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Chronicle AM -- August 4, 2014

Sentencing reform bills look to be picking up steam in Congress, Massachusetts is expanding drug courts, Tennessee's welfare drug test law generates unimpressive results, drug reform conferences are coming in Latin America, and more. Let's get to it:

Oregon drug court (co.washington.oregon.us)
Marijuana Policy

Toledo, Ohio, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Backers of a Toledo municipal decriminalization initiative handed in some 13,000 signatures Monday. They need 6,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign is being led by Northwest Ohio NORML.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The bill, House Resolution 5226, would exclude low-THC therapeutic cannabis oil from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It was filed with three cosponsors, and picked up seven more late last week. There are five Democrats and five Republicans now sponsoring it.

Sentencing

Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, Senate Bill 1410, would allow federal judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases, apply adjusted crack cocaine sentences to people after the passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, as well as other sentencing reform provisions. The latest cosponsor is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The bill now has 31 cosponsors -- 23 Democrats, two independents, and six Republicans.

House Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3382, is identical to the Senate version above. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). The bill now has 49 cosponsors -- 35 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

House Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 3465, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), amends the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow for funding for grants for family-based drug treatment and for drug treatment and criminal justice collaboration for people leaving prison. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX). The bill now has 40 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Law Screens 800 Applicants; One Fails Drug Test. In the first month that the new welfare drug screening and testing law went into effect, 812 applicants were asked to submit to screening for evidence of possible drug use. Four refused the initial screening, a series of questions about drug use. After initial screening, only six people were asked to submit to drug tests in order to receive benefits. Five out of the six passed. One failed the drug test.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up Cosponsor. The bill, House Resolution 5212, was introduced late last week by. Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI). It would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. It now has a cosponsor, Rep. Renee Elmers (R-NC).

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts to Expand Drug Courts. Faced with an increase in heroin overdoses and opiate addiction, the state will add five drug courts to the 21 it currently has. Drug reformers criticize drug courts as not the answer for dealing with people whose only "crime" is their drug habit.

International

Mexican State Moves to Limit Coverage of Violent Crime. The state of Sinaloa, home to -- you guessed it -- the Sinaloa Cartel, has barred reporters from covering the violence there. The state congress last Thursday approved a law that restricts journalists to official government press releases for crime information and bans them from inspecting the scene, taking any photos or videos, or recording audio on-site.

Uruguay Solicits Bids for Marijuana Growers. Would-be marijuana growers in Uruguay have until August 18 to submit bids for licenses to grow pot at government-run fields and then sell it to consumers. The government there will license up to five growers.

Colombia Drug Reform Conference Later This Month. A drug reform conference will be held in Bogota on August 14 and 15. The conference is "Drug Policy 25 Years After the Death of Luis Carlos Galan: How Much Have We Advanced?" The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann and Dr. Carl Hart will be there, as will numerous Colombian and other Latin American presenters and participants. Click the title link for more details.

Fifth Annual Latin American Drug Reform Conference in Costa Rica Next Month. The hemispheric conference will be held in San Jose on September 3 and 4. The conference will also include the First Annual Central American Drug Reform Conference. Click on the title link for lots more information.

Denmark's Liberal Alliance Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The opposition Liberal Alliance called at its summer meeting Sunday for the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs, increasing the use of medical marijuana in the national health sector, and continuing the safe injection site initiative. "We know that it doesn't help to punish people for being in possession of drugs," said party leader Anders Samuelson. "We are not talking about a total liberalization of drug dealing. It should still be illegal to sell drugs, but not to be in possession of them." The proposal is not winning support from other political parties.

Chronicle AM -- August 1, 2014

The New York Times isn't done talking about marijuana, a House committee hears about stoned driving, you can comment now on Maryland's draft medical marijuana regulations, federal asset forfeiture and overdose prevention bills get introduced, and more. Let's get to it:

The New York Times says it's time for Reefer Madness to come to an end.
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Has a Week's Worth of Legalization Editorials. The Times's editorial last Sunday calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition, Repeal Prohibition, Again, was only the beginning. Throughout this week, the "newspaper of record" has kept at it -- and there's still more to come. The other editorials printed so far are Let States Decide on Marijuana, The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests, The Federal Marijuana Ban is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia, and What Science Says About Marijuana. Still to come are editorials addressing track records and regulation. There is also a blog post providing background on the Times's decision to endorse legalization.

