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Bill Filed to Rein in Police Militarization [FEATURE]

Concerns about the militarization of American policing have been on the increase for some time now, but have crystallized in the wake of the heavy-handed police response to the killing earlier this summer of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Soldiers or police? It's the latter. (hankjohnson.house.gov)
For years, observers have noted the SWAT mission creep, where sending paramilitarized police units to deal with rare mass attacks and hostage-taking events has transmuted into the routine use of SWAT for things like serving drug search warrants. A recent ACLU report documented this trend, finding that 62% of all SWAT teams had been deployed for drug raids. And public anger over police killings -- especially of young men of color -- has been on the increase as well.

In the past decade, affairs have only accelerated as police departments around the land have availed themselves of Congress's largesse in letting them pick up surplus military equipment for free, bringing home Humvees and MRAPs, as well as all kinds of armaments and military get-up. Under the weight of all that gear, policemen who used to look like Officer Friendly have taken on the appearance of imperial storm troopers.

That has all taken place under the Pentagon's 1033 program, which allows the transfer of such equipment from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan state and local law enforcement agencies without charge. But, critics claim, while appropriate as war materiel, much of this equipment is not suited for civilian law enforcement purposes.

Law enforcement's resort to military equipment against largely peaceful civilian protestors in Ferguson, with armored vehicles moving in to confront teenagers wearing shorts and sniper rifles aimed from turrets at local residents put the issue front and center in the national consciousness.

There were congressional hearings on the topic last week, and today, a bipartisan pair of congressmen, Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID), announced that they had filed a bill to rein in the Department of Defense program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Police militarization is an attitude, too. (BCSO)
"Militarizing America's main streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent," said Johnson in a statement announcing the bill. "Before another small town's police force gets a $750,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can't maintain or manage, it behooves us to press pause on Pentagon's 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America."

The bill is HR 5478, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2014. It would:

  • Prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, armed drones, armored vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives.
  • End incentives to use equipment in circumstances when the use is unnecessary. Under the 1033 program, local police are required to use the equipment within a year, incentivizing towns to use it in inappropriate circumstances.
  • Require that recipients certify that they can account for all equipment. In 2012, the weapons portion of the 1033 program was temporarily suspended after DOD found that a local sheriff had gifted out army-surplus Humvees and other supplies. This bill would prohibit re-gifting and require recipients to account for all equipment received from DOD.
  • Remove any reference to counterdrug operations from the program, thus ensuring that law enforcement is not incentivized to use the equipment to perform arrests of those suspected of being low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

"Our nation was founded on the principle of a clear line between the military and civilian policing," said Labrador. "The Pentagon's current surplus property program blurs that line by introducing a military model of overwhelming force in our cities and towns. Our bill would restore the focus of local law enforcement on protecting citizens and providing due process for the accused."

The bill also adds requirements to enforce tracking mechanisms that keep up with and control transfers of the equipment, implement policies ensuring that police agencies can't surplus the equipment for resale and define drones more clearly. It would also specify that the use of MRAPs, grenades, and drones is not appropriate for civilian law enforcement.

In addition to Johnson and Labrador, the bill's original cosponsors are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), John Conyers (D-MI), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Jim Moran (D-VA).

The move is winning kudos from drug reform organizations.

Just what every small town police department needs. (Doraville PD)
"Very occasionally and with proper oversight and training, the use of some military equipment is appropriate -- school shootings, terrorist situations and the like," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "But when it's routinely used against nonviolent drug offenders, it only serves to further strain police-community relations so vital to preventing and solving violent crime. This bill will correct some of the worst excesses of a potentially useful program hijacked by the war on drugs."

"In light of what we all saw in Ferguson, Missouri, the American people are clamoring for law enforcement to become less militarized. Grenades, drones, and tanks may belong on the battlefield; they certainly don't have a place on US streets," said Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Such militarization is inextricably linked to the drug war, where SWAT teams and no-knock raids have become a routine part of drug arrests, even in the case of nonviolent offenders."

The bill is a good first step in reining in law enforcement militarization, he said.

