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Chronicle AM: MT Asset Forfeiture Reform Passes Legislature, IL Pot Decrim Passes House, More (4/24/15)

Decrim advances in Illinois, an Ohio legalization initiative is rolling along, asset forfeiture reform passes in Montana and is now under consideration in Michigan, Vancouver will regulate its dispensaries, and more.

2015 is looking like the year of asset forfeiture reform. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois House Passes Decriminalization Bill. The House Thursday approved House Bill 218, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Cassidy (D-Chicago). The bill would make possession of 15 grams or less an infraction punishable only by a fine of no more than $125. Under current law, people face up to a year in jail for simple possession. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Making Progress on Signature-Gathering. The Responsible Ohio legalization initiative campaign has gathered more than 180,000 signatures in its effort to put its initiative before voters in November. Buckeye State initiatives need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, so the group probably needs to gather something like 400,000 signatures to ensure that disqualifications don't knock it off the ballot. Responsible Ohio says it is aiming even higher—for 700,000 signatures. They have until July to gather them. A second legalization initiative, aiming at 2016, Ohioans To End Prohibition, is just in the initial phase of its campaign, while a third effort, led by the Ohio Rights Group, says it will not manage to qualify this year and has filed Election Commission complaints claiming that people associated with Responsible Ohio have interfered with its efforts.

Heroin

Heroin Use Up Sharply in Past Decade, SAMSHA Says. The number of heroin users in the country was stable at around 400,000 between 2002 and 2007, but began increasing in 2008 and reached 681,000 by 2013, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). But that's still less than one-third of 1% of the population. Another 11 million people, or 4% of the population, used prescription pills for off-label reasons.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Package Filed. A bipartisan package of eight asset forfeiture reform bills was filed Wednesday with support from the legislature's Republican leadership. One bill would create uniform, mandatory reporting requirements and raise the standard of evidence needed for a seizure from "a preponderance" to "clear and convincing." Another bill would bar seizures of vehicles used by someone buying an ounce of pot or less. The package doesn't include a bill to ban civil asset forfeiture outright, but it's a start.

Montana Legislature Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would end civil asset forfeiture passed the House Thursday. House Bill 463 had already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor's desk. New Mexico and Wyoming have both passed similar laws this year; the New Mexico governor signed hers, but the Wyoming governor vetoed his.

Drug Testing

Florida ACLU Targets Police Field Drug Tests. The ACLU of Florida is investigating the presumptive field test kits police use to make drug arrests. The move comes just a day after Hillsborough County Public Defender called them "faulty" and "inaccurate." Scientists have reported that kits like the Nark 2 are unreliable, but thousands of people have been arrested on the basis of their field test results.

Louisiana Bill Would Let Employers Drug Test Hair. The House Health Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 379, which would allow employers to use hair drug tests on potential hires. Hair drug tests can detect use going back as far as three months. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

Seattle Doing Mass Arrests to Clean Up Downtown Drug Dealing. Police in Seattle have arrested more than a hundred people in two days in a push to clean up open-air drug dealing downtown. The arrests involved undercover officers making pot, heroin, meth, and cocaine buys. Prosecutors said they would seek judicial orders barring those people from returning to the area, but that they would seek diversion programs in other cases.

International

Vancouver Moves to Regulate Marijuana Stores; Ottawa Not Happy. Vancouver has announced plans to regulate the more than 80 unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city, making it the first city in Canada to do so. But the federal Health Minister is warning the city not to do it, saying it would "normalize" marijuana sales.

Drug Cartel Violence Flares in Mexican Border State. Gun battles and arson attacks flared for the second time in a week in Tamaulipas, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas border towns such as Harlingen and Brownsville. The brouhaha broke out after police captured four alleged Gulf Cartel members and included blockades in the town of Altamira. At least two people were killed. Earlier this month, major violence broke out in Reynosa after the arrest of a Gulf Cartel leader. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in prohibition-related violence since 2006. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Holding Motorists on Highway to Await Drug Dog Searches Not OK, Supreme Court Rules

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

In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures.

