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Chronicle AM -- March 28, 2014

Medical marijuana and CBD bills continue moving in state legislatures, Northeastern governors respond to opiates, the Department of Agriculture wants to buy Ukrainian hemp seed, and more. Let's get to it:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) declares a public health emergency to deal with opiate use. (mass.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Narrow Victory. A new Alaska House Majority Caucus poll suggests that the marijuana legalization initiative there should win at the polls in August, but it will be close. The poll had support for the initiative at 52%, with 44% opposed and only 4% undecided. Click on the poll link for cross-tabs and top lines.

New Jersey Governor Christie Rejects Legalization, Raises "Gateway" Specter. During Gov. Chris Christie's (R) "Ask the Governor" radio program Thursday, Christie rejected legalization in response to a listener's question. "Mike, I love you baby, but it ain't happening, not while I'm governor," Christie said to the caller. "I don't believe that legalizing an illegal drug for purposes of governmental profit is something that we should be doing. I believe that this is a gateway drug into other more serious drugs, I think it sends a wrong message to our kids and I don't think it makes anybody a better or more productive person," he said.

Vermont Lawmakers Want Marijuana Tax Revenue Study. Vermont lawmakers were expected to offer an amendment to a tax bill passed by the House Thursday to include a study on the revenue effects of legalizing marijuana. The proposed amendment would require the Joint Fiscal Office to report back to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee on specific revenue projections. The amendment calls on the Joint Fiscal Office to use the Colorado tax model for purposes of the report.

Medical Marijuana

Study Finds Marijuana Medical Access Not Linked to Crime Increases. A new study from University of Texas-Dallas criminologist Robert Morris finds no link between violent crime and the legalization of medical marijuana. "We're cautious about saying, 'Medical marijuana laws definitely reduce homicide.' That's not what we're saying," said Morris. "The main finding is that we found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization. In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault."

Colorado Health Department Wants to Restrict Caregiver, Patient Grows. The state Department of Public Health wants to limit the number of patients caregivers can serve and put a cap on the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow. The agency says it will ask legislators to craft new laws, but is still moving forward with its proposed rule change. Some patient activists are viewing this as a power grab by state regulators.

Maryland Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a full-blown medical marijuana bill Thursday. Senate Bill 923 now goes to the House, where a similar bill has already been passed.

Mississippi House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House voted 112-6 Thursday to approve a measure that would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a medical treatment. House Bill 1231 is not quite done in the House yet, though. It was held over on a motion that could allow for more debate.

Florida Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe "non-euphoric" marijuana strains for seizure or cancer patienta passed a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 1030 passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee and is now headed for the Appropriations Committee. A companion bill is also moving in the House.

Hemp

Ag Secretary Says US Seeking to Buy Ukraine Hemp Seed. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the US is looking to buy hemp seed from Ukraine in a bid to bolster the East European country's economy. "We are now involved in trying to figure out ways in which we might be able to use the industrial hemp seeds that are created in the Ukraine in the US," Vilsack told reporters. Ukraine is one of the world's largest hemp seed producers, and Vilsack said its hemp seed doesn't contain any THC, "so it probably does not run afoul of any of our drug laws."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Anti-Drug Bill Gets Some Balance, But ACLU Still Opposes It. Maine Gov. Paul LePage's (R) law enforcement-heavy bill to deal with drug problems in the state has been amended to cut the number of new drug agents, prosecutors, and judges and increase funding or drug treatment programs. The changes to Legislative Document 1811 came in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and could generate enough Democratic support to pass them, but the ACLU of Maine still says the measure should be defeated.

Massachusetts Governor Declares Public Health Emergency on Opiates, Calls for All First Responders to Have Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency Thursday to combat the growing abuse of opiates, directing that all the state's police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel be equipped with a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses. Using his emergency powers, Patrick told the Department of Public Health to make Narcan available immediately to all first responders, as well as more accessible to families and friends of drug abusers. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, halts overdoses almost instantly. Unfortunately, however, the state will also prohibit the sale of Zohydro, an opioid pain reliever approved last year by the FDA.

International

"Women, Drug Policy, and Incarceration in the Americas" Events in DC, NYC Next Week. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN, and the Inter-American Commission of Women will be discussing women, drug policy, and imprisonment at meetings Monday in Washington, DC, and Thursday at the UN in New York City. Click on the links for details and/or to RSVP.

