme Court today declined to hear the case brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had claimed the Colorado law created an increased law enforcement burden in their states and claimed that federal marijuana prohibition trumps the state law. But the Obama administration urged the high court to reject the case, and today it did on a 6-2 vote.

Legal Marijuana Could Be a $23 Billion Business By 2020, Report Says. In its 4th Edition State of Legal Marijuana Markets Report, the Arcview Market Research and the data-analysis firm New Frontier said that the legal marijuana industry is creating thousands of jobs and is online to reach $23 billion in sales by 2020, driven largely by adult use.

Vermont House Panels Will Hold Hearing on Pot Legalization Bill on March 31. The House committees on Judiciary and on Government Operations will hold a joint hearing on the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 241. The measure has already passed the Senate, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) supports it. If the bill passes, Vermont will become the first state to legalize it via the legislative process.  

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Two More Initiatives. It's back to the drawing board for two more medical marijuana initiatives after Attorney General Mike DeWine found problems with their ballot language. The Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Amendment, submitted by a group led by attorney and veteran marijuana activist Don Wirstshafter, had inconsistencies between its text and its summary, DeWine said. Last Friday, he rejected a fourth petition for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment for similar reasons. The groups behind the initiatives will now have to gather an additional 1,000 signatures and then resubmit their initiatives.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New CDC Prescribing Guidelines Urge Doctors Not to Test for Marijuana. New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opiate addiction and overdose deaths recommend that doctors stop drug testing patients for the presence of THC and discourages them from dropping patients who test positive for pot. "Clinicians should not test for substances for which results would not affect patient management or for which implications for patient management are unclear. For example, experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahyrdocannabinol (THC),” the guidelines state. "Clinicians should not dismiss patients from care based on a urine drug test result because this could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety, potentially including the patient obtaining opioids from alternative sources and the clinician missing opportunities to facilitate treatment for substance use disorder."

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Poll Has 86% Opposing Current Asset Forfeiture Laws. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by Drug Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, shows overwhelming dissatisfaction with the state's civil asset forfeiture laws. More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they were unaware of civil asset forfeiture, but when provided a brief summary, 86% supported the position that "Police should not be able to seize and permanently take away property from people who have not been charged with a crime." The poll comes as asset forfeiture reform legislation has been stalled by organized opposition from law enforcement.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Law That Criminalized Drug Use By Pregnant Women Could Be Modified. On Tuesday, lawmakers will vote to amend the state's "fetal assault" bill, which makes it a crime for women to use drugs while pregnant. The amendment being offered would only prosecute woman who are more than 25 weeks pregnant.  But advocates are calling for a better solution: don't renew the law.

International

European Drug Reform Stalwart Joep Oomen Dead at 54.Joep Oomen, a key figure in European civil society drug reform efforts, has died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Antwerp, Belgium. He was found by colleagues dead in bed Friday when they went looking for him after he failed to show up for a meeting.  He was 54 years old. A veteran activist with more than a quarter century of organizing under his belt, Oomen was the co-founder of numerous drug reform NGOs, including the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the Trekt Uw Plant cannabis cultivation social club in Antwerp, and the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibtion (VOC). Joep's vision of a world without drug war drew his attention beyond Europe's borders as well. He had been active with groups like Mama Coca and Friends of the Coca Leaf in working to see the coca plant treated with the respect it deserves, and had been a steady presence at organizing around the United Nations' international drug prohibition bureaucracy. We consider Joep a friend and colleague. We are shocked and saddened by his untimely departure.  

Myths, Moralism, and Hypocrisy Drive the International Drug Control System

Julia Buxton is Associate Dean and Professor of Comparative Politics at the School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest. Follow her on Twitter: @BuxtonJulia

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

In April 2016, the international community will convene for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). This event, held two years early due to the urgency of the drug situation and intensity of drug-related violence, presents an opportunity to question the fundamentals of international drug policy. Despite overwhelming evidence that a century-long quest to control human behavior and drug markets through international treaties and national legislation has failed, there is little expectation of change. The vested interests in retaining the status quo are significant, with sclerosis legitimized through the recurrent exhortation to improve international co-operation.

