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Chronicle AM -- April 11, 2014

A DC marijuana legalization initiative is about to start signature-gathering, we have a trio of state pot polls, the US Sentencing Commission moves to cut drug sentences, German criminal law professors call for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering to Get Underway. Signature gathering for the District of Columbia marijuana legalization initiative will begin April 23, the DC Cannabis Campaign said this week. The campaign needs 25,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot there; DC and Oregon now look like the best chances for more legalization initiatives qualifying for the ballot this year.

Louisiana Poll Has Support for Legalization at 44%. The 2014 Louisiana Survey has support for marijuana legalization at 44%, with 54% opposed. Support for medical marijuana was much higher, at 79%. The survey is conducted annually by the Public Policy Research Lab, or PPRL, and sponsored by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

New Hampshire Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. There is solid majority support for legalization in the Granite State. A new WMUR Granite State Poll found found 55% of adults in the state support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreational use. Only 38% oppose legalization. Support for legalization is up seven points in the last 14 months.

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 48%. More Rhode Islanders support legalization than oppose, but it doesn't quite have majority support just yet, according to a new Brown University poll. The survey has 47.6% supporting legalization, with 39.3% opposed.

Rhode Island Report Says State Could Generate Tens of Millions in Legal Marijuana Tax Revenue. Maybe this will get those poll numbers up. A new report from Open Doors, a local criminal justice reform group, estimates that if the state were to pass a tax and regulate legalization bill, it could gain between $21.5 and $82 million in annual tax revenues. A legal marijuana industry would also create hundreds of new jobs in the state, the report found.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Senate Committee Hearing, No Action Taken. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would allow qualified patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and buy it from a dispensary. But the committee took no action on Senate File 1641, tabling it until legislators return from the Easter/Passover break.

Tennessee Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Study Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a CBD medical marijuana study bill. The measure would authorize a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. A vote is pending in the House.

Drug Policy

Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Convention To Address Drug War. The largest civil rights convention of the year has the war on drugs on its agenda. A panel called "Up in Smoke: Banning of Menthol, Legalization of Marijuana & Criminalization of African Americans" will address racial justice and the war on drugs Saturday. The convention started Wednesday and continues through Monday. Click on the link for all the details.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia Divinorum, Jimson Weed Advances. A bill that would ban the hallucinogenic drugs salvia divinorum and jimson weed has passed the House. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-Providence) seeks to target unregulated substances by prohibiting them. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement

Maine Drug War Enhancement Bill Passes House. The House approved an amended version of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bill to respond to drug problems in the state by increasing drug law enforcement. Legislative Document 1811 was amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to add funding for drug treatment and reduce the number of new drug agents, prosecutors and judges to be hired, but is still opposed by groups like the ACLU of Maine. The bill now moves to the Senate.

NYPD's Most Sued Narc Is Off the Streets. Detective Peter Valentin of Bronx Narcotics is off the streets. Valentin, who has been sued at least 28 times since 2006, and three of his colleagues have been placed on modified duty after an Internal Affair Bureau investigation for taking part in drug raids "of dubious merit." The city has already paid out at least $884,000 to settle lawsuits sparked by Valentin's misbehavior, including a case where a nursing mother spent a week on Rikers Island after Valentin arrested her for drug possession even though she truthfully stated that the powder he found in her home was powdered eggshells, not drugs. Dozens of cases in which Valentin and his crew were involved are now in jeopardy.

Collateral Sanctions

Missouri Could End Lifetime Food Stamp Ban for Drug Offenders. Missouri is one of only 10 states that have not opted out of a lifetime federal ban on food stamps for people with drug felonies, but that could change this year. A bill to end the ban, Senate Bill 680, passed the Senate last week and appears to have bipartisan support in the House. Bill sponsor Sen. Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City) said she accepted amendments imposing some restrictions -- retaining the ban for three-time drug felons, requiring a one-year wait for eligibility -- as necessary to move the bill forward.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Guidelines for Drug Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. The amendment would reduce the average sentence for drug traffickers by 11 months, by lowering the drug sentencing guidelines two levels. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the change during testimony before the commission last month. The amendment will go to Congress for its approval on May 1. Congress has six months to introduce and pass legislation to stop the proposed changes before they become law on November 1.

International

German Criminal Law Professors Call for Marijuana Legalization. Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the issue. The professors are part of the "Schildow Circle," founded two years ago by Lorenz Bollinger, professor emeritus of criminal law at Bremen University. Prime Minister Angela Merkel's coalition is skeptical.

Denmark Opens More Safe Injection Sites. Denmark's first safe injection site for hard drug users opened in October 2012. Now there are three in Copenhagen and at least one in each of Denmark's main cities. They have never had a fatal drug overdose on site.

Mexico Intra-Cartel Clashes Leave 28 Dead. At least 28 people have been killed in clashes between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Tamaulipas state since last weekend. Authorities described the fighting as "clashes or score-settling between criminal groups." The fighting comes after the February arrest of local Gulf Cartel leader Javier Garza, "El comandante 14."

Drug Bill in Australia's Capital Territory Will Ban New Drugs, Adjust Quantities That Trigger Dealing Charges. Under legislation proposed yesterday, Australia's Capital Territory (greater Canberra) will increase the quantity of drugs needed to trigger trafficking charges in a bid to separate out users from dealers. The amount of Ecstasy needed to trigger such charges would double, while the amount of cocaine would triple. The bill would also deal with new synthetic drugs by banning them, instead of regulating them, as neighboring New Zealand has done.