Canada's Alberta Arbitration Board Rejects Random Drug Testing. The Alberta Arbitration Board sided with union workers against Suncor Energy after the union filed a grievance over the company's random drug testing policies. The board ruled that the company failed to demonstrate "a significant problem or legitimate safety risk" to justify random alcohol testing and that its use of urinalysis to do drug testing "failed to identify current impairment." While the tests did find employees who had recently used drugs, "this did not meet the threshold of a legitimate business interest which would justify the significant intrusion into employees' privacy."

Clashes as Bolivians Protest New Anti-Drug Base in Coca-Growing Region. Coca growers blocked roads and hurled stones at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas, as protestors agitated against a new anti-drug military base being constructed near the Chapare, the country's main coca-growing region. Local leaders said people feared an increased law enforcement presence would lead to violence and abuses. The European Union is financing the base at a cost of $1.3 million.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal agency has given the okay for researchers to buy marijuana from NIDA for a PTSD study, which is a first, those CBD medical marijuana bills keep moving in heretofore medical marijuana-unfriendly states, an effort to fold Washington state's medical marijuana system into its general legalization scheme has failed, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Friday, HHS granted permission for researchers to purchase marijuana from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for a study of marijuana as a treatment for the symptoms of PTSD in US war veterans. That's the first time this has happened. The research is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The DEA must still approve, but MAPS says it is "optimistic they will approve the study in a timely manner."

Also last Friday, ASA announced its second annual conference. The Americans for Safe Access Unity Conference will take place in Washington, DC, on April 5-7. Click on the link for more details.

Alabama

On Tuesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was approved by a House committee. The bill has passed the Senate after being amended to become a research bill on the impact of using a marijuana derivative. Senate Bill 174 passed the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits a House floor vote.

Arkansas

Last Friday, advocates for a medical marijuana initiative said they had collected 15% of the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. Arkansans for Compassionate Care said they have about 10,000 signatures. They need 62,000 to make the ballot, and have until July 7 to do so. A similar initiative was narrowly defeated there in 2012.

California

Last Wednesday, opponents of Butte County's recent cultivation ordinance handed in some 12,000 signatures on a petition to abolish it. The February ordinance limited the size of outdoor gardens to 50 square feet on properties from a half-acre to five acres in size. Petitioners need only 7,600 of the signatures to be found valid, which would then force county supervisors to take up the matter again. In the meantime, enforcement of the ordinance is on hold.

On Tuesday, Shasta County supervisors voted to put a ban on marijuana growing to the voters. The supes had voted to ban all outdoor cultivation, but a successful petition drive to challenge the ordinance forced them to reconsider. They could have just repealed the ban, but instead voted unanimously to put it on the November ballot and let the voters decide.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was approved by a Senate committee. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 885, which would allow patients to use CBD-based cannabis oils. It also amended the bill to allow parents to bring the oil into the state without facing penalties. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Iowa

On Monday, a new poll had support for medical marijuana at 81%. The Quinnipiac Poll results are dramatically different from a recent Iowa Poll, which found 59% of Iowa adults said they supported "legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes." But no matter what the polls say, medical marijuana bills get no traction in the Hawkeye State.

Kentucky

On Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The Senate passed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe and patients to use CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons. The bill passed with no opposition. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the House.

Maryland

On Tuesday, the House passed a full-on medical marijuana bill. The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1321, which includes dispensaries. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Nevada

Last Friday, the Board of Health approved regulations for dispensaries. They are allowed under a law passed last year, which goes into effect April 1. It's not quite a done deal; they must undergo a final review by the Legislative Commission on March 28. After final approval, 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.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill won a Senate subcommittee vote. The bill must still pass a committee vote before going to the Senate floor. Meanwhile, companion legislation is advancing in the House. The bill would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for those suffering from epilepsy.

Utah

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Utah legislature. House Bill 105 now goes to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R). It would allow children with epileptic seizures to use CBD cannabis oil.

