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Chronicle Book Review: Mexico on the Brink

Hidden Dangers: Mexico on the Brink of Disaster by Robert Joe Stout (2014, Sunbury Press, 210 pp., $16.95 PB)

Today is the official 104th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. The uprising that began then lasted for nearly two decades and by the time it was over, nearly two million Mexicans were dead, and the country was changed forever. That revolution overthrew a sclerotic, encrusted dictatorship that advanced the country materially and brought it to the brink of the modern era, but which ignored the wishes of the vast majority of Mexicans.

Are we about to see a repeat? That's probably premature, but it's notable that authorities in Mexico City have canceled the official commemorative parade set for today, afraid of trouble breaking out. There has already been trouble in Mexico City today, anyway -- with masked demonstrators attempted to block access to the international airport -- so that decision may well be a prudent one.

What is motivating the protests today -- and for nearly the last two months -- is the disappearance (and almost certain murder) of 43 radical students from a provincial teachers' college in the south central state of Guerrero. It seems clear that the students and their threats of demonstrations were seen as a threat by Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. Pineda, who has been identified as a leader of the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group (commonly referred to as cartels), is believed to have ordered Iguala municipal police to "take care of" the unruly students.

According to a version of events delivered by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Karam Murillo, Iguala police shot up the commandeered public buses the students were riding in (commandeering buses is not unusual in political protests), killing some of the students on the spot. The remaining students were then allegedly turned over by Iguala police to Guerreros Unidos gang members, who, according to Karam, killed them all, burned their bodies, chopped them to bits, and threw them in a river.

Of course, it took Karam a month to make that announcement, and in the meantime, anger over the disappearances grew by the day. Demonstrators attacked and burnt part of the state capitol complex in Chilpancingo; they attacked and burnt municipal buildings in Iguala; they fought pitched battles with police on the road to the Acapulco airport. And the demonstrations and solidarity protests are spreading.

This is a brutal scandal that has shaken even brutal scandal-plagued Mexico. Federal authorities have now arrested the mayoral couple, along with dozens of police men and gang members (some are undoubtedly both). The governor of Guerrero has been forced to resign. And President Enrique Nieto Pena and his government are now besieged, even though the mayor and the governor belonged to another political party.

This may be the landmine that sets off a long pent-up social explosion south of the border. I use the word "landmine" deliberately, for that is the precise term used by long-time journalist and current Oaxaca resident Robert Stout in his new book, Hidden Dangers. Although it appears to have been largely written before Pena Nieto took office nearly two years ago, it seems remarkably prescient.

In Hidden Dangers, Stout identifies several festering -- and interconnected -- problems facing Mexico, the result of ongoing economic and political changes.Looming large among the potential landmines are emigration, the war on drugs, rising popular political movements of resistance, official corruption and impunity, and increasing environmental degradation.

With the case of the missing 43 students, Mexico is stepping on two of those landmines: the war on drugs and the problem of official complicity and corruption. As Stout makes clear, Mexico's drug corporations (he never uses the word "cartels") have thrived in an atmosphere of violence and corruption and official complicity. I wouldn't say that drug money has corrupted Mexico's institutions because they have been deeply corrupted for years, as Stout illustrates throughout the book, but it has deepened the corruption and blurred the line between organized crime and state power.

What Stout has to say about the drug cartels and the counterproductive policies adopted on both sides of the border to stop them is probably not new to regular readers of these pages. Through violence and cold, hard cash, the cartels manage to suborn security forces, elected officials, and legitimate businesses alike. And heavy-handed, militaristic attempts to quash them, especially with an army that seems to have no notion of "human rights," has only resulted in more violence and more mistrust of government.

But it is complicated, and looking at Mexico solely through the prism of its war on drugs is too narrow a focus to get a good grasp on the country's realities. Mexico's drug cartel problem doesn't exist in a vacuum; it is part and parcel of a deeper social and political malaise, which, in Stout's view, is related to the country's authoritarian, unresponsive government and its inability or unwillingness to address the country's aching concerns.

