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REDEEM Act Aims to Fix Criminal Justice System [FEATURE]

A pair of US senators from opposite sides of the political spectrum have teamed up in a bid to fix "the nation's broken criminal justice system." Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this summer introduced the Record Expungement to Designed to Enhance Employment Act, generally referred to as the REDEEM Act.

The REDEEM Act aims to help young offenders break the cycle of criminal justice system involvement. (samhsa.gov)
While observers say the bill is unlikely to pass this year, its introduction lays the groundwork for moving forward on it in the next Congress.

The act, Senate Bill 2567, its sponsors say, is designed to give people convicted of nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses, a second chance at succeeding. It also aims to divert many teenagers out of the adult criminal justice system.

Booker, a black northeastern liberal, and Paul, a libertarian-leaning southern conservative, may appear to be strange bedfellows, but both said fixing the criminal justice system was more important than partisan rivalries in statements made when the bill was introduced.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that," Sen. Booker said. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend."

"The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record," said Sen. Paul. "Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment."

Even though the United States contains only 5% of the world's population, it contains 25% of the world's prisoners. US prison populations have more than tripled since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, largely under the impetus of the war on drugs. American taxpayers have seen their bill for mass incarceration rise from $77 each per year in when Reagan took office in 1980 to more than $260 each per year in 2010.

The REDEEM Act would seek to reduce those costs by reforms that would divert juvenile offenders from adult courts, improve the conditions for juvenile offenders, allow some adult offenders a means to expunge their records, and allow adult drug offenders who have done their time to be eligible for benefits they are now barred from obtaining.

The act would:

  • Incentivize states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old: Currently 10 states have set the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts below 18 years old. The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to change that by offering preference to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications for those that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts.
  • Allow for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: Provides for automatic expungement of records for kids who commit nonviolent crimes before they turn 15 and automatic sealing of records for those who commit non-violent crimes after they turn 15 years old.
  • Restrict use of juvenile solitary confinement: Ends the practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.
  • Offer adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information -- thereby protecting job applicants -- because of provisions to improve the background check system.
  • Lift the ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use and possession crimes, and for those who have paid their dues for distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

Cory Booker
While the bill was filed last month, it remains a work in progress. A number of advocacy groups, including the Sentencing Project, the Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition have been meeting with Booker and Paul staffers in an effort to make it even better. That work continues.

"A lot of the criminal justice and civil rights and faith groups and the Legal Action Center have been involved in trying to develop legislation like this and are supportive of at least parts of the REDEEM ACT," said Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for the Sentencing Project. "Both senators have said they are willing and want to hear from advocates about how to make the bill better. We've been doing that," he noted.

"We'd like to see it strengthened in some areas in terms of the repeals of bans for people with felonies getting federal benefits, as well as Pell grants and housing benefits. We'd like to see the bill expanded to take away those bans on services as well because they are all counterproductive for a safer reentry when people are released from prison," Haile continued.

While the bill has been described as a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, Haile said, it really addresses a few distinct areas around the repeal of bans on benefits, as well as the juvenile justice measures.

Rand Paul
"Repealing the SNAP and TANF bans for people with drug offenses is something we're really interested in," he said. "As it is, the bill will be especially beneficial for people with drug possession and use offenses. People with drug distribution offenses will have to show they have taken advantage of drug treatment and other things."

There is still time to make the bill stronger, Haile said, especially given partisan gridlock and upcoming midterm elections.

"Given that it's an election year and the lack of progress in Congress on just about everything, it's probably not going to pass before the election," he predicted. "But the bill sponsors are very committed to trying to advance it, if not during this session or during the lame duck, then they will reintroduce it next year."

In the meantime, the country and the economy will continue to suffer the effects of over-criminalization and over-incarceration, Booker said.

"Our country's misguided criminal justice policies have placed an economic drag on communities in both of our states, and on our nation's global competitiveness -- all while making us less, not more, safe," he proclaimed.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Medical Marijuana and Opiate ODs, ME Welfare Drug Test Law, Colombia Drug Talks, More (8/26/14)

Medical marijuana may reduce opioid overdose death rates, International Overdose Awareness Day is coming, the drug war claims another victim, new studies from the NIJ, and more. Let's get to it:

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States Have Lower Opiate Overdose Rates, JAMA Study Finds. States with medical marijuana laws have significantly lower rates of opiate overdose deaths than states that don't, according to an article published Monday in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. The article is Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.

