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Chronicle AM -- January 24, 2014

Bills are popping at state houses across the land, pot politics continues hot and heavy, world leaders have harsh words for prohibition at Davos, and much, much more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Touts Decriminalization, States' Rights. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, said he believes states should have the right to legalize marijuana and that he would move Texas toward decriminalization.

MPP Petitions Obama to Deschedule Marijuana. The Marijuana Policy Project Wednesday unveiled a Change.org petition asking the Obama administration to deschedule -- not reschedule -- marijuana The petition had nearly 36,000 signatures by Friday afternoon; it needs 50,000 to be addressed by the White House.

Hawaii House Majority Floor Leader Introduces Marijuana Export Bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rida Cabanilla Thursday introduced House Bill 2124, which would put the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Department of Agriculture in charge of a working group that would outline a plan to legalize the cultivation of marijuana in Hawaii for sale and export to foreign jurisdictions where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Jared Polis Invites Obama, Harry Reid to Check Out Legal Marijuana in Colorado. Colorado US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) Thursday sent a letter to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) inviting them to come see how Colorado is implementing marijuana legalization. In the letter, Polis wrote that he was"confident that when you see Colorado's work to implement the law while protecting children and raising revenue for our schools firsthand, we can begin to make similar efforts on a federal level."

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Former state Department of Environmental Protection head John Hanger, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called for marijuana legalization at a campaign forum Wednesday night at Lehigh University. "This issue is moving and Democrats better get on board or we'll lose this election to Tom Corbett because people will not come out and vote," Hanger said. "We must expand the voting population." None of the other five Democratic candidates took a stand on the issue.

DC Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill February 4. The District of Columbia city council will vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana during its February 4 meeting. It is expected to pass, but may see some amendments during consideration. A legalization bill is also pending before the council, and activists are also leading an effort to legalize through the initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Valid Signatures to Qualify for Ballot. The Florida Department of Elections reported today that the Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions initiative has more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.The department reported more than 710,000 valid signatures; 683,000 were needed. The initiative campaign earlier said it had gathered more than 1.1 million raw signatures. It still must win approval by the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by April 1.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Polling at 65%. A new Public Policy Polling survey has support for the Florida medical marijuana initiative at 65%, with only 23% opposed. The initiative will require the votes of 60% of voters to pass because it is a constitutional amendment, as opposed to a statutory initiative.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) and nine cosponsors Thursday filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 4264. This is the fourth consecutive year Manypenny has filed such a bill.

Oregon Bill Would Let Localities Regulate, Ban Medical Marijuana Facilities. A bill that would allow local governments to regulate or ban dispensaries or grow ops will be heard by the legislature next month. Senate Bill 1531, sponsored by state Sens. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rod Monroe (D-Portland), was filed at the request of the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The bill is a response to legislation last year that created statewide dispensary regulation and left regulation in the hands of the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania Nurses Endorse Medical Marijuana Bill. The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association Thursday became the first medical professional group in the state to publicly support a pending medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1182. The bill gets a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday.

Vermont Bill Would Ease Limits on Dispensaries. A bill introduced earlier this month would ease the rules for dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 would remove the 1,000-patient cap on the number of patients dispensaries can see, remove the cap limiting dispensaries to four, allow patients to grow their own, and allow for delivery services. The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Louisiana Gov. Jindal Says Medical Marijuana Okay if Tightly Regulated. Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, said Wednesday night that he supports making medical marijuana available if it is tightly controlled. "I continue to be opposed to legalization of marijuana," Jindal said as he fielded questions Wednesday during an event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. "When it comes to medical marijuana… if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that."

