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There's More to Colorado Than Marijuana [FEATURE]

Colorado has certainly garnered a lot of attention since voters there decided to legalize marijuana in the 2012 election, but when it comes to drug reform, there's a lot more going on in the Rocky Mountain State than just buds, blunts, and bongs. In the past few years, Colorado has taken significant steps toward more enlightened drug policies, and with the powerful coalitions that have emerged to push the agenda, more is likely to come.

Passed last year while all the attention was on the legislature's race to get marijuana commerce regulations passed, the single most significant piece of broader drug reform legislation was Senate Bill 250, which aims to rein in and redirect corrections spending by reducing the number of drug offenders in prison.

The bill creates a separate sentencing system for drug offenders and allows people convicted of some felony drug charges to be sentenced to probation and community-based sentencing and see that felony charge changed to a misdemeanor conviction upon completion of probation. It allow provides that savings from the sentencing changes be plowed back into drug treatment.

The bill didn't come out of nowhere. It was the outgrowth of a 2008 law that created the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. That panel brought together in one effort the heads of all the relevant state agencies as they grappled with how to reduce recidivism and put a brake on prison spending. It also provided an opportunity for groups like the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) to start confronting the commission with research-based evidence about what does and doesn't work.

"There is a lot of good evidence-based practice that shows what we did in the past didn't work, and a lot of it had to do with national attention," said Pam Clifton, communications coordinator for the CCJRC. "People were asking 'How come half your people are going back to prison?' Well, we didn't have funding for treatment in Colorado. If you didn't have any money, there wasn't any place for you to go. Another problem was helping people on the front end. How can we be more proactive with people on probation? The recession gave us a little bit of leverage."

But to get sentencing and drug reforms passed required not just a commission to come up with best policies and practices, but a political leadership that was willing to act. That came in 2008, when Colorado turned from red to blue, with a new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, and Democrats in control of the legislature.

"When Bill Owens (R) was governor, he wasn't going to let anything happen," said Clifton. "But with the commission, a lot of conversations got started and we were able to educate about why change was needed, so when we had a change in leadership, there was a mandate from the commission to get good legislation passed. A lot of the recommendations the commission made went directly to the legislature, and when a bill showed up from the commission, it had a better opportunity to survive the process."

And while, as noted above, the legislature has passed other reforms, Senate Bill 250 was the biggie.

"That was the landmark legislation that really changes things," said Clifton. "This was the whole state -- prosecutors, defense counsel, the commission, us -- coming together and agreeing it was the right approach."

The bill only went into effect last October, so its results remain to be seen. But advocates are confident it has not only changed the conversation about drugs and sentencing, but that it will pay off in terms of fewer prisoners doing less time at less cost to the state -- and with less harm to the futures of drug offenders in the state.

Even the prisons are scenic in Colorado, although it is hoped that fewer prisoners will be forced to enjoy the view soon. (CDOC)
"It's too early to tell what impact Senate Bill 250 will have," said Art Way, Colorado manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It was definitely a step in the right direction, though. It shrank the number of felony degrees for drug charges from six to four, and now, many low-level drug felonies can wobble down to misdemeanors thanks to that bill. It's not true defelonization of use and possession, but it still gives defendants some opportunities to avoid the label of felons."

And the CCJRC deserves some major credit, he said.

"The CCJRC has been doing great work in the past decade revealing that we are on an unsustainable path," said Way. "The Department of Corrections budget was only increasing year after year, and they were able to make this a fiscal argument as well as a human argument. They've been at the forefront here."

Another front where Colorado is forging ahead is harm reduction. Needle exchange programs were legalized in 2010 and there are now six across the state, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012, and a law allowing friends and family members of injection drug users to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) passed last year.

Activists have also managed to push through laws exempting needle exchange participants from the state's drug paraphernalia laws, and in Denver, an ordinance last year allowed the first mobile needle exchange in the state.

"We've been really excited, not only about all these programs, but also about getting these policy wins," said Lisa Raville of the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center. "Every time we go to the capitol, we've been winning. The legislature is very excited about harm reduction."

After passing Senate Bill 250, this year was relatively quiet on the sentencing and drug reform front. There are a number of reasons for that, some of them having to do with gauging public (and legislative) attitudes in the wake of a well-publicized violent crime, the killing of state prison chief Tom Clements by a parolee.

"Our corrections director was murdered last spring, and that caused a lot of ripples and made people at the capitol freak out a bit, so we wanted to tread lightly," said Clifton. "And things are really tricky in Colorado now," she added. "Elections are coming up, and everyone's concerned about what color we're going to be come November. Our elected officials are all being very cautious right now."

Like the CCJC, the harm reductionists were quiet in the legislature this year. It was a time for solidifying gains and getting previous victories implemented, Raville said.

Harm reduction measures in place in Colorado include needle exchanges and overdose reversal drug access. (wikimedia.org)
"This is an election year, and we knew they would be playing defense at the capitol," she said. "We decided this year would be all about promoting harm reduction policies and procedures. When we got those laws passed, we assumed that the legislature and the courts would implement them, but they didn't, so we spent the first six months promoting implementation, working with the legislature, as well as working with doctors and pharmacies so they know about these new laws."

But that doesn't mean the Harm Reduction Action Center is giving up on the legislature.

"Depending on how the election goes, our goal next year is total syringe decriminalization," said Raville. "We have the exemption for needle exchange participants, but there are still folks who won't ever access a needle exchange program, and we want them exempt as well. Now, you can get eight to 15 days in jail for every syringe, clean or used."

Raville pointed to the success of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition in getting a similar measure passed last year in the last year in getting a similar measure passed in the Tar Heel State. That partial decriminalization bill allows people carrying needles to avoid arrest if they inform officers they are carrying them.

"Robert Childs and the NCHRC got that passed with the support of law enforcement, who didn't want to get pricked," she said. "That's inspired us to work closely with the Denver Police Department. We have two officers on our advisory board."

"We have an overdose issue here in Colorado," Raville noted. "ODs have tripled in the past 10 years, and we have a fatal overdose every day and a half in the state. Not many doctors are prescribing naloxone, but we've had 92 overdose reversals so far. And a couple of hospitals in Denver are discharging overdose patients with a prescription for naloxone. We're trying to make that the standard for hospitals across the state."