Illinois Seeks Nominees for Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The state medical marijuana program is looking for health professionals and patients to serve on its advisory board, which will be appointed by the governor. For more information, visit the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

New Mexico Cannabis Medical Advisory Board Holds Public Hearing on Proposed New Rules. The state's cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board (MAB) held a public hearing yesterday on proposed rule changes to the program. The MAB is frustrated that the Department of Health did not formally consult with it before releasing proposed rule changes, which have garnered unhappy responses from patients and providers.

Harm Reduction

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. In Los Angeles, members of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) are hosting an event at the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park. Click on the title link for more details. For details on other Overdose Awareness Day events, visit International Overdose Awareness Day.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Test Program Gets No Support at Public Hearing. Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told a public hearing on Gov. LePage's (R) welfare drug testing plan that it was a "common sense approach," but no one else seemed to agree. The ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners vehemently differed. The drug testing scheme, which had been okayed in 2011, but which LePage just rolled now as he faces reelection, would require people with past felony drug convictions to be tested before being approved. A written public comment period is open through Sept. 7, after which Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, will need to sign off on whether the final rule complies with federal law and the intent of the original state-level legislation.

Drugs and Crime

National Institute of Justice Releases Reports on Crime and Drugs. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service at the National Institute of Justice has released five technical reports on drugs and crime. They are: How Much Crime Is Drug-Related? History, Limitations, and Potential Improvements of Estimation Methods, Reducing Drug Violence in Mexico: Options for Implementing Targeted Enforcement, Measuring the Costs of Crime, Drug Control and Reductions in Drug-Attributable Crime, and Managing Drug-Involved Offenders. Click on the title link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Puerto Rico Police Officer is Year's 30th Drug War Fatality. Puerto Rican police officer Geniel Amaro Fantauzzi died Monday after being taken off life support six days after he was shot and critically wounded during a drug raid at a residence. He was an agent of the Humaco Drug Division.

International

Colombia Drug Policy Talks Get Underway. The National Dialog for the Future of Drug Policy got underway last Friday in Bogota. The meeting with members of academia, political groups, and unions is the first of 10 national and regional forums organized by the ministries of Justice, Health and Social Welfare, and Public Affairs. In the first forum, a survey of 61 recognized drug experts was presented, with all 61 saying drug policy "must change" and 42 of them considering current policy "ineffective, costly, and repressive."

Chronicle AM: Oregon Marijuana Legalization Endorsement, PA Mandatory Minimums, Heroin Maintenance, More (8/25/14)

The Oregonian says legalize it, so do Vermont GOP gubernatorial candidates, LEAP founder says legalize heroin, a Pennsylvania court throws out mandatory minimums, Vancouver's SALOME participants will get their heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Diacetylmorphine (pharmaceutical heroin) will soon be on its way to Vancouver. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon's Largest Newspaper Endorses Measure 91. In a Sunday editorial, the Oregonian has endorsed marijuana legalization in general and New Approach Oregon's initiative, Measure 91, in particular. Click on the title link to read the newspaper's reasoning.

Vermont GOP Governor Candidates Agree Marijuana Should Be Legal. In interviews with Vermont Public Radio, all three Republican gubernatorial candidates said they agreed that marijuana should be legalized. Steve Berry of Wolcott, Scott Milne of Pomfret and Emily Peyton of Putney are competing in tomorrow's primary. Peyton and Berry came out strongly for legalization, while Milne said he would sign a bill if it got to his desk. Milne is the leading contender.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Eviction of Public Housing Tenant for Marijuana Criminal Activity. With marijuana decriminalized in the state, can a public housing tenant still be evicted for possession of less than an ounce? That question remains undecided after the state's high court sidestepped it in Figgs v. Boston Housing Authority. A lower court had held that the tenant could not be evicted for simple possession, but the high court reversed, saying the facts in the case showed not just possession, but also that the tenant's roommate sold marijuana and possessed a weapon. Figgs is going to have to find a new place to live now.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Advocates File Lawsuit over PTSD Treatment Restrictions. The Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging limits imposed on patients with PTSD who seek to use medical marijuana. Health Director Will Humble has ruled that PTSD patients can only use medical marijuana if they are already getting some other form of treatment for PTSD. The lawsuit is in Maricopa County District Court.

Kansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. Kansas Democrats now formally support medical marijuana, they announced during their statewide Demofest convention Saturday night. "Kansas Democrats support the availability of marijuana for medical use and protection of patients from criminal arrest and prosecution." the plank says. The platform link wasn't working as of Tuesday night, but you can try it here.

Sentencing

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Mandatory Minimums Unconstitutional. In a decision last week, the court has thrown out the use of mandatory minimum sentences as violating the constitution. The ruling came in Pennsylvania v. Newman, where James Newman had received a mandatory minimum 5-year sentence for possession of drugs and a gun. Relying on a line of federal court decisions beginning with Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Superior Court held that, in sentences based on the elements of the crime, jurors -- not judges -- must find that those elements existed.

California Fair Sentencing Act Heads for Governor's Desk. After a final Senate concurrence vote last Thursday, the Fair Sentencing Act is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The act, Senate Bill 1010, would eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses by reducing the penalty for crack offenses.

Heroin

Boston Globe Op-Ed Calls for End to Heroin Prohibition. A Sunday op-ed in the Globe published by former New Jersey narcotics officer and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition founder Jack Cole forthrightly calls for ending heroin prohibition. Police efforts to repress heroin "did more harm than good, and the harder my colleagues and I tried, the more damage we did," he writes. "As a police officer, I understand the instinct to mete out punishment, send a message, put somebody away for abusing drugs. Nonetheless, my experience has shown me that it is futile, counterproductive, and dangerous to try to arrest our way out of this very real problem." There's much more; click on the title link to read the whole thing.

International

Number of Disappeared in Mexico Keeps Rising. The number of people who have vanished since former President Felipe Calderon initiated his drug war in 2006 has increased to some 23,000, according to the Interior Ministry. More than 12,000 disappeared during the Calderon sexenio, and nearly 10,000 more have vanished during the first two years of the Enrique Pena Nieto presidency. Human rights groups say these official numbers are low.

Two-Thirds of Canadians Support Marijuana Law Reform. A new Forum Research poll finds that 66% of Canadians favor either legalizing and taxing marijuana or taking pot possession out of the criminal code (decriminalizing it). Some 35% said legalize it, while another 31% said decriminalize it. Only 16% said they were happy with the marijuana law status quo.

Canada's SALOME Study Will Get Prescription Heroin By Christmas. Vancouver heroin addicts participating in the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) will have legally prescribed heroin by Christmas, their attorney said last week. They won the right to use heroin as a maintenance drug after the BC Supreme Court in May granted them an injunction exempting them from a federal government ban on such uses. The pharmaceutical grade heroin is coming from a European manufacturer.

Australian National Council on Drugs Softens on Medical Marijuana. The Australian National Council on Drugs today released Medicinal Use of Cannabis: Background and Information Paper, which concedes that pharmaceutical marijuana products are effective for treating some forms of pain, reducing nausea, and helping people with wasting syndrome. The backgrounder comes as clamor grows, especially in Victoria, for legalizing medical marijuana.

(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: AR Initiative Rejected, SWAT Lobby Gears Up, Israel Bans New Synthetics, More (8/22/14)

It's back to the drawing board for an Arkansas legalization initiative, we have a pair of Minnesota court cases, the Michael Brown killing starts bleeding into drug-policy related areas, Israel bans new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

history repeats itself (image is of and infamous 1914 NYT editorial)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording for Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the proposed wording for a prospective 2016 legalization initiative, the Cultivate Hemp and Regulate Marijuana Amendment. The name and ballot title are ambiguous and have "misleading tendencies," McDaniel wrote. Read the opinion here.

Fewer Than One in Five New Yorkers Oppose Marijuana Reform. According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, only 19% of New Yorkers oppose legalizing marijuana for personal or medical use, while 44% say it should be available for medical purposes and another 35% say it should be legal for personal use.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Evidence from Illegal Search Can't Be Used in Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. The state high court ruled Wednesday that evidence derived from a traffic stop that was determined to be unlawful cannot be used to seize someone's property. The court held that Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unlawful search and seizure apply to civil cases as well. The case is Daniel Garcia-Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Drug Testing Law's Worker Protections Don't Extend Outside State, Federal Court Rules. The state's Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace ACT (DATWA) doesn't apply to state residents working or applying to work outside the state, a federal court has ruled. DATWA provides employees with the right to challenge positive drug test results and to try to seek treatment before being fired, but in Olson v. Push, Inc, the court ruled that those protections did not apply to drug tests taken for employment outside Minnesota.

