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California Voters OK Drug Defelonization, Reject Doctor Drug Testing

Voters in California enthusiastically approved an important sentencing reform initiative Tuesday, but overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors in the state.

The sentencing initiative, Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law.

The failed initiative that would have imposed drug testing on doctors, Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history.

According to election figures from the California Secretary of State, with 45% of the vote counted just before midnight Tuesday, Prop 47 was winning with 56.6% of the vote, while Prop 46 was getting trounced with only 32.3%. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

The Drug Policy Alliance, whose lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, contributed to the smartly named Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools "yes on Prop 47" campaign, pronounced itself pleased with the results.

"The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann.

Under Prop 47, up to 20,000 people doing state prison time for simple drug possession will be eligible to seek sentence cuts, and new prison admissions should drop by between 40,000 and 60,000 a year. And hundreds of thousands of Californians with drug possession felony records will be eligible to have those records automatically expunged, removing barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and educational opportunities.

The state's county jails, which are chafing under the state's corrections "realignment," will also see reductions in prisoners, with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 jail beds freed up by Prop 47. Counties look to save somewhere around half a billion dollars a year, according to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

"We’ve been trying to get simple drug possession reclassified as a misdemeanor through Sacramento for years, facing first an unwillingness from the legislature and then last year’s veto by Governor Brown," said DPA state director Lynne Lyman. "With Prop 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: Drug Issues on the Ballot, Guam Approves MedMJ, UK Drug Policy Row Continues, More (11/4/2014)

We're waiting for election results--except for Guam, where medical marijuana has already won--Britain's governing coalition continues to implode on drug policy, Paraguay tries to crack down, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

It's Election Day! Marijuana Policy Reform is on the Ballot in Three States, DC, and in Various Local Elections. Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and DC are voting on marijuana legalization, while voters in Florida are voting on medical marijuana. Click on the title link for details on the various state-level initiatives. Local marijuana-related ballot issues are on the ballot in five states. Stay tuned to the Chronicle; we'll be posting election results as they come in through the evening.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. In the first election results of the day, voters in Guam have approved a medical marijuana initiative. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Iowa Board of Pharmacy to Hold Hearing on Medical Marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

Drug Testing

It's Election Day! Drug Testing Doctors is on the Ballot in California. In California, an initiative designed to increase the caps on medical malpractice awards is catching the attention not only of powerful legal and medical interests, but also drug reformers. That's because, in what opponents call a cynical ploy, the malpractice initiative leads with a provision to impose drug testing on doctors. Proposition 46, whose controversial ballot title is "Drug and Alcohol Testing of Doctors, Medical Negligence Lawsuits. Initiative Statute," would, if passed, make California the first state in the nation to impose drug testing on doctors. Click on the title link to read our feature story on the initiative.

Sentencing Policy

It's Election Day! Defelonization of Drug Possession (and Other Offenses) is on the Ballot in California. Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters. The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state. Click on the link to read our feature story about the initiative.

International

Paraguay Moves to Crack Down on Drug Trafficking and Corruption. Members of the government's legislative, executive, and judicial branches met Monday and agreed on measures to thwart drug trafficking and to prevent people with links to the traffic from seeking public office. The move comes after the murder of a reporter covering the drug trade two weeks ago. In addition to barring political participation, the government agreed to move all drug trafficking trials to the capital, Asuncion. Meeting participants also discussed asset forfeiture measures, but didn't act on them. Paraguay is South America's largest marijuana producer.

British Lib Dem Minister Resigns Over Drug Policy Differences With Tories. Differences over drug policy continue to roil Britain's governing coalition. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has resigned as Home Office minister after coalition senior partners, the Conservatives, rejected plans to liberalize the country's drug laws. Baker said support for a "rational, evidence-based policy" was nonexistent at the Home Office and that working with Home Secretary Theresa May on the issue was like "walking through mud." The Lib Dems have been called for drug decrimilization; the Tories aren't interested. 

