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Chronicle AM: Iran Drug Executions Increasing, Feinstein Pressed on MedMJ, OH Pot Politics, More (7/7/15)

Midwest marijuana legalization initiatives make news, Sen. Feinstein feels some heat, some European countries keep giving Iran anti-drug aid despite a rising number of executions, California's governor signs a bill barring discrimination against medical marijuana patients in organ transplants, and more.

Sen. Feinstein is being urged to support medical marijuana. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Greens Endorse MILegalize Initiative. The Green Party of Michigan has endorsed the more grassroots of two competing Michigan legalization initiatives, the MILegalize initiative sponsored by the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. The Greens say they like the "craft beer" model in the initiative, as opposed to the "industrial" model adopted by the other active Michigan initiative this year.

ResponsibleOhio "Fresh Start Act" Initiative Certified by Attorney General. ResponsibleOhio, the same people bringing you the controversial "monopoly" marijuana legalization initiative, are also moving forward with an initiative that would expunge the criminal records of people with past marijuana convictions. Their Fresh Start Act initiative has been certified by Attorney General Mike DeWine. It must now be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board for review before signature gathering can begin. It is aiming at the 2016 election.

UFCW Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said Monday it is supporting the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The UFCW has been organizing industry workers in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states for some years now.

Medical Marijuana

Senator Feinstein Gets Petition Demanding She Get on Board With Marijuana Reform. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance today delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to chance her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Court Says Urine Drug Testing Rules Don't Apply to Hair Testing. In upholding the dismissal of a man who was fired after a hair follicle drug test came back positive, a state Superior Court judge ruled that regulations that restrict urine drug testing do not apply to hair drug tests, which can detect drug use for months into the past. The court conceded that the disparate protections offered against urine and hair drug testing create a "seemingly irrational inconsistency," but that "the task of changing the law lies with the legislature and not with the judiciary."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Congressman Calls for Price Cuts on Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is accusing the maker of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone of "taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland" by overcharging for the drug. On Tuesday, Cummings wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) urging him to reach a deal with the company to reduce the cost of the drug. "I believe the State of Maryland is being overcharged for a critical drug called naloxone that is used by first responders and medical personnel to reverse the life-threatening effects of heroin and other opioid overdoses, and I urge you to make sure that the company charging these prices is not allowed to continue taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland," Cummings wrote. Other states have managed to get discounts from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals after getting aggressive with the company.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Increasingly Used for Minor Drug Raids. Documents made public today by the ACLU of Massachusetts show that SWAT teams in the state are increasingly used to undertake small-time drug raids. The ACLU filed suit against the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to force it to reveal the records. The records show that of 79 SWAT deployments between 2012 and 2014, 21 were for drug-related search warrants, but that only five resulted in any mention of drug seizures. "The drug hauls are not exactly Pablo Escobar-levels of seriousness," said ACLU's Kate Crockford, referring to the notorious Colombian drug lord. "In one case they found some pills. In another case they found some marijuana. It's important for local communities who pay those police department salaries to understand what's really going on here," she said.

International

Canadian Electronic Music Festival Organizers Will Offer Free Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia is set for this coming weekend, and beginning Friday, people arriving at the festival can submit small samples of their stashes to have them tested. Festival organizers say the move is an effort to reduce harm and overdoses.

European Countries Continue to Fund Iran's Drug War Despite Rampant Resort to Death Penalty. Iran Human Rights reports that nearly 400 people have been executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, accounting for nearly two thirds of all executions. That's not stopping the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and some European countries from continuing to fund Iran's anti-drug efforts. France has provided over a million dollars' worth of aid to the Anti-Narcotics Police, while Germany has contributed more than five million to UNODC projects to train and equip the police. Faced with pressure from campaigners such as the British nonprofit Reprieve, other European countries, including Denmark and Great Britain, have stopped such aid. "Even as Iran's execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for nonviolent offenses. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal," said Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's death penalty team. "It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions."

