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FedEx Indicted on Criminal Charges for Shipping Internet Pharmacy Drugs

A federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted FedEx, the world's largest cargo company, on criminal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of misbranded drugs. Federal prosecutors are seeking to forfeit and seize at least $820 million in what they say are proceeds from such illegal shipments.

FedEx truck, Chicago (wikimedia.org)
Read the indictment here.

The move comes after FedEx rejected offers from federal prosecutors to cut a deal. FedEx's chief competitor, UPS, settled a similar case last year by agreeing to pay $40 million after being linked to the shipment of prescription drugs by illegal online pharmacies. Both cases were brought by US Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag. [Ed: Haag is loathed by the medical marijuana community for action taken against northern California providers.]

But unlike UPS, FedEx refused to settle. And now, it is vowing to fight the charges.

"FedEx is innocent of the charges," the company said in a statement. "We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees."

In the past, the company has said it wouldn't settle because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong. FedEx argues that it should not be held responsible for the contents of the tens of millions of packages it ships each year. The company has acknowledged that it has been under grand jury scrutiny for several years.

The grand jury indictment accuses FedEx of knowingly shipping prescription drugs for two different online pharmacy operations, both of which were prosecuted by the Justice Department. It accuses FedEx of ignoring warnings about doing so for years.

"The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides," said US Attorney Haag. "This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior."

The charges carry with them a sentence of up to five years probation and fines totaling "twice the gross gains derived from the offense," or $820 million. Because no individuals are named in the indictment, however, it's not clear who or what would be on probation if FedEx is tried and convicted.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Chronicle Interview: Drug Policy Researcher Beau Kilmer [FEATURE]

Beau Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he codirects the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. His research lies at the intersection of public health and public safety, with a special emphasis on substance use, illicit markets, crime, and public policy. Some of his current projects include estimating the size of illegal drug markets, assessing the consequences of alternative marijuana policies, measuring the effect of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program on drunk driving and domestic violence outcomes, and evaluating other innovative programs intended to reduce violence. Kilmer's research has appeared in leading journals such as Addiction, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and his essays have been published by the BBC, CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. His book on marijuana legalization, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know" (co-authored with Jonathan Caulkins, Angela Hawken, and Mark Kleiman) was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Before earning his doctorate at Harvard University, Kilmer received a Judicial Administration Fellowship that supported his work with the San Francisco Drug Court.

Beau Kilmer (rand.org)
The Chronicle interview took place by phone Wednesday morning.

Drug War Chronicle: What are we learning from marijuana legalization so far in Colorado and Washington, especially about prices, tax rates, and regulatory structures?

Beau Kilmer: With respect to prices, I think it's too soon to make a serious judgment. I would expect them to fall eventually as the number of producers increases and there is more competition. Regarding taxes, there is clearly tax revenue coming in, but not as much as expected, partly because medical marijuana markets don't face the same taxes. These markets are in transition, and there are data lags. It's too early to do cost-benefit analyses, and when the data does start coming in, what happens a year or two from now, good or bad, could be completely different from what happens in five or 10 years.

There are two other things we need to consider in doing a cost-benefit analysis. First, when you hear that factor X or Y has decreased or increased, it's important to ask: Compared to what? People will say that this changed in Colorado, but how did it change or not in other states? This is often outside the capacity of news organizations, but when you hear people making these claims, you need to be asking questions. What about neighboring states? If media organizations did that, it could actually improve the quality of the discussion we're having.

The second thing is, don't forget about alcohol. If people are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana together, you have to worry about driving under the influence. Marijuana impairs you somewhat, alcohol impairs you more, and the interaction between marijuana and alcohol can increase the probability of impairment. On the other hand, if they are economic substitutes, if some heavy alcohol users are moving away from consuming it and consuming more marijuana, that could potentially be a net win for society. There are social costs associated with heavy marijuana use, but the social costs associated with alcohol are much greater -- fatal overdoses, chronic disease, violence. We really need to pay close attention to how legalization influences not only marijuana consumption, but also alcohol consumption. We will be watching this, not only in Colorado and Washington, but also in Uruguay.