Washington

Last Thursday, an effort to fold the state's medical marijuana system into its marijuana legalization scheme died in the legislature. Lawmakers were seeking to establish regulation of the medical market as the state's new voter-approved recreational market is about to take hold this summer. The week before, the Senate passed a measure that moved to merge the medical with the still-developing legal recreational market. It would have eliminated unlicensed dispensaries, established a patient registry, and reduced the amount of marijuana patients could grow and possess. That leaves the unregulated industry in a sort of limbo.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- March 18, 2014

Federal drug prosecutions are declining, marijuana legalization moves forward in the Northeast, Pennsylvania counties pay for taking babies away from mothers over false positive drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Declining federal drug prosecutions could have an impact here. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Moves Forward. A bill to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol has passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee after the committee adopted an amendment to simplify the tax structure and improve regulations. House Bill 492 then got a "no pass" from the committee, but now goes to the House floor for a second vote. The House already approved the bill in January, after overturning a similarly negative recommendation from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. If it passes the House again, it then goes to the Senate.

New Jersey Legalization Initiative Bill Introduced. Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Plains) have introduced Assembly Bill 2842, a bill that, if approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, would put the decision on whether to legalize marijuana in the hands of the voters. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and related paraphernalia. It does not address taxation or allow for commercial sales.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland House Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state. House Bill 1321 now moves to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania County Pays for Taking Baby from Birth Mother Over False Positive Drug Test. Lawrence County Children and Youth Services has settled, for $160,000, a lawsuit filed by a woman whose child was taken away following a false positive opiate test apparently caused by pasta salad. It's not the first time, either. Last July, Jameson Hospital and Lawrence County Children and Youth Services agreed to pay $143,500 to settle a similar lawsuit filed by a woman whose infant was taken by a false positive drug test apparently caused by consumption of a poppy seed bagel. A third local case is also pending. Last week, another woman Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, saying a false positive drug test apparently spurred by poppy seeds in farmer's market bread resulted in an Allegheny County Children Youth and Families investigation of her family.

Drug Policy

Maine Hearing Sees Criticism of Governor's Law Enforcement-Heavy Drug Policy. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Monday heard strong criticism of Gov. Paul LePage's (R) recently announced plan to address drug problems in the state by ratcheting up law enforcement. Throughout the hearing on Legislative Document 1811, speakers also highlighted the need to balance new enforcement with drug treatment programs and additional funding for the state's corrections system.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Declining. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that the monthly count of federal prosecutions for narcotics/drugs offenses has reached its lowest level since May 2000. The latest available data from the Justice Department show there were 1,487 new prosecutions in this category in January 2014, down 7.8% from the previous month and down 11.5% from the year before. The number observed during the most recent six month period appears to be the lowest seen since the end of the Reagan Administration.

New Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bills Moving. Bills that would grant the Board of Pharmacy the cease and desist authority to prevent the sale of synthetic drugs are moving forward in the Minnesota Legislature. House File 2446 has passed two committees and is now being heard in the Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee In the Senate, a companion bill was heard in the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and passed on a voice vote. It now moves on to the Judiciary Committee.

International

Mexican Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Now Complain Government is Persecuting Them. Vigilante groups in the western state of Michoacan who rose up against the Knights Templar cartel with the tacit approval of the Mexican government now say they are being persecuted not only by criminals, but also by the government. The vigilantes complained publicly Sunday, a day after the Mexican government said it was going to "put a stop" to them. The government had bruited plans to fold them into a rural security force, but now no longer seems to need them.

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 13, 2014

Attorney General Holder endorses federal drug sentencing reductions, CBD medical marijuana bills move in the South, a New Hampshire decriminalization bill advances, Zohydro may get some competition, and the UN is generating plenty of news, and more. Let's get to it:

Attorney General Eric Holder endorses federal drug sentence reductions. (usdoj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marylanders Rally for Legalization. Nearly 100 supporters of sweeping changes in Maryland's marijuana laws rallied in Annapolis Thursday before planned legislative hearings on bills to legalize -- or at least decriminalize -- possession of the drug. The House Judiciary Committee is hearing a series of marijuana reform bills this afternoon, including a legalization bill (House Bill 880) from Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Slim Majority for Legalization. As the legislature considers marijuana reform bills, a new Goucher Poll has support for legalization at 50.1%, with 39.4% opposed. The poll also had a whopping 89.6% in favor of medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Passes House. The House approved a decriminalization bill by a veto-proof margin Wednesday. House Bill 1625, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and a bipartisan group of seven cosponsors including Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. It would also make cultivation of up to six plants a Class A misdemeanor instead of a felony. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. Now, it's on to the state Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Senate Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate passed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe and patients to use CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons Wednesday. The bill passed with no opposition. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the House.