Chronicle AM: WA Gets Big Bucks From First Year Pot Taxes, Synthetic Drugs Now Banned in NH, More (7/6/15)

Marijuana sales tax revenues exceeded expectations in Washington state, New Hampshire bans new synthetics, Colombia's FARC rebels say they're ready to move on implementing drug provisions of the long-negotiated peace plan, and more.

You can't sell or possess this stuff in New Hampshire anymore. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Collected $70 Million in Marijuana Taxes During Its First Year of Sales. As its first year of legal marijuana sales came to an end, state officials reported that pot sales had generated $70 million in tax revenues and that sales are now topping more than $1.4 million a day. The state had originally forecast it would take in about $36 million in marijuana taxes in the first year. More much at the link.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Governor Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) today signed into law Senate Bill 106, which bans the sale and possession of new synthetic drugs. Businesses that sell the drugs could be hit with fines and civil violations, while people caught in possession will have their drugs seized and be hit with a fine. The new law goes into effect immediately.

International

FARC Says It's Ready to Move Forward With Implementing Drug Provisions of Colombia Peace Plan. FARC negotiators in peace talks with the Colombian government said they were ready to agree on procedures necessary for implementing that part of the peace plan. "To establish the basis for building a stable and lasting peace it is necessary, among other things, to find a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, including the cultivation for illicit use and the production and commercialization of illicit drugs. One step in that direction, accompanied by other gestures of de-escalation, which in a short time may lead the parties to definitively suspend armed actions, would not only restore the confidence and credibility of the process but would also put it in a new place, safe from pressures and provocations of its enemies," said a communique read by FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, whose real name is Luis Antonio Losada. The agreement on drugs includes three provisions: crop substitution programs, public health efforts toward prevention, and dealing with drug trafficking.

Call for Ecstasy to Be Sold Over the Counter in Australia. A leading Australian pharmacist and a drug policy expert are calling for ecstasy to be sold legally to make it safer. Pharmacist Joshua Donelly, former chair of the Victoria drug policy drug policy advisory committee, and Professor David Pennington said most of the risks associated with ecstasy are a result of users taking adulterated black market pills. "Australians are one of the highest consumers of MDMA in the world, yet we resolutely resist exploring the fact that most of the uncommon ill consequences of its use arise from impurities in the illicitly manufactured drug and the 'illicit', uncontrolled circumstances of its use," Professor Penington said. Donnelly added that ecstasy caused "negligible" harm to users and people around them and was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

ProCon.org: 192 Performance Enhancing Drugs That Are Banned From Sports

Did you know there are 192 drugs and methods that have banned from sports as "performance enhancing"? Read about it on SportsAndDrugs.ProCon.org, part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the fifth installment in a Drug War Chronicle "Did You Know" series of important facts from ProCon.org. Check out the Chronicle next two week to read the last installment, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's installment here.

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.

On the UN's Global Anti-Drug Day, Civil Society Fights Back [FEATURE]

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today released its 2015 World Drug Report as the organization marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, but civil society groups around the world used the occasion to take to the streets to demand an end to the global drug prohibition regime.

The report itself was relatively anodyne by UNODC standards, noting that illicit drug was "stable," with around 250 million people having used illegal drugs in the previous year. There was "little change in the overall global situation regarding the production, use and health consequences of illicit drugs," the UNODC noted.

The annual report did make note of deleterious consequences related to drug prohibition -- including high overdose death rates and health consequences, as well strengthening terrorist and organized crime networks -- but failed to acknowledge the role of prohibition in creating and aggravating the very problems it claims to address.

Global civil society took it upon itself to rectify that omission. Led by the International Drug Policy Consortium, dozens of groups mobilizing thousands of people marched or otherwise took action in at least 150 cities worldwide as part of the Support, Don't Punish global advocacy campaign. Support has more than tripled since 2013, when 41 cities participated.