Chronicle: How worried do we have to be about marijuana dependence, anyway? Is it any worse for the individual or society than, say, dependence on coffee?

Kilmer: Some people do run into problems. It affects their relationships, their employment, their daily behaviors, and can impose costs on them and some of their intimates. Some of those people may benefit from substance abuse treatment. On the other hand, some users get arrested and diverted into treatment when they don't really need it. Many experts agree that it poses less addictive risk than other drugs, not only in the likelihood of addiction, but also the degree. Having a cannabis use disorder is different from having a heroin use disorder.

When it comes to costs to society, a lot of it comes down to different intangibles. It's hard to quantify consequences, say, in terms of relationships with family members. We reviewed studies that look at marijuana compared to other substances, and when it comes to addiction risk, marijuana seems to be at the bottom of the list. It's not that it's not without costs, but in terms of harms associated with it, there seems to be much more harm associated with cocaine, heroin, or alcohol use disorders.

Chronicle: There are several different legalization models out there -- state monopoly stores vs. private stores, for example. Do you have a favorite model?

Kilmer: I completely understand why some jurisdictions would try something other than marijuana prohibition. There's a lot I don't like about it, especially the collateral consequences, but I'm not sure what the best alternative regime is. What's best for one jurisdiction may not be best for another. It's not clear that one size fits all. My opinion is that I will pay close attention to what happens in Colorado and Washington and Uruguay and some of these other places and use that information to update my opinions about marijuana policy. I hope other people do the same.

It's important to keep in mind that there is a lot of policy space in between prohibition and what we see in Colorado and Washington. There are a lot of options out there. You could just allow home cultivation, or you could do something like production co-ops or collectives. It will be really interesting to watch Uruguay, which has three routes: grow your own, join a co-op, or go to the pharmacy.

From a public health perspective, a state monopoly makes a lot of sense. It makes it easier to control prices and advertising. There is a lot of research that has looked at the state monopoly model for alcohol, and it tended to be better for public health. This model doesn't get a lot of attention in the United States, but there are other jurisdictions that may want to think about it.

The other potential advantage of starting with a state monopoly, is that it gives you more options. If a jurisdiction later decides it wants to allow commercial business, you can transition to a commercial model. But once you go from prohibition to a commercial model with for-profit firms and lobbyists, it gets a lot harder to put that genie back in the bottle. It gets entrenched. That's something to keep in mind.

The commercialization aspect is something we need to pay close attention to. In Uruguay, there is no advertising. The folks in Colorado and Washington are working hard to develop reasonable restrictions on advertising, but with the First Amendment here, we can't ban it.

Sunset laws may be advisable. There is a lot of uncertainty, and we don't know what the best model might be. You could start with a co-op model, try that for five or 10 years, then make a decision about whether to continue or go in a different direction. There are a lot of options, and we don't necessarily have to treat policy changes as permanent.

Another thing jurisdictions will want to think about it designing in some flexibility, especially with respect to taxes. No one knows the best way, and there are a number of different models. Colorado and Washington tax as a function of weight, but you could tax as a function of amount of THC, for instance. The takeaway is that we want to make sure that as we get information, we can incorporate that information in our decision-making about how to tax.

Chronicle: What about eliminating black markets?

Kilmer: You have to think about this over time. No one thinks we're going to eliminate the black market overnight. In both Colorado and Washington, it's been a slow roll-out of the stores, especially in Washington, so you have to look at this over the long run. Also in the long run, prices will fall, and as prices fall, ad valorem taxes based on price will fall, too. That's something else to think about.

Another issue to consider is that we have to remember that depending on where you are in the country, people under 21 will account for 20%-25% of consumption. It will be interesting to see what happens when they catch them, what penalties are imposed on the users and those that supply them. Will it be like the alcohol model or more severe? These are the kinds of issues that can be addressed in new initiatives or legislation.

Chronicle: Where and how does medical marijuana fit into all this?

