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Chronicle AM: Major Asset Forfeiture Reform Move, NCAA Drug Policy Review, Indonesia Executions, More (1/16/15)

Attorney General Holder announces a major civil asset forfeiture reform move, the NCAA will review its drug policies, a Vermont report on the impact of pot legalization has been released, and more. Let's get to it:

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit thanks to Attorney General Holder. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

No Marijuana Stores in Alaska's Capital Until October. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has approved a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until October 19. City officials will not consider any land use or other permits until the moratorium expires, meaning pot businesses won't be able to grow crops or prepare for retail sales until then.

Report on Impact of Legalization in Vermont Released. Vermont could make tens of millions of dollars in marijuana revenues a year, according to a new comprehensive report released today. The report was commissioned by the state legislature and serves as a policy guide as the state considers legalization. It lays out various options for legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Dead. Rep. Allen Peake's House Bill 1, which would have allowed for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children, has died before even being introduced. The bill died after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced his support for another CBD bill, which is yet to be written.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Topeka. Several dozen medical marijuana supporters were joined by a pair of Democratic lawmakers at a statehouse rally today to call for legalizing the medicinal use of the herb. The two legislators, Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) and Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), filed medical marijuana bills prior to the start of this year's legislative session. Similar measures have been filed since 2009, but none of them have made it to the discussion stage in committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Blocks Federal Asset Forfeiture Sharing Program. In the boldest civil asset forfeiture reform move in years, Holder has barred federal agencies from participating in the Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, under which state and local police seeking to circumvent state asset forfeiture laws would let federal agencies "adopt" the seizures. Under the program, the police agency got up to 80% of the proceeds, while state laws typically require them to be deposited in designated accounts, such as the general fund or education funds. Click on the link for the full story.

Drug Policy

NCAA to Consider Revamping Its Drug Policy. In the wake of criticism for suspending a University of Oregon football player for pot smoking just before the collegiate national championship game, and after its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports informally recommended it, the NCAA will examine proposed changes to its policies for testing both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs. The NCAA's standard for marijuana, for instance, it 10 times that used for airline pilots.

International

Stratfor Report on Mexican Drug Trafficking. The Austin-based private intelligence group has released a free, condensed version of its annual Mexican drug cartel report. Check it out at the link.

Indonesia Set to Execute Six Drug Convicts Sunday. New President Joko Widodo appears to be living up to his vow to not grant clemency to death row drug prisoners. The Indonesian Attorney General's Office announced Friday that it will execute six convicted drug traffickers Sunday. Widodo signed off on the executions last month.

Chronicle AM: Flurry of Federal Drug Reform Bills, AZ Legalization Demo, Heroin ODs Up Sharply, More (1/13/15)

Marijuana legalization battles start to heat up in the states, a flurry of federal drug reform bills are filed, heroin overdose deaths are up sharply, Mexican cartels seem to be switching from pot to meth and heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Foes Get Organized. Maine isn't going to legalize weed without a fight. Two groups with "grave concerns" about legalization kicked off a year-long campaign to "educate" Mainers about the dangers of the herb. The two groups are Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse. The move comes as Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said she will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, and as state activists work toward a legalization initiative in 2016.

Arizonans Rally to Protest Pot Prohibition, Call for Legalization. More than a hundred people gathered outside the state capitol in Phoenix Monday to urge marijuana law reforms. They were led by Safer Arizona, which says it will protest on the first day of the legislative session until marijuana is legal. A legalization bill will be before the legislature this year.

Medical Marijuana

Fight Over Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has said he will modify his CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) objected to a provision that would allow production of the crop in the state. That has supporters of the bill unhappy. They say that because federal law prohibits transporting medical marijuana between states, their medicine will remain out of reach if it cannot be grown in-state.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Reintroduced. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) and Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) have re-filed their bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill, SB 134, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Heroin Overdose Deaths Jumped in 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Monday showing that 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, up 39% from the 5,924 deaths the previous year. The number of overall drug overdose deaths also increased, to 43,982 in 2013 from 41,340 the year before. That's an overall increase of 6%.

LSD

First LSD Study in Decades Shows Promising Results. LSD can alleviate anxiety in terminally ill patients, according to the first clinical study of the drug in 40 years. The research was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The research results were published here.