Chronicle AM: OR Measure 91 Looking Good, FL Amendment 2 in Trouble, Iran Drug Executions, More (11/3/14)

It's looking good in Oregon, not so good in Florida; Guam's archbishop comes out against medical marijuana, a conservative PAC funded by the Koch brothers is seeking to peel off "stoner" votes from Democrats, there's cannabis club news from Barcelona and Uruguay, Iran drug executions are in the news, and more. Let's get to it:

Execution by hanging in Iran. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy        

Oregon Measure 91 At 52% in Latest Poll. It looks like Oregon will be the next state to legalize marijuana. The latest SurveyUSA poll, released last week, has the Measure 91 legalization initiate winning with 52% of the vote. Only 41% said they were voting against it. That is generally in line with other recent polls. Late in September, SurveyUSA had Measure 91 under 50%, but leading by four points, with 16% undecided. In mid-October, an Oregon Public Broadcasting poll had the measure winning with 52%, again with 41% opposed. Only one recent poll, an Oregonian poll last week, had Measure 91 trailing. In that survey, 44% were in favor and 46% opposed, with 9% undecided. But the results were well within the poll's +/-5% margin of error, and it was also weighted toward older voters.

Medical Marijuana

Another Bad News Poll for Florida's Amendment 2. Yet another poll is out showing the medical marijuana initiative, Amendment 2, failing to achieve the 60% of the vote necessary to win.  A new SEA Polling and Strategic Design poll has support for the initiative at 55%. The initiative needs 60% because it is a constitutional amendment. Other recent polls have also shown the initiative coming up short.

On Eve of Election, Guam Archbishop Urges "No" Vote on Medical Marijuana. Guam Catholic Archbishop Anthony Apuron called over the weekend for his flock to vote against the US territory's legislatively-sponsored medical marijuana initiative. Apuron cited Pope Francis's concerns that marijuana is a drug and its effects on users. The island is about 85% Catholic.

Illinois Begins Second Round of Patient Registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Drug Policy

Conservative PAC Courts "Stoner" Vote in Bid to Peel Votes from Democrats. In what The Nation's John Nichols calls "the most cynical ploy" of this year's election season, a Koch brothers-supported group, the American Future Fund (AFF), is using social media campaigns hailing marijuana legalization, "our progressive values," and third-party candidates to attack Democratic candidates and try to peel away Democratic votes in key races. In North Carolina, an AFF ad targets Democratic US Senate candidate Kay Hagan: "Don’t even think about voting for Kay Hagan," the ad says. "She doesn’t share our values. You want legalization of marijuana, she’s against it. You want to stop sending our troops overseas, she voted for it. Vote Sean Haugh: He shares our progressive values: pro-legalization, pro-environment, more weed, less war." Haugh is the Libertarian candidate and could be the spoiler in this close race. Click on the link to read the whole piece; it's a real eye-opener.

International

Iran, Saudi Arabia Execute More Drug Offenders. Saudi Arabia beheaded two people for drug smuggling last week. Pakistani national Mohammed Gul Rahma was executed for heroin smuggling, while Saudi national Mohammed bin Noun bin Nasser Al Dhufairi was executed for smuggling amphetamine pills. Meanwhile in Iran, authorities last week hanged five people convicted of drug smuggling. They were identified only by their initials.

Iran Says Nearly All Executions are for Drug Trafficking. Responding to criticism from the United Nations over its routine resort to the death penalty, Iranian officials explained that almost all executions in the country were for drug offenses. The UN cited at least 852 executions between July 2013 and June 2014. According to Iran Human Rights Council President Javad Larijani, 93% of them were for illegal drug smuggling.

Barcelona to Bar Under-21s from Cannabis Clubs. The Catalonia parliamentary health commission is set to raise the minimum age for membership in cannabis clubs from 18 to 21 when it meets on Thursday. It is also expected to bar new clubs from opening near schools and day care centers. The new rules come after months of discussions between health officials, parliament, and club representatives in the wake of an August crackdown that saw 49 of the clubs closed. The remaining 300 clubs will now have to be licensed and will also have to wait 15 days before supplying marijuana to new members.

Registration Begins for Uruguay Cannabis Growers' Clubs. Registration has begun for marijuana growing clubs under the country's marijuana legalization law. Licensed clubs with up to 45 members will be able to grow 99 plants each year. People can already individually grow up to six plants at home. Under the law, each club member can produce a little over a pound (480 grams) a year.

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.)