Kilmer: Good question. It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out with regard to medical marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, there were very robust medical markets before legalization. In other jurisdictions, as they write initiatives or bills, will they try to build that in? I don't know what's going to happen.

Chronicle: Where is this all heading? We could have 10 legal states after 2016. Then what?

Kilmer: I guess we'll see how far we get.

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses

In an historic vote Wednesday, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses in states where it is legal.

The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

This is the second time in less than two months that the House has voted to roll back marijuana law enforcement. In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.

"Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 16, 2014

The House okays marijuana banking, DC decriminalizes tomorrow, DC expands its medical marijuana program, Miami-Dade taxpayers pay for a particularly heinous killer drug raid, a lot of states did sentencing reforms last year, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana businesses could go to the bank under a measure passed by the House today. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
Marijuana Policy

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses. In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

DC Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of one minute after midnight, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be decriminalized in the nation's capital. Jail time for pot possession will be replaced with a $25 fine. A Republican-led effort in the House to block it remains alive, but will not stop the law from taking effect -- at least for now. That effort still has to get through the Congress and overcome White House opposition, and that looks like a long-shot at this point.

Grosse Point, Michigan, Initiative to Legalize Up to an Ounce Turns in Signatures. A municipal initiative campaign to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point turned in more than 600 signatures today. The group needs 493 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Grosse Point is one of a handful of Michigan towns with similar campaigns this year, including Berkley, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Turns in Signatures. Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action (the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance) have submitted more than 7,000 signatures for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an once of marijuana. They need 5,763 to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

DC City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city council Tuesday approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Michigan Legislature Set to Vote on Medical Marijuana Improvement Measures This Week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

LA Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market Hit With Temporary Injunction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Thousands Sign Petition Supporting Fired University of Arizona Researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley made no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Cops Slow to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a law allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone in March, but Ohio police are slow to get with the program. Police in Columbus said they have no plans to carry it "anytime soon," and many rural agencies are also unwilling to do it. About 17 people a week are dying from opiate overdoses in Ohio. Under the new law, the drug is also available to friends, family members, and "others who may be in a position" to assist with reversing overdoses.

Law Enforcement

Miami Agrees to Pay in Death Squad-Style Police Drug Robbery Sting Killings. Miami-Dade taxpayers will shell out $600,000 to the families of three men killed by a Miami-Dade SWAT team during a drug house robbery sting. Four men, including an informant for the police, were gunned down when they appeared on the scene of a home they had been told was stuffed with drugs for them to rob. The informant's family didn't join the settlement; it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. Police video of the raid shows officers firing dozens of shots into the body of a man already on the ground. It also shows the informant surrendering to police moments before they shot and killed him, too. Prosecutors suspect police officers of misconduct but were unable to develop enough evidence to charge any of them.

Almost All US Wiretaps Are for Suspected Drug Deals. A new Administrative Office of US Courts report reveals that not only did wiretaps hit an all time high last year, but that nearly 90% of them were for drug investigations. Of the 3,576 wiretaps sought by federal law enforcement agencies, 3,115 were for drug investigations.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Releases Report on 2013 State Sentencing Reforms. The report, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends, finds that 35 states passed at least 85 bills to reform sentencing and corrections last year. The legislation generally focused on reducing prison populations, strengthening community-based corrections, supporting reentry, and creating better research and analysis to drive policy decision-making.

International

Dutch Border Town Cannabis Café Owner Cleared of Most Charges. The owner of the Checkpoint Café in the in the town of Ternuezen near the Belgian border has been cleared of most charges against him by an Amsterdam appeals court. The café was closed in 2007 for violating government rules on soft drug sales, and the owner was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. But the appeals court ruled that the state had not proven Checkpoint knowingly broke the rules. It was the second such decision in the past month.

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses

In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal.

The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

This is the second time in less than two months that the House has voted to roll back marijuana law enforcement. In May, the House passed an amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws and passed two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws.

“Congress is yet again rejecting the failed war on marijuana,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “They have read the poll numbers and are doing both what is right and what is politically smart.”