House Holds Hearing on Stoned Driving. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing yesterday on driving under the influence of marijuana, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned," but the upshot was that the federal government has very little information about stoned driving and little basis for setting a legal limit for marijuana impairment. "No one is arguing that [driving while high is] a good idea, but the fact of the matter is that we don't have a lot of data," said Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly. "[Public policy has] got to be based on science, and we need more of it." Researchers testifying before the committee agreed. Click on the hearing link to watch the whole thing.

Washington Attorney General Intervenes in I-502 Lawsuits. Attorney General Bob Ferguson yesterday moved to intervene in three marijuana lawsuits filed against the cities of Wenatchee and Fife, which have passed local ordinances barring the operation of retail marijuana outlets. An opinion released by Ferguson in January concluded that I-502 does not bar localities from banning such businesses, so it appears he will be siding with the localities.

More Michigan Towns to Vote on Marijuana Reform Measures. Three more Michigan communities have joined the list of towns and cities that will vote on municipal legalization measures. Saginaw, Clare, and Harrison all have measures that have qualified for the ballot. In Saginaw, up to an ounce would be legalized; in Clare and Harrison, up to 2.5 ounces. More than a dozen Michigan communities are expected to vote on reform measures in November.

Portland, Oregon, Moves to Tax Marijuana Before It's Even Legal. The city of Portland has created a marijuana advisory committee in anticipation of voters legalizing marijuana statewide in November. The committee is discussing where to allow pot shops, but it is also moving to create a city sales tax -- and it has to do that before the November election because the language of the New Approach Oregon initiative does not allow cities to impose taxes beyond the state tax it imposes. The thinking is that if a tax is passed before the election, it can be grandfathered in.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations are Now Available -- And You Have Until Tuesday to Comment. Maryland's medical marijuana commission has released draft regulations for cultivators and physicians. The Marijuana Policy Project has some problems with them, including calls for an "unnecessary" training course on medical marijuana for all certifying physicians, mandatory drug testing for patients, and a requirement that doctors specify dosage and strain type. These are draft regulations, but the period for comment on the draft ends Tuesday. Interested parties can email the commission to register their comments.

Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, has picked up a fourth cosponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act and block the act from being used against medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 Picks Up New Cosponsor. Senate Bill 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, has picked up its 31st cosponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The bill would allow judges in some cases to sentence without regard to mandatory minimums, reduce mandatory minimums, and allow people sentenced for crack offenses after the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act went into effect to seek sentence reductions.

Harm Reduction

Senator Jack Reed Introduces Overdose Prevention Act. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and four Democratic cosponsors today introduced the Overdose Prevention Act, which would expand overdose prevention services and providing funding for access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bill is not yet up on the congressional web site.

Asset Forfeiture

Rep. Tim Walberg Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) has filed House Resolution 5212, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. The bill would raise the standard of proof necessary for the government to seize property and reinstate due process so the government is required to  prove a property owner's involvement in criminal activity. This is the second asset forfeiture reform bill filed in as many weeks. Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Report Scolds DEA for Leaving Student in Cell for Five Days. A Justice Department report on the detention of San Diego student Daniel Chong, who was left unattended in a holding cell for five days at a DEA office there, has concluded that the DEA did not take simple measures to ensure that detainees are not forgotten. The report also slammed the agency for having the same agents who left Chong in the cell conduct the investigation into how it happened. Chong earlier received a $1.4 million payout from the DEA to settle a lawsuit he brought against the agency.

International

Russian Drug Agency Proposes Giving Social Benefits to Recovering Drug Users. In something of a surprise move, the Russian Federal Drug Control Service has proposed providing free housing, food subsidies, and home health care to help recovering drug users progress in their rehabilitation. The bill would add drug addicts to a list of categories of people considered socially vulnerable, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities. The proposal has drawn harsh criticism from opponents, who argue that it would encourage drug use.

