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The US Is Deporting Hundreds of Thousands for Drug Offenses, Many Minor [FEATURE]

(This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The US government wants to throw Marsha Austin out of the country. The 67-year-old grandmother came from Jamaica to New York as a lawful resident in 1985, and has lived here ever since with her husband, seven children (two more are in Jamaica), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All are legal residents or US citizens.

Marsha Austin and her family in the Bronx (
By her own admission, she had problems with drugs. "I live in a drug-infested area," she said of her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine in the wake of her mother's death. Jones racked up several minor convictions before getting popped for making a $5 purchase for an undercover officer in 1995.

That was "attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree," to which she pleaded guilty on her public defender's advice. The attorney failed to tell her the conviction could lead to deportation.

Her convictions led to little or no jail time, but in 2010, as her husband's health faltered, she violated probation by drinking alcohol. She did 90 days in jail, but instead of walking out, she was seized by immigration authorities at the end of her sentence and spent the next 2 ½ years in immigration jail awaiting deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly opposed her release, claiming she was under mandatory detention for her drug offenses, but then released her unexpectedly in 2013. She's been in treatment since then and now proudly reports that she's been "clean as a whistle" for the past five years. Now, her husband's health is failing, as is the health of her daughter, who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter suffered a serious illness.

"My kids and my grandkids, that's what I'm living for now," she said.

But she remains in limbo. The US government still wants to send her back to Jamaica, arguing that she is subject to deportation for the "aggravated felony" of buying $5 worth of crack for a narc.

She's not alone. Beginning late in the George W. Bush years and continuing through the Obama administration, the US has been deporting and trying to deport immigrants for drug offenses at a record clip. According to a just released report from Human Rights Watch, more than 260,000 non-citizens -- legal residents and illegal immigrants alike -- were deported for drug offenses between 2007 and 2012. Shockingly, 34,000 people were deported for marijuana possession offenses alone.

The trend is upward. The number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug crime was up 22% over that period, while the number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug possession offense was up even more, at 43%.

Tens of thousands more have been or are being detained indefinitely in immigration jails fighting pending deportation orders. Such extended imprisonments wreak havoc on the families who husbands or fathers, wives or mothers, are caught up behind bars.

The sweeping action against non-citizens comes as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on "criminal aliens," but seems disproportionately harsh when applied to low-level drug offenders, especially people who have lived all or most of their lives here and have strong family and community roots in this country. It is also at odds with the trends toward drug decriminalization and even legalization now at play in the country.

The Human Rights Watch report, "A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses," documents how the US government is routinely breaking up families by initiating deportation proceedings for drug offenses, often ones decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time. Researchers interviewed more than 130 affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated new data obtained from ICE.

Here are some of the cases examined in the report:

"Raul Valdez, a permanent resident from Mexico who had grown up in the Chicago area from the age of one, was deported in 2014 because of a 2003 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, for which he had been sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Ricardo Fuenzalida, a permanent resident from Chile now living in New Jersey, was held without bond for months fighting deportation in 2013 because of two marijuana possession convictions from 13 years earlier.

Jose Francisco Gonzalez, a permanent resident in Anaheim, California, was put into deportation proceedings and held without bond in 2014 because of a 2001 arrest for having two pot plants, despite having successfully completed a California diversion program that promised to erase his criminal record.

Abdulhakim Haji-Eda, a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the US at the age of 13, has been ordered deported as a drug trafficker for a teenage drug sale in Seattle. Now 26 years old, he has no other convictions, and is married to a US citizen with two US citizen children and another on the way.

"Antonio S.," who came to the US from Mexico when he was 12 and was eligible for a reprieve from deportation as a "DREAMer" under the executive program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was detained for over a year in Colorado and deported after a conviction for possession of marijuana, a municipal violation to which he pleaded guilty without an attorney.

"Alice M.," a 41-year-old graphic designer and Canadian citizen, [was barred] from living in the US with her US citizen fiancé because of a single 1992 conviction for cocaine possession she received in Canada in her last year of high school, a conviction that was pardoned long ago in Canada.