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Council Ponders Pot, NJ Cops Get Naloxone, Denmark Funds MedMJ Research, More (10/31/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 is getting big bucks and using innovative outreach techniques in the final days, the DC council ponders how to implement pot legalization, NYC councilmembers demand the cops quit targeting minority men for pot busts, Denmark funds research on medical marijuana (but not underground trolls!), and more. Let's get to it:

Opioid overdose reversal kit handed out to police in Mercer County, NJ. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy       

Last Minute Contributions Boost Oregon's Measure 91. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed another $250,000 to the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative campaign as the clock ticks down toward election day. That means Drug Policy Action has now donated $1.74 million of the $3.9 million raised by the campaign. The campaign is also getting a boost from pot legalization supporter US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has made an in-kind contribution of $40,020 to help pay for TV ads.

Oregon's Measure 91 Campaign Using Innovative "Did They Vote?" Website. The campaign is using DidTheyVote.org, a web site that allows voters in the state to log on and see if their Facebook friends have voted. If the friends haven't voted, people using the web site can "nudge" them to do so. "Check to see if your Facebook friends turned in their ballots! It takes 60 seconds. If it appears the elections office hasn’t received your friends’ ballots yet, you can give them a little nudge by sending them a reminder message," the web site explains. The web site is a project of the progressive non-profit group Our Oregon.

Sacramento Federal Court Hearing on Marijuana Scheduling Ends. In a groundbreaking federal court hearing, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento has heard five days of evidence around whether marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors and scientists made a strong case that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I. The judge issued no immediate ruling, but instead requested extensive briefs from the parties involved. She could rule on the issue two months from now or more. Click on the link to get some flavor of the discussion.

Five NYC Councilmembers Accuse NYPD of Continuing to Target Minority Men for Pot Arrests. Five black or Latino city council members today sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton charging that the NYPD continues to single out young men of color for marijuana arrests. "This is not an abstract issue for us," the letter said. "We approach this issue not just as lawmakers but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices. The NYPD continues to target people who look like us, and we know from our own experiences and those of our peers that these racially skewed arrests create distrust between young men of color and the police." The letter was signed by Councilmen Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), and Donovan Richards (D-Queens). While arrests have declined from the 50,000 in 2011 to some 29,000 last year, minority men are still the primary target, the councilmen said.

DC Council Holds Hearing on Moving Toward Legalization. With the marijuana possession and cultivation initiate Measure 71 heading for an apparent victory at the polls on Tuesday, the DC city council is moving to address how to tax and regulate legal marijuana in the District. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and its Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint hearing Thursday to begin to lay the groundwork. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New York US Representatives Ask Justice Department to Let State Import High-CBD Medical Marijuana for Sick Kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

Harm Reduction

Every Cop Car in Mercer County, New Jersey, To Be Armed With Overdose Reversal Drug. Police departments in Mercer County (Trenton) are now armed with 600 naloxone (Narcan) opiate overdose reversal kits. Beginning tomorrow, every patrol vehicle in the county will have one, as will every detective vehicle and detention center. Police in the state have begun carrying the drug since Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered it made available throughout the state following successful pilot programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Officials said naloxone had saved 325 lives in the state so far.  

International

Britain's Cameron Stands Firm: No Drug Policy Review. Facing an insurrection over drug policy from the junior partners in his governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, after a Home Office report found no obvious link between tough drug laws and drug use levels, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is stubbornly refusing to consider any changes to Britain's drug policy. "I don’t think anyone can read that report and say it definitely justifies this approach or that approach, but the evidence is what we’re doing is working," Cameron said, citing falling levels of drug use. "I don’t believe in decriminalizing drugs that are illegal today. I’m a parent with three children; I don’t want to send out a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe." In a sign of the depth of the discord between the coalition partners, Cameron's statement also included a zinger aimed at the Lib Dems: "The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs."

Denmark to Fund Medical Marijuana Research. The Danish government agreed Thursday to distribute at least $6 million for health research that will include research on medical marijuana. The funding is part of a broader agreement to fund socially relevant research. Strangely enough, the Danish newspaper article linked to above ends by noting that "no additional funds were set aside for the study of underground trolls."

Chronicle AM: Cops for Pot Legalization, British Drug Policy Squabble, Afghan Opium Warning, More (10/30/14)

Cops raise their voices in support of marijuana legalization initiatives, the US government's Afghanistan watchdog slams our drug policies there, Louisiana bans a synthetic cannabinoid and Russia wants to do the same, Britain's Lib Dems and Tories are going at each other over drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Synthetic cannabinoid products (Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals)
Marijuana Policy       

Cops Come Out in Support of Oregon Measure 91. Some 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges have come out in support of the Measure 91 legalization initiative. The campaign held a press conference with some of them yesterday and released a letter from them. "Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,"they said. "Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels."