Major institutional and policy change is required and will ultimately be unavoidable. The treaty system and international drug control institutions stemming from the first international drug conference in 1909 have set us on an orientation within drug policy that does not reflect the dynamics of global drug markets or protect us from drug related harms. Control efforts and resources are skewed toward drugs such as cocaine and heroin, when synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine dominate markets. Enforcement is focused on countries of the global south, when the global north is the world’s key zone for the manufacture and export of illicit substances, and where the bulk of drug trade profits are realized.  

Framed by history

 

From its initiation, the drug control system has responded to the perceived risk from narcotic plants grown in the global south. In 1909, the ‘great powers’ of the day met in Shanghai to discuss controls on opium, a freely traded commodity derived from opium poppy. The result was a seismic market shift, overturning centuries of colonial engagement in opium poppy cultivation in far flung empires of south Asia, and ending the popular use of opium for purposes of pain or pleasure.

The resulting 1912 International Opium Convention of The Hague was the first international drug treaty. It set the intellectual and institutional direction for the drug control system, strategies and approaches that operate today. To put it another way, today we respond to the complex, transnational challenges of HIV/AIDS, internet-based drug sales and international organized crime through a framework devised by imperial powers at a time when women could not vote or wear trousers, when nose size and skin color were seen to determine brain size and civility, and when addiction was understood as a problem of ‘godlessness’.

Over the course of a century, the treaty system has evolved through to the most recent 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, incorporating into the control system a diversity of plants, weeds, shrubs and chemicals deemed “evil” and harmful to the “health and welfare of mankind”. At no point has the United Nations, which administers and oversees the treaty system, reconsidered first principles – as set out in 1912 and institutionalized in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – that it is desirable or even possible for states to prohibit access to a selected range of intoxicating substances. 

Sovereign states remain locked into the goal of eliminating, or at least significantly curbing the production, distribution and use of drugs. They must cooperate on international control efforts and, in line with the 1961 Single Convention, they are required to treat participation in the drug trade as “punishable offenses when committed intentionally”, and as “serious offenses […] liable to adequate punishment particularly by imprisonment or other penalties of deprivation of liberty”.

A legacy of failure

 

These efforts to control human behavior and to terminate the supply of harmful substances cannot succeed, even if recurrently stepped up, militarized and coercively enforced. According to the latest figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug in 2013. This is despite punitive national policies to prevent consumption, including by depriving users of illegal drugs of their freedom, access to their children, employment and medical care, and even their right to life.

The use of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines remains a ‘global habit’ in a borderless world, configured around a sophisticated, lucrative and innovative transnational market that supplies a diversity of ever cheaper drugs to an estimated 246 million people.  

The 1961 Single Convention looked to eliminate opium use within 15 years, with a 25-year schedule for cocaine and cannabis. In 1998, the UN promoted a “drug-free world”, to be achieved within ten years, and a host of cultivating countries have, over the decades, committed to achieving zero-cultivation of narcotic drug crops. But just as demand reduction targets have never been met, neither have those relating to supply. At over 7,000 tons in 2014, opium production reached its highest level since the 1930s. There was an estimated 120,000 hectares under coca bush cultivation in 2013 (with potential for the manufacture of 662 to 902 tons of cocaine). Meanwhile, as stated in the UNODC’s “World Drug Report 2015”, advances “in cannabis plant cultivation techniques and the use of genetically selected strains have led to an increase in the number of cannabis harvests, as well as in the yield and potency of cannabis”.

As set out by Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UNODC, “we have to admit that, globally, the demand for drugs has not been substantially reduced and that some challenges exist in the implementation of the drug control system”. This acknowledgement has not led to any questioning of mission, or the plausibility of prohibiting access to certain drugs – even with evidence that nine out of ten users are not considered dependent or problematic. Neither has there been engagement with the reality that making certain substances illegal has made them more attractive to produce and supply. Criminalization has converted freely growing plants into billion dollar crops, high profit margins incentivize illicit supply, while the ‘success’ of drug seizures serves only to elevate prices. A utopian goal is being pursued through a strategy that makes it unachievable. 