"Mr. V.," a refugee and permanent resident from Vietnam, was ordered deported in 2008 for a 1999 conviction for possession of crack cocaine. Although he has since been granted a full and unconditional pardon from the state of South Carolina, Mr. V. remains under a deportation order and only remains in the US because of restrictions on the repatriation of certain Vietnamese nationals."

"Even as many US states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses."

The report notes that the Obama administration has been sensitive to the injustices of the war on drugs and urges it to be as sensitive to the harsh effects of its deportation policies related to drug offenses. But it is not just the federal government that can act to improve the situation. Here are the group's recommendations:

"To the United States Congress

Eliminate deportation based on convictions for simple possession of drugs.

Ensure that all non-citizens in deportation proceedings, including those with convictions for drug offenses, have access to an individualized hearing where the immigration judge can weigh evidence of rehabilitation, family ties, and other equities against a criminal conviction.

Ensure that refugees and asylum seekers with convictions for sale, distribution, or production of drugs are only considered to have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" through case-by-case determination that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and whether the non-citizen is a threat to public safety.

Ensure that non-citizens who are barred from entering the US and/or gaining lawful resident status because of a criminal conviction, including for drug offenses, are eligible to apply for individualized consideration, i.e., a waiver of the bar, based on such factors as the above mentioned.

Eliminate mandatory detention and ensure all non-citizens are given an opportunity for an individualized bond hearing.

Redefine "conviction" in immigration law to exclude convictions that have been expunged, pardoned, vacated, or are otherwise not recognized by the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use.

To the Department of Homeland Security

Provide clear guidance to immigration officials that a positive exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be appropriate even in cases involving non-citizens with criminal convictions, with particular consideration for lawful permanent residents and non-citizens whose most serious convictions are for nonviolent offenses, including drug convictions, that occurred five or more years ago.

Provide all non-citizens who have been in detention for six months or more with a bond hearing.

To State and Local Governments

Ensure drug courts and diversion programs do not require a guilty plea from defendants that would constitute a conviction that triggers deportation, mandatory detention, and other immigration consequences even upon successful completion of the program.

Remove barriers to post-conviction relief for non-citizens convicted of nonviolent drug offenses through legal error, including through guilty pleas obtained without adequate advice from defense counsel on the potential immigration consequences of the plea.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use."

To be comprehensive and thorough, drug reform must encompass immigration law reform, too.

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Sales Compromise, CO Employers Can Fire MedMJ Patients, More (6/15/05)

A legislative compromise would let Oregon counties where voters opposed legalization ban pot shops, the Colorado Supreme Court rules in favor of employers over medical marijuana patients, two big eastern cities are on the verge of shifting their drug enforcement policies, and more.

No pot shops like this for Eastern Oregon under a compromise being bruited by the legislature.
Marijuana Policy

Powerful Arizona Business Group Will Oppose Legalization Efforts. One of the state's most influential business groups, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, has announced it will oppose looming legalization initiatives there. The group said it is worried about more workplace injuries and workers' compensation claims. "We arrived at our decision after careful consideration of the experiences of other states that have legalized marijuana, the arguments of proponents and research by our foundation. After looking at all the facts, we've determined that there is no upside to the legalization of recreational marijuana," said Chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer. "The negative consequences that could result from legalization affect our business environment and the public's health."

Oregon Legislators Make It Easier to Ban Pot Sales in Eastern Counties. In a bid to get their legal marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 3400, back on track, leaders of the committee dealing with marijuana have agreed to new legislative language that would allow local governments to ban pot sales in counties where at least 55% of voters rejected the Measure 91 legalization initiative in 2014. All of those counties are in the sparsely populated and politically conservative eastern part of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Employers Can Fire Medical Marijuana Patients for Off-Duty Use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.

Law Enforcement

Washington, DC, Police to Shift Drug Enforcement Focus. DC Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier has announced that the department will revise its drug war strategy by focusing on suppliers instead of street-level buyers and by putting undercover officers back in uniform. "Our main goal is the supply," Lanier said. "We don't want to focus police efforts on just people who are addicted. We want to be focusing on the people who are bringing the stuff in."