"On the 26th June, thousands of people in over 150 cities will take part in a global day of action for the Support. Don’t Punish campaign. The campaign is a global show of force to say enough is enough – it’s time to end the wasteful and damaging war on drugs," said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

"Governments need to wake up," declared Idrissa Ba, Executive Director of the Association Sénégalaise pour la Réduction des Risques Infectieux chez les Groupes Vulnerables (ASRDR) and member of the West African Commission on Drugs. "In the last year we’ve spent another $100 billion on fighting the drug war, and yet again we’ve seen no change, but the human cost in terms of lives lost, new HIV infections or the forced detention of people who use drugs is immeasurable. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, isn’t that the definition of madness?” 

In New York City, people from groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Harm Reduction Coalition, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Espolea, México Unido Contra la Delincuencia, and Transform met an UN headquarters to demand reforms in the broken global drug prohibition system.

In Washington, DC, another march went from the State Department to the White House to demand that the Obama administration take stronger steps to bring about an end to global drug prohibition and the human rights abuses committed in its name, including the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.  

"The purpose of 'Support, Don't Punish' is not only to spread global awareness about the failures of prohibition, but to demand that world leaders place human rights at the forefront of any conversation around global drug trafficking," said Jake Agliata, regional outreach coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization with chapters on hundreds of campuses worldwide and which coordinated the DC march. "Executing people for nonviolent drug offenses is not acceptable, and the State Department should take steps to ensure that our tax dollars never contribute to this archaic practice."

"The World Drug Report has dutifully laid out what some of the key harms of the current system are. But the report fails to note that the system itself is a cause of those harms, not a solution for them," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, cosponsor of the DC march. "Prohibiting drugs sends both use and the trade in drugs into a criminal underground, generating untold profits for drug lords and causing terrible harms to many users. We were at the State Department today because we think the US should get behind efforts to reform the UN drug conventions. It doesn't make sense to maintain a treaty structure that is based on prohibition while the U.S. and other countries are taking steps toward legalization."

The death penalty for drugs is under attack. Here, Iran executes drug offenders. (handsoffcain.info)
The day of action is intended to help frame the debate in advance of a UN General Assembly Special Session on Drug scheduled for next April, where countries have the opportunity to revise international treaties that threaten to stand in the way of reforms such as marijuana legalization and harm reduction measures like syringe exchange.

Last month, a coalition of more than 100 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, released a sign-on letter calling on nations to begin the process of revising the drug control treaties. The letter is online here

A full list of events from Friday's global day of action is available here. Actions were set to to take place in Australia, Brazil, Egypt, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the USA – as well as in Argentina, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Serbia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

Chronicle AM: Pregnancy and Marijuana Use, Church Group Says Decriminalize Drugs, More (6/23/15)

Guidance from a doctor's group on marijuana use and pregnancy matches what activist groups think the policy should be, the Maine legislature punts on legalization, a California bill to protect patients from discrimination in access to organ transplants passes the legislature, and more.

Pregnancy and marijuana use is in the news today. (wikimedia.org/David Roseborough)
Marijuana Policy

Doctors' Group Issues Guidance on Marijuana Use By Pregnant Women; Advocates Urge Non-Punitive Responses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued guidance encouraging pregnant women to avoid marijuana use "[b]ecause the effects of marijuana may be as serious as those of cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption." The group also called for non-punitive treatment for pregnant pot smokers: "Seeking obstetric-gynecologic care should not expose a woman to criminal or civil penalties for marijuana use, such as incarceration, involuntary commitment, loss of custody of her children, or loss of housing... Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus." Noting that pregnant women who use marijuana have been arrested in numerous states, National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance are urging that non-punitive responses to cigarette smoking and alcohol use be applied to pregnant women who use marijuana. The two groups also call for more unbiased research on marijuana use during pregnancy.