And it's not just the PRI, the party that emerged from the Revolution to govern the country as "the perfect dictatorship" until the election of Coca Cola executive Vicente Fox in 2000. One of Stout's contributions to our understanding is his explication of the authoritarian character that defines all political parties in Mexico. Whether it’s the PRI or the rightist PAN or the leftist PRD, all have adapted the same top-down, strongman politics that characterized the PRI in its heyday.

It is worth noting that the mayor of Iguala and his wife are members of the PRD, which is a sad reflection on the Mexican left. But Mexicans don't need to read Stout's book to understand that the same rot grips all the parties, and that's part of the reason even the PRIista Pena Nieto is feeling the heat over the Iguala disappearances. The problem is systematic, Mexicans understand this, and that's why they're so angrily taking to the streets right now.

Hidden Dangers does a very good job of tying together the disparate "landmines" facing Mexico right now. Especially for readers who have approached the country primarily through the lens of drug policy, it is a welcome opening of perspective. And, at only a bit more than 200 pages, it's a relatively quick read, packed with information and plenty to ponder. Check it out. 

Chronicle AM: USA Today Slams Asset Forfeiture, NY Times on AFT Drug Stash House Stings, More (11/20/14)

A new Maine legalization group lays out its vision, take your medical marijuana card when you go to Nevada next year, asset forfeiture gets ripped by USA Today, the New York Times takes a look at a questionable law enforcement practice, and more. Let's get to it:

Highway patrol or highwayman? Asset forfeiture gets more criticism. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

New Maine Legalization Group Wants Home Grows, Social Clubs. Calling itself Legalize Maine, a new group has emerged with a plan to free the weed there. Group organizer Paul McCarrier said his plan is "home grown" -- a jab at the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been laying the groundwork for statewide legalization there for the past several years -- and would allow for home cultivation, the use of marijuana in social clubs, and an 8% tax on sales. MPP has not released details of what it will propose for the 2016 ballot, but its local initiatives in the state did not address home cultivation or allow for social clubs. Click on the link to read more detail on the Legalize Maine plan.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Punts on Reclassification. The Board has decided to defer a decision on whether to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law until its January meeting. The Board could have decided at its Wednesday meeting to recommend to the legislature that marijuana be rescheduled after a public hearing Monday, but while it said marijuana does have medical use, it also worried that it has high abuse potential. The board was (in)acting on a petition from Des Moines medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen.

Nevada Will Honor Medical Marijuana Cards from Other States. Once dispensaries begin to open in the state next year, people holding medical marijuana recommendations from other states will be able to purchase marijuana there.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Should "Go Away," Says USA Today. USA Today has joined the growing ranks of newspapers calling for state and federal civil asset forfeiture reform. In a Wednesday editorial, the country's third-largest daily circulation newspaper said asset forfeiture had come "unmoored" from its original intent of taking the profit out of crime and now appeared like something "one might expect in a banana republic, not the United States." The newspaper called for action on pending federal asset forfeiture reform bills and ended its editorial thusly: "Civil asset forfeiture is government at its absolute worst -- intimidating helpless citizens for its own benefit. It needs to go away."

Law Enforcement

New York Times Examines ATF Fake Drug Stash House Rip-Off Stings. The Times turns a jaundiced eye to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) use of imaginary stash-house stings, where undercover agents entice people into participating in what they thought were robberies of drug stash houses, only to be arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for decades. The newspaper notes that although most of the stings have survived legal challenges, some federal judges are now throwing out such cases. One federal judge in Los Angeles threw out a case earlier this year, citing "outrageous government misconduct" with the ATF "trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas -- all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past." Almost all of the people wrapped up in the stings have been brown or black. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