Boston Mayor Says City Could Offer Addicts Treatment Instead of Arrest. Mayor Marty Walsh (D) said that Boston could follow in the footsteps of nearby Gloucester and offer treatment instead of arrest to opiate users seeking help. Gloucester recently announced it had adopted that policy. "I commend Gloucester for what they're doing," Walsh said. "I think it's a great idea, a great pilot program, I'm looking forward to seeing how it works and taking that model and possibly using it here in Boston." The chance of the city adopting the program is "probably pretty good... I'm not sure when, but it's probably fairly good odds," he said.


>Costa Rican Ministry of Health Releases Criteria for Pending Medical Marijuana Bill.Earlier this month, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health outlined the details for the implementation of a pending bill to research and regulate marijuana for medical and industrial purposes. The bill was introduced by ruling Citizen Action Party legislator Marvin Atencio last year to tax marijuana products and regulate the use of medical marijuana through registration cards for patients provided by the Ministry of Health. Ten months after Atencios's proposal, the Ministry of Health released its criteria for the implementation of the bill. Among the conditions specified by the Ministry are that medical marijuana must be used as a last resort and that recreational use of marijuana will continue to be illegal. Medical marijuana will be distributed through conventional drug stores and will follow the same prescription rules outlined by the Costa Rican Social Security System. One of Atencio's proposals to issue marijuana identity cards was discarded by the Ministry under the argument that it would entail discrimination. Atencio responded by saying that the cards would protect medical marijuana patients in encounters with law enforcement. Other conditions included the implementation of educational campaigns for the general public on what is permissible under the new bill and an emphasis on an existing law prohibiting the monopolization of research on marijuana and hemp plants.

Chronicle AM: OH MJ Report, Colombia to Debate MJ Legalization, CDC Spice Warning, More (6/12/15)

There's a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio, the CDC sounds the alarm on "Spice," a CBD cannabis oil for kids bill passes in Delaware, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Policy Task Force Says Legalization Will Create 35,000 Jobs. A task force commissioned by ResponsibleOhio, which is leading a legalization initiative campaign, issued a 187-page report Thursday that estimated legalization would bring 35,000 jobs to the Buckeye State. Those jobs would provide wages of around $1.6 billion, the report said. The task force was led by Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Legislature Approves Youth CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The state Senate Thursday unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.

New Synthetic Drugs

CDC Sounds Alarm on Synthetic Cannabinoids. The number of phone calls to poison control centers and the number of deaths related to synthetic cannabinoids ("spice") has tripled this spring compared to last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. The CDC reported that 15 people had died in the first five months of this year, up from five during the same period last year. For perspective, the CDC reported in April, that there were 44,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2013, more than half of them from prescription drugs.

Drug Testing

ACLU Sues Indiana Town Over Mandatory, Suspicionless Drug Tests for Public Assistance. The ACLU of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the town of Black Township on behalf of a woman who was denied public assistance because she failed to take a drug test. It's not that she failed a drug test; the woman suffers from physical disabilities and was unable to physically urinate into a specimen cup. She sought an alternative means of doing the drug test, but the town refused to allow it. While the ACLU is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act on that count, it also asserts that the town's policy of mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment, a position in line with federal court decisions.


Colombian Senator Will Push for Full Legalization During Looming Medical Marijuana Debate. Senator Roy Barreras of the coalition U Party said Thursday that he will attempt to amend a proposal to allow medical marijuana to turn it into a full legalization bill. That debate is set to take place next month. Barreras cited security issues, saying it is not drugs but "prohibition that is generating the mafias."

Chronicle AM: Senate Panel Wants DEA Out of MedMJ, MI Legalization Inits Approved, More (6/11/15)

The Senate is following the House's lead in telling the DEA not to interfere in medical marijuana states, two Michigan initiatives get the go-ahead for signature-gathering, a package of heroin bills passes the New York Senate, Vancouver gets tired of Cannabis Day, and more.

Cannabis Day in Vancouver. The city wants to shut it down. (
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Bill Blocks DC Marijuana Sales for Two Years, But Doesn't Try to Roll Back Legalization. The House approved an appropriations bill today that would block legal marijuana sales in the District for the next two years. But, in what advocates called a victory, it does not attempt to undo Initiative 71, which allows for legal marijuana cultivation, possession, and consumption.