Hemp

Virginia Hemp Advocates Meet, Look Ahead. The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition met Thursday in Harrisonburg to watch a film and plan how to advance the cause in the Old Dominion. They said they are considering proposing a bill for the next general assembly session.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Creates Special Heroin Unit. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced Wednesday the creation of an investigative unit in his office to combat heroin trafficking and use. The Heroin Unit will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, and will work with local leaders and law enforcement. DeWine is allocating $1 million for the unit. The move comes as the state's heroin overdose toll more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. [But will it accomplish its goal, better than other such programs have in the past? California's naloxone bill would be a better idea for Ohio, too.]

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would require welfare recipients to be screened for drug use and subjected to drug testing if they are likely drug users passed a House committee on an 8-4 vote Wednesday.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Expand Pharmacy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced Assembly Bill 1535, which would allow pharmacists to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone to drug users, friends, and family members. "California's overdose crisis remains one of the state's most serious health problems," Bloom said. "Pharmacists are highly trained, highly trusted healthcare professionals. This bill makes it easier for them to help prevent a fatal drug overdose."

International

World Leaders Offer Harsh Assessment of Drug War at Davos. Global leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called drug prohibition a failure and said world leaders need to consider alternatives. "It's been a disaster and has inflicted enormous harm," said former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "My country has suffered probably the most from the war on drugs. We need to find more efficient ways to combat it," added Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia. "People are being given enormous prison terms just for use. There has got to be a better way than ruining so many people's lives," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.

Human Rights Watch Makes Case for Drug Reform in 2014 Annual Report. Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2014 and included in it a special essay (click on the title link) on a human rights approach to drug control. The group is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession, finding alternatives to the criminalization of drug markets, and the primacy of human rights considerations in drug treatment.

Dark Web Drug Buyers and Sellers Can Now Use DarkList. A dark web web site that reappeared Wednesday is designed to serve as a directory of underground drug dealers operating dark web drug marketplaces, such as Silk Road 2.0, Agora, The Marketplace, Blue Sky, and others. DarkList says it will help customers connect with preferred dealers. "Let's face it -- buying and selling anonymously on the Dark Web is currently in a volatile state," reads the tagline on the site's homepage. "We built this directory so that you can always have a way to stay in contact with those you love."

Bulgaria Moving Backward on Drug Policy, NGOs Warn. Bulgaria's draft penal code, which has already won initial cabinet approval, includes mandatory prison sentences for any drug possession offense, and that is drawing sharp criticism from drug policy and human rights groups. "With these new proposals, Bulgaria is traveling in the opposite direction to what most other countries are doing," said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). "They are going backwards, while the rest of Europe is modernizing their drug laws and implementing health-based approaches to drugs -- policies that support, rather than punish, people who use drugs."

Bermuda Marijuana Policy Debate Continues to Roil. Activist and attorney Alan Gordon continues to successfully stir the pot in the island nation's marijuana policy debate. On Wednesday, he sent an open letter to Governor George Fergusson asking him to clarify whether Government House would seek to block marijuana legalization legislation. Click on the link to read the letter.

Cambodia Drug Detention Centers Rife With Abuse

Cambodian authorities illegally imprison hundreds of drug users and other "undesirables" in detention centers where they don't get drug treatment but instead face torture, sexual abuse, and forced labor, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Sunday. The rights group called for the centers to be closed immediately.

Cambodian "intervention" truck rounding up drug users and other "undesirables" in Phnom Penh. (hrw.org)
The report, "They Treat Us Like Animals": Mistreatment of Drug Users and 'Undesirables'in Cambodia's Drug Detention Centers, documents the experiences of people recently confined in the centers, who described being thrashed with rubber water hoses and hit with sticks or branches. Some described being punished with exercises intended to cause intense physical pain and humiliation, such as crawling along stony ground or standing in septic water pits.

Former female detainees described rape and other sexual abuse by male guards. Many detainees said they were forced to work unpaid in the centers -- and in some cases, on construction sites -- and those who refused were beaten.

"The only 'treatment' people in Cambodia's drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work," said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other 'undesirables,' often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries."

