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GOP Congressman Warns of Mexican Marijuana Nukes

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

An Arizona Republican congressman has defended the notion of building a border wall by claiming it could prevent a nuclear weapon being smuggled into the United States concealed in a bale of marijuana.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) made the comments Wednesday in a discussion with CNN's Brianna Keilar about President Trump's proposed $21 billion border barrier.

"The reality, Brianna, is that we have to measure all of the costs, ancillary and otherwise, and make the best decision that we can. But I can suggest to you that there are national security implications here for a porous border. We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle in a dangerous weapon, even a nuclear weapon, into America, how would they do it? And the suggestion was made, 'Well, we'll simply hide it in a bale of marijuana,'" Franks said.

"So the implications of a porous border have national security dimensions that are very significant and that bear a lot of conversation when we talk about costs," he said.

Franks pointed to no evidence of loose nuclear weapons floating around Mexico, nor did he explain why presumed nuke-smugglers would choose to try to hide their weapon in something the US Border Patrol is already looking for, as opposed to, say, a semi-trailer truck going through a port of entry with a load of legal commodities or a boat simply sailing into the Houston Ship Channel.

Still, the Mexican marijuana nuke threat is one that Franks has addressed before. As his website notes, he raised the specter of Hezbollah smuggling marijuana nukes into the US in a House floor speech back in 2012.

"Specifically imagine for a moment, Mr. Speaker, the scenario of Hezbollah, one of Iran's terrorist proxies, gaining possession of just two nuclear warheads and bringing them across the border into the United States concealed, say, in bales of marijuana," he said, "then transporting them into the heart of two different, crowded, unnamed cities. Then calling and telling the White House exactly when and where the first one will be detonated, and then following through 60 seconds later."

That's right: Hezbollah is going to attack us with nuclear bombs hidden inside bales of Mexican brick weed. You can't make this stuff up.

Here's Franks' exchange with Keilar, via CNN:

Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Warrior for DHS, Congress Funds Opioid Treatment, More... (12/8/16)

Another Trump nominee raising eyebrows and concerns among drug reformers, Congress passes a health care omnibus bill that includes $1 billion for opioid treatment, Montana dispensaries are cleared to reopen, and more.

Trump's Department of Homeland Security pick, Gen. John Kelly (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Anchorage Gets Its First Marijuana Shop on December 17. Alaska's largest city will have a place to buy legal marijuana in less than ten days. Alaska Fireweed in downtown Anchorage has announced that it will open at high noon on December 17.

Colorado Governor Aims to Rein In Home Pot Cultivation. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has told lawmakers he wants to reduce black market marijuana exports by imposing a 12-plant limit on grows at private homes, banning collective recreational grows, and imposing tighter restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers. It isn't going to happen without a fight, marijuana activists say.

Vermonters Can Seek Pardons for Small-Time Marijuana Possession Convictions -- This Month Only. Governor Peter Shumlin (D) will consider pardoning Vermont convictions of possession for up to an ounce of marijuana, but people have to apply before the end of this month. The state decriminalized possession of less than an ounce in 2013. Seeking a pardon doesn't necessarily mean you'll get one, though. Click on the link to see the pardon form.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Judge Clears Dispensaries to Reopen. A district court judge in Helena has ruled that a wording error in last month's successful medical marijuana initiative should not keep sick patients from having access to the plant now. The initiative undid a 2011 law that largely undid the original 2004 initiative allowing medical marijuana, but late changes to the initiative resulted in new sections being added, which in turn resulted in a change in section numbering that unintentionally pushed back the date dispensaries could open. "The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own," the judge said in making his ruling. "I think speed is more important than niceties."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Health Bill That Includes $1 Billion for Opioid Fight. The Senate Monday gave final approval to HR 34, an omnibus health care bill that includes $1 billion for expanded opioid treatment programs. The legislation now heads for the president's desk. Obama is expected to sign it.

Law Enforcement

Trump Nominates Another Drug War Zealot to Head Department of Homeland Security. The Trump transition team has named General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, that interdiction could be more efficient with increased funding, and that marijuana legalization sends a confusing message to Latin American leaders, among other things."This is looking really bad," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war."