"This legislation is a thoughtful attempt at tackling a very worrying problem -- the militarization of law enforcement," Collins said. "The Pentagon program is highly problematic because preferential treatment is given to those police forces that use their equipment to fight the drug war. This bill would end that, and move us away from a heavy-handed approach to drug policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama Names Drug Producing Countries, CDC Overdose Report, CA Narcan Law, More (9/16/14)

Congress is back and bills are picking up cosponsors, Guam will vote on medical marijuana, Wyoming moves toward ending civil asset forfeiture reform, the president names drug producing and transit countries (again), and more. Let's get to it:

The rate of increase in opiate OD deaths is slowing. (CDC/NCHS)
Marijuana Policy

Preserving Welfare for Needs Not Weed Act Picks Up New Sponsor. The bill, HR 4137, would "prohibit assistance provided under the program of block grants to States for temporary assistance for needy families from being accessed through the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at any store that offers marijuana for sale." Introduced in March by Rep. David Weichert (R-WA), the bill now has 16 cosponsors, all Republicans. The latest is Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). The House Speaker has indicated the bill could see action this week.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would exclude low-THC, cannabidiol-based medicines from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Tom McClintock (R-CA). The bill now has 24 cosponsors -- 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Guam Medical Marijuana Legislative Initiative Published, Pro and Con Arguments Sought. The Guam Election Commission has released the text for Proposal 14A, the legislatively-initiated medical marijuana measure that will go before voters in November. The election commission is urging opponents and proponents of the measure to submit written arguments not exceeding 500 words by this Friday.

At Harrisburg Rally, Top Pennsylvania House Republican Says He Supports Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) told a rally on the capitol steps Monday that he now supports pending medical marijuana legislation. This could be a sign that Republican opposition to Senate Bill 770 in the House is softening. The bill has some bipartisan support in the Senate, but the session only has a month left.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Votes to Sponsor Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. The legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee voted last Thursday to sponsor a draft bill for next year's legislative session that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The draft bill is 15LSO-009. Under the bill, defendants would have to be convicted of a crime before property could be seized, they would have to be told what property is being considered for seizure, and, if they are convicted of a crime, they could challenge the forfeiture and request a hearing.

Drug Policy

In Annual Determination, White House Names 22 Countries as Major Drug Producers or Transit Countries. The White House has named the following countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries:" Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Among that group, the determination singles out Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela as "having failed demonstrably" to undertake drug war policies to Washington's liking. But it also says Washington will keep supplying aid to Burma and Venezuela because it is "vital to the national security interests of the United States."

Harm Reduction

California Governor Signs Naloxone Access Expansion Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 1535, which allows pharmacists to furnish the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. Previously, the drug was only available with a prescription or through a handful of programs throughout the state.

Prescription Pills

CDC Finds Slowing Rate of Increase in Prescription Opiate Overdose Deaths. Opioid pain relievers were involved in about 11,700 drug overdose deaths in 2011, up about four-fold over 1999, but the rate of increase in such deaths has leveled off since 2006, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. But while ODs from opiates alone seem to be stabilizing, ODs from a combination of opiates and benzodiazepines were on the increase, with benzos involved in 31% of opiate ODs in 2011, up from 13% in 1999.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3465, would amend the Second Chance Act of 2007 to allow continued authority for grants for drug treatment in prisoner reentry programs. The bill has 41 cosponsors -- 33 Democrats and eight Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).

House Smarter Sentencing Act Gets New Sponsor. The bill, HR 3382, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allow for applications for resentencing for some crack offenders, and allow judges to sentence beneath mandatory minimums in some cases. The bill has 50 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 14 Republicans -- with the latest being Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA).

CBO Says Senate Smarter Sentencing Act Would Save $3 Billion Over Next Decade. The bill, SB 1410, would reduce Justice Department corrections spending by about $4 billion, but would also result in about $1 billion in costs related to ex-offenders receiving federal benefits earlier than they otherwise would have, the Congressional Budget Office reported. The bill would see about 250,000 prisoners released earlier than they would have been over the next decade.

International

Australia's Victoria State to See Government-Sponsored Medical Marijuana Bill. Victoria Health Minister David Davis said a bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana clinical trials will be introduced today.