Chronicle AM -- April 8, 2014

The Maryland legislature passed both medical marijuana and decriminalization bills as the session ended in Annapolis, Colorado pot tax revenues aren't as high as the governor thought, the maker of the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro fights a state ban in Massachusetts, and more. Let's get to it:

Minnesota family with epileptic child testifies in favor of medical marijuana bill there. (MN House/Andrew von Bank)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization Bill Passes, Governor Will Sign. A decriminalization bill has now passed the legislature in Annapolis, and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) says he will sign it. Senate Bill 364 decriminalizes up to 10 grams of marijuana for adults 21 and over. A first offense will result in only a $100 citation. A second offense will result in just a $250 fine, but a third offense would require an appearance in court and possibly drug treatment.

Maine Drug War Bill Could Result in Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Gov. Paul LePage (R) recently introduced Legislative Document 1811, a bill that would deal with the state's drug problems by adding more cops and prosecutors. The bill has run into serious opposition in the legislature, but now, two members, Sen. David Dutremble (D-Arundel) and Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) have crafted a compromise in committee that includes enforcement against high-level traffickers, increased funding for addiction treatment, and a referendum to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana put before Maine voters in 2015. The compromise is known as the "Dutrumble/Wilson minority report" and should be coming up for a vote soon.

Colorado Governor Scales Back Marijuana Tax Revenue Estimate. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) estimated in February that the state would take in $134 million in legal marijuana taxes this year, but has now cut that estimate by more than $20 million, citing uncertainty in the market. Legislative analysts predicted last month that revenues for the year would be only $65 million. The first $40 million from excise taxes has already been designated for school construction; any remaining money will be appropriated by lawmakers.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Maryland House and Senate reached final agreement Monday on a bill that would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.

Arizona Politician Faces Recall Over Blocking Medical Marijuana Research. Medical marijuana opponent Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix) blocked funding of a study of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD in veterans. Now, activists want her to pay a price. The Phoenix NORML affiliate and the Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee have undertaken a campaign to recall Yee. They'll need to collect 18,297 signatures from Legislative District 20 by August 2.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Supporters Try to Attach Bill to Broader Health Bill. Medical marijuana is not dead yet this year in Minnesota. A standalone bill, House File 1818, has been stalled, but supporters plan to propose it as an amendment to a separate health bill. The vote could come as early as tomorrow.

CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Could Move in Missouri. A bill that would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people with epileptic seizures appears to have the support of key Republicans. House Bill 2238 is backed by the Republican House speaker, majority leader, and Democratic leaders. It is also supported by a Republican senator whose son has epilepsy.

Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed in District of Columbia. Councilmembers Yvette Alexander and David Gross have filed a bill that would expand medical marijuana access in the nation's capitol. The bill would permit doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients suffering from any condition for which it provides medical benefits. Patients would then be allowed to apply to the Department of Health for acceptance in the District's medical marijuana program. Under current law, only patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, or glaucoma are eligible for the program.

Law Enforcement

Postal Service Seizing More Pot Packages. The US Postal Inspection Service reports that it seized 9,100 parcels containing marijuana last year, up from 7,600 in 2012, a 20% increase. The poundage seized is also up, from 42,000 pounds in 2012 to 45,000 pounds last year. Inspectors aren't sure whether it's increased resort to pot-shipping in an era of drug-hunting troopers and deputies or better enforcement -- or both -- that is responsible for the increase. Marijuana accounted for more than two-thirds (68%) of all drug-laden packages seized.

Prescription Opiates

Zohydro Maker Sues to Block Massachusetts Ban. Zogeniz, the manufacturer of the recently approved hydrocodone drug Zohydro, filed suit Monday in federal court in Massachusetts to block the state from banning it. Zogenix seeks a temporary injunction to block an executive order from Gov. Deval Patrick (D). Patrick acted to ban Zohydro as part of a public health emergency he declared in response to growing heroin and opiate addiction in the state, saying it should be banned "until [it is] determined that adequate measures are in place to safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose, and misuse." But the ban is an "impermissible" effort by the state to set its own prescription drug policy, Zogenix argued. "It impedes the FDA's Congressional mandate to approve a range of safe treatments to promote the public health." A hearing was set or this afternoon. Stay tuned.

International

Jamaican National Council on Drug Abuse Supports Ganja Decriminalization. Jamaica's National Council on Drug Abuse supports decriminalization in the island nation -- provided there are protections for young people. "The position of the NCDA is that, given the reality on the ground, the historical use, and certainly for medical purposes, [and the fact that] the majority of the country feel that it should be decriminalized, we certainly support the approval of medicinal marijuana in Jamaica. We also think that we should consider looking at decriminalizing for private personal use and also for religious purposes," Abel said. Just keep it away from the kids, he said.

Pew Poll Reveals Seismic Shift in Drug Policy Attitudes [FEATURE]

A new national survey released today by the Pew Research Center provides strong evidence that Americans are undergoing a tectonic shift in their views on drug policy. Not only are Americans convinced that marijuana legalization is coming; a majority supports it, and even larger majorities support a fundamental realignment of our drug policies away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment instead of punishment for hard drug users.

rethinking...
Among the key findings of the report was that more than six in ten Americans (63%) say that state governments moving away from mandatory prison terms for drug law violations is a good thing, while just 32% say these policy changes are a bad thing. This is a substantial shift from 2001 when the public was evenly divided (47% good thing vs. 45% bad thing). The majority of all demographic groups, including Republicans and Americans over 65 years old, support this shift.

