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Chronicle AM: Truckers Oppose Hair Drug Tests, TX Drug Felon Food Stamp Ban Ending, More (8/20/2015)

Asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, Texas is about to end its ban on food stamps for drug felons, Brazil's high court takes up a case that could lead to drug decriminalization, the Teamsters and other labor groups pan hair drug testing, and more.

Truckers and other labor groups are urging the House to reject hair drug testing. (wikimedia/Veronica538)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Joins Opposition to Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it would "strongly oppose" the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative and will donate $100,000 to defeat it at the polls. The chamber cited worries over workplace safety. The initiative campaign said it was not surprised, given that chambers of commerce in other states where legalization has been an issue have always opposed it.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Asset Forfeiture Reform Package Wins Senate Panel Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a package of bills reforming civil asset forfeiture. House Bills 4499 and 4503-4506 all passed unanimously. Five of the bills increase reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies, while two bills would raise standards in drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases from "a preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The committee did not vote on House Bill 4508, which would have barred the seizure of vehicles used to purchase less than an ounce of marijuana, after committee lawyers said it would legalize marijuana.

Drug Policy

Texas to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. Beginning September 1, Texas becomes the latest state to opt out of a federal ban on food stamps for drug felons that was enacted as part of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. Many states opted out immediately, and now only a handful maintain the ban. They are Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Drug Testing

Teamsters, Other Unions Urge House to Reject Hair Testing. A coalition of labor groups has sent a letter to House lawmakers dealing with transportation issues asking them to reject a recent Senate proposal to let trucking companies use hair testing for drugs instead of urine testing. The Senate proposal is part of a six-year highway bill. "We urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to reject efforts to allow hair to be used for federal drug tests before the validity and reliability of this testing method can be determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, the groups, including the Teamsters and a branch of the AFL-CIO, wrote. Urine testing, which detects recent drug use, has "proven effective," the groups said. Hair drug testing detects drug use going back months.

Harm Reduction

Third Indiana County Gets Emergency Needle Exchanges. The state health commissioner has declared a public health emergency in Fayette County because of high levels of Hepatitis C infections. That will allow the county to institute needle exchange programs. Similar emergencies were declared earlier this year in Scott and Madison counties.

International

Brazil Supreme Court Considering Case That Could Lead to Drug Decriminalization. On Wednesday, the country's high court began arguing the case of a prison inmate caught with three grams of marijuana and charged with drug possession. Sao Paulo state public defenders are pushing for the conviction to be overturned on the grounds that the charge is unconstitutional because it violated citizens' privacy rights. The judges are continuing to consider the case today, with a ruling expected shortly.

New Canada Poll Has Two-Thirds for Marijuana Decriminalization. A new Ipsos poll has 65% of Canadians favoring decriminalization, with 35% opposed. "Doesn't matter where you live in the country, a majority of every demographic group supports decriminalization," said pollster Sean Simpson. Support was at 39% in 1987 and increased steadily since then.

Chronicle AM: OH Ballot Language Fight, Brit MPs Say Drug Use a Human Right, More (8/19/2015)

Another controversy over the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, medical marijuana could be coming to the northern prairie, a British parliamentary panel calls drug use a human right, and more.

Could this be coming to North Dakota? Stay tuned. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Ballot Language Approved, ResponsibleOhio Will Challenge as "Misleading." The state Ballot Board Tuesday approved the language voters will see when they vote on the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, but the group is unhappy with some of it and says it will challenge it in court. Don McTigue, an attorney for the group, said "It's not balanced language, and we believe that language does not fairly inform the voters on what they're being asked to vote upon." Click the story link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Trying to Get Going. A Fargo man has formed a committee to advance a medical marijuana initiative and is getting ready to submit initiative language to the Secretary of State's Office. Rilie Ray Morgan said the legislature's refusal to pass a medical marijuana bill showed it is out of touch with popular feeling and that the GOP-dominated House and Senate are "awfully conservative."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Drug Summit Features Mostly Cops. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has set a drug summit for next week, but is being criticized for inviting mainly law enforcement and criminal justice officials. Of the 23 invited attendees, only three represent the treatment and recovery community, and none represent actual drug users. LePage says the drug problem is a public safety issue, but critics disagree. "Drug addiction and the drug crisis we are facing is fundamentally a public health issue, not a public safety issue," said Oamshri Amarasingham, policy counsel at the ACLU of Maine. "What we have seen over the last four years is a concerted effort to try and address the drug crisis with law enforcement and that clearly has not worked."