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Gears Up to Keep Access to Surplus Military Equipment. In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, the practice of equipping local law enforcement with surplus military equipment has come under significant criticism. Now the "SWAT lobby," in the form of the National Tactical Officers Association, is moving to ensure that access to military hardware remains unimpeded. It sent a mass email to all congressional offices lamenting the situation in Ferguson, but the bottom line was that police need that surplus military equipment.

Race

The Return of the Drug Crazed Negro. Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum has penned a piece noting the revival of a century-old racist trope -- that of the drug-crazed black man -- in the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sullum notes that conservative commentators have been quick to speculate that he was hopped up on PCP or some other drug that made him crazy enough to attack a cop. Autopsy results say he had smoked marijuana.

International

Young Europeans Split on Marijuana Legalization. The European Union's polling arm Eurobarometer has found Europeans 15 to 24 divided on legalization. According to its poll of 13,000 respondents, 45% favored marijuana legalization, with 53% opposed. European youth was much more unified when it came to other drugs -- more than 90% said drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin should be illegal.

Israel Bans 10 New Synthetic Drugs. Health officials in Israel have banned 10 new synthetic drugs, or "kiosk drugs," as they are known there. They include synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Chronicle AM: OR Dems Just Say Yes, DEA Tightens Screws on Vicodin, CT's First Dispensary Opens, Peru Coca Eradication, Venezuela Plane Shootdowns (8/21/14)

Oregon Dems just say yes, Connecticut's first dispensary opens, the DEA tightens the screws on Vicodin, guess who's more likely to get busted for pot in Ferguson, Missouri, and more. Let's get to it:

coca plants (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Democratic Party Endorses Legalization Initiative. Oregon's Democratic Party has endorsed Measure 91, the New Approach Oregon marijuana legalization initiative. "A majority of Americans and large majority of Democrats now support state regulation of legal marijuana use," the party said. "Measure 91 is the right approach to legalization in Oregon, strictly regulating use while funding law enforcement and schools. Vote Yes on 91."

No Decriminalization Vote in Toledo in November. Even though Northwest Ohio NORML turned in sufficient signatures to qualify a decriminalization initiative for the local ballot earlier this month, voters will not have a chance to get their say in November because the city council failed to act by today. The council doesn't have another meeting set until last week. It's unclear if the initiative is now dead, or if it will go on the ballot at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. The first dispensary in the state opened Wednesday night in South Windsor. Prime Wellness of Connecticut is the first of six dispensaries approved for licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection. The rest will be opening in coming weeks or months.

Prescription Opiates

DEA Tightens Rules on Popular Pain Relievers. It is about to get more difficult to obtain popular pain medications based on hydrocodone, including widely prescribed drugs such as Vicodin. The DEA announced today that it is moving hydrocodone combination drugs from Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to Schedule II. Drugs containing only hydrocodone were already placed on Schedule II, but drug combinations containing hydrocodone plus other substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, have been Schedule III since the CSA was passed in 1970.The DEA will publish the final rule establishing the change in the Federal Register tomorrow. It will go into effect in 45 days.

Law Enforcement

Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, More Than Three Times More Likely Than Whites to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession. In its podcast this week, Missouri drug reform group Show-Me Cannabis points to the drug war connection in the tensions between police and residents in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, plagued by more than 10 days of unrest since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Show-Me's John Payne points out that black residents of Ferguson are 3.25 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Click on the title link to listen to the podcast.

International

West Africa Drugs Commission Head Says Region Must Step Up, Deal With Political Weakness. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also heads the West Africa Commission on Drugs, said countries in the region must confront their political and institutional weaknesses if they are to get a handle on the drug trade. "West Africa is no longer only a transit zone of drugs but an attractive destination where pushers take advantage of the weak political system to perpetuate their trade," he said during a meeting with Ghana's President John Mahama."We believe that we should confront openly the political and governance weaknesses which the traffickers exploit," Obasanjo said. "Drug barons can buy, they can do, and they can undo -- buy officials in the military, security and pervert justice." The commission has called on West Africa to decriminalize drug use and treat the issue as a public health problem.