Similarly, two-thirds (67%) say the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin. Just 26% think the focus should be more on prosecuting people who use such drugs. The poll did not ask if hard drug users should just be left alone barring harm to others.

"Given that the vast majority of Americans don't think people should be prosecuted for drug possession, it's time to ask the question: Why are we still arresting people for nothing more than drug possession?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

More than 1.5 million people are arrested in the U.S. every year for a drug law violation. The vast majority -- more than 80% -- are arrested for possession only. Roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars on any given night for a drug law violation, including more than 55,000 people in state prisons for simple drug possession.

"There's a new consensus that mandatory minimums are no longer appropriate for drug and other nonviolent offenders," said Nadelmann. "This is reflected and confirmed by the growing bipartisan support for rolling back and ending such laws."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pew-mandatory-minimums-poll.jpg
The passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced, but did not eliminate, sentencing disparities between federal crack and powder cocaine offenders is one example of the emerging reformist consensus. Sentencing reform measures passed by around half the states in the past decade, which have resulted in an absolute decline in state prison populations, have also proven popular with a citizenry increasingly tired of drug war without end.

And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have continued to make a series of moves over the past year indicating that they are serious about reducing mass incarceration and fixing the criminal justice system, including a call from Holder to federal prosecutors to not use mandatory minimum charges if they don't have to.

Likewise, in an otherwise-bitterly-divided Congress, legislators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. The reforms are supported by a group of Senators who can only be described as strange bedfellows: Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

At the same time, the Pew poll illuminates what has been a major shift in attitudes on whether the use of marijuana should be legal. As recently as four years ago, about half (52%) said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal; 41% said marijuana use should be legal. Today those numbers are roughly reversed -- 54% favor marijuana legalization while 42% are opposed. Just 16% say it should not be legal for either medical or recreational use.

And no matter respondents' personal feelings for or against marijuana legalization, 75% of them think it is inevitable.

Also, more than two-thirds (69%) said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana for individuals. And nearly the same number (63%) said alcohol was more harmful to society.

"Leadership is needed to overcome the institutional lethargy and vested interest that have stymied meaningful police and sentencing reform," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "The policies are counterproductive, and too many otherwise law-abiding people are getting caught up in the justice system because of them."

"It is good to know that despite the DEA's best efforts the American people are getting scientifically accurate information about marijuana, and the fact that it is objectively less harmful than alcohol to both individual health and society at large. The increase in support since last year's poll shows that more and more Americans understand it's simply bad public policy to steer adults toward alcohol by punishing those who prefer marijuana as a less harmful alternative," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Now that three-quarters of Americans understand taxing and regulating marijuana is inevitable, the writing is on the wall. Congress needs to read it and move forward with legislation allowing states to choose more effective policies without federal interference," Riffle added.

While Nadelmann also greeted the poll results, he warned that it should not be used as fuel for even more, if softer, expansion of the criminal justice system.

"It's good to see yet another poll confirm the results of other state and national polls showing majority support for legalizing marijuana," he said. "And it's nice to see that Americans overwhelmingly support treatment-instead-of-incarceration. But it's important to recognize that there has been overwhelming support for treatment-instead-of-incarceration for well over a decade now -- and that we've reached the point where the public needs to be better educated about the benefits of providing treatment outside the criminal justice system rather than within and through it. It would be a shame if this latest poll result were used to promote drug courts and other coercive, abstinence-only programs rather than meaningful treatment in the community."

Chronicle AM -- April 2, 2014

A new Pew Research poll has some surprising and heartening results, Madison (WI) says legalize it, Wisconsin passes a CBD medical marijuana bill, misbehaving cops get noticed, the Russians are griping about the Aghan poppy crop again, and more. Let's get to it:

Aghanistan opium poppy field (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin, Voters Say Legalize It. Voters in Dane County approved a non-binding advisory referendum calling on legislators to legalize marijuana in the land of the Cheese Heads. The referendum passed with 64.5% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony on a medical marijuana bill Tuesday, but took no action. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. The Wisconsin legislature has approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. Assembly Bill 726 passed the Senate Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. It had already passed the Assembly.

Drug Policy

Pew Poll Finds Tectonic Shift Underway on Drug Policy. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the public is ready for a truce in America's long-running drug war. Two-thirds favored treatment over jail for heroin and cocaine users and strong majorities said that alcohol was more harmful than marijuana. Click on the link for full poll results, or read our feature story on it in this issue.

Prescription Drugs

US Senator Calls on DEA to Implement Prescription Drug Take Back Program. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to press the DEA to implement a 2010 law based on bipartisan legislation she sponsored. The law expands drug take back programs. "Prescription drug abuse has reached crisis levels and is leading to a spike in heroin abuse as well, and we should spare no effort to reverse this deadly trend," Klobuchar said. "My drug take back law will help keep drugs out of the wrong hands and prevent prescription drug abuse as well as heroin abuse. The Administration needs to implement this common sense law so that we can give families new tools to help fight this devastating epidemic." No word yet on any DEA response.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Occupy Activists Given Drugs By Cops Can Sue, Judge Rules. In a bizarre story out of Minneapolis, a federal judge has ruled that Occupy activists plied with marijuana by Minnesota police doing a drug identification training exercise during the protests can sue. Law enforcement agencies that employed the officers involved had filed a motion to throw out the case, but US District Court Judge John Tunheim rejected the motion, noting that "in light of the clear prohibition on providing illicit drugs to citizens," the agencies "are not entitled to the protection of qualified immunity." Click on the link for all the weird details.