International

British MPs Say Drug Taking Is a Human Right. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has issued a report saying the European Convention on Human Rights overrides national laws that criminalize drugs. The panel had earlier called for marijuana legalization and for drugs such as cocaine and heroin to be decriminalized. "For European countries the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular Article 8, could be invoked in support of the argument that possession or purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal use, particularly in small quantities, do not injure other people's rights either directly or indirectly and therefore should not be criminalized," the report said. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: OH Will Vote on Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Program Finds One User, More (8/13/2015)

Ohio could be the next state to legalize marijuana, a union boss gets busted for taking bribes from dispensaries, "fake weed" is the subject of repression in Boston and New York state, Maine's welfare drug test program finds a single drug user, and more.

New psychoactive substance like these synthetic cannabinoids face bans, not regulation.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization This November. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday afternoon that the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization has qualified for the November ballot. Husted reported that the initiative campaign had collected 320,267 valid voter signatures; it needed 305,000 to qualify for the ballot. The initiative is controversial among marijuana legalization supporters because it creates a "monopoly" of ten allowed locations for commercial marijuana grows, which are owned by the people who funded the campaign. The initiative would also create a system of licensed marijuana processing facilities and retail outlets. And it would allow individual Ohioans to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Again Considers Licensing Medical Marijuana Farms. The city is in the process of crafting regulations and issuing licenses for medical marijuana grows, as well as other marijuana-related businesses. The city had proposed something similar in 2011, but retreated after federal prosecutors criticized the plan. But now the federal position has changed, and Oakland is ready to try again.

UFCW Official Accused of Taking Bribes from Dispensaries. Dan Rush, the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) cannabis division, has been charged in federal court with taking bribes or kickbacks to endorse potential dispensary operators. The feds accuse Rush of taking a $600,000 loan from one dispensary operator, and when he was unable to repay it, working with an attorney on "steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers," the complaint says.

Oregon Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Task Force Bill. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 844, which establishes a task force to research the medical and public health properties of marijuana. The task force will make a report with recommendations to the legislature on developing a medical marijuana industry that supplies patients with products that will meet their needs.

New Psychoactive Substances

New York Lawmakers Want Tougher Laws Against "Fake Marijuana." Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) imposed an emergency ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, but legislators want more. "Unfortunately, it is not doing the trick," said state Sen. Jeff Stein (D-Bronx). "We need a law on the books in Albany and we need a law right now. Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children." He's supporting a bill that would make selling more than 25 grams of the stuff a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Boston City Council Bans "Fake Weed." The city council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, commonly referred as "fake marijuana" or "synthetic marijuana." People caught selling the stuff will face a fine of $300, and police can now seize the drug.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Found Only One Drug User. The state began screening welfare applicants in April, but so far only one person has tested positive for drugs. The program screens all applicants for "reasonable suspicion" of drug use or if they have drug felonies, then subjects those it deems likely to be drug users to drug testing. But only 15 people have been referred to drug testing. Thirteen were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn't show up for either the initial screening or the drug test, and one tested positive. The results are in line with results from other states, whether drug screening and testing has also found very small numbers of drug users.

International

British Pot Farm Raids Decline. The number of police raids on commercial marijuana grows dropped by more than 17% last year. Observers cited law enforcement budget cuts and other factors. "Recent budget cuts appear to be reducing the amount of proactive policing that's going on," said Matthew Atha of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. "One of the main methods of detecting cannabis growers is police helicopters with infrared cameras and they cost a lot of money to keep in the air." This year, some British police forces have said they were going to deprioritize marijuana enforcement, but that wouldn't explain the decline last year.

Chronicle AM: OH Init Claims to Make Ballot, Clinton Talks Drug Abuse in NH, More (8/12/2015)

Legal marijuana states still have issues, an Ohio group says it has qualified a legalization initiative for the November ballot, a video game league institutes drug testing, Hillary Clinton talks drugs on the campaign trail, and more.