Georgia Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 885, which would allow patients to use CBD-based cannabis oils. It also amended the bill to allow parents to bring the oil into the state without facing penalties. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

South Carolina Senate Panel Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs approved a bill allowing people suffering from epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil Wednesday. Senate Bill 1035 still needs to pass the full committee. Similar legislation is moving in the House.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the cultivation of hemp for research purposes passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday. House Bill 2445 now heads for the House Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor. A bill that would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug testing if there is a suspicion they are using drugs passed the Senate Wednesday and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has made it a keystone of his legislative agenda. House Bill 49 passed the Senate after debate in which supporters couched the program as an additional benefit that could help somebody struggling with addiction, while opponents said it was unfairly singling out the poor.

ASAM White Paper Calls for Vastly Expanded Drug Testing. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has published a white paper by former NIDA director and present day drug testing consultant Robert Dupont calling drug testing "underutilized" and arguing it should be expanded to be include people of all ages in virtually all aspects of daily life. The totalitarian vision is ably critiqued by NORML drug testing expert Paul Armentano (click the title link), as well as by progressive talk radio host Thom Hartman, who countered Dupont with an op-ed entitled "It's Time to End All Drug Testing." Both Armentano's and Hartman's critiques are worth the read.

Prescription Opioids

Oxycontin Maker Offers Alternative to Zohydro. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, says it has completed testing of an abuse-resistant version of the painkiller hydrocodone, a surprise development that could derail sales of the recently launched Zohydro, a similar medication that has been criticized for lacking such safeguards. Purdue Pharma says it plans to submit its extended-release hydrocodone drug to the Food and Drug Administration later this year. Shares of rival Zogenix Inc. plunged more than 20% after the announcement, which appears to jeopardize sales of the company's just-launched drug Zohydro. Zogenix began shipping Zohydro to pharmacies last week.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Endorses Proposal to Cut Federal Sentences. US Attorney General Eric Holder today endorsed a proposal from the US Sentencing Commission to reduce the sentences of people convicted of federal drug trafficking offenses by about a year, from an average of 62 to months to an average of 51 months. "This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable," Holder said. "It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate."

International

Listen to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Sessions. You can do it by clicking on the UNODC's webcast page at the link above. Also, Oregon activist Doug McVay has uploaded audio of the second part of today's plenary session here. There will be more updates on McVay's weekly Drug War Facts podcast.

UNODC Panel Says Criminalizing Drug Use "Not Beneficial". Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC -- which includes Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say "criminal sanctions are not beneficial" in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

UNODC Sees "Serious Setbacks" in Fight Against Drugs. Addressing the opening session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOC) head Yury Fedotov said the global fight against drugs had suffered "serious setbacks," including record opium crops in Afghanistan, violence linked to drug trafficking in Central America, and weak West African states succumbing to the blandishments of traffickers. While he said legalization was no solution, he did add that: "A public health response to the drug use problem should consider alternatives to penalization and incarceration of people with use disorders."

Caricom Creates Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The leaders of the Caricom Caribbean trade bloc announced today that they are creating a commission to study the impact of legalizing marijuana. The move came at the end of a two-day summit where members discussed a preliminary report on decriminalization. The commission is charged with presenting its report in early July for a Caricom summit in Antigua.

Iran Executed More Than 300 People for Drugs Last Year, Report Says. A report from the nonprofit group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran released Wednesday says Iran executed 331 people on drug-related charges last year. The drug executions accounted for almost half of all executions in the Islamic Republic, the report found. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime sponsors anti-drug programs in Iran, and is under increasing pressure from European donor countries to put in place measures to stop its support from contributing to the death penalty.

Dire Prospects for Afghanistan Drug War, Analysis Finds. A new analysis from Alex Pollard-Lipkis of Foreign Policy in Focus finds that "if costly drug war strategies in Afghanistan have been unsuccessful even with a strong US military presence, they won't stand a chance after the US withdraws." The analysis critiques contemporary US approaches and peeks into the post-US future. Click on the title link to read the whole thing.

Medical Marijuana Update

Marijuana and epilepsy are in the news, Sanjay Gupta strikes again, and state houses across the country are grappling with medical marijuana and CBD bills. Let's get to it:

National

Last week, GW Pharmaceuticals announced that the FDA had granted orphan drug designation to a cannabis-based drug developed to treat childhood-onset epilepsy, The drug, called Epidiolex, contains a highly purified, plant-derived form of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana that doesn't produce the "high" sensation associated with THC, the plant's main psychoactive ingredient. CBD has long been used as a treatment for Dravet syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy in children, and GW Pharmaceuticals sees Epidiolex as useful in treating both Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), another rare form of childhood epilepsy.