Clinton's and Trump's Drug Policies [FEATURE]

(This article was written prior to the election.)

One means of judging the competing presidential candidates is to examine their actual policy prescriptions for dealing with serious issues facing the country. When it comes to drug policy, the contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn't be more telling.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
The country is in the midst of what can fairly be called an opioid crisis, with the CDC reporting 78 Americans dying every day from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. Both candidates have addressed the problem on the campaign trail, but, as is the case in so many other policy areas, one candidate has detailed proposals, while the other offers demagogic sloganeering.

Guess which is which.

Hillary Clinton has offered a detailed $10 billion plan to deal with what she called the "quiet epidemic" of opioid addiction. Donald Trump's plan consists largely of "build the wall."

That was the centerpiece of his October 15 speech in New Hampshire where he offered his clearest drug policy prescriptions yet (though it was overshadowed by his weird demand that Hillary Clinton undergo a drug test).  To be fair, since then, Trump has also called for expanding law enforcement and treatment programs, but he has offered no specifics or cost estimates.

And the centerpiece of his approach remains interdiction, which dovetails nicely with his nativist immigration positions.

Donald Trump wants a wall here to stop drugs and immigrants. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
"A Trump administration will secure and defend our borders," he said in that speech. "A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth."

Trump did not address the failure of 40 years of ever-increasing border security and interdiction policies to stop the flow of drugs up until now, nor did he explain what would prevent a 50-foot wall from being met with a 51-foot ladder.

Trump's drug policy also takes aim at a favorite target of conservatives: so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials refuse to cooperate in harsh federal deportation policies.

"We are also going to put an end to sanctuary cities, which refuse to turn over illegal immigrant drug traffickers for deportation," he said. "We will dismantle the illegal immigrant cartels and violent gangs, and we will send them swiftly out of our country."

In contrast, Clinton's detailed proposal calls for increased federal spending for prevention, treatment and recovery, first responders, prescribers, and criminal justice reform. The Clinton plan would send $7.5 billion to the states over 10 years, matching every dollar they spend on such programs with four federal dollars. Another $2.5 billion would be designated for the federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program.

Hillary Clinton has a detailed drug policy position. (state.gov)
While Trump advocates increased border and law enforcement, including a return to now widely discredited mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders, Clinton does not include funding for drug enforcement and interdiction efforts in her proposal. Such funding would presumably come through normal appropriations channels.

Instead of a criminal justice crackdown, Clinton vows that her attorney general will issue guidance to the states urging them to emphasize treatment over incarceration for low-level drug offenders. She also supports alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts (as does Trump). But unlike Trump, Clinton makes no call for increased penalties for drug offenders.

Trump provides lip service to prevention, treatment and recovery, but his rhetorical emphasis illuminates his drug policy priorities: more walls, more law enforcement, more drug war prisoners.

There is one area of drug policy where both candidates are largely in agreement, and that is marijuana policy. Both Clinton and Trump have embraced medical marijuana, both say they are inclined to let the states experiment with legalization, but neither has called for marijuana legalization or the repeal of federal pot prohibition.

If Clinton's drug policies can be said to be a continuation of Obama's, Trump's drug policies are more similar to a return to Nixon's. 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)

Flailing Trump Pivots to Drug Policy, Demands Hillary Drug Test, Pivots Away Again [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Reeling from allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump tried to go on the offensive on drug policy over the weekend, but in a manner typical of his campaign, he touched only briefly on the topic before flying off on new tangents, and he began his drug policy interlude with a bizarre attack on Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
At a speech at a Toyota dealership in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Saturday, the GOP candidate claimed that Clinton was on performance-enhancing drugs before their last debate and suggested drug tests were in order.

"Why don't we do that?" he demanded, adding that Clinton was likely "getting pumped up" as the prepared for that debate.

"We should take a drug test prior cause I don't know what's going on with her. But at the beginning of last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning and at the end it was like, oh take me down. She could barely reach her car," he claimed.

The claim didn't come out of nowhere. Trump was echoing an ad from two weeks ago from the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Number 1 that showed Clinton coughing and then stumbling to her van on the morning of September 11. The super PAC is bankrolled by Trump backer and big time conservative donor Robert Mercer, who dropped $2 million on the PAC in July.