Michigan Legalization Initiatives Get Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. Two separate marijuana legalization initiatives are ready to start gathering signatures after the state Board of Canvassers approved the wording of their petitions Thursday. One is from the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and the other is from the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. Now, the groups must each gather 253,000 valid voter signatures in order to send the measures before the legislature. If the legislature fails to approve them, they would go before the voters in November 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana. Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

California Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act Wins Committee Vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.


New York Senate Approves Package of Heroin Bills. The state Senate Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at curbing the state's opiate addiction problem. The package is a mix of treatment and law enforcement measures, including a measure allowing police to charge dealers with murder in overdose deaths. The bills now head to the Assembly.


Vancouver Tells Marc Emery to Cool It With His Cannabis Day Festival. "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and his wife, Jodie, have been holding an annual July 1 Cannabis Day protest for nearly 20 years, but now Vancouver city officials have told them to cease and desist because "the city does not support or approve this event at this location as planned." But Jodie Emery said that people are going to show up regardless, and if there are any problems, "that's going to fall on the shoulders of the City reps who made this call."

Canada Supreme Court Expands Definition of Medical Marijuana to Include Edibles. The Canadian high court today ruled that medical marijuana is not limited to dried, smoked flowers, but also includes edibles, extracts, and derivatives. Read the opinion here.

Chronicle AM: AMA Wants Protection for Pot Docs, LA Marijuana Sentencing Reformed, More (6/9/15)

Another GOP presidential contender weighs in on marijuana policy, the nation's harshest pot laws are about to get a little better, the AMA sticks up for medical marijuana, er, cannabis, doctors, and more.

Carly Fiorina says marijuana legalization is a states' rights issue. (
Marijuana Policy

Carly Fiorina Says Marijuana Legalization a States' Right Issue. Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said Tuesday that while she personally opposed marijuana legalization, it should be up to the states. "I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth," she said. "But I think Colorado voters made a choice, I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reforms Pass; Governor Expected to Sign. The state legislature Monday gave final approval to House Bill 149, which will make the state's draconian possession penalties somewhat less so. Gov. Bobby Jindal has signaled that he will sign the bill. For first offenders, the maximum penalty shrinks from six months to 15 days in jail; for second offenders, the penalty shrinks from a five-year felony to a six-month misdemeanor; for third-strikers, the penalty shrinks from a 20-year felony to a two-year felony. The bill also allows people charged with first-time possession to have their records expunged if they don't get busted again for pot within two years.

Oregon Legislators Have Tentative Pot Deal. Legislative negotiators have reached initial agreement on a way to move forward with implementing legalization. The deal foresees a possible 20% retail sales tax, with municipalities collecting up to 3%. The key question of whether municipalities can prohibit pot shops is being deferred to the courts or a work group charged with making recommendations for 2016. See this series of amendments for more details.

Medical Marijuana

AMA Calls for Protections for Medical Marijuana Doctors. Meeting at its annual convention in Chicago, the American Medical Association has passed a resolution called "Immunity from Federal Prosecution for Cannabis Prescribing." The resolution is "consistent with AMA policy to protect patient-physician communications about treatment options, supporting a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement focus, for individuals possessing cannabis for personal use and opposing government interference with the practice of medicine," the nation's largest doctors' group said.

Industrial Hemp

Nevada Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Bryan Sandoval last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 305, which will allow colleges, universities, and the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes in a pilot program. But it doesn't allow commercial hemp production.

Law Enforcement

California School District Pays Out for Using Student as Drug Sting Bait. The Temecula Valley Unified School District will pay $200,000 to a family whose 14-year-old learning disabled son was recruited by an assistant principal to serve as bait in a drug sting. The sting took place even after the boy's mother objected. The boy's mother said the school's actions endangered her son, leading to him being labeled a snitch and to threats of physical violence against him. The sting was an effort to catch another student with marijuana.

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

Chronicle AM: Christie Would Roll Back Legalization, Colombia Ex-Prez Says Give Drugs to Addicts, More (6/8/15)

Chris Christie speaks out against marijuana legalization, Ohio officials try to block a legalization initiative, employee hair drug testing becomes the law in Louisiana, a former Colombian president calls for drug legalization and supplying some addicts with drugs, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands firm against marijuana legalization. (
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Would Roll Back Marijuana Legalization. In an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said he would move against states where marijuana is legal. Host John Dickerson asked if he would "return the federal prosecutions in these states like Colorado, Washington state" and Christie replied "Yes." Dickerson asked him again, and Christie said "Yes" again. Christie also called the drug war a failure and said he favored increased drug treatment.