On Tuesday, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta aired a new special on medical marijuana. The special, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports was preceded by an op-ed in which Gupta "doubled down" on his support for medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the AHP released a scientific review on epilepsy. The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia released 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.

Alabama

On Tuesday, a revised CBD Medical Marijuana bill passed the state Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 174 was revised by its sponsors so that the University of Alabama-Birmingham could conduct a research study. It now moves to the House.

California

On Monday, the LA city attorney said 100 dispensaries had been shuttered since the city started enforcing new rules restricting them. City Attorney Mike Feuer said that besides enforcing the rules, the city had also successfully fended off legal challenges. The city attorney said he couldn't say how many marijuana dispensaries are now open in Los Angeles, since there is no permitting process for the shops. Before the measure passed last spring, police estimated roughly 700 dispensaries were operating, though others pegged the number far higher.

On Tuesday, a bill to further restrict dispensary locations died in committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 1588, would have widened "dispensary free" zone around schools from 600 feet to 1,000 feet, but was 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.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA and LAPD raided and closed four dispensaries. 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 owns all the dispensaries, the DEA said.

Also on Tuesday, Los Angeles reported it had collected $1.6 million in taxes from dispensaries for 2013.

Also on Tuesday, the San Diego city council gave final approval to medical marijuana regulations. Under the ordinances, dispensary operators must get conditional-use permit from the city -- which will be good for five years -- and an annual public safety permit from the San Diego Police Department. Collectives may not be within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, child care centers, playgrounds, residential care facilities, schools and other dispensaries, and not be within 100 feet of residential zones. Dispensaries also are barred from having on-site medical professionals -- a law intended to prevent such businesses from becoming "one-stop shops." This should mark an end to a three-year battle that began after the council passed more restrictive regulations in 2011.

On Wednesday, San Bernardino SWAT teams raided two dispensaries. Little more is known at this point.

Michigan

Last Friday, state regulators recommended added PTSD as a qualifying condition. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel appointed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has decided to recommend that the department add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. It is now up to Steve Arwood, Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to accept or reject the recommendation.

On Tuesday, a pair of medical marijuana bills got a 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 in their towns 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.

Also on Tuesday, the Howell city council approved a dispensary moratorium. Council members said they were waiting for clarity from the state legislature.

New Hampshire

On Friday, the House passed a medical marijuana home cultivation bill. The measure, House Bill 1622, would allow patients and/or caregivers to grow up to two plants until dispensaries open near their residences. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the health department said it would not consider expanding its qualifying disease list until 2015. The state's medical marijuana law, signed four years ago, required the health department to consider adding new diseases requested by the public after it submitted two annual reports, beginning in 2011, charting the program's progress. But it is too soon to add more illnesses and place greater demands on the program, Health Department Commissioner Mary O'Dowd's spokeswoman Donna Leusner said.

New York

On Monday, Assembly Democrats rolled a medical marijuana bill into this week's budget proposal. The move is designed to get some traction for medical marijuana, which has been stymied for years in the state Senate.

Oregon

Last Thursday, the Medford city council voted for a moratorium on dispensaries. But it will take another vote, on a second reading of the bill, to enact it formally. The city argues that despite state action, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Last fall, it revoked the business license of Mary Jane's Attic and Mary Jane's Basement, located in a shopping center.

Last Friday, the Senate gave final approval to the statewide dispensary regulation bill. The final version of the bill gives local governments the ability to ban dispensaries, but only for one year. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), who has not said whether he will sign it.

On Tuesday, state officials said 281 dispensaries began the process of registering with the state. A new law, passed in 2013, directed the Oregon Health Authority to create a registry of medical marijuana facilities. Those facilities must follow security and testing rules and they have to carefully track the marijuana coming in and out of their stores. The state, meanwhile, has two regulators who will inspect the establishments annually.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill won a House committee vote. The bill calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug and would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, although it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Utah

On Tuesday, the state Senate passed a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow compassionate use of non-intoxicating cannabis oil by Utahns with untreatable epilepsy. It passed the Senate 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.