Hillary Clinton. The Democratic contender said people are telling her drug abuse is a big issue. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Under Proposed Rules, Colorado Edibles Would Be Marked With Stop Sign. A working group tasked with finalizing labeling requirements for marijuana edibles is calling for such products to be marked with the letters "THC" inside a stop sign -- not only on the package, but on the product itself. Some people in the industry think that could be problematic. The working group has until the end of the month to finalize the rules. Click on the link for more details.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Qualified for Ballot. Ohio officials haven't confirmed it yet, but ResponsibleOhio, the group behind this year's controversial legalization initiative, says it has handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group needed 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify. It handed in nearly 700,000 last month, but came up some 30,000 short. Under state law, it had another 10 days to make up the shortfall, and it handed in 95,000 raw signatures last week. The group has been tracking the counting in each county in the state and now says: "It is with the greatest sense of humility that we let each of you know that we have crossed the signature threshold based on what the boards have reported so far!"

No Adult Pot Lounge at Hempfest This Year -- It Would Be a Felony. Last year, in keeping with the spirit of marijuana legalization, Seattle's Hempfest set up "adult lounges" where the over-21 set could toke up. Not this year. That's because the omnibus legislation to regulate legal marijuana that went into effect last month makes providing a place for public pot use a Class-C felony.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Girl Can't Be Give Her Edibles at School, Judge Rules. An administrative law judge has ruled that allowing a junior high student to be provided medical marijuana edibles at school would violate the Drug Free School Zone Act. The girls' parents had sued for the right and are vowing to appeal, but they said they also plan to test a portion of the ruling that said that, as her caregivers, they have the right to possess medical marijuana even on school grounds. "We are going to try to go to school to give Genny her medicine," Roger Barbour said. "If they say no, Lora will come bearing the judge's decision and will insist on it."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Panel Ponders Reforms Today. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is meeting today to consider tightening the state's asset forfeiture laws. One proposed bill would limit asset forfeiture by first requiring a felony conviction; another would raise the legal standard from "probable cause" to "clear and convincing evidence" that a crime had been committed. Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have eliminated civil forfeiture by first requiring a conviction.

Drug Policy

At New Hampshire Forum, Hillary Clinton Pledges to Elevate Issue of Drug Abuse. After hearing from a variety of stakeholders, the Democratic presidential contender said drug abuse has emerged as a consistent issue as she travels the country. "I have to confess -- I was surprised," she said. "I did not expect that I would hear about drug abuse and substance abuse and other such challenges everywhere I went." She said advisers are speaking with medical professionals as the campaign develops policy proposal later this year, and that substance abuse should be treated as a health issue.

Drug Testing

Video Game League Announces Drug Testing Specifics. The Electronic Sports League (ESL), the premier professional video gaming organization, has announced that it will subject players to the possibility of saliva tests to detect the presence of banned substances, including opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and marijuana. ESL says marijuana use will only be banned during tournaments. Drug testing for the league has come about after a scandal this spring over the use of the stimulant Adderall by some gamers.

International

Canada's Harper Campaigns on Hard Line on Drugs. Facing an October election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to reject marijuana legalization, saying that most Canadians agree with him even though a government opinion poll released a year ago had more than two-thirds supporting either legalization or decriminalization. Where marijuana is easily available and legal, "more people get addicted," he warned. "We just think that's the wrong direction for society and I don't think that's the way most Canadians want to deal with this particular problem." He also reiterated Tory opposition to safe injection sites.

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

Chronicle AM: AK Regulators Want to Ban MJ Social Clubs, ME Gov Threatens to Call Out Guard, More (8/11/2015)

Alaska regulators want to ban marijuana social clubs, Chris Christie signs a bill allowing methadone in drug court programs, a new report says Illinois needs to do better on heroin treatment, Russia wants to censor Reddit, and more.

People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. Illinois ranks 44th in spending for heroin treatment. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Want to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The Marijuana Control Board has presented its final set of proposed regulations and is generating controversy with a provision that bans social clubs. The board argues that since Alaska law doesn't allow BYOB bars, it shouldn't allow BYOM clubs.

California Governor Signs Law Targeting Illegal Pot Grows. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last Friday signed a law that will impose steep fines on marijuana grows that cause environmental harm by dumping chemicals and wastewater, removing trees, and killing animals. The measure is Senate Bill 165. Last year, investigators found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams linked to marijuana cultivation, resulting in the theft of about five million gallons of water.