Chronicle AM: WaPo Just Says No, WV Pain Clinics Using Narcs, More (9/15/14)

The Washington Post just says no to the DC marijuana initiative, the Oregon initiative sees a lively debate, the Madison, WI, police chief says legalize it, another drug war death, West Virginia pain patients are getting screened by narcs -- and paying for the privilege! -- and more. Let's get to it:

Imprisoned Vietnamese drug users working at a "rehabilitation center" in 2011 (hrw.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington Post Counsels "No" Vote on DC Initiative. The editorial board of The Washington Post came out Sunday against DC's Initiative 71 legalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. The paper noted that it had supported DC's recent decriminalization, but worried about "the rush to legalize marijuana." The paper warned that marijuana is "a dangerous drug" and "a gateway to more dangerous drugs." It also warned of "negative consequences" of legalization in Colorado, citing contentious information from the anti-legalization group Project SAM.

Legalization Debated in Oregon. The Salem City Club was the site of an hour-long debate last Friday over the legalization initiative, Measure 91. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) represented the "pro" side, while Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis represented the "con" side. Click on the title link for the flavor of the debate.

York, Maine, Initiative Still Up in Air. Will residents of York get to vote on marijuana possession legalization this year or not? The city council has rejected an initiative petition, but organizers were expected to submit a notarized version of the signatures to the town clerk, which would put the measure on the ballot. That hasn't happened yet. The Coalition for a Safer Maine only has until Friday, but the town clerk is now saying signatures may have to be re-gathered. The Coalition is considering its options. Similar initiatives are already on the ballot in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland passes its own measure last year.

New York State Senator Says She Will Introduce Legalization Bill. Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said Sunday she will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "I will push for taxation and regulation of marijuana," she said. "I continue to work with experts around the country and to evaluate laws and regulations being put into place now." She introduced a similar bill last session that went nowhere, but she said progress on medical marijuana and factional realignments in Albany made her hopeful. "I see more hope in a Democratic majority for… pieces of legislation that weren't going anywhere," she said.

Madison, Wisconsin, Police Chief Says Legalize It. Police Chief Mike Koval came out in favor of marijuana legalization last week, saying it should be taxed and regulated, with revenues used to provide treatment for hard drug users. The war on drugs in general and on marijuana in particular has been "an abject failure," he said. "We've done such an abysmal job using marijuana as a centerpiece of drug enforcement, that it's time to reorder and triage the necessities of what's more important now," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Republican County Chairs Oppose Medical Marijuana Initiative. GOP county chairs voted last Friday to oppose Amendment 2, the state's medical marijuana constitutional amendment. They worried it would lead to widespread access to marijuana. "I do not want to see Florida turned into the pot capital of the world," said Volusia County GOP chair Tony Ledbetter, in a remark typical of Republican concerns.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin's Republican Governor Comes Out for Public Benefits Drug Testing. In a tough race for reelection, Gov. Scott Walker has come out with a proposal to drug test people seeking food stamps or unemployment benefits and he is looking for a fight with the federal government over it. The notion is politically popular, but legally and constitutionally problematic. Walker's opponent, Democrat Mary Burke, has derided Walker's plan as a campaign stunt.

Pain Treatment

West Virginia Pain Clinics Using Former Narcs to Screen Patients. People seeking medical assistance at the Hope pain clinics in Beckley, Fairmont, and Kanawha City now must undergo screening by former narcotics officers -- and pay for the privilege. The clinics are charging patients $150 to be fingerprinted, photographed, drug tested, background checked, and interviewed by the former narcs. The work is doing by a private company, but some state legislators said it should be doctors -- not police -- who are reviewing and monitoring patients.

Law Enforcement

House Judiciary Committee Hearing Thursday on DEA Oversight. The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will meet Thursday for a hearing on DEA oversight. The only scheduled witness is DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

19-Year-Old City Oklahoma Woman Shot By Cops Is Year's 33rd Drug War Fatality; Boyfriend Now Charged With Murder. An Oklahoma City woman was shot and killed by police as she attempted to drive away from a drug bust and hit an officer on foot earlier this month. Karen Cifuentes, 19, becomes the 33rd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. Cifuentes was apparently the girlfriend of passenger Juan Manuel Aguilera Perez, 24, who reportedly threw a bag of cocaine from the car as the pair fled. Perez is now charged with first degree murder, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug proceeds ($400 in cash). Because Perez's was allegedly in the midst of the commission of a felony -- drug sales -- when police shot Cifuentes, under Oklahoma law he can -- and has been -- charged with murder in her death.