Lawsuit Charges Corruption, Harassment Among Alabama Narcs. A former Walker County deputy who worked for the department's Narcotics Enforcement Team before he was fired has filed a lawsuit against the county and the sheriff charging he was fired for cooperating in an FBI investigation of his boss, who killed himself after stealing drug money to pay personal bills and support his mistress. Click on the link for all the sordid details.

International

Russian Drug Czar Charges NATO Doesn't Care About Afghan Drug Production. NATO's decision to phase out cooperation with Russia in training anti-drug officers for Afghanistan reveals the alliance's unwillingness to really combat drug production in this country, Viktor Ivanov, the chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told Interfax on Wednesday. "This is not surprising. What could you have expected from NATO?" Ivanov said. "NATO has long been pursuing a policy aimed at the presence of its military component in Afghanistan. Now they are pulling out of this country, leaving massive drug production there," Ivanov said. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 90% of the world's illicit opium production, according to the UN.

Chronicle AM -- April 1, 2014

No April Fools' stories here -- the mayor of Washington really did sign a decriminalization bill, the Kentucky legislature really did pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, the US government really won't help Honduras shoot down drug planes, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray signed the marijuana decriminalization bill already passed by the city council Monday. It's still not quite a done deal, though; it must still get past the Congress, which has 60 days to stop it. We will have a feature story on the signing later today.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative is Back and Seeking Signatures Again. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which failed to meet a signature-gathering deadline earlier this year, has been re-filed and is again seeking to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The followers of legendary activist Jack Herer have tried each election cycle for years to qualify, but have never managed to do it. They need slightly more than half a million signatures by August.

Medical Marijuana

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics to be Held May 8-10; Registration Now in Progress. The medical marijuana organization Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine are sponsoring the conference on the state of the art (and science) on medical marijuana in Portland, Oregon. Click on the link for all the details.

Arizona State Senator Blocks Funding for Long-Sought Medical Marijuana Research. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House. A demonstration is set for tomorrow in Phoenix. Click on the title link for more details.

Kentucky Legislature Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow research hospitals to prescribe CBD cannabis oil to children with seizures. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Medical Marijuana Dropped from New York State Budget. On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reached a budget agreement, but the deal excluded a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bipartisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But Senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon Health Authority Rethinks, Revises Rules to Allow Edibles, But. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised rules for marijuana-infused products, allowing the sale of baked goods and other sweets but banning marijuana-laced sweets "attractive to minors." The authority had recently issued draft rules banning edibles, but backed off in the face of strong opposition.

Puerto Rico Senate Debating Medical Marijuana. The Puerto Rican Senate is currently discussing the legalization of marjhuana for medical use and its cultivation. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean Island. Click on the link for more details.

Prescription Drugs

Congressman Wants to Ban Zohydro. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has filed a bill that would ban Zohydro, the powerful opioid pain reliever recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill is House Resolution 4241. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA).

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Wants to Slash Dope Squad Funding. Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is working to convince his colleagues to cut half of the money budgeted for Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, arguing that other city services demand higher priority -- such as disaster preparedness and pedestrian safety. He argues that the division is engaged in a "failed 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs." He makes his case before the commission today.

International

US Won't Help Honduras Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes. The US will no longer provide radar information that could help the Honduran government shoot down suspected drug planes, US embassy officials in Tegucigalpa confirmed Monday. Honduras passed a law in January that allows military force against suspected drug planes if approved by the Honduran defense secretary.

Britain to Set Drugged Driving Per Se Standards. The British government is about to set drugged driving standards for a number of substances, some legal and some not. These are not "zero tolerance" standards, but will allow drivers to have small amounts of the substances in their blood without triggering drugged driving charges. Click on the link to see the limits for various substances.

Chronicle AM -- March 17, 2014

Alaska state agencies complain that legalization will cost money (and they want some of it), Vermont cops complain the governor is soft on pot, federal prosecutors complain about reforming mandatory minimums, and more. Let's get to it:

What will keep this Rasta smiling? Jamaican ganja farmers have some ideas. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative Dead for 2014. The number of active marijuana legalization initiatives in California has dropped to one after the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative failed to qualify for the ballot by its signature-gathering deadline. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which, barring a miracle, isn't going to make the ballot, either. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures by April 18, but only has 10,000. The big money is waiting for 2016 in California.

FBI Refuses to Do Washington State Marijuana Industry Background Checks. The FBI is refusing to do criminal history background checks on people applying for legal marijuana licenses in Washington state, even though it has done such checks in Colorado. The agency has balked for the past year at requests from state officials, and refused to tell the Associated Press why. The state has issued three licenses so far; for those, they relied on background checks by the Washington State Patrol, which would catch in-state criminal convictions, but might miss out-of-state ones.

Alaska Agencies Claim Legalization Will Cost Millions. In a new report, Alaska state agencies said that if the marijuana legalization initiative passes there, it will cost the state between $3.7 million and $7 million to implement and enforce the new law. Included in that figure are law enforcement requests for "at least three additional Alaska State Trooper positions to target the illegal diversion and exportation of marijuana lawfully cultivated in Alaska" and nearly $1.5 million for a media campaign to warn of stoned driving and training for troopers to recognize when a driver is high. The report doesn't address increased tax revenues from legalization.