The report identified eight of the drug detention centers and is based on interviews with 33 people who had been held in them. It wasn't just drug users, either. According to the report, authorities also use the drug detention centers to hold homeless people, beggars, street children, sex workers, and people with disabilities.

People interviewed said they saw unaccompanied children as young as six in the detention centers. The children were held in the same rooms as adults, forced to perform exhausting physical exercises and military-like drills, chained, and beaten.

"The government admits that 10% of those held in the centers are children under 18," Amon said. "Children who use drugs or who live on the streets should be protected from harm, not locked up, beaten, and abused."

Human Rights Watch issued a similar report on drug detention center abuses in 2010, Skin on the Cable, which focused national and international attention to the issue of compulsory drug dependency "treatment" centers in the country. Following that report, the United Nations and donor agencies condemned the lack of due process and abusive treatment in centers in Cambodia and the region, while Cambodian government officials largely sought to dismiss the report as "untrue."

A dozen UN agencies issued a joint statement last year calling on countries with such centers "to close them without delay and release the individuals detained," but Cambodian authorities have not responded to that call, nor have they investigated or prosecuted anyone over the reports of torture and abuse at the centers.

"The Cambodian government should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, and forced labor in its drug detention centers," Human Rights Watch said. "In line with the 2012 UN agency statement, everyone detained in the centers should immediately be released and all the centers closed. The government should replace the centers with expanded access to voluntary, community-based drug treatment."

Cambodia

Human Rights Watch on Coerced Guilty Pleas in US Drug Cases

http://www.stopthedrugwar.com/files/offer-you-cant-refuse.jpg
A report from Human Rights Watch released this morning demonstrates the corruption of justice that mandatory minimum sentencing has brought about. According to "An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Defendants to Plead Guilty," prosecutors commonly force drug defendants to plead to lengthy mandatory sentences in order to avoid losing their entire lives. Jamie Fellner of HRW writes:

"Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial," said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple."
 

In one case cited, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, declined to plea to 10 years for possession of 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver. Prior convictions she had for simple drug possession triggered a sentencing enhancement, at the prosecutor's behest, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.

I think that very clearly constitutes a human rights violation, and we need to take this kind of power away from the officials who perpetrate such violations. One way to do that is by repealing mandatory minimum sentencing. There is a real chance of doing that, for the first time in a very long time, as a recent article we published shows. More on this coming soon.

Chronicle AM -- November 13, 2013

Uruguay appears poised to legalize marijuana Friday, the Afghan opium crop is at an all-time high, and the ACLU issues a report on people doing life without parole for nonviolent offenses. And there's more. Let's get to it:

Dicky Lee Jackson sold meth to pay for medical treatment for his son. He may never come home. (aclu.org)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Marijuana-Smoking Rules Would Allow Toking Anywhere on One's Property. The Denver city council Tuesday gave preliminary approval to rules for marijuana consumption that would allow residents to smoke anywhere on their own property, even front yards. Earlier versions of the rules had attempted to impose stricter limits, but were beaten back. The rules would ban "display" or distribution of marijuana on the 16th Street Mall and in city parks. Violators would be hit with fines, not criminal offenses.

Up to an Ounce of Pot Now Legal in Jackson, Michigan. That didn't take long. Voters last week approved a local initiative to legalize the possession of up to an ounce, and on Tuesday, the city council unanimously amended city ordinances to comply. The change goes into effect immediately, but marijuana possession remains illegal under state law, and it isn't clear yet what local law enforcement is going to do.

Drug Overdoses

New Study on US Drug Overdose Deaths. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examines drug poisoning mortality on a county by county basis. Drug poisoning is now the leading cause of accidental death in the US and has increased threefold in the last three decades. The rise in drug poisoning deaths is correlated with an increase in the non-medical use of prescription drugs, especially opioids. There is a wealth of data in this study.

