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"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

Chronicle AM -- March 5, 2014

Washington state's marijuana legalization passes a milestone, the DEA gets an earful on pot in Congress, the fight over Oregon's statewide dispensary regulation bill continues, pain pill prescriptions decrease, Indian poppy farmers are plagued by strung-out antelope, and more. Let's get to it:

"Hey, buddy, know where I can score?" Opium-addicted nilgai are wrecking Indian poppy crops. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Take on DEA Over Marijuana in Congressional Committee Hearing. DEA official Thomas Harrigan was on the hot seat at a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday. "There are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation's marijuana policy," Harrigan told loudly skeptical lawmakers, even though he could not point to one death caused by marijuana. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) were among those who raked Harrigan over the coals. Click on the link for more.

First Ever Marijuana Producer License in Washington Granted in Spokane. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has granted the first license to grow marijuana for the state's legal pot market. The honor goes to Kouchlock Productions of Spokane, owned by Sean Green, who also owns dispensaries in Spokane and Seattle.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Dead in Senate. The Oregon legislature will not act to put marijuana legalization before the voters in November. A bill to do so, Senate Bill 1556, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Portland), doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate and faces near certain death in committee, lawmakers said Tuesday. That means if Oregon wants to legalize it this year, it will have to happen through the citizen initiative process.

North Carolina Poll Has Slight Majority Opposing Legalization. A new Elon Poll has 51% of North Carolinians opposed to marijuana legalization, with 39% in favor. The only demographic group to support legalization was young people. Among the 18-to-30 group, 54% said legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Foes Urge Justice Department Not to Reschedule, Call for More Research. Project SAM, addiction-oriented medical groupings, and anti-drug groups sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department urging it to resist calls to reschedule marijuana and calling instead for easier access to marijuana for researchers. The signatories have "deep concern" about the "normalization" of marijuana and about "recent statements from members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use."

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee advanced a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. House File 1818 now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, but faces opposition from law enforcement, which is demanding that marijuana be available only in pill, liquid, or vapor form.

Compromise on Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Would Allow Only Temporary Local Bans. Legislators trying to get the statewide dispensary regulation bill, House Bill 1531, through the House have floated the idea of allowing localities to enact temporary moratoria of up to a year in a bid to win over cities and counties that have objected to having to allow dispensaries to operate. The bill has already passed the Senate without allowing localities to ban dispensaries, and bill sponsors have indicated they will not support a bill that allows bans. Stay tuned.

Michigan Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Restriction Bill. A bill that would prohibit medical marijuana users from growing or smoking their medicine in rental properties, including apartments and hotels, passed the Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), allows landlords to ban such activities in leases. The bill now heads to the House.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Passes Senate. A bill to allow the production, sale, and purchase of industrial hemp overwhelmingly passed the Senate Tuesday. Legislative Bill 1001 passed on a vote of 32-1. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Norm Wallman (D-Cortland). It now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill to Drug Test Politicians Filed. State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) has filed a bill to require drug testing for judges and elected officials. The bill, House Bill 1435, is intended to "ensure that public officers are sober as they undertake their responsibility to make policy decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they represent." But similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in the federal courts.

Prescription Drugs

Opioid Prescriptions Decrease. Doctors and healthcare providers wrote approximately 11 million fewer prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in 2013 than in 2012. They wrote about 230 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet in 2013 according to data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That's down about 5% from 2012, when about 241 million prescriptions were written.

Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill Would Up Penalties for Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) Tuesday introduced a bill to increase the penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs. House Bill 495 would reduce the weights of synthetic drugs that trigger trafficking charges and would shift a first offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

International

Indian Villagers Want Leopards Returned to Protect Legal Opium Crops From Strung-Out Antelope. Poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh's opium belt want leopards returned to their area because, in their absence, opium-addicted nilgai (antelope) are wreaking havoc with their crops. The district had two leopards until 2008, but they were removed after farmers complained they feared for their lives. But since then, the population of nilgai has skyrocketed, fearlessly attacking poppy crops, and now the villagers want the big cats back. "Our opium fields were safe as long as leopard was here," said one. [Ed: Note that India including the Madhya Pradesh province is one of the countries providing licit opium growing for the global medicinal market.]