International

Parliamentary Citizen's Initiative for Marijuana Legalization Now Third Most Successful in Austrian History. A parliamentary citizen initiative asking for marijuana legalization has now been signed by 22,392 Austrians, making it the third most successful such petition in the country's history. "This huge success motivates us to organize a parliamentary hearing in order to reduce information deficits as most Austrian politicians still reject any legalization moves," said Bernhard Amann, chairman of Legalize!Österreich.

Hundreds of Vietnamese Drug Users Flee Compulsory "Rehabilitation Center." At least 400 inmates at a compulsory drug treatment "rehabilitation center" escaped on Sunday after breaking down the gates of the center near Hai Phong City. Drug users in Vietnam are regularly arrested and sent to compulsory treatment programs, a practice that has been denounced by human rights groups. A local official was quoted as saying that the men had escaped to pressure authorities for "better policy." They can be held for up to three years in the treatment centers, which Human Rights Watch has called "little more than forced labor camps."

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

Chronicle AM: Mexican Coca, Saudis Behead Another Trafficker, Feds Raid LA Fashion District, More (9/11/14)

A federal CBD medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, so does a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, Georgia advocates want whole whole plant medical marijuana, Mexico's first coca patch is busted, Saudi Arabia beheads another drug offender, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plant. Mexico has found its first plantation. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Selectmen Refuse to Put Legalization Initiative on Ballot, But… Town selectmen voted against putting the initiative from Citizens for a Safer Maine on the November ballot, but since petitioners have already gathered sufficient signatures to force the issue, they can get their petition notarized to be placed on the ballot. York will join Lewiston and South Portland in voting on initiatives this year; Portland approved one last year.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up More Sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act (HR 5226), which would exclude cannabidiol (CBD) from the definition of marijuana, has gained new sponsors. It now has 19 cosponsors -- 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest are Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO), Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), and Chris Stewart (R-UT).

Georgia Advocates Call for Whole Plant Medical Marijuana, Not Just CBD Oil. As legislative hearings in Macon continue to examine the use of CBD oil, medical marijuana advocates are calling for whole plant medical marijuana. "The cannabis plant contains many compounds that have proven to be effective in treating a variety of conditions," said Georgia C.A.R.E director James Bell. "We should not be determining who can and cannot benefit from this healing plant."

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, now has five cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Stevan Pearce (R-NM), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Reid Ribble (R-WI). All cosponsors so far are Republicans. The bill, filed by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI), would increase citizen protections against federal asset forfeiture actions.

Law Enforcement

Feds Raid LA Fashion District in Cartel Money Laundering Probe. More than a thousand law enforcement officers spread out across LA's fashion district Wednesday, raiding more than 60 warehouses, storefronts, and residences, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million in cash that they said was being laundered for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The feds called the mass bust Operation Fashion Police.

International

OAS Head Claims Regional Consensus on Drug Reform. Speaking in front of the Inter-American Dialog in Washington, DC, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Wednesday that regional leaders have reached consensus on four drug policy reform issues: to emphasize a public health approach, to seek out alternatives to incarceration, to stay strong against organized crime, and to work on strengthening regional institutions. Insulza's remarks come ahead of an OAS Special General Assembly to be held in Guatemala next week.

Mexico's First Coca Plantation Discovered in Chiapas. Mexican soldiers have seized more than 1,600 coca plants being cultivated in southern Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border. Mexican military and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) officials said it was the first time coca planting had been discovered in the country. "It's a pretty troubling discovery," said UNODC Mexico representative Antonio Mazzitelli. It could amount to "a small-scale experiment to see if there is a possibility of replicating" coca production in Mexico. Coca is currently grown only in the Andes, although there is nothing stopping it from being cultivated elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Another Drug Offender. Authorities in Saudi Arabia Tuesday beheaded a Pakistani national convicted of smuggling "a large quantity of heroin." They have executed at least seven other drug traffickers in recent weeks, and 49 people overall so far this year. It's unclear how many of the 49 were drug offenders.

Chronicle AM: Philly Decriminalizing, Global Commission Report, Police Militarization Hearing, More (9/9/14)

Philly will decriminalize, the Global Commission on Drugs issues a ground-breaking new report, LEAP's Norm Stamper testifies on police militarization, Jodie Emery runs for parliament, there's medical marijuana news from Europe and South America, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Opium poppies in Afghanistan. The Global Commission on Drugs would like to see this regulated. (unodc.org)
Philadelphia Will Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Mayor Michael Nutter announced today that he will sign a municipal ordinance decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The city council passed the measure in June, but Nutter had held out for changes that he has now obtained, including requiring court appearances for those caught with pot (but no criminal charges) and, for those caught actually toking up, the imposition of a $100 fine for smoking in public on top of the $25 fine for possession. Decriminalization is expected to go into effect on October 20.

