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Chronicle AM: More CO Lawsuits, 2016 MI Inits, New Paid Med Rules a Pain for Vets, More (2/19/15)

An anti-crime group has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Colorado's legal marijuana law, a decrim bill is moving in Hawaii, 2016 initiative plans are getting underway in Michigan, DEA rules on pain pills are causing problems for vets and others, and more. Let's get to it:

Recent DEA rules tightening access to prescription opiates are causing problems for veterans and others.
Marijuana Policy

Revised Alaska Marijuana Bill Removes It From Controlled Substances List; Adds New Misdemeanors. The legislature's effort to regulate legal marijuana has been revised to remove pot from the controlled substances list, according to an updated draft of Senate Bill 30. The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana, including selling it without a license, possessing more than six plants, transporting more than an ounce, providing it to minors, and making hash oil with a volatile or explosive gas. The bill got a hearing in committee yesterday.

California's Attorney General Not Opposed to Legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law enforcement officer and Democratic front-runner for a 2016 US Senate seat has said she has no moral objection to legalizing marijuana, but worries about impacts on children and public safety. "I don't have any moral opposition to legalization," she said, "but I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details... to make sure that if it were legalized... that vulnerable people are safe."

Private Group Sues Colorado Over Legalization. Two months ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's legal marijuana law, and now, two more lawsuits are being filed by a private group, Safe Streets Alliance, an anti-crime organization led by a former Reagan administration official. In one suit, two Colorado property owners are suing a handful of marijuana industry participants under federal racketeering laws and state and local officials under the charge that they are violating the constitution's supremacy clause by not enforcing federal law. In the other suit, Safe Streets joined with the Holiday Inn in Frisco to sue a number of marijuana industry participants on racketeering charges. That suit claims that a planned legal marijuana store is causing the hotel to "suffer injuries to its business and property." Pot supporters say the lawsuits are unlikely to go anywhere.

Hawaii Senate Committee Passes Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Health Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 596, which would decriminalize up to an ounce, replacing a petty misdemeanor with a civil infraction and a $100 fine.

Two Michigan 2016 Legalization Initiative Efforts Getting Underway. At least two different groups are eyeing a legalization initiative effort next year. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank filed paperwork Tuesday for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, while East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, a marijuana industry advocacy group, filed paperwork last month to create the Michigan Responsibility Council, which says it will soon transform itself into a ballot committee for 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Bill Would Free Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzanskey. Rep. Shamed Dogan this week filed House Bill 978, which would require the release of anyone serving life without parole for marijuana offenses. That means Jeff Mirzanskey, who is 21 years into his life sentence. Efforts have been afoot to persuade Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to commute his sentence, but he has yet to do so.

Medical Marijuana

Activists Target Wasserman Schultz Over Medical Marijuana Stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

Colorado Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Gets Stripped Down. The bill, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crackdown on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Defeated. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was defeated in the House Wednesday on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Ruidoso) has introduced a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance. It does not yet have a bill number and is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Wyoming Legislators Prepare to Try to Override Governor's Veto of Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state Tuesday, but the bill passed by a veto-proof margin, and now legislators and bill supporters are angling for an override vote. The measure, Senate File 14, passed the Senate 26-3 and the House 54-6.

Undertreatment of Pain

New Federal Opiate Prescription Rules Are Causing Problems for Veterans. Restrictions on prescription opiates adopted last summer by the DEA are causing hardships for veterans, the Washington Post reports in a lengthy piece. And it's not just veterans, but they're being hit particularly hard. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Sentence for Pot Dealer. Utah resident Weldon Angelos has already spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of three marijuana sales while he had a pistol in his sock. That pistol led to consecutive mandatory minimum sentences resulting in a whopping 55 years in prison for the aspiring rapper. Now, Paul Cassell, the then federal judge who sentenced him, wishes he had a do over. "I do think about Angelos," he said. "I sometimes drive near the prison where he's held, and I think, 'Gosh he shouldn't be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there... That wasn't the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it. I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds," Cassell continued. "But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that. I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer," Cassell pointed out. "I think it's just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don't really think anyone believes that's an appropriate sentence."

Utah Ready for Drug Defelonization, Poll Finds. Strong majorities of Utahns favor defelonizing drug possession offenses, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Some 58% support defelonization, while 59% said probation and community-based drug treatment were more appropriate than jail for being caught with small amounts of drugs. The poll comes as a defelonization bill, House Bill 348, is introduced today.