Peru Aims to Eradicate 75,000 Acres of Coca Plants This Year. Peru's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, says it has already eradicated 30,000 acres of coca plants this year and plans to eradicate another 45,000 acres by years' end. The eradication is being done manually and in tandem with $90 million crop substitution program. About 125,000 acres are under cultivation for coca. Peru is arguably the world's largest coca producer (vying with Colombia), and 90% of the crop is estimated to be destined for the illicit cocaine trade.

Venezuela Has Shot Down at Least Three Suspected Drug Planes in Last Year. At least three planes flying out of Mexico and suspected of carrying drugs have been shot down over Venezuela since last November. This Vice News report goes into detail on the search for one of the missing pilots.

Chronicle AM: Scary Alaska Marijuana Poll, Maryland SWAT Raids, West Africa Drug Meeting (8/20/14)

An unsettling poll in Alaska, Minnesota medical marijuana mom gets busted, there's money to be made in drug testing, Maryland SWAT teams have been busy, a West African meeting on drugs is underway, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Initiative Trails in Poll. The people trying to legalize marijuana in Alaska are in for a tough battle, if the most recent Public Policy Polling survey is any indicator. That poll, taken at the end of July and the beginning of this month, has the marijuana legalization initiative trailing, 44% to 49%. That's a reversal from PPP's last poll on the topic in May, which had the initiative leading by a margin of 48% to 45%. Neither set of numbers is likely to lead to smiling faces at the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, the group behind Measure 2.

Washington Attorney General Files Brief in I-502 Lawsuit. Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a brief in a lawsuit filed by would-be marijuana business operators seeking to overturn local bans on such businesses. The brief argues that nothing in the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law overrides the authority of local governments to regulate businesses, including marijuana businesses. In other words, the attorney general is supporting the localities against the marijuana business people.

Stoner Arrested for Growing Pot. Sorry, we couldn't resist (and it's a slow news day). Charlottesville, Virginia, resident Paul Stoner has been arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force for allegedly growing $10,000 worth of marijuana. He is charged with manufacturing marijuana and possessing a handgun while in possession of more than a pound of pot.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Mom Busted for Giving Son Cannabis Oil Too Soon. Although the state this year passed a law allowing for the use of some forms of medical marijuana, it doesn't go into effect until next July. That's too long to wait for Angela Brown, who traveled to Colorado to obtain cannabis oil for her 15-year-old son. Now she is facing two criminal misdemeanors, including child endangerment. The family says it is now considering moving to Colorado so the boy can get his medicine without his mom facing prosecution.

Drug Testing

Big Bucks to Be Made in the Drug Testing Industry, Report Says. The drug testing industry racked up $2.8 billion in sales last year and is expected to continue to grow, according to a new report from industry watcher Kalorama Information. The report, Drugs of Abuse Testing Markets, says the market is expected to crack the $3 billion mark next year. "Continued demand for testing in the workplace in sports and in government and demand for fast reliable new tests and technologies will be the catalyst for sustained growth" said Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information."New drugs are also a factor."

Law Enforcement

More Than 6,500 SWAT Raids in Maryland Since 2010. According to data from the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center, which is required to be reported under a state law passed in the wake of the infamous Prince Georges County SWAT raid that killed the dogs of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, SWAT teams in the state have been deployed more than 6,500 times in the past four fiscal years. That's 4.5 SWAT raids per day. Prince Georges County (suburban DC) carried out by far the most raids, accounting for 31% of all state SWAT raids. About 90% of SWAT deployments were to execute search warrants, but less than half of those warrants were for violent crimes. The available data doesn't separate out drug offenses.

International

Kofi Annan, Olusegun Obasanjo Meet With Ghanaian President on Drug Policy. The chairman of the West African Commission on Drugs, Olusegun Obasanjo, and its most prominent member, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are meeting today with Ghanaian President John Mahama to discuss regional approaches to the illicit drug trade in the region. The commission earlier this summer called the drug trade a threat to West African institutions, public health, and development and urged regional governments to reform their drugs laws, including by decriminalizing drug possession.