Chronicle AM -- July 31, 2014

One study finds that Colorado is doing just fine with marijuana legalization, another finds that kids aren't smoking more pot in medical marijuana states, there's trouble in Albuquerque, Detroit police go on yet another well-publicized mass drug sweep, Marc Emery vows revenge, and more. Let's get to it:

Seattle PD has adjusted well to marijuana legalization. With one apparent exception. (Seattle PD)
Marijuana Policy

Brookings Institution Report Finds Colorado's Legalization is Succeeding. The Brookings Institution's Center for Effective Public Management today released a report on how well Colorado is managing marijuana legalization. The title of the report, "Colorado's Rollout of Legal Marijuana is Succeeding," pretty much spells it out. "The state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy," according to the report authored by John Hudak, a Brookings fellow in Governance Studies. "In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state." Click on the link to read the full report.

Georgia Libertarian Party Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The Libertarian Party of Georgia says "legalize it." In a Wednesday press release, the party came out four-square for legalization. "Georgia voters should be allowed to vote on the issue", said state party chair Doug Craig. "If the voters were allowed to vote we believe they would vote to legalize. Rights should never be determined by popular vote, but polling gives us a good indication on where the public stands on the issue. As Libertarians, we support giving the public the freedom to choose. Lawmakers should study the issue and allow public input into forming a better policy that stops treating otherwise law abiding citizens as criminals."

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Up in the Air After City Messes Up Signature Requirements. What a mess! The city of Albuquerque told initiative organizers they needed 11,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, so to ensure that they had a comfortable cushion, organizers turned in 16,000 signatures. Then, two days after signatures were handed in, the city said it had made a mistake, and organizers needed 14,000 signatures to qualify. The measure could still qualify, but if it comes up with more than 11,000 valid signatures, but less than the 14,000 needed to make the ballot, look for legal action.

East Lansing, Michigan, Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. The Coalition for a Safer East Lansing turned in about 2,300 signatures for its decriminalization initiative Tuesday. If they end up with enough valid signatures to qualify, the measure will go on the ballot in November. Similar efforts are afoot in more than a dozen other Michigan towns and cities.

Medical Marijuana

National Bureau of Economic Research Report Finds Medical Marijuana Has Not Led to More Teen Use. The finding comes in the working paper Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero," the authors said.

Drug Policy

Broad Coalition Forms to Highlight Plight of Drug War's Youngest Victims. More than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations are joined by notable figures such as Michelle Alexander in calling for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and here in the United States. They have all signed on to a letter of support for new policies. The signatories -- which include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, Institute of the Black World, Presente.org, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, William C. Velasquez Institute, and the Working Families Organization -- are notable for their diversity in cause and focus, yet have come together around the issue of the drug war's impact on youth, at home and abroad. Click here for a full list of supporters.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Police in Yet Another Militarized Drug Blitz. In the latest in a series of mass raids under the rubric of "Operation Restore Order," heavily armored Detroit Police SWAT teams and other officers targeted the Ninth Precinct on the city's east side today. More than a hundred police were involved. The first house they hit had no drugs, the second contained some weapons and drug paraphernalia, the third resulted in the seizure of a couple dozen crack rocks.

One Seattle Police Officer Wrote 80% of Marijuana Tickets; Now, He's Off the Streets. One police officer who apparently doesn't think much of Washington's marijuana legalization law -- he wrote snide remarks on some of the tickets -- is responsible for a whopping 80% of all public pot smoking tickets written by the Seattle Police in the last six months. In one instance, Officer Randy Jokela used a coin toss to decide whom he would cite. He has been assigned to other duties while the department's Office of Professional Accountability investigates.

International

Marc Emery Vows Political Revenge on Canadian Conservatives. Out of prison in the US, but still stuck in an American deportation center awaiting his return to Canada, "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery is vowing political revenge on Canada's Conservatives. He has served nearly five years in federal prison for selling marijuana seeds after the Conservatives allowed him to be extradited from Canada. "My own government betrayed me and I'm going to wreak an appropriate amount of political revenge when I get home and campaign against the Conservative government," Emery said. "The whole thing is nonsense. I should never have been turned over to the US government," said the fervent Liberal supporter. Canadian elections are next year.

(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.)