International

UK Liberal Democrat Leader Supports Medical Marijuana. Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, has said people should be able to use marijuana to alleviate medical problems. "I strongly agree that where there is a proven medicinal use for cannabis for instance we should make that easier for those to have access to it in a straightforward legal way in order to alleviate the symptoms that you clearly have that you know as a user are alleviated by the use of cannabis," he said. "Let's take a more intelligent approach -- where there is a clear medicinal use, make sure you have access to that in a regulated way." This is yet one more way that the Lib Dems and the Tories are at odds on drug policy.

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

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Arizona narc gets caught sleeping with the enemy, a Hawaii prison guard goes away for smuggling contraband to gang members, and an Illinois police dispatcher is in trouble for snatching pain pills. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In White Hall, Illinois, a White Hall police dispatcher pleaded guilty last Wednesday to stealing prescription opiates from the White Hall Police Department evidence room. Amanda Morrow, 29, had been arrested in June along with another dispatcher and a Roodhouse police officer, who was charged with distributing a controlled substance. She was sentenced to two years' probation and a $1350 fine.

In Phoenix, a former Tempe undercover narcotics officer was sentenced last Wednesday to probation after being caught having sex with a man who was the target of an undercover drug investigation and telling him he was being investigated. Jessica Dever-Jakusz was sentenced to 18 months' probation. Dever-Jakusz was working undercover with other Tempe narcotics detectives targeting downtown restaurants and bars. Police said her revelations to the suspect scuttled a five-month investigation.

In Honolulu, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Friday to nearly nine years in federal prison for delivering drugs to gang members inside the prison. Feso Malufau, 55, was found guilty of racketeering and conspiring to obtain and distribute meth into the Halawa Correctional Facility. Prosecutors said Malufau was paid thousands of dollars to smuggle meth, cigarettes, and other contraband to USO gang members.

Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Blocked, AL Life Sentence for Pot, Ominous Afghan Opium News, More (2/18/15)

A New Jersey coalition for marijuana reform has formed, an Alabama judge sentences a man to life in prison over 2 1/2 pounds of pot, the Hawaii legislature advances a dispensary bill, asset forfeiture reform gets slapped down in Virginia and Wyoming, the opium trade is expanding in western Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Coalition Forms, Includes Prosecutors. Representatives from a number of groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association held a news conference in Newark today to announce the formation of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Cannabis Chamber Supports Tightened Regulations on Caregivers. The chamber, which represents recreational marijuana business interests, has come out in support of Senate Bill 14, which would require medical marijuana caregivers to be licensed and registered with the state. The measure would help law enforcement maintain a tighter control on who is growing how much marijuana for whom. The chamber said the "caregivers system is being abused" by people who don't want to abide by the same regulations as the rest of the industry. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins House Committee Vote. Fourteen years after the legislature approved medical marijuana, it may finally get around to approving dispensaries. A bill that would do that, House Bill 321, was approved by the House Committee on Health and the Judiciary Tuesday. It now goes before the House Committee on Finance. A similar proposal in the Senate was slated for a decision in a joint committee hearing today.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Senate Committee Vote. An asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week has been killed in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure, House Bill 1287, was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James County) said the bill will now be studied by the State Crime Commission.

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have made it more difficult for police and prosecutors to seize property from people they believe are involved in drug crimes. The bill, Senate File 14, would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. Mead, a former US attorney, said he didn't believe asset forfeiture had been abused in the state. The measure passed both houses by a veto-proof margin, so stay tuned.

Harm Reduction

Virginia 911 Good Samaritan Bill Awaits Final Senate Vote. A bill that would provide protection from prosecution to people who report drug overdoses has passed the Senate and House of Delegates, but was amended in the House and now requires a final Senate concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The measure is Senate Bill 892.

Sentencing

Alabama Man Gets Life in Prison for Marijuana Distribution. A Houston County judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to life in prison Tuesday for trafficking 2 ½ pounds of pot. Richard Bolden was also hit with another eight years for bail-jumping -- to be served consecutively. Bolden had one prior federal drug conviction and was out on bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, but had not been convicted of that. He had also been arrested 37 times, but never actually convicted in any of those arrests. But prosecutors said he was "a habitual and dangerous criminal offender" and the judge agreed.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Man Jailed on Three Meth Charges Freed After Tests Showed Powder Was Vitamins, Not Amphetamines. Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, spent three months in jail on meth charges after a Mankato police officer mistook his vitamins for meth. Burrell tried to tell the cops what the powder was, but they didn't believe him and jailed him on $250,000 bail. He was set for trial February 4, but test results came back two days before, and police were forced to admit he was telling the truth. The charges were dropped and Burrell was released. No mention of restitution.