International

Argentina As Latin America's Newest Drug Trafficking Hub. Argentina is emerging as a new drug trafficking hub, according to this analysis in World Politics Review. Author Benoit Gomis points to a number of factors ranging from geography to the size of the Argentine drug market, as well as infiltration by regional drug operations, weak law enforcement, and corruption. Gomis suggests one thing Argentina can do is emulate its neighbor Uruguay, which legalized marijuana last year in a bid to undercut the drug trade. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Tax Battle, MA Mandatory Minimums Under Fire, More (11/19/14)

Oregon cities will fight to be allowed to tax marijuana, the CRS says state-level legalization leaves the US vulnerable to criticism on international drug treaties, federal reform bills pick up more sponsors, Hawaii medical marijuana patients get some rental protections, Iran is fine with executing drug traffickers, and more. Let's get to it:

Iran says drug traffickers deserve to be executed. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Research Service Says Legalization Leaves US Vulnerable to Charges It Violates International Drug Treaties. In a report released this week, the Congressional Research Service said state-level marijuana legalization challenges the international drug treaties, but that legalization in the District of Columbia would be the most direct affront because Congress has oversight over DC laws and the ability to void them. "This line of reasoning suggests that if Initiative 71 is permitted to take effect, this inaction by the federal government may strengthen the [International Narcotics Control] Board's argument that the United States has not fulfilled its commitments under the Single Convention," the report said. Congress could challenge DC legalization, but it appears there is little interest in doing so.

Oregon Cities Seek to Tax Marijuana. The League of Oregon Cities says it will ask the legislature to amend the voter-approved Measure 91 legalization initiative to explicitly allow local taxes imposed before the measure was approved earlier this month. Measure 91 sponsors say they will oppose the move because it could drive prices up high enough to encourage users to continue to resort to the black market. The legislature is considering forming a joint committee to consider this and regulatory issues in the wake of Measure 91's passage. Measure 91 allows for the state to tax marijuana, but not localities. Some 70 Oregon localities passed tax measures before Measure 91 was approved.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapuetic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Hawaii Law Protecting Medical Marijuana Patient Housing Rights Goes Into Effect. As of this month, a new law voids provisions in state rental agreements that previously allowed for tenants to be evicted based on their status as registered medical marijuana patients. The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii fought for and now applauds this step toward protecting patient rights. The law does not, however, protect people living in government-subsidized housing.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 5212, would strengthen protections against asset forfeiture and require that seizures be proportional to the offense. It was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walhberg (R-MI) and now has 20 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and five Democrats. The latest is Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA). The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, S 2389, was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It would provide grants to community-based anti-drug coalitions, create treatment instead of incarceration programs, and provide for evidence-based opioid treatment interventions, among other provisions. It now has six cosponsors -- four Democrats and two Republicans. The latest are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN). It is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 3383, was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and would allow federal judges to sentence most drug offenders without regard to mandatory minimum sentences. It would also allow crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010 to seek sentence reductions. It now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans, and is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 3465, was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and would expand federal grants to aid former prisoners reentering society. It has 45 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest is Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Massachusetts Chief Justice Renews Call for End to Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. After a visit to Worcester Trial Court to meet with local court officials and employees, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants reiterated an earlier call to abolish mandatory minimums for drug offenders. He said he wants "individualized, evidence-based" sentencing. "Everybody sort of feels that the drug problem is not getting any better. I think everybody recognizes that we're not going to incarcerate ourselves out of the problem," he said.

Massachusetts Criminal Justice Panel Recommends Eliminating Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. The Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth's Criminal Justice System has recommended ending mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses in the state. It is also calling for parole eligibility for all inmates who have served at least two-thirds of the lower end of their sentences, except for those convicted of murder or manslaughter. The commission is working on a report for incoming Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Baker signaled support for ending mandatory minimums for drug offenders during the campaign.

International

Iran Rejects Criticism of Its Resort to the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers. Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi Tuesday rejected criticism from human rights campaigners and UN human rights bodies over its frequent executions of drug traffickers. "We do not accept the statements made by the UN human rights bodies that drug-related convicts should not be executed," he said. He added that anyone who smuggles or deals drugs deserves to be executed.