Vermont Cops Accuse Governor of Being Soft on Pot. The Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, Vermont Sheriffs Association and the Vermont Police Association said in a press release Friday that they are united against efforts for marijuana legalization and that, while they have previously expressed concern about Gov. Peter Shumlin's (D) "tolerance of marijuana," their concerns had been ignored. They also called marijuana "a gateway drug."

Washington Legislature Approves Sale of Hash and Hash Oil. The state legislature has approved a bill that would legalize the sale of hashish and hash oil at state-licensed marijuana retail outlets.House Bill 2304 now goes to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Medical Marijuana

HHS Gives Go-Ahead for MAPS PTSD Research Study. The federal Department of Health and Human Services granted permission Thursday for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to purchase research-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for its planned study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD. MAPS notes that this is the first time in the 22 years it has been trying to start marijuana drug research that it has actually won permission to purchase marijuana from NIDA. It's not quite a done deal yet, though; the DEA still as to approve. MAPS said it was "optimistic" DEA would do so.

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Initiative. A University of North Florida poll released Monday has the state's medical marijuana amendment initiative well-positioned to win in November. The initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The poll had 74% of registered voters planning to vote for it. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% approval to pass.

Iowa Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 81%. In a new Quinnipiac Poll, 81% of Iowa voters said they would support "allowing adults in Iowa to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even among Republicans, 68% agreed. That's in sharp contrast to a recent Iowa Poll that had only 59% supporting "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes."

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Wants No Jobless Benefits for Fired Medical Marijuana Users. Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana. The move comes as the court weighs the cases of people who sought benefits after being fired for using medical marijuana. Lower court judges have ruled in favor of the workers, who argued that they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally under state law.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 15% of Necessary Signatures. A signature-gathering campaign to put medical marijuana on the November ballot has collected about 15% of the signatures needed to qualify, Arkansans for Compassionate Care said on Thursday. The initiative is one of two gathering signatures this year. It has until July 7 to hand in 62,000 qualified signatures, and has about 10,000 so far.

Nevada Board of Health Approves Dispensary Regulations. The Board of Health gave its approval Friday to rules to regulate new dispensaries. The next and final step is approval by a legislative commission on March 28. A 2013 law allowing dispensaries goes into effect April 1. But even then, there will be a 45-day notice announcing the date applications will be accepted. Once the application period opens, there will only be a 10-day window for accepting them. After the application period closes, the state must make a decision on each application within 90 days of receiving it. And then dispensaries have to grow their supply. Maybe by year's end…

Drug Policy

House Passes Bill to Force President to Enforce Federal Drug Laws. The Republican-controlled US House last week passed the Enforce the Law Act (House Resolution 4138), which would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to execute federal laws. While the bill is a broad attack on the Obama administration, one key supporter, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), singled out the "selective non-enforcement" of part of the Controlled Substance Act in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states as a major concern. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Nevada County Settles Up in Interstate-80 Cash Seizure Cases. Humboldt County, Nevada, where sheriff's deputies developed a habit of stopping travelers on I-80 and seizing their cash through threats of arrest or impoundment even though no drugs were found, has settled a lawsuit over the practice. Two men from whom thousands of dollars were taken sued and have won their money back and attorneys' fees. The county District Attorney's Office also said Friday it had launched an internal review of the county's "forfeiture program," but that it had seen no evidence of illegal stops or other wrongdoing on the part of Sheriff Ed Kilgore or his deputies. The lawsuits claimed the cash seizures were part of a pattern of stopping drivers for speeding as a pretext for drug busts in violation of the Constitution.

Illinois Bill to Ban Kratom Filed. Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) has filed a bill to outlaw kratom, a Southeast Asian herb with psychoactive properties. The plant is not banned federally, although the DEA has it on its list of "drugs of concern." Indiana is the only state so far to have criminalized it, designating its active ingredients as controlled substances. The Illinois bill is House Bill 5526.

Sentencing

Some Federal Prosecutors Oppose Eliminating Mandatory Minimums. Attorney General Holder's move to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenders is running into flak from some prosecutors, The Washington Post reported Thursday. They complained that "tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command." The prosecutors spoke out at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission where Holder endorsed changing federal sentencing guidelines to reduce drug sentences in most cases.

International

NGOs to Address Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Drug Policy and Human Rights. For the first time, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has granted an audience to hemispheric civil society groups to address the impact of the war on drugs on human rights in the Americas. The audience will take place in Washington, DC, on March 25. Click on the link to see the impressive list of organizations that will participate.

Jamaican Rastas Want Legal Marijuana Monopoly. The newly formed Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association said licenses to grow and sell marijuana upon legalization should be limited to Rastafarians and other poor people, who have been victimized for decades for cultivating the herb. "We will not stand by and watch anybody outside of Rastafari and grassroots people take over this product. And we make no apology," association President Ras Iyah V declared during his address at the launch of the organisation at the MXIII Lawn in Negril on Sunday night. "We are saying this loud and clear to the Government, we are saying it to society, and we are saying it to the international community. Otherwise, we will take to the streets and turn Jamaica upside down -- and we make no apology. Because we not going take baton lick and brutality and all of a sudden now when the legalization aspect come, a some rich people come tek it ova -- people who used to scoff and scorn at the very mention of the herb name ganja," he added. "The WHGFA's objectives are to make sure that those who have paid the price -- who have been going to jail, going to prison, getting the baton licks, who have been planting the herb and it get cut down by police and soldiers, and yet have been persistent with this product -- that the rights of these individuals are protected."