The unfounded allegation of Clinton pre-debate drug use and the demand for a drug test grabbed media attention, but if Trump was attempting to turn a corner and shift the campaign's focus away from his peccadillos, his strange accusation against Clinton only served to raise more questions about his temperament and suitability for the nation's highest office.

Trump wanted Hillary Clinton to submit to a pre-debate drug test. (Wikimedia)
And it virtually smothered any discussion of actual drug policy proposals Trump made during the speech. While Trump has obliquely addressed the heroin and prescription opioid problem in the past, Saturday's speech was the first time he tried to put any flesh on his proposals for dealing with it.

If anyone were paying attention to the policy details amidst all the racket about the drug test challenge, they would have heard drug policy proposals rooted squarely in the failed drug war strategies of the last century.

Trump would, he said, block drugs from coming into the US by -- you guessed it -- building the wall on the Mexican border. He would also seek to tighten restrictions on the prescribing of opioids. And he would reinstitute mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

"We have 5 percent of the world's population but use 80 percent of the prescription opioids," Trump said, eerily echoing former rival Jeb Bush, who used the same language while campaigning in the state earlier this year.

That statistic is aimed at showing that the US is over-prescribing narcotic pain killers, but according to the World Health Organization, the actuality is that in much of the rest of the world, they are underprescribing them. In fact, the WHO said that in more than 150 countries with 83 percent of the global population, there is virtually no access to prescription opioids for relief of pain.

And the under-treatment of chronic pain isn't just a problem in India or China or Africa. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 50 million Americans suffer significant chronic or severe pain. An opioid policy that focuses only on reducing prescriptions without addressing the need for access to pain killing opioids for actual pain is only half a policy.

When it comes to the border, Trump correctly asserts that Mexico is the source of most of the heroin in the US (it produces 45% itself and another 51% comes from Latin America, mostly Colombia and Guatemala, often through Mexico), but relies on a hyper-interdiction policy ("build the wall") to thwart it. Interdiction -- blocking the flow of drugs into the country -- has been a pillar of US drug policy for decades, but despite massive border build ups and the doubling of the number of Customs and Border Patrol agents in the past 15 years, the drugs still flow.

Long after their popularity wanes, Trump calls for new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. (nadcp.org)
Interdiction hasn't done the trick so far, and there is no indication that even a Trumpian wall would make a difference. The creativity of drug smugglers is legendary, and the economic incentives under drug prohibition are great. As the saying goes, "Build a 50-foot wall, and they'll bring a 51-foot ladder" (or a tunnel).

The third component of his drug policy is a Reaganesque "lock 'em up." In his New Hampshire speech, he saluted running mate Mike Pence for increasing mandatory minimums for drug offenders as governor of Indiana.

"We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation," Trump said.

That position flies in the face of a growing bipartisan consensus that the use of mandatory minimums for drug offenses is draconian, ineffective, and harms mainly minority populations. During the Obama administration, mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced with congressional assent, and Obama himself has granted commutations to hundreds of drug war prisoners serving those draconian sentences, with little dissent.

Trump's drug policy is but a sketch, but even its vague outlines reflect outdated approaches to the issue and a quickness to resort to cheap demagoguery on the issue. Still, while there is plenty of room for discussion of his approach, Trump has apparently already left the issue behind, barely mentioning it since Saturday as he tilts at other windmills.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Prohibitionists Give Big Bucks to Defeat Pot Inits, Trump on Drugs, More... (10/17/16)

Million dollar donations flow to the "no" forces in Arizona and Massachusetts, the Arizona initiative is in a dead heat according to a new poll, Donald Trump talks drugs and demands Hillary take a drug test, and more.

Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bankrolls anti-marijuana reform efforts. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Arizona Poll Has Legalization in Dead Heat. A poll from Data Orbital released Friday has the Prop 205 legalization initiative in a statistical tie. The poll had support at 45%, with 44% opposed, 5% undecided, and, apparently, 6% unaccounted for. Pollster and political consultant George Khalaf said the "no" side was making gains because of heavy TV advertising in recent weeks. "It's not that good for a proposition to be this far below 50%," he said of the "yes" side. "It's not a great sign for legalization, unless they outspend (the 'no' side) in next few weeks or younger voters' turnout is larger than anticipated."