Vermont

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed a medical marijuana expansion bill. The bill lifts the 1,000-patient cap on the state's dispensaries and authorizes two more dispensaries. Senate Bill 247 now heads to the House.

Washington

On Saturday, the state Senate approved a bill regulating dispensaries as part of an effort to roll the medical marijuana system into the state's new legal marijuana system. The current unregulated dispensaries would have to close or obtain a state license by September 2015. The bill also allows patients to grow their own, but reduced the amount they can grow and possess. Senate Bill 5887 now goes to the House. The legislative session ends this week.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Responding to Holder on Heroin, Reformers Call for a Health Direction [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder had heroin on his mind Monday, using his weekly video message and an accompanying press release to draw attention to rising heroin overdose deaths and vowing to combat the problem with a combination of law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and harm reduction measures. Drug reformers generally responded positively, but called on the Obama administration to seek comprehensive, science- and health-based solutions instead of engaging in more drug war.

Attorney General Holder takes on heroin (usdoj.gov)
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates -- including certain prescription pain-killers -- is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results. Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45%," Holder said. "Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to -- and increase in -- heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we've seen over the past decade."

What Holder didn't mention is that the rise in prescription pain pill misuse is tied to a massive increase in prescribing opioids for pain in the past decade. A study published last fall found that between 2000 and 2010, the amount of opioids prescribed for non-cancer pain had nearly doubled, and that during the same period, the percentage of people complaining of pain who received prescriptions for opioids jumped from 11% to nearly 20%. But reining in prescriptions generally isn't the answer either.

But at the same time, a 2011 Institute of Medicine report found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic non-cancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply… 29% of primary care physicians and 16% of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions."

As the IOM report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them." Opioid misuse and under-use of opioids for pain treatment when they are needed are problems that coexist in society. Pain pill crackdowns have also been found to result in increased use of street heroin, as a Washington Post article last week reports -- two additional reasons advocates prefer public health approaches to heroin more than law enforcement -- and why great care should be taken with the law enforcement measures.

"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent -- and growing -- public health crisis. And that's why Justice Department officials, including the DEA, and other key federal, state, and local leaders, are fighting back aggressively," Holder continued. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."

Holder pointed to DEA efforts to prevent diversion of pharmaceutical pain-relievers to non-medical users, mentioning investigations of doctors, pharmacists, and distributors.

"With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users," Holder said.

Cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Holder also pointed out that DEA had opened some 4,500 heroin investigations since 2011 and promising more to come.

But, as Holder noted, "enforcement alone won't solve the problem," so the administration is working with civil society and law enforcement "to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment."

And although he didn't use the words "harm reduction," Holder is also calling for some harm reduction measures. He urged law enforcement and medical first responders to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) and signaled support for "911 Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.

Holder got restrained plaudits from drug reformers for his small steps toward harm reduction measures, but they called for a more comprehensive approach.

"Preventing fatal overdose requires a comprehensive solution," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While naloxone is an absolutely critical component, we need a scientific, health-based approach to truly address the roots of the problem. This includes improving access to effective, non-coercive drug treatment for everyone who wants it, as well as improving access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
Ralston also added that just making naloxone available to cops and EMTs wasn't good enough. Friends and family members, not "first responders," are most often the people who encounter others in the throes of life-threatening overdoses.

"While we applaud Attorney General Holder's clear support for expanding access to naloxone, particularly among law enforcement and 'first responders,' we urge him to clarify that he supports naloxone access for anyone who may be the first person to discover an opiate overdose in progress," she said.

But Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs, applauded the move, which could help soften reflexive law enforcement opposition to carrying the overdose antidote, an attitude reflected in the the International Association of Chiefs of Police's opposition to all harm reduction measures.

"Police may not be the first to embrace change, but we are slowly evolving," said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.). "We cannot arrest our way out of a public health problem, and it's clear that the Attorney General is beginning to understand that and to embrace the role of harm reduction in reducing death, disease and addiction in our communities. We still have a long way to go, but this is a good sign."

The idea is "a no-brainer," according to executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "It is simply immoral not to support something proven to save lives for political reasons," Franklin added. "Yes, police send a message when they choose not to carry naloxone. But that message is not 'don't do drugs,' it's 'if you make the wrong decisions in your life, we don't care about you.' That offends me both as a former cop and as a human being."