Chronicle AM: SWAT Teams in the News, Santa Fe Decrim Init, Barcelona Cannabis Clubs (8/18/14)

SWAT teams are in the news, the RAVE Act gets critiqued as counterproductive, there will be no medical marijuana initiative in Oklahoma, but it looks like there will be a decriminalization initiative in Santa Fe, and more. Let's get to it:

Demonstration in support of Barcelona's cannabis clubs (fac.cc)
Marijuana Policy

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Decriminalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. The Santa Fe city clerk has determined that an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city has qualified for the November ballot. Now the city council must either vote to change the city ordinance or send the measure to the voters. This measure will eliminate jail time for the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia for personal use and will result in no more than a simple $25 fine, as well as make marijuana possession the lowest priority for the Santa Fe Police Department.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Effort Will Fall Short, Organizers Concede. There will be no medical marijuana initiative in the Sooner State this year. Saturday was the deadline for handing in signatures, and organizers concede they don't have enough valid signatures. They vow to be back at next year.

Hawaii Medical Marijuana Events Slated. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (cofounders of the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii) have announced three free public events on medical marijuana policy next weekend. "Policy Perspectives on Medical Marijuana" will take place in Oahu and Hilo, while a talk session will be held in Kona. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Georgia County Won't Pay Medical Bills for Toddler Injured in SWAT Raid. Habersham County, Georgia, says it will not pay the hospital bills for Bounkham "Baby Boo Boo" Phonesavah, the 19-month-old toddler severely burned when a SWAT team executing a drug arrest warrant threw a flash-bang grenade into his home during a May drug raid. The person the police were looking for wasn't there. Look for a civil lawsuit.

Tampa Police Review Finds No Problem With SWAT Team Killing of Man in Minor Marijuana Raid. SWAT team members acted appropriately when they shot and killed 29-year-old Jason Westcott during a May drug raid, a Tampa Police internal review has found. Police entered the residence where Westcott and a roommate were sleeping, then encountered him with a handgun in the bathroom, where they shot and killed him. Police seized less than $2 worth of marijuana at the scene. There are problems with the investigation that led to the raid, too; click on the May drug raid link to read more.

New York Governor Candidate Randy Credico Arrested, Jailed for Making Video of Cops Arresting Black Man in Subway. Randy Credico, challenger to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next month's Democratic primary, was arrested and jailed for videotaping undercover transit police aggressively arresting a black man Friday afternoon. He is charged with menacing a police officer, obstructing government administration and resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Credico has been arrested more than 20 times, mostly for civil disobedience actions or videotaping police activities.

Justice Department Ups the Ante on FedEx with New Money Laundering Charges. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco unveiled a new indictment against FedEx last Thursday that adds money laundering to a list of charges alleging that the delivery company knowingly shipped illegal prescription drugs from two online pharmacies. The company was already facing 15 conspiracy and drug charges and is looking at a fine of up to $1.6 billion if found guilty. UPS paid the feds $40 million last year to settle similar charges.

RAVE Act Has Done More Harm Than Good, Study Finds. The 2003 RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act) has not reduced the drug's popularity, but has instead endangered users by hampering efforts to protect them. The law held club owners and produces criminally responsible for drug use at their events, and that made them disinclined to provide harm reduction services -- providing free bottled water of allowing groups like DanceSafe to do informational flyering or drug testing -- because that could be used as signs they were aware of drug use. "There were a lot of groups like that, and there was a lot of educational information about drugs being made available," study author University of Delaware sociologist Tammy Anderson said. "Today, clubs and promoters are reluctant to take those precautions because it could be used as evidence against them. The RAVE Act is a relic of the War on Drugs," she said. "It never worked in the past, and it's not working now." Her research was presented Sunday at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

International

Vietnam Sentences Six to Death for Heroin Trafficking. A court in northern Vietnam sentenced six people to death last Thursday for trafficking Laotian heroin destined for China. The six were convicted of trafficking 240 pounds of the drug. Under Vietnamese law, the death penalty can be imposed for offenses involving as little as 3.5 ounces of heroin.

Barcelona to Shut Down Dozens of Cannabis Clubs. The city of Barcelona moved quietly last week to shut down about a third of the city's 145 cannabis clubs, citing "deficiencies" in management at nearly 50 of them. Those "deficiencies" included the illegal sale of marijuana, trying to attract non-members to their premises, and creating problems for the neighborhoods where they operate. Under Spanish law, the clubs can operate as members-only establishments where participants share their collective crops. The Spanish Federation of Cannabis Associations has asked for better regulations to avoid illegal practices.

(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.)