A northern bias

 

In policy and implementation, drug control remains overwhelmingly preoccupied with opium poppy and coca leaf. International counter-narcotics efforts and assistance – both military and development – have focused on ‘producer’ states such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru (coca leaf), Mexico (opium poppy) and south Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Burma and Laos PDR (opium poppy). However, as successive UNODC World Drug Reports demonstrate, opioids and cocaine are not the most widely consumed drugs, or arguably the most dangerous.

Contemporary drug markets, measured in terms of seizures and reported use, are increasingly dominated by synthetic drugs: ‘Amphetamine Type Substances’ (ATS) such as methamphetamine and amphetamine, as well as Ecstasy (MDMA) and a raft of ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ (NPS) of which 450 were reported in 2014. The key manufacture and export zones for these drugs are not the global south, but west and east European countries and north America. Patterns of drug flows are the reverse of the dynamics envisioned in the treaty framework. The old delineation of consumer and producer states no longer exists, and the global north is now the key producer region, including for cannabis.

This raises the more difficult question of accounting for the inconsistent application of counter-narcotics efforts, and the gross inequalities in terms of costs and impacts. An estimated 164,000 people were killed during the counter-narcotics surge of 2007 to 2014 in Mexico, a death toll higher than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. But the thought of militarizing supply control in the Netherlands – a leading producer country – on the level experienced by Mexico, is unconscionable. Why are Colombia, Bolivia and Afghanistan acceptable theaters for violent weaponized counter-narcotic operations, and not Poland or Canada?

Moreover, the lack of high level violence in the drug markets of these northern producer countries signifies that illicit markets can be peaceful. From this perspective, it is the disruptive market interventions, weapons flows and training of paramilitary counter-narcotics units that are the drivers of violence in the global south, not the drug markets themselves. Similarly, in relation to northern interventions, how can it be the case that the EU and US fund cannabis eradication in the global south while legalizing or decriminalizing domestically? 

The north’s deflection of its leading role in the drug trade is institutionalized in the treaty system and international drug control institutions. The result is that we have remarkably little information about the evolving threats to mankind’s ‘health and welfare’ posed by synthetics. As set out in the preface to the 2013 World Drug Report, ATS use “remains widespread globally, and appears to be increasing in most regions”, with crystalline methamphetamine “an imminent threat”. Yet while we have each hectare of coca and opium meticulously researched, there is a paucity of data and information on the manufacture of synthetic drugs, or their consumption. It was not until 2008 that the UNODC launched dedicated ATS analysis through the UNODC Global SMART Program(Synthetics Monitoring: Analyzes, Reporting and Trends), with the aim of generating, analyzing and reporting on the synthetic drug market, and improving global responses to the rise in ATS manufacture, trafficking and consumption.

Drug control is constantly re-legitimized by a moral narrative of protecting health, welfare and security. Yet by downplaying the role of European and North American countries in the drug trade, and the historical salience of synthetic markets by default, the system is creating public health risks, it cannot anticipate change in dynamic markets, and it has an insufficient evidence base for policy. Indicative of this is the acknowledgement in the 2016 World Drug Report that, “the sheer number, diversity and transient nature of NPS currently on the market partly explain why there are still only limited data available on the prevalence of use of many NPS. Those difficulties also explain why both the regulation of NPS and the capacity to address health problems related to NPS continue to be challenging.”

In 2012, the International Narcotic Control Board that monitors treaty enforcement, set out that, “dividing countries into the categories of “drug-producing”, “drug-consuming” or “transit countries” has long ceased to be realistic. To varying degrees, all countries are drug-producers and drug-consumers and have drugs transiting through them.” Despite institutional acknowledgement of market transformations, the new geopolitical realities of the drug trade are not reflected in enforcement activities, in the language of drug control institutions, or in the allocation of resources for research, education, treatment and rehabilitation. These remain concentrated on coca and opium poppy, cocaine and heroin.