Report on Drug Policy Progress in Asia. The Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program has published "Moving the Needle on Drug Policy in Asia," which examines innovations in drug policy in an area that boasts some of the world's harshest drug policies. The report looks at harm reduction programs in Taiwan and drug treatment programs in Malaysia. Click on the title link to read it.

Chronicle AM: Congress Unlikely to Mess With DC Marijuana Legalization, Guatemala Could Legalize Next Year, More (11/17/14)

Congress may "just say meh" to DC legalization, Washington state's first pot auction was a success, it's back to the drawing board for Florida Charlotte's Web regulators, Lebanese hash farmers have an unusual problem, Guatemala's president said pot legalization could be coming soon, and more. Let's get to it:

There's too much hash in the hash fields of Lebanon. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Republicans Not Too Interested in Blocking DC Legalization. Congressional Republicans, eager to wage battle against President Obama and the Democrats on immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, don't appear that interested in trying to block the District of Columbia from implementing the marijuana legalization initiative voters approved on Election Day. The Washington Post quoted several senators who said they had other things on their minds. "That's pretty far down my list of priorities," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC). "I haven't given it one thought," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The Post also quoted a Heritage Foundation analyst as saying trying to block DC legalization could cost valuable political capital and expose a rift between GOP social conservatives and libertarians.

Washington State's First Pot Auction Brings in $600,000. In the first auction of legally licensed and produced marijuana in the state, Fireweed Farms sold more than 300 pounds of pot Saturday at an average price of $2,000 a pound. That's a $600,000 payday for the growers.

Pot Smoking Tickets Up Nearly Five-Fold in Denver. Through the first three quarters of this year, Denver police have cited 668 people for public pot smoking, compared to just 117 during the same period last year. That's a 471% increase. Even under legalization, public display and consumption of marijuana remains a no-no. Some advocates said public consumption will be an issue until the city allows for it to be consumed in bars or pot clubs.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Growers Lottery Plan, Sends Health Department Back to Drawing Board. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Scranton Times-Tribune Calls for Asset Forfeiture Reform. One of Pennsylvania's mid-level newspapers has jumped on the asset forfeiture reform bandwagon. In a Monday editorial, The Scranton Times-Tribune called for federal civil asset forfeiture reform. Citing "pervasive abuses" by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies, the newspaper called on the Congress to pass pending asset forfeiture reform legislation, and for Pennsylvania officials to examine whether the state's asset forfeiture law needs reform as well.

Prescription Drugs

DEA Pays Visit to NFL Teams Over Use of Pain Relievers. Spurred by reports of widespread use of prescription pain relievers in a recent lawsuit filed against the NFL, DEA agents Sunday visited several NFL teams to question medical staff members about their prescribing practices for drugs used to energize players before games and relieve their pain afterward. The DEA characterized the visits as "administrative," and nothing was seized and no one detained. "Our role is law enforcement, and we have the regulatory authority to make sure anyone who has a license operates within the law," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Recovery Alliance's Harm Reduction Gets Work Some Notice. The DePaul University newspaper The DePaulia has profiled the Windy City's Chicago Recovery Alliance and the harm reduction work in which it is engaged. The newspaper calls harm reduction "a small movement in the United States meant not to stigmatize drug users, but to safely educate and assist drug users with the ultimate purpose of reducing risk and eliminating drug-related complications and deaths." It's actually a pretty good overview of the harm reduction field.

International

With Lebanese Army Busy with Syrian Civil War, Hash Farmers Are Cursed By Oversupply. For the second year in a row, the Lebanese Army has been too concerned with the fighting on its borders to get around to eradicating marijuana crops in the Bekaa Valley, but the hash farmers can't win for losing. Now they face a flooded market and falling prices. Before the Syrian civil war and the glut, farmers were getting $1,500 for 1.2 kilos of hash; now that price has fallen to $500. Not only is the glut the problem, but political and military insecurity have made smuggling more difficult as well, feeding further downward price pressures.