While it was relatively quiet this year in the legislature, activists had to play defense on one set of bills and managed to kill them. That was a pair of bills to amend the civil code for child neglect to explicitly include marijuana use as an indicator, even though the state has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use and possession.

"Stopping that bill was our top concern this year," said Way. "We worried that amending the civil code the way those bills tried to do would simply help law enforcement during drug investigations by leveraging parental rights. This wasn't a public health approach; it was a law enforcement bill couched as a public health and child protection bill," he said.

"The bill's fiscal notes only involving increasing bed space for what they expected to an influx of people put in jail," he noted. "There was nothing about access to treatment or reunification with kids. It was a standard, punitive drug war approach to a public health issue, and we were able to kill it for the second year in a row."

The CCJRC, for its part, is continuing to push for reform. While it wasn't ready to share its strategic planning for the near future, Clifton did say that the group is working around implementation of the Affordable Care Act's provisions requiring insurance companies to cover drug treatment.

"We've convened a stakeholder group from around the state -- health care and criminal justice people -- to make sure they knew each other as a step toward successfully implementing the ACA, getting more people in treatment, and reducing the prison population. We're teaching people how to navigate the system and teaching the system how to help people navigate it," she said.

And while sentencing reform and harm reduction efforts in Colorado haven't, for the most part, been about marijuana, the whole opening on marijuana has given political and social space to drug reform efforts that go beyond pot.

"The conversation about marijuana has absolutely helped," said Raville. "We legalized it and the sky didn't fall. This has helped normalize pot and normalize drug use more broadly. And it's been a good opportunity to talk to people about how voting matters."

"Marijuana reform has helped legislators understand what we mean by a public health approach," said Way. "We hope to now be able to address drug policy on a broader level with the legislature."

But much of that will depend on what the makeup of the legislature looks like after November. Still, Colorado has shown what some persistence, some coalition-building, and some science, evidence, and compassion can accomplish.

CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 23, 2014

There's a slim majority for marijuana legalization in New York, an Oregon legalization initiative gets another big-bucks boost, New Mexico patients fight back against proposed new rules, actor Don Johnson speaks out on drug policy, a global campaign for medical marijuana as a human right is underway, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Legislature Approves Law Making Possession Not Automatic Parole Violation. The state Senate yesterday approved House Bill 681, a tiny step toward the reform of marijuana laws in the Bayou State. Under current law, a misdemeanor marijuana possession is an automatic parole revocation for a parolee; this bill would give judges some discretion to impose administrative sanctions instead. The bill has already passed the House and awaits the governor's signature. Clicking on the title link will allow you to email Gov. Jindal (R) to urge him to sign the bill.

Quinnipiac Poll: 51% of New Yorkers Say Legalize It. Support for marijuana legalization in the Empire State is at 51%, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll. The poll also had support for medical marijuana at 83% and comes as the state Senate is considering a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 4406.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Another $100,000 Donation. The Drug Policy Alliance has kicked in another $100,000 to get the New Approach Oregon initiative on the November ballot. That's the third $100,000 donation to the group in less than two months, including an earlier $100,000 from DPA's political campaign arm, Drug Policy Action. The initiative needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, and it's not the only one in play. Medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford's Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative and his Oregon Cannabis Amendment initiative are both also in the signature-gathering phase. The latter needs more signatures -- 116,000 of them -- because it is a constitutional amendment.

Medical Marijuana

New New Mexico Program Rules Provoke Campaign to Start Afresh. Medical marijuana advocates are launching a campaign to force the state Health Department to go back to the drawing board after it released proposed rule changes last Friday that advocates say will make access to medical marijuana more difficult. The Don't Take Away My Medicine campaign is being led by the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance. Click on the title link for more details.

Drug Policy

Miami Vice Star Don Johnson Says Legalize It All. Miami Vice star Don Johnson, perhaps now better known as "Dakota Johnson's dad," has come out with a frankly anti-prohibitionist stance on drug policy. The 65-year-old actor who got famous fighting 1980s drug traffickers in the TV show told HuffPostLive on Thursday that America should "legalize every drug and tax it" -- with no exceptions. Does that include hard drug like heroin? "Absolutely," he said. "When we privatize prisons we've turned it into a business," Johnson continued. "And so when you turn it into a business you need clients, and so we arrest a lot of people that don't belong in prison, but they are clients to the privatization of the prison." That's just "stupid," he added. "If you legalize and decriminalize drugs, you take the glamour out of it. You take the gangs out of it, you take the drug dealers out of it and you make a less glamorous thing."

International

Italy to Count Drug Money, Other Illicit Commerce in GDP Calculations. The Italian government statistics agency Istat said Thursday in will include estimated revenues from drug trafficking and the sex trade in figuring the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Bank of Italy said it estimated the value of the illicit economy -- also including cigarette and alcohol smuggling -- at 10.9% of the GDP, which could make Italy's economic growth look better than the 1.3% estimated earlier this year.

Overview of Drug Trafficking and the Colombian Peace Process. The Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation has published an article on Colombia, the drug trade, and the peace process by Fabio Andres Diaz. He argues that the peace process is unlikely to result in a reduction of drug cultivation. Those interested in the subject should take a look by clicking on the title link.

British Medical Journal Article Discusses Comparative Marijuana Legalization Models, Prospects for Change. A new article in the British Medical Journal looks at how marijuana is being regulated and/or legalized in different countries around the world, including Holland, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, and the United States. "Cannabis Regulation: High Time for Change?" is available without going through a pay wall by clicking on the title link.

Global Campaign Calls for Access to Medical Marijuana as a Basic Human Right. An international consortium of medical cannabis organizations are demanding that humans, regardless of state or allegiance and without qualification, be able to use cannabis therapeutically. In a joint declaration, the organizations from Europe and North America refer to Article 3 of the Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The new declaration is the beginning of a worldwide campaign on the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It says: "Every medical doctor has the right to treat his or her patients with cannabinoids and cannabis products according to the rules of good medical care" and "every patient has the right to access cannabis and cannabinoids for medical treatment supervised by a medical doctor, regardless of social status, standard of living or financial means." The initial signatories include medical marijuana and medical groups from the US, Germany, Italy, and Norway. Click on the title link for more information.