Did You Know Why Some Performance Enhancing Drugs Are Legal While Others Are Banned?, from ProCon.org

Did you know why (supposedly) athletes are allowed to use some drugs but not others? Read the details on sportsanddrugs.procon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

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ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

Chronicle AM -- August 12, 2014

Everybody must be at the beach, because it's pretty quiet on the drug reform front. But Philly faces a class action lawsuit over asset forfeiture, the DEA gets caught wasting taxpayer money, and there's marijuana policy action down South America way. Let's get to it:

Tax dollars go up in smoke as DEA pays an Amtrak snitch nearly a million bucks for freely available passenger information.
Marijuana Policy

Saginaw, Michigan, City Council Approves Decriminalization Vote. The city council voted last night to approve placing a decriminalization initiative before the voters in November. The council is required by state law to place qualifying citizen initiatives on the ballot, but four of the nine council members still voted against. Saginaw is one of more than a dozen Michigan towns and cities where citizen decriminalization initiatives are aiming for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Bans Medical Marijuana Patients From Being Daycare Providers. Oregon's Early Learning Council has passed a temporary rule barring child daycare owners and operators from holding medical marijuana cards. Owners and operators must now also report this information to the council. The rule doesn't apply to users of any other medicines.

Asset Forfeiture

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Philadelphia Forfeiture Practices. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is violating the constitution with its asset forfeiture practices, a class action lawsuit alleges. The city seizes an average of $5.8 million worth of assets a year, nearly four times the amount seized in Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, or Los Angeles County, both of which have larger populations. Lead plaintiff Christos Sourovelis sued after the city seized his home when his son was arrested for drug possession. His two co-complainants also allege their homes were seized although they committed no crimes.

Law Enforcement

DEA Paid an Amtrak Informant Nearly A Million Bucks for Freely Available Information. The DEA paid an Amtrak employee some $854,460 over two decades for providing passenger list information that the agency could have obtained for free, Amtrak reported Monday. The Amtrak inspector general says the DEA is already part of joint drug task force with Amtrak's police agency and could have obtained the information for no cost. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter Monday to DEA head Michele Leonhart saying the incident "raises some serious questions about the DEA's practices and damages its credibility to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies."

International

Brazilian Senate Has Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Senate's Human Rights Commission debated marijuana legalization at a public hearing Monday. It is one of a series of public hearings about whether to introduce a legalization bill in the legislature.

Chilean Woman Becomes First Official Latin American Medical Marijuana Patient. The Chilean Institute for Public Health has approved the use of the marijuana extract tincture Sativex for a woman suffering from breast cancer and lupus. Cecilia Heyder is most likely the first officially approved medical marijuana patient in Latin America.

Costa Rica Lawmaker Files Medical Marijuana, Hemp Bill. Lawmaker Marvin Atencio of the Citizen Action Party held a press conference in San Jose Monday to announce that he had filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the Central American nation. The bill would create an institute within the Health Ministry to supervise it and would allow private concessions to grow marijuana -- for a hefty price tag. The bill would also legalize industrial hemp. Citizen Action controls the government, but does not have a majority, so the bill would require support from other parties to pass.

Comedian Randy Credico's Deadly Serious Quest to Run New York [FEATURE]

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is widely expected to cruise to an easy victory in the Democratic primary on September 9, despite festering influence-peddling scandals, despite his embrace of corporate benefactors, and despite his lackluster support for the ever-popular medical marijuana. He faces only one traditional challenger, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Credico campaign ad in The Nation magazine
But he also faces the insurgent candidacy of comedian, satirist, political gadfly, and perennial candidate Randy Credico, who bills himself as "the most progressive candidate since FDR" and who is running on an anti-corporate and pro-drug reform platform. That's nothing new for Credico, who has long been active in the Rockefeller drug law repeal movement, the prison reform movement, and other progressive social movements.

"Cuomo's father built 37 prisons, Teachout's father [a judge] sends people to prison, my father went to prison -- I know what it does to families," Credico said, beginning to sketch out not only the policy differences but the life experiences that sets him apart from the other contenders.

Credico's father did 10 years in Ohio for a nonviolent offense, the candidate explained.

Credico lays out his platform on the home page of his campaign web site, and it is the stuff of a populist backlash to both overweening corporate control and the state's alive-and-kicking prison/law enforcement industrial complex.