Discount Tire Kicks in $1 Million to Defeat Arizona Legalization. The Scottsdale-based Discount Tire Company has contributed a million dollars to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the group leading the "no" campaign against Prop 205. The company is the largest privately held company in the state, and has also contributed to controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The "no" campaign has also seen recent large donations from Empire Southwest for $200,000 and SAM (Smart About Marijuana) Action for $115,000.

Delaware Poll Has Solid Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication has support for marijuana legalization at 61%. Only 35% of respondents said they were opposed. The poll comes as state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) says she plans to introduce a legalization bill when the legislature reconvenes.

Sheldon Adelson Kicks in $1 Million to Defeat Massachusetts Legalization. Las Vegas casino magnate and ultra-conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson had donated $1 million to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which is leading the opposition to the Question 4 legalization initiative. Even with the Adelson money, however, the "yes" side has out fundraised the "no" side by a margin of two-to-one. Yes on 4 has raised more than $3.3 million, while the opposition has raised only $1.6 million.

Drug Policy

Trump Talks Drug Policy, Demands Hillary Take Drug Test. Donald Trump sketched out a policy aimed at the heroin and opioid crisis during a speech in New Hampshire Saturday, but it was largely drowned out by his call for Hillary Clinton to undergo a drug test before their next debate. Trump said he suspected she was on something during the last debate. When it came to heroin and opioids, Trump said he would solve the problem by building a wall on the Mexican border, moving to reduce the prescribing of opioid pain medications, and resorting to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

International

Scottish National Party Backs Medical Marijuana.Meeting at its annual national conference, the Scottish National Party backed the medicinal use of marijuana. The vote doesn't necessarily mean the Scottish government will adopt medical marijuana, and drug policy is an area specifically reserved to the UK national parliament, so that body would have to act as well.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CA Will Vote on Legalization, Veterans' MedMJ Fight Not Over Yet, More... (6/29/16)

That nation's most populous state will vote on marijuana legalization in November, federal legislators keep fighting for medical marijuana access for veterans, a New Jersey needle exchange bill nears passage, the ACLU goes after the Border Patrol for abuses at interior check points, and more.

Marijuana Policy

It's Official -- California Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A broadly-backed initiative to legalize marijuana in the country's most populous state will be on the California ballot in November. The secretary of state's office made it official Tuesday afternoon, certifying that a random sample of more than 600,000 signatures turned in showed there were enough valid signatures to qualify the measure. "Today marks a fresh start for California, as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself," said Jason Kinney, spokesperson for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA).

Medical Marijuana

Eleven Lawmakers Ask House and Senate Leadership to Restore Medical Marijuana Language in VA Bill. The move comes after language allowing VA docs to recommend medical marijuana passed both the House and Senate, only to be mysteriously dropped in conference committee. "We feel the failure of the Conferees to include either provision is a drastic misfortune for veterans and is contrary to the will of both chambers as demonstrated by the strong bipartisan support for these provisions," the supporters wrote to congressional leaders on Tuesday. Among the signatories were Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Other signatories to the letter, all Democrats, include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Dina Titus of Nevada and Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Illinois Judge Orders State to ADD PTSD to Medical Marijuana List. A Cook County judge has ordered the state Department of Public Health to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of diseases eligible to be treated with medical marijuana. The sternly worded ruling also said the department's director, Niray Shah, an appointee of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, had engaged in a "constitutionally inappropriate private investigation" before deciding to rule against adding PTSD after the medical marijuana advisory board had recommended adding it. The court accused Shah of applying his own standard of medical evidence that "appears nowhere in the Act or the department's rules" and "was contrary to the plain language of the department's rules."