Drug Policy

World Political Leaders Call for Radical New Direction in Drug Policies. In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson. These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. Click on the title link for a full report.

Drug Policy Forum of California Publishes 2014 Voters's Guide.The guide covers all candidates for state and congressional office and all local ballot measures concentrating on marijuana- and drug policy-related stances and issues. Click on the link to check it out.

Law Enforcement

Norm Stamper Testifies Before Senate on Police Militarization. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, a long-time member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), testified today before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on the militarization of law enforcement in the post-9/11 era. Click on the link to read his submitted remarks in full.

Nevada Officials, Lawmakers Call for Careful Review, Revision of Marijuana DUID Law. The state currently has a strict DUID law, meaning the presence of more than 2 nanograms per million of detectable THC in a driver's blood makes drivers "per se" guilty of driving under the influence, but a growing number of lawmakers, prosecutors, and advocates are calling for the legislature to review and possibly revise that law next year. They are looking for some way of measuring marijuana impairment that actually measures impairment, not THC in the blood. Some are holding up California as a model. That state has no legal standard, but instead relies on the judgment of police at the scene. In California, prosecutors can use blood test results as evidence, but must still prove actual impairment.

International

Jodie Emery Officially Files to Run for Canadian Parliament. Jodie Emery, the wife of just released from US prison "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and an effective activist in her own right, has officially filed for the Liberal Party nomination to run as a member of parliament representing the Vancouver East riding. That seat is currently held by New Democratic Party stalwart Libby Davies, herself an avid drug reformer, and Davies is widely expected to retain the seat.

Italian Army to Grow Medical Marijuana. Italian media are reporting that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense have agreed that the military will grow medical marijuana at a military-run pharmaceutical factory in Florence. Italy allows for the use of medical marijuana, but there are no legal private growers, leaving patients to obtain supplies abroad and leaving the Italian health care system footing the bill. The move is designed both to cut costs and to ensure that the drug is produced under strict controls.

Chilean Government Approves First Medical Marijuana Farm. The governor of metropolitan Santiago announced yesterday that the county's first medical marijuana production operation had been approved by the Agricultural Livestock Service. The operation will grow marijuana for medical and research purposes and is expected to produce cannabis oil as well. The farm will be sponsored by La Florida, a Santiago municipality, as well as Fundación Daya, "a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to research and promotion of alternative therapies to alleviate human suffering."

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: Illinois Taking Medical Marijuana Applications, WaPo Forfeiture Series, NYT on SWAT, More (9/8/14)

Two majors newspapers have special reports on law enforcement related to the drug war, a staunch Kansas Republican says marijuana should be decided by the states -- not the feds -- Illinois is now taking medical marijuana business applications, Britain's Lib Dems are ready to consider drug decrim and marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Republican US Senator Pat Roberts Says Legalization Should Be Up to the States." [Marijuana is] not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally," Roberts said during a campaign debate last Saturday. Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell was inspired to respond: "When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over. But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."

York, Maine, to Vote on Possession Legalization Initiative. York will be the third Maine community to vote on marijuana reform this year. Organizers for an initiative removing penalties for simple pot possession have handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. York joins Lewiston and South Portland in voting on the issue this year. Portland, the state's largest city, approved a similar initiative last year.

Los Angeles Event to Mark 100th Anniversary of First "Marihuana" Raid. Cal NORML and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will host a press conference marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's first "marihuana" raid in LA's Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood on Thursday, September 11 at 10 am on the steps of LA City Hall. And LA NORML will be hosting an "End the 100 Year War on Pot" party on Saturday, September 13. State and local political officials and advocates will address the failed marijuana policy that has cost California billions of dollars in arrest, prosecution and prison expenses; fueled an illegal black market and lined the pockets of violent narcotrafficantes; promoted environmentally damaging trespass grows on public and private lands; and blocked access to useful medicine, all while failing to stem drug abuse in the state and depriving it of billions in tax dollars from a legitimate industry. Click on the title link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.