International

Opium Booms in Western Afghanistan; Taliban, ISIS, Corrupt Officials Benefit. A weak government in Kabul is unable or unwilling to reign in rampant opium production and trafficking in remote western Farah province bordering Iran. Taliban insurgents control half the region, a former Taliban commander who has pledged allegiance to ISIS is roaming the area with a band of dozens of gunmen, and police and local government officials seem more interested in profiting off the crop than suppressing it. That bodes ill for the Kabul government. Much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: VT MJ Legalization Bill, Texas Pot Lobby Day, Federal Sentencing Softens, More (2/17/15)

There's now a marijuana lhttp://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/iowans-plead-for-expanded-medical-marijuana-program-20150216egalization bill in Vermont, an Ohio initiative decides to allow home cultivation, Attorney General holder touts a softening in federal charging and sentencing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

It's marijuana lobby day at the Texas capitol in Austin Wednesday. (texasmarijuanapolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

Responsible Ohio Revises Initiative, Will Allow for Home Grows. "After extensive conversations with experts and concerned citizens across the state and nation, Responsible Ohio has decided to include regulated and limited home growing as a part of our amendment," Responsible Ohio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander said in a press release Monday. "Combined with a lower tax rate for consumers, these changes will make our communities safer by smothering the black market." The group's original proposal had called for only 10 grow sites in the state. At least one other group, Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, has a competing initiative campaign underway.

Texans to Lobby for Marijuana Reforms in Austin Wednesday. Texans will gather at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to urge elected officials to support House Bill 507, which reduces the penalties for possession, and for establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. The lobbying effort is being led by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Click on the title link for event details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed. Sen. David Zuckerman has filed Senate Bill 95, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults, establish a regulatory system for marijuana commerce, and impose a $40 an ounce excise tax on marijuana sold in the state. Whether the bill will go anywhere remains to be seen; key legislative leaders said they did not plan to hold hearings on it this year.

Wyoming Legalization Study Bill Killed. A bill to study the impact of legalization in neighboring states was killed on the House floor late last week. House Bill 187 was defeated on a vote of 39-19. The governor's office has the money to do a study, and that may still happen, but it won't be tied to finishing before the next legislative session, as was the case with this bill.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Plead for Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. A small number of Iowa patients and family members appeared before state legislators Monday to ask for expansion of the state's medical marijuana program, which they say is effectively useless as is. Each speaker called on legislators to expand the law to allow them to legally produce and obtain the high-CBD cannabis oils that could aid them. A law passed last year allows Iowans to use the cannabis oils, but not to produce or import them.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Touts More Flexible Federal Sentencing. The attorney general today said federal prosecutors are changing the way drug defendants are charged and sentenced, and he cited US Sentencing Commission statistics to back himself up. The new figures show prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum sentences in only 51% of their cases, the lowest rate on record, and down from 64% last year. Federal drug trafficking cases also declined by 6%. Holder said that showed prosecutors are being more selective in which cases they bring.

International

Uruguay's Medical Marijuana Will Be More Expensive Than Recreational Marijuana. As the country moves slowly towards rolling out its legal marijuana program, officials there are saying that medical marijuana will be more expensive than recreational because it will have to be grown separately from recreational, it will be grown by different companies, and it will be grown under stricter -- more expensive -- controls than pot for the recreational market.

Chronicle AM: CO 2014 Legal Pot Sales at $700 Million, Kettle Falls 5 Will Go to Trial, More (2/13/15)

Final marijuana sales figures are in for Colorado, twin legalization bills are filed in Maryland, a second Ohio legalization initiative campaign gets underway, a federal judge orders the Kettle Falls Five to trial, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

$700 Million in Legal Weed Sales for Colorado Last Year. According to the state Department of Revenue, total legal marijuana sales in 2014 amounted to $699,198,805. That's $385.9 million for medical marijuana and $313.2 million for recreational weed. Since 2014 was the rollout year for legal recreational marijuana sales in the state, look for that figure to increase next year.