Guatemala President Says County Could Legalize Marijuana Next Year. In an interview with TeleSur TV on Saturday, President Otto Perez Molina said Guatemala would decide early next year whether to follow Uruguay on the path to marijuana legalization. Perez Molina has also made similar noises about legalizing opium poppy production. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium Funds Elections, Big WA Pot Auction, NV Signatures Handed In, More (11/13/14)

More poppies are growing than ever in Afghanistan, and they helped fund the recent presidential election; the UNODC head tsk-tsks at US legalization votes, Nevada petitioners hand in 2X the signatures needed, federal bills get more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

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

UN Anti-Drug Chief Says Legalization in US States Violate Drug Treaties. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Wednesday that American states that have legalized marijuana are not in line with international drug conventions. "I don't see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions," he told reporters. Fedotov is coming to Washington next week to discuss the issue with the US State Department and other UN agencies.

US Representatives from Marijuana States Urge Colleagues Not to Interfere. Members of Congress from states that have legalized marijuana held a press conference in Washington, DC, today to urge Congress not to try to interfere with state-level legalization. Democrats from Colorado (Jared Polis), Oregon (Earl Blumenauer), and the District of Columbia (Eleanor Holmes Norton) were joined by Republican California Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher. With some congressional Republicans grumbling, DC would appear to be at some risk of interference, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Nevada Legalization Petitioners Turn in Twice the Number of Signatures Needed. It looks like Nevada is going to vote on legalization in 2016 (if the legislature doesn't act first). The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada Wednesday turned in 200,000 signatures for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. It only needs 101,667 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Once the signatures are validated, the measure will head for the 2016 ballot unless the legislature decides to just pass it itself next year.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Has Updated FAQs for Recreational Marijuana. In response to public queries, the commission has updated its recreational marijuana FAQs page. Click on the link to see the updates. Here is the full FAQs page.

RAND Briefs Vermont Lawmakers on Legalization Issues; Public Hearing, Too. The RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center, which has been contracted by the state to prepare an in-depth report on the potential financial and social impact of legalization, briefed lawmakers Wednesday with the report's outlines. Center co-director Beau Kilmer told the lawmakers the report will cover the state's marijuana "landscape," analyze health and safety issues, review alternate approaches to taxation and regulation, and provide financial projections. Kilmer identified nine questions lawmakers should be asking themselves; click on the link to see them. The briefing was followed by a public hearing that took place on closed circuit television on towns around the state. The RAND report is due in January.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The bill will be considered in the new session beginning in January. It is SB 686.

Washington Pot Farmer to Auction Off A Ton of Weed. Well, this should help with those reported shortages plaguing the Washington state legal marijuana market. Fireweed Farm, a licensed marijuana producer in Prosser, has announced that its crop is in and processed, and it will be selling its one-ton harvest to the highest bidder (heh) on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill would remove low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It's newest sponsors are Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Allen Lowenthal (D-CA). The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 32 cosponsors -- 18 Democrats and 14 Republicans. It has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce Committees.

Georgia Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Be Debated in January. Lawmakers who tried and failed to get a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana passed this year will be back at it in the coming session. The bill sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), said he will introduce an improved bill to be debated in January. He said he hopes to file it next month.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, is sponsored by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI) and would tighten requirements for asset forfeiture. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Henry Johnson (D-GA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI). The bill now has 19 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and four Democrats. It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Pardons and Clemency

Arkansas Governor Pardons Son for Marijuana Conviction. Gov. Mike Beebe (R) has issued a pardon for his son, Kyle Beebe, who was convicted in 2003 of marijuana possession with intent to deliver. It is one of 25 pardons he is issuing before leaving office in January. Beebe has issued more than 700 pardons during his time in office, including a number of other first time drug offenders.

Sentencing

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Sponsors. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill would expand grant programs aimed at helping people upon their release from prison. The House version, HR 3465, has now picked up Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), while the Senate version, S 1690, is now cosponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The House version now house 44 cosponsors (36 Democrats and eight Republicans), while the Senate version, introduced by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), now has 22 cosponsors (17 Democrats, four Republicans, one independent).