Former Seattle Police Chief Campaigns for Alaska's Measure 2. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is hitting the hustings up north to garner support for the Measure 2 legalization initiative. The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member has also been making the rounds in Anchorage, appearing on talk radio shows and other media in support of the measure. He is attempting to counter opposition to the measure from the likes of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs.

Vermont Sets Public Hearing on Marijuana Policy. The state government has set a November 12 date for a public hearing that will "provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont." The hearing comes ahead of a mandated January report to the legislature on issues related to marijuana legalization from Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. Click on the link for more event details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans New Synthetic Cannabinoid. After more than 125 people got sick in Baton Rouge this month, state officials Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. The state has twice before banned other synthetic cannabinoids, once in March and again in July. The compound has been sold in products with names like "Mojo," "Spice," and "Scooby Snax." Read the emergency rule here.

International

US Afghan Watchdog Warns on Opium. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has warned that the country's opium economy is threatening reconstruction efforts and that the US is not adequately addressing the problem. Anti-drug efforts have "largely fallen off the Afghan agenda," he said in a quarterly report released today. Sopko also criticized the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for "wasting" more than $7 billion on failed drug control policies. "There is nothing that they have said to me or my staff that would indicate that there's any idea of how to improve the situation," he said in an interview ahead of the release of the report. "Has anyone had their job performance -- in the State Department, Department of Defense or [US]AID -- affected by the fact that they failed over the past 13 years to do anything on counternarcotics? No." The report itself is worth a read.

British Drug Policy Squabble. The junior and senior partners in Britain's governing coalition are going after each other in an increasingly nasty fight over drug policy occasioned by a new Home Office report on new synthetic drugs. The report found "there is a lack of clear correlation between tough drugs laws and levels of abuse." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hammered the Tories as being "frightened" of drug reform and having "a totally misplaced, outdated, backwards-looking view" on drug policy. Conservatives shot back that the Lib Dems were using the report for "naked political posturing" and accused the party of pursing "a dangerous and irresponsible" agenda of decriminalization. Get more details by clicking the links.

INCB Meets in Vienna. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) began its 111th session today in Vienna. At the opening, board President Dr. Lochan Naidoo stressed his concerns about insufficient access to medicines containing narcotic or psychotropic drugs and noted the obligation of treaty parties to ensure access to such medicines to ensure treatment and prevent pain and suffering.

Russian Government Submits Bill to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids. President Vladimir Putin today submitted to the State Duma a bill to ban the sale and use of synthetic cannabinoid products. The bill names the cannabinoids as dangerous substances, bans their use, and gives the Federal Drug Control Agency authority to create a registry of such banned substances. The agency reports that more than a thousand users of the drugs have been hospitalized in the last year and 40 have died.

Austrian Neos Party Supports Marijuana Legalization. A neoliberal political party that has just won its first seats in parliament has come out in support of legalization. The Neos (or New Austria) Party embraced the position at its party conference this past weekend.  "We support self- responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense", party leader Mat Strolz said Tuesday. The Neos are the first part to embrace legalization in the wake of a parliamentary citizens' initiative that has so far gathered more than 27,000 signatures, making it the third most popular in Austrian history. It's not just new fringe parties that are considering the issue. The leaders of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats, will vote on legalization at their party convention next month. 

Chronicle AM: Latest AK & OR Polls, AZ & MI MedMJ Rulings; Ireland Naloxone, More (10/27/14)

It's nail-biting time for the Alaska and Oregon legalization initiatives, appeals courts in Arizona and Michigan rule on medical marijuana cases, Chuck Schumer (again) wants more money to fight drugs, the acting drug czar opens the harm reduction conference (!), naloxone is coming to Ireland, and more. Let's get to it:

Ireland has approved a pilot program making the opiate overdose reversal drug available. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Latest Poll Has Oregon Measure 91 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. The latest SurveyUSA Oregon poll has the Measure 91 legalization initiative leading 44% to 40%, with 16% undecided. All recent polls have shown the measure leading, but as election day draws near, the gap is tightening and support is hovering under 50%. That means it's going to come down to two things: turn-out and how the undecideds break.