Mexican Vigilantes Demand Resignation of Apatzingan Mayor. Vigilantes opposed to the presence of the Knights Templar Cartel in the western state of Michoacan took over city hall in Apatazingan, a city of 100,000, Monday and demanded the resignation of the mayor, who they say is allied with the cartel. The vigilantes had entered the city three weeks ago, but pulled back to the outskirts and set up checkpoints to prevent cartel members and supporters from entering. The vigilantes are allied with Mexican security forces, who are attempting to absorb them as Rural Defense Forces.

Chronicle AM -- March 4, 2014

The INCB releases its annual drug report and so does the US State Department, DC moves toward marijuana decriminalization and so does New Hampshire, the Georgia House approves a CBD medical marijuana bill and so does the Utah House, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday voted 10-1 to give final approval to a marijuana decriminalization bill. It must still be signed by the mayor and approved by Congress. The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized.

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday. House Bill 1625 would allow for the possession of up to an ounce. It would also make the cultivation of up to six plants a misdemeanor.

Oklahoma City Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Ready to Get Underway. Signature gathering will begin Friday for an Oklahoma City municipal initiative that would decriminalize small-time pot possession. Advocates filed the measure Monday. They have 90 days to gather some 6,200 valid voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the next municipal election. Click on the link to see the initiative.

Pennsylvanians Evenly Split on Legalization, Favor Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 48%, with 49% opposed. Medical marijuana is favored by 85%.

Northeastern NAACP Chapters Endorse Rhode Island Legalization.The New England Area Conference of the NAACP, comprising chapters in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, is supporting legislation to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. Among other reasons, the NAACP cited "an alarming racial disparity" in marijuana arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Georgia House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available to treat certain seizure disorders. House Bill 885 now goes to the state Senate.

Utah House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Utah House Monday approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available on a trial basis for children suffering seizure disorders. House Bill 105 passed on a 62-11 vote and now goes to the state Senate.

Drug Testing

Georgia House Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Georgia House Monday approved a bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if a state caseworker suspects they are using drugs. A positive drug test would result in a loss of benefits. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) now goes to the state Senate.

Indiana Senate Committee Amends, Then Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Indiana Senate Health Committee Monday approved a welfare drug testing bill, but only after amending it so that it only applies to recipients with previous drug convictions. Senate Bill 287 now heads to the Senate floor.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma House Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Statute. The Oklahoma House Monday unanimously approved a bill that would make people carrying large quantities of specified prescription drugs subject to drug trafficking charges. The bill adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and benzodiazepine to the list of drugs in the trafficking statute. People possessing more than specified amounts of those drugs could face prison time and Senate.

International

International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report, Frets About Marijuana Legalization. The INCB is very "concerned" about moves to legalize marijuana in US states and Uruguay. But the UN agency is also coming under serious attack from critics over what they call its ideologically-based positions. Click on the link for access to the report and to read our feature article on it and the critics.

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Click on the link to read the report.

Chronicle AM -- February 28, 2014

Another state, another poll, more support for marijuana reform, plus a Good Samaritan 911 bill moves in Maryland, a welfare drug testing bill moves in Indiana, Minnesota takes a chagrined second look at its welfare drug testing law, Norway's conservatives have a hash scandal, Dutch cops warn against legalizing grows, and more. Let's get to it:

Dutch police oppose legalizing the supply of marijuana to the country's famous cannabis cafes. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization, Supermajority for Medical Marijuana. A Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization in the Keystone State at 48%, with 42% opposed. A solid majority, 59%, supported decriminalization. On medical marijuana, a whopping 85% believe patients should be allowed to use it when prescribed by a doctor. "Our findings suggest that the position of Pennsylvanians on the legalization of marijuana is largely consistent with the nation as a whole," MCAP Director Joseph Morris said in a statement.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Dispensary Applications Start Monday. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program will begin taking applications for a dispensary license Monday. Click on the link to go the Oregon Health Authority's relevant pages.