Sentencing

More Than 3,000 Doing Life in Prison for Nonviolent Offenses. Some 3,278 people in the US are serving sentences of life without parole for nonviolent offenses, and 79% of them are for drug offenses, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union. Two-thirds of them are black. "The punishments these people received are grotesquely out of proportion to the crimes they committed," said Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights Researcher and author of the report. "In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key."

Congressional Drug Warriors Want Stiffer Penalties for "Candy-Flavored" Drugs. Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Wednesday introduced the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act of 2013 (not yet available online). The bill would increase penalties for "drug dealers who entice children with candy-flavored methamphetamine, cocaine, or other dangerous drugs." Although the announcement emphasizes hard drugs, it also references medical marijuana products "with child-friendly names like Pot Tarts and Reese's Crumbled Hash Brownies."

Supreme Court Hears Two Drug-Related Sentencing Cases. The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard two cases where drug defendants are appealing lengthy prison sentences. In one case, the defendant was sentenced to 20 years in prison after selling heroin that resulted in the death of a drug user; in the other case, the defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for an "aiding and abetting" firearms offense during a drug deal gone bad. In both cases, the defendants argued that the sentences were not supported by the facts of the case. The cases are Burrage v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-7515 and Rosemond v. United States, 12-895, respectively.

International

Uruguay Senate to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Friday. Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to legalize marijuana commerce with a Senate vote set for Friday. The lower chamber approved it earlier this year. Given that Uruguay has a parliamentary system and the measure has the support of the president and the governing party, it should be a done deal, but we'll check back in on Friday. (The link is Spanish-only. Lo siento.)

Afghan Opium Production at Record Levels, UN Says. Afghanistan produced a record 6,060 tons of opium this year, an all-time high, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Wednesday. That's up 49% over last year and means that Afghanistan accounts for around 90% of the total global illicit opium supply. The withdrawal of NATO and US forces next year means no improvement is likely in the near future, the UN said.

South Africa Drug Treatment Groups Say Legalize Some Drugs. South Africa's Anti-Drug Alliance, a professional drug treatment group, is calling on the government to legalize some drugs and focus on treatment and prevention instead of emphasizing drug busts and related arrests. In a report last week, the group said government anti-drug spending, with its heavy emphasis on policing, was ineffective.

Marc Emery in Solitary Confinement in US Prison

Canadian marijuana seed magnate and political dissident Marc Emery, who is about four years into a five-year US prison sentence for selling pot seeds over the Internet, has been sent to solitary confinement at the Mississippi federal prison where he's doing his time. According to the magazine he founded, Cannabis Culture, he is being punished over false charges.

Rockin' the joint at Yazoo City FCI. That's Emery on bass on the left. (cannabisculture.com)
Emery, along with other prisoners at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution, formed a band some months ago. Photos of the band were taken by prison staff, then developed and sent to his wife, Jodie Emery, in Vancouver, and were posted on his blog in April. According to Emery, permission for the photos was granted by three separate administrators, including one at the prison's Special Investigative Services department.

But now, prison officials have placed Emery and his bandmates in solitary confinement while they say they are investigating the possibility the photos had been taken with a prohibited smart phone. Prisoners in solitary, or, as it is euphemistically known, the Special Housing Unit (SHU), are locked in their cells 23 hours a day and denied normal prison amenities.

"Got to see Marc for 1.5 hours," Jodie Emery posted in an online statement Friday, shortly after a trip to visit him. "Prison has him in solitary confinement to 'investigate' the photos of his band that the prison itself approved! The investigation (could take months) is to see if Marc had a cell phone to take the band photos -- despite proof the prison camera was used! The warden, guards, music/recreation admins -- everyone -- knows Marc got official permission for those photos. Yet they put him in solitary?!"

Cannabis Culture reported that prison authorities were unavailable to comment until after the weekend.

As an entrepreneur and activist, the Vancouver-based Emery was a burr under the saddle of US drug warriors, who managed to indict him for his seed-selling business. Canadian authorities declined to help him, although they had allowed his business to operate untrammeled for years.