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "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."

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

The 2014 National Drug Control Strategy: Baby Steps in the Right Direction [FEATURE]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released its 2014 National Drug Control Strategy Wednesday. While in general, it is remarkable for its similarities to drug control strategies going back more than a decade, it does include some signals suggesting that the Obama administration is ready for a shift in emphasis in the drug war -- from a criminal justice approach to a more public health-oriented approach.

But even that rhetorical positioning is somewhat undercut by the strategy's continuing commitment to the criminalization of drug users and the people who supply them, as well as particular policy prescriptions, such as its support for expansion of drug courts -- the use of the criminal justice system to enforce therapeutic health goals like abstinence from drug use, as opposed to measures that don't involve criminal justice intervention.

The 2014 strategy also continues the roughly 3:2 funding ratio between law enforcement and treatment and prevention spending that has marked federal anti-drug spending since at least the Clinton administration in the 1990s. And it does so somewhat deceptively.

"In support of this Strategy," ONDCP wrote in a press release, "the President has requested $25.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. Federal funding for public health programs that address substance use has increased every year, and the portion of the Nation's drug budget spent on drug treatment and prevention efforts -- 43% -- has grown to its highest level in over 12 years. The $10.9 billion request for treatment and prevention is now nearly 20% higher than the $9.2 billion requested for Federally-funded domestic drug law enforcement and incarceration."

What the press release doesn't mention when claiming that treatment and prevention spending now exceeds spending on law enforcement is that it did not include figures for drug interdiction and international spending on the law enforcement side of the ledger. The White House's proposed federal drug budget for 2015, however, shows that those drug prohibition-enforcement costs add up to another $5.4 billion, or $14.6 billion for enforcing drug prohibition versus $10.9 billion for treatment and prevention.

The strategy does, however, provide a sharper focus than in the past on reducing the harms associated with drug use, such as overdoses and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. It calls for greater access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone and supports needle exchange and state laws that provide limited immunity from prosecution for people suffering overdoses and the people who seek help for them -- the so-called 911 Good Samaritan laws. The strategy also sets a five-year goal for reducing overdose deaths, something drug reform advocates had been seeking.

The strategy also acknowledges the need to reduce mandatory minimum drug sentencing and recognizes that the US has the world's largest prison population, but in absolute terms and per capita. And, implicitly acknowledging that Americans increasingly see the war on drugs as a failed policy, the 2014 strategy has adjusted its rhetoric to emphasize public health over the drug war.

Acting ONDCP head or "drug czar" Michael Botticelli (ONDCP)
But, despite polls now consistently showing majority support for marijuana legalization, and despite the reality of legal marijuana in two states, with two more and the District of Columbia likely to embrace it later this year, the 2014 strategy appears not only wedded to marijuana prohibition, but even disturbed that Americans now think pot is safer than booze.

That puts ONDCP at odds not only with the American public, but with the president. In an interview published in January by the New Yorker, Obama said marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer."

Noting that about three-quarters of a million people are arrested on marijuana charges each year, and nearly nine out of ten of those for simple possession, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) pronounced itself unimpressed with the new national drug strategy.

The drug czar's office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy. It appears to be addicted to marijuana prohibition. Why stay the course when the current policy has utterly failed to accomplish its goals?" asked MPP communications director Mason Tvert.

"The strategy even goes so far as to lament the public's growing recognition that marijuana is not as harmful as we were once led to believe. President Obama finally acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, yet his administration is going to maintain a policy of punishing adults who make the safer choice," Tvert continued. "Most Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and even the Justice Department has acknowledged that regulating marijuana could be a better approach than prohibition. Legalizing and regulating marijuana is not a panacea, but it is sound policy."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), with a wider policy remit than MPP, had a nuanced response to the release of the drug strategy. It was critical of some aspects of the strategy, but had kind words for others.

"The administration says drug use is a health issue but then advocates for policies that put people in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "Until the drug czar says it is time to stop arresting people for drug use, he is not treating drug use as a health issue no matter what he says. I know of no other health issue in which people are thrown in jail if they don't get better."