Latest Poll Has Alaska Measure 2 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. A new Hellenthal and Associates poll has the Measure 2 legalization initiative leading 46.5% to 42.2%, with 11.3% undecided. Those supporting Measure 2 included 29.7% who "strongly favor" and 16.8% who "somewhat favor." Among foes, 35.0% "strongly oppose" and 7.2% "somewhat oppose." Like Oregon, it looks like this one is going down to the wire, and turnout and undecideds will make the difference. Click on the title link for full poll results.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Be Charged With DUI Even if Not Impaired. Arizona has a zero-tolerance drugged driving law, and the state Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state's medical marijuana law does not provide immunity from prosecution, even if they are not impaired and only test positive for the presence of marijuana metabolites. The case is Darrah v. City of Mesa.

Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Get Unemployment Compensation. State-approved medical marijuana patients are eligible for unemployment compensation if the only reason they were fired is that they tested positive for the drug, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision was based on the courts' reading of the state's medical marijuana law, which prohibits penalties for those who legally use medical marijuana. The series of consolidated cases in which the court ruled begins with Braska v. Challenge Manufacturing Company.

Pennsylvania State Senator Urges DAs to Not Prosecute Medical Marijuana Cases. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), sponsor of a medical marijuana bill stalled in the House after passing the Senate, has called on prosecutors to not go after patients. Leach made the call in a letter to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "Given the likelihood that using lifesaving medical cannabis will not be a legal issue in Pennsylvania for much longer, I ask that you consider using your prosecutorial discretion," he wrote. "I ask that you perform an act of compassion."

Harm Reduction

Acting Drug Czar Opens National Harm Reduction Conference. It wasn't so long ago that top US government officials wouldn't even say the words "harm reduction," but things have changed. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli opened the 10th Annual National Harm Reduction Conference, which took place in Baltimore over the weekend. "It really is no coincidence that I'm here,"Botticelli said. "I hope that my presence here reflects the Obama administration's commitment to continuing drug policy reform." Botticelli announced no great initiatives, but he did say that he wanted to ensure that "federal policy reflects the needs of people on the ground," and also expressed the hope that his working relationship with the Harm Reduction Coalition will "continue to grow."

Heroin

Kentucky Republican Lawmakers Vow to Push Legislation Targeting Heroin Dealers. Two GOP legislators have pre-filed the Kentucky Heroin Impact Act (BR 164), which would increase criminal penalties for heroin trafficking. "Unless we take action now, our streets will be lined with dead bodies," said bill cosponsor Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas). The bill also calls for increased public education and more funding for drug treatment. Similar legislation died this year in the legislature.

Law Enforcement

Schumer Wants More Federal Dollars to Fight Online Drug Sales. New York US Sen. Charles Schumer (D) wants the Justice Department to turn up the heat on illicit online drug sales, he said today. He said in a statement he would fight to get more money for the department to fight "drug-related cybercrime." "These websites, by allowing users to rate the delivery services of sellers and by offering any drugs imaginable under the sun, are nothing less than an all-you-can order buffet of contraband that need to be investigated and targeted with more intensity,"he added.

Sentencing

Bail Reform Question is on New Jersey Ballot. New Jersey residents will be voting on a measure that could usher in comprehensive bail reform in the Garden State. Public Question No. 1 asks voters to change the state constitution to give judges the ability to deny bail to dangerous suspects, but it also would enact groundbreaking legislation to comprehensively reform the state's broken bail system. That legislation only goes into effect if the question passes. A recent found that on any given day, nearly 75% of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. The average length of pretrial incarceration for these individuals is more than ten months. Nearly 40 percent of the total jail population has the option to post bail but lacks the financial resources to do so and more than 10 percent of individuals could secure their release pending trial with $2,500 or less.

International

Irish Heroin Users to Get Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. Beginning early next year, some 600 Irish heroin and methadone users and their families will be supplied with naloxone (Narcan), the overdose reversal drug. It's a pilot program from the Health Service Executive, and follows the success of a similar project in Wales. Ireland has suffered around 200 opiate overdose deaths a year in recent years.