He was eventually sentenced to five years in federal prison in a plea deal designed to spare his codefendants from facing the wrath of US prosecutors. In a press release the day of his arrest, the DEA issued a press release crowing that taking him down was "a significant blow… to the marijuana legalization movement… Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on."

With little more than a year to go on his sentence, Emery is seeking a transfer to a Canadian prison. Interested parties can support his bid by sending a letter to the Justice Department's transfer division.

Yazoo City, MS
United States

Is the International Narcotics Control Board Ignoring Human Rights?

A recent report by the UN special rapporteur on torture charged that compulsory drug treatment centers in some countries, particularly Vietnam and Thailand, constitute "forced labor" camps that engage in "torture." Long-time addiction writer Maia Szalavitz wrote about this in Time last week, and Phil did in our newsletter last Monday. The report is online here.

photo from the 2011 HRW report on Vietnam's so-called drug rehabilitation centers
The issue is not a new one, having been raised by Human Rights Watch in September 2011. HRW detailed forced labor, worker pay getting taken by the centers or staffs, inmates getting beaten, even bones broken, if they didn't comply with instructions.

Nevertheless, in its 2011 annual report, published five months after HRW's, the International Narcotics Control Board had only this to say in relation to Vietnam's treatment centers:

In September 2010, the Government of Viet Nam issued a decree on the strengthening of family-based and community-based drug treatment and rehabilitation services. In March 2011, the Ministry of Public Security of Viet Nam adopted measures to improve the collection and analysis of drug-related data. In June 2011, the Government of Viet Nam adopted the national strategy on drug control and prevention for the period ending in 2020. Based on that strategic document, the national target programme for the period 2011-2015 was developed to address drug-related issues in the country.
 

and

The Board welcomes the steps taken in Viet Nam to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers and the efforts made in participating in different projects sponsored by [the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC] in that area. The Board encourages the Government to reinforce and support existing facilities as well as to undertake capacity-building in the field of treatment for drug abusers.
 

The 2012 INCB report, released last week -- more than a month after the special rapporteur's report was released -- offers just this:

The Government of Viet Nam launched its new national drug control and crime prevention strategies in July 2012. The strategies highlight the need for a comprehensive national response that combines effective law enforcement, drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation measures that allow for better integration of former drug dependent persons into society and the active participation of communities in crime prevention.
 

I understand that any system involving confinement has the potential for abuse, in the best of times and places, and that any one report on a subject can miss the mark. But we have allegations from a respected organization, and now from the UN itself, of systemic abuses, of a degree of seriousness that would seem to invalidate the entire project. Presumably international funding is in the mix at well. So why not even a word about it, from the self-described "quasi-judicial body" overseeing the international drug control regime?

Open Society Foundation's Joanne Csete noted comments by the late Hamid Ghodse, then INCB chairman, at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs last year, disclaiming any role for human rights concerns in the drug treaties or his agency. But that is not the stated position of the other main UN drug agency, UNODC.

So do we have a scandal in the making -- or better yet, an opportunity to reform the international drug control regime?

[By the way, Csete's afore-linked essay is part of the LSE IDEAS report included in our current membership offers.]

UN Report Slams Cruel Drug Treatment as "Torture"

Compulsory "treatment" for drug addiction in some parts of the world is "tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," according to report last month from the UN's special rapporteur on torture and other degrading treatments and punishments. The report was delivered to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Vienna.

drug "rehabilitation center," Vietnam (ohchr.org)
Authored by Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, the report takes special aim at forced "rehabilitation centers" for drug users. Such centers are typically found in Southeast Asian states, such as Vietnam and Thailand, as well as in some countries in the former Soviet Union. But the report also decries the lack of opiate substitution therapies in confinement setting and bemoans the lack of access to effective opioid pain treatment in large swathes of the world.

