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Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki Talks Drug Reform [FEATURE]

In a conference call Monday morning, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki discussed the impact of his award-winning drug war documentary The House I Live In and where we go from here in the fight to end the drug war and mass incarceration.

Eugene Jarcecki (wikimedia.org)
The call was the second in a series of discussions planned and organized by the Drug Policy Alliance as part of its campaign to deepen and broaden the drug reform movement. The first discussion featured Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. Hear that conversation here.

Jarecki won the Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize for The House I Live In in 2012. The film made a shattering case against the drug war. Since its release, it has been used as a primer in faith institutions, schools and community-based organizations across the nation.

The drug reform landscape has been undergoing tectonic shifts in the two years since The House I Live In was released. It is possible, Jarecki said, that his film has played a role in shifting public opinion.

"One of the great lies that pervades the public imagination is the Hollywood lie that its movies don't shape the violence in this country," he said. "For Hollywood to pretend that movies have no role in shaping behavior is laughable. There are books that start revolutions. While Hollywood should bristle at the notion that movies create violence -- the violence comes in a society where we don't have health service and the roots of unwantedness can lead to violent behavior -- movies do shape public activity," he said.

"My movie is shaping public activity, and I am reminded by friends that this matters," the filmmaker continued. "A lot of young people will look at Michelle Alexander and say 'I want to be like that,' and that kind of example is extremely precious."

The recognition that the film would be an instrument of social change even influenced the title, Jarecki said.

"The making and handling of the film as a tool for public change and discussion" was important, he said. "We called it House over sexier titles, such as Kill the Poor or just Ghetto. I couldn't get it in a church or prison with a title like Kill the Poor. We had to choose a softer title; we weren't just thinking about the most poetic title, but really, how do we make sure this thing has legs where people all across the country can use it? We didn't want to alienate groups on the ground, and I wanted to make sure there were many groups on the ground doing this important work."

It worked. The film is now standard viewing in all the prisons in at least 11 states, and in New York, a viewing serves as an alternate punishment for juvenile offenders. And, Jarecki said, churches have been a key partner in getting the message out.

"We've found churches very welcoming, in large part because of our partnership with the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference," he said. "They've helped get churches across the country seeing the film, and it stretches far beyond the black church community. It's been very useful and robust. We also live stream the showings themselves to other churches. When we broadcast out of Shiloh Baptist Church, 180 other congregations also watched it."

But while Jarecki intended the film to serve polemic purposes, even he was surprised at the rapidity of the changes coming in the drug policy realm.

"The most significant surprise has been seeing the entire climate of the war on drugs change in the public imagination," he said. "When we started out, it was impossible to imagine any systemic shifts from the top. We see that the entrenched bureaucracies and corrupt interests are never open to negotiation, but the combination of the moral bankruptcy of the war on drugs and its economic bankruptcy -- 45 million drug arrests over 40 years, and what do we have to show for it? -- the catastrophic cycle of waste without achieving goals, unifies the left and the right like no other issue. The left sees a monster that preys on human rights for profit, and the right sees a bloated government program."

The policies of the war on drugs are now vulnerable, Jarecki said.

"Community groups see how it brings unfairness to communities and ravages society, so now, Washington is trying to appeal to the public by being more sensible," he argued. "This policy is vulnerable. While we've joined forces with the Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations to fight at the ground level, we're also seeing shreds of leadership from Obama, Holder, and Rand Paul. This is a moment of enormous vitality for us."

With a few exceptions, as mentioned just above, "the political class is isolated and orphaned as supporting something that doesn't make any sense," Jarecki said. "I thought I was choosing a very tough enemy, but it doesn't seem like much of a worthy adversary. The gross expenditures are hard to defend, they don't have the national security card to play anymore, the drug war has worn itself thin. 'Just Say No' and 'This is Your Brain on Drugs' hasn't worked. Instead, people just see family members with damaged lives."

It's not just in the realm of marijuana policy that the landscape is shifting in a favorable direction. The issue of the racial disparity in the drug war is also gaining traction.