Chronicle AM: NAACP & NOW Support DC Init, Pot Shop ATM Problems, Mexico Impunity, More (10/23/14):

Marijuana retailers face ATM problems, Seattle dispensaries get a heads up, the DC initiative wins a pair of endorsements, California's Prop 47 is drawing big bucks support, the Mexico missing student teacher story gets uglier, and more. Let's get to it:

You may need cash at your local marijuana retailer after a banking network pulled the plug. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Pew Poll: Latinos Are Even Split on Marijuana Legalization. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Latino voters are slightly less likely than the population as a whole to favor marijuana legalization, but are almost evenly divided in their opinions. Some 49% said marijuana should be legal, while 48% said it shouldn't. A Pew poll earlier this year found support for marijuana legalization among the general population at 53%.

Banking Network Pulls the Plug on Pot Shop ATMs. Hundreds of recreational and medical marijuana retail outlets in Colorado and Washington have had their ATMs shut down after the South Dakota-based MetaBank pulled the plug on them. MetaBank had warned ATM providers in January that the presence of such machines in marijuana retail outlets violated federal rules, but shops had remained unaffected until this week. Other retail outlets using different bank networks were still able to process transactions.

DC Initiative Wins Endorsement from NAACP, NOW Branches. The DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, Measure 71, has picked up the endorsements of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Organization for Women (NOW). "The NAACP DC Branch strongly advocates to end the war on drugs, which has caused significant damage in our communities. Endorsement of Initiative 71 does not mean that the NAACP is pro marijuana, however, we view Initiative 71 as a step towards ending discriminatory drug policies." said Akosua Ali, President of the NAACP DC Branch. "Criminalization of marijuana has played a major role in the racial disparities and injustice in the criminal justice system," said Susan Mottet, president of DC NOW. "DC NOW works to end all discrimination in DC and urges the voters to pass Initiative 71 to help put an end to this tool for discrimination."

Medical Marijuana

Seattle Warns Dispensaries They Will Need Licenses, But… The city of Seattle has sent letters to 330 dispensaries operating there that they will need to be licensed by the state. The only problem is there is no such license for medical marijuana businesses. The city council had placed the requirement on hold until the state legislature decides whether and how to license dispensaries, but the letter warns that as of January 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016 if the legislature doesn't act before then), dispensaries must have state licenses or close their doors. Click on the title link to see the letter.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Picking Up Big Bucks Support. Proposition 47, he initiative that would defelonize drug possession and some other offenses, is getting generous contributions from California-based technology mavens and other business figures, but those donations are being dwarfed by the ACLU, which has contributed more than $3 million. Some of the big names include Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($246,000); Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz ($150,000), Democratic Party funder Quinn Delaney ($100,000), Hyatt Development Corporation CEO Nick Pritzer ($250,000), and app maker Sean Parker ($100,000).

International

OAS Drug Commission Meets in Colombia. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Cartagena, Colombia, yesterday and today, and addressed the consensus among countries that prison overcrowding in the Americas is a real problem, with more than 1.5 million people detained for drug offenses. The results of this initiative will be presented at the upcoming biannual meeting of CICAD that will take place in Guatemala during the third week of November.

Canadian House of Commons Report on Cannabis Harms. The Conservative-dominated House of Commons has issued a report on the harms of marijuana. It recommends raising "public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use." Click on the link to read the report.

NACLA on Race, Class, and Cannabis in the Caribbean. The venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has published a thoughtful piece about marijuana reform in the Caribbean, The Other Side of Paradise. In in, author Kevin Edmonds cites Caribbean activists to the effect that the region must act effectively on reforms or risk losing its lucrative, but currently illicit, pot crops to imported marijuana from places where it's already legal. An interesting read.

Case of Missing Mexican Student Teachers Unveils Tight Ties Between Local Officials, Drug Gang. Mexico's top prosecutor said Wednesday that the mayor of Iguala and his wife ordered the attack on 43 radical student teachers who have been missing for a month now, and that the wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was the "principal operator" of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which is being blamed for disappearing the students. Jesus Murillo Karam said the mayoral couple ran the group's illegal activities out of Iguala's city hall. City hall was attacked again Wednesday by protestors demanding the return of the students, and thousands marched in Mexico City to demand justice in the case, which is turning into a national scandal epitomizing the breadth of corruption and impunity in the country. Several mass graves have been found in the area, but the bodies in them haven't been identified as those of the missing students. That raises another touchy question: Whose bodies are in the mass graves?

