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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.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: The Lebanese Connection

The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic, by Jonathan Marshall (2012, Stanford University Press, 261 pp., $24.95 HB)

It's harvest time in Lebanon right now, and Shiite farmers in the Bekaa Valley are out working their fields, preparing to turn thousands of acres of cannabis plants into hashish, the Red Lebanese and Blond Lebanese for which the tiny Middle Eastern country is famous. And with the harvest comes conflict, as the country's anti-drug agency and the Lebanese Army head out into the fields to try to eradicate them.

The Chronicle reported at the beginning of August about hash farmers firing machine guns and RPGs at eradicators, vandalizing tractors and bulldozers used to plow under the fields, and organizing street blockades in cities in the valley. Protests broke out in Yammouneh, Baalbek, and Boudai, and authorities backed off, announcing a week later that they would form a committee to study development issues in the Bekaa. And the harvest goes on.

Of course, it wasn't just farmers' resistance that hampered the eradication effort this year. The Bekaa Valley, with its Shiite tribes, sits right next door to Syria, currently embroiled in a brutal civil war now based largely on sectarian and confessional divisions, many of which echo profoundly in Lebanon. In fact, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria until the French carved it out under a League of Nations mandate in 1943. Now, it has seen outbreaks of street fighting between rival pro- and anti-Assad militias in Tripoli, the largest city of the Lebanese north, as well as kidnapping by Shiite tribal militias after some of their number were kidnapped by Sunni militias on the other side of the border.

"Our policy is very clear. We want to demolish all of the hashish cultivation in the Bekaa," Col. Adel Mashmoushi, head of the office of drug control, tells the Lebanon Daily Star a couple of weeks ago, before quickly adding that eradication had been enfeebled this year because "the situation in the Bekaa is very delicate right now" due to "the political and security situation caused by Syria."

Mashmoushi said his men had managed to destroy only about 1,500 acres of cannabis fields out of what he estimated to be somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 acres planted in the northern valley.

But, as global drug trade scholar Jonathan Marshall makes clear in his masterful and highly informative The Lebanese Connection, despite the terrifying sectarian war next door, the violent echoing clashes in Tripoli, and the Bekaa farmers' and traders' violent defense of their industry, this is a relatively quiet time in Lebanon's history in the international drug trade. According to his elaborately sourced estimates, Lebanese hash production was at level five to seven times higher during the period on which he focuses, the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.

In fact, relying heavily on archival State Department, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and DEA documents, among other sources, Marshall shows that the tiny sliver of the Levant that is Lebanon was a giant in the drug trade going as far back as the 1950s and a significant hash producer as early as the end of World War I.

Its largest market back then was Egypt, which had been supplied by Greek growers. But when the Greeks banned cannabis planting in 1918, poor Shiite farmers in the Bekaa took up the slack, and they haven't stopped growing ever since. Production boomed during the civil war and was banned in 1992 after the return of a central government, but it has never stopped. Eradication programs have been half-hearted, ill-conceived, and met with hostility, and promised alternative development schemes somehow never seem to materialize.

But it wasn't just hash, either. With Beirut a rising financial center for the Middle East and the center of global networks of Lebanese traders, Marshall shows definitively how it also became a center of the global drug trade. Opium skimmed from legal production in Turkey was smuggled into Syria by Kurds, transmuted to morphine base by Syrian chemists in Aleppo, smuggled into Lebanon by various means and various actors, transported through seaports controlled by Christian politicians to be delivered to French (later, Italian) organized crime groups, whose chemists refined it into heroin, and whose international networks, including American mobsters, sent it on the veins of consumers in the West.

In a history replete with ton-plus hash busts and multi-kilo heroin seizures, Marshall works his way through the underworld of Lebanon-based drug trafficking, its connections abroad, its crime bosses and political allies, both foreign and domestic. Along the way, he exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of numerous nations, who with one hand raged against drugs, while with the other were complicit in--or at least looked away from--the billion-dollar a year business.

Marshall excels at seeing through the smoke of the murky milieu where all this took place. And what a milieu! Beirut in the mid-20th Century was a decadent, cosmopolitan oasis in the desert of Middle East culture, home to Westernized Arab princes, anything-goes nightclubs, lavish casinos, and European prostitutes. It was also awash in spies, arms dealers, and adventurers -- the Cold War Russian and American intelligence services, the French, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Turks, and, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a flashpoint of the brewing proxy war between the Shia Islam of Iran and the Sunni Islam of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

And Lebanon was a weak, communally divided state operating under a political agreement that divvied up key political positions by sect -- the Christian Maronites got the presidency and the leadership of the armed forces, the Sunnis got the prime minister's office -- but froze those divisions even as the demographic makeup of the country shifted toward its Muslim communities, not to mention an influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Israel, and later, Jordan after the Hashemite kingdom drove out the PLO in 1970.