Los Angeles County Extends Ban on Medical Marijuana in Unincorporated Areas. County supervisors voted Tuesday to extend by a year a temporary ban on medical marijuana cultivation and distribution in unincorporated areas. The county enacted a 45-day ban earlier this year and then extended it by another month before now extending it for another year. County planning officials said the ban was needed as they study how to regulate medical marijuana, but advocates retorted that the supervisors should concentrate on actually regulating the industry, not on extending bans.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Needle Exchange Bill Nears Passage. The Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow localities across the state to enact needle exchange programs. The Assembly is expected to approve changes in the Senate version of the bill Thursday. The measure, Assembly Bill 415, would then await the signature of Gov. Chris Christie (R) to become law. The state enacted a law allowing pilot needle exchange programs a decade ago.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Accuses Border Patrol of Wrongful Detentions, Seizures The ACLU of Arizona Tuesday filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and its constituent agency, US Customs and Border Protection, demanding an investigation into "abuses arising from Border Patrol interior operations." "At the same time the Justice Department and the Obama administration are rightly urging local police to adopt 'best practices' -- ending racial profiling, collecting stop data, and curbing police militarization and asset forfeiture abuses -- we see the nation's largest law enforcement agency, CBP, rejecting those commonsense reforms," said James Lyall, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The federal government is effectively saying, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' which leaves Border Patrol free to target citizens and non-citizens alike with these increasingly extreme and abusive practices."

Chronicle AM: Trump Trash Talks Mexico on Drugs, AZ Pot Legalization Init Has 200,000 Signatures, More... (4/12/16)

The Donald returns to one of his favorite themes, Arizona legalization initiative organizers have hit the 200,000-signature mark (they need 150,000 valid ones), patients in New York protest that state's restrictive medical marijuana law, Western Australia wants to force meth users into drug treatment without having to convict them of a crime first, and more.

Trump accuses Mexico of "poisoning our youth" with drugs. (wikimedia.org)
Arizona Legalization Initiative Signature Drives Passes 200,000 Mark. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuna Like Alcohol in Arizona announced Tuesday that it has collected more than 200,000 raw voter signatures for its legalization initiative. The group needs 150,564 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot.Having 200,000 raw signatures at this point means that a full quarter of them would have to be disqualified for the initiative to come up short--and it still has time to gather more. 

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana at School Moves. A bill that would require schools to allow students to use medical marijuana on campus has passed its legislative hurdle. House Bill 1373 was approved 10-3 by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. State law already gives school districts the power to allow the use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances, but no district has done so.

New York Patients, Families Rally in Albany to Demand Fixes for State's Medical Marijuana Law.  Dozens of advocates gathered in Albany Tuesday to urge legislators to support a slate of bills that would amend the Compassionate Care Act, New York’s medical marijuana law. The law, which was passed in June of 2014, took eighteen months to implement and has been criticized for being one of the most restrictive and burdensome programs in the country. Launched in January of this year, to date, only 494 of the state’s 79,000 physicians have agreed to participate and only 2,390 patients have been certified by their doctors to enroll in the program. This lackluster start is likely due to a number of barriers and restrictions in the program that make it both difficult and unappealing for physicians and patients to participate.

Drug Policy

Trump Blames Mexico for America's Drug Problems. Returning to one of his favorite themes—Mexico bashing—GOP presidential contender Donald Trump Monday warned that drugs from Mexico are "pouring into the country" and "poisoning our youth." His comments came as he defended his plan to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. The US trade deficit with Mexico is $58 billion a year. "And that doesn’t include the drugs that are pouring into the country poisoning our youth," Trump added. "They’re poisoned with this crap. People won’t be driving their pick-up trucks through the wall or over the wall, he added. Did you ever see that? The trucks go over, they unload the drugs and then they go back. So we get the drugs and they get the money. Not very good folks. That’s going to all change."

International

French Minister Reignites Marijuana Legalization Debate. A French junior minister, Jean-Marie Le Guen, secretary of state for relations with parliament (and an MD) has reignited discussion of marijuana law reform there by saying "prohibition is not effective" and that a public health approach was needed. Le Guen clarified that he was not speaking for the government, but said the subject should be debated by the next president. His remarks did not go over well with drug reform-averse French politicians, including his fellow governing Socialists.  "And what will we do tomorrow? Will we legalise cocaine and weapons because we cannot stem the flow of weapons? That's not serious!" retorted Socialist Senator Samia Ghali. A spokesman for the government added that the Socialist Party was free to debate the issue, but the government isn't interested "neither in work nor thought."