Chronicle AM -- May 21, 2014

Marijuana, marijuana, marijuana. Sometimes it seems like it's sucking all of the air out of the room in drug policy. But there are a lot of other things going on, too. Plus, Michele Leonhart finds a friend, Dana Rohrabacher talks legalization, and Virginia cops are raking in the asset forfeiture cash. Let's get to it:

A marijuana user and his dog. One of a series of photos normalizing marijuana use by Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana Policy

FBI Ponders Loosening Marijuana Hiring Policies Because Too Many Hackers are Stoners. FBI Director James Comey said Monday the organization may have to modify its no-tolerance policy for hiring people who have smoked marijuana because many of the people it wants to hire as programmers and hackers like to smoke pot. "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said. He added that the FBI was "grappling right now" with how to amend its hiring policies, which currently exclude anyone who has smoked in the past three years. [Update: Not gonna happen. Comey said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he is "absolute dead set against using marijuana" and "I did not say I was going to change that ban." His remarks came in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who was worried about his Monday comments.]

Truven Health Survey Has Support for Legalization at 43% Nationwide. A national survey of attitudes toward marijuana conducted by Truven Health has support for legalization at 43% nationwide, with support for medical marijuana at 78%. Click on the link for more demographic details.

Tennessee Poll Has Three Out of Four Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Access. The latest Vanderbilt Poll has 76% supporting some form of access to marijuana, with just more than one in five (22%) of respondents saying it should not be legal, period. Just under a third (32%) said it should be legal for personal use, while another 44% said it should be legal for medical use.

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Pot Policy. Marijuana policy is on the agenda in New Mexico, and it's splitting the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Two candidates -- Alan Webber and Howie Morales -- support legalization and regulation, Lawrence Rael said it should be up to the voters, Linda Lopez wants to "wait and study," while Gary King opposes legalization, but says he supports reduced penalties for personal possession. Click on the link for more details.

Maine Local Legalization Initiatives About to Start Signature-Gathering. Advocates of marijuana legalization got a local ordinance approved in Portland six months ago. Now, they're back and about to start signature-gathering in three more Maine cities: Lewiston, South Portland, and York. The campaign will get underway "in the coming weeks," supporters said.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Approves Medical Marijuana for Seizures. The House voted today to approve Senate Bill 2636, which expands the state's medical marijuana law to include both adults and minors suffering from seizure disorders. The measure has already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Massachusetts Patients Object to Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana. The state Senate today began debating a state budget, and medical marijuana patients are objecting loudly to amendments proposed by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) that would impose the state's 6.25% general sales tax on medical marijuana products. "To tax sick and suffering patients is just wrong," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "By their very nature, medical marijuana patients tend to be lower income people because that's the nature of serious and chronic illness."

New Mexico Appeals Court Upholds Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals Monday ruled unanimously that an injured worker can be reimbursed for medical marijuana purchases by his former employer and the company's insurer. The appeals court upheld an earlier workmen's compensation decision in favor of the worker. The case is Vialpando v. Ben's Automotive Service and Redwood Fire & Casualty. Attorneys familiar with the case said they knew of no similar rulings in other medical marijuana states.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a historic move, a state Senate committee actually heard a medical marijuana bill -- and then voted to approve it. The Senate Health Committee gave the okay to Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). Medical marijuana bills have passed the state Assembly repeatedly in recent years, only to die of inaction in the Senate. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee, which must approve it before it can go to a floor vote.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to allow epilepsy patients to use high-CBD marijuana extracts was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee Tuesday. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and should get a final floor vote next week.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Cops Scored $57 Million in Seized Assets Since 2007. Virginia law enforcement agencies have raked in more than $57 million in asset forfeitures in the last six years, according to a lengthy analysis by The Virginian-Pilot. Under the state's asset forfeiture laws, the cops get to keep 90% of what they seize. In its 2010 report Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Forfeiture, the Institute of Justice gave Virginia a grade of "D-" for both its lax asset forfeiture laws and the ease with which they can be circumvented by law enforcement.

Drug Policy

Embattled DEA Head Has a Friend in Virginia Rep. Frank Wolfe. Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA) is sticking up for embattled DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. She was recently scolded and brought into line on sentencing policy by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Wolfe took umbrage at that. He called the Obama administration "Nixonian" for trying to get Leonhart back on the reservation. "Having served in the Nixon Administration, I am well aware of how the political leadership of an administration can try to politicize the civil service, including law enforcement," Wolfe wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. "This article [Ed: a Huffington Post piece on Leonhart's comeuppance] suggests a similar 'Nixonian' effort to pressure a career law enforcement leader into changing her congressional testimony and public comments to fit the narrative of the administration. I am deeply concerned and hope you will correct the record if the information reported was inaccurate."

Legalization Gets Discussed at House Committee Hearing. A House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on US-Mexican affairs turned briefly into a discussion of the pros and cons of drug legalization Tuesday. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked State Department officials whether it wouldn't be better to weaken drug cartels by legalizing drugs than to spend billions trying fruitlessly to suppress them. But William Brownfield, assistant secretary for State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement ("drugs and thugs"), demurred, saying he couldn't recommend a policy that would increase the availability of currently illegal drugs. Rohrabacher responded by saying he had seen no evidence that legalization would increase the number of drug users.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Sets National Conference for September in DC. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) will hold its national conference and lobby day in Washington, DC, on September 26-29. Click on the link for all the details.

Drug Testing

O.pen VAPE Feels the Heat, Backs Off on Drug Testing. The Denver-based marijuana vaporizer company O.pen VAPE took a lot of heat earlier this month when it announced an invasive drug testing policy aimed at "dangerous drug" users. Now, the company has switched gears and has announced it will instead use computer-assisted impairment testing. Celeb Stoner has more details, click on the link to read all about it.

(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.)

California's Latinos Are Ready for Sentencing Reform, Poll Finds [FEATURE]

A bill that would significantly reform California's drug sentencing laws is poised for approval in the state Senate, and a new poll showing strong support for sentencing reform among Latino voters could help push it over the top.

California's prisons are still overcrowded. (supremecourt.gov)
Senate Bill 1010, the Fair Sentencing Act, would equalize the penalties for sale of crack and powder cocaine. Under current California law, crack offenses are treated more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. The bill would also equalize probation requirements and asset forfeiture rules for offenses involving the two forms of the same drug.

Sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee last month and the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. It now heads for the Senate floor. It needs to pass in its chamber of origin this month or it dies.

The bill is supported by dozens of community, religious, civil liberty, civil rights, drug reform, and other groups. It is opposed by the California Narcotics Officers Association and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Among Latino groups supporting the bill are the National Council of La Raza, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Homies Unidos, the Latino Voters League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and Presente.

The poll results released today by Latino Decisions help explain why these groups are supporting sentencing reform efforts and may even encourage them to redouble their efforts. They show strong support for sentencing reform among California's Latino electorate. The poll only sampled registered voters.

When asked if the state should minimize penalties for drug possession, but continue to hold drug sellers accountable, a whopping 69% said yes. The lowest level of support among any Hispanic demographic was 59% among 40-to-59-year-olds.

When asked if racial disparities in law enforcement were a serious or very serious problem, an even more overwhelming 82% said yes. Even among Latino Republicans, the demographic least likely to be concerned, the figure was at 57%.

A third question asked whether respondents favored penalties for personal drug possession of drug treatment, case by case referrals, or zero tolerance. Again Latino voters overwhelmingly supported treatment or case by case (79% combined) over zero tolerance (16%).

"We're very excited to see the results of this poll," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, during a teleconference announcing and analyzing the results. "It's very clear that the poll findings reaffirm that Latinos want drug sentencing reform and a fix to our broken justice system. If politicians want to mobilize the Latino vote, they need to support these issues. Over the coming weeks and months, Latinos and allied groups will be working to support common sense reforms like this bill."

That only makes sense, Carmona said.

another drug arrest in California. (wikimedia.org)
"These issues are having a significant impact on our society, our state, and increasingly, the Latino community," he argued. "The US imprisons more people than any nation in the world, mostly due to the war on drugs, and blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized than whites. When you add in the federal detention center population, Latinos now make up the largest federal prison population in the country."

Dr. Adrian Pantoja, a senior analyst with Latino Decisions, emphasized that the poll was of registered Latino voters.

"These are folks who are part of the political process," he said. "These are the Latinos who will be voting and helping to shape our politics. And among them, we have a rejection of war on drugs strategies and incarceration, with large majorities across the board supporting sentencing reform for drug possession and use."

"It's evident that the Latino community is in a state of crisis," said Armando Gudino, a policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is the community most disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and unprecedented levels of incarceration. Latinos are fully aware of this, and we've begun to shift toward more responsible policies seeking to remove or reduce criminal penalties."

The poll demonstrates that attitudes are changing in the Hispanic community, Gudino said.

"Latinos have traditionally been deemed a conservative group, but we see shifting attitudes, and we could well see support we haven't seen in the past," he noted. "The older generation is more conservative, but the community isn't homogenous, and the same can't be said about other groups within the community, who have already shifted toward favoring issues like decriminalization, medical marijuana, and the efforts around taxing and regulating marijuana. This poll demonstrates that the Latino community is increasingly involved, informed, and willing to make changes."

"Latinos are now a majority in California, we have a seat at the table, and it's critical we're part of this conversation," said Mike De La Rocha, director of strategic partnerships for Californians for Safety and Justice. "Latinos are poised to have a voice in how we address crime and public safety. We understand our approach to crime isn't working, and we're finding our voice in these criminal justice debates."

Chronicle AM -- May 19, 2014

The feds will still arrest you for marijuana possession on their property in DC even though the city has decriminalized, Chicago cops will still arrest you for possession even though they could just give you a ticket, decrim initiatives are coming to Kansas cities, Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, Mexico doesn't want to legalize it, and more. Let's get to it:

The Taliban's Pakistani cousins are financing operations by taxing the drug trade, a new report says. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC US Attorney Will Still Prosecute Marijuana Possession on Federal Property. No matter that the District of Columbia has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The office of the US Attorney for the District says anyone caught with pot on federal property could still be prosecuted under federal law, but that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. "Individuals arrested for merely possessing, but not using, less than one ounce of marijuana on federal property would be presented to our office for potential prosecution under federal law," said William Miller, public information officer for the DC US attorney. "We will assess each case on an individualized basis, weighing all available information and evidence, consistent with Justice Department enforcement priorities and the need to use our limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats to public safety. We rely heavily on diversion programs in our local marijuana prosecutions, and would likely do the same with respect to federal offenses."

Despite Ticketing Ordinance, Chicago Cops Still Arresting People for Pot Possession. A 2012 Chicago ordinance allows police to ticket small-time marijuana possession offenders instead of arresting them, but the cops keep arresting people anyway, according to a study released today by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. The study, "Patchwork Policy: An Evaluation of Arrests and Tickets for Marijuana Misdemeanors in Illinois," is available here. In Chicago, 93% of small-time pot possession violations resulted in arrest, not tickets, the study found. That's worse than other Illinois localities that have adopted similar measures. But the Chicago Police say implementing the new ordinance is slow and that the number of people arrested for misdemeanor possession dropped by 5,000 between 2011 and 2013.

Marco Rubio Says No Responsible Way to Smoke Pot. In an interview airing today, junior Florida senator and possible Republican 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio refused to say whether he had ever used marijuana, came down in opposition to decriminalization, and said there was no "responsible" way to smoke pot. "I don't want my kids to smoke marijuana. And I don't want other people's kids to smoke marijuana. I don't think there is a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana," he said. "The bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that's legal is not good for the country," he said. "I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that."

Decriminalization Initiative Campaigns Underway in Wichita, Other Kansas Cities. Kansas for Change, a group that seeks to legalize marijuana in the Jayhawk State, is taking aim this year at the state's largest city, among others. The group is now gathering signatures to put a decriminalization initiative before the Wichita city council. If the group can gather 4,300 signatures, the council must either approve the measure or put it before the voters. Similar petition drives are also ongoing in Emporia, Lawrence, Salina, Topeka, and Wyandotte County (Kansas City, KS).

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Legislature Passes Compromise Medical Marijuana bill, Governor Will Sign It. Minnesota is set to become the 22nd medical marijuana state after the state House and Senate gave final approval Friday to compromise legislation that will provide some patients access to medical marijuana, but not allow them to smoke it. Patients are allowed to use it in the form of liquids, pills, and oils, including those produced from whole plant extracts, as well as through vaporization, but cannot use it in its standard form of buds. Two marijuana product manufacturers will be registered by the state, with eight distribution centers, and only pharmacists will be allowed to dispense it.