California Governor Signs Bill to Increase Penalties for Residential Butane Hash Oil Manufacture. Gov. Brown also last Friday signed Senate Bill 212, which will increase penalties for people caught making butane hash oil. The process has been linked to numerous fires and explosions in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Protest Slow Pace of Medical Marijuana Implementation. Led by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, protestors held a vigil on the stops of the State House this week in memory of patients who had died before they could get access to medical marijuana and to protest the slow pace of implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. Three years after voters approved it, the state's first dispensary just opened. Click on the link for more.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medication Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 2381, which will allow people under the jurisdiction of the state's drug courts to complete their programs while using opiate-substitution medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine. Despite decades of evidence and the recommendations of treatment providers and even the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, most drug courts in the state required clients to quit medication-assisted treatment to complete the program. "Medication assisted treatment for drug court attendees, like all other clinical decisions made by a provider for their patient, is a critical component in a person's treatment and recovery plan. I thank the governor for his support of this legislation and his continued leadership and support of Drug Court programs," said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).

Drug Treatment

Illinois Doesn't Adequately Fund Drug Treatment and Wants to Cut It Even More, New Report Says. A report released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy found that the state ranked 44th in the nation in state funded treatment admissions for heroin and that Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) proposed budget would slash funding by another 61%. Chicago ERs rank first in the country in emergency room visits for heroin use, and Cook County is number one in the nation for arrestees who test positive for the drug. Click on the consortium link to read the report.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) today reiterated his threat to call in the National Guard to fight the state's "drug epidemic" if legislators don't give him his way. The legislature has rejected his repeated demands that it deal with the drug issue primarily by hiring more agents at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and while it did agree to fund six additional agents, two prosecutors, and two judges, that wasn't enough for LePage, who called it "chump change." It's not clear just what LePage what have the Guard do. Click on the link for much more.

International

Australian Parliamentary Committee Approves Medical Marijuana. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that a Green-sponsored medical marijuana bill be passed. The committee called for the bill to be amended to set up a medical marijuana regulatory agency. The bill has cross-party support in the parliament.

Russia Threatens to Block Reddit Over Single Thread on Drugs. The Kremlin's increasingly busy Internet censor has warned that the popular website Reddit will be blocked unless it deletes a thread about growing marijuana plants. The censor said Reddit has so far failed to respond to demands that it delete the thread and asked readers to reach out to Reddit to tell its editors to check their emails. The censor has also blocked Wikipedia pages about how to smoke pot, online anonymity services, Pirate Bay, and made similar threats against YouTube.

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

Chronicle AM: Judge Throws Out More Philly Cases, India Shiva Pilgrims Toke Up, More (8/7/15)

An Oregon congressman calls for down-scheduling marijuana, an Oklahoma US senator wants to punish tribes that allow marijuana, Boston's first dispensary is likely coming soon, drug hair-testing for truck drivers edges closer, and more.

Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage to the Ganges are taking full advantage of wild cannabis on the way. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Earl Blumenauer Calls for Rescheduling or Descheduling Marijuana. The Oregon Democratic congressman sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday urging her to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government's position on this issue." Blumenauer added that "It is clear to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug."

Oklahoma Senator Files Bill to Punish Tribes That Allow Pot. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has filed a bill that would cut all federal funds for any Indian tribes or tribal organizations that allow the cultivation, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana on their reservations. The Justice Department earlier this year gave tribes the go ahead to get into the marijuana business if they wanted. Lankford's bill, the KIDS (Keeping Out Illegal Drugs) ACT, is not yet available on the congressional website, but can be viewed here.

Medical Marijuana

First Boston Dispensary Could Open Soon. Patriot Care Corporation has received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

Drug Testing

Federal Advisory Board Recommends Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMSHA) Drug Testing Advisory Board has recommended that hair testing be approved as an alternative drug screening technique for truck drivers and other "safety-sensitive" federal workers. The recommendation now goes to the head of SAMSHA, and if she approves it, it would then go to the Department of Health and Human Services. Hair drug testing detects drug use for much longer periods of time than urine or blood testing.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Throws Out 158 More Convictions Linked to Corrupt Narcs. Philly's dirty narcs may have managed to avoid criminal convictions for their misdeeds, but their actions continue to reverberate through the city's criminal justice system. A city judge today threw out 158 more criminal convictions linked to the narcs, bringing the total of vacated convictions involving the seven officers to 560, and more are on the way. More than 135 civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the city as a result of cases involving the seven narcotics officers.