Rand Paul Files Crack Sentencing Reform Bill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 2657 the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender unveiled the bill publicly the following day as he pitched his criminal justice reforms before an African-American audience at the National Urban League.

Rand Paul (congress.gov)
The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it seeks to address the issue of drug weights in food items by clarifying that only the weight of the drug itself -- not the weight of the food containing it -- can be used in charging decisions, thus resulting in lesser charges for defendants.

As of early Tuesday morning, the text of the bill is not yet up on the congressional web site, but can be viewed here.

The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties by removing the sentencing enhancements for crack.

It's been a busy month for Paul when it comes to criminal justice matters. In addition to the RESET Act, he has also introduced an asset forfeiture reform bill and a medical marijuana amendment explicitly allowing states to set their own laws. And he also cosponsored, along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another sentencing reform bill.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Chronicle AM -- July 25, 2014

Wichita looks set to vote on decriminalization this fall, Rand Paul (busy, busy) files a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, drug users finally get a voice at the International AIDS Conference, and more. Let's get to it:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/KFC_logo2.jpg
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Twice the Necessary Signatures. Organizers of a decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaign yesterday turned in 5,800 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. Kansas for Change needs 2,928 valid voter signatures to qualify. They turned in the signatures at 4:20pm.

Five People Ticketed for Marijuana Possession in First Week of DC Decriminalization Law. DC police have cited five people for marijuana possession in the week since the DC decrim law went into effect. Four of the five citations came in predominantly black areas of the city east of the Anacostia River. Last year, before decrim, police made about 11 marijuana possession arrests a day.

Poll: California Latinos Strongly Oppose Deportation for Marijuana Possession. A new poll from Latino Decisions and Presente.org finds that nearly two-thirds (64%) of California Latinos strongly oppose deporting non-citizens for marijuana possession. Marijuana possession is the fourth most common criminal offense leading to deportation, according to a 2012-2013 study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

Asset Forfeiture

Rand Paul Files Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed a bill to reform federal asset forfeiture laws. Yesterday, he introduced the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) ACT, Senate Bill 2644, which would require the government to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the property it wishes to forfeit is connected with a crime. The FAIR Act would also require that state law enforcement agencies abide by state law when seizing property. It would also remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General's Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury's General Fund.

International

Drug Users Get a Voice at Global AIDS Conference. For the first time, a group of drug users has been allowed space at the International AIDS Conference, taking place this year in Melbourne, Australia. The International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) had a booth at the conference and also held a movie premiere event at the conference for the film, "We are Drug Users."

British National Survey Finds Slight Overall Increase in Drug Use. The number of drug users in Britain increased by 0.7% last year, according to the 2013 to 2014 Crime Survey for England and Wales. Some 8.8% of adults used drugs in the past year; 6.6% used marijuana. Cocaine was the second most commonly used drug, at 2.4%.

Guatemalan President Still Mulling Marijuana Legalization. President Otto Pérez Molina said in an interview in Washington yesterday that he hadn't ruled out the possibility of legalizing marijuana. "Right now we have a commission that's following what's been happening in Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Colorado, and the state of Washington," he said. "I expect to receive the studies, analysis and recommendations at the end of the year and from there we will make the decisions that would best fit our country." Pérez Molina will be hosting an international conference on drug policy in Guatemala in September. [Editor's Note: We are not aware of any conference in Guatemala this fall. It's not clear if Perez Molina misspoke or the Washington Post misheard. There is a V Conferencia latinoamerica sobre la politica de drogas set for Costa Rica in September.]

WOLA Releases Analysis of Ecuador Drug Policy Trends and Contradictions. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has published "Reforma y contradicciones en la politica de drogas de Ecuador." The report identified advances and blockages in Ecuador's path to a more progressive drug policy. Click on the link to read it in Spanish or use your translate button or wait a few days for WOLA's English version to read it in English.

Chronicle AM -- July 23, 2014

South Portland, Maine, will vote on marijuana legalization in November, medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley's campaign to be reinstated is picking up steam, Mississippi officials get an earful at a public forum on a welfare drug testing law, and more. Let's get to it:

Evo Morales is not only president of Bolivia; he's also the president of the country's largest coca growers' union. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

South Portland, Maine, Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Officials in South Portland confirmed today that a citizen initiative to make marijuana possession legal for adults within city limits has qualified for the November 2014 ballot. Citizens for a Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, submitted more than 1,500 signatures, and just 959 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. The South Portland City Council will consider whether to enact the measure or refer it to city voters at its meeting scheduled for August 4.