Chronicle AM: UT Defelonization Proposed, TX Pot Bills Coming, Afghan Opium Fiasco, More (10/22/14)

Texas will see marijuana reform legislation next year, "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs come to California's East Bay, Utah will consider drug defelonization, Afghan poppy fiasco, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Takes Aim at Texas. The Marijuana Policy Project is working with legislators in Austin to craft a trio of marijuana reform bills to be pre-filed next month. One would decriminalize pot possession, one would allow medical marijuana, and one would be a tax and regulate legalization bill. Click on the title for more details.

California "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs Spread to East Bay. Pro-marijuana legalization Democrats have organized the first "Brownie Mary" Democratic Club in the East Bay area. "Brownie Mary" Rathbun was a pioneering medical marijuana activist in San Francisco in the days before Prop 215, and the clubs are a means to articulate a marijuana reform agenda in Democratic Party circles. Now, Alameda County has one. There are others in Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Francisco counties.

Sentencing

Utah Could Defelonize Drug Possession, Make Other Sentencing Reforms. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Wednesday unveiled a sweeping series of proposed criminal justice reforms, including reducing simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Other proposals would make drug sales the lowest degree felony and rework "drug free zone" statutes to focus on crimes where children are present. The proposals are expected to go before the legislature in January.

Law Enforcement

A Tale of Two Texas SWAT Drug Raids Where Officers Were Killed. Mother Jones magazine examines the results in two recent Texas SWAT drug raids that left police officers dead. In one case, the shooter was a white marijuana grower. In the other, the shooter was a black man who had a glass pipe. Guess which one got charged with murder and which one didn't. A good, provocative read; check it out at the link.

International

US Spent $7.6 Billion to Fight Afghan Opium Poppy Cultivation, But It's Now at An All-Time High. The US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction has called into question US drug policy there after finding that, despite the US spending $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since it invaded in 2001, the amount of land dedicated to poppy cultivation is at an all-time high of 523,000 acres. "In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the US government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production," John Sopko said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and other top US officials. "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,"he said on Tuesday. "With deteriorating security in many parts of Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014," he added.

Chronicle AM: Philly Decrim in Effect, Facebook Chides DEA, Mexico Mayhem, More (10/20/14)

New pot polls in New Hampshire and North Dakota, Philly decrim goes into effect, NYC marijuana arrests continue, Nevada senator wants heroin clinics, Massachusetts' chief justice slams mandatory minimums, Facebook sends a stern letter to DEA, mayhem continues in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Cartel's deadly warning: Hacked tweet from account of murdered Mexican citizen journalist.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative Wording. It's back to the drawing board for Mary Berry and her legalization initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of the initiative, citing "ambiguities" in the text and telling her to "redesign" it. McDaniel has already approved the wording for two other initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one that would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana.

New Hampshire Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has 59% of respondents favoring marijuana legalization, with 35% opposed. Support for legalization is up eight percent over last year. Only 27% favored maintaining the pot prohibition status quo. New Hampshire is one of the states activists are eyeing for a legalization push in the next year or two.

North Dakota Poll Has Only 24% Supporting Legalization. In what must be one of most anti-marijuana poll results in recent years, a University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration poll found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents opposed marijuana legalization, with only 24% in favor. Even medical marijuana, which typically polls in the 70s or 80s with a generic question, garnered only 47% support. At least that's more than the 41% who opposed it. Click on the link for more poll details.

Dallas March for Legalization and Medical Marijuana. An estimated 5,000 people showed up in Dallas Saturday to rally for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. The Dallas Marijuana March was sponsored by Dallas-Ft. Worth NORML.

New York City Marijuana Arrests Continue. In a report released today, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project finds that, despite campaign promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio, marijuana possession arrests are on track to equal or even surpass the number of arrests made under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Despite a new mayor and new police commissioner, the NYPD continues its practice of making penny-ante pot arrests, especially of non-white people. Some 86% of those busted under de Blasio were black or Latino. New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual "empty their pockets," thus exposing marijuana to public view.

Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect in Philadelphia. As of today, getting caught with a little pot in Philadelphia will face no more than a $25 fine ($100 if caught smoking it) and, possibly, up to nine hours of community service. The city council approved the measure in June, and Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed the bill into law October 1.

Wichita Advocates Try Again With New Decriminalization Initiative. Hoping that the second time is the charm, Kansas for Change is plotting a new municipal decriminalization initiative. An effort earlier this year came up short after more than half the signatures turned in turned out to be invalid. They will need to gather 3,000 valid signatures by February 19 to make the deadline for the April 2015 ballot.