International

Indian Shiva Devotees on Pilgrimage Enjoying Roadside Cannabis. Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage route toward the Ganges are staying high on overgrowths of cannabis along the roads. The devotees are big smokers: "Without weed, the yatra remains incomplete," said one. "It brings me closer to Bhole Baba," said another. "Its usage also helps one cover long distances from Haridwar to Meerut on foot, as it keeps the body's energy intact," he added. State officials are supposed to eradicate wild cannabis growth, but are having a hard time: "It has grown almost everywhere. How do we destroy it?" asked one official who declined to be named. Another said that eradication is so ineffective it ought to be decriminalized.

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Probable Cause Conundrum, CDC Warns on MedMJ Edibles, Peyote Protest, More (7/24/15)

Two Arizona appeals court panels have offered up clashing rulings this week on whether the smell of pot is still probable cause for a search, Michigan initiative fundraising reports tell an interesting story, changes in Washington state's medical marijuana program go into effect today, and more.

Peyote buttons, sacrament of the Native American Church. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Marijuana Odor. Whether the odor of marijuana is probable cause for a search or a search warrant now looks like an issue heading to the state Supreme Court. Just days after one appeals court panel ruled that the state's medical marijuana law means it is not grounds for a search warrant, a second panel has ruled that it is. In Thursday's case, the appeals court upheld the actions of police officers who searched a vehicle after they smelled burnt marijuana. The panel held that the medical marijuana law didn't make marijuana legal, but only provided immunity from prosecution to those who had medical marijuana ID cards. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity from arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession of use of marijuana .... does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case," Judge Samuel Thumma wrote.

Grassroots Effort Leads in Fundraising Among Michigan Legalization Initiatives. Campaign finance reports reveal that the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), backed by wealthy Oakland County interests, has only $1,000 in the bank, while the grassroots MILegalize has raised $60,000, with more than $100,000 in matching funds pledged. MCC got a $21,000 donation from an Oakland county Republican political operative, but the same day, it sent a $20,000 check to signature-gathering firm. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, which wants to create a cultivation monopoly like the one championed by ResponsibleOhio, appears to have gone quiet. Its website is defunct, it hasn't displayed any initiative language, and it will not reveal the identities of its leaders.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has support for legalization at 60% and support for decriminalization even higher at 72%. Support has climbed six points for legalization and nine points for decriminalization since the last WMUR Granite State poll in May. The state legislature has considered legalization, but has so far refused to pass it. Click on the link for more poll results and methodology.

Medical Marijuana

CDC Warns of "Potential Danger" From Edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

Washington State Medical Marijuana Program Changes Now In Effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system went into effect today. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.

Peyote

Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Rally Calls for End to Utah Ban on Sacramental Use. Protesters gathered at the state capital in Salt Lake City Thursday to advocate for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances. The demonstration was organized by the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, which is allowed under federal law to use the cactus for religious purposes. The Utah law bans anyone who is not at least one-quarter Indian from using it for religious purposes. "It's supposed to be 25% [Native American heritage], but what they're really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race," said the church's David Hamblin.

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Fights On, GA Cop Indicted in Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid, More (7/23/15)

ResponsibleOhio has about a week to come up with 40,000 more signatures, more Americans than ever admit smoking pot, e-sports is about to begin drug testing, a Georgia cop gets indicted for lying about probable cause in the Baby Boo Boo SWAT raid case, and more.

The question right now isn't should it or shouldn't it make the ballot, but will it or won't it?
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Still Fighting to Get on Ballot. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative campaign, which state officials say came up 35,000 signatures short in its effort to get its measure on the November ballot, says it is sure it had enough valid signatures and will go to the state Supreme Court to contest the results. "There are over 21,000 voters who were incorrectly identified as invalid. We want to make sure they have their signatures count. We also see that there are 40,000 signatures that weren't reviewed," spokesman Ian James said. The group is also gathering more signatures -- it has a 10-day window to try to make up any shortfall.