Mexico Moves to Rein In Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Leery of having created a Frankenstein monster, Mexican authorities moved last week to put anti-cartel vigilante groups on notice that their illegal tactics will no longer be tolerated. Locals who saw the vigilantes as saviors from cartel extortion and threats now complain of similar behavior from the vigilantes, and the government says it now no longer needs them. Several vigilante leaders have been arrested on murder and other charges.

Chronicle AM -- March 12, 2014

Medical marijuana is keeping state legislators busy, Maine's governor has a 20th Century approach to drug problems, New Mexico's governor cuts funds to a diversion program, Indonesia shifts its stance on drug users, and more. Let's get to it:

Responding to new synthetic drugs by banning them is still a favored response in state legislatures. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

DEA, LAPD Raid Dispensaries. DEA agents assisted by LAPD officers raided and closed several Los Angeles dispensaries Tuesday. They hit the Black Rose dispensary in Fairfax, Downtown Medical Caregivers off Main Street, Washington and Western Medical Group in Harvard Heights, Herbman in Exposition Park and two homes in Beverly Hills. The same person allegedly owns all four dispensaries.

Vermont Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. A bill that lifts the 1,000-patient cap on the state's dispensaries and authorizes two more dispensaries passed the Senate with little debate Tuesday. Senate Bill 247 now heads to the House.

Revised Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. A CBD medical marijuana bill revised by its sponsors so that the University of Alabama-Birmingham would conduct a research study passed the Senate on a unanimous vote Tuesday night. Senate Bill 174 now moves to the House.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would allow compassionate use of non-intoxicating cannabis oil by Utahns with untreatable epilepsy passed the Senate Tuesday by a wide margin, despite reservations some senators have about the oil's safety and long term benefits. House Bill 105 now goes back to the House, which had already passed it, but now must sign off on changes in the Senate version.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. Two bills that would legalize the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana-infused products such as brownies and oils and permit communities to allow and regulate marijuana dispensaries got a hearing in the Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Tuesday, but no vote. Committee chair and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) is not expected to schedule another hearing for at least a couple of weeks. The bills are House Bill 5104 and House Bill 4271.

California Bill to Tighten Location Restrictions on Dispensaries Killed in Committee. A bill that would have widened "dispensary free" zone around schools from 600 feet to 1,000 feet has been blocked in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) said Tuesday. Conway is the author of the bill in question, Assembly Bill 1588.

American Herbal Pharmacopoeia Releases Study on Marijuana and Epilepsy. The medical research group American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) issued a new scientific review Tuesday, Cannabis in the Treatment of Epilepsy, which compiles much of the leading and historical research on epilepsy and cannabis (medical marijuana) for use by scientists, physicians, patients, and parents, as well as those producing and manufacturing it for treatment. Patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will host a Google Hangout today, March 12th at 8:00pm EDT, featuring AHP director Roy Upton, ASA scientific advisory board member Dr. Sunil Aggarwal and others.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Wants More Drug War. Confronted by increasing levels of opiate drug use, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) responded Tuesday by proposing to beef up drug war spending. The conservative governor wants to add 22 new state positions including 14 new Maine Drug Enforcement agents, four new prosecutors for the Office of the Maine Attorney General as well as four new district court judges to bolster the state's four drug courts in Lewiston, Presque Isle, Bangor and Portland. He also criticized methadone, saying the drug should be provided in a clinical setting only. He said he intended to focus equally on the addiction side of the drug equation but did not offer any details.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Funding for Drug Diversion Pilot Program. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed spending $140,000 for a Santa Fe program to divert some drug offenders to treatment Tuesday. The city's pre-booking diversion program, otherwise known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), will begin late this month. If successful, this model could become a model for other New Mexico communities, saving both the criminal justice and health systems tens of millions of dollars each year.

Salvia Divinorum

Rhode Island Bill to Ban Salvia, Jimson Weed Has Hearing Today. A bill that would ban the use of salvia divinorum and Jimson weed was scheduled for committee action today. House Bill 7191, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence), gets a vote before the House Judiciary Committee. It's not clear what prompted the bill.

New Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would give the state pharmacy board the authority to use its emergency powers to classify new synthetic drugs as banned substances is advancing in the House. House File 2446, introduced by Rep. Erik Simonson (D-Duluth) passed the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Tuesday with few questions and a unanimous vote.

International

LEAHN Releases Frankfurt Principles on Drug Law Enforcement. The Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN) has released the Frankfurt Principles on Drug Law Enforcement, developed at the International Conference on Drug Policy and Policing last November in Frankfurt. The principles are designed to make law enforcement an effective partner in a harm reduction approach to drug use and related illness.

TDPF Releases Report on Dutch Coffee Shop Policy. Prompted by "misreports and misunderstandings that have led many to believe the Netherlands is retreating from its pragmatic policy of allowing cannabis to be sold via 'coffee shop,'" the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation has released a new report to set things straight. The report is Cannabis policy in the Netherlands: Moving forward, not backwards.