Drug Policy

The Incredible Whiteness of Drug Policy Reform. Celebrity Stoner's Steve Bloom has held up a mirror to the face of the American drug reform movement and is blinded by the white. Responding to a critique of marijuana reform groups from Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart that "their rank and file to their advisory boards consists almost exclusively of white, privileged and devoted marijuana smokers," Bloom decided to take a look. He surveyed seven major reform groups and found that of 325 staff and board members, only 19 were black, 12 were Latino, and nine were Asian. The movement does a bit better on gender, with 101 women. Click on the link for all the details.

International

Mexico Poll Finds Little Support for Marijuana Legalization. A poll commissioned by the Mexican congress's lower house as it ponders marijuana reform legislation has found little popular support for it. The survey carried out by the chambers Center for Social Studies and Public Opinion found that 70% opposed legalization, with only 20% in favor. And nearly 62% said legalizing marijuana would have no or little impact on drug trafficking and associated crime and violence. Click on the link for more details.

Jamaica Religious Figure Gives Blessing to Marijuana Sector. The Rev. Rennard White, president of the Missionary Church Association and vice-president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance, has said that marijuana can be a panacea for Jamaica's economic problems. "I hope the ganja industry will come of age and be properly treated with so we can reap the maximum benefit with minimum loss," White told congregants at the Covenant Moravian Church Sunday. His remarks were greeted "with thunderous applause."

US Says it Welcomes Progress in Colombia Peace Talks. After the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the FARC announced agreement on drug issues Friday, the State Department has now responded. "The United States welcomes the announcement of further progress in efforts to achieve the peace the Colombian people deserve through negotiations," Secretary of State Kerry said in a statement. "Resolving the question of narcotics production and trafficking is central to achieving that peace. We congratulate president Santos and the Colombian government for this advance," he added. Kerry went on to say that "Colombian government officials underlined the importance of maintaining both manual and aerial eradication capabilities," although the joint communique from the FARC and the Colombian government says that aerial eradication will only be a last resort conducted in conjunction with the wishes of local communities.

Pakistani Report Says Militants Being Financed By Taxing Drug Trade. A report prepared by Pakistani security services says militant groups based in the Kyhber Agency, the Frontier Region, and Peshawar are depending on a number of criminal activities, including taxing the drug trade from bordering Afghanistan, to finance their activities. One group even organizes a "hash fair" thrice a week in Orazkai Agency, the report said. But other than that, the groups rely on taxation and not direct involvement in the drug trade.

Colombia, FARC Reach Accord on Drug Issues

The Colombian government and the Marxist guerrillas of the FARC have reportedly reached an agreement on how to deal with drug issues, the third item in a five-part agenda for peace talks that have ongoing in Havana since 2012.

Both Reuters and Business Week reported Friday afternoon that an agreement had been reached. Both cited Colombian government officials who spoke anonymously because the agreement hasn't been made public yet. And neither have the details.

[Update: The FARC and the Colombian government have now released a joint communique outlining the areas of agreement. They include programs for crop substitution, the end of aerial eradication--although the government maintains the ability to undertake it in extreme circumstances--a national drug use prevention education program, a national drug rehabilitation program, and Colombia challenging current drug control policies in international forums like the United Nations.]

The FARC has been at war with the Colombian state for half a century. Flush with profits from the coca and cocaine trade, it surged in the 1990s, but was beaten back by a vicious counterinsurgency led by the government of former President Alvaro Uribe and backed by billions of dollars in US anti-drug, and later, anti-terrorism assistance. Also aligned with the Colombian state were rightist paramilitary organizations involved in the drug traffic.

The government of President Juan Santos has attempted to end the seemingly perpetual conflict by engaging in the peace talks. Santos is up for reelection later this month against a hard-line Uribe ally, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, whose position is that the FARC must agree to lay down its weapons before engaging in peace talks. This apparent progress in the slow-moving talks could help Santos when voters go to the polls on May 25.

While the FARC has refused a cease-fire while talks are ongoing, on Friday it also announced that it would temporarily cease operations in the days just before and after the election.

The FARC had entered this phase of the negotiations with a 10-point program on the drug issue, including special protections for coca producers, alternative development programs, development of licit uses for coca, poppy, and marijuana crops, an end to aerial fumigation of drug crops, and an to militarized drug law enforcement, decriminalization of drug producers, workers, and consumers, and recognition of problematic drug use as a public health, not a criminal justice problem.

Havana
Cuba

Chronicle AM -- May 16, 2014

The DEA is in the hot seat, it looks like Minnesota will be the next medical marijuana state (but they won't be able to smoke it), California could actually get around to regulating its dispensary system, California voters will vote on whether to drug test doctors (!), the Russians are snarking about Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart may be approaching her "sell by" date, and so may the agency she heads. (doj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Grand Jury Investigating Northern California County's "Pay to Plead Down" Program for Marijuana Defendants. Critics of the Mendocino County program that offers pot defendants a chance to cop a plea to a lesser charge in exchange for "sizeable restitution payments" call it the "Mendo shakedown." Under the program, defendants agree to pay $50 for each plant seized and $500 per pound, typically in exchange for a misdemeanor plea. It has generated $3.7 million in payments to local law enforcement agencies, and supporters say it is a way to reduce the logjam of marijuana cases, not subject local growers to harsh sentences, and compensate police for their marijuana enforcement work. Now, a federal grand jury is looking into it. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has a lengthy report; click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Poised for Movement. Two bills seeking to bring some order to California's Wild West medical marijuana industry are set to move in coming days. Assembly Bill 1894, filed by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) could get a floor vote in the Assembly before month's end, which it must do to stay alive. In the Senate, a similar -- but not a companion -- bill will go the Appropriations Committee on Monday. Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), also must pass out of its chamber of origin by the end of the month or it dies, too.