"Compulsory detention for drug users is common in so-called rehabilitation centers," Mendez wrote. "Sometimes referred to as drug treatment centers or 'reeducation through labor' centers or camps, these are institutions commonly run by military or paramilitary, police or security forces, or private companies. Persons who use, or are suspected of using, drugs and who do not voluntarily opt for drug treatment and rehabilitation are confined in such centers and compelled to undergo diverse interventions."

The victims of such interventions face not only drug withdrawal without medical assistance, but also "state-sanctioned beatings, caning or whipping, forced labor, sexual abuse, and intentional humiliation," as well as "flogging therapy," "bread and water therapy," and forced electroshock treatments, all in the name of rehabilitation.

As Mendez notes, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Office on Drug Control (UNODC) have determined that "neither detention nor forced labor have been recognized by science as treatment for drug use disorders." Such forced detentions, often with no legal or medical evaluation or recourse, thus "violate international human rights law and are illegitimate substitutes for evidence-based measures, such as substitution therapy, psychological interventions and other forms of treatment given with full, informed consent."

Such centers continue to operate despite calls to close them from organizations including the WHO, the UNODC, and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. And they are often operating with "direct or indirect support and assistance from international donors without adequate human rights oversight."

Drug users are "a highly stigmatized and criminalized population" who suffer numerous abuses, including denial of treatment for HIV, deprivation of child custody, and inclusion in drug registries where their civil rights are curtailed. One form of ill-treatment and "possibly torture of drug users" is the denial of opiate substitute therapy, "including as a way of eliciting criminal confessions through inducing painful withdrawal symptoms."

The denial of such treatments in jails and prisons is "a violation of the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment," Mendez noted, and should be considered a violation in non-custodial settings as well. "By denying effective drug treatment, state drug policies intentionally subject a large group of people to severe physical pain, suffering and humiliation, effectively punishing them for using drugs and trying to coerce them into abstinence, in complete disregard of the chronic nature of dependency and of the scientific evidence pointing to the ineffectiveness of punitive measures."

The rapporteur also noted with chagrin that 5.5 billion people, or 83% of the planet's population, live in areas "with low or no access to controlled medicines and have no access to treatment for moderate to severe pain." While most of Mendez' concern is directed at the developing world, he also notes that "in the United States, over a third of patients are not adequately treated for pain."

Mendez identified obstacles to the availability of opioid pain medications as "overly restrictive drug control regulations," as well as misinterpretation of those regulations, deficiencies in supply management, lack of concern about palliative care, and "ingrained prejudices" about using such medications.

New York City, NY
United States

Iran Drug Execution Frenzy Continues This Year

Last Wednesday, three men convicted of drug related charges were hanged in the prison in the Iranian city of Isfahan, state media reported. The prisoners died unnamed; only the charges and the fact of their execution were mentioned.

That's par for the course for the Islamic Republic, which in recent years has emerged as one of the world's most prolific executioners of drug offenders. Hundreds were sent to the gallows for drug offenses last year (a final tally isn't in yet) and nearly 500 the year before that, according to Iranian human rights sources and state media reports compiled by the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain. 21 more were executed in January alone, bringing the total so far this year to 24.

It's a grim litany:

  • Five prisoners executed January 30 at the prison in Kerman for "armed trafficking of 53 kilograms and 250 grams of opium."
  • One man hanged January 28 at the prison in Mianeh for selling 890 grams of crack. In addition to being executed, this unnamed man was fined $3 million rials for being a drug addict.
  • Six prisoners, including two women and one Afghan, hanged January 27 in Esfahan after being convicted of drug trafficking.
  • One man identified only as "Ch.P." hanged January 24 at Sharoos Prison for trafficking 1.94 kilograms of morphine.
  • Three prisoners identified only by their initials fined, lashed, and hanged January 23 at Qazvin Prison for "possession and trafficking of narcotic drugs."
  • Two prisoners, "M. Sh." and M. F.," hanged January 16 at Semnan Prison for trafficking 6.732 grams of crack and 1,739 grams of crack and 30.8 grams of crystal meth, respectively.
  • Two prisoners hanged January 6 in Khomarabad for "possession and trafficking of drugs."
  • One unnamed prisoner hanged January 2 in the prison at Yasouj for trafficking 20,050 ampules of heroin and 74,917 "psychotropic pills."