Ohio Official Moves to Block Legalization Monopoly. State Auditor David Yost is floating a proposal designed to invalidate the legalization initiative most likely to make the ballot, or at least a provision of it. The controversial ResponsibleOhio measure would divvy up 10 commercial marijuana-growing facilities to people or groups who have already invested in the campaign. Yost has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require future initiatives that have provisions for "special interests" to undergo a two-stage process. If Yost's amendment passed with more votes than ResponsibleOhio's, it would prevent the monopoly provision of the ResponsibleOhio initiative from taking effect (and very possibly the entire initiative). Click on the link for more intricacies.

Medical Marijuana

No Medical Marijuana for Alabama. The legislative session ended last Thursday, and medical marijuana legislation died without action. Again.

Drug Testing

Louisiana Governor Signs Employee Hair Drug Testing Bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last Friday signed into law a bill that lets employers drug test employees' hair. Hair drug tests can detect use as far back as 90 days, as opposed to two or three days for urine tests (or two or three weeks for marijuana). While employee drug testing is allowed under state law, there were no regulations for hair drug testing in place until the passage of House Bill 379.

SAMHSA Seeks Comments on Hair Testing For Drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has published a request for information about hair testing for drugs as it seeks to update and revise standards for laboratory drug testing procedures for federal workers. Click on the link for more details.


UAE Moves to Ban Five New Synthetic Drugs, Three Drug Plants. The United Arab Emirates is moving to ban synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, phenethylamine, piperazine and tryptamine, as well as the kava, kratom, and salvia divinorum plants. The Health Ministry has proposed the move, but the Council of State must approve it.

Indonesian Experts Call for Evidence-Based Public Health Response to Drugs. A selection of Indonesian experts and academics has called on the government to commit itself to using scientifically proven public health approaches to drug use and to reject hard line but ineffective strategies, such as forced drug treatment and the use of the death penalty. Click on the link for more.

Colombia Ex-President Calls for Drug Legalization, State to Provide Drugs to Addicts. Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, long a critic of drug prohibition, told the Global Commission on Drug Policy last Thursday that some drugs should be legalized and others provided to addicts by the state. Such moves would allow governments to better control their use, he said. Click on the link for more.

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

Chronicle AM: Forfeiture Reform Moves in MI, Fails in TX; NH Decrim Bill Fails; LA MedMJ Advances, More (6/5/15)

No decrim for New Hampshire, but maybe for Miami; a pair of Colorado congressmen file a federal marijuana-impaired driving bill that would require science-based policies, Louisiana is about to become the first Southern state with medical marijuana dispensaries, and more.

Miami-Dade cops are tired of arresting people for this. (horsma hampuforum/
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill Filed. US Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) this week introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act. "If passed, the law would include marijuana in the federal definition of impaired driving; it would make access to federal highway funding in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana contingent upon those states having laws against marijuana-impaired driving and methods for enforcing them; and it would mandate that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) do the necessary testing and research on marijuana and driving to help states determine the most effective means of enforcement," the representatives said.

New Hampshire Senate Blocks Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday killed a decriminalization bill, even rejecting a last-minute compromise amendment to House Bill 618. The measure had overwhelmingly passed the House in March. Now, instead of a ticket and a fine, people caught with small amounts of pot in the state still face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail.

Miami-Dade Police Brass Support Local Decriminalization Move. Miami's top cops are getting behind a plan to make small-time marijuana possession an offense that could bring a $100 fine instead of a criminal charge. Under the plan, people possessing up to 20 grams would be hit with a civil citation instead of being arrested and jailed.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill; Only Senate Clean-Up Vote Remains. The House Thursday approved Senate Bill 143, which would allow for the use of non-smoked marijuana for medical reasons and which would set up a system of 10 dispensaries statewide. The bill has already passed the Senate, but now returns there for a final vote after the house amended the bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has said he will sign the bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. The House Thursday approved a bipartisan eight-bill package aimed at reining in law enforcement seizures of property without a criminal conviction. One bill would ban police from seizing the vehicle of someone trying to buy less than an ounce of pot, five bills would increase reporting requirements, while two bills would raise evidentiary standards in drug and public nuisance cases, making it easier for someone to get his property back if not charged with a crime. The package now goes to the state Senate.