Asset Forfeiture

Washington Post Takes on Asset Forfeiture, In an ongoing series of articles, The Washington Post is taking a cold-eyed look at asset forfeiture practices and the law enforcement culture that has grown around them. The article linked to above examines a private intelligence network used by cops across the country to trade information on motorists and help them decide whom to subject to pretextual traffic stops in order to look for loot to seize. There's a lot of dirt in here, and there's more to come as the series continues.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Union in Drug Policy Talks.The NFL and its players' union are meeting today to try to thrash out new drug policies. Marijuana use is a key topic. The league has been criticized recently for treating pot-smoking offenses by players more seriously than domestic abuse.

Prescription Drugs

Obama Administration Announces Expanded Prescription Drug Takeback Plan. The White House announced today that hospitals, pharmacies and other medical facilities will be authorized to collect unused prescription drugs, a move designed to keep the drugs out of the hands of people who may attempt to abuse or sell them. "We know if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold," said Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These regulations will create new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the house and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way."

DEA Sets Production Limits for Pain Relievers, With Big Increases for Some. In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the DEA released a list of dozens of Schedule I and II substances subject to production quotas next year. Twenty-two of the 63 substances will see increases in production quotas next year, including cocaine, codeine, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, and ephedrine. The DEA says the changes are based on public comments that quota amounts were "insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the US." Among substances seeing quota decreases are amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methadone.

Law Enforcement

New York Times Video "Retro Report" Takes on History of SWAT. As part of a video documentary series presented by the Times called Retro Report, the nation's newspaper of record examines the rise of SWAT-style policing, tracing its roots to the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s. Once rare, SWAT teams now appear ubiquitous, whether in big cities or sleepy small towns. They are now under greater scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, making this report quite timely.

International

British Liberal Democrats to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Legal Marijuana Sales. Britain's Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, will consider drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization at their party conference next month. The announcement comes after a party policy paper to be debated at the conference called on the party to "adopt the model used in Portugal, where those who possess drugs will be diverted into other services." The paper also said the party "welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state. These innovative approaches are still in their infancy and the data that would allow us to examine their impact are not yet available. We will establish a review to examine the impact of these schemes in relation to public health," it said.

Australia's Tasmania Reverses Course, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Trials. Tasmania's governing Liberals will support medical marijuana trials, the health minister told a parliamentary inquiry. The minister, Michael Ferguson, had rejected a bid for trials in the state just weeks ago in July. But now he has changed his tune. "We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework," he said. "We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis."

Amnesty International Report Says Torture in Mexico Out of Control. Reported cases of torture and mistreatment by police and armed forces in Mexico have increased six-fold in the past decade, according to a new report issued by Amnesty International. The report says much of the increase was driven by the Mexican government's aggressive effort to repress drug trafficking organizations.

Top Albanian Christian Democrat Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The head of Albania's Christian Democratic Party, Zef Bushati, has called for the legalization of marijuana on his Facebook page. "Countries are okay with that," he wrote. "First USA, France and now Italy. It's business. It increases the economic level. I never knew or even imagined that cannabis was cultivated all over Albania. When I knew that I started thinking about those families that needed to feed with this kind of job." Christian Democrats have only one member in the Albanian parliament.

Chronicle AM: OR Init Foes May Be Using Federal Funds, Infamous Anniversary, More (9/5/14)

Are federal funds helping to oppose the Oregon initiative? Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wants to know. Plus, Hawaii dispensary hearings loom, Charles Bowden dies, and today marks an infamous anniversary. Let's get to it:

George HW Bush and his infamous bag of crack, September 5, 1989 (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Representative Calls for Federal Investigation into Use of Public Funds to Oppose Legalization Initiative. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to SAMSHA calling for immediate federal investigation into the possible misuse of federal funds to sponsor the "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour," which is filled with anti-legalization operatives and which comes as Oregonians prepare to vote on Measure 91, the legalization initiative. Click on the title link to read the letter and associated attachments.

Medical Marijuana

Princeton Employee on Paid Leave over Medical Marijuana Use. Princeton University campus dining manager Don DeZarn, who had been told to choose between his job and his medicine after he began legally using medical marijuana this summer, is now on paid leave as the school attempts to resolve the issue. The problem arose after DeZarn said he might use the drug while at work and school public safety officials raised concerns he could be impaired and might accidentally give a student with food allergies the wrong item (or something).