Maryland Draft Regulations for Medical Marijuana Programs Released. The Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission has released its proposed regulations for medical marijuana programs and growers. The commission is looking for comments, and interested parties have two weeks to get them in. Click the link to read the draft regs.

Drug Policy

Drug Reform Journalist Dean Becker Publishes Book to End the Drug War. And it's called To End the War on Drugs. Becker is the man behind the Houston-based Drug Truth Network, where he has hosted more than a thousand Pacifica Radio programs going out to 90 affiliates and interviewed just about everybody is who is anybody in the world of drug reform (and many of the opposition, too). It's available as a paperback or e-book; click on the title link for all the details.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Revisiting Much Criticized Felon Welfare Drug Testing Law. A law that went into effect last year requiring counties to determine which welfare applicants had felony drug convictions and subject them to drug tests to qualify for benefits would be changed under a bill heard Tuesday by the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. House File 1987, introduced by Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul), would make participation by counties optional. Counties and welfare rights and civil liberties advocates have argued that the law is a costly unfunded mandate that has little real world effect because the number of people who test positive for drugs under it is miniscule. The committee held the bill for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. A similar measure awaits action in the Senate.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill that would require welfare recipients previously convicted of a drug crime to pass a drug test before receiving benefits passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. House Bill 1351 has already passed the House and another Senate committee and now heads for a floor vote.

No Link Found Between Positive Tests for Marijuana and Work-Related Accidents. Past marijuana smoking, as indicated by the presence of inert metabolite in standard urine tests, is not associated with work-related accidents, according to a new study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. "This study fell short of finding an association between marijuana use and involvement of workplace accidents," the author concluded. He added, "This study cannot be taken as definitive evidence of absence of an association between marijuana and work related accidents but the findings are compelling."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Bill Passes House. A bill that would provide limited immunity for anyone seeking medical assistance for a potential overdose victim unanimously passed the Maryland House of Delegates Thursday. Passage of House Bill 416 would mean that no person can be charged with possession of drugs or alcohol, or violation of an outstanding non-violent arrest warrant, if police or emergency personnel are called to administer aid to an overdose victim. This applies to the individual overdosing and a friend or bystander calling on the victim's behalf. The bill now moves to the Senate.

International

Mexican Vigilantes Take Cartel Fight to Key Port. Vigilante groups that emerged in the western state of Michoacan to fight off the grip of the Knights Templar drug trafficking organization have now moved to the outskirts of the key Pacific port city of Lazaro Cardenas. The move comes as the Mexican government attempts to integrate the vigilantes into a military-controlled Rural Defense Force. The groups first sprang up a year ago, when state and local authorities proved ineffective against the cartel, and now, they and the military have driven the Knights out of a number of Michoacan communities.

Dutch Police Fear "Extreme Violence" if Marijuana Cultivation is Legalized. The Dutch National Police have come out against legalizing marijuana cultivation because they fear criminals will attack the pot farms with "extreme violence," according to a letter to regional governments from Deputy Chief Constable Ruud Blik. Mayors of more than 50 cities had recently called for growing to be legalized, and the Heerlen Mayor Paul Depla found himself "bewildered" and "disconcerted" by Blik's remarks. "We want to take marijuana cultivation out of the criminals' hands with legal plantations. But the National police says: no, we're not doing that, because then criminals threaten to rip our plantations. Out of fear of reprisals we do nothing, then, and leave the marijuana cultivation in the hands of criminals. That is an upside down world, and unworthy of the rule of law," Depla said.