The nuanced pushback to Holder's law enforcement/prevention/treatment/hint of harm reduction approach is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Decriminalizing and destigmatizing now illicit drug use, as has been the case in Portugal, is an obvious next step, and removing the question of drugs from the purview of the criminal justice system altogether would be even better. Still, that a sitting attorney general is calling for treatment and harm reduction as well as law enforcement is a good thing, and for reformers to be calling him on not going far enough is a good thing, too.

Chronicle AM -- March 10, 2014

California's Democrats endorse marijuana legalization, Caricom gets ready to talk marijuana, Attorney General Holder calls for expanded access to naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, legislatures in the Pacific Northwest make moves on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Caribbean leaders are discussing ganja this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a supporter of marijuana legalization, has introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act, which would expand the federal definition of an impaired driver to include those impaired by marijuana use. The bill is not yet available online, and the devil is in the details. Stay tuned.

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization. The California Democratic Party voted Sunday to include in its platform a plank "to support the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Support for Legalization at CPAC. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington included many supporters of marijuana legalization, according to both a Huffington Post informal survey and a CPAC straw poll, which had 62% saying legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Program Won't Consider Adding New Conditions Until 2015. A Health Department spokesperson said late last week that the state's medical marijuana program will not consider expanding the list of conditions covered under state law until next year. That would appear to contradict the law, which required the health department to consider adding new diseases requested by the public after it submitted two annual reports, beginning in 2011, charting the program's progress. It also required the health department to produce a biennial report in 2012 and every two years after assessing whether there were enough growers to meet demand. But the Chris Christie administration didn't issue any reports at all until late last month, and now says it is too soon to add more illnesses.

Washington Senate Votes to Regulate Medical Marijuana. Legislation that would essentially fold the state's existing medical marijuana program into the I-502 legalization framework passed the Senate Saturday. Senate Bill 5887 would require dispensaries to be licensed under the legalization format. Patients could get their medicine there or grow their own, and they could voluntarily register with the state to get a partial tax break and buy greater quantities than allowed under general legalization. The measure now goes to the House, which has already passed a bill that requires mandatory patient registration. The session ends this week.

New York Assembly Democrats Roll Medical Marijuana Bill into Budget Proposal. In a bid to finally get medical marijuana through the legislature, Assembly Democrats have folded a bill to do that into this week's budget proposal. The bill resembles the Compassionate Care Act introduced by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), but is not identical to it.

Harm Reduction

Holder Calls Heroin ODs "Urgent Public Health Crisis," Calls for Expanded Naloxone Access. US Attorney General Eric Holder Monday said the Justice Department was stepping up efforts to slow the increase in heroin overdose deaths. As part of that effort, he reiterated the administration's call for more law enforcement agencies to be equipped with the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan).

Methamphetamine

Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill Introduced in Missouri House. Reps. Stanley Cox (R-118) and Kenneth Wilson (R-12) have filed a bill that lowers limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine-based medicines that people can purchase each month, sets an annual limit on purchase amounts, lowers the amount people can legally possess, and requires a prescription for anyone with a felony drug offense. House Bill 1787 is similar to legislation filed earlier this year in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 625, is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

International

LEAP Proposes Amendment to UN Drug Treaties. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has proposed an amendment to the UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. The amendment seeks to "eliminate the criminalization-oriented drug policy paradigm and replace it with a health, harm reduction, and human rights-oriented policy." The proposed amendment is accompanied by a letter to world leaders from LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. Read the amendment by clicking on the title link and sign onto it at the MoveOn.org link here.

Caricom Leaders to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. Leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc will discuss a preliminary report on decriminalizing marijuana and exploring its medicinal uses at a two-day summit beginning today on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The summit comes on the heels of a research report released last week by Caricom researchers that found such moves could help the region's sluggish economy.

Mexico Kills La Familia Cartel Leader -- Again. Mexican authorities are reporting that that they killed Nazario "El Mas Loco" (The Craziest One) Moreno in a shootout in Michoacan Sunday. The funny thing is that Moreno, one time leader of the La Familia Cartel, was also reported killed by authorities in December 2010. But his body was never found, and now government spokesmen say he was still alive and was acting as head of La Familia's replacement, the Knights Templar Cartel.