Maryland Legalization Bills Introduced. Identical bills to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana were filed in the state House and Senate last week. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) filed the bills, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and grow six plants at their homes and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce. The Senate version is Senate Bill 531; the House version is House Bill 911.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing Tuesday. There will be a public hearing on House Bill 618 Tuesday, as well as pre-hearing press conference. The press conference is at 1:30pm and the hearing is at 2:30pm. The bill would decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less and make growing six or fewer plants a misdemeanor.

Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Coming. A second Ohio group wants to put legalization on the 2016 ballot. Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis is turning in a ballot petition and 1,000 preliminary signatures today for its proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The amendment would legalize marijuana for those 18 and older, allow for marijuana commerce, and allow non-commercial grows of up to 99 plants and possession of up to 99 pounds. Another group, Responsible Ohio, is also in the early stages of its petition drive. The Responsible Ohio measure would set up 10 designated commercial grows and has no provision for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Rejects "Kettle Falls 5" Request to Throw Out Charges. Five Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted by federal authorities will have to go to trial. A federal judge Thursday refused to dismiss the criminal case against them, even though the prosecution appears to violate Justice Department guidelines for medical marijuana prosecutions and even though marijuana is now legal in their state.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. After a month of deliberations, the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources has announced a bill that would create a one-year pilot program in which food stamp applicants in three counties would be subject to screening for drug use and some would be required to take and pass drug tests at their own expense. The measure is House Bill 2021.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Hike Penalties for School Zone Drug Sales. State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) has filed Senate Bill 212, which would add three, four, or five years to sentences for drug sales or manufacturing within 1,000 feet of a school or preschool. The bill would also extend existing school zone law to include private property within the zone.

International

Massive Raid on Liverpool Nightclub. Garlands nightclub, one of the city's oldest and most popular, has been shut down after a massive police raid Thursday night. More than 140 officers stormed the club after a months-long investigation into drug sales at the venue. Police were seeking a court hearing today to shut it down permanently. More than 300 revelers were evicted from the club before police searched it. Police said they found large quantities of drugs on the scene, but only arrested two men.

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress [FEATURE]

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

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, last week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

"We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system," the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

  • restore proportionality to drug sentencing;
  • promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming;
  • make sentencing reductions retroactive;
  • expand BOP's Compassionate Release Program; and
  • expand time credits for good behavior.

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as the Obama administration and members of both parties have all shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth. Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I've expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing," he said earlier this year. "White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there's an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity."

"It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration," said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. "To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry."

"It's clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "It's important that legislation doesn't just paper over the cracks."

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A suburban Philly cop is under suspicion in a case of missing drug evidence, a former Philly cop who worked with a dealer to rip off other dealers is heading to prison, and so is a former Virginia cop and DEA task force member who used his position to gain sexual favors. Let's get to it:

In Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, an unnamed police is under investigation after drugs and cash went missing from evidence. The Delaware County DA's Office is looking into it.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to conspiring with drug dealers to steal money and drugs from other dealers. Christopher Saravello, 37, admitted working with South Philly drug dealer Robert Nagy in committing between 10 and 20 robberies, as well as three more robberies with two other dealers. The dealers would set up a drug buy, then Saravello would show up in uniform and pretend to bust the deal. He allegedly scored at least $9,800 in cash from the scheme. He resigned from the force in 2012, when the department discovered he was strung out on pain pills. He's now looking at up to 120 years in federal prison.

In Roanoke, Virginia, a former Salem police officer and DEA task force member was sentenced Tuesday to 2 ½ years in federal prison for soliciting and receiving sexual favors from defendants in return for agreeing to recommend leniency for them. Kevin Moore, 42, admitted that while he served as a DEA task force officer, he told a female meth defendant he could get her a lighter sentence if she performed a sex act on him. She did. He also admitted doing the same thing with two other female defendants in federal drug investigations dating back to 2009. In those cases, he admitted lying to the women, saying he had already convinced prosecutors not to charge them with crimes that would carry a heavy prison sentence. He had not.

Chronicle AM: IA MJ Penalty Bill Moves, NM Hemp Bill Moves, MD Heroin OD Homicide Bill Filed, More (2/11/15)

Missouri's marijuana lifer may get a shot at freedom, Colorado is raking in the tax dollars from pot, the VA is pondering how to deal with medical marijuana for veterans, medical marijuana regulation bills pop up in California and Washington, and more. Let's get to it:

Dealers who sell dope that someone ODs on could be charged with murder under a Maryland bill. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Took in $76 Million in Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. The state collected $44 million in recreational marijuana taxes and another $12 million in recreational pot fees last year. Taxes and fees on medical marijuana added another $19 million, bringing the total revenues to $76 million. The recreational pot tax bonanza is less than what was estimated before legalization, but is still a hefty chunk of change.