Delaware House Hearing on Marijuana Decriminalization Today. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on a decriminalization bill today. The amended version of House Bill 371 would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense, punishable only by a fine. Under current law, small time possession is a misdemeanor that can garner up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

National Herbal Medicine Industry Group Issues Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Manufacture. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) today released medical marijuana manufacturing guidelines, completing its compendium of industry standards. The guidelines complement those set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.

Arizona Judge Rules Patients Can Sell to Other Cardholders. A Pima County Superior Court judge has thrown out charges against a medical marijuana patient who offered plants to sale to other cardholders for a $25 "donation," holding that the state's medical marijuana law is vague and can be interpreted as allowing for such activities. So far the ruling only applies to the case at hand, but local prosecutors have vowed to appeal, and a favorable higher court ruling would set precedent statewide.

Campaign to Reinstate Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Picks Up Steam. Veterans rallied yesterday at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix in support of medical marijuana researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who says she was fired because of political opposition to her research on the use of medical marijuana for PTSD in veterans. A Change.org petition seeking her reinstatement now has 66,000 signatures (30,000 of them from yesterday alone) and a there is also a Facebook page supporting her.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Forum on Welfare Drug Test Law Leads for Calls to Amend It. A welfare recipient, civil liberties advocates, and Democratic politicians strong criticized the state's new law mandating drug testing for some welfare recipients at a public hearing yesterday. They called for it not to be implemented until it can be amended by the legislature. No one spoke in support of the law.

Law Enforcement

Orange County, Florida, Women Sue SWAT Team Over Violent Drug Raid. A mother and daughter are suing the Orange County Sheriff's Office after a SWAT team drug raid left a family dog dead and the daughter wounded by police gunfire inside their own home. The raid was aimed at a relative who didn't even live at the residence. Police found marijuana seeds and "drug paraphernalia" in the room where the relative had stayed, but charges against him were later dropped.

International

Bolivian President Wins Reelection as Head of Country's Largest Coca Growers Union; Vows to Expand Crop if Re-Elected as President. Evo Morales was a coca grower union leader before he was elected president of the country, and he's still a coca grower union leader. He was just reelected as head of the union, and he told union members that Bolivia needs a new law for coca production that would allow for expanded cultivation.

Sentencing Commission Cuts Up to 46,000 Drug War Prisoners' Sentences [FEATURE]

In a much anticipated move, the US Sentencing Commission last Friday voted unanimously to retroactively apply previously approved reductions in federal sentencing guidelines to federal drug war prisoners already serving their sentences. The move means more than 46,000 federal prisoners will be able to apply for sentence reductions.

"This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission. "It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

It's not going to be a flood of inmates suddenly walking out of federal prisons. Prisoners will not be able to seek sentence cuts until November 1 and none will be released before November 1, 2015. Those cuts will average about two years, turning what are currently average 11-year sentences to average nine-year sentences.

It is not quite a done deal. Congress has until November 1 this year to move to block it, but there appears to be little sign of any significant effort underway to do so.

The move is the latest in an effort by the Sentencing Commission to reduce the excesses of drug sentencing resulting from harsh laws passed mostly in the 1980s. It comes as the federal prison population continues to expand, even as state prison populations have begun to shrink following the enactment of sentencing reforms at the state level.

Before the Commission acted, it opened the issue to public comment, and the response indicated intense interest in making the move. The Commission received some 65,000 letters during the comment period, the vast majority endorsing the proposed change. Commenters included nearly a dozen US senators and representatives, including members of both the House and the Senate judiciary committees, all of them in support of the move, as well as federal judges, civil liberties, civil rights, and sentencing and drug reform groups.

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 100,549 people serving federal time for drug offenses, accounting for nearly half (49.7%) of all federal prisoners. The next two biggest categories are weapons offenses (15.7%) and immigration offenses (10.4%).

