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New Report Shows How Western-Imposed Prohibition Policies Hurt Poor Countries [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Wealthy Western countries are undermining good governance and social and economic development in poor, drug-producing countries by pressuring them to enforce prohibitionist policies that exploit peasant farmers and waste millions of dollars a year on failed crop eradication and drug interdiction programs. That's the conclusion of a recent report by the British advocacy group Health Poverty Action (HPA).

Afghan poppy fields (unodc.org)
In the report, Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World's Poorest, HPA shows how the West exports much of the harms of drug prohibition -- violence, corruption, environmental damage -- onto some of the world's poorest societies and weakest states. In fact, the report argues, by forcing these countries to devote scarce resources to trying to keep the West from getting high, the West makes them poorer and weaker.

Whether it's horrific prohibition-related violence in Mexico and Central America, the lack of funds for real alternative development in the coca growing areas of the Andes, or the erosion of public health services in West African countries tasked with fighting the trans-Atlantic drug trade, the policy choices imposed by these countries as conditions for receiving assistance have devastatingly deleterious consequences for local populations.

Here are five ways the report says global drug prohibition and rich countries' insistence that poor ones fight their battles for them hurts poor countries:

  1. Disintegrated and accountable states: Corruption and conflict stemming from current drug policies undermine democracy and make governments unable to adequately provide basic services. States can't function because they're stuck in a losing war against cartels.
  2. Lost resources: The global cost of enforcing anti-drug policies is at least US$100 billion a year. Dealing with the violence, environmental destruction, and health impacts caused by the War on Drugs costs poor countries much more and diverts both resources and attention away from essential services.
  3. Undermined economies: By making poor countries more unstable and tying up government funding in the global drug war, current policies sabotage economic growth and worsen inequality.
  4. Inequality: The War on Drugs disproportionately affects the poor, further marginalizing vulnerable populations and undermining efforts towards social and economic justice.
  5. Poor health: Current drug policies exacerbate health harms such as HIV and hepatitis, and have a serious impact on the social and economic determinants of health.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although changing the international drug prohibition regime is a glacially-paced ongoing project, the pace of change is picking up. The next UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for next year, and the prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Perhaps one of these years, we will arrive at a better, less damaging, way of dealing with the global trade in mind-altering substances.

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Passes House, CO Legal Pot Sales Record, Coca-Chewing Day in Bolivia, More (3/12/15)

Marijuana stories all over the place, medical marijuana, too; federal drug policy bills (good and bad) get filed, it's it's National Coca-Chewing Day in Bolivia, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legislators Get Earful from Public Over Changes to Legalization Bill. The Senate Finance Committee overhauled Senate Bill 30, the bill that would implement the Measure 2 legalization initiative, by reversing language in the bill that would have removed marijuana from the state's controlled substance schedules and by creating new marijuana crimes. That didn't sit well with the public, who raked the committee over the coals during a hearing yesterday. It's holding another hearing today.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Drafters Grapple with Home Cultivation. A split has emerged between Safer Arizona and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) over including home cultivation language in a proposed legalization initiative. The latest draft of the initiative contains no language allowing for home cultivation, and Safer Arizona is accusing MPP of doing the bidding of dispensary operators, who it says want to corner the market. MPP says it supports home cultivation, but may be willing to sacrifice it if it thinks such a provision could delay ending pot prohibition in a given state. Stay tuned.

Colorado January Recreational Pot Sales Hit Record.  Sales in January were $36.4 million, according to the Department of Revenue, more than double the $14 million reported in January 2014. January recreational pot sales generated nearly $2.35 million in excise taxes designated for schools. Last year was when recreational marijuana sales began rolling out, so it is expected that 2015 is going to be even bigger than 2014, when more than $300 million in recreational sales occurred.

Connecticut Poll Has Solid Majority for Pot Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 63%, up nine points from the same poll less than a year ago. The poll comes as the Judiciary Committee considers two bills that would legalize it, House Bill 6703 and House Bill 6473.

Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. David Rogers (D-Belmont), Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), and 13 bipartisan cosponsors today introduced House Bill 1561, which would legalize marijuana for adults and establish a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. If the legislature doesn't act on legalization, reform advocates are vowing to put an initiative before voters I n 2016.

Michigan Group Plans 2016 Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Initiative Committee said today it is planning a 2016 legalization initiative petition drive. The committee's chairman, Jeffrey Hank, said "the time is right" to create "a responsible tax and regulation scheme for adult use age 21 and over, and permits the farming of hemp."

New Hampshire House Overwhelmingly Approves Decriminalization Bill. A veto-proof majority of the House voted yesterday to approve House Bill 618, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, five grams of hash, and six pot plants. The House has passed similar measures before, only to see them die in the Senate. If it passes the Senate this year, it still faces a probable veto from Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).   

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Reject Prosecution Attempt to Jail Kettle Falls Five Defendants Before Sentencing. Just one week after three medical marijuana patients were acquitted by a federal jury of all but one charge stemming from the widely watched Kettle Falls Five trial, US District Court Judge Thomas Rice rejected attempts by the Justice Department (DOJ) to imprison the defendants pending sentencing on June 10th. Judge Rice's ruling comes just a day after defense attorneys filed their opposition to the government's pre-sentencing detention effort

Hawaii House Approves Dispensary Bill. The House Tuesday gave its approval to a bill that would allow for at least 26 dispensaries to open across the state. The measure is House Bill 321.