Maine Legislature Rejects Legalization. Solons in both the House and Senate Monday rejected marijuana legalization bills, clearing the way for legalization initiatives next year. The House rejected LD 1380, from longtime legalization advocate Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) that would have put the issue to a popular vote, while the Senate unanimously LD 1401, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland). At least two separate legalization initiative campaigns are already underway.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Takes Up CBD Tomorrow. The caucus, generally composed of old school drug warriors, will somewhat surprisingly examine CBDs, focusing on barriers to research and potential medical benefits tomorrow. The hearing is set for 9:30am Wednesday.

California Organ Transplant Bill Passes Legislature. The bill would bar health care providers from denying access to organ transplants based solely on the patient's medical marijuana use. Assembly Bill 258 now awaits the governor's signature.

New Jersey Bill to Allow Sick Kids to Use CBD Oil at School Introduced. Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) and Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) Monday filed a bill that would allow children to use CBD cannabis oil at school. The bill would require parents or a designated adult to come to the school and administer the oil. The measure is Assembly Bill 4587.

Drug Policy

New England Methodists Call for Drug Decriminalization. The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing some 600 congregations, passed a resolution saying that "the public policy of prohibition of certain narcotics and psychoactive substances, sometimes called the 'War on Drugs,' has failed to achieve the goal of eliminating, or even reducing, substance abuse" and called for "seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse." The resolution was supported by Christians Against Prohibition and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

International

British Liberal Democrats Call for Medical Marijuana, Drug Decriminalization. The Lib Dems have offered amendment to the government's psychoactive substances bill that would decriminalize drug possession and legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. "When I was a police officer, I realized that locking up drug users is simply not the answer," said party leader Brian Paddick, who offered the amendments. "We have to learn the lessons of why our current approach is failing before we make the same mistakes with new psychoactive substances as we have done with other illegal drugs."

Chronicle AM: Dalai Lama on MedMJ, OH Initiative Shenanigans, First MA Dispensary Will Open, More (6/22/05)

Ohio's political establishment gears up to block a controversial legalization initiative, the Dalai Lama supports medical marijuana, the Obama administration removes a barrier to marijuana research, Louisiana's governor rejects clemency for a man doing 13 years for two joints, and more.

The Dalai Lama is down with medical marijuana. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Official Says Proposed Amendment Could Block Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted said last Friday that an amendment to block private-interest monopolies would render the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative invalid if the former passed. Husted and Republican lawmakers have vowed to adopt a resolution to place the monopoly amendment on the ballot. Husted said that if that amendment passes, the ResponsibleOhio initiative would be invalid, even if it also passed, and even if it passed with more votes than the monopoly amendment. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would limit commercial marijuana growing to ten specified locations, the owners of which are also the financiers of the initiative campaign.

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Proposed. Billings anti-pot zealot Steve Zabawa is back at it. In 2014, he proposed an initiative saying that any federal Schedule I controlled substance (read: marijuana) "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana." It failed for lack of signatures. Now he has filed the same initiative again.

Medical Marijuana

Dalai Lama Endorses Medical Marijuana. Speaking at a an event in Guanajuato, Mexico, last week, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Speaking in response to a question about legalizing marijuana, the Dalai clarified that he opposed its recreational use, but using it medicinally would be "the exception."

White House Removes Crucial Barrier to Marijuana Research. The Obama administration announced today it is ending a major impediment to marijuana research, the Public Health Service review. That hurdle, created under the Clinton administration, required all applications for marijuana research to undergo an individual review, slowing down marijuana research and making it more difficult to study than heroin or cocaine.