Hawaii Dispensary Task Force to Hold Public Hearings This Month. A task force created by the state legislature to address dispensary issues will hold public hearings next week in Hilo and on September 24 in Honolulu. Click on the link for more details and information about how to submit public comments.

Drug Policy

25 Years Ago Today, George HW Bush Waved a Bag of Crack on TV. Today is the 25th anniversary of President George HW Bush's infamous oval office speech escalating the war on drugs. In that speech, he waved at viewers an evidence bag containing crack cocaine that he warned had been sold in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House. Only later was it revealed that the dealer who delivered the crack had no idea where the White House or Lafayette Park were, and that he had to be given directions by DEA agents. Bush used the speech to ask for "more jails, more prisons, more courts, and more prosecutors" to fight the drug war, and largely got them.

Obituaries

Charles Bowden, Chronicler of the Southwest's Drug Wars, Dead at 69. Chronicler of the American Southwest and the brutal violence along the border sparked by Mexico's drug wars Charles Bowden has died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at age 69. A vivid and evocative writer, Bowden's "Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America" achingly described environmental and social alienation in the Southwest (and turned your correspondent on to him), but in the last two decades he focused increasingly on the border and the drug wars. His insightful, critical, and horrifying books on the subject include "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," "Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family," and "A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior." Bowden is gone, but his work remains. Check it out.

International

Austrian Activists Seek Parliamentary Inquiry on Marijuana. Legalize Austria is demanding a parliamentary inquiry into its proposal to remove marijuana from the country's drug laws. The group so far has more than 20,000 signatures on a petition to that effect and is seeking 80,000 more. The move comes as the Austrian Young Greens are also on a legalization campaign.

REDEEM Act Aims to Fix Criminal Justice System [FEATURE]

A pair of US senators from opposite sides of the political spectrum have teamed up in a bid to fix "the nation's broken criminal justice system." Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this summer introduced the Record Expungement to Designed to Enhance Employment Act, generally referred to as the REDEEM Act.

The REDEEM Act aims to help young offenders break the cycle of criminal justice system involvement. (samhsa.gov)
While observers say the bill is unlikely to pass this year, its introduction lays the groundwork for moving forward on it in the next Congress.

The act, Senate Bill 2567, its sponsors say, is designed to give people convicted of nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses, a second chance at succeeding. It also aims to divert many teenagers out of the adult criminal justice system.

Booker, a black northeastern liberal, and Paul, a libertarian-leaning southern conservative, may appear to be strange bedfellows, but both said fixing the criminal justice system was more important than partisan rivalries in statements made when the bill was introduced.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that," Sen. Booker said. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend."

"The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record," said Sen. Paul. "Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment."

Even though the United States contains only 5% of the world's population, it contains 25% of the world's prisoners. US prison populations have more than tripled since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, largely under the impetus of the war on drugs. American taxpayers have seen their bill for mass incarceration rise from $77 each per year in when Reagan took office in 1980 to more than $260 each per year in 2010.

The REDEEM Act would seek to reduce those costs by reforms that would divert juvenile offenders from adult courts, improve the conditions for juvenile offenders, allow some adult offenders a means to expunge their records, and allow adult drug offenders who have done their time to be eligible for benefits they are now barred from obtaining.

The act would:

  • Incentivize states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old: Currently 10 states have set the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts below 18 years old. The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to change that by offering preference to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications for those that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts.
  • Allow for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: Provides for automatic expungement of records for kids who commit nonviolent crimes before they turn 15 and automatic sealing of records for those who commit non-violent crimes after they turn 15 years old.
  • Restrict use of juvenile solitary confinement: Ends the practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.
  • Offer adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information -- thereby protecting job applicants -- because of provisions to improve the background check system.
  • Lift the ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use and possession crimes, and for those who have paid their dues for distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

Cory Booker
While the bill was filed last month, it remains a work in progress. A number of advocacy groups, including the Sentencing Project, the Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition have been meeting with Booker and Paul staffers in an effort to make it even better. That work continues.

"A lot of the criminal justice and civil rights and faith groups and the Legal Action Center have been involved in trying to develop legislation like this and are supportive of at least parts of the REDEEM ACT," said Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for the Sentencing Project. "Both senators have said they are willing and want to hear from advocates about how to make the bill better. We've been doing that," he noted.