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris (uscourts.gov)
The federal prison population has tripled since 1991, largely driven by harsh drug war sentences, the Sentencing Commission found, and the federal prison budget is now eating up $6 billion a year, or one quarter of the entire Justice Department budget. The federal prison system is currently 32% over capacity, with that figure rising to 52% over capacity in maximum security prisons.

The Sentencing Commission acted in April to redress harsh prison sentences by reducing the base offense levels in drug quantity tables in the federal sentencing guidelines so that drug offenses are scored lower in the federal sentencing grid. That reduces the length of possible sentences for a given offense under the guidelines.

"The Commission has the statutory duty to ensure that the guidelines minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed capacity," Judge Saris explained. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991" and high prison costs "are reducing the resources available for federal prosecutors and law enforcement, aid to state and local law enforcement, crime victim services, and crime prevention programs -- all of which promote public safety," she added.

"Many of the same factors which led us to vote in April to reduce drug guidelines support making those reductions retroactive," Saris continued. "The same changes in the guidelines and laws I mentioned earlier that made the lower guideline levels more appropriate prospectively also make lower guideline levels appropriate for those offenders already in prison, most of whom were convicted after many of these statutory and guideline changes were already in place. In addition, retroactive application of the amendment would have a significant impact on reducing prison costs and overcapacity, which was an important purpose of the amendment, and the impact would come much more quickly than from a prospective change alone."

The Sentencing Commission's action was greeted with cheers from the drug reform and sentencing reform communities.

The Sentencing Commission during a May public hearing. (uscourts.gov)
"We did it!" exclaimed Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) president and founder Julie Stewart. "We got full retroactivity of the drug guideline amendment! Because of your help, 46,000 federal drug offenders sentenced before November 1, 2014, will now be eligible to file a motion in federal court asking for a shorter sentence. I am thrilled with this outcome, especially because we did it together," she said. "More than two dozen FAMM supporters were present with me in the hearing room when the Commission voted in favor of full retroactivity. All of us were overjoyed at the result."

"The Sentencing Commission has promoted fundamental fairness by making its amendment retroactive, ensuring that sentence dates do not determine sentence lengths," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "This vote reflects an historic shift in the decades-long war on drugs, which has filled half of federal prison cells with people convicted of drug offenses. That war has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color. Not only has there been an enormous financial cost to the public, but there is little evidence to suggest that excessively punitive federal drug policies have improved public safety," he said.

"Retroactive application of the drug guidelines amendment is an important step toward addressing the unjust racial disparities produced through federal sentencing policies as well," Mauer added. "Because drug law enforcement has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, reduced drug penalties will help to mitigate the effect of harsh sentencing policies on communities of color."

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's what politicians do when they're scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did today was right and just."

The Sentencing Project's Mauer told the Chronicle Tuesday he thought it unlikely that Congress would attempt to block the reform.

"I have not heard of any significant opposition that is developing," he said. "My guess is that since it was a unanimous recommendation from the commission and that this is an election year and members have that on their minds, I'm optimistic there won't be any serious threat of this not going through."

Still, prisoners, their friends, families, and supporters will be waiting for that November deadline for congressional action to pass before they exhale. But it does look as if the federal government has taken a rather significant step in reversing some of the worst excesses of the drug war.

Chronicle AM -- July 21, 2014

The World Health Organization calls for drug decriminalization (and more), international drug reform and harm reduction groups warn of an AIDS prevention crisis, marijuana policy is popping up in some Republican primaries, and more. Let's get to it:

Times are changing when marijuana legalization becomes an issue in Republican primaries. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Urges Votes for Bob Barr in Georgia Republican Congressional Primary Tomorrow. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on its Georgia supporters to get out and vote for Republican congressional candidate Bob Barr in the primary tomorrow in the state's 11th congressional district. Barr made a reputation in the 1990s as an arch-drug warrior, but has since become a staunch supporter of drug policy reform and civil liberties.

Kansas GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Challenges Incumbent With Platform That Includes Legalizing Marijuana. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is facing a long-shot challenge from Jennifer Winn, a small businesswoman whose son is facing a murder charge over a marijuana deal gone bad. She says she entered the race out of anger over that, and her platform includes legalizing marijuana and industrial hemp, as well as a broader call for drug policy reform. Her race is being watched as a sign of how damaged the state GOP is after years of Brownback's ultraconservative social and economic policies.