Hash Smoking Scandal for Norway's "Zero Tolerance" Conservative Government. A Norwegian politician with links to the prime minister in Norway's new conservative coalition government has admitted smoking hashish "on one occasion," embarrassing the government, which campaigned on "zero tolerance" drug policies. To make matters worse, one-time toker and alternative MP Erik Skutle then spoke out against the policy, saying marijuana should be sold in pharmacies in state-owned shops. "I think we have a better chance of controlling and reducing consumption if we sell them over the counter, rather than having a total ban," he said.

British Drug Minister Will Ask China and India to Crack Down on New Synthetic Drugs. British drug minister Norman Baker said after a Home Office summit on "legal highs" that he would approach the Chinese and Indian governments in a bid to curb new synthetic drugs not covered by existing drug laws. Baker said he hoped to have "frank and honest" discussions about curbing the illicit laboratories' activities with source countries such as China and India at next month's meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. While Britain and other countries have moved to quickly ban new synthetics, New Zealand has instead chosen to regulate them.

Chronicle AM -- February 26, 2014

A Maryland police chief embarrasses himself with bogus marijuana death claims, welfare drug testing bills face challenges in the Deep South, a hemp bill advances in Indiana, Russia's drug czar says "nyet" to legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Get Hearing; Police Chief Cites Hoax Story About Pot Overdose Deaths. Sen. Robert Zirkin's (D-Baltimore) Senate Bill 364, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and Sen. Jamie Raskin's (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 658, which would legalize marijuana, got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Law enforcement opposed the bills, while leaders of the ACLU and NORML members supported it. The lowlight of the hearing was Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop's testimony mentioning an article about 37 overdose deaths the day marijuana became legal in Colorado. After being called out for repeating the hoax story by Sen. Raskin, Pristoop quickly backtracked.

Iowa Semi-Decriminalization Bill Introduced. A bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce and a half of marijuana has been introduced by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines). It's not a true decriminalization bill because it would keep simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. House File 2313 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link to read the bill.

Texas Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization. Almost half -- 49% -- of Texans surveyed in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing weed in either small quantities (32%) or any quantity (17%). Another 28% supported legalization only for medical purposes, while only 23% opposed any form of legalization.

New York Poll Finds Majority Oppose Legalization. A new Siena poll has support for legalization at only 43%, with 53% opposed. That contrasts with a recent Q Poll that had New Yorkers supporting legalization 57% to 39%. Differences in the questions asked and the margin of error in the polls may account for the difference. Or New Yorkers are conflicted.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for the trial use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat childhood epileptic seizures was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 124 now heads for the Senate floor.

Hemp

Hemp Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp passed the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday and now heads for the House floor. The bill is Senate Bill 357. It has already passed the Senate.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Georgia. A bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday. House Bill 772 now moves to the House floor.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Stalls in Alabama Senate. A bill requiring drug testing of some welfare applicants hit a roadblock in the Senate Tuesday when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) adjourned the body after Democrats began fighting the bill. Senate Bill 63 would require drug testing of any applicant with a drug conviction in the last five years. It is just one of five bills in the Republican agenda to tighten regulations for public assistance.

Sentencing

West Virginia Senate Approves Draconian Drug Sentencing Bill. A bill that would increase the penalty for bringing drugs into West Virginia from one year to up to 15 years passed the Senate Monday. It now goes to the House.

International

Russian Drug Czar Rules Out Marijuana Legalization, Methadone Maintenance. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service has called marijuana a dangerous gateway drug and said the authorities did not plan to legalize it, or to allow methadone treatment for heroin addicts. "Marijuana users have a 50 or 60 times higher risk of switching to heroin. There is one step from dope to heroin," Viktor Ivanov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He completely ruled out legalization, saying it was too risky in an advanced society. "Today we live in the age of high technology, a lot of things are managed with the help of computer systems. Someone who works at a nuclear power plant can wreak real havoc after smoking marijuana," he said. Ivanov also scoffed at needle exchange and methadone maintenance, saying there was little reliable evidence methadone maintenance worked. [Ed: Ivanov must have missed the entirety large body of research done on both needle exchange and methadone maintenance, which has found them to be effective and of paramount importance.]