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that would expand medical marijuana access in the Hawkeye State won a subcommittee vote in the state Senate yesterday. The legislature last year approved a law allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil for epilepsy, but didn't provide for the legal distribution of the oil. The current bill would do that, as well as expand the number of qualifying conditions.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Growing Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Robert Morris University poll has support for medical marijuana at 67.5%, up more than 11 points from a similar Robert Morris poll last year. At least three medical marijuana bills are currently before the General Assembly.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Wins Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee has approved House Bill 197, which would allow people with seizures to use CBD cannabis oil with a doctor's recommendation. The bill now goes to the full House Criminal Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Texas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Rep. David Simpson has introduced House Bill 3171 to repeal civil asset forfeiture. "No one should forfeit their property without being convicted of a crime," the Republican said. "Our current civil forfeiture provisions, though a well-intended tool for law enforcement, have eroded the constitutional rights of individuals. It is time we end the practice."

Rehabilitation and Reentry

Federal Bill to Seal or Expunge Records for Nonviolent Offenses Filed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has filed Senate Bill 675, which provides for the sealing or expungement of records relating to federal nonviolent criminal offenses. It's been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Connecticut Poll Finds Strong Support for Reducing Penalties for Drug Offenses. A new Quinnipiac poll finds two-third (67%) of voters support making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony and 82% support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug possessions.

Harm Reduction

Federal Bill to Encourage Use of Opiate Overdose Drug Filed. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Edward Markey (D-MA) yesterday filed the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act, which would  "protect first responders, health professionals and family members who are educated in administering an opioid overdose prevention drug, such as naloxone (also known as Narcan) in an emergency situation of overdose. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) plans to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website. Similar legislation was filed last year.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Aimed at Candy-Coated Drugs Filed. Octogenarian Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) today filed the Candy-Flavored Drugs Act, under which ""criminals who manufacture, create, distribute, dispense or possess candy coated drugs with the intent to distribute them to a minor would get up to 10 years for the first offense and 20 years for the second offense." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

It's National Coca Chewing Day in Bolivia. Bolivian social movements are marching from the La Paz suburb of El Alto toward Villaroel Square in the capital to commemorate National Coca-Leaf Chewing Day. The event is part of a domestic and international campaign to restore the traditional uses of the coca leaf. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Marianas Islands cop gets nailed for smoking meth, a Customs office cops to helping traffickers get marijuana into the US, and a Michigan cop gets in trouble for trying to use drugs to entice sexual partners. Let's get to it:

In Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands, a Marianas Islands police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he was smoking methamphetamine and engaging in misconduct in office. Department of Public Safety Patrol Officer Robert Kohler Tudela, 38, is charged with possession of a controlled substance and misconduct in public office. He's still trying to make $100,000 bail.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Customs and Border Patrol officer pleaded guilty last Tuesday to charges he allowed drugs into the country. Officer Jose Luis Zavala copped to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana. Abribery of a public official charge was dropped. Prosecutors said he used coded text messages with smugglers in Mexico to coordinate the passage of loads of pot through is border entry lane. Sentencing is set for June, and he's looking at 10-year mandatory minimum. 

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a former Prairieville Township reserve police officer was sentenced Monday to time served and 18 months of probation for offering an undercover police officer drugs for sex at a local hotel. Michael Lee Strong pleaded guilty in September to one count of delivery of ecstasy. In return, charges of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony and two counts of delivery of a controlled substance were dropped. He served two days in jail. Strong went down in a sting after state police became aware that he was using a dating site for gay men to offer drugs in return for sex.

Historic Federal Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana Rolled Out Today [FEATURE]

A bipartisan trio of senators today introduced historic legislation to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies.

Senatory Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Bbsrock/wikimedia.org)
"We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose-recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows," said Sen. Booker. "Doctors and patients deserve federal laws that are fair and compassionate, and states should be able to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference. I am thankful to Senators Gillibrand and Paul as well as the Drug Policy Alliance for their hard work on this common-sense bill to make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it." 

The bill would reclassify marijuana for medical use, allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, overhaul banking laws to allow licensed medical marijuana businesses to use financial services, and open up more research possibilities for medical marijuana.

In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the senators also consulted with the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, and other voices for patients in drafting the bill. Although nearly half the states have passed medical marijuana laws (and a dozen more have passed limited CBD cannabis oil laws), marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means patients and providers in medical marijuana states are still at risk of federal prosecution and families and patients in non-medical marijuana states must relocate or travel long distances to get treatment, facing the risk of prosecution in non-medical marijuana states along the way.

"I am so happy to support this bill. As the mother of a child with a severe seizure disorder, anxiously waiting to get access to a medication that is already helping thousands of others is unbearable," said Kate Hintz, a New York resident who has advocated for CBD to treat her daughter and others to treat epilepsy and seizures. "After persistent advocacy in my home state of New York, we finally saw a medical marijuana law passed last summer.  Yet individual state's laws, including New York's, will not succeed until we lift the current federal restrictions surrounding this plant," she added.