In the decade since the Supreme Court held in Illinois v. Cabellas that a drug dog sniff of a vehicle that did not extend a traffic stop was not a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement agencies across the country have routinely detained drivers on the roadside awaiting arrival of a drug dog, then used drug dog alerts as "probable cause" to allow vehicle searches.

The practice left motorists in a legal limbo where there was no actionable cause to detain them, but they were not free to be on their way. Today's ruling from the Supreme Court says that is not okay.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely -- the ostensible reason for the stops.

"A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said.

Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote.

"A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said.

The ruling came in Rodriguez v. US, in which Dennys Rodriguez had been pulled over in Nebraska for a traffic infraction. He was issued a warning ticket for driving on the shoulder of the road, but then made to wait on the roadside for the arrival of a drug dog 10 minutes later. After the drug dog alerted, his vehicle was searched, methamphetamine was found, and he was charged and convicted.

While the decision is a boon to motorists, it's not a get-out-of-jail-free card for Rodriguez. The evidence derived from the drug dog search has been thrown out, but his case remanded to the lower courts, prosecutors will still have a chance to try to prove there was other reasonable suspicion to think he was carrying drugs.

Head of Scandal-Plagued DEA to Resign [FEATURE]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, an unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate.

[It's now official: Attorney General Holder announced Leonhart's retirement in a statement late this afternoon.]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is on her way out the door. (justice.gov/dea)
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pronounced themselves agog over recent reports of DEA agents in Colombia partying with prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer dollars, sometimes paid for by Colombian drug traffickers. Those revelations came in a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report issued last month.

Members were infuriated by the DEA's handling of the case, in which 10 DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing. Only seven of them were disciplined, and the punishment was extremely light: they were suspended for periods of one to 10 days. Leonhart drew the wrath of committee members when she claimed she was unable to discipline the agents more severely.

"What would it take to get fired at the DEA?" asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who said he was "stunned" that no one had been fired in the wake of the revelations. "What the hell do you have to do?"

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told Leonhart that as agency head she carried much of the responsibility for what he called "a cultural problem" at the agency stretching back years.

"You get called before this committee and say 'Oh, it's terrible, it's awful,'" Chaffetz said at the conclusion of the hearing. "But you personally have been responsible for this for more than a decade and you didn't do anything about it."

Immediately after last Tuesday's hearing, 22 members of the committee signed a joint statement saying they had "no confidence" in Leonhart's continued leadership.

And now word leaks from the White House that Leonhart is about to become history.

It's been a long time coming. The veteran DEA administrator and her agency have been embroiled in scandal throughout her tenure. And she and the DEA have been increasingly out of step with an administration that has shown an interest in rolling back drug war excesses, from major sentencing reforms to largely (if belatedly) adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward medical marijuana and even marijuana legalization in the states.

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • A series of recent investigations by USA Today found that the DEA has been tracking billions of U.S. phone calls without warrants or even suspicion of wrong-doing, an operation copied by the NSA and other agencies after 9/11. The DEA built the modern surveillance state.
  • DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana. In a bizarre 2012 debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Drug reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), both of which had been calling for Leonhart's head for some time, were elated, but urged the Obama administration to use this as an opportunity not to just put a new face in charge of DEA, but to change the agency's direction.

"Leonhart's DEA reflects an outdated, disastrous approach that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind,” said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "If she leaves, he has an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the DEA and support drug policy reform. The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems. Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore," he said.

"Ms. Leonhart consistently and recklessly undermined President Obama's mandate that public policy be guided by science instead of ideology. Her resignation will allow the president to appoint an administrator who will rely on the facts rather than ignore them," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies.

"Most Americans, including President Obama, recognize the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yet, Ms. Leonhart was unwilling to even acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm than heroin and methamphetamine," Riffle continued. "While most of the country has been progressing in its views on marijuana policy, Ms. Leonhart has maintained a mindset straight out of the 1930s. Hopefully her resignation will mark the end of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era at the DEA."