Washington State Rang Up $1.2 Million in Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of stores were actually open and supplies were limited, but the first week of legal marijuana sales in Washington still generated more than $1.2 million in sales, according to the state Liquor Control Board. It also generated $318,043 in taxes collected so far.

Despite Philadelphia City Council's Decriminalization Vote, Marijuana Possession Arrests Continue. Last month, the city council voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce, but Mayor Michael Nutter opposes the bill, and Police Chief Charles Ramsey vowed to continue marijuana possession arrests. He's lived up to his word. Since the bill was passed, 246 people have been arrested for pot possession, 140 of them charged only with pot possession. Of the 124 people charged with additional crimes, the vast majority were only drug charges. Mayor Nutter has until September to act on the decriminalization bill. He can sign it, veto it, or do nothing, in which case it becomes law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill to Expand Access to Medical Marijuana. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) yesterday signed into law a bill that will expand the state's medical marijuana program by allowing people with seizure disorders to use it and by allowing minors to participate in it with parental consent. The measure is Senate Bill 2636.

New Mexico Backs Off on Medical Marijuana Program Changes. The state Department of Health announced last Thursday that it will not move forward with proposed rule changes that included limiting the number of plants patients could grow and requiring criminal background checks for patient growers. The department said there will likely be another hearing for public comments before new rules are finalized this fall.

Psychedelics

Memorial Event for Sasha Shulgin in Berkeley Next Month. The psychonauts at Erowid are hosting a memorial and community gathering in Berkeley next month to honor the memory of Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin, the legendary scientist of psychedelics who died early last month. Please RSVP if you are planning to attend; click on the link to do so.

Drug Policy

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Broad Drug Policy Reforms. In a report on HIV treatment and prevention released earlier this month, the World Health Organization quietly called for drug decriminalization, needle exchanges, and opiate substitution therapy. The WHO's positions are based on concerns for public health and human rights.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Public Hearing on Welfare Drug Test Law Tomorrow. The Department of Human Services is holding a hearing tomorrow in Jackson to hear public comment on a new welfare drug testing law that was supposed to have gone into effect July 1. It was delayed to allow for a public hearing. The law is opposed by the ACLU and racial and social justice activists. Click on the link for time and location details.

Harm Reduction

Drug Reform and AIDS Groups Warn of "Global Crisis" in HIV Prevention Funding, Especially for Injection Drug Users. As the 20th International AIDS Conference gets underway in Melbourne, Australia, three drug reform, harm reduction, and AIDS groups have issued a report, The Funding Crisis for Harm Reduction, warning that because of donor fatigue, changing government policies, and an over-reliance on drug law enforcement, the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" risks slipping away. The three groups are Harm Reduction International, the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Law Enforcement

In Forsythe County, North Carolina, Majority of SWAT Deployments are For Drug Raids. SWAT teams were designed to be used in extreme situations -- hostage-taking events, terrorist attacks, and the like -- but have been subject to mission creep over the years. Forsythe County is one example. In an in-depth report, the Winston-Salem Journal found that the Forsythe County SWAT team had been deployed 12 times in the past year and the Winston-Salem Police SWAT team had been deployed 40 days in the past year "mostly to execute search warrants for drugs."

International

Report on Illicit Drug Corridors Between Bolivia and Peru Published. In a report based on on-the-scene investigation, the Bolivian NGO Puente Investigacion y Enlace (PIE), led by former human rights ombudsman Godo Reinicke, has studied the drug and precursor chemical networks straddling the Peru-Bolivia border. Read the report, Corredores ilicitos entre Boliva-Peru, ¿Rutas escondidas y extrañas? in Spanish, or click on your translate button.

(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.)

US Drug Policy and the Border Child Immigration Crisis [FEATURE]

The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.

At the border. (COHA)
The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.

A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.

And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.

The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.

They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)

Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.

"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.

"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."

While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.

"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.

"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."

"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikipedia.org)
At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.

"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."

"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.

"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."

"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."

"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."

Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.

"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."

"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.

Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.

"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.

"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."

"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."

This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.

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