"I applaud Sens. Gillibrand, Booker and Paul for taking this bold step forward and insisting the federal government take action.  Let's end the fear and stigma associated with marijuana, and instead allow this bill to provide research, medicine, and long needed relief to so many. It cannot come fast enough, especially for my daughter," Hintz concluded.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (senate.gov)
"For far too long, the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana and have prohibited Americans from receiving essential care that would alleviate their chronic pain and suffering. I am proud today to stand with Sens. Gillibrand and Booker to introduce a bill that will fundamentally change our nation's drug policies and have a positive impact on the lives of our Veterans and children," said Sen. Paul.

While the Obama administration has, in recent years, largely taken a laissez-faire approach to medical marijuana in states that have approved it, that approach is both uneven and dependent on the whim of the administration in power. Just last week, federal prosecutors in Washington state took a family of five medical marijuana patients--the Kettle Falls Five--to trial, threatening them with lengthy, mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing medical marijuana legally under state law (in a state where even recreational marijuana is legal!).

Fortunately for the Kettle Falls Five, a federal jury acquitted them of most charges, including the most serious ones. But under the current state of federal marijuana prohibition, such prosecutions could continue.

Similarly, the Obama administration's recent restraint on medical marijuana is derived from Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors about which cases raise the level of federal concern high enough to warrant prosecution. That guidance was crafted by a deputy attorney general answerable to Attorney General Holder and the president. Absent protections provided by this bill or similar legislation, a new administration could easily return to the bad old days of DEA raids and patients and providers being hauled off to federal prison.  

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
"As the parents of severely ill children who could be helped by medical cannabis, we are dedicated to advancing safe, legal and viable access," said Maria De Gregorio, a parent leader of the Kentucky-based Parents Coalition for Rescheduling Medical Cannabis. "Rescheduling efforts must also guarantee access to whole plant extracts that have proven therapeutic benefits. We feel it is crucial to support state rights in all current and future medical marijuana programs. Thus, we strongly endorse this bill as it is written."
 
"Almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical use; it's long past time to end the federal ban," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bipartisan legislation allows states to set their own medical marijuana policies and ends the criminalization of patients, their families, and the caregivers and dispensary owners and employees who provide them their medicine."

"With studies showing that medical cannabis access decreases suicide and addiction rates, the CARERS Act is absolutely necessary to help fix a broken healthcare system for veterans, which deals with suicides and addiction at catastrophic rates," said TJ Thompson, a retired U.S. Navy Third Class Petty Officer. "Now, I'm considered a criminal because of the medication that helps me. I take it illegally to treat my PTSD."

"This comprehensive proposal would effectively end the war on medical marijuana and let states compassionately provide care for seriously ill people without the federal government standing in the way," said Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority. "The fact that two young Democrats with likely long political futures have teamed up with a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate shows how medical marijuana is a nonpartisan, noncontroversial issue that draws support from across the spectrum. With polls showing an overwhelming majority of American voters backing marijuana reform, you’d think taking up this proposal would be a no-brainer for legislative leaders who want to show that Congress can still get things done." 

We shall see. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website, and it has not yet been assigned to a committee. That's the next step in a long process. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: UN Drug Session in Vienna, Bernard Noble Rally in New Orleans, AZ Welfare Drug Test Flop, More (3/9/15)

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy meets in Vienna, researchers say banning psychedelics offends human rights, new synthetics increase in Europe, an Arizona welfare drug testing bill comes up short in results, and more. Let's get to it;

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs gets down to business in Vienna. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington House Approves Marijuana Deals With Tribes. The House last Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow the state's Indian tribes to participate in the state's legal marijuana industry. The bill is House Bill 2000, and it now goes to the state Senate.

First Government-Run Pot Shop Opens in Washington Town. The city of North Bonneville, Washington, has become the first government entity to open a marijuana retail store. The Cannabis Corner opened over the weekend after the city won approval from the state.

Psychedelics

Prohibition on Psychedelics An Offense Against Human Rights, Researchers Say. A pair of Norwegian researchers who, after studying population data from more than 135,000 people, including 19,000 users of psychedelics, reported no link between using psychedelics and mental health problems, have said that continuing to ban them has no justifiable public health basis and is "against human rights." Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Arizona Welfare Drug Testing Law Didn't Produce Predicted Savings. When the state passed its welfare drug testing law in 2009, lawmakers said it would save about $1.7 million a year by removing drug users from welfare rolls. Not quite. In the more than five years since the law went into effect, only 42 people were flagged for drug tests. Of those, 23 didn't take the drug test and were denied benefits for one year. Nineteen other took the drug test; only three failed. The total savings are now estimated at $3,500 over the entire period, not $1.7 million a year.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi 911 Good Samaritan Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people who report active drug overdoses in a bid to get medical assistance has passed the state Senate and a key House committee. Senate Bill 2780 now awaits a House floor vote.

Pregnancy

Oklahoma Bill Would Charge Pregnant Drug Users With Assaulting Fetus. A bill that would change the definition of assault to include illegal drug use by a pregnant woman has won a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate Bill 559 would still have to get through the House.