Gallup Poll Finds Largest Number Yet of Americans Admitting to Having Smoked Weed. Some 44% of Americans admit to having smoked marijuana, the largest number ever record by the pollsters. When Gallup first asked the question back in 1969, only 4% admitted to having tried it. By 1985, the figure was at 33%. Gallup wasn't sure if the rising numbers reflected more people actually using marijuana or more people being comfortable admitting to it. "The changes over time may reflect either an increase in the percentage who have tried the drug, or an increased willingness to admit to having done so in the past," Gallup explained.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves DC Pot Shops, Marijuana Banking Bill. The committee today approved a bill today allowing the nation's capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. The votes came on the financial services spending bill, which includes language removing a federal ban on regulated marijuana commerce in the District, which legalized possession and cultivation last year. The committee also approved an amendment allowing banks to provide services to marijuana businesses where they are legal.

Marijuana Policy Project Report Criticizes New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Program. In a report marking the two year anniversary of the signing into law of the state's medical marijuana program, the activist group is harshly critical of the state's failures in implementing the law. The report title pretty much says it all: Confusion, Delays, and Continued Arrests: A Two-Year Retrospective on New Hampshire's "Therapeutic Use of Cannabis" Law. Click either link to read the report.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona ACLU Files Lawsuit Claiming State's Asset Forfeiture Laws Are Unconstitutional. The ACLU of Arizona today filed a federal lawsuit in Phoenix arguing that the laws "have created a lucrative system in which police and prosecutors are heavily incentivized to seize and forfeit property." The group says the law allows "law enforcement [agencies to] supplement their budgets without any legislative oversight." The ACLU is representing a Sun Tan Valley woman whose pick-up truck was seized after her son borrowed it and was arrested for allegedly stealing a hood ornament and putting it on the truck.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Comes to E-Sports. The Electronic Sports League, the largest online gaming organization, has announced that it will adopt policies to keep drugs out of virtual sports. The move comes in the wake of ongoing controversy about the use of Adderall by e-sports players. A high-ranked e-sports player, Kory Friesen, ignited the commotion by not only admitting to use of the drug, but claiming it was prevalent. "We were all on Adderall," he said in a widely-copied interview.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Cop Indicted Over Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid. A Habersham County sheriff's deputy has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the May 2014 raid that left a toddler severely injured by a flash-bang grenade. Nikki Autry, a special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team (NCIS), has been indicted for lying in a search warrant affidavit and providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant in the case. Autry is accused of claiming that one of his informants made a meth buy at the address when the alleged meth purchase was made by someone else and lying about whether it was a "true and honorable informant." Nor had Autry confirmed there was heavy traffic in and out of the house, as he claimed. His alleged lies were the basis for a judge signing off on the "no knock" warrant that resulted in the bad raid.

International

Marijuana Cultivation on the Upsurge in Sweden. Swedish media are reporting an increasing number of marijuana cultivation busts. There were 904 pot farms reported to police last year, up fourfold from 2011, and police said they were on track for similar numbers this year.

Chronicle AM: CA Blue Ribbon Marijuana Report is Out, DEA Criticized for Blocking Snitch Probe, More (7/22/15)

A long-awaited (and overdue) report on California marijuana policy reforms is out, an Arizona appeals court rules that the odor of marijuana in a medical marijuana state is not sufficient grounds for a search warrant, the DEA gets criticized over its snitch program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Blue Ribbon Panel on Marijuana Releases Report, Calls for Strict Controls. The panel, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), issued its Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California today, and called for a regulatory system that prevents childhood use and warns that "this industry should not be the next California Gold Rush." The 93-report is a comprehensive look at the range of policy options facing the state. Read it.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

New Hampshire "Drug Czar" Releases Recommendations for Fighting Opiate Abuse. John Wozmak, senior director for Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health, Tuesday released a list of 22 recommendations for fighting opiate abuse, including making naloxone more widely available and strengthening the state's prescription drug monitoring program. Click on the link to see the full list.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Smell of Weed Alone is Not Grounds for Search Warrant. The legalization of medical marijuana in the state means that the odor of weed by itself is not probable cause for obtaining a search warrant. "Medical marijuana use pursuant to AMMA is lawful under Arizona law," he wrote. "Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred." Instead, police must now rely on an "odor-plus" standard where additional evidence is needed to justify a warrant.