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim Now in Effect, First CA 2016 Legalization Init Filed, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (4/16/15)

A Northern California attorney is first out of the gate with a 2016 legalization initiative, a CBD cannabis oil bill becomes law in Georgia, and another awaits the governor's signature in Oklahoma, congressmen say they have "no confidence" in DEA head Leonhart, decrim is now in effect in Jamaica, and more. 

This Rastaman has reason to smile. Decrim has come to Jamaica. (wikimedia.,org)
Marijuana Policy

First 2016 California Legalization Initiative Filed.  Sebastopol marijuana attorney Omar Figueroa and attorney Heather Burke have filed the California Craft Cannabis Initiative, the first of what are expected to be several measures seeking to legalize marijuana in the state next year. Proponents say it is an inclusive effort designed to protect the state's legacy of artisanal marijuana growers. To make the ballot, initiatives must see their language approved by the state Attorney General's office, and then they have 180 days to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures.

Frustrated Vermont Legislators Propose Treating Alcohol Like Marijuana. A pair of House members Wednesday filed a bill that would ban alcohol and treat it like marijuana. The move was a frustrated reaction to stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol.  The bill is House Bill 502, and lead sponsor Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) said he doesn't really want to ban alcohol, but that the bill is a symbolic step "recognize recent scientific studies that demonstrate that alcohol use is significantly more dangerous than marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

2016 California Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. A group of medical marijuana activists have filed the Compassionate and Sensible Access Act, which is designed to protect a doctor's right to recommend medical marijuana and limit officials' ability to regulate cultivation, distribution, and transportation of the plant. To make the ballot, the language must first be approved by state officials, then campaigners will have to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures within 180 days of starting.

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) today signed into law House Bill 1, which allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil for a list of specified diseases and medical conditions. The bill allows patients to possess the oil, but has no provision for obtaining it in the state.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 124, which would allow for the use of the oil to treat seizure disorders in children. The bill passed the House in February and now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa House Committee Hearing on Asset Forfeiture Reform Gets Heated. Law enforcement squared off against civil libertarians in a House Government Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday. No bill was on the agenda, but committee Chair Rep. Bobby Kaufman (R-Wilton) said after the hearing he planned to author reform legislation next year. Click on the link for more detail.

Drug Policy

Federal Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Bill Filed. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) has reintroduced the bill, HR 1812. It's been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Law Enforcement

House Oversight Committee Has "No Confidence" in DEA Head Leonhart. Fed up with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart over a long litany of scandals in the drug-fighting agency she heads, 22 members of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee issued a statement yesterday saying they had "no confidence" in her leadership. "After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," the statement said. "From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency."

Sordid Philadelphia Police Drug War Corruption Trial Underway. This one is a doozy! A trial now in its third week is ripping the lid off scandalously criminal behavior by the police department's dope squad. Stolen drug money, planted evidence, perjured testimony, beaten suspects, it's got it all. Click on the link for more detail.

International

Jah Herb is Now Decriminalized in Jamaica. Marijuana decriminalization went into effect Wednesday in the island nation. Anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. And adult Rastafarians can now use the herb for religious purposes. Irie.

Elite Texas Cops "Spied on Mexico," Report Says. Department of Public Safety documents show that an elite reconnaissance team formed by Gov. Rick Perry did aerial surveillance of Mexican drug cartel targets on the Mexican side of the border. Aircraft were used to track suspected Zeta cartel members and passed that information on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which in turn worked with Mexican military forces to target them. 

Chronicle AM: IA & VA Pot Polls; Ecuador Reform Bill, New Federal Cosponsors, More (4/14/15)

Congress is back and reform bills are picking up new cosponsors, new polls have Iowa dead even on pot legalization and Virginia favoring it, a major medical marijuana conference is coming, Ecuador begins debating a groundbreaking drug reform bill, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on civil asset forfeiture reform tomorrow. (judiciary.senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Prohibition Repeal Bill Picks Up New Cosponsor. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is the latest sponsor of HR 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. The bill now has 14 cosponsors -- 13 Democrats and one Republican. Click the link to for more bill information.

Iowa Poll Has State Split on Legalization, Strong Support for Medical. A new Quinnipiac University poll has Iowans split 47% to 47% on legalizing pot, but overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana, with 86% saying they support it.