Drug Testing

Key West Settles With Job Applicant Who Refused Drug Test. The city of Key West, Florida, will pay $75,000 to a former resident who refused to take a pre-employment drug test after applying for a position with the city and was then eliminated from consideration. The city will also pay $60,000 to the ACLU of Florida, which represented Karen Cabanas Voss. She had sued, arguing that the city's drug testing policy was unconstitutional, and a federal district court judge found in her favor.

International

Opium Helped Fund Afghan Elections, UNODC Says. The amount of land planted with opium poppies this year is at record levels, UN officials said Wednesday, and they said this year's presidential election campaign was part of the reason. "With the presidential election ongoing, there was a huge demand of funding," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a senior official with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "And that funding is not available in the licit economy, and that money has to come from somewhere, so they turned to the illicit economy." In its annual opium survey, UNODC found that the area under cultivation had increased 7%, while eradication decreased by 63% between last year and this year.

Chronicle AM: No More Portland Pot Cases, Senior Drug Testing Racket, Vets' MedMj Problems, More (11/11/14)

The fallout from last week's legalization votes begins, California veterans are reporting medical marijuana problems with the VA, doctors are billing Medicare for largely needless senior drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Sante Cannabis, Montreal's first doctor-on-site medical marijuana clinic, opened today.
Marijuana Policy

No More Pot Prosecutions in Portland. That didn't take long. Less than a week after Oregon voters approved the Measure 91 legalization initiative, prosecutors in Multnomah County (Portland) announced Monday that they will dismiss all pending violation-level marijuana possession cases and won't bother to prosecute any future ones. "Because it is clear that a significant majority of voters in Multnomah County support the legalization of marijuana in certain amounts, this office will dismiss the pending charges related to conduct which will otherwise become legal July 1, 2015," said a statement from Multnomah County DA Rode Underhill. "Any remaining charges not impacted by Ballot Measure 91 will be prosecuted." Prosecutors in other Oregon counties are still figuring out how to respond.

Alaska Legislator Getting to Work on Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations. That didn't take long, either. Less than a week after Alaska voters approved the Measure 2 legalization initiative, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) said Monday he plans to file legislation in January that would restrict pot shops within a certain distance of schools and public parks, limit advertising, and bar people with felonies from working in the industry. Lynn said he expects his proposals to attract plenty of discussion among lawmakers.

Opposition Coalition Forms in Vermont. A coalition to oppose marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State has announced itself. SMART VT calls itself a "grassroots coalition" of "concerned Vermonters" and is now calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) to not take up legalization this legislative session. Too late, though: A public hearing on legalization is set for Wednesday. Click the last link for hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

US Veterans Denied Pain Medications Over Medical Marijuana Use. California NORML is reporting that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from CANORML and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Happy Veterans Day!

Drug Testing

Pain Docs Getting Rich Doing Useless Drug Tests on Seniors, Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab. In an expensive side-effect of the "war" on pain pill addiction, pain specialists are now ordering costly testing of seniors for recreational drug use, and Medicare is stuck footing the bill. The doctors are also responding to a Medicare crackdown on abusive billing for simple urine drug screens by moving to high-tech testing methods for which billing is not limited. Now, doctors are testing for a number of different drugs -- including illegal ones rarely used by seniors, such as cocaine, ecstasy, and PCP -- and raking in the tax dollars. Medicare spending on drug testing has increased an incredible 1,423% since 2007 to $445 million in 2012. That included $14 million for testing seniors for PCP, for which one lab director with 25 years in the business told The Wall Street Journal she had never seen a positive test result in people over 65. The comprehensive article is worth the read; click on the link to get it.