First Massachusetts Dispensary Approved to Sell Medical Marijuana; One Inspection Left. The Alternative Therapies Group in Salem is ready to start selling to patients after winning a temporary waiver from state testing guidelines widely viewed as too strict. The Department of Public Health has said it will reconsider the standards. The dispensary is one of four in the state that have started growing their own supply, and is the furthest along. It must still pass a final inspection before it opens its doors. Much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Appeals Court Upholds Making Employer Pay for Emotional Distress from Random Workplace Drug Testing. The court upheld an award for the intentional infliction of emotional distress on two law office workers pressured into taking a random drug test by their employer. The employee handbook called for random drug testing for certain safety-sensitive categories, or after an accident or for probable cause, but the company compelled all employees to undergo drug testing on one day in 2011. The two plaintiffs were awarded $15,000 each in damages by the trial court, which is what the appeals court just upheld.

Law Enforcement

Philly Court Throws Out 58 Convictions Tied to Dirty Narcs. A Common Pleas Court judge last Friday reversed 58 convictions in cases linked to six former Philadelphia narcotics officers. The six were cleared of criminal corruption charges in federal court in May, but their misdeeds have tainted hundreds of cases. The Public Defender's Office is seeking reversals of 1,370 cases, and the city is facing 135 civil rights lawsuits based on the unit's behavior. Since 2013, prosecutors have refused to prosecute cases tied to the squad after numerous allegations they planted evidence, beat and robbed suspects, and falsified paperwork. Much more at the link.

Sentencing

Louisiana Governor Rejects Clemency for Black Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last week denied a clemency petition for Bernard Noble, sentenced to 13 years in prison for two joints under the state's draconian marijuana laws. Jindal said he rejected clemency because Noble had not yet served 10 years in prison.

International

China's Wide Open Illegal Drug Chemical Factories. It's pretty darned easy to get new synthetic drugs by the pound or more from Chinese manufacturers, according to this New York Times report. Need spice or flakka or bath salts? It's just a few clicks away.

Chronicle AM: Delaware Decriminalizes, Supremes Make Synthetic Convictions More Difficult, More (6/19/05)

The marijuana reform bandwagon rolls through Delaware, federal bills on opiates and racial profiling get filed, the Supreme Court issues an interesting decision on synthetic drug sales, and more.

The Supreme Court clarifies that criminal intent matters. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults. The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.

Missouri Cannabis Conference Next Weekend. Missouri advocacy groups Show Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are holding a joint conference beginning next Friday in Kansas City. Click on the title link for all the details.

Heroin and Opiates

Federal Bill to Deal With Opiate Use Filed. A bipartisan group of six House members Thursday filed HR 2805 as a multi-pronged effort to grapple with opiate and heroin use. Several other bills on the topic have already been filed. This one would increase prescription monitoring requirements, create an inter-agency task to develop best practices for pain management, create a grant program to increase the number of first responders carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and direct the drug czar's office to establish a public awareness program.

New Synthetic Drugs

Supreme Court Rules People Can't Be Convicted for Selling Synthetic Drugs If It's Not Clear They're Illegal. A unanimous US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people cannot be convicted for selling synthetic drugs unless prosecutors prove they knew the drugs were prohibited by law. Stephen McFadden had been convicted of violating the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement Act for selling "bath salts," and a federal appeals court ruled that trial court jury instructions saying he could be convicted if the jury found he intended the drugs for human consumption. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying prosecutors must prove the defendant knew the substance was either a controlled substance or an analog. The case is McFadden v. United States.

Law Enforcement

Federal Racial Profiling Bill Introduced. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Thursday filed S 1610, which would eliminate racial profiling by police officers and promote accountability for state and local law enforcement. The bill also has provisions to eliminate sentencing disparities and promote reentry programs. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Chronicle AM: Putin Says "Nyet" to Legalization, KY Divvies Up Heroin Fight Dollars, More (6/17/05)

Marijuana's going to be legal in Oregon next month, and a new website will help explain things, the focus is on Gov. Cuomo now that an emergency access medical marijuana has passed the New York legislature, Vermont's top jailer comes out for decriminalization of drugs, and more.