Keeping to the FDR comparison, he calls for "A New Deal for New York" to "Tax Wall Street, Not Main Street," bring "Benefits for the average person," "Clean up City Hall and policing," and "Build infrastructure to create jobs." The platform calls for taxes on the sales of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, income-based real estate taxes, and a more progressive income tax, as well as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, lowering subway fares and other transit tolls, and providing Medicare for all.

But his drug policy platform is also something to behold, and goes well beyond the baby steps taken by even the most progressive mainstream politicians. His criminal justice planks include:

  • legalize marijuana;
  • close Attica prison;
  • ban racial profiling and end stop and frisk;
  • end the Rockefeller drug laws; and
  • direct election of all criminal judges.

The Candidate (credico2014.com)
"I'm for decriminalizing all drugs and legalizing marijuana," Credico told the Chronicle Monday. "I'm not sure if the state is ready for legalizing cocaine and heroin, but I can't believe methadone is better than heroin. We ought to be transforming Rikers Island from a penal colony to a center for job training, education, and treatment. When Attica exploded, there were only 10,000 people in the state prison system; now there are 10,000 on Rikers alone."

[Editor's Note: The 1971 Attica state prison riot left 43 people dead, including 10 guards, and was a spark for the prisoners' rights movement of the 1970s.]

Although the draconian Rockefeller drug laws have been reformed in recent years and the prison population has declined somewhat -- from an all-time high of 95,000 at the end of 2006 to just over 81,000 at the end of June -- there are still more than 10,000 people serving prison time for drug offenses, or, as Credico notes, more than there were people in prison for anything 40 years ago.

"This is happening under the purview of Democrats," he said. "Attorney General Eric Schneiderman walked with us against the Rockefeller laws, but he's been captured by the powers that be and has ignored any calls for further reform, not just of the drug laws, but also of odious prison conditions."

Once upon a time, political candidates had to deny ever having smoked marijuana. Then, one famously denied ever having inhaled. Now, they admit to having used, but brush it off as a youthful indiscretion from their wild school days. Not Credico.

"I've admitted being a pot smoker," he said. "Not every day, but it's been good for me. I smoked and I inhaled, and I believe marijuana is better for you than e-cigs. People should have access to it. It's better than drinking or doing blow," he added.

But Credico even argues that he should have the right to do blow, if that's what he wants to do.

"I can eat Ritalin, I can gobble down all those pharmaceuticals, but if somebody shows up with some pure Bolivian, I want to try that. That's against the law? Who is responsible for that, and who is enforcing it? Nobody gives a shit if I smoke a joint or do a line," he declared.

At a forum at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (credico2014.com)
Of course, that could be because Credico is a middle-aged white guy. But New York City, Credico's home, is infamous for its arrests of tens of thousands of young black and brown city residents each year on marijuana charges, and Credico, of course, is aware of that.

"All the kids I see getting arrested are black. It's against the law to smoke pot -- if you're black," he scoffed.

"They arrest 50,000 kids for smoking pot, but I smoked it at the state capitol, and they wouldn't arrest me," he said. "We have 55,000 homeless people in this city, 20,000 homeless kids. Just think what we could do if marijuana was legal and taxed and we used it to rebuild the infrastructure and create low cost housing. Instead, he keep arresting brown and black kids."

Credico's campaign is low-budget, but he's using tactics honed by years of activism to get his message out. He travels to events throughout the city and state and works crowds -- many of whom already know him from his years of activism around prison issues.

"I'm focusing on the projects; that's where I'm getting my support," he said. "People are tired of the marijuana arrests, the abuse by police. We need a state law banning racial profiling. We're supposed to be the guiding light of the nation, and we don't have a racial profiling law."

Credico is using social media to the best advantage he can. He's produced an award-winning documentary, Sixty Spins Around the Sun, to explain how he's gotten to the point where he's spending his 60th year trying to unseat a powerful incumbent governor, and he's got a Facebook campaign page.

Over the weekend, he penned a piece for the Huffington Post, "Is New York Ready for a Governor Who's Ready to Inhale?", but when it comes to mainstream media attention, he feels like the Rodney Dangerfield of New York politics.

"I don't get no respect," he intoned. "I'm running against two people from the ruling class."

But at least he was on his way to do an interview with NY 1, one of the city's 24-hour cable news channels. And the campaign continues.

(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.)

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