International

Montreal Gets First Medical Marijuana Clinic. Montreal's first medical marijuana clinic is opening today. Sante Cannabis does not sell medical marijuana, but its doctors and staff guide patients on how to use marijuana, proper strains to use, and determine whether to smoke, vape, or use edibles. The city has had dispensaries or "compassion centers" for years, but Sante Cannabis is the first medical marijuana business to have doctors on staff.

British Lib Dem Leader, Former Colombian President Team Up to Fight for Drug Reform. Liberal Democratic party leader and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to work together to help forge an alliance between European and Latin American countries aiming to reform global drug prohibition. They are taking aim at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs set for 2016.

Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)

Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

The election was only last week, but eyes are already turning to 2015 and 2016. (www.regulateri.org)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.

Law Enforcement

Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

Sentencing

ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.

International

Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.

Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.

In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.

Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.

Marijuana Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year [FEATURE]

More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today.

One drug arrest out of 1.5 million last year. (www.justice.gov)
That's about one pot bust and slightly more than one other drug arrest every minute, 365 days a year. The vast majority of them are for simple possession. Over 87% of all marijuana arrests and 82% of all drug arrests were for possession only.

Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

In 2008, marijuana arrests accounted for a majority (52%) of all drug arrests. Now, it is down to 40.6%.

Some of the decline in marijuana arrests can be attributed to the passage of decriminalization and legalization laws, particularly in the West, where pot arrests accounted for only 18% of all drug arrests. California decriminalized pot possession in 2011, and Colorado and Washington legalized it in the 2012 elections.

The move to marijuana legalization is helping shrink pot bust numbers. (Sandra Yruel/drugpolicy.org)
In other parts of the country, marijuana arrests continued to roll along, even in the Northeast, where they accounted for 46% of all drug arrests. In the South, the figure was 49.8%, and in the Midwest, pot accounted for 51.7% of all drug arrests.

When it comes to race, blacks continue to be disproportionately represented among drug arrestees. African-Americans accounted for 30.7% of all drug arrests, but they only make up about 13% of the population. That means blacks are being arrested for drugs at 2 ½ times the rate their percentage of the population would predict.

Drug arrests were the single largest category of arrests made in the US and accounted for about 13% of all arrests. The 1.5 million drug arrests well exceeded second place larceny-theft (1.232 million) and third place driving under the influence (1.167 million). More than three times as many people were arrested for drug offenses than for all violent crimes combined (480,000).

The continued law enforcement emphasis on drug enforcement drew criticism from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

But this attitude still persists among law enforcement. (bartoncounty.org)
"Police made more drug arrests than for any other single category of crime. Meanwhile, only 64% of murders and 48% of violent crimes generally are being solved," said LEAP executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), citing the FBI statistics. "We clearly have our priorities in the wrong place."

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), fresh from last week's successful "marijuana midterms," pronounced itself pleased with the decline in pot busts, but called for them to end, not just diminish.

"We're pleased to see the drop, but arresting even one adult for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol is inexcusable," said MPP communications director Mason Tvert. "Every year we see millions of violent crimes attributed to alcohol, and the evidence is clear that marijuana is not a significant contributing factor in such incidents. Yet our laws continue to steer adults toward drinking by threatening to punish them if they make the safer choice. These arrest numbers demonstrate that the threat is very real," he noted.

Tvert also echoed LEAP in criticizing law enforcement priorities.

"Law enforcement officials should be spending their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana," he said. "Every year, these statistics show hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are taking place and countless violent crimes are going unsolved. We have to wonder how many of those crimes could be solved -- or prevented -- if police weren't wasting their time enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

The laws must change, he said.

"A majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal for adults and treated similarly to alcohol. Voters in four states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws that reflect that, and we expect several more will do over the next few years. It's time for our laws to catch up with public opinion."