From the local to the global level, we are, with some small exceptions, locked into arcane, counterproductive and illogical policies that violate fundamental rights and freedoms, spread disease, exacerbate violence, and which impede development – in the view of other UN agencies. The UNODC, which sits in an institutional silo, uses the benign term “unintended consequences” to refer to the wholly negative impact of counter-narcotics policies and how these are disproportionately borne along stratified racial, class and geographic lines. The myths, Victorian moralism and hypocrisy that frame international drug policy need to be confronted if we are to progress to rights-based interventions that genuinely reduce harm. In other words, drug policies which are fit for the twenty-first century.           

This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and CELS, an Argentine human rights organization with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Chronicle AM: Canada Wakes Up the CND, Tampa Pot Decrim, CA Legalization Init Getting Signatures, More... (3/17/16)

California's leading legalization initiative is one-quarter of the way home, Tampa is the latest Florida locality to decriminalize pot possession, the Canadians wake up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs with a very reform-oriented speech, and more.

Canada came out strong for harm reduction and marijuana legalization at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna this week.
Marijuana Policy

California AUMA Legalization Initiative Has 25% of Needed Signatures. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) initiative has accumulated nearly 100,000 signatures since petitioning began in January. It has until July 5 to turn in a total of 365,880 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. While other initiatives are out there, this one, supported by tech billionaire Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), is the one most likely to have the dollars behind to actually make the ballot.

Tampa Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council has passed an ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. The move was supported by the mayor and the police chief. Now, possession will no longer be a misdemeanor, but will be a civil infraction punishable by a $75 fine for a first offense, $150 for a second, and $450 for any subsequent offenses.  Tampa now joins a number of South Florida localities that have decriminalized, as well as Central Florida's Volusia County.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Senator Unveils Medical Marijuana Expansion Package. State Sen. Diane Savino  (D-Staten Island) has introduced a package of bills—Senate Bills 6998, 6999, and 7000—designed to expand the state's constricted medical marijuana program. One bill would allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, another would allow the five organizations licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana to double the amount of dispensaries they can open from four to eight, while another would expand the conditions for which marijuana could be recommended.

Law Enforcement

Denver Cops Instructed to Not Punch Suspects Believed to Be Swallowing Drugs. The Denver Police Department's Office of the Independent Monitor recommended Tuesday that the department adopt new policies to provide guidance to officers when they arrest a suspect believed to be trying to swallow the evidence.  "The OIM recommends that the DPD revise its Use of Force Policy to provide specific guidance on what types of force are permitted, and prohibited, to remove potential contraband from the mouths of persons being placed under arrest. The OIM further recommends that this revised policy prohibit the use of strikes to force persons being place under arrest to spit out potential contraband," the report reads. The recommendation comes in the wake of a widely-decried 2014 incident in which an officer was recorded repeatedly punching a man who was allegedly trying to stuff a heroin-filled sweat sock into his mouth.

Sentencing

Groups File Brief Seeking Reduction in Life Sentence for Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) filed an amicus brief Thursday urging the US 2nd Court of Appeal to reduced the life without parole sentence meted out to Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the Silk Road drug sales website. Joining DPA in the brief were Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, JustLeadershipUSA, and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner.  "Mr. Ulbricht’s draconian sentence flies in the face of evolving standards of decency," said Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney at the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and lead author of the brief. "Nationally, lawmakers are working across the political aisle to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. And, many of our allies in Europe consider life without parole sentences inhumane."

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Wakes Up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting. A speech from a Canadian representative at the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna this week was met with eruptions of applause from the audience after the speaker, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Hilary Geller, made clear that the Liberals were embracing harm reduction, including safe injection sites, and marijuana legalization. Geller's speech not only contrasted sharply with the previous Conservative government's anti-drug reform positions, but also with the cautious pronouncements made by other nations. At the end of the speech, the audience of government officials and NGO leaders gave Geller a standing ovation.

Mexico Captures Cartel Leader Tied to Border Shootouts. After a bloody weekend in Reynosa, where at least a dozen people were killed in clashes between cartel gunmen and soldiers and cartel gunmen set up burning street barricades, federal police Monday captured the Gulf Cartel leader who was allegedly the target of the federal action on the border. The man arrested is Cleofas Alberto Martinez Gutierrez, who officials said was the cartel's number two boss in Reynosa. They found him at a Mexico City race track. 

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School