Colombia's FARC Calls for Dismantling Drug-Paramilitary Nexus. Colombia's FARC guerrilla army called Tuesday for the dismantling of drug and paramilitary organizations it said were embedded within the Colombian state. The call was part of the FARC's six-point program to deal with the drug issue in the country, which is the fourth item on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

British Chief Constable Says Give Heroin to Addicts. Mike Barton, Chief Constable for Dunham Constabulary, is calling for heroin maintenance for addicts. Such a move would "take money out of drug dealers' pockets," he said, adding that it "isn't practical" to simply arrest addicts. His comments come in a BBC documentary in which he went to Copenhagen to visit drug consumption rooms there.

Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

Chronicle AM -- February 20, 2014

Colorado is rolling in the marijuana tax dollars, Washington state gets closer to licensing legal grows, a New Hampshire patient grow bill is moving, the Europeans are worried about some new drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

The Europeans are worried about "N Bomb"
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Announces Marijuana Tax Revenues Plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Wednesday announced his plan to start spending tax revenues from legalized marijuana. He said he would spend $99 million next fiscal year, with half of it going to youth use prevention, another 40% going to substance abuse treatment, and more than $12 million for public health. His proposal must be approved by the legislature.

Washington State Regulators Announce Rules Modifications. The Washington State Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that it will limit marijuana business applicants to one pot grow each, down from the three-license limit it originally set. The board also reduced by 30% the amount of grow space that licensees can use. The board is trying to address how to equitably distribute the two million square foot of grow space it has set as a statewide cap. The move also opens the way to the actual issuance of grow licenses, which could come as soon as early next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Cultivation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate a limited amount of medical marijuana in New Hampshire was approved this morning in a 13-3 vote by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. The bill will be considered by the full House sometime in March. Sponsored by Rep. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro), House Bill 1622 would patients or their designated caregivers to possess up to two mature plants and twelve seedlings. The cultivation location would have to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, and patients would lose their ability to cultivate when an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) Wednesday introduced a bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy seizures. Senate Bill 1035 has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

Arizona Bill Would Use Medical Marijuana Fees to Fund Anti-Drug Campaigns. A bill approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee would set up a special fund using fees from medical marijuana user and dispensaries to "discourage marijuana use among the general population." House Bill 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is being derided by the Marijuana Policy Project, whose spokesman, Mason Tvert, said "It is remarkable how much money some government officials are willing to flush down the toilet in hopes of scaring adults away from using marijuana."

Heroin

Vermont Law School Symposium Will Address Heroin Addiction and New Solutions. The Vermont Law Criminal Law Society is hosting a symposium on heroin and opiate addiction and responses to it on Monday. "This event is about new ideas from new sources," said Vermont Law JD candidate George Selby ', one of the panel organizers. "We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to." Panelists will include addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They will discuss whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackle a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction? One of the featured speakers is Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, who plans to call for action in Vermont. Click on the title link for more details.

International

Europeans Issue Alert on Four New Synthetic Drugs. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has issued an alert and announced a formal risk assessment of four new synthetic drugs. They are the hallucinogenic phenethylamine 251-NBOMe ("N-Bomb," linked to three deaths), the synthetic opioid AH-7921 (15 reported deaths in Europe), the synthetic cathinone derivative MDPV ("legal cocaine," linked to 99 deaths), and the arylcyclohexamine drug Methoxetamine (linked to 20 deaths). Click on the link above for more details.