A weak central state, rising sectarian tensions, highly profitable drug smuggling operations, external manipulation by any number of foreign interests, and a tradition of corruption in government came together in a perfect storm as Lebanon imploded into civil war in 1975, not to emerge from it for 15 years. When it came to the role of drugs in the conflict or to arming the various factions, Marshall shows definitively that nobody had clean hands.

As the Lebanese economy crumbled amidst the violence, the importance of the illicit drug economy became all the more critical for the militias: they relied on drug profits to pay their soldiers and buy their weapons. The global drug trade may not have been the cause of the conflict (although it was a cause -- Marshall cites incidents of precursor violence between Christian and Palestinian militias over drug deals that helped ratchet up the tension), but he shows that it was profits from the trade in prohibited drugs that allowed the contending factions to make the war deadlier and longer than it otherwise would have been.

He also shows that some of the most deadly fighting was not for sectarian reasons, but over control over lucrative drug smuggling routes and, especially, ports. And, paradoxically, he shows how complicity in the drug trade overcame sectarian and even regional divisions: Syrian soldiers patrolling the Bekaa turned a blind eye to Shiite hash farmers, who trafficked their product with the connivance of Christian Maronite warlords. Meanwhile, Israeli military intelligence turned a blind eye to hash smuggled into and through Israel by its allies in the South Lebanon Army or by other traffickers from whom it thought it could glean intelligence.

The Lebanese Connection is too dense with chewy information to do more than touch on its contents in a review, but it is a sterling contribution to the academic literature on the global drug trade, having made a truly original contribution.  It also opens a revealing view not only on the contemporary Middle East, but contemporary terrorism, covert operations by state and non-state actors, and the making of narco-states and failed states.

It's also a very timely book, appearing as Syria bursts into flames. Syria is Lebanon writ large: many of the same ethnic and sectarian divisions are at play, as is the international meddling at several levels of proxy war, with familiar faces like the US, Britain, France, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia all seeking to influence the outcome and doing goodness knows what behind the scenes. Syria, however, is not a major global drug trade hub, but careful followers of the  situation there will have noted the occasional accusations -- from both sides -- of  "criminals" being involved. Maybe in 20 years, we will have a better idea of what went on behind the scenes and the role of drug trafficking and smuggling networks there. In the meantime, The Lebanese Connection provides some insight into the forces at play.

Ex-South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel Says Legalize Drugs; Prohibition Is a Destructive, Costly and Futile Strategy

Location: 
SC
United States
Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel is breaking his silence and taking on America's drug prohibition war, saying he advocates a repeal of the prohibition on drugs and calling the government's response a failure. "Drug abuse is a medical, health care and spiritual problem, not a problem to be solved within a criminal justice model," he said. Prohibition is "our government's most destructive policy since slavery," he added.
Publication/Source: 
The State (SC)
URL: 
http://www.thestate.com/2011/02/08/1684798/thomas-ravenel-legalize-drugs.html

Law Student Sues St. John’s University for Rescinding Readmission Over Drug Charges

Location: 
8000 Utopia Parkway St. John’s University
Queens, NY 11439
United States
David Powers, an accountant who took time out of law school at St. John’s University, has sued the Roman Catholic university in New York after it refused to readmit him, saying that he had not been honest about a criminal conviction, since expunged, in his past. Three semesters into his law degree, Mr. Powers was granted a leave of absence to manage a $2-billion investment fund in Hong Kong.
Publication/Source: 
The Chronicle of Higher Education (DC)
URL: 
http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/law-student-sues-st-johns-u-for-rescinding-readmission-over-drug-charges/30251

US Churches Divided on Sending Missionaries, Volunteers to Deadly Juarez

Location: 
Ciudad Juárez, CHH
Mexico
The deadly drug prohibition war in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico has some U.S. churches and ministries divided on whether or not to continue to send missionaries and volunteers across the border.
Publication/Source: 
KVIA (TX)
URL: 
http://www.kvia.com/news/26643793/detail.html

The 700 Club's Pat Roberston Supports Ending Cannabis Prohibition In An Effort To Get 'Smart On Crime'

Televangelist and former Baptist minister Pat Robertson makes a cogent argument on alternatives to arresting and incarcerating citizens who use drugs, with a clear emphasis on legalizing the possession of a few ounces of cannabis.
Publication/Source: 
NORML (DC)
URL: 
http://blog.norml.org/2010/12/22/holy-hemp-pat-roberston-supports-ending-cannabis-prohibition-in-an-effort-to-get-%E2%80%98smart-on-crime%E2%80%99/

Chronic Christians: Did Jesus Heal with Pot?