Ghana Anti-Drug Head Calls for Marijuana Legalization Debate. The executive secretary of the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Akrasi Sarpong, has called for a national debate on legalization of marijuana in the country. "Ordinary people can say don't legalize it but that will be vocalizing the ostrich hiding its head in the sand, because there is a virtual legalization on the ground," Sarpong said. Many people believe "what you are fighting is not crime," he added. "Reports say cannabis is the number one problem in Africa so what are we therefore saying. People laugh at these things, because, they are growing them in their homes," he said.

Peru Ponders Restarting Drug Plane Shootdown Program.Peru suspended its law allowing its Air Force to shoot down suspected drug planes in April 2001, when the Peruvian Air Force, accompanied by a CIA support plane, mistakenly shot down an aircraft carrying American missionaries, killing Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter. Now, Congressman Carlos Turbino, a retired general, has filed a bill to reinstate the program. It is currently before the congressional defense committee, even though it is opposed as unnecessary by the government of President Ollanta Humala.

New Indonesian Drug Law Emphasizes Rehabilitation Instead of Punishment of Drug Users. Indonesian ministers this week signed a memorandum of understanding that they say will declare drug users "victims" instead of criminals, to be treated at rehabilitation centers instead of sentencing to prison. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has gone on the record supporting a softer touch for addicts, but early efforts to push for more rehabilitation centers have met with resistance from judges who are loathe to appear weak on drugs and lawmakers who often use the early release of traffickers as opportunities to grandstand against the president. Drug user make up 42% of all Indonesian prisoners.

Marijuana Reform Rally Set for Glasgow Next Month. A mass marijuana rally called by the Glasgow Cannabis Social Club is set for the city center next month, and it's already causing grumbling. "People will be extremely annoyed at the high-profile celebration of something that's illegal," grumped Conservative MSP John Lamont. "It is disappointing that such a carnival in homage to an illegal substance is being facilitated in this way," he added. The old fogies want the police to shut it down, but the police have said they will stop it only if lawbreaking takes place. The celebration is due to take place at Glasgow Green on Sunday April 20. So far, more than 200 people have signed up via Facebook to attend.

Chronicle AM -- March 11, 2014

The District of Columbia could legalize marijuana at the ballot box this year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubles down on his support for medical marijuana with a new CNN special tonight, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week in Vienna is attracting a lot of attention, and more. Let's get to it:

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta "doubles down" on his support for medical marijuana. (via Share Bear on Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November. Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

Colorado Takes in $2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month of Legalization. The state of Colorado collected $2.01 million in retail marijuana sales and excise taxes in January, the first month of legal sales, the Department of Revenue reported Monday.

Missouri Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana in the Show-Me State got a hearing in the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee Monday. House Bill 1659, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), got a mixed reception in the hearing, with GOP lawmakers expressing skepticism. The committee took no vote and offered no timetable for further action.

Louisiana Marijuana Reform Advocates Rally on Capitol Steps in Baton Rouge. Although there is no legalization bill filed in Louisiana, legalization advocates rallied at the state capitol Monday to get their voices heard. The event was organized by Legalize Louisiana, which seeks to "decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana" in the Bayou State. Although there is no legalization bill this year, there are bills to decriminalize and to allow for medical marijuana.

Legalization Would Be a "Terrible Mistake," Says NYPD Commissioner. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday it would be a 'terrible mistake' to legalize marijuana and predicted problems for states that go that course. But he did say he supported medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doubles Down for Medical Marijuana; Special Airs Tonight. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who first saw the light on medical marijuana a few months ago, has reiterated his support for the herb's medicinal uses and will air a new special on the topic, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," at 10 p.m. ET on tonight.

In New Crackdown, Los Angeles Shutters A Hundred Dispensaries. More than 100 dispensaries have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing new rules restricting them, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday. In addition to the rules prompting scores of closures, Feuer said city lawyers had successfully fended off a host of legal challenges. In one closely watched case, they prevented a dispensary from opening in Mar Vista, securing a permanent injunction before it could set up shop.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled By Cops. A key lawmaker said Tuesday she doesn't see a path forward for legalizing medical marijuana after talks with law enforcement hit a standstill. Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said she had conceded to virtually all demands from law enforcement over the weekend but was still unable to get their support for her bill, House File 1818. Melin said she had no choice but to postpone a House committee hearing that would have been lawmakers' second look at the issue. "Law enforcement won't support any bill that would result in helping any patients," Melin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The governor has to get involved."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Passes Senate Committee. A bill that would require food stamp recipients suspected of drug use to pass a drug test to receive benefits narrowly passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has already passed the House. It's not clear if it now goes to another committee or to a Senate floor vote.

Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senator Manchin Joins Call to Overturn FDA Approval of Zohydro. US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has joined the call for the FDA to overturn its recent approval of Zohydro, a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for people suffering from chronic pain. It is the first ever single-ingredient drug to be approved by the FDA. Manchion joins Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of legislators, prosecutors, and medical groups seeking to reverse the decision. But the FDA and the drug's manufacturer say the drug is needed to treat chronic pain.

Drug Use

RAND Corporation Report Reviews Past Decade's Drug Use. A new report from the RAND Corporation, What America's Drug Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010, pegs spending on illicit drugs at $100 billion a year. It also notes that from 2000 to 2010, the amount people spent on cocaine dropped by half from $55 billion to $28 billion, reflecting dramatic decreases in the availability of cocaine after 2006: from approximately 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to about 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

International

UN Drugs Meeting Opens after Historic Reforms Shatter Consensus on Drug Control System. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opens its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms. This year’s meeting—which is taking place Vienna from March 13-21—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. For live updates, check out the CND Blog.