Virginia Poll Has Majority for Legalization.A new Quinnipiac University poll has Virginians backing marijuana legalization, with 54% in favor and only 41% opposed. The poll also had support for medical marijuana above 80%.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The CARERS Act, HR 1538, which would end federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, has picked up new sponsors over the recess. The latest are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Joseph Heck (R-NV). The bill now has 12 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click the link for more bill information.

Federal CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Access Act, HR 1635, which would remove cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). The bill now has 20 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of seizures in children Monday night. House Bill 197 now awaits the signatures of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Picks Up New Cosponsor. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act, HR 525, which would remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up a new cosponsor. The latest is Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). The bill now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

Asset Forfeiture

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Tomorrow. The committee will hear from an asset forfeiture abuse victim and an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which has been fighting to rein in such abuses, as well as a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will also address the panel.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crothersville) today filed an amendment to Senate Bill 465 that would require welfare recipients to undergo screening for drug use and require those identified as high-risk to undergo drug testing.

Sentencing

House Version of Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Picks Up New Cosponsors. The House version of the Smarter Sentencing Act, HR 920, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR). The bill now has 26 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and six Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

International

Ecuador Debates Bill That Would Regulate, Not Prohibit, Controlled Substances. Last Thursday, legislators in Quito began debating a new Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention. The bill, supported by the ruling PAIS Alliance, would "control" more than a hundred substances, including alcohol and tobacco and calls for a Technical Secretariat of Drugs to "regulate and control the activities related to the import, export, cultivation, production, marketing, distribution, transportation, and use" of those substances. Under current Ecuadorian law, cultivation or sale of banned substances garners prison sentences of 12 to 16 years; under the new law, that would be replaced by fines and seizures of the substances. Debate on the bill is expected to happen intermittently over the next few months.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Talks Drugs, CA Legalization Meetings, WI Legalization Bill, More (4/13/15)

Rand Paul has a campaign theme he hopes will resonate, Californians will be meeting to plot a legalization initiative next year, a Maryland marijuana paraphernalia decrim bill heads to the governor, the British Labor Party is hinting at a softening of its hard-line drug policy, and more:

Sen. Rand Paul is making drug and criminal justice policy a campaign issue. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana in Alaska Will Be a "Regulated" Substance, Not a "Controlled" One Under House Bill. The House Judiciary Committee will remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances and move it to the list of regulated ones, committee chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) said Friday. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 30, keeps marijuana as a controlled substance, so this isn't a done deal just yet.

California Marijuana Legalization Meetings Set. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will hold a public forum at UCLA on August 21. That will be followed by another forum in Santa Cruz on April 23. Click on the title link for more info and to RSVP. People who want a voice in how legalization is going to look in the Golden State need to show up.

Colorado February Pot Sales Hit Record. Recreational marijuana outlets sold $39.2 million worth of weed in February, beating the previous monthly record of $36.4 million, set the previous month. Much of the increase is being attributed to the opening of more marijuana stores, especially in Aurora, the state's third largest city.

Maryland Legislature Approves Paraphernalia Decriminalization. In what was largely a housekeeping move after the state decriminalized marijuana possession last year, the legislature has approved a bill decriminalizing the tools used to smoke it. The measure is Senate Bill 456. It won final approval in the House Saturday and now goes to the governor's desk.

Missouri Bill to Free Marijuana Lifer Advances. A bill that would  free Jeff Mizanskey, who is doing life without parole in state prison for a marijuana offense, has advanced. The measure, HB 978, passed the House Select Committee on the Judiciary last week, but amended it so that Mizanskey is not automatically set free, but instead will be able to seek parole. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Washington House Approves Bill to Reconcile Medical, Recreational Marijuana Systems. The House last Friday approved Senate Bill 5052, which has already passed the Senate. But because the House amended it, it will have to go back to the upper chamber for a final vote. The bill would create a patient registry, eliminate the current collective garden structure and replace it with four-person growing cooperatives, and require state regulators to use a merit-based system for granting marijuana business licenses, which should help out collective gardens trying to go recreational. The patient registry would be voluntary, but people would have to sign up if they wanted to avoid having to pay taxes on their medical marijuana purchases.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) today introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill would create a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website, but she authored a similar bill last year. That bill went nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature, and this one is expected to meet the same fate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The bill, Senate Bill 7066, would expand the number of businesses that could participate from five to 20. It was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, but without addressing complaints from black farmers that they had been shut out of the process. It now goes to the Senate floor.