Criminal Justice

Houston Congresswoman Files Trio of Criminal Justice Reform Bills. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed several criminal justice reform bills: HR 46 would increase the evidentiary standard required to convict someone for a drug offense and require screening of police participating in drug task forces; HR 51 would provide for collection of data on racial profiling in traffic stops; and HR 71 would provide earlier releases for certain nonviolent offenders.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Medical Marijuana Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has filed HR 262, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt from civil forfeiture real property seized because of medical marijuana-related conduct in states where it is legal. The bill currently has no cosponsors.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Group Delivers Urine Specimen Cups to Legislators in Welfare Drug Test Protest. The Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) protested Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients Monday by delivering urine sample cups -- unused -- to the offices of Republican legislators. The group says the plan won't achieve anything except demonizing the poor and that it may be unconstitutional.

International

Mexican Drug Traffickers Switching to Meth and Heroin. Marijuana legalization and decriminalization north of the border is having an impact south of the border, if US drug seizures are any indication. The amount of marijuana seized by state, local, and federal law enforcement has dropped 37% since 2011, while heroin seizures have increased three-fold and meth seizures have increased five-fold. Farmers in Mexico have reported switching from marijuana to opium in response to market trends.

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Foes Busted, VT Pot Legalization Coalition Forms, KY to Hand Out Naloxone Kits, More (1/7/15)

DC pot legalization foes get nailed for campaign finance violations, Vermont activists are joining forces to legalize it this year, the Congressional Black Caucus is going to concentrate on criminal justice reform, Kentucky is spending money to prevent opiate overdoses, and more. Let's get to it:

Kentucky is spending $100,000 to give naloxone overdose reversal kits to drug users. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Says Legalization Off to Good Start, But He's Worried About the Kids. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told reporters Tuesday that despite his initial concerns, the state's marijuana industry is well-regulated and staying within the law "in almost every case." Still, said Hickenlooper, "The concern that we still have — that I still have — is whether young people will view this legalization as in some way saying to them that marijuana is safe."

DC Legalization Opponents Violated Campaign Finance Laws. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has concluded that the anti-Initiative 71 group TIE DC ("Two is Enough, DC") violated several campaign laws in its effort to defeat the successful legalization initiative. It failed to register as a political committee, failed to file a financial report, and failed to include proper language in its campaign literature, according to the campaign finance office report. The office is recommending that the group be fined $2,000.

Oregon Liquor Commission Seeking Public Comment on How to Proceed With Legal Marijuana. The commission, which is charged with implementing legalization, wants to hear from interested parties. It has posted a survey on its website asking the public for its input on how best to move forward. The commission is planning a series of "listening sessions" later this month.

Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Forms. Groups of Vermont legalization supporters have come together to form the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana with an eye toward getting a legalization bill passed this year. Coalition members include the Vermont ACLU, the state Libertarian and Progressive parties, other state groups, the Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). A legalization bill last year morphed into a study bill, whose report will be released next week, but Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) said he plans to introduce a legalization bill this session.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky to Pay For 2,000 Take-Home Overdose Reversal Drug Kits. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced Tuesday that the state will provide $105,000 for three urban hospitals to buy 2,000 naloxone kits to send home with heroin overdose patients. "This project will allow us to get this medicine into the hands and homes of the people who need it most: heroin users and their families," Attorney General Jack Conway said at a Capitol news conference, standing with Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear. "They will be walking out (of the emergency room) with a medication that could save their lives." At least 723 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in the first nine months of 2014; 27% of those cases involved heroin.

Criminal Justice

New Head of Congressional Black Caucus Promises Focus on Criminal Justice Reform. Incoming caucus head Rep. GK Butterfield (D-NC) said at his swearing in ceremony Tuesday that the group will focus on criminal justice reform this session. "Thjere is a well-founded mistrust between the African American community and law enforcement officers," Butterfield said. "The statistics are clear. Video clips are clear. We recognize that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. Unfortunately, there are some officers who abuse the sacred responsibility to protect and serve by using excessive and sometimes deadly force when a less severe response is warranted. The CBC will seek legislative action to reverse this terrible trend." The caucus will also work to reform sentencing laws, he said.

International

At White House, Obama Pledges to Support Mexico in Fight Against Drug Violence. Meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Tuesday, President Obama said the US will stand alongside Mexico as a "good partner" in its fight against violent drug traffickers and related problems. "Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and drug cartels that are responsible for so many tragedies inside of Mexico," he said. Despite calls from groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Center for International Policy's America's Program for the US to hold Mexico's feet to the fire over human rights violations, corruption, and impunity, Obama did not publicly address those issues. 