Texas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Dies. The legislative session in Austin has ended without a bill to end civil asset forfeiture ever getting a House floor vote. House Bill 3171 was snuffed out by law enforcement opposition and never made it out of the State Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana Update

The House tells the DEA to stay out of medical marijuana states, California and Oregon move toward regulating medical marijuana grows, CBC cannabis oil bills and programs make progress, and more.

This article contains a correction to the original version, in the Minnesota subsection.


On Wednesday, the House voted to bar the DEA from interfering in states with CBD cannabis oil and medical marijuana laws. The moves were part of a broader assault on the DEA in the House. Click on the link for more information.


Last Tuesday, the state Supreme Court agreed to review DUID immunity for patients. The court agreed to review a state Court of Appeals ruling issued last November that said medical marijuana patients can still be prosecuted under laws against drugged driving. Arizona has a zero tolerance per se DUID law under which all that is necessary to convict if the presence of inactive metabolites in the blood.


On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won a committee vote. The Assembly Appropriations Committee has approved a compromise regulation bill that combines features of two competing bills, Assembly Bill 34 and Assembly Bill 266. The bill would create a Governor's Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation, with three divisions. The Agriculture Department would handle cultivation, the Public Health Department would handle product safety and labeling, and the Board of Equalization would be responsible for licensing. The compromise bill is AB 266. A floor vote is expected later this week.


Last Wednesday, a state judge cleared the way for the CBD cannabis oil program.A judge in Tallahassee dismissed the final challenge to the state's CBD cannabis oil law passed last year, clearing the way for the long-delayed program to actually get underway. Now, growers should be able to provide CBD cannabis oils to patients within a few months.


Last Saturday, a bill to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions moved ahead. The House last Saturday approved a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but will have to go back there for approval after the House added language clarifying that patients are not prohibited from having a state firearms owner ID card.


As of Monday, the CBD cannabis oil program is taking registrants. Patients can sign up for the state's CBD cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up.

[Ed: The initial version of this article initially described the Minnesota program erroneously as involving "CBD cannabis oil." While the program has limits including not allowing smoked or edible marijuana, it does not specify THC vs. CBD content.]


On Saturday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign get underway. Hundreds of people showed up at the state capitol for the launch of a medical marijuana initiative campaign led by Oklahomans for Health.


Last Friday, the Senate passed a bill restricting medical marijuana growers. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill widely opposed by patients and growers that limits the number of plants caregivers could grow. The measure, Senate Bill 964, also requires regular reporting by growers and allows localities to prohibit dispensaries.

South Carolina

Last Friday, the medical marijuana bill was pronounced dead for the year. A bill that would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana is dead in the state legislature this year, senators said. Senate Bill 672, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), will, however, get more hearings before the legislature begins the second year of its two-year session in January.


On Monday, the CBD cannabis oil bill was signed into law. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit]

House Passes Seven Amendments to Rein in DEA [FEATURE]

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

In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated.

The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) offered the amendment barring the DEA and the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to do bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It passed on a voice vote yesterday.

"Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency's power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."

Last night, members voted to slash $23 million from the DEA's budget and reallocate the money for more cost-effective programs. One amendment, from Rep. Ted Liew (D-CA) shifted $9 million from the agency's marijuana eradication program to youth programs; another, from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) shifted $4 million from the DEA budget to rape test kits; while the third, from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) shifted $9 million from the DEA to a program to try to reduce police abuse by procuring body cameras for police officers.

In today's votes, an amendment offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) would bar the DEA and Justice from interfering in medical marijuana states. It passed 242-186. Similar legislation passed Congress last year, but was set to expire.

The House also passed an amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) to protect state laws allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil. It passed 297-130. A third amendment, from Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), to protect state laws allowing industrial hemp also passed on a vote of 282-146.