Minnesota Will Get Medical Marijuana, But Not Buds. Under a compromise reached by lawmakers Thursday, Minnesotans will get a medical marijuana bill, but they won't be able to smoke their medicine. They can only use it in the form of liquids, pills, or oils, and they can vape, but not smoke it. Both houses had passed bills last week, with the House version being more restrictive. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Thursday he will sign the compromise measure. That would make Minnesota the 22nd medical marijuana state.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Senate Committee Vote Tuesday. The long-stalled effort to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Empire State could take a big step forward Tuesday. That's when the Senate Health Committee will take up Senate Bill 4406. The Health Committee is only the first stop in the Senate, though; it must then pass the Senate Finance Committee before going to a Senate floor vote.

New York Republican Files No Smoking Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, but bar "delivery through smoking." The bill is Senate Bill 7509, and it could signal a possible compromise that Senate Republicans could get behind.

Oregon Circuit Court Judge Rules State Medical Marijuana Law Conflicts With Federal Law; Is Unenforceable. In a case involving the right of the city of Medford to revoke the business license of a dispensary, a Jackson County circuit court judge has ruled that the state's Oregon Medical Marijuana Act is "unenforceable" because it conflicts with federal law. Expect the decision to be appealed.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Chastened After Being Taken to the Woodshed Over Sentencing Remarks. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart's lack of support for Obama administration mandatory minimum sentencing reforms at a congressional hearing last month got her a good talking to from her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, The Huffington Post reports. She's been off the reservation on other issues as well, especially around the administration's relatively enlightened approach to marijuana policy, and just this week, her agency has been messing with Kentucky's effort to do legal hemp research. But it was her refusal to endorse changes in mandatory minimums that got her sent to the boss's office. Now, the DEA says Leonhart "supports the Attorney General's sentencing reform initiative."

Drug Policy Expert Mark Kleiman Says It May Be Time to Do Away With DEA. In the same Huffington Post piece cited above, drug policy expert and current advisor to the state of Washington on marijuana legalization implementation Mark Kleiman said that while, in the past, he opposed dissolving the DEA and splitting its function, he is changing his tune. "Any DEA administrator feels an organizational imperative to support the existing drug laws and sentencing structure, even when doing so means opposing the purposes of the attorney general and the president, as we see currently," Kleiman said. "So I'd be inclined to reconsider my former opposition to merging the DEA" and perhaps the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, into the FBI. "That would allow the combined agency to turn the skills and aggression of today's DEA agents against gun traffickers, cigarette smugglers, and purveyors of political violence."

Drug Policy Alliance Calls for DEA Head to Resign. The Drug Policy Alliance has had enough of DEA head Michele Leonhart. Today, Bill Piper, the group's head of national affairs, called on her to resign. "For months Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart has openly rebuked the drug policy reform policies of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama with one embarrassing statement after another," he wrote. "Now she is picking a fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Y) and other members of Congress over hemp. Meanwhile the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into multiple scandals plaguing the agency. It is clear that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart." There's much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug and Alcohol Test Doctors Qualifies for November Ballot. An initiative that would require drug and alcohol testing of doctors and the reporting of a positive result to the state medical board has qualified for the November ballot. The Secretary of State's office announced yesterday that the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014 would also require that doctors be suspended pending investigation of a positive test and that the board take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty. The measure also requires doctors to report other doctors they suspect of drug or alcohol impairment and requires health care practitioners to consult the state's prescription drug database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

Law Enforcement

No Drugs Found in Raid Where Texas SWAT Officer Was Killed. Oops. The pre-dawn, no-knock home invasion drug raid that ended up with one Killeen SWAT officer shot dead and three more wounded didn't find any drugs. Killeen Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie died trying to execute a search warrant after an informant said he had spotted "bags of cocaine" at the residence, but all the raiders came up with was a glass pipe. Dinwiddie is the second Texas law enforcement officer to die in a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid in the past five months. A grand jury refused to indict the shooter in the first case. Stay tuned to see what happens in this one.

International

Russians Call for Single International Drug Office to Deal With Afghan Heroin. Viktor Ivanov, Russia's chief anti-drug official, said Thursday that all of the various international efforts to stifle the Afghan drug trade should be merged into a single, internationally-supervised office. "We suggest the creation of an international headquarters or an office for combating the planetary center of drug production in Afghanistan. The goal of the HQ would be to consolidate the currently separate anti-narcotic programs in Afghanistan and to create an effective, internationally-supervised mechanism to eradicate drug production," Ivanov said. He also implicitly criticized the US and the West for letting opium cultivation get out of control while NATO forces occupied the country. The effort had been "a fiasco," he said. Ivanov is among the Russian officials sanctioned by Washington in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Lebanese Cannabis Farmers Benefiting from Syrian Conflict. Lebanese security forces are too busy dealing with the Syrian civil war raging on the country's border to pay much attention to a reviving cannabis industry in the Bekaa Valley, The Financial Times reports. Lebanese security forces quit raiding the Bekaa's pot farms two years ago, fearful of creating more unrest, and last year the crop brought in an estimated profit of $175 million to $200 million. "You couldn't make this kind of money growing gold," one farmer laughed. While some Lebanese politicians, including Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, have called for legalizing the crop, the farmers don't agree. The profits are too good, they said.

Four Mexican Soldiers Killed in Apparent Cartel Attack in Jalisco. Four soldiers were killed in the western state of Jalisco earlier this week when the military truck they were riding in was attacked in Guachinango, about 80 miles from the state capital of Guadalajara. The attackers crashed a pick-up truck into the army vehicle, setting it ablaze, then opened fire. Investigators suspect the attack was staged by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is in a turf war with the Knights Templars cartel in neighboring Michoacan. There are accusations that New Generation has allied itself with some of the vigilantes fighting the Knights Templar.

Saudi Arabia to Drug Test All Public Employees. Newly recruited teachers are first in line, but all public employees of the Saudi state are going to be drug tested, according to local media reports. The move is intended to "counter the increasing abuse of narcotics in the country's public service," the reports said.