Vladimir Putin says "nyet" to drug legalization. (kremlin.ru)
Marijuana Policy

With Legalization Looming, Oregon Regulators Launch Informational Website. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched an educational website laying out what is and isn't allowed under the state's marijuana legalization law, which is set to go into effect July 1. Check it out at the link.

Medical Marijuana

New York Early Access Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow early access to medical marijuana passed the Senate Monday night after already being approved in the Assembly. The move comes as a year has gone by since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, but not one patient has yet to be able to legally obtain any. This bill would provide expedited access to seriously ill patients.

Heroin

Kentucky Legislators Ponder How to Spend $10 Million to Fight Heroin. Recently passed legislation allocated $10 million to fight heroin, and now legislators are trying to figure out where to put that money. Justice Secretary Michael Brown recommended spending it on jail treatment programs, mental health centers, transitional care for pregnant drug-using women, and faster prosecutions against heroin dealers. It will be up to the legislature to agree or not.

Drug Policy

Vermont Corrections Commissioner Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito has said that drug possession should be decriminalized and the war on drugs declared a failure. "Possession of drugs for personal utilization -- if somebody is not hurting anyone [else], that should not be a criminal justice matter," Pallito said. "I don't think anybody can say that putting somebody with an addiction problem through the corrections system is a good idea. We should go to the Portugal model, which is to deal with the addiction and not spend the money on the criminal justice system," Pallito said. "We spend so much money on corrections that could be done differently. The only way to do it is spend less on corrections and more on treatment." There's much more at the link.

International

Putin Opposes Drug Legalization. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed drug legalization. "Of course, we must take into consideration in our current work that a range of governments have begun a true campaign on the legalization of certain types of narcotics, or so-called recreational drugs. We, of course, are against such approaches and this point of view needs to be more actively moved forward on all international platforms," Putin said during a government council meeting.

The US Is Deporting Hundreds of Thousands for Drug Offenses, Many Minor [FEATURE]

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

The US government wants to throw Marsha Austin out of the country. The 67-year-old grandmother came from Jamaica to New York as a lawful resident in 1985, and has lived here ever since with her husband, seven children (two more are in Jamaica), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All are legal residents or US citizens.

Marsha Austin and her family in the Bronx (hrw.org)
By her own admission, she had problems with drugs. "I live in a drug-infested area," she said of her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine in the wake of her mother's death. Jones racked up several minor convictions before getting popped for making a $5 purchase for an undercover officer in 1995.

That was "attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree," to which she pleaded guilty on her public defender's advice. The attorney failed to tell her the conviction could lead to deportation.

Her convictions led to little or no jail time, but in 2010, as her husband's health faltered, she violated probation by drinking alcohol. She did 90 days in jail, but instead of walking out, she was seized by immigration authorities at the end of her sentence and spent the next 2 ½ years in immigration jail awaiting deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly opposed her release, claiming she was under mandatory detention for her drug offenses, but then released her unexpectedly in 2013. She's been in treatment since then and now proudly reports that she's been "clean as a whistle" for the past five years. Now, her husband's health is failing, as is the health of her daughter, who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter suffered a serious illness.

"My kids and my grandkids, that's what I'm living for now," she said.

But she remains in limbo. The US government still wants to send her back to Jamaica, arguing that she is subject to deportation for the "aggravated felony" of buying $5 worth of crack for a narc.

She's not alone. Beginning late in the George W. Bush years and continuing through the Obama administration, the US has been deporting and trying to deport immigrants for drug offenses at a record clip. According to a just released report from Human Rights Watch, more than 260,000 non-citizens -- legal residents and illegal immigrants alike -- were deported for drug offenses between 2007 and 2012. Shockingly, 34,000 people were deported for marijuana possession offenses alone.

The trend is upward. The number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug crime was up 22% over that period, while the number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug possession offense was up even more, at 43%.

Tens of thousands more have been or are being detained indefinitely in immigration jails fighting pending deportation orders. Such extended imprisonments wreak havoc on the families who husbands or fathers, wives or mothers, are caught up behind bars.