Sentencing

New Orleans Rally for Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is doing 13 years in state prison for possessing two marijuana joints, rallied Saturday to support a campaign to gain clemency or a commutation for him. All appeals to state courts have failed, and now it's up to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to act.

International

Morocco's Main Opposition Party Calls for Amnesty for Hash Growers. The Istiqlal Party, the largest opposition party, has called on the parliament to adopt a bill that would grant amnesty to hashish farmers. The party says that more than 300,000 people make a living in the hash fields.  The party's proposed bill would limit hash cultivation to specified regions of the country. The Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) has also called for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. Morocco is one of the world's leading cannabis producers.

More than A Hundred New Synthetic Drugs Appeared in Europe Last Year. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported today that 101 new substances were reported last year by the European Union's Early Warning System, up from 81 in 2013. That means more than 450 new synthetic drugs have been identified by the agency, more than half in the last three years alone. Click on the link for more details.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Session Underway in Vienna.The 58th annual session got underway in Vienna today. It comes as the international drug prohibition consensus crumbles in the face of drug war failures and moves to liberalize drug laws, especially marijuana laws. This is also part of the lead-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs. 

Chronicle AM: CO Pot Law Challenged Again, RI Legalization Bill Filed, Global Pain Med Crisis, More (2/5/15)

Sheriffs from three states are suing Colorado over its pot law, legalization bills get filed in Rhode Island, new research scoffs at links between psychedelics and psychosis, heroin OD deaths are up, there's a big problem with global access to opioid pain medications, and more. 

No link between psychedelics and psychosis, researchers say. (Jelly Fish Times/Tumblr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Sheriffs From Three States Sue Colorado Over Legalization. Sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska are the latest bunch to try to overturn the will of Colorado voters via a federal lawsuit. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver today asks the court to strike down Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana, and to order the closure of the state's more than 330 pot shops. The sheriffs claim Colorado's legalization creates "a crisis of conscience" for them and forces them to violate their oath to uphold the US Constitution.

Rhode Island Legalization Bills Filed. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and House Finance Committee member Scott A. Slater (D-Providence) have introduced legislation to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and to establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. The bills are House Bill 5777 and Senate Bill 510. The state has been tagged as one of the more likely ones to legalize it through the legislature. 

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill on Hold. A bill that would allow access to CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy seizure disorders is alive, but on hold after the Senate State Affairs Committee decided it needed to be amended to address law enforcement concerns. The bill is Senate Bill 1106. Supporters are supposed to come up with amendments to address those concerns by next week.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that would allow for medical marijuana in the Tarheel State has passed its first reading in the House. The bill is House Bill 78

Psychedelics

Researchers find No Link Between Psychedelics and Psychosis. Users of LSD and other psychedelics are no more likely to have mental health conditions than those who don’t, according to data from population surveys. The researchers said anecdotes about "acid casualties" dating back to the 1960s were precisely that—anecdotes. "We are not claiming that no individuals have ever been harmed by psychedelics," says the author of one of the two studies cited, Matthew Johnson, an associate professor in the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. "Anecdotes about acid casualties can be very powerful — but these instances are rare," he says. At the population level, he says, the data suggest that the harms of psychedelics "have been overstated."

Heroin

Rate of Heroin Overdose Tripled Between 2010 and 2013, CDC Says. More than 8,200 Americans died of heroin overdoses in 2013, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That's an average of 23 people a day. The rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly tripled, from just under one per hundred thousand to just under three per hundred thousand. Who is dying has also changed. In 2000, the highest overdose rates were among middle-aged black, but by 2013, whites between 18 and 44 had the highest rates.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up the Ghost on Welfare Drug Testing. This week was the deadline for Gov. Rick Scott (R) to ask the Supreme Court to overturn lower court rulings that found his suspicionless welfare drug testing law unconstitutional. He didn't act. "We chose not to appeal this case," a spokesman said.

International

INCB Report Says 75% of World Population Still Doesn't Have Access to Pain Relief Meds. In its annual report released this week, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said about 5.5 billion people on the planet are in danger of suffering pain if they become chronically or terminally ill because they don't have access to opioid pain relief medications. Click on the link for more and to read the INCB report.

New Uruguay President Postpones Allowing Pharmacy Pot Sales. New President Tabare Vasquez, who took office Sunday, has decided to postpone implementing public sales of marijuana. His chief drug regulator, Milton Romani, said yesterday he was in "no rush" to start pharmacy sales. "I want this project to be successful," he said. "If we make a mistake by rushing, we fail." For those really interested in getting their weed right now, there are now 15 cannabis clubs in operation and more than 2,000 grows.

Hispanic American Historical Review Has Special Issue on Drugs in Latin America. Lots of good stuff in there for those with an interest in the topic. Here's the table of contents for the issue. 

Louisiana Man Gets 13 Years for Two Joints, Commutation Campaign Underway [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

Bernard Noble has already spent nearly four years in a Louisiana prison for being caught with two marijuana cigarettes -- and he's still less than a third of the way through a 13-year sentence with no shot at parole. The sentence is outrageous, but hardly unique in a state with one of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Under Louisiana law, possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds is punishable by six months in jail on a first offense, up to five years in prison for a second offense, and up to 20 years in prison for a third offense. While first- and second-time offenders are eligible for probation, third-time offenders are not. Distributing any amount of pot, even a joint or two, garners a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and that includes possession with intent to distribute.