Victoria Becomes First Australian State to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The state Parliament has passed the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill, making Victoria the first state in the country to approve medical marijuana. State Health Minister Jill Hennessey said children with severe epilepsy will be the first to be able to access the medications next year. The state government will set up an Office of Medicinal Cannabis to regulate the industry and educate patients and doctors about their roles and eligibility to prescribe or use medical marijuana.

Western Australia Wants to Subject Meth Users to Forced Detention, Treatment. The state's Mental Health Minister, Andrea Mitchell, said forcing meth users into drug rehab was the way to deal with the state's growing number of them. "I've got a responsibility to balance the rights of the individual with also protecting the community, and I need to do that with the burglary and the assaults and the other side of things that do tend to happen with people with a meth problem," she said. "And I also have a duty of care to protect that individual and give that individual the best possible chance of coming out of that and being a responsible citizen." The scheme would require legislative changes to allow the state to hold against their will people who have not been convicted of any crime.

 (This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Canada Wakes Up the CND, Tampa Pot Decrim, CA Legalization Init Getting Signatures, More... (3/17/16)

California's leading legalization initiative is one-quarter of the way home, Tampa is the latest Florida locality to decriminalize pot possession, the Canadians wake up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs with a very reform-oriented speech, and more.

Canada came out strong for harm reduction and marijuana legalization at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna this week.
Marijuana Policy

California AUMA Legalization Initiative Has 25% of Needed Signatures. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) initiative has accumulated nearly 100,000 signatures since petitioning began in January. It has until July 5 to turn in a total of 365,880 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. While other initiatives are out there, this one, supported by tech billionaire Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), is the one most likely to have the dollars behind to actually make the ballot.

Tampa Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council has passed an ordinance that decriminalizes the possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. The move was supported by the mayor and the police chief. Now, possession will no longer be a misdemeanor, but will be a civil infraction punishable by a $75 fine for a first offense, $150 for a second, and $450 for any subsequent offenses.  Tampa now joins a number of South Florida localities that have decriminalized, as well as Central Florida's Volusia County.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Senator Unveils Medical Marijuana Expansion Package. State Sen. Diane Savino  (D-Staten Island) has introduced a package of bills—Senate Bills 6998, 6999, and 7000—designed to expand the state's constricted medical marijuana program. One bill would allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana, another would allow the five organizations licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana to double the amount of dispensaries they can open from four to eight, while another would expand the conditions for which marijuana could be recommended.

Law Enforcement

Denver Cops Instructed to Not Punch Suspects Believed to Be Swallowing Drugs. The Denver Police Department's Office of the Independent Monitor recommended Tuesday that the department adopt new policies to provide guidance to officers when they arrest a suspect believed to be trying to swallow the evidence.  "The OIM recommends that the DPD revise its Use of Force Policy to provide specific guidance on what types of force are permitted, and prohibited, to remove potential contraband from the mouths of persons being placed under arrest. The OIM further recommends that this revised policy prohibit the use of strikes to force persons being place under arrest to spit out potential contraband," the report reads. The recommendation comes in the wake of a widely-decried 2014 incident in which an officer was recorded repeatedly punching a man who was allegedly trying to stuff a heroin-filled sweat sock into his mouth.

Sentencing

Groups File Brief Seeking Reduction in Life Sentence for Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) filed an amicus brief Thursday urging the US 2nd Court of Appeal to reduced the life without parole sentence meted out to Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the Silk Road drug sales website. Joining DPA in the brief were Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, JustLeadershipUSA, and retired federal judge Nancy Gertner.  "Mr. Ulbricht’s draconian sentence flies in the face of evolving standards of decency," said Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney at the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and lead author of the brief. "Nationally, lawmakers are working across the political aisle to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. And, many of our allies in Europe consider life without parole sentences inhumane."

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Wakes Up the Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting. A speech from a Canadian representative at the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna this week was met with eruptions of applause from the audience after the speaker, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Hilary Geller, made clear that the Liberals were embracing harm reduction, including safe injection sites, and marijuana legalization. Geller's speech not only contrasted sharply with the previous Conservative government's anti-drug reform positions, but also with the cautious pronouncements made by other nations. At the end of the speech, the audience of government officials and NGO leaders gave Geller a standing ovation.