The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is frowned upon by the United Nations, a stance embraced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

"UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature," the international agency said in 2010 report (see page eight).

The Iranian resort to the death penalty for drug offenses has attracted international condemnation from the likes of Amnesty International and the Norway-based human rights group Iran Human Rights, which in 2011 helped launch the International Campaign Against the Death Penalty in Iran.

More broadly, Harm Reduction International has an ongoing Death Penalty Project aimed at the 32 countries that have laws on the books allowing the death penalty for drug offenses. Opponents of the death penalty for drug offenses argue that such statutes violate UN human rights laws, which say the death penalty can be applied only for "the most serious crimes."

Iran

It Looks Like 2016 for a Marijuana Legalization Bid in California [FEATURE]

If the first day of the California NORML state conference is any indication, most of the major players in Golden State marijuana law reform are lining up behind the idea of waiting until 2016 to try another legalization initiative there. They have some good reasons, but not everybody's happy with that, and some heart-rending reasons why that's the case were also on display as California marijuana activists gathered in San Francisco for day one of the two-day event.

Stephen Gutwillig, Dale Gieringer, Paul Armentano
Richard Lee's groundbreaking Proposition 19 garnered 46.5% of the vote in the 2010 off-year election, and no marijuana legalization initiative campaigns managed to make it onto the ballot last year, although several groups tried. Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington beat California to the Promised Land, becoming the first states to legalize marijuana in last November's election.

Now, California activists are eager to make their state the next to legalize, but crafty movement strategists are counseling patience -- and trying to build their forces in the meantime. The Prop 19 campaign made a strong beginning, bringing in elements of organized labor and the black and Hispanic communities, as well as dissident law enforcement voices, to help form a coalition that came close, but didn't quite make it.

As CANORML deputy director Ellen Komp reminded the audience at a Saturday morning panel on what comes next for marijuana law reform, the people behind the Proposition 19 campaign have formed the core of the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform in a bid to forge unity among the state's diverse, multi-sided, and sometimes fractious marijuana community -- and to encourage new voices to join the struggle.

For the Marijuana Policy Project, California is a big prize, but only part of a broader national strategy, and one that should most likely wait for 2016, said the group's executive director, Rob Kampia, as he explained its plan to push legalization bills in state legislatures in four states (Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) this year and beyond, but not pushing legalization initiatives anywhere but Alaska in 2014.

MPP is envisioning a big legalization initiative push in 2016 instead, setting its sights on seven states, including California, when the presidential election pumps up the vote. (The others are Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.)

"There's a big demographic difference between 2014 and 2016," said Kampia. "If we do 2016, it's ours to lose."

The Drug Policy Alliance, another major player with access to the big-time funding that can turn an initiative into a winner, also seemed to be looking to 2016.

"It's up to us how, where, and when marijuana prohibition will end," Steve Gutwillig, a DPA deputy executive director and former California state director told the full house at the Ft. Mason Conference Center, "but the presumption is 2016, more than 2014. We need to run a unified campaign, we need to build the base and do alliance-building among people who are already convinced."

spontaneous fundraiser for Daisy Bram
Those positions are in line with the thinking of long-time CANORML head Dale Gieringer, who has long argued that initiatives fare better in presidential election years.

Even some of the proponents of the competing initiatives from last year are, while not exactly enthusiastic about waiting for 2016, are seemingly resigned to it.

Steve Collette, who was a proponent of the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative, told the Chronicle he would prefer 2014, but could get behind 2016, too, while Sebastopol attorney Omar Figueroa, coauthor of the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act initiative, implied in his remarks in a later panel that he, too, was resigned to waiting for 2016.