Add in the gross racial disparities in marijuana possession busts -- African-Americans in the state are 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for than whites and account for nearly two-thirds of all pot arrests while making up less than one-third of the population -- and you have a pipeline to prison for black Louisianans.

In Bernard Noble's case, getting caught with a couple of joints morphed into more than 13 years behind bars because of the way the state's harsh marijuana laws intersect with its harsh habitual offender law (known colloquially as "the bitch.") Because Noble had two previous drug possession offenses, one 12 years old and one 24 years old, he fell under the purview of the habitual offender law.

Even though his current offense was trivial (marijuana is decriminalized in nearly 20 states and possession is legalized in four others and DC) and even though his previous offenses were low-level and nonviolent, the statute called for the 13 years, without parole.

Taking into account Noble's minor criminal history, his work record, and his role as the breadwinner for a family with seven children, and making special note of his overpayment of child support to children not living with him, his sentencing judge departed from the statute and sentenced him to only five years. Orleans Parish prosecutors appealed the lower sentence to the state Supreme Court and got the 13-year sentence reinstated last year.

"Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a lead author of a brief to the state Supreme Court in the case. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture."

It has also shattered Noble's family and destroyed his fledgling business, a restaurant in Kansas City. Noble had relocated there after Hurricane Katrina and has just returned to New Orleans for a family visit. He left his grandmother's house on a bike ride four years ago and never made it back. He's been locked up ever since.

Bobby Jindal has a chance to do the right thing. (gov.state.la.us)
But there's renewed hope for the black, 48-year-old New Orleans family man, even if it's a longshot. Lawyers working on his case are preparing to formally seek a commutation for him from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) within the next few days, and they, supporters, and advocates are hoping to light a fire under the governor hot enough to make him act. A rally is set for Sunday to draw attention to his case.

If Jindal's record is any indication, though, it will have to be quite a fire: During his time as governor, Jindal has granted only 40 of 390 commutations requested.

"This is one of the most egregious cases, a real heart breaker," said Yolanda Cadore, director of strategic partnerships for the Drug Policy Alliance. "He's been in there 44 months, and he's not even close to finishing his sentence. He's just passing time. The only rehab available is drug treatment."

Noble's sentence also plays into another ugly dynamic in Louisiana: imprisonment for profit. Back in the 1990s, during another overcrowding crisis, parish sheriffs were offered a cut of future profits if they covered the cost of building prisons in their counties. Now, more than half of state prisoners are held in parish jail administered by sheriffs.

The state pays them $24.39 a day per prisoner, much less than the $55 a day if would cost to house them in state prisons. If a sheriff can keep jails full, he can pull in as much as $200,000 per jail per year, all the while keeping expenses -- staffing and inmate care and programs -- as low as possible. Other sheriffs lease their prisons to for-profit prison companies in return for guaranteed annual payments.

Sheriffs have a direct financial incentive to keep their jails full, and they know it. Sentencing reforms would hurt their bottom line, and they have organized to make sure that doesn't happen. The Louisiana Sheriffs Association consistently lobbies against sentencing reforms, and its political action committee uses its financial clout to help elect politicians who agree with them.

Orleans Parish, the most populous in the state, acts as a conveyor belt for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to fill the cells and the coffers for other parishes.

"Orleans Parish is the parish that is fueling the prison system in other parts of the state, and it's mostly black men fed into the prison system from there," said Cadore. "Look at Bernard Noble, look at Victor White, who was stopped, frisked, questioned, and ended up dead in the back of a police car after they found marijuana on him."

Case after case after case of black men being sent away for years for relatively trivial offenses is starting to have a cumulative effect on public opinion.

"What's rising to the surface is the impact these current laws have on a particular community -- the black community," Dore pointed out. "We are noticing that the drug war has a color, and that's black, and it has a gender, and that's mostly male, and it has a location, mainly urban, where the young black men are. In all of that, Louisiana is no outlier."

Winning a commutation for Bernard Noble would be a step in the direction of social and racial justice. But he's just one prisoner. The state has 40,000 more, many of them also nonviolent drug offenders.

"If we are ever going to make a dent in reducing the incarceration rate and having a serious conversation about policy reform, we have to look at the impact of these draconian, regressive policies that are fueling the incarceration problem in the state," said Cadore.

"We also have to point out where lawmakers are making policy not based on evidence, but on tradition or notions of morality. We're in an age where evidence-based policy-making is not only the right thing, but the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do," she continued. "Louisiana has been casting a blind eye to evidence. Is it that they're not paying attention or that they're not paying attention to things that are profit-generating?"

Chronicle AM: Nationwide Majority for Pot Legalization, WV Welfare Drug Test Bill Dies, More (3/4/14)

The General Social Survey for the first time has a majority for marijuana legalization, DC cops start returning arrestees' marijuana, a Utah medical marijuana bill is still alive, Canada's Tories ponder decriminalization, Britain's Lib Dems talk drug policy reform, and more.