Still, said Piper, the drug czar's office deserves some credit for addressing serious issues associated with drug use under prohibition.

"Director Botticelli should be applauded for taking strong steps to reduce drug overdose fatalities and the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases," he said. "His leadership on these issues, and his work overall to reduce the stigma associated with substance misuse, are encouraging."

But when it comes to marijuana policy, DPA found itself pretty much on the same page as MPP.

"The Administration continues to keep its head in the sand when it comes to marijuana law reform," said Piper. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being arrested each year for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Once arrested they can be discriminated against in employment and housing for life. The administration can't ignore the destructive impact of mass arrests forever."

Washington, DC
United States

DC Marijuana Initiative Hands in Plenty of Signatures [FEATURE]

It now looks extremely likely that the residents of the nation's capitol will vote in November on whether to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. Representatives of the DC Cannabis Campaign legalization initiative handed in some 58,000 signatures Monday morning, and they only need some 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

outside DC election headquarters (drugpolicy.org)
Signature-gathering experts generally expect to see something between 20% and 30% of signatures handed in deemed invalid. For the DC initiative to fail to qualify, the invalidation rate would have to be above 50%.

The measure will be known as Initiative 71 once it officially qualifies for the ballot.

The District of Columbia isn't the only locale where marijuana legalization is almost definitely going to be on the ballot this fall. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified, and organizers of an Oregon legalization initiative just last week handed in more than 145,000 signatures, nearly twice the 88,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify.

Colorado and Washington led the way on marijuana legalization, with voters in both states passing legalization initiatives in 2012. DC, Alaska, and Oregon all appear poised to join them in November.

In DC, campaigners will emphasize the racially disparate impact of marijuana prohibition. In 2010, black people accounted for 91% of marijuana arrests, even though they now account for less than half the city's population. The District is also currently saddled with the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the nation.

The DC initiative is not a full-blown legalize, tax, and regulate measure. It would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate six plants at home. But District law prevents initiatives from addressing budgetary issues, which precludes the initiative addressing the tax and regulate/marijuana commerce aspect of legalization. But the DC city council currently is considering a tax and regulate bill to cover that.

boxes of signature petitions ready to go (drugpolicy.org)
The city council passed a decriminalization bill that goes into effect shortly, but advocates argued based on other decrim laws in the states that alone is not enough to change police practices. They noted that in Colorado and Washington, where actual legalization is in effect, marijuana arrest rates have dropped dramatically. Those declines not only save millions in tax dollars; they also save thousands of people from the legal and collateral consequences of a pot bust.

After handing in signatures this morning, key players in the initiative gathered for a noon tele-conference.

"In just a few weeks, DC's groundbreaking decriminalization law goes into effect," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which is supporting the initiative. "But decriminalization is just the first step. Today, the DC Cannabis Campaign turned in enough signatures to put Initiative 71 on the ballot."

"Last week, the US celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act," noted Dr. Malik Burnett, recently brought in as DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug policy reform is the civil rights issue of this century. Prohibition isn't working, and it is leading to poor outcomes, especially in communities of color. We definitely applaud the city council for getting decriminalization done, but in other jurisdictions with decriminalization, we continue to see a large number of racially biased arrests. If we look at jurisdictions that have legalized, arrest rates for small amounts of marijuana are down 75%."

"Today is a big day in this effort," said Councilmember David Grosso, sponsor of the Tax and Regulate Marijuana Act of 2014. "It looks like it will be on the ballot this fall, and I'm confident that people here in DC will vote to legalize marijuana. The people have been in the forefront of this for a long time, starting with medical marijuana back in 1998."

Grosso said he sponsored the tax and regulate bill because of the failures of prohibition.

"I'm a strong believer that the war on drugs has been a failure," he said. "We need to move beyond putting people in jail for marijuana and non-violent offenses. But once we legalize it, it's important to regulate it in a way that is responsible for the District, which is why I introduced the tax and regulate bill. It has to go through a couple of committees, but we're a full-time legislature and could have it done by the end of the year. If not, I will reintroduce it next year."