"We'd like to see it strengthened in some areas in terms of the repeals of bans for people with felonies getting federal benefits, as well as Pell grants and housing benefits. We'd like to see the bill expanded to take away those bans on services as well because they are all counterproductive for a safer reentry when people are released from prison," Haile continued.

While the bill has been described as a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, Haile said, it really addresses a few distinct areas around the repeal of bans on benefits, as well as the juvenile justice measures.

Rand Paul
"Repealing the SNAP and TANF bans for people with drug offenses is something we're really interested in," he said. "As it is, the bill will be especially beneficial for people with drug possession and use offenses. People with drug distribution offenses will have to show they have taken advantage of drug treatment and other things."

There is still time to make the bill stronger, Haile said, especially given partisan gridlock and upcoming midterm elections.

"Given that it's an election year and the lack of progress in Congress on just about everything, it's probably not going to pass before the election," he predicted. "But the bill sponsors are very committed to trying to advance it, if not during this session or during the lame duck, then they will reintroduce it next year."

In the meantime, the country and the economy will continue to suffer the effects of over-criminalization and over-incarceration, Booker said.

"Our country's misguided criminal justice policies have placed an economic drag on communities in both of our states, and on our nation's global competitiveness -- all while making us less, not more, safe," he proclaimed.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Medical Marijuana and Opiate ODs, ME Welfare Drug Test Law, Colombia Drug Talks, More (8/26/14)

Medical marijuana may reduce opioid overdose death rates, International Overdose Awareness Day is coming, the drug war claims another victim, new studies from the NIJ, and more. Let's get to it:

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana States Have Lower Opiate Overdose Rates, JAMA Study Finds. States with medical marijuana laws have significantly lower rates of opiate overdose deaths than states that don't, according to an article published Monday in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. The article is Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.

Illinois Seeks Nominees for Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The state medical marijuana program is looking for health professionals and patients to serve on its advisory board, which will be appointed by the governor. For more information, visit the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

New Mexico Cannabis Medical Advisory Board Holds Public Hearing on Proposed New Rules. The state's cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board (MAB) held a public hearing yesterday on proposed rule changes to the program. The MAB is frustrated that the Department of Health did not formally consult with it before releasing proposed rule changes, which have garnered unhappy responses from patients and providers.

Harm Reduction

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. In Los Angeles, members of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) are hosting an event at the Santa Monica Pier and Palisades Park. Click on the title link for more details. For details on other Overdose Awareness Day events, visit International Overdose Awareness Day.

Drug Testing

Maine Welfare Drug Test Program Gets No Support at Public Hearing. Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told a public hearing on Gov. LePage's (R) welfare drug testing plan that it was a "common sense approach," but no one else seemed to agree. The ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners vehemently differed. The drug testing scheme, which had been okayed in 2011, but which LePage just rolled now as he faces reelection, would require people with past felony drug convictions to be tested before being approved. A written public comment period is open through Sept. 7, after which Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, will need to sign off on whether the final rule complies with federal law and the intent of the original state-level legislation.

Drugs and Crime

National Institute of Justice Releases Reports on Crime and Drugs. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service at the National Institute of Justice has released five technical reports on drugs and crime. They are: How Much Crime Is Drug-Related? History, Limitations, and Potential Improvements of Estimation Methods, Reducing Drug Violence in Mexico: Options for Implementing Targeted Enforcement, Measuring the Costs of Crime, Drug Control and Reductions in Drug-Attributable Crime, and Managing Drug-Involved Offenders. Click on the title link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Puerto Rico Police Officer is Year's 30th Drug War Fatality. Puerto Rican police officer Geniel Amaro Fantauzzi died Monday after being taken off life support six days after he was shot and critically wounded during a drug raid at a residence. He was an agent of the Humaco Drug Division.

International

Colombia Drug Policy Talks Get Underway. The National Dialog for the Future of Drug Policy got underway last Friday in Bogota. The meeting with members of academia, political groups, and unions is the first of 10 national and regional forums organized by the ministries of Justice, Health and Social Welfare, and Public Affairs. In the first forum, a survey of 61 recognized drug experts was presented, with all 61 saying drug policy "must change" and 42 of them considering current policy "ineffective, costly, and repressive."

Drug War Issues

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