Hemp

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill. Gov. Susana Martinez last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed research into industrial hemp. The bill, Senate Bill 94, was filed by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), a political foe of Martinez, and McSorley said he thought the veto was "political payback."

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Attacks the Drug War. The junior Republican senator from Kentucky who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination used a speech in Las Vegas last Saturday to blast the drug war. "The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and puts police in an impossible situation," Paul said. "It has fostered tension in our inner cities. There is an undercurrent of unease in our country." He also argued that ongoing racial tensions stem in part from unfairness in the laws and their enforcement. "Criminal justice reform is not a black problem or a white problem," Paul said. "Everyone should be treated the same under the laws of this country regardless of what religion they are, what color their skin is or how poor they are."

International

British Labor Party's Election Manifesto Hints It May Shift Slightly on Drug Policy. Even though Labor has attacked the Liberal Democrats as "soft on drugs" during the run-up to British elections, Labor's own election manifesto hints that it, too, may be softening. The manifesto says that taxpayers pay the cost of "drink and drug misuse" and offers "early years intervention" -- not more arrests and more imprisonment -- as a solution. "We know drug addiction continues to be a major cause of crime," the manifesto says. "We will ensure drug treatment services focus on the root causes of addiction, with proper integration between health, police and local authorities in the commissioning of treatment." Again, the emphasis is on treatment, not punishment. Labor appears unwilling to continue with its "tough on drugs" approach, but also unwilling to forthrightly articulate a more liberal approach.

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

Chronicle AM: Obama Talks Ganja in Jamaica, NM Ends Policing for Profit, More (4/10/15)

President Obama talks ganja in Jamaica, a federal banking official talks shop in Colorado, New Mexico takes a historic step to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Rastaman Queries Obama on Marijuana Policy. At a town hall event in Kingston, Jamaica, a dreadlocked Rastafarian asked President Obama about legalizing marijuana. "Give thanks! Yes greetings Mr. President," said the man, "Life and blessings on you and your family. My name is Miguel Williams but you can call I and I 'steppa'... That is quite sufficient, ya man." Williams then set out the case for legalization and asked if Obama would champion it. "How did I anticipate this question?" was Obama's joking response. "Well, there is the issue of legalization of marijuana and then there is the issue of decriminalizing or dealing with the incarceration in some cases devastation of communities as a consequence of nonviolent drug offenses," Obama said. "I am a very strong believer that the path that we have taken in the United States in the so-called 'war on drugs' has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive," he said to some applause. But he didn't address the question of whether the US should legalize, only whether it would. "I do not foresee, any time soon, Congress changing the law at a national basis," he said.

Federal Banking Official Meets With Colorado Pot Shops. Kansas City Federal Reserve President Esther George met with marijuana business owners in Denver Thursday to discuss vexing access to banking issues with proprietors. But she gave no indication that the industry is on the verge of gaining increased access to financial services. Click the link for more details.

Kansas Attorney General Asks State Supreme Court to Undo Wichita Decriminalization Vote. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the high court to strike down the decriminalization ballot measure approved by Wichita voters on Tuesday. In a court filing Thursday, Schmidt argued that the ordinance would conflict with state law, that it would give unlawful direction to police and judges, and that the initiative was not properly filed because it did not contain a "be it ordained" clause required by state law.

Oregon Edibles Could Be Delayed. Oregon pot shops should be open by early next year, but don't expect to find any edibles in them, at least at first. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has asked the legislature for the okay to delay licensing of edibles manufacturers, citing the complexities around the issue. Edibles may not be available until 2017.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Let Parolees, Probationers Use Medical Marijuana Advances. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would allow people on probation or parole use to medical marijuana. The change wouldn't apply, however, to people whose crimes were related to marijuana. The measure is House Bill 1267.