British Columbia Judge Rules Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Unconstitutional. A judge in Canada's British Columbia ruled Wednesday that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders under the federal 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act are unconstitutional. In November, an Ontario judge struck down a similar sentence for a weapons offense, but BC is the first province to have the drug offense sentences quashed. Crown prosecutors are expected to appeal.

India Asset Forfeiture Bill Passes Lok Sabha. A bill that would increase the Indian government's ability to seize assets from drug traffickers was approved Wednesday by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed on a voice vote after members took turns worrying aloud about the spread of drug use in the world's most populous democracy.

Chronicle AM -- February 19, 2014

NORML endorses a US Senate candidate, pressure mounts for medical marijuana in New York, West Virginia wants to make Sudafed prescription only, and more. Let's get to it:

West Virginia cold sufferers watch out! They're coming for your Sudafed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A poll from Arizona's Behavior Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 41% opposed. In recent months, other polls have showed majorities both for and against legalization.

Maine US Senate Candidate Wins NORML PAC Endorsement. NORML PAC, NORML's political campaign arm, has endorsed Shenna Bellows in her campaign to represent Maine in the US Senate. "Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign," stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, "During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach." Bellows is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Almost Nine Out of Ten New Yorkers Support Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds.A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 88%, with only 9% opposed. The poll also had a 57% majority for marijuana legalization. Click on the link for more poll details.

Two New York GOP State Senators Announce Support for Medical Marijuana Bill. Two Republican state senators, George Maziarz (R-Newfane) and Mark Grisanti (R-IP-Buffalo), have announced their support for the pending medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. They are the first Republicans to do so. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, and Governor Cuomo's administration has said the governor would sign it, but the legislation has long been stuck in the Senate.

Oregon Bill to Block Cities and Counties from Banning Dispensaries Passes Senate. The Oregon Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1531, which would let cities and counties regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but not ban them. A number of cities have already passed ordinances banning dispensaries before a new state law allowing them goes into effect next month, and the Association of Oregon Cities is threatening to sue if the bill passes. It now goes to the House.

New Mexico Patient Survey Finds Program Not Providing Enough Medical Marijuana. A state Department of Health survey of patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program finds that only about 20% of patient demand is being met through legal channels. Licensed growers are producing about 2,250 pounds a year, but the survey put the annual demand from patients at more than 11,000 pounds. The Health Department is now "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Drug Testing

Indiana Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Now Targets Only Those With Misdemeanor Drug Convictions. A bill that would have required drug screening for all food stamp applicants and drug testing for those deemed likely to be using has been amended to now apply only to people who have misdemeanor drug convictions in the past 10 years. (People with drug felonies are ineligible for food stamps under a federal law that Indiana has not opted out of.) House Bill 1351 passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee after being amended. It has already passed the House.

Methamphetamine

Bill Making Sudafed Prescription-Only Passes West Virginia Senate. A bill that would make access to OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House. The measure is aimed at reducing the number of meth labs in the state, although it has had only temporary effects in the other two states where it has been adopted. Pseudoephredrine is a precursor chemical in meth manufacture.

International

Georgia to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoid Chemicals. Georgian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs Davit Sergeenko said Wednesday a law on criminalizing the basic biochemical formulas used to create synthetic cannabis has been almost completed. "From now on, these substances will be considered as illegal and all the control mechanisms and limits that are set on other legal or illegal drugs will be valid for synthetic cannabis too," Sergeenko said.

Myanmar Extends Opium Crop Substitution Program in Northern Shan State. The Myanmar government, working in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is extending its crop substitution program for poppy farmers in Northern Shan State. The idea is to increase farmers' food security in areas where eradication has taken place. Last year, Myanmar eradicated about one-fifth of the estimated poppy crop.