NORML PAC Endorses Cory Booker in New Jersey US Senate Race. NORML is standing by Sen. Cory Booker (D) in his bid for reelection in New Jersey. The advocacy group's political action committee has again endorsed Booker, as it did during his 2013 election campaign. "Senator Booker kept the promises he made to champion crucial criminal justice and marijuana reform issues in his first term," said NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri. "If reelected for a full six year term this fall, he will be a strong crusader for rolling back our failed war on cannabis at the federal level. We encourage New Jersey voters to support him in his campaign."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Judge Dismisses Lawsuit; Medical Marijuana Vote to Go Ahead. A US district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging next month's vote on a legislative medical marijuana initiative. Attorney Howard Trapp had sued to block the vote last month on the grounds that a "legislative submission" was illegal under Guam law, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Trapp didn't have legal standing to bring it.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Tribal Police Seize Student's Car Over Single Joint. An Arizona State University student is going public with her complaint that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribal police seized her vehicle over a single marijuana cigarette. The student, identified only as Kayla, said she was pulling over for a traffic infraction, admitted to having a joint, and was then arrested for possession and DUI and her car seized. The Indian tribe's laws allow for forfeiture even for minor marijuana possession. Kayla got her car back 4 ½ months later, but only because it was registered to someone else. The tribe remains unrepentant.

Heroin

Nevada State Senator Calls for Prescription Heroin Clinics. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) is calling for the creation of heroin clinics, where addicts could get prescribed doses of the drugs, as a means of dealing with addiction and issues associated with it. He said he will introduce a bill to that effect in the 2015 legislative session. The clinics would also provide counseling and therapy. "The goal is to get people off the street, out of the criminal element, address their addiction and then hopefully figure out a way to get them off of the drug," Segerblom said.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Calls for end to Mandatory Minimums. New chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants has called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences in his first public address since assuming the office. Gants, a former federal prosecutor, noted the "disparate impact" of such sentences on racial and ethnic minorities and challenged drug war orthodoxy. "How well is the status quo working?" he asked. "Heroin is cheaper, more easily available, and more deadly than it has been in my lifetime," he added. "Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding motor vehicle accidents."

Law Enforcement

Facebook Tells DEA to Stop Creating Fake Accounts. The social media giant has sent a strongly-worded letter to the DEA telling the agency to stop creating accounts impersonating real people in its bid to catch drug criminals. The Facebook move comes after the agency was revealed to have used the identity of a real woman, including posting revealing photos of her, as part of its drug-fighting efforts. Facebook is "deeply troubled" by the incident, the letter says, especially since it violates its rules about only using real identities.

International

Mexico Social Media Cartel Watcher Kidnapped, Killed, Body Shown on Her Hacked Twitter Account. Reynosa physician Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio participated in social media crime watch activities, reporting on the doings of drug cartel members, and it cost her her life. She was kidnapped last week and her Twitter account hacked. A photo of her dead body appeared on it, along with a message warning others on her network to close their accounts. "Today my life has reached its end," read one hacked tweet. "I can only tell you not to make the same mistake I did," said another. The hackers also directly threatened another citizen journalist, @ValorTamaulipas, warning that "death is closer than you think."

Mexico Police Arrest Drug Gang Leader Linked to Missing Students. Mexican authorities said last Friday they had arrested Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, head of the Guerrero Unidos drug trafficking organization. The group has been linked to the disappearance of 43 radical teachers' college students, who went missing after participating in political demonstrations in Iguala. Several mass graves have been found, but it's not clear if the bodies in them are those of the missing students. The incident has led to massive public protests and become a serious crisis for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The same day Casarrubias was arrested, thousands marched in Acapulco to demand the students be found alive. Days earlier, demonstrators set fires in government buildings in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Honduras Beefs Up Air Force for More, Better Drug War. The Honduran Air Force has purchased two combat fighters from Brazil's Embraer for $29 million and been donated four helicopters worth $36 million from Taiwan as part of an effort to step up its fight against drug traffickers. Honduran President Juan Hernandez has pledged to crack down on drug trafficking, and the Honduran Congress has given the okay to shoot down suspected drug planes transiting national air space.

Marijuana Smoke-In in Melbourne Goes Unimpeded by Police. Some 200 people gathered in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday for a marijuana reform rally that included lots of people smoking pot. Victoria State Police didn't bother to show up.

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