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Chronicle AM:MT MedMJ Court Victory, DC Mayor Will Fight for Legalization, Thai Drug Sentences, More (1/5/15)

DC's mayor will fight for legalization, a Montana judge blocks most of a restrictive medical marijuana law, a New York county's misdemeanor drug bust asset forfeiture law gets vetoed, Thailand will review drug sentences, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Says She Will "Explore Every Option" to Get Legalization Enforced. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, new Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser stuck up for the District's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. In the face of opposition in the Republican Congress, Bowser said the city will "explore every option," up to and including a lawsuit against Congress, to ensure that the will of the voters is respected. She said the city would send the measure to Congress this month.

Washington State Bill Would Make Old Pot Convictions Go Away. People convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the past could have a chance to clear their records under a bill pre-filed for this year's legislative session. House Bill 1041, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Vashon Island), would allow for the vacating of past pot offenses, but only if there are no pending criminal charges or any new charges since the misdemeanor pot conviction. Neither would people with a history of DUI charges, violent or obscene offenses, or domestic violence charges be eligible.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Billboard Go Up. Billboards pushing for medical marijuana and paid for by the Sioux Falls Free Thinkers are going up this week in South Dakota's largest city. The move comes as advocacy groups, including South Dakota Against Prohibition, work to get a medical marijuana bill through the legislature this session. South Dakota legislators have consistently rejected medical marijuana, and so have the state's voters. Past efforts to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box failed in 2006 and 2010.

Montana Judge Blocks Some Restrictions on Medical Marijuana. A state district court judge last Friday dealt a death blow to provisions of a restrictive state medical marijuana law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature seven years after Big Sky voters approved a more open initiative allowing for medicinal use and a wide open dispensary scene. District Judge James Reynolds in Helena permanently enjoined the implementation of certain key provisions in the law. Those provisions have never actually taken effect because Reynolds blocked them with a temporary injunction back in 2011. Click on the title link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Orange County, NY, County Exec Vetoes Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus has vetoed an asset forfeiture law that would have allowed for the seizure of cash and property from people arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses. "While the legislation's concept to punish criminals who threaten public safety is something I am supportive of; still, the measure's final result leaves open the possibility of affecting innocent individuals," he said last Friday. "Moreover, the fact that revenue would largely go toward the general cost of government, rather than exclusively preventing future criminal activity is troubling to many."

Sentencing

Obama's Plan for Mass Commutations of Drug Sentences Hitting Roadblocks. President Obama's announced goal of commuting thousands of federal drug sentences is running into problems. Although some 25,000 prisoners have applied for sentence cuts, only eight were handed out last month when Obama announced Christmas pardons and commutations. The Justice Department is struggling to determine which sentences have been influenced by the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and it lacks the lawyers to make a significant dent in the backlog. Advocacy groups have formed the Clemency Project 2014 to recruit private attorneys to help, but that is creating its own sets of issues. Much, much more at the link.

Methamphetamine

Meth Pouring Across California-Mexico Border. US Customs and Border Protection reports that meth is coming across the Mexican border into California at unprecedented levels. Agents seized more than 14,000 pounds of the drug in FY 2014, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all meth seizures at the US border or points of entry. Seizures in California have increased nearly five-fold since 2009, when a US federal law made the procurement of precursor chemicals in this country more difficult.

International

Thailand to Review Drug Sentencing. The country's Narcotics Control Board is meeting this week to consider revising drug sentences. Board Secretary-General Pempong Koomchaya said the laws are too stiff in many instances. "The imprisonment term for drug smugglers across the board is between 10-20 years although many smugglers are found with only 12 pills in their possession. About 60-70% of the arrested drug offenders have in possession less than 50 pills. Jailing them causes overcrowding at prisons also," he said. Pempong said some sentences must be made more lenient and that revisions in the law should be ready by the end of the month.

Israeli Farmers Eye Expanded Medical Marijuana Opportunities. The Health Ministry is expected to announce later this month it will open bids for additional medical marijuana providers. The tender is set to be published January 31, with results expected in March. Some farmers see new opportunities for profit—and for lower prices for patients. Click on the link for more. 

Chronicle AM: Pot Use Up in Legal States, Bolivia Chides US on Drug War, Las Vegas Dispensaries Coming Soon, More (12/30/14)

Pot use among adults is up in legal marijuana states -- but some others, too -- Las Vegas could see dispensaries as early as next week, US drone strikes targeted Afghan drug traffickers, Evo Morales wags a finger at US drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

coming soon to Las Vegas (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Adult Marijuana Use Up in Legal States, Teens' Not So Much. Marijuana use increases in states where it is legal, at least among adults, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The NSDUH combined two years of numbers for state-level data, and found that adult use increased in both Colorado and Washington -- and this was while possession was legal, but legal sales had not yet commenced. But legality may not be the only factor at play; adult pot use also increased in Georgia, Maine, Maryland, and Missouri. Use among teens in the legal states edged up a bit, but the increase was statistically insignificant.