(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 -- February 18, 2014

Marijuana legalization is unlikely to come to California this year, ditto for Missouri, ditto for medical marijuana in Iowa. Meanwhile, a SWAT reporting bill is moving in Utah, Singapore is censoring a pot reform web site, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Big Players Will Wait Until 2016 for California Legalization Initiative. The Los Angeles Times reported today that a deep-pocketed marijuana reform coalition including the Drug Policy Alliance had decided not to move forward this year with an initiative to legalize the weed in the Golden State. Instead, the coalition will aim at 2016. That means marijuana legalization will most likely not be on the ballot in California this year. Three other legalization initiatives have been filed, but two of them appear to lack the funds to complete expensive signature gathering efforts -- 504,000 signatures are needed by April 18 -- and the third has yet to be cleared for circulation.

Colorado Judge Denies Injunction in Marijuana Advertising Lawsuit, Suggests Retailers, Not Magazines, Have Standing. A US District Court judge in Colorado has denied a request from High Times and Westword to issue an injunction blocking the state from implementing regulations that limit marijuana advertising in magazines to those who can show that fewer than 30% of their readers are minors. Judge Marcia Krieger suggested the magazines lack standing to bring their lawsuit, writing that "the regulations in question do not address conduct by the Plaintiffs -- who are publishers. Instead, the regulations limit conduct by advertisers -- i.e, retail marijuana establishments. Thus, it is retail marijuana establishments who seek advertising who are directly affected by enforcement of the regulations." Still, Krieger is giving the magazines until March 7 to make further arguments.

Missouri Legalization Activists Decide to Wait for 2016. Citing recent poll numbers showing support for legalization in Missouri at less than 50%, Show-Me Cannabis has announced that "it would be wise to wait for the presidential election in 2016 to launch an initiative campaign." The group said it would continue to work on building public support in the meantime.

Medical Marijuana

Washington House Passes Bill to Tighten Up on Medical Marijuana Under Legalization. The Washington House passed House Bill 2149 on a 67-29 vote Monday. Sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Tacoma), the bill would reduce the amount of marijuana and plants a patient could possess, do away with collective gardens, and establish a patient registry. It's part of an effort to "realign" the state's medical marijuana law with the state's marijuana legalization law, but is not popular with patients. Similar legislation is moving in the state Senate.

Minnesota Poll Has Narrowest of Majorities for Medical Marijuana. A Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Poll released Tuesday has support for medical marijuana at 51%, with 41% opposed. It also had 63% opposed to marijuana legalization. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to push for medical marijuana later this month.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Dead on Arrival. State Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) filed a medical marijuana bill, Senate File 2215, Tuesday, but immediately declared it dead, saying it had received no support from Republican legislators.

Law Enforcement

Utah Bill Would Require SWAT Reporting. A bill that would require Utah law enforcement agencies to report on how and how often they use their SWAT teams has unanimously passed out of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday. Senate Bill 185 now heads for a Senate floor vote. If the measure passes, Utah would become the second state, after Maryland, to impose such requirements on SWAT teams.

International

Argentine Security Secretary Supports Uruguayan Marijuana Legalization Model. Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni has said he supports the Uruguayan model. In a radio interview, he said his "personal" opinion was that he "would agree if the whole chain was decriminalized, from production to consumption" and that "decriminalizing consumption is not effective enough."

Singapore Censors Marijuana Reform Website. Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) has told the owners of a marijuana reform website to shut it down by Wednesday. The web site has been shut down, but the companion Singapore Cannabis Awareness Facebook page remains up. The website was found to be "objectionable" by the Central Narcotics Bureau because it "promotes or tends to promote the use of a prohibited substance." Activists in Singapore said they had temporarily unpublished the page "pending a total website review to ensure our website meets the Internet Code of Practice," but they vowed to be back.

Dutch Justice Minister Reiterates Opposition to Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said Tuesday he remains opposed to legalizing and regulating marijuana cultivation, saying instead that he favored treating it as a crime and a nuisance. This after the mayors of three dozen Dutch cities signaled the want to experiment with legal production in a bid to solve the country's "back door problem," where cannabis cafes are allowed to sell small amounts of marijuana, but have no legal source of supply.

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

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