The "gold standard" of public opinion polls has a majority for marijuana legalization nationwide. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

"Gold Standard" of Polls Finds Majority Support for Legalization Nationwide. For the first time, the General Social Survey, considered to be the gold standard for public opinion polls, has a majority of Americans favoring legalization. The survey, conducted between March and October of last year, has 52% saying pot should be legalized, with 42% opposed, and 7% undecided. Support for legalization is up nine points over the last General Social Survey, conducted two years ago. As recently as 1996, only 32% supported legalization.

DC Police Return Arrestee's Marijuana. This is what happens when pot is legal. A man who had been arrested and released at the 6th District police station in Northeast DC demanded that police return his marijuana. "You have my marijuana, you have my weed," witnesses reported the man saying. The cops gave it back. "This property was less than two ounces of marijuana, and was returned to the arrestee with the other property held at the time of his arrest," explained Gwendolyn Crump, the DC police department's chief spokeswoman.

Georgia Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana and allow retailers to sell up to two ounces at a time to people 21 and over. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Responsible Ohio Files Revised Legalization Proposal. The group, which wants to create 10 designated commercial grows in the state for its financial backers, handed in 3,164 signatures along with its revised constitutional amendment initiative language. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) had earlier rejected the group's initial ballot summary language. If the new language is approved, Responsible Ohio must gather 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Four Win Acquittal on Most Counts. A federal jury in Spokane acquitted the medical marijuana-growing family of four out of five counts, including the most serious ones, but found them guilty of growing between 50 and 100 plants. Federal prosecutors brought the case despite marijuana being legal in Washington state and despite federal guidance that suggests they shouldn't have. They continued the prosecution after Congress passed language barring the Dept. of Justice from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. After the verdicts were read, prosecutors sought to jail the four pending sentencing, much to the disbelief of the courtroom crowd, but the judge didn't go for that.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. A bill that appeared delayed only a day earlier was approved for a third Senate reading Tuesday night. Senate Bill 259 would allow people with qualifying illnesses to use marijuana in edible or liquid form and would establish dispensaries to distribute it. If the Senate approves it one more time, it then goes to the House.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bill Killed. Sponsor of the bill, Del. Patrick Lane (R) conceded today that the bill was dead for the session after the House voted yesterday to table it. The bill would have mandated drug testing based on reasonable suspicion.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Cops Launch 17th Mass Drug Raid. Police Chief James Craig's Operation Restore Order resulted in the city's 17th mass drug raid yesterday. Nearly 180 officers were involved, but at the flagship bust of the day, a "drug house," police found no one, only a small amount of drugs, but managed to shoot and kill a pit bull. Craig said the raids have resulted in 1,172 arrests, the vast majority on drug charges, and the seizure of $4.5 million worth of drugs. He didn't say whether they had had any demonstrable impact on drug availability in the city.

International

Canada Tories Ponder Decriminalization Bill. The Conservatives are considering whether to introduce a bill to let police issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana. The decision on whether to move forward in the current parliament, which only lasts another 12 weeks, is in the hands of Justice Minister Peter McKay. Even if no bill is filed this session, Tories could use the notion as a means of countering the Liberals in forthcoming elections. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has called for outright legalization.

British Lib Dems Promise Drug Policy Reforms. Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg said today his party would hand control over drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health, review marijuana legalization in the US, and consider decriminalization. The party, which is an uneasy junior partner with the Conservatives, says their proposals are "the most far-reaching drug reform policies ever put forward by a major political party ahead of an election."

Mexico Nabs Zetas Cartel Leader Omar Trevino Morales. The Zetas leader is only the latest of an ever-growing list of top drug gang leaders captured or killed by Mexican authorities. Trevino Morales, known as "Z-42," was arrested in a predawn raid in Monterrey. He is the brother of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, who was arrested in 2013. The Zetas' other original leader, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed by Mexican marines in 2012.

Mexico Cartel Violence Spiking in Tamaulipas. The northeastern state, which borders Texas's Rio Grande Valley region is seeing road blockades, assaults on media, and deadly shootouts. At least 12 people were killed in Reynosa and Matamoros shoot-outs last month, and two more were killed in Nuevo Progreso last Saturday. The violence is being blamed on rival factions of the Gulf Cartel.

Chronicle AM: INCB Scolds US, Uruguay on Pot; DC & NYC Top Cops on Marijuana, Iran Executions, More (3/3/15)

The top cops in DC and New York City offer wildly contrasting remarks on marijuana, Iran hangs drug offenders, while Indonesia prepares the firing squad for them, a Florida man gets acquitted of a marijuana cultivation charge in Florida by convincing a jury it was medical, and more.

Iranian drug executions (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Governor Says Legalization Won't Happen on His Watch. "We've got a lot more to learn" before legalizing marijuana, Gov. Jack Markell (D) said in an interview. "I'm certainly willing to look at the decriminalization aspect. I am not in support of doing what they've done in Colorado or Washington state or a few other places, doing full legalization," Markell added. "It's not gonna happen while I'm governor. It may be the right thing. But I don't think we know. I think we need to take a few years and see what the impact has been in some of these other states." The legislature will take up a decriminalization bill this month.