Chronicle AM -- May 15, 2014

An evangelical pollster has support for marijuana legalization at 58% (but not among Christians), the Senate Minority Leader takes on the DEA over hemp, a California defelonization sentencing initiative hands in signatures, we have a fascinating look at meth culture in Tehran, and more. Let's get to it:

When Mitch McConnell is criticizing the DEA, you know you're living in a different century. (senate.gov)
Evangelical Pollster Finds Majority for Legalization, But Not Among Practicing Christians. A new poll conducted by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group finds that marijuana legalization is supported by 58% of respondents nationwide. But when it comes to "practicing Christians" (people who attended church in the past month), only 32% of evangelicals, 39% of Catholics, and 45% of mainstream Protestants favored legalization. Still, those numbers are trending up. "There is a clear trend toward greater cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana, even among many practicing Christians. National surveys are a great way to find out what people think and how their perspectives have changed over time. But why those changes are happening is more difficult to pin down through conventional polling," said a Barna spokesman. "What we can conclude is that America continues to shift from a culture that values abstinence to one that focuses on experience. Marijuana use fits within a larger trend of liberalizing views and behaviors when it comes to activities like gambling, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and drinking. As attitudes toward temptations shift, Americans increasingly define the 'pursuit of happiness' to include personally invigorating or even escapist experiences." There's a lot more demographic information at the link, too.

Missouri "Decriminalizes" Marijuana Possession. A new sentencing reform law that has now gone into effect without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (R) eliminates the possibility of jail time for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Senate Bill 491 also reduces sentences for the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including changing current law to allow probation or parole for third offenders. But it doesn't go into effect until January 2017, the "no jail" provision only applies to first offenders, and it's still a criminal misdemeanor, with all the related consequences. Still, the Marijuana Policy Project is calling Missouri the 19th decrim state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana, and Now. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) has added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Rhode Island Health Department Falling Way Behind on Patient Applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moving Toward Passage. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy appears headed for passage. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee today. It should get a final floor vote next week.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Rips DEA over Kentucky Hemp Seed Fiasco. The state of Kentucky has already filed a lawsuit against the DEA over its cat and mouse games surrounding the state's effort to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seeds for use in research projects okayed by an amendment to this year's omnibus farm bill. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who just happens to be from Kentucky, has weighed in. "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds," McConnell told Politico last night.

Prescription Drugs

New Oklahoma Law Requires That Names of Overdose Victims Be Reported to Narcs. Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the state medical examiner is required to report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The stated purpose is to use the information to more closely monitor the state's prescription drug issue and to identify "problem" prescribers. Senate Bill 1183 is part of a broader legislative effort supported by Fallin to tackle non-medical prescription drug use. But the heart of that plan, language that would create a statewide prescription monitoring system and require doctors to check patients' drug histories before writing new prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, remains stalled as legislators argue over details.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Heading for Passage. A bill that bans new synthetic drugs not approved by the FDA and that have effects similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances passed the House Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. House File 2446 also gives the state Board of Pharmacy emergency regulatory power to stop shops from selling any newer new synthetics.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers Want to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws. The state legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee Tuesday voted to order staff to draft two bills to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. One bill would eliminate civil asset forfeiture and would allow police to seize property only when someone has been convicted of a crime. The second bill would keep civil forfeiture, but would create a higher standard of proof before allowing assets to be seized. That bill would also require that most proceeds of seizures go into a general account at the state attorney general's office instead of being returned to the seizing agency.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) available without a prescription to anyone who completes a training program passed the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 219 now heads for the Senate floor.

Sentencing Reform

California Defelonization Sentencing Initiative Hands in Signatures. Campaigners for an initiative that would make certain felony drug and other crimes misdemeanors has handed in signatures. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act initiative handed in more than 638,000 signatures earlier this month; it needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Of signatures checked so far, the validity rate is 78%. The measure's proponents are San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne.

International

Tunisia's Prime Minister Says Marijuana Laws Are Too Harsh. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at a press conference Wednesday that his country's tough penalties for marijuana possession are "out of sync" with changing times. Possession can currently earn you up to five years in prison, but Jomaa vowed to "amend the law to adapt it to the new reality" in Tunisia, which overthrew its old regime in the most successful of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Iran Breaks Bad as Crystal Meth Arrives. The Guardian has a lengthy analysis of the rise of methamphetamine in Iran, and particularly in its capital city, Tehran. Meth is exploding there, according to the piece's author, Ramita Navai, author of the newly released "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran." It's a very interesting read. Click on the link for the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

(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.)

Tennessee's Scary New Law Criminalizing Drug-Using Pregnant Women [FEATURE]

When -- despite the objections of medical groups, reproductive health advocates, and even the drug czar's office -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1391 late last month, the Volunteer State became the first in the nation to pass a law criminalizing pregnancy outcomes. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, have used fetal harm laws to charge drug-using pregnant women, but Tennessee is the first to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy.

Passed in the midst of rising concern over prescription drug and heroin abuse and aimed, its proponents said, at protecting babies, the law allows women to be criminally charged with an "assaultive offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug or for criminal homicide if her child dies as a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant."

Felony assault can earn you up to 15 years in prison in Tennessee. And while some prosecutors have said they will only file misdemeanor charges, that's not written into the law.

Proponents cited recent reports that the number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise. Such infants are diagnosed as having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opiates in the womb.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with NAS in Tennessee," the state Department of Health reported. Infants with NAS stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems."

But the state Health Department notwithstanding, experts in the field say that NAS doesn't actually have long-term effects, it's not accurate to call newborn infants "addicted," and that misrepresenting matters by vilifying pregnant women isn't helpful. In fact, more than 40 of them said so in an open letter last month.

More generally, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association reject the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women who use drugs. The groups mentioned above and many others said so in this 2011 document.

A coalition of medical, public health, women's rights, and social justice groups worked to oppose the bill as it made its way through the legislature, and then to convince Gov. Haslam to kill it. A petition with over 11,000 signatures urging him to veto the bill went to his office late last month. More than two dozen organizations devoted to ensuring families have access to health care likewise urged a veto, as did the American Association of Pediatrics, the National Perinatal Association, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policy.

Even acting drug czar Michael Botticelli raised a warning flag.

"Under the Obama administration, we've really tried to reframe drug policy not as a crime but as a public health-related issue, and that our response on the national level is that we not criminalize addiction," he said during a visit to Nashville as the governor pondered. "We want to make sure our response and our national strategy is based on the fact that addiction is a disease. What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders."

But none of that mattered. On April 29, Haslam signed the bill into law.

"In reviewing this bill, I have had extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials," Haslam said in a statement. "The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs."

"Today, the Tennessee governor has made it a crime to carry a pregnancy to term if you struggle with addiction or substance abuse," Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement in response to the signing. "This deeply misguided law will force those women who need health care the most into the shadows. Pregnant women with addictions need better access to health care, not jail time."