Medical Marijuana

Some Dispensaries Coming to Las Vegas Soon. At least 10 dispensaries have been approved by both state and Clark County (Las Vegas) officials and could open as early as next week. But another eight are up in the air after disputes between the state and the county. The county had selected 18 applicants, but the state made eight changes to the list, and the county commission on Monday rejected the changes. That means there are now eight vacancies for dispensaries in the county. Even those who were among the eight contested dispensaries will have to reapply and start the process again.

Florida Tries Again on Crafting Medical Marijuana Regulations. The Department of Health is holding a hearing today in Orlando in a bid to re-start the process of crafting regulations for the state's low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana law. A program allowing for the use of the medicine was supposed to go into effect Thursday, but was bumped back after an administrative hearing judge sided with appellants who argued the first draft rules were too restrictive. It's not clear how long this new regulatory process will take.

Pardons and Commutations

Missouri Governor Pardons Two Marijuana Offenders, But Jeff Mizanskey Remains Behind Bars. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has pardoned two nonviolent marijuana offenders, both of whom received probationary sentences, both in the late 1980s. But Nixon has not acted on the case of Jeff Mizanskey, a 68-year-old grandfather now doing his 20th year of a life sentence for marijuana trafficking. Mizanskey has been the subject of a campaign to win his release.

International

US Drone Strikes Targeted Afghan Drug Traffickers. According to the latest documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, US drone strikes in Afghanistan targeted not only leading Al Qaeda and Taliban figures, but also low- and mid-level Taliban members involved in the drug trade. At one point, the US had a "kill list" that contained as many as 750 names. In October 2008, NATO defense ministers decided to target "narcotics trafficking networks that provide funding, weapons, and logistical support to Taliban elements in Afghanistan," according to a February 2009 NSA document.

Bolivia's Morales Attacks US Drug War Again. Bolivian President Evo Morales has once again criticized US drug policy as being a tool of American efforts to dominate other countries. "Washington uses its War on Drugs to pursue its own geopolitical agenda and now they use it to accuse other governments and take them down," Morales told the Mexican newspaper La Jornada on Monday. "They even named me the 'Andean Bin Laden' and accused us of being terrorists and drug traffickers and at the same United States is the top nation that backs and benefits from drug trafficking," the Bolivian president continued. "Drug trafficking seems like the big business of the capitalist system. It is a very developed country, with a lot of technology and the one who consumes the most drugs. How is it that they cannot control drug trafficking?"asked Morales. "I think the country that drives the drug trade is the US, it's big business; the big, illegal business of the capitalist system."

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

Chronicle AM: Cuomo Just Says No, Christie Talks Mandatory Treatment, Lebanese Hash Boom, More (12/22/14)

Cuomo rejects legalization, Christie talks treatment instead of prison, New Hampshire takes a step toward getting dispensaries going, Lebanon's hash trade is booming, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lebanon, the hash crop grows unimpeded. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Rejects Legalizing Pot, Cites Myth. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Sunday reiterated his opposition to freeing the weed. "I do not favor legalized marijuana," he said in a radio interview. "I do believe it can be a gateway drug." The "gateway theory" is widely considered to be a myth.

South Carolina Decriminalization Bill Pre-Filed. Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) has pre-filed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in the Palmetto State. Under the bill, possession of less than an ounce would be a civil infraction with a fine of between $100 and $200 for a first offense. Fines increase with subsequent offenses. The bill is H 3117.

Medical Marijuana

California Appeals Court Rules Concentrates Qualify as Medical Marijuana. The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that "concentrated cannabis" qualifies as marijuana for purposes of medical use. The ruling came in People v. Mulcrevy, in which medical marijuana patients and probationer Sean Patrick Mulcrevy was accused of violating his probation because he was caught in possession of cannabis oil. Concentrated cannabis "is covered by the Compassionate Use Act, and there is insufficient evidence Mulcrevy violated his probation in light of that conclusion," the appeals court held unanimously.

New Hampshire Now Taking Dispensary Applications. The Department of Health and Human Services Friday released its request for applications for people who want a shot at operating one of the four "alternative treatment centers" contemplated under the state's medical marijuana laws. The state is divided into four geographic areas; each will be allowed one dispensary.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Christ Christie: Drug War Has Failed, Treat Addiction as an Illness, Mandatory Treatment Needed. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has spoken out again on drug policy, saying the state needs to embrace a dramatically different approach to drug use and addiction. "I think what we've seen over the last 30 years is it just hasn't worked," he said. "And there are some people who make one bad choice to try drugs one time and their particular chemistry leads them to be an addict from the minute they try it. So we need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders but having mandatory treatment is something that's going to yield a much greater result for society in general and for those individuals in particular." There's much more at the link.