The sweeping action against non-citizens comes as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on "criminal aliens," but seems disproportionately harsh when applied to low-level drug offenders, especially people who have lived all or most of their lives here and have strong family and community roots in this country. It is also at odds with the trends toward drug decriminalization and even legalization now at play in the country.

The Human Rights Watch report, "A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses," documents how the US government is routinely breaking up families by initiating deportation proceedings for drug offenses, often ones decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time. Researchers interviewed more than 130 affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated new data obtained from ICE.

Here are some of the cases examined in the report:

"Raul Valdez, a permanent resident from Mexico who had grown up in the Chicago area from the age of one, was deported in 2014 because of a 2003 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, for which he had been sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Ricardo Fuenzalida, a permanent resident from Chile now living in New Jersey, was held without bond for months fighting deportation in 2013 because of two marijuana possession convictions from 13 years earlier.

Jose Francisco Gonzalez, a permanent resident in Anaheim, California, was put into deportation proceedings and held without bond in 2014 because of a 2001 arrest for having two pot plants, despite having successfully completed a California diversion program that promised to erase his criminal record.

Abdulhakim Haji-Eda, a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the US at the age of 13, has been ordered deported as a drug trafficker for a teenage drug sale in Seattle. Now 26 years old, he has no other convictions, and is married to a US citizen with two US citizen children and another on the way.

"Antonio S.," who came to the US from Mexico when he was 12 and was eligible for a reprieve from deportation as a "DREAMer" under the executive program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was detained for over a year in Colorado and deported after a conviction for possession of marijuana, a municipal violation to which he pleaded guilty without an attorney.

"Alice M.," a 41-year-old graphic designer and Canadian citizen, [was barred] from living in the US with her US citizen fiancé because of a single 1992 conviction for cocaine possession she received in Canada in her last year of high school, a conviction that was pardoned long ago in Canada.

"Mr. V.," a refugee and permanent resident from Vietnam, was ordered deported in 2008 for a 1999 conviction for possession of crack cocaine. Although he has since been granted a full and unconditional pardon from the state of South Carolina, Mr. V. remains under a deportation order and only remains in the US because of restrictions on the repatriation of certain Vietnamese nationals."

"Even as many US states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses."

The report notes that the Obama administration has been sensitive to the injustices of the war on drugs and urges it to be as sensitive to the harsh effects of its deportation policies related to drug offenses. But it is not just the federal government that can act to improve the situation. Here are the group's recommendations:

"To the United States Congress

Eliminate deportation based on convictions for simple possession of drugs.

Ensure that all non-citizens in deportation proceedings, including those with convictions for drug offenses, have access to an individualized hearing where the immigration judge can weigh evidence of rehabilitation, family ties, and other equities against a criminal conviction.

Ensure that refugees and asylum seekers with convictions for sale, distribution, or production of drugs are only considered to have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" through case-by-case determination that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and whether the non-citizen is a threat to public safety.

Ensure that non-citizens who are barred from entering the US and/or gaining lawful resident status because of a criminal conviction, including for drug offenses, are eligible to apply for individualized consideration, i.e., a waiver of the bar, based on such factors as the above mentioned.

Eliminate mandatory detention and ensure all non-citizens are given an opportunity for an individualized bond hearing.

Redefine "conviction" in immigration law to exclude convictions that have been expunged, pardoned, vacated, or are otherwise not recognized by the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use.

To the Department of Homeland Security

Provide clear guidance to immigration officials that a positive exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be appropriate even in cases involving non-citizens with criminal convictions, with particular consideration for lawful permanent residents and non-citizens whose most serious convictions are for nonviolent offenses, including drug convictions, that occurred five or more years ago.

Provide all non-citizens who have been in detention for six months or more with a bond hearing.