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Santa Muerte Goes to Court: The Curious Case of the Narco Saint's Prayer [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Does praying to a "narco saint" constitute evidence that someone is a drug trafficker? In an unusual case out of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court said "no." In overturning the conviction of the woman doing the praying, the court both acted to protect First Amendment freedoms and opened a window into Santa Muerte, the unofficial Saint Death venerated by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of poor Mexicans, some of whom are members of the criminal underworld.

Santa Muerte shrine, Nuevo Laredo (wikipedia/not home)
The case,US v. Medina-Copete and Goxcon-Chagal, unfolded on June 28 2011, when New Mexico State Police Sergeant Arsenio Chavez pulled over a truck with Nevada plates on I-40 in Albuquerque for failing to maintain adequate distance from the vehicle ahead of it. According to court testimony, Chavez felt suspicious when he noticed the occupants appeared nervous, and the woman riding on the passenger side could be heard reciting a handwritten prayer she held in her hands.

In the truck were Tulsa residents Rafael Goxcon-Chagal and Maria Medina-Copete. Also in the truck, stashed in a secret compartment, were two pounds of 90% pure methamphetamine. The couple, who had borrowed the truck, denied any knowledge of the drugs, but they were nonetheless charged with trafficking meth. They were convicted in August 2012 for conspiracy to distribute more than 50 pounds of meth and firearms possession. They were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

The prayer the woman was reciting was to Santa Muerte, and the fact the she directed her adorations toward the Mexican "narco saint" helped convict her of drug trafficking.

Who is Santa Muerte?

For years, religious experts and law enforcement authorities have called Santa Muerte a "narco saint," worshipped by drug traffickers and who believe she has the power to protect them from their enemies -- who range from other traffickers to the police.

Santa Muerte is typically portrayed as a skeletal woman, wearing robes or a bridal gown, and holding a scythe -- a sort of Grim Reaper figure. For the millions that venerate her, she is a figure of compassion, protection, and unconditional love who will protect her devotees from evil. She is the saint of the marginalized, as well as the criminal.

For the Catholic Church, worship of Santa Muerte is blasphemy. Still, her popularity continues to grow, and each November, thousands of worshippers gather at her main shrine, in the rough and tumble Tepito district of Mexico City to get her blessings and bestow gifts -- both humbly modest and gaudily golden -- on her statue.

She is estimated to have 10 to 12 million devotees, not just in Mexico, but, increasingly, in the US and other Latin American counties as well.

Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

While it began among the lumpenproletariat of Mexico City and has always been associated with criminals and narcos, the experts concede that Santa Muerte is worshipped by many who are simply poor and on society's fringes.

"Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases," Chesnut explained. "But she is not just a narco-saint, and many of her devotees aren't involved in criminal behavior. Some drug traffickers pray to Saint Jude, a recognized Catholic Saint, but that deity is rarely brought up in criminal cases," he pointed out.

Chesnut called the appeals court's ruling in the case "a landmark decision," adding that it marked the first time to his knowledge "that a conviction has been overturned because a folk saint was used in trial."

Challenging the "Expert Testimony"

Goxcon-Chagal andMedina-Copete appealed their convictions, with their attorneys arguing that federal prosecutors and the district court judge had subjected them to harmful error by allowing an expert on religious iconography to testify that Santa Muerte was so intimately connected to drug trafficking that Medina-Copete's invocation was evidence the pair knew illegal drugs were secreted in their vehicle.

The expert was US Marshal Robert Almonte, producer of the documentary, Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld. Almonte is also the author of two books, "Evolution of Narcotic Investigation" and "Managing Covert Operations."

The appellate attorneys also argued that Almonte's testimony about Santa Muerte 's association with narcotics severely undermined the defendants' defense that they had no knowledge of the drugs because the truck had been borrowed from one of Goxcon-Chagal's friend. They argued that the admission of Almonte's testimony violated federal rules of evidence.

Federal prosecutors retorted that the testimony was admissible under rules about evidence relating to "tools of the trade" of the drug business.