International

Lebanese Hash Trade Booming in Shadow of Syrian Civil War. Distracted by the civil war next door in Syria, Lebanese security forces have for the past two years refrained from their annual hash eradication campaigns, and now, well-armed leaders of the trade are confident enough to tell troops to stay away if they don't want trouble. "We are selling hashish, and if anyone from the government tries to come close to it, we'll kill them," said Ali Shamas, a spokesman for growers and sellers. "This year we had a good year." Because of oversupply due to lack of eradication, prices have dropped dramatically, but the trade is still lucrative, Shamas said. "All of my main growers made at least half a million dollars this year," he told The Daily Telegraph. Much more at the link.

Brazil Will Study Legalizing High CBD Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency said Friday it is going to start discussing whether to reclassify the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD). The announcement came one day after several dozen people protested in Brazilia to demand its reclassification and less than a month after the Federal Medical Council authorized neurologists and psychiatrists to prescribe CBD to epileptic children and teens who haven't responded to other treatments.

First Medical Marijuana Trials Get Underway in New South Wales. The state government announced Sunday that it has authorized clinical trials for medical marijuana. Those will be the first ever in Australia. NSW Premier Mike Baird said he expected hundreds of people to take part in the trial, and if it is successful at relieving pain and suffering, the government would consider importing marijuana or allowing it to be grown in the state.

New South Wales Bar Association Law Committee Calls for "Radical Rethink" of Drug Policy. The bar association's Criminal Law Committee is calling for a drug summit that will "radically rethink" Australia's approaches to drug use and the drug trade. The committee said that marijuana decriminalization is a start, but that "this would not remove the black market in drugs or respond to what we had found with respect to other illicit drugs." Instead, the best way to reduce drug- and prohibition-related harms would be "to replace the black market for drugs with a form of legal availability under a highly regulated system."

Chronicle AM: NE, OK Seek to Undo CO Marijuana Legalization, Philly Backs Off on Home Seizures, More (12/18/14)

Colorado's conservative neighbors try to undo its marijuana legalization, Philadelphia drops a pair of high-profile asset forfeiture cases, Obama commutes sentences for eight drug offenders, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nebraska, Oklahoma Ask Supreme Court to Undo Colorado Legalization. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today with the US Supreme Court asking it to declare that Colorado's marijuana legalization violates the Constitution. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Nebraska Attorney General Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles." But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who got a courtesy call from Bruning, scoffed. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court," he said.

New York Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Legalization. State Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Empire State. Krueger conceded the legislation was unlikely to pass during the coming legislative session, but said it was important to keep the conversation going.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Awards $8 Million for Marijuana Research. The Colorado Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research Wednesday. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

American Academy of Neurology Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia Drops Two High Profile Asset Forfeiture Cases. Faced with an ongoing federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice over its brazen asset forfeiture practices, the city of Philadelphia announced today that it is dropping efforts to seize the homes of two families. In one case, the city moved to seize a home after an adult son of the owners was busted for selling heroin; in the other, the city moved to seize a home after the owner's estranged husband was caught selling small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit continues.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Commutations for Eight Drug Offenders. President Barack Obama Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses. No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year. Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Opiates

Senators Send Letter to Officials, Health Groups Urging Stronger Response to Drug Overdoses. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week urged government officials and health groups to come up with stronger responses to drug overdoses. The call came in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Governors' Association, the American Medical Association, and associations of state and local health officials. Click on the link to read the letter.

International

Eleven Dead in Mexico Vigilante Clashes. Mexican "self-defense" vigilante groups in the Western state of Michoacan turned their guns on each other Tuesday, leaving 11 dead. The vigilante groups emerged last year in rural communities to fight the Knights Templar cartel, and in May they accepted an offer to be folded into government security forces. And now they are fighting among themselves.

Bangkok Police Hassling Tourists With Searches, Drug Tests, On-the-Spot Fines. Since the military coup in May, foreign visitors to Thailand are increasingly complaining that police Bangkok are stopping and questioning them, searching their persons and belongings, demanding they submit to drug tests, and handing out on-the-spot fines that must be paid immediately in cash. Most of the harassment is taking place on the city's main thoroughfare, Sukhumvit Road. The British ambassador said last week he had raised the issue with local tourism authorities.

Drug War Issues

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