To State and Local Governments

Ensure drug courts and diversion programs do not require a guilty plea from defendants that would constitute a conviction that triggers deportation, mandatory detention, and other immigration consequences even upon successful completion of the program.

Remove barriers to post-conviction relief for non-citizens convicted of nonviolent drug offenses through legal error, including through guilty pleas obtained without adequate advice from defense counsel on the potential immigration consequences of the plea.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use."

To be comprehensive and thorough, drug reform must encompass immigration law reform, too.

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Sales Compromise, CO Employers Can Fire MedMJ Patients, More (6/15/05)

A legislative compromise would let Oregon counties where voters opposed legalization ban pot shops, the Colorado Supreme Court rules in favor of employers over medical marijuana patients, two big eastern cities are on the verge of shifting their drug enforcement policies, and more.

No pot shops like this for Eastern Oregon under a compromise being bruited by the legislature.
Marijuana Policy

Powerful Arizona Business Group Will Oppose Legalization Efforts. One of the state's most influential business groups, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, has announced it will oppose looming legalization initiatives there. The group said it is worried about more workplace injuries and workers' compensation claims. "We arrived at our decision after careful consideration of the experiences of other states that have legalized marijuana, the arguments of proponents and research by our foundation. After looking at all the facts, we've determined that there is no upside to the legalization of recreational marijuana," said Chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer. "The negative consequences that could result from legalization affect our business environment and the public's health."

Oregon Legislators Make It Easier to Ban Pot Sales in Eastern Counties. In a bid to get their legal marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 3400, back on track, leaders of the committee dealing with marijuana have agreed to new legislative language that would allow local governments to ban pot sales in counties where at least 55% of voters rejected the Measure 91 legalization initiative in 2014. All of those counties are in the sparsely populated and politically conservative eastern part of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Employers Can Fire Medical Marijuana Patients for Off-Duty Use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.

Law Enforcement

Washington, DC, Police to Shift Drug Enforcement Focus. DC Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier has announced that the department will revise its drug war strategy by focusing on suppliers instead of street-level buyers and by putting undercover officers back in uniform. "Our main goal is the supply," Lanier said. "We don't want to focus police efforts on just people who are addicted. We want to be focusing on the people who are bringing the stuff in."

Boston Mayor Says City Could Offer Addicts Treatment Instead of Arrest. Mayor Marty Walsh (D) said that Boston could follow in the footsteps of nearby Gloucester and offer treatment instead of arrest to opiate users seeking help. Gloucester recently announced it had adopted that policy. "I commend Gloucester for what they're doing," Walsh said. "I think it's a great idea, a great pilot program, I'm looking forward to seeing how it works and taking that model and possibly using it here in Boston." The chance of the city adopting the program is "probably pretty good... I'm not sure when, but it's probably fairly good odds," he said.

International

>Costa Rican Ministry of Health Releases Criteria for Pending Medical Marijuana Bill.Earlier this month, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health outlined the details for the implementation of a pending bill to research and regulate marijuana for medical and industrial purposes. The bill was introduced by ruling Citizen Action Party legislator Marvin Atencio last year to tax marijuana products and regulate the use of medical marijuana through registration cards for patients provided by the Ministry of Health. Ten months after Atencios's proposal, the Ministry of Health released its criteria for the implementation of the bill. Among the conditions specified by the Ministry are that medical marijuana must be used as a last resort and that recreational use of marijuana will continue to be illegal. Medical marijuana will be distributed through conventional drug stores and will follow the same prescription rules outlined by the Costa Rican Social Security System. One of Atencio's proposals to issue marijuana identity cards was discarded by the Ministry under the argument that it would entail discrimination. Atencio responded by saying that the cards would protect medical marijuana patients in encounters with law enforcement. Other conditions included the implementation of educational campaigns for the general public on what is permissible under the new bill and an emphasis on an existing law prohibiting the monopolization of research on marijuana and hemp plants.

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