Mexico Captures Cartel Leader Tied to Border Shootouts. After a bloody weekend in Reynosa, where at least a dozen people were killed in clashes between cartel gunmen and soldiers and cartel gunmen set up burning street barricades, federal police Monday captured the Gulf Cartel leader who was allegedly the target of the federal action on the border. The man arrested is Cleofas Alberto Martinez Gutierrez, who officials said was the cartel's number two boss in Reynosa. They found him at a Mexico City race track. 

Why Is the Administration Sending Refugees Back to Narco War Nightmare US Helped Create? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

With the New Year, the Obama administration has unleashed a new campaign of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids targeting Central American women and children who fled to the US in 2014 to escape violence in their home countries. Some 17,000 are at immediate risk of being dragged from their homes and families and being detained and deported.

Salvadoran refugee walking toward the US border. (unhcr.org)
"Our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement announcing the action.

Some 121 people were arrested in raids last weekend, Johnson said, with many of them housed in euphemistically named "family residential centers" before their imminent deportation. The raids took place in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.

Johnson's statement noted that back in November, the administration had broadened its deportation actions beyond "criminals and threats to public safety" (including at least 250,000 people deported for drug offenses) to include those who threaten "border security" by having arrived uninvited after January 1, 2014.

The administration signaled last week that the raids will continue despite a growing outcry from some Democrats, progressives and immigrant rights groups.

Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley both railed against the raids, with Sanders saying that while he is an ally of the president, "I don't agree with him on this," and O'Malley decrying them, saying "Jesus himself was a refugee child."

Protestors gathered in Boston Friday for an event organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coaltion (MIRA) echoed complaints being heard around the nation.

"I came to this country fleeing the terror of the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile," said the Unitarian Universalist Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa. "I know what it's like to be 12 years old and to live in fear that at any moment, an unmarked car will stop at your house and take your family away one by one. I know what it's like to fear that you will be the next one to disappear. My grandmother, my mother, and I were fortunate to find refuge here and build a life. Today, as a US citizen I denounce the massive deportations and raids as a violation of human rights."

"The home raids that terrorize the community, separate families, and wake up sleeping children must stop. Arresting, detaining, and deporting them is not the answer," said MIRA executive director Eva Millona. "Such crisis requires compassion and humane solutions."

ICE swears in agents for the family detention program. (ice.gov)
Those would include letting them stay in the country under Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The latter is the program that allowed Obama to regain some favor with the immigrant community when he used it to ensure that some five million young people whose parents brought them into the country illegally -- the Dreamers -- would be allowed to stay.

The people being targeted now are part of the 100,000 or so children and parents who fled gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras during the immigration "crisis" of 2014, when the specter of masses of Central Americans coming to the border and turning themselves in to seek asylum temporarily focused the nation's attention -- and the Republicans' ire -- on the issue.

Amid predictable calls for more walls, more border agents, and immediate deportation, many of the asylum-seekers were placed in "family detention centers," but others were released, often with GPS ankle bracelets. The vast majority were processed without legal counsel and without any real understanding of the legal proceedings that would determine their futures. The people being targeted now are those whose asylum applications were rejected or those who, for one reason or another, failed to show up at immigration hearings.

The cruel irony of the situation is that it is US policy to deport these people back to countries wracked by poverty and violence that is due at least in part to other US policies -- the imposition of US-style drug war on the region, and even earlier, Ronald Reagan's anti-communist crusade to thwart the region's leftist revolutionary movements in the 1980s. US policy helped to push these people out of Central America, and now US policy is to push them back in.

The US can't be blamed for all the woes of Central America, of course, but it has certainly been a contributing factor. The violent gangs that have helped turn the region into one of the deadliest on the planet, such as Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, evolved in Salvadoran immigrant communities in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC, after hundreds of thousands fled the violent civil war in which Ronald Reagan and US taxpayers spent $4 billion to ensure that leftist revolution was neutered. Some 75,000 people died in that conflict.