"This initiative is very different from the other efforts," said DC Cannabis Campaign chair and long-time DC political gadfly Adam Eidinger. "It's very focused on the consumer, how we can keep them out of jail and give them a supply without creating a marketplace. This is looking at the rights of the individual and letting them produce their own at home. This by itself isn't full legalization -- Grosso's bill is the complete picture, but we can't put that on the ballot, so we did the next best thing to enshrine the rights of the consumer," he explained.

"We already passed home cultivation for medical marijuana in 1998, and many us were demanding from the city council that we actually get home cultivation as part of medical," Eidinger noted. "Their failure to do so has fueled the interest in pushing this forward. Medical marijuana is not the destination for every user, nor is decriminalization. The goal is to stop the bleeding, to stop arresting four or five thousand people here every year. My goal is take marijuana arrests down to zero," he said.

DC election workers start validating signatures. (drugpolicy.org)
"I want to note that I am also the social action director for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a major backer which provided money to get this off the ground," said Eidinger. "We've raised and spent at least $150,000 and we hope to raise another $100,000 between now and election day. A lot of these initiative campaigns are fueled by business interests, but we're not offering a retail outlet as the end result of the initiative. It's a little more difficult to raise money when it's about civil rights -- not making some business person rich."

Even if the initiative makes the ballot and passes, there is still an outside chance that congressional conservatives will seek to block it. That's what happened with the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which Congress didn't allow to go into effect for more than a decade.

Similar moves are already afoot over the District's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law. A Maryland congressmen and physician, Rep. Andy Harris (R), has already persuaded the House Appropriations Committee to approve a rider to the DC appropriations bill that would block implementation of the decrim law. But that measure still has to be approved by the House as a whole, and then by the Senate.

If that were to happen, it wouldn't be without a fight.

"The Drug Policy Alliance and the DC Cannabis Campaign look forward to working with members of the city council to expand on Initiative 71 to develop tax and regulate centered around the idea of racial justice," said Dr. Burnett. "The first step is passing 71 to show the will of the people, followed by legislation from the city council. That combination will show Congress that DC residents are serious about reforming their drug policies, and Congress will respect DC home rule."

Dr. Burnett also had some advice for Dr. Harris, the Republican congressman trying to block DC marijuana reforms.

"I would encourage Dr. Harris to take a continuing medical education class on cannabis and to see the reports from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse that teen marijuana use is flat and to understand that the health outcomes associated with incarceration are much worse than those associated with cannabis use," he said.

According to recent polls, support for legalizing marijuana in the District is around 60%. If the initiative actually makes the ballot, it has a very good chance to win in November. And if it wins in November, congressional conservatives will have to explain why DC residents aren't good enough for direct democracy, or get out of the way. And the following spring could see a thousand flowers bloom in the nation's capital.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 7, 2014

This fall's drug policy initiative picture is beginning to clear up, with DC and Oregon seemingly on the way to voting on marijuana legalization in November, the first retailer sales licenses for marijuana in Washington state were issued today, with the signature of Gov. Cuomo, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, and more. Let's get to it:

Handing in signatures to DC election officials this morning. (DrugPolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in More Than Twice the Signatures Needed. Supporters of the DC Cannabis Campaign initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana turned in more than 58,000 signatures this morning. They only need 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative does not seek to tax and regulate marijuana commerce because DC law precludes that, leaving it up to elected officials. A tax and regulate bill is before the DC city council.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Backers Turn in Close to Twice the Signatures Needed. The New Approach Oregon legalization initiative campaign turned in 145,000 signatures Thursday to put their measure on the November ballot. They only need 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, so this is looking very much, but not quite, like a done deal. Stay tuned.

Arkansas Marijuana Initiatives Come Up Short. Neither marijuana legalization nor medical marijuana will be on the ballot this fall. Campaigners for two separate marijuana reform initiatives came up short on signatures for both. Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the folks behind the medical marijuana initiative, say they will be back in 2016.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Issues First Marijuana Retailer Licenses. The first marijuana retail licenses were issued today, with the first retailers expected to be open for business tomorrow as Washington joins Colorado among the legal marijuana commerce states. Click on the link above for a list of the 24 approved licensees.