Location: 
A rising tide of Christians not only smoke pot, but think Jesus used it. They're gaining mainstream legitimacy, challenging religious and political dogma, and sometimes going to jail for their faith in unprecedented numbers. According to pot historian Chris Bennett's chapter on "Early/Ancient History" in Dr. Julie Holland's The Pot Book, Jesus didn't smoke pot, he rubbed it on people in the form of medicinal holy oil. Bennett says a pot doctor Jesus makes more sense than a deity Jesus. The Son of God does pull a lot of lightweight miracles like treating skin lesions, stomach problems, menstrual issues, eye problems, epilepsy and asthma, all of which respond to the cannabis therapies.
Publication/Source: 
East Bay Express (CA)
URL: 
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/LegalizationNation/archives/2010/12/16/chronic-christians-did-jesus-heal-with-pot

Colombian Shaman Arrested for Ayahuasca on Arriving in US

A widely known and well-respected indigenous Colombian shaman is in US custody on drug trafficking charges for possessing the psychedelic concoction ayahuasca when he arrived in Houston October 19 on a flight from Colombia. Taita Juan Agreda Chindoy faces up to 20 years in federal prison after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Taita Juan
Taita Juan is a traditional healer of the Cametsa people who live in the Sibundoy Valley in Colombia's Alto Putomayo region. He is recognized by the Colombian Ministry of Health as a traditional healer and is widely known in his community as an established healer and leader. He was traveling to Oregon to give a presentation when he was arrested.

Although used as a religious sacrament in the Amazon, ayahuasca is banned under the US Controlled Substances Act because it contains DMT, a fast-acting hallucinogenic chemical. But in a unanimous 2006 decision, the US Supreme Court held that a US branch of a Brazilian church may use ayahuasca as a sacrament during religious rituals.

Taita Juan's supporters are organizing a campaign for his release and have created a web site, Free Taita Juan, to help mobilize support. His attorney was scheduled to meet with prosecutors Tuesday in a bid to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, the shaman remains behind bars in a US detention center.

Houston, TX
United States

Mexico Drug Prohibition Violence Also Hitting Churches, Prelate Says

Location: 
Mexico
Time for another unintended consequence of drug prohibition: Alarming reports are pouring in from all over Mexico -- priests are being constantly threatened, extorted and abused by drug traffickers.
Publication/Source: 
CNN (US)
URL: 
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/08/17/mexico.church.threats/#fbid=JNBQZQLD9f5&wom=false

Marijuana Church Founder "Too Dangerous" For Bail

Roger Christie, founder of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry (THC Ministry), has been ordered held without bail after being arrested along with 13 current or former employees and growers by the DEA on July 8. He and the others are charged with marijuana trafficking offenses related to their alleged distribution of marijuana as a sacrament at the ministry.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/rogerchristie.jpg
Roger Christie (courtesy thc-ministry.org)
Christie had been raided by the DEA in March, with agents seizing cash and marijuana at that time, but not arresting him. Federal authorities allege that after that raid, Christie recommenced his marijuana distribution at the ministry. He and the others were secretly indicted last month.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang originally ordered Christie held without bail at federal prosecutors' request. Christie and his public defender, Matthew Winter, last week filed a motion seeking his release, citing the nonviolent nature of the offenses, Christie's longstanding ties to the community, his lack of a criminal record, and his willingness to abstain from marijuana use or distribution pending trial.

A federal pre-trial services report also recommended that Christie be freed on bail. But prosecutors fought back with a 46-page memorandum in opposition. Because Christie allegedly recommenced marijuana distribution after the March raids, that made him "a danger to the community and... no conditions/combination of conditions could assure the safety of the community," they wrote.

On Friday, US District Court Judge Alan Kay agreed with prosecutors. Now, Christie will be held behind bars until trial because the pot-loving minister is "too dangerous" to be freed on bail.

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