Noting the confused state of California's medical marijuana laws -- "Nobody knows what the laws are!" -- Figueroa argued for either legislative action or a 2014 medical marijuana initiative "until a legalization initiative in 2016."

Not everyone was as ready to give up on 2014 just yet. Displeased grumblings were heard in the hallways, and an earnest advocate for the Herer-ite California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014 took advantage of a post-panel question-and-answer opportunity to declaim in support of it.

The most powerful and visceral opposition to waiting came in the form of Daisy Bram, a mother of three young children and legal medical marijuana grower. Bram became a symbol of the cruelty of pot prohibition last year, when local authorities in rural Butte County raided her grow, seized her children and place them in foster care, and filed criminal charges against her.

Despite being counseled to comply with the demands of Child Protective Services officials in order to secure the return of her children, one of whom was quite literally torn from her arms, Bram fought back and eventually won the return of children. But just this past week, it happened again. Another raid in another county -- although led by the same investigator -- has resulted in new criminal charges and her children once again being taken by the state.

Omar Figueroa, Michael Levinsohn, Daisy Bram
"My kids need you," she told the hushed crowd. "If it were legal, they wouldn't have my kids."

Daisy Bram doesn't want to wait until 2016 for marijuana to be legalized, she wants it yesterday, and she wants justice, and, most of all, she wants her children back in her arms. Her brief presentation at a panel Saturday afternoon was chilling, impassioned, and powerful, and visibly moved many in the audience.

[Update: CANORML reported Wednesday that at a family court appearance the previous day in her Tehama County case, the state authorities who are already seized her children seized her personal vehicle, a 2002 Ford Explorer, which they claim was the proceeds of crime.]

And while California is a state where just about anyone can get a medical marijuana card and possession of under an ounce is decriminalized, the case of Daisy Bram makes the uncomfortable point that marijuana prohibition continues to exact a real toll on real people, including the innocent. It's not just mothers labeled child abusers because the grow pot; it's also fathers denied visitation, patients thrown out of public housing, workers who must choose between their medicine and their jobs.

It's a bit easier to be sanguine about waiting until 2016 when you're not the one being bitten by those lingering vestiges of prohibition. As Komp put it when introducing Bram, until there is legalization, "there is a lot of human rights work to be done."

San Francisco, CA
United States

Indonesian Court Gives British Grandmother Death for Drugs

An Indonesian court last Tuesday sentenced a British woman to death for trying to smuggle about 10 pounds of cocaine into the resort island of Bali, the anti-death penalty group Hands off Cain reported. Lindsay Sandiford, 56, cried when she heard the sentence, but had no other comment before being led back to jail.

Sandiford had been arrested upon arrival in Bali's international airport in May, when authorities found 4.8 kilograms of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase. She told authorities a criminal gang had threatened her and her children if she didn't transport the drugs, which had a street value of $2.5 million.

The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is frowned upon by the UN, which considers it a human rights violation. That stance is even embraced by th UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature," the international agency said in 2010 report (see page eight).

While Indonesia has notoriously harsh drug laws -- it is among the nations listed by Harm Reduction International's Death Penalty Project as both having and using the death penalty for drug offenses -- Sandiford's sentence was harsher than expected.

Two other Britons charged in the case received lesser sentences (a fourth awaits sentencing), and prosecutors had recommended only 15 years in prison, but judges at the Denpasar District Court said there was no reason for a light sentence. She had damaged Bali's reputation as a tourist destination, they said.

Sandiford joins an estimated 114 other prisoners on Indonesia's death row, most of them convicted of drug offenses. At least 40 death row inmates are foreigners, including several Australians.

Since 1998, five foreigners have been executed in Indonesia, all for drug offenses. The good news is that Indonesia hasn't actually executed anyone since 2008, when 10 people went to the gallows.

Indonesia

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