The statewide coalition Healthy and Free Tennessee also lambasted the new law.

"We are very sorry to see that Governor Haslam let an opportunity to do the right thing slip through his fingers," said Rebecca Terrell, the group's chairwoman."The experts could not have been clearer: this law is bad for babies and bad for Tennessee."

"This law says that women are to be held criminally accountable for the outcomes of their pregnancies," said Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which was part of the coalition fighting the new law. "It essentially creates a system of separate and unequal rights. Drug ingestion is not a crime in Tennessee, just possession, and now, only pregnant women are criminalized for ingesting. They can be surveilled and punished by the state in ways different from other people. The law also treats fertilized eggs or fetuses as if they were people independent of the pregnant woman," she told the Chronicle.

Gov. Bill Haslam (tn.gov)
"It's the wrong response to the problem of addiction," said Diaz-Tello. "It's a health problem that is not responsive to threats and punishment. What kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to punish the people most in need of help and support? These are women largely living in poverty, women of color, who are already made vulnerable by our social policies, and now we hold them solely responsible without looking at society and what else is going on leading to pregnancy among addicted people and this horrible punitive response."

Even framing the issue as "pregnant women taking drugs" is somewhat misleading, said Diaz-Tello.

"We often make the mistake of thinking of people using drugs during pregnancy as pregnant women who became addicted to drugs when it should be the other way around," she said. "The reasons for addiction are complex and often gender-based. Women who have experienced violence and trauma are often self-medicating, and there is a lot of unresolved pain and trauma out there. And half the pregnancies in our country are unintended, which disproportionately affects women on the margins. It's not like someone wakes up pregnant one day and decides they want to do drugs."

The law will not operate in a vacuum. Tennessee is one of those states that has refused to expand Medicaid and has rejected the Affordable Care Act. It is more difficult for poor women there to get access to health care services, including drug treatment, but now it will be easier to prosecute them.

"This is definitely for the most part going to affect poor, marginalized, predominantly rural women," said Cherisse Scott, founder of SisterReach, a Memphis-based group working for reproductive justice for women and girls in the city and the Mid-South area. "That's because of the many barriers they face. Many rural areas just don't have the facilities to offer help to these women."

Scott also bemoaned the criminalization of pregnant women who use drugs under the law, a process of stigmatization and punishment only made more severe for women lacking resources.

"Low income women, women of color, already have issues navigating the court system, and many don't have any kind of support system," she said. "When their children are taken, they don't have the resources to get them back. And the other piece of this is that jails aren't hospitals or treatment centers. They don't offer women an opportunity to be properly rehabilitated from drug use."

And then there's the aftermath of a criminal conviction.

"If you look at this through the lens of racial and reproductive justice, how does a woman with this on her record bounce back, how does she get a job? With a criminal background, she will be further locked out," said Scott. "These are the kinds of barriers and issues that will ultimately hurt the mothers of Tennessee. We can't support legislation that uses criminalization as a means of rehabilitating people," she told the Chronicle.

"Our lawmakers had good intentions, but they didn't think it through," said Scott. "They seem to be very ready to separate mothers and children as a way of helping, and we don't see it like that, especially when there are rehab programs that keep mother and children together."

The new law is also generating alarm with advocates for people who use opioid maintenance therapy to deal with opiate addictions. Methadone and buprenorphine maintenance are the gold standard for treating pregnant women addicted to narcotics. While state health officials have said they interpret the law to mean that a pregnant woman on methadone maintenance would not be in violation of it, there is no language in it that explicitly says that.

"I asked the governor to veto the bill because that exclusion wasn't made," said Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence. "The real question is whether some representative for the attorney general's office or a DA or child protection services interprets it that way. This is a potential problem. When you're talking about child protection, it's not unusual for a judge or child protection worker to say to a pregnant mom 'You can't be on methadone.' I hope this law will not be used as a method of forcing maintained patients out of care."

While babies born to opiate-addicted women can suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or withdrawals, they can be treated for that, mainly by slowly tapering the dose of opiates. But, Parrino said, not all pregnant mothers on methadone maintenance have babies with the syndrome, and consequences for fetuses can be serious if mothers are forced off opiates during their pregnancies.

"What happens to a fetus if you force mom to end her medication?" he asked. "In the first trimester, a sudden decrease can be harmful to the fetus. There could be spontaneous abortion. It's in the literature. That's why laws like this raise concerns in people who have some knowledge about how pregnant women are treated."

Parrino, too, saw race a playing a role, but in an unexpected way.

"What I am seeing for the first time in 30 years is a real interest by elected officials, many US senators and governors and legislators, who can't wrap their heads around why white teens and 20-somethings from middle class families in the suburbs and rural areas are shooting heroin," Parrino observed. "Those elected officials are right to be worried. This legislation in Tennessee is a result of those dynamics."

While the law may have been passed with the best motives, "the problem is the criminalization aspect," said Parrino. "Even if it can be explained as having a reasonably good intention of getting pregnant women not to use drugs and go to treatment, you are unwittingly subverting that goal by saying that being in methadone maintenance might be seen as not complete treatment. That uncertainty is creating anxiety."

The new law is set to go into effect on July 1, but efforts are already underway to block it and, barring that, to mitigate its effects.

"We're still trying to figure out the best plan of action," Scott said. "We want to figure out the best way to support women who are going to be victims of this policy. At the grass roots level, that means education, awareness, getting the word out through rehab centers to let the women know this is coming. Then we have to figure out what is the legal strategy to try to change this law. We're working on it."

"We're thinking about a legal challenge, especially on constitutional grounds," said Diaz-Tello. "We have worked with public defenders in Tennessee and other states on challenging similar laws on constitutional grounds. There's also the possibility of an affirmative suit to get the law enjoined. It would be ideal to stop this law before anyone gets arrested under it."

Barring the successful blocking of the law, drug-addicted pregnant women in Tennessee will face the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. But not all of them, of course.

"Race and class plays a role as always," said Scott. "Poor mothers go to jail; mothers with access to more resources may not be penalized at all. Women who have access to health care and can afford private prenatal care and treatment will get treatment; women who have no alternative but public aid or a public health clinic will be disproportionately impacted as always. Nothing's changed as far as race and class."

TN
United States

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