DC City Council Approves Emergency Action to Ban Cannabis Clubs. The council voted unanimously today to ban cannabis clubs, as well as smoking it in bars, clubs, and virtually anywhere else outside a private residence. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the legislation was needed to close a loophole that could allow cannabis clubs, but legalization proponents criticized the move, saying it was unneeded and overly broad. They also warned that passage could render void an agreement they had with Bowser to try to tamp down public displays of pot smoking that could provoke congressional hardliners.

DC Police Chief Says All Marijuana Arrests Do Is "Make People Hate Us." DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier has said that alcohol is a bigger problem than pot and that arresting people for marijuana doesn't accomplish anything. "Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop," Lanier said while speaking at the American News Women's Club. "They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem. All those marijuana arrests do is make people hate us."

NYPD Commissioner Blames Marijuana for Jump in Murders. The NYPD blames marijuana for a 20% increase in homicides in the city. "The seemingly innocent drug that's being legalized around the country -- in this city, people are killing each other over marijuana," said Commissioner Bill Bratton. Reform advocates were quick to point out that the killings were a function of prohibition, not anything intrinsic to marijuana.

Maine Bill Seeks to Block Local Legalization Initiatives. Rep. James Campbell (I-Newfield) has filed a bill that says municipal marijuana legalization petitions "may not be approved for inclusion on the ballot or considered at any town meeting." The measure, LD 67, is currently before the Senate Committee on State and Local Government. Legalization proponents have successfully used local initiatives to win votes in some of the state's largest cities.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) yesterday introduced House Bill 2165, which would legalize marijuana by removing all mention of the drug from state statutes. "Let's allow the plant to be utilized for good -- helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products -- or simply for beauty and enjoyment," Simpson said.

Washington Senate Passes Bill to Ban Marijuana Vending Machines. The Senate voted 47-0 yesterday to approve a bill banning pot sales in vending machines or drive-through windows. The measure is Senate Bill 5903. It now moves to the House.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Verdict, Jury Acquits Florida Patient on Marijuana Charge. A Broward County jury effectively nullified the state's marijuana laws Monday by acquitting a defendant who testified that he grew and used pot for medicinal purposes. Jesse Teplicki testified at his trial that he smoked marijuana to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for years. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with a verdict of "not guilty." Teplicki, 50, was looking at up to five years in state prison if convicted.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Held Up. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) tried to persuade his colleagues to hold a quick vote on Senate Bill 259 after a brief debate yesterday, but that didn't happen. The bill is now on hold with 10 days left in the session.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Interim Committee Could Take Up Asset Forfeiture Reform. After the state Senate failed to override a veto of a civil asset forfeiture reform measure by Gov. Matt Mead (R), the Joint Judiciary Committee met yesterday to come up with a list of topics it wants to consider before the next session. Asset forfeiture reform is one of them, but the final decision will be made by a Management Committee consisting of legislative leaders from both parties.

Rehabilitation and Reentry

New Mexico Bill Restricting Use of Criminal Record Queries for Job Applicants Passes Senate. The Criminal Offender Employment Eligibility Act (Senate Bill 583) passed the Senate yesterday and heads to the House. The "ban the box" bill bars private employers from asking on an application form if someone has a criminal conviction, or from considering a conviction before the final round of an employment decision. Six other states have similar law. New Mexico already has a similar law that applies to public employees.

International

INCB Annual Report Scolds US, Uruguay Over Marijuana Legalization. The UN's drug watchdog body, the International Narcotics Control Board, has wagged a finger at Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize marijuana, and at the US, where two states were singled out for criticism for having legalized it. The scolding came in the INCB's annual report, released today.

Leading Paraguayan Senator Calls for Marijuana Reforms. Senator Blas Llano, chair of the National Congress, has called for an end to pot prohibition in a bid to "put an end to the drug traffickers' business." Paraguay is the leading marijuana producers in South America and second only to Mexico in Latin America.

Iran Hangs Eight for Drug Offenses in Past Week. At least people have been executed for drug crimes by Iranian authorities in the past week, according to the death penalty watch group Hands Off Cain. Iran executed hundreds of drug offenders last year and dozens so far this year. It is the world's leading drug executioner.

Indonesia Prepares to Execute 10 For Drug Offenses. Nine foreigners and one Indonesian citizen are set to be executed by Indonesian authorities later this week. Preparations at the execution site have been completed, and the prisoners are set to be transferred there tomorrow. The killings of foreigners have led to diplomatic disputes with some of their home countries, but that has not deterred Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has consistently supported the death penalty for drug smuggling.

Chronicle AM: TX Border Surge Flops, Belize Decrim Proposal, British Drugged Driving Law, More (3/2/15)

There will be a smoke-out in Trenton later this month, medical marijuana is moving in Utah, the Texas "border surge" accomplishes little, KY cops ignore asset forfeiture reporting, a tough, new British drugged driving law has gone into effect, and more.

Indiana has to try again to ban synthetic drugs. (MN Dept of Public Health)
Marijuana Policy

Indian Tribes Gather in Washington State to Talk About Marijuana Production. Representatives of at least 75 tribes attended a conference in Tulalip last Friday to discuss legalizing, regulating, and producing marijuana on their reservations. The move comes after the Justice Department announced that it would not block tribes from doing so. Many tribes are cautious or reluctant to consider the notion, but there appears to be plenty of interest, too.