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Trifecta, CA Sentencing Reform Passes, FL MedMJ Fails, More (11/5/14)

Marijuana wins in Alaska, DC, and Oregon; medical marijuana barely loses in Florida, California defelonizes drug possession offenses, New Jersey reforms the bail system, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana. In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so. It won with 52% of the vote. Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana. Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.] Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana. Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital. Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.] That was enough for supporters to call the election. Because of District law, the initiative could address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

GOP Congressmen Threatens to Try to Block DC Legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is saying he will try to block the legalization initiative just passed by DC voters. "Actions by those in DC will result in higher drug use among teens," Harris told The Washington Post. "I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase." Earlier this year, Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back a rider that would have blocked the DC city council's decision to decriminalize marijuana, but that rider didn't make it into the final DC appropriations bill.

South Portland, Maine, Votes to Legalize; Lewiston Does Not. Voters in South Portland voted 52% to 48% to approve a local legalization initiative, but voters in Lewiston did not. The measure there got only 45% of the vote. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar measure last year.

Massachusetts PPQs on Marijuana Legalization Pass. Non-binding public policy questions asking voters whether they approved telling their elected representatives they wanted to legalize marijuana passed in all 14 districts where they were on the ballot. Activists have been placing marijuana reform PPQs on the ballot each election since 2000, and they've never lost one. This year, most passed with more than 70% approval; the lowest passed with 54%.

Michigan Towns Split on Marijuana Initiatives. Marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or lowest law enforcement priority measures were on the ballot in 11 towns. They won in Saginaw, Berkeley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Mt. Pleasant. They lost in Lapeer, Harrison, Onaway, Frankfort, and Clare. The state's largest cities have already approved similar measures.

New Mexico Non-Binding Decriminalization Initiatives Pass Big in Bernalillo, Santa Fe Counties. Non-binding, county level decriminalization initiatives won big in the state's largest and third-largest counties. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) voted 59% in favor, while Santa Fe County (Santa Fe) produced an impressive 73% in favor.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Wins Majority, But Not Enough to Pass. Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Mixed Bag for California Local Initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Fails. Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history. It ended up with only 32% of the vote. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

Sentencing Policy

California Initiative to Turn Drug Possession Felonies Into Misdemeanors Passes. Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law. Prop 47 got 57% of the vote.

New Jersey Bail Reform Initiative Passes. New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system.  The narrowly-worded question allows judges to deny bail to dangerous individuals, but it ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. The legislation implements wide-ranging reforms including non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; the use of risk assessments for suspects enabling courts to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishment of a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide appropriate levels of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Ordered to Quit Doing Marijuana "Buy Busts." The NYPD has been ordered by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to quit doing penny ante pot "buy and bust" operations. The head of each borough's dope squad was summoned to NYPD headquarters last week and told to knock it off.  Police were told to focus on more dangerous drugs. The New York Post published the story, replete with unnamed law enforcement sources complaining about the move. 

California Voters OK Drug Defelonization, Reject Doctor Drug Testing

Voters in California enthusiastically approved an important sentencing reform initiative Tuesday, but overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors in the state.

The sentencing initiative, Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law.

The failed initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors, Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history.

According to election figures from the California Secretary of State, with 45% of the vote counted just before midnight Tuesday, Prop 47 was winning with 56.6% of the vote, while Prop 46 was getting trounced with only 32.3%. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

The Drug Policy Alliance, whose lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, contributed to the smartly named Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools "yes on Prop 47" campaign, pronounced itself pleased with the results.

"The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.

Under Prop 47, up to 20,000 people doing state prison time for simple drug possession will be eligible to seek sentence cuts, and new prison admissions should drop by between 40,000 and 60,000 a year. And hundreds of thousands of Californians with drug possession felony records will be eligible to have those records automatically expunged, removing barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and educational opportunities.

The state's county jails, which are chafing under the state's corrections "realignment," will also see reductions in prisoners, with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 jail beds freed up by Prop 47. Counties look to save somewhere around half a billion dollars a year, according to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

"We’ve been trying to get simple drug possession reclassified as a misdemeanor through Sacramento for years, facing first an unwillingness from the legislature and then last year’s veto by Governor Brown," said DPA state director Lynne Lyman. "With Prop 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

CA
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