Report Finds UN Stuck in Denial Over Marijuana Regulation. A new report from the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory has been released in the run-up to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week. The report, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: the History of Cannabis in the UN drug control system and options for reform, unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalization, coffee shops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits. The report outlines specific options for reform and assesses their potential for success. These options include: WHO review and modification of cannabis scheduling; state parties amending the treaties; modifying the conventions 'inter se', e.g. between specific states only; or denunciation of the treaty and re-accession with a reservation (carried out recently by Bolivia in order to defend indigenous rights and the use of coca leaf in its natural form).

ENCOD Calls for UN to End the Drug War. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) will use the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to call on the UN to end the war on drugs. A delegation of five Encod members will join the debate inside the UN: Urki Goñi, chairman of Cannabis Social Club Urjogaberdea in the Basque Country, Spain, Doug Fine, author of 'Hemp Bound' and 'Too High To Fail: Cannabis & the New Green Economic Revolution', Dionisio Nuñez, Bolivian ex-minister of coca affairs, Janko Belin, Encod chairman and Joep Oomen, Encod coordinator. On Friday March 14 one of them will deliver a speech to the plenary meeting. ENCOD will also be reporting nightly from the sessions later this week on the ENCOD web site.

Legalization Won't Solve World's Drug Problem, UN Drug Chief Says.Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters Monday that while it is up to member states to decide "what needs to be done," legalization ain't it. "As the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world's) drug problem," Fedotov said. "It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay's parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions," he added.

UN Drug Chief Praises Iran Drug Fight Despite Executions. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said Monday that Iran's anti-drug efforts were "very impressive" and that Iran "takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs" even though human rights and harm reduction groups have criticized its frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offenders. Still, he added that UNODC opposes the death penalty and that he planned to raise the issue with Iranian leaders during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week.

"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

Chronicle AM -- February 20, 2014

Colorado is rolling in the marijuana tax dollars, Washington state gets closer to licensing legal grows, a New Hampshire patient grow bill is moving, the Europeans are worried about some new drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

The Europeans are worried about "N Bomb"
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Announces Marijuana Tax Revenues Plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Wednesday announced his plan to start spending tax revenues from legalized marijuana. He said he would spend $99 million next fiscal year, with half of it going to youth use prevention, another 40% going to substance abuse treatment, and more than $12 million for public health. His proposal must be approved by the legislature.

Washington State Regulators Announce Rules Modifications. The Washington State Liquor Control Board announced Wednesday that it will limit marijuana business applicants to one pot grow each, down from the three-license limit it originally set. The board also reduced by 30% the amount of grow space that licensees can use. The board is trying to address how to equitably distribute the two million square foot of grow space it has set as a statewide cap. The move also opens the way to the actual issuance of grow licenses, which could come as soon as early next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Cultivation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate a limited amount of medical marijuana in New Hampshire was approved this morning in a 13-3 vote by the House Committee on Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs. The bill will be considered by the full House sometime in March. Sponsored by Rep. Donald Wright (R-Tuftonboro), House Bill 1622 would patients or their designated caregivers to possess up to two mature plants and twelve seedlings. The cultivation location would have to be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, and patients would lose their ability to cultivate when an alternative treatment center opens within 30 miles of their residence.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) Wednesday introduced a bill to allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy seizures. Senate Bill 1035 has been referred to the Committee on Medical Affairs.

Arizona Bill Would Use Medical Marijuana Fees to Fund Anti-Drug Campaigns. A bill approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee would set up a special fund using fees from medical marijuana user and dispensaries to "discourage marijuana use among the general population." House Bill 2333, sponsored by Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) is being derided by the Marijuana Policy Project, whose spokesman, Mason Tvert, said "It is remarkable how much money some government officials are willing to flush down the toilet in hopes of scaring adults away from using marijuana."

Heroin

Vermont Law School Symposium Will Address Heroin Addiction and New Solutions. The Vermont Law Criminal Law Society is hosting a symposium on heroin and opiate addiction and responses to it on Monday. "This event is about new ideas from new sources," said Vermont Law JD candidate George Selby ', one of the panel organizers. "We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to." Panelists will include addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They will discuss whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackle a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction? One of the featured speakers is Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, who plans to call for action in Vermont. Click on the title link for more details.

International

Europeans Issue Alert on Four New Synthetic Drugs. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has issued an alert and announced a formal risk assessment of four new synthetic drugs. They are the hallucinogenic phenethylamine 251-NBOMe ("N-Bomb," linked to three deaths), the synthetic opioid AH-7921 (15 reported deaths in Europe), the synthetic cathinone derivative MDPV ("legal cocaine," linked to 99 deaths), and the arylcyclohexamine drug Methoxetamine (linked to 20 deaths). Click on the link above for more details.

British Columbia Judge Rules Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Unconstitutional. A judge in Canada's British Columbia ruled Wednesday that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders under the federal 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act are unconstitutional. In November, an Ontario judge struck down a similar sentence for a weapons offense, but BC is the first province to have the drug offense sentences quashed. Crown prosecutors are expected to appeal.

India Asset Forfeiture Bill Passes Lok Sabha. A bill that would increase the Indian government's ability to seize assets from drug traffickers was approved Wednesday by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the country's bicameral parliament. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed on a voice vote after members took turns worrying aloud about the spread of drug use in the world's most populous democracy.

Drug War Issues

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