"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 -- March 6, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has gone back to the Senate with compromise language allowing only temporary local bans, a GOP US Senate candidate there says legalize it, Chuck Schumer fights heroin, Canada's Tories look to be going soft on pot law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

Canadian Justice Minister Peter Mackay hints that something much like marijuana decriminalization is coming. (petermackay.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Debate Draws Hundreds. A week after the Alaska marijuana legalization initiative was officially certified for the ballot, hundreds of people streamed into the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska in Anchorage for a debate on marijuana policy. In an opening speech, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance called the war on drugs "a rat hole of waste" and that marijuana prohibition was "grounded in bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance." Then a panel of five people, including Nadelmann, as well as an anti-legalization Project Sam representative, went at it. Click on the title link for more.

Another Missouri Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering Wednesday. This is not one of the initiatives filed by Show-Me Cannabis, which had a bakers' dozen of similarly-worded initiatives approved earlier this year, but has decided to wait until 2016 for its effort. The initiative has a May 4 deadline for handing in petitions, and must obtain signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2012 governor's election from six of the state's eight congressional districts.

Maryland Sheriffs Rally Against Legalization. Local sheriffs attended a rally in Annapolis to voice opposition to proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland Wednesday. Sheriffs from the Eastern Shore and local police chiefs attended a rally sponsored by the Maryland Sheriff's Association and its supporters. The sheriffs are taking a stand against legalizing marijuana in Maryland, as lawmakers ponder a legalization bill.

Oregon GOP US Senate Candidate Endorses Legalization. Portland attorney Tim Crawley, who is seeking the Republican US Senate nomination, favors marijuana legalization. In a press release this week, he said he had "long been concerned with the tremendous waste of money and human potential the criminalization of marijuana has involved." In a subsequent interview, Crawley said he would support a legalization initiative in Oregon and if elected to the Senate, he would support removing marijuana from the controlled substances list.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon House Passes Dispensary Regulation Bill With Only Temporary Local Bans. The statewide dispensary legalization and regulation bill, Senate Bill 1531, passed out of the House on Wednesday with a provision allowing localities to ban dispensaries, but only for a year while they develop regulations for them. The Senate has already passed a version without the temporary ban language, but is expected to accept this compromise language.

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances with House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday. House Bill 843 now heads for the House Judiciary Committee.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. A bill to allow patients with specified diseases and conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to use and grow their own medicine or purchase it at dispensaries has been introduced. House Bill 4879, filed by Minority Leader Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Schumer Wants New York Heroin Database. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called Wednesday for a standardized heroin database to fight crime and addiction related to the drug's use. "Data and information sharing drives solutions, and we're seriously lacking in that department," said Schumer. "All we know for sure is heroin is ravaging families across New York state." He called on the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to help set up a statewide "Drugstat" database to track heroin use patterns, hospitalizations, and overdoses, which he said could help police combat the drug.

Law Enforcement

California Informants Sue San Luis Obispo Over Rogue Narc. A civil lawsuit recently filed in federal court against the city and county of San Luis Obispo by two former confidential informants of disgraced narcotics detective Cory Pierce charges that Pierce allegedly forced the female informant to have sex with him. Pierce is currently serving a prison term for corruption. According to prosecutors in his federal trial, both informants aided Pierce in acquiring cash, oxycodone and heroin, and now allege that they were forced into indentured servitude, including being kept addicted to drugs and engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. According to prosecutors, Pierce used the informants to set up drug buys with local dealers, then later robbed them. The federal lawsuit alleges that Pierce used his position as a detective to force the woman into engaging in sex with him, including an act of oral copulation, and on another occasion, forced sexual intercourse. Click on the link for more sleazy details.

International

Canada's Tories Hint at Move Toward Ticketing Marijuana Possession Offenders. Conservative Justice Minister Peter Mackay said Wednesday that the government is seriously considering looser marijuana laws that would allow police to ticket anyone caught with small amounts of pot instead of laying charges, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday. "We're not talking about decriminalization or legalization," MacKay said prior to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill. "The Criminal Code would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would... allow police to ticket those types of offenses." Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has called for legalization.

Vancouver Police Say They Won't Bother with Busting Dispensaries. All but a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to be illegal after Canada's new medical marijuana law comes into effect April 1, but Vancouver police said Wednesday they are not going to bother them unless there are signs they are selling to people without a medical marijuana permit. "I don't think for now there is any plan to change the current drug policy that is in place to fit specifically with these changes," said Constable Brian Montague. "We don't have plans for massive raids on April 2nd."

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Drug War Issues

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