Colorado's 2014 Marijuana Sales Numbers. According to a to new report from the state, nearly five million pot-infused edibles and nearly 75 tons of marijuana were legally sold in Colorado last year. And that's with only 67 of the state's 321 local jurisdictions allowing for the sale of recreational or medical marijuana. Of course, those 67 localities are where most of the people are. Medical marijuana accounted for nearly 110,000 pounds of marijuana sales, while recreational accounted for nearly 39,000 pounds.

New Jersey Legalization Advocates Plan "NJ Spring Smoke-Out Rally" in Trenton. A coalition of groups advocating legalization will hold a "Million Marijuana March" for legalization or "any progressive measures on marijuana" on March 21. The groups include the East Coast Cannabis Coalition, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey, CB Delaware, Delaware NORML, Decarcerate the Garden State, The Legalize Marijuana Party, Legalize Cannabis in Atlantic City and Fully Baked Radio. Check the event's Facebook page for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New, Weaker CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Filed in Georgia Senate. The House last week passed a CBD cannabis oil bill, but now, Sen. Lindsey Tippins has filed a new bill that would not make the drug available, but would instead set up a four-year study. The Tippins bill is not yet up on the legislative website; the House bill that passed is House Bill 1.

Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana in Iowa. A new Des Moines Register poll has support for medical marijuana at 70%, up from 59% a year ago. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year, but patient advocates say that law is useless because it doesn't provide for distribution of the medication.

Utah Medical Marijuana Wins Senate Committee Vote. The state Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday approved Senate Bill 259, a full-blown medical marijuana bill. The measure should go to the Senate for a floor vote this week.

Heroin & Prescription Opiates

Illinois Lawmakers File Omnibus Bill to Battle Opiate Addiction. House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang (D) and GOP Rep. John Anthony were set today to file a comprehensive, 240-page bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use and addiction. It would allow the overdose reversal drug naloxone to be distributed more widely, require the creation of a drug prevention program for schools, require that coroners report all overdose deaths to the Department of Public Health, require pharmacies to serve as drug "take back" sites, and limit pain reliever prescriptions.

Kentucky Senate Panel Hears House's Heroin Bill. Although the state Senate has already passed its own omnibus heroin bill, Senate Bill 5, the Senate Standing Committee on the Judiciary last Friday took up the House's omnibus heroin bill, which has lesser sentencing increases for heroin offenders, has a Good Samaritan provision, and allows for the broader use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee took no action on the bill.

New Synthetic Drugs

Indiana Supreme Court to Hear State's Appeal of Ruling Throwing Out Ban on Synthetic Drugs. The state's high court has agreed to hear an appeal from the state attorney general of a January Court of Appeals decision throwing out the state's ban on synthetic drugs as unconstitutionally vague. The appeals court explicitly rejected a list of more than 80 chemical compounds, look-alike substances, and synthetics as too difficult to understand.

Asset Forfeiture

Kentucky Cops Generally Ignore State's Asset Forfeiture Law. LEX 18 TV News has looked into state law enforcement agencies' compliance with asset forfeiture statutes and has found that "a state law designed to give oversight of Kentucky asset forfeiture practices is mostly ignored by Kentucky police agencies." According to the station, only 63 of about 400 law enforcement agencies in the state filed required annual reports on their drug-related seizures last year, "leaving potentially millions of dollars' worth of goods unaccounted for."

Law Enforcement

Texas "Border Surge" Accomplishes Little. Last year's "surge" on the Mexican border, which saw Texas National Guard troops, state troopers, and game wardens flood the border, has done little to stop the flow of drugs, state officials said Friday. But they still want another $815 million for two more years' worth of surging.

International

New British Drugged Driving Laws Now in Effect. New drugged driving laws went into effect yesterday in the UK. Officers can now do roadside tests for cocaine and marijuana with a "drugalyser." Previously, they had to arrest suspect and take them to a police station for a blood draw under medical supervision. Other drugs will still require going to the police station for a test. The law also covers prescription drugs. Under the law, police will not be required to prove impairment, only that the drugs were present.

Israeli Leftist Party Embraces Marijuana Legalization. With elections looming, the leftist Meretz Party is looking for a boost by embracing marijuana legalization. "Legalization and decriminalization have a political home, and that home is Meretz," said Tamar Zandberg in a video released on the party website last week. Zandberg is number five on Meretz's list for the Knesset.

CARICOM Agrees on Commission to Look at Pot Legalization. The Caribbean Community agreed over the weekend on the composition of a commission to look into marijuana legalization. Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, currently chairman of the group, said members expect the commission to "soon begin its work to look into the economic, health and legal issues surrounding the use of marijuana and to consult with stakeholders to get a view on the issue." The move comes just days after Jamaica gave final approval to decriminalizing marijuana.

Belize Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee Issues Report, Calls for… Decriminalization. After nearly three years of pondering, the decriminalization committee has called for decriminalization. The committee is calling for possession of less than 10 grams to be subject only to administrative penalties.

Drug War Issues

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