But the most far-reaching amendment, which would have barred federal interference in states where marijuana is legal for either medical or general purposes, failed on a vote of 206-222. It was sponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"Votes in support of rolling back the federal government's war on medical marijuana are beginning to become routine. Last year, passing this amendment was unprecedented. This year, it was predictable. Medical marijuana has gone from 'controversial' to 'conventional' on Capitol Hill," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But this is just the start, Riffle said.

"This is an important amendment because it addresses the tension between state and federal marijuana law," he noted. "We welcome it as a temporary fix, but what we really need is a comprehensive and more permanent solution. It's time for Congress to pass legislation that ends prohibition at the federal level and allows states to determine their own marijuana policies."

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority was singing the same tune.

"Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it's time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law," he said. "That's what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well. Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there's absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer."

"There's unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said DPA's Piper.

Despite the narrow failure of that last amendment, the votes are just the latest indicator of rising congressional dissatisfaction with the scandal-plagued agency. Former Administrator Michele Leonhart was forced to resign earlier this year after a disastrous performance before congressional overseers over the agency's latest scandal, which involved DEA agents using taxpayer (and sometimes, drug baron) funds to consort with prostitutes in Colombia.

But the agency's problems with Congress go deeper than mere scandals -- of which there are plenty -- and reflect rising congressional concern that the DEA is not only ineffective, but downright obstinate, especially when it comes to marijuana policy. Leonhart herself epitomized the culture problem in the DEA when she was unable to bring herself to admit to Congress last year that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin.

The House has now shown it isn't very keen on the DEA's mass surveillance programs, either. Knowledge of their extent first appeared with a Reuters expose in 2013 that outlined collaboration between the DEA, NSA, CIA and other agencies to spy on Americans in the name of the drug war, including the creation of false investigative trails to disguise the fact they were getting information from secret surveillance programs. Then, this April, USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program, the first known US effort to gather bulk data on citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime, was the precursor of the post-9/11 spying programs.

"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. "From spying on Americans to busting into people's homes the DEA doesn't fit in well in a free society and the time is now to reverse these harms."

DPA recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about the campaign to rein in the DEA are available at

"The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Deportation for Pills, Texas Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (6/2/15)

Massachusetts politicians start to figure out that marijuana is going to be legalized, Congress is set to take up measures to protect legal marijuana states, Texas becomes the 15th CBD cannabis oil state, the Supreme Court nixes deportation of an immigrant for drug paraphernalia, and more.

This article contains a correction, in the Minnesota subsection.

The US Supreme Court rejects deportation of immigrant who had pills in a sock. (
Marijuana Policy

House Getting Ready to Vote on Measures to Protect State Marijuana Laws. The US House is set to vote this week -- perhaps as early as tonight -- on a series of amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would limit federal government interference in states that have legalized marijuana production and consumption. Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are sponsoring an amendment that would halt the federal prosecution of people involved in marijuana-related activities legal under state law. Last year, the Congress passed a similar measure barring the Justice Department from prosecuting people in medical marijuana states, but this year's amendment covers both legal and recreational states.

Massachusetts Senate President Floats Notion of 2016 Nonbinding Legalization Question. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said Monday that lawmakers should consider putting a nonbinding question about marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot. He said that would give lawmakers the political cover to craft their own legalization bill. But they may not get the chance: two separate groups are planning legalization initiatives for 2016, and if either makes the ballot and passes, Massachusetts will have legal weed without the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota's Cannabis Oil Program Now Taking Registrants. As of Monday, patients can sign up for the state's cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up. [Ed: The initial version of this article initially described the Minnesota program erroneously as involving "CBD cannabis oil." While the program has limits including not allowing smoked or edible marijuana, it does not specify THC vs. CBD content.]

Texas Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

Law Enforcement

US Supreme Court Rejects Deportation for Drug Paraphernalia. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that an immigrant could not be deported for possession of drug paraphernalia -- in this case, a sock that was used to hold Adderall pills. The immigrant in question was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and served a probated sentence, but was then targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Board of Immigration appeals upheld his deportation, ruling that his paraphernalia possession triggered deportation even though the drug his paraphernalia (the sock) contained was not federally scheduled. The Supreme Court found this untenable: "The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for using a sock to contain that substance. Because it makes scant sense, the BIA's interpretation, we hold, is owed no deference…" The case is Mellouli v. Lynch, Attorney General.

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