After the young Central American immigrants learned the fine art of gang-banging up north, deported gang members brought those skills back with them to the old country, laying the groundwork for the emergence of increasingly powerful and deadly street gangs, particularly in El Salvador and Honduras.

And, thanks to the "success" of the Reagan administration in shutting down Caribbean cocaine smuggling routes into Miami in the early 1980s, the new deportees came home to countries increasingly awash in cocaine as Colombian smugglers began using the region as a trampoline, a transshipment point for drugs headed on to Mexico before reaching their ultimate destination in the US.

Central Americans didn't try to sneak into the country; they sought asylum. (wikipedia.org)
"Drug prohibition makes drug transshipment very lucrative for organized crime," said Adam Isacson, a drug policy analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. (WOLA). "US efforts to interdict aerial and maritime drug shipments in the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s caused more and more cocaine to pass through Central America, a region recovering from civil war."

Another drug war "success" also had ramifications for the region, Isacson said.

"The mid-90s takedown of the big Colombian cartels -- the Medellin and Cali cartels -- gave more market share to the Mexican organizations, which relied more heavily on Central American territory," he explained.

"The groups transshipped drugs through Central America further corrupted and undermined already weak security and judicial institutions," Isacson continued. "And that made those institutions less able to protect their citizens."

And more vulnerable to hyper-violent Mexican drug trafficking organizations, such as El Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas, who began expanding their presence in Central America as they came under pressure from Mexican authorities, bolstered by US anti-drug assistance, at home.

Now, Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world, and El Salvador has the highest murder rate the world has seen in 20 years, taking the dubious title of world's murder capital from neighboring Honduras, which claims an official decline in murders this year. Some observers are skeptical.

Jeannette Aguilar, director of Institute of Public Opinion at the Central American University in El Salvador, told USA Today the apparent reduction could be artificial because the cartels have learned that too many bodies is bad publicity and have become adept at disposing of them.

"Because of the evolution of dismembering bodies, decomposing them, incinerating them, it's difficult to know if homicides have really fallen," she said.

The American policy response to violence, much of it drug trade-related, and social decomposition has historically been heavy on assistance to the military and police forces, like the Central American Regional Security Initiative, but that looks like it is finally beginning to change this year. Just last month, Congress approved $750 million in aid for the region that shifts the focus away from security initiatives and instead targets structural issues that have crippled the region.

The bill stipulates that 75% of the funds can only be spent after government take on issues of corruption, transparency, immunity, and criminality. Equally important, it calls on regional governments to "support programs to reduce poverty, create jobs, and promote equitable economic growth in areas contributing to large numbers of migrants."

It will be up to the governments of those countries to try to make progress in alleviating the conditions causing so many to flee, but as our policy-makers decide the fates of the people who have already sought refuge here, they would be remiss to ignore our own role in helping this crisis to happen.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, we have a crooked jail and prison guard trifecta and a Border Patrol agent caught up with the Gulf Cartel. Let's get to it:

In Camden, New Jersey, a Camden County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he used a law enforcement secure database to unlawfully get information about a drug investigation. Jamall Danford, 39, is charged with second degree official misconduct and was jailed on $75,000 bail.

In Hebronville, Texas, a Border Patrol agent was arrested last Thursday on drug possession charges that have now morphed into murder charges. Agent Joel Luna was arrested after a raid on a relative's house turned up drugs, guns, and $90,000 in cash. Investigators say he took bribes from the Gulf Cartel to wave through vehicles carrying drugs. He now also faces capital murder and organized crime charges after being linked to the mutilation murder of Jose Francisco Palacios Paz, whose decapitated body was found floating in Laguna Madre Bay in March.

In Live Oak, Florida, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges she smuggled drugs into the Suwannee Correctional Institution. Guard Alice Edwards faces felony counts of introducing contraband into a state correctional institution and unlawful compensation by a public official.

In Ashville, Alabama, a state prison guard was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to bring drugs into the St. Clair Correctional Facility. Guard Stacy Bernard Brown is charged with promoting prison contraband, possession of marijuana, and possession of a controlled substance. He was arrested at work and taken from the prison to the St. Clair County Jail.

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