The 10th Circuit disagreed. In their ruling last year, the court found that prosecutors had indeed violated the rules of evidence by using Almonte's testimony, which the panel likened to "psychobabble."

The district court had erred in allowing the testimony because "it applied our 'tool of the trade' jurisprudence to Almonte's purported area of expertise without considering whether a prayer could qualify as a 'tool of the drug trade,' " wrote Judge Carlos Lucero for the majority. He is the first Hispanic judge to sit on the circuit.

US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carlos Lucero (law.pace.edu)
The lower court also erred because 'it allowed Almonte to testify as an expert based on his experience without considering the relevance or breadth of that experience, thereby eliding the 'facts or data' requirements found under [the rules of evidence], " Lucero continued.

It was a double whammy: The prosecution did not show Almonte knew what he was talking about, and the lower court misinterpreted the rules of evidence to allow religious beliefs to be considered tools of the drug trade.

As a result, Judge Lucero noted, "Almonte's expert testimony characterizing the mere presence of the prayer as a very good indicator of possible criminal activity influenced the outcome of the trial in a prejudicial manner."

Lucero didn't hold back with what he thought of Almonte's testimony, either.

"He essentially painted the defendants in this case as heretics, holding beliefs not recognized by the Catholic Church either in Mexico or the United States. A criminal trial is not a place for a theological disputation on sainthood and the power of prayer. We urge the government to be cautious about appearing to take sides in theological debates," he wrote.

Out of the Frying Pan

While the 10th Circuit's decision reversed Goxcon-Chagel and Medina-Copete's convictions, it didn't free them. Instead they were transferred from federal prison to a federal detention center for retrial.

Things didn't look good for the pair. They had, after all, been caught with the meth, and the appeals court allowed to stand trial testimony from a DEA agent about the unlikelihood of drug traffickers sending loads of drugs with unknowing couriers.

Defense attorneys explored both the circumstances of the traffic stop and any investigations that might have preceded it, but were unable to find wriggle room there.

"Part of the problem is the standard permitting 'pretext stops,'" Goxcon-Chagel attorney Katherine Converse told the Chronicle. "Another problem is the difficulty of learning whether there was any NSA involvement in the stop," she added, referring to recent revelations of NSA intelligence being fed to DEA officers and on to local law enforcement agencies to launch drug investigations against potential suspects.

After lengthy negotiations with federal prosecutors, and without much in the way of a defense to the drug charges, Converse and Media-Copete's attorney advised their clients to take a plea. In February, Goxcon-Chagel copped to the charges and got 7 ½ years; Medina-Cotete, the praying woman, got four. Because of time already served, she's already been released.

And she probably sent a prayer of thanks to Santa Muerte.

Here is the complete hand-written prayer to Santa Muerte recited by and recovered from Maria Medina-Copete:

For protection during a trip
Holy Spirit of Death, I invoke your Holy Name to ask you to help me in this venture.
Make my way over the mountains valleys and paths an easy one,
never stop bestowing upon me your good fortune
weave the destiny so that bad instincts vanish before me because of your powerful protection.
Prevent, Santa Muerte, problems from growing and embracing my heart, my
Lady, keep any illness from embracing my wings (Illegible)
Glorious Santa Muerte be my protector and light my path. Be my
advocate before the redeemer. Be my truth in times of darkness
Grant me the strength and faith to invoke your name
and to thank you now
and forever for all your favors
Amen
Oh miraculous Santa Muerte, Niña Blanca of my heart and right arm of god
our lord. Today I come to you with infinite devotion to implore you for
health, fortune and luck
Remove from my path (illegible) that hurts me, envy and misfortune; don't
allow my enemy's slander reach and harm my spirit
may no one prevent me from receiving the prosperity that I am asking of you today
my powerful lady bless the money that will reach my hands and multiply it
so that my family lacks for nothing
and I can outreach my hand to the needy that crosses my path
keep tragedy pain and shortage away from me
this votive candle I will light so that the radiance of your eyes forms an
invisible wall around me
grant me prudence and patience holy lady, Santa Reina de las Tinieblas
("Holy Queen of Darkness") strength, power and wisdom tell the elements
not to unleash their fury wherever they cross paths with me take care of my
happy surroundings and that I want to adorn decorate
in my Santa Muerte
amen

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