Los Angeles City Attorney Says 500 Unpermitted Dispensaries Shut Down. City Attorney Mike Feuer said Thursday that his office has closed down 500 unpermitted dispensaries since the city voted two years ago to cap their number at about 130. But he conceded that hundreds more still operate.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a historic move, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) today signed into law a bill that will end civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement in the state, a practice widely known as "policing for profit." The measure is House Bill 560. Click on the title link for more details.

Law Enforcement

California Bill Would Allow Immigrant Drug Offenders to Get Treatment, Avoid Deportation. A bill proposed by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) would let people charged with drug possession and other low-level drug offenses to opt for drug treatment ahead of taking a plea and see their charges dropped if they complete treatment. The bill is designed to block the deportation under federal law of long-time resident immigrants because they have a drug conviction. The bill is Assembly Bill 1351. It is currently before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Chronicle AM: France Okays Safe Injection Sites, Wichita Decriminalizes, Egypt Hash Debate, More (4/8/15)

A Louisiana poll shows rising support for marijuana legalization; if Massachusetts want to legalize, it will be up to the voters; Wichita votes to decriminalize it, a CBD cannabis bill dies in Indiana, France okays safe injection sites, and more.

A proposal to legalize hash in Egypt has stoked debate. (justice.gov/dea)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Poll Sees Rising Support for Legalization, But Still No Majority. The 2015 Louisiana Survey, released Tuesday, shows support for marijuana legalization at 45%, up from 42% two years ago. Opposition was at 52%, down from 56% two years ago. Support was twice as high in southwest Louisiana (57%) than northeast Louisiana (28%). The state has some of the harshest pot laws in the country, but the legislature appears little inclined to do anything about them.

Massachusetts Lawmakers to Punt on Legalization. There is "no appetite" among lawmakers to address marijuana legalization, leaving the field open for ballot initiatives next year, said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. "There's been conversations and there seems to be no appetite in the Legislature to take up... recreational marijuana, so you should expect to see it on the ballot in 2016," Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told the Boston Herald's internet radio station on Tuesday.

Wichita Votes to Decriminalize. Voters in Wichita voted 54% to 45% to approve a local initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. The measure would make first-time possession an infraction with a $50 fine. But state law says it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) has vowed to sue the city if it passes. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed. A bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy sailed through the House earlier this session, but was killed by a Senate committee vote Tuesday after prosecutors opposed it, saying it was similar to legalizing medical marijuana.

Massachusetts Revamps Application Process for Registered Dispensaries. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced significant changes to the Commonwealth's Medical Marijuana Dispensary program first authorized in 2012. The revised process will license Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) in a format similar to other healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, which DPH also administers. This process will phase out the current use of state procurement policies to register a dispensary. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Kentucky GOP Gubernatorial Hopeful Proposes Drug Testing Welfare Recipients. Would-be Republican gubernatorial nominee Hal Heiner is seeking to win support from the base by pushing a scheme to drug test welfare recipients. He made the call in a series of TV ads that began appearing yesterday. "I am simply asking welfare recipients to do what many employees in Kentucky are already required to do," Heiner said in a statement. "If working Kentuckians can be required to take drug tests, it is certainly reasonable to expect those who are benefiting from their tax dollars to do so as well."

International

France Approves Safe Injection Sites. The National Assembly Tuesday adopted a draft health law that will allow for safe injection sites for injection drug users. Opposition deputies denounced the move as "a first step toward legalizing drugs," for creating "no-go zones," and for sending "incomprehensible messages to our youth," but they did not prevail. Pilot sites will open in Paris, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, and the law will prevent users from being arrested for drug possession within safe injection sites. Safe injection sites already operate in around 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Call for Hash Legalization in Egypt Sparks Lively Debate. Just a few days ago, Cairo tobacco traders called for hash legalization as a revenue measure and submitted a proposal to that effect to the cabinet, and that has sparked strong reactions. The Ministry of Social Solidarity's Drug Control and Addiction Treatment Fund warned that hash is a serious threat to Egypt, which is "safe by nature." The fund claimed hash is a major factor in road accidents because it causes "lack of awareness of one's surroundings." The fund also claimed that a survey it conducted found that 86% of rapists and 23% of murderers were hash users. But hash users cited in the story disagreed. Click on the link for more.