Iowa Bill to Cut Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved Senate Study Bill 1121, which would make possession of less than five grams a simple misdemeanor with a maximum 30-day jail term. Currently, possession is punishable by up to six months in jail. Senators who approved the bill said it was an effort to address racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system. Iowa has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in pot busts of any state.

Missouri Governor Will Take "Hard Look" at Pardoning Marijuana Lifer. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said Tuesday he will review the case of Jezz Mizanskey, 61, who is serving life in state prison for a marijuana conviction. Mizanskey has been behind bars for 21 years already after being convicted of a third nonviolent pot offense. "It's a very serious amount of time," Nixon said. "If the laws change after someone is sentenced, then you want to give those things a close look." An online petition seeking Mizanskey's release has more than 386,000 signatures.

Medical Marijuana

VA Tells House Committee It is Actively Exploring Medical Marijuana for Veterans. A top Department of Veterans Affairs official told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today "there are active discussions going on now" about how to deal with the growing number of vets seeking to use medical marijuana for their ailments. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA's interim under secretary for health, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday "there's an incredible opportunity for us to learn from some of those experiences, but I think that we have to be careful given the variation in legal issues."

California Regulation Bill Supported by Cops and Cities Introduced. Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) Monday filed Assembly Bill 266 with the backing of the California League of Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The bill seeks to impose state-wide regulation on the Golden State's medical marijuana scene, but California NORML says it has some objectionable features, including too stringent transportation regulations, inadequate provision for the licensing of current growers, and a prohibition on licenses for people with prior drug offenses.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Filed; Would Not Allow Smoking It. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed House Bill 683, which would only allow people with eight specified medical conditions to use it and which bars the used of smoked marijuana. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) earlier filed another, less restrictive medical marijuana bill. "The big differences are, it doesn't allow for smokeable marijuana," Steube said Tuesday of his bill and Brandes' bill. "Brandes, in his bill, says a doctor could prescribe (medical marijuana) if you had severe and persistent pain. That was taken out. We kept it to specific diseases."

Washington State Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Introduced. Reps. Luis Moscoso (D-Kirkland) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) have introduced House Bill 2058 to create a licensed and regulated medical marijuana system for the state. The bill is identical to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in 2011 only to be vetoed by then Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) over fears of federal intervention.

Hemp

New Mexico Hemp Bill Advances. The Senate Conservation Committee Tuesday voted 9-0 to approve the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Senate Bill 94). Sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), the measure would allocate $100,000 for the regents of New Mexico State University, the state's land grant university, to establish a seed bank and seed certification program for hemp. An additional $50,000 would be appropriated under the bill for the state Department of Public Safety to train officers to identify industrial hemp. A similar bill has been filed in the House by Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque).

Heroin

Maryland Bill Would Allow Heroin Dealers to Be Charged With Murder in ODs. Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County) Tuesday filed House Bill 222, which would allow prosecutors to seek homicide charges in heroin or fentanyl overdose deaths that can be linked to a specific dealer. The maximum sentence would be 30 years in prison. The bill had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee the same day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Heroin Summit Tomorrow. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is hosting a summit on heroin in Raleigh tomorrow. "Together with law enforcement, members of the NC medical and public health community, NC legislators, and people who have used or been impacted by heroin, we will engage in a series of panel events focused on discussing legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related overdose in the state," the group says. Click on the title link for event details.

Maine Governor Won't Support Expanding Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Tuesday that he would oppose efforts to expand access naloxone. Rep. Henry Beck (D-Waterville) has introduced HP 98, which would allow friends of drug users to carry the overdose reversal drug and has a Good Samaritan provision. A similar bill last year allowed family members and law enforcement to carry the drug, but the friends and Good Samaritan provisions were stripped out at LePage's insistence. Now, legislators will try again.

International

Transnational Institute Brief on Reforming Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America. The Institute has made available "Fixing a Broken System: Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America," the latest of its series on legislative reform of drug policies. It argues that drug prohibition has mostly failed to reduce supply and demand while creating new problems and creating vast collateral damage. It has a number of recommendations; click on the link to read them.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Hemp

Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."

International

British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

Drug War Issues

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