"The condition of understanding the black American crisis of the drug war has moved light years in the last two years," Jarecki said. "Black folks are bizarrely and disproportionately targeted by the drug war, and that's become a common discussion. It's not a rare thing."

Still shot from The House I Live In
That understanding is extending to an acknowledgement that the war on drugs has been a brutal attack on the gains of the civil rights era, Jarecki argued.

"In the black American story, there is an argument to be made that the new Jim Crow established with the war on drugs was the final nail in the coffin of the civil rights movement," he said. "Black people are worse off economically than before the civil rights movement, and this critical viewpoint has become more widely understood."

But it's not just race. The unspeakable word in American political discourse -- class -- plays a role as well, Jarecki suggested.

"We've seen a shift from a drug war that could be described as predominantly racist to one that also has elements of class in it," he argued. "Poor whites, Latinos, women -- those are the growth areas for the war on drugs now. But let's not forget that black America is still essentially the leading link. We haven't shifted the drug war from race to class; it has diversified, it preserves its racism, but has seized market share by broadening into other class populations."

Racism and the war on drugs are only a part of a much larger problem, the filmmaker argued.

"We have to invite the country to begin seriously asking itself what kind of country it wants to be," he said. "What we are really looking at is a society that has bought into the notion that we can entrust the public good to private gain. We have industrial complexes that grip American policymaking in almost every sphere of public life, and the prison industrial complex is one of them. It is simply a crass illustration that you can feed a human being into the machine, and out comes dollar signs. This is a country without compassion, a town without pity."

And while change will come from the top, it will be impelled only by pressure from the bottom up, he said.

"Change comes from groups working together, and you start going down that road by getting out and starting walking," Jarecki advised. "It's an illusion to think we're supposed to be rescued by the government."

We have to do it ourselves.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Senate companion to the successful House DEA defunding amendment has been filed, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, a CBD bill is moving in North Carolina, Rhode Island retrenches, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, US Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker cosponsored a DEA defunding amendment in the Senate. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month. While an early vote was expected, conflicts between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have caused the overall appropriation bill to be delayed.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council moved toward permitting a fourth dispensary. The council voted to adopt regulations promulgated by the Medical Cannabis Commission that will set up a process to select a fourth dispensary for the East Bay city of 115,000. This more than three years after voters approved Measure T in 2010, which called for allowing a fourth dispensary. The commission had recommended six dispensaries, but that was too much for the council, which approved one new one in principle and said it would review the situation in a year.

On Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance strongly criticized the statewide medical marijuana regulation bill. Senate Bill 1262, which was set to go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee the same day, would leave thousands of patients without access to their medicine, fails to establish effective statewide regulation, and doesn't deal with edibles, the group said in an analysis posted on the California legislature's web site. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still must get through the Assembly.

Also on Tuesday, Desert Hot Springs city leaders expressed support for allowing dispensaries and were quite frank in saying it was all about the tax revenues. The city has an existing moratorium that will have to be removed. Leaders set no timeline at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors placed a restrictive cultivation measure on the November ballot. The measure would ban collective gardens and limit outdoor parcels to four plants. It is being backed by a group called the Emerald Unity Alliance.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Clara County supervisors voted for a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The move was in response to San Jose's new regulations on dispensaries and cultivation, which supervisors fear would push them out into the county. Supervisors want time to see how to respond and will revisit the issue at an August 5 meeting.

New York

Last Friday, New York become the 23rd medical marijuana state. The state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana, and the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state. The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill won House committee votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee. The House approved the measure, House Bill 1220, in a floor vote on Friday.

On Wednesday, the limited CBD medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. House Bill 1220 was approved by the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Rhode Island

Last Friday, the legislature amended the state's medical marijuana law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

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

Chronicle AM -- June 20, 2014

Two killer narcs face consequences for their actions, New York is set to become the 23rd medical marijuana state, the Pope comments on drug policy, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico and Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

Killed by a Utah narc. Finally, there might be some justice for Danielle Willard. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Studying Whether to Reclassify Marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I -- no medical use, high potential for abuse -- to a less restrictive schedule. The agency is acting at