Massachusetts Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Support for Legalization. A new Boston Globe poll has support for legalizing marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed, and 5% undecided. Click on the poll link for more demographic info and top lines.

Denver Cops Raid Marijuana Social Club. Denver Police last week raided Maryjane's Social Club, a private pot-smoking club operating in a grey area under state law. Police handcuffed smokers and charged them with smoking in public, seized drug paraphernalia, and ticketed the club owner for violating the state's no-smoking-inside laws. Club owners argue that since neither marijuana nor food and beverages are sold at the clubs -- patrons bring their own -- they should be permissible.

Medical Marijuana

Governor Signs Compassionate Use Act, Making New York 23rd Medical Marijuana State. In an official signing ceremony today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law the Compassionate Use Act. New York thus becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, even though its law is among the most restrictive and includes a ban on smoking (but not vaping or eating) it.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans Two More New Synthetics. The state Department of Health and Hospitals has banned two synthetic drugs, FUB-AMB AMB (methyl (1-(4-fluorobenzyl)-1 H-indazole-3-carbonyl) valinate) and 5-flouro-AMB ((S)- methyl 2- (1- (5- fluoropentyl)- 1H- indazole- 3- carboxamido)- 3- methylbutanoate). The two drugs are marketed as fake marijuana under the names Train Wreck 2 and Kali Berry 2. The ban came last Thursday via an emergency rule.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Welfare Drug Test Law Goes into Effect. As of July 1, people applying for welfare will have to answer three questions on a form about potential drug use. Those who answer any of the questions positively will have to submit to drug testing. Positive test results will result in a postponement of benefits until the applicant has completed a treatment or recovery program and been re-tested. The ACLU of Tennessee says it is considering a legal challenge to the law.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Governor Signs Bill Allowing First Responders to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) last Thursday signed into law House Bill 2040, which will allow first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new law goes into effect August 28.

North Carolina Drug Users Have Prevented 100 Fatal Overdoses with Naloxone. Last week, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported that the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone distributed to drug users, their friends, and families has prevented its 100th fatal drug overdose. The distribution is the result of the passage of 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access law in April 2013.

Law Enforcement

Maryland Cops No Longer Have to Report Racial Profiling, SWAT Statistics. Laws requiring state law enforcement agencies to collect and report racial data on traffic stops and to provide the state with information about SWAT deployments have expired. The legislature failed to act to renew them, but some legislators are vowing to make it their first order of business next session. Both laws were passed because of perceived abuses by law enforcement.

International

Colombia's First Needle Exchange Programs are Open. Needle exchange programs in five Colombian cities got underway last week, with health professionals handing out clean syringes to drug users in Armenia, Bogota, Cali, Cucuta, and Medellin. The Health Ministry has allocated 100,000 clean syringes for the program, which will also collect and destroy dirty needles.

Austrian Justice Minister Says No to Marijuana Legalization. Responding to a proposal from the Tyrolean Social Democratic Party (SPO) to legalize marijuana, Austrian Justice Minister Wolgang Brandstetter just says no. "Legalization is not an issue, even in the summer," Brandstetter said. "It's all about prevention, too, in my view, we must reduce the consumption of addictive substances - including soft drugs such as cannabis," he added. Recent polls show only about one-third of Austrians favor legalization.

Caricom Commission to Study Marijuana Reform. The Community of Caribbean Nations (Caricom) last week created a commission to study how the region should respond to demands for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and other marijuana reforms. The commission will report before Caricom's next summit, set for February 2016. An earlier Caricom report found that allowing medical marijuana could boost the regional economy.

Ireland to Allow Medical Marijuana. The CEO of Ireland's Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said today the Department of Health was drafting legislation to allow medical marijuana to be made available to patients. Pat O'Mahony said that medical marijuana would be available by prescription and sold at pharmacies.

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