Mexican Cartel Attack Kills 15 Cops in Jalisco. An ambush of a police convoy by presumed drug cartel gunmen on the highway between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara left 15 policemen dead and five wounded. It was the deadliest attack on Mexican police since 12 federal police were killed in neighboring Michoacan state in 2010. Fingers are being pointed at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has grown to be one of the country's most powerful. The state has seen a spate of violence in recent weeks, including a March 19 ambush of federal police that killed five, a March 23 shootout in which police killed a gang boss, an unsuccessful March 30 attempt to assassinate the state security commissioner, and the killing Monday of the police chief in the town of Zacoalco de Torres. The security commissioner said the recent attacks were revenge for the killing of the gang leader.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: FL, OH, PA Poll Tight Majority for MJ Legalization, Needle Exchange, More (4/6/15)

Quinnipiac University polls in three big states show narrow majorities for marijuana legalization, medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills get filed in Alabama, Egypt's tobacco traders want to legalize and tax hash, and more.

Marijuana Policy

At Hash Bash, Michigan Lawmaker Says He Will File Legalization Bill. Tommy Chong got the biggest cheers at Ann Arbor's 44th Annual Hash Bash Saturday, but hometown Rep. Jim Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) may have a bigger impact on marijuana politics in the state. He told the Hash Bash crowd he would introduce a legalization bill. He said he was in the process of drafting the legislation.

Florida Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it.

Ohio Poll Has Support for Legalization at 52%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has found majority support for marijuana legalization in the Buckeye State, with 52% of registered voters in favor and 44% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 84% saying they favored it. The poll comes as at least two different groups seek to place legalization measures on the 2016 general election ballot.

Pennsylvania Poll Has Support for Legalization at 51%. A new Quinnipiac University poll has majority support for marijuana legalization in the Keystone State, with 51% of registered voters in favor and 45% opposed. Medical marijuana won overwhelming support, too, with 88% saying they favored it. A medical marijuana bill is in play in Harrisburg.

Washington Senate Approves 37% Marijuana Sales Tax. The state Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 6062, which would remove the excise tax on pot producers and processors and replace it with a 37% tax on retail sales. The measure passed 26-22 and now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) last week filed Senate Bill 326, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and which has a unique scheme setting three levels of allowable amounts possessed. The bill would allow one dispensary in cities with a population of 10,000 or more and two dispensaries in cities with a population of 150,000 or more. Companion legislation is expected to be filed today in the House by Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).

Harm Reduction

Needle Exchange Gets Underway in Southwest Indiana County With HIV Outbreak. A needle exchange program began last Saturday in Scott County, where the state's largest ever HIV outbreak is underway. The move comes after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an executive order temporarily suspending the state's ban on needle exchanges, but only in that county.

Alabama Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) has filed a bill that would allow doctors and dentists to describe the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone to friends and family members of drug users. The measure is House Bill 208. It would also provide for training for law enforcement agencies that want their officers to carry the drug. The bill also has 911 Good Samaritan provisions.

International

Egyptian Tobacco Trade Group Calls for Hash Legalization, Taxation. The Cairo and Giza Tobacco Traders Association has called for serious study of a proposal to legalize the hash trade and said a 10% tax levied on hash transactions would quickly shrink the national budget deficit. The proposal is currently before the Legislative Reform Committee of the parliament.

Mexican Troop Presence Didn't Stem Drug War Killings, But Aggravated Them, Study Finds. A new study published on the website of The American Statistician found that the arrival of Mexican troops to areas with high rates of drug cartel violence did not lower homicide rates but increased them, at least in the short run. Longer-term decreases in violence could be attributed to increased civic engagement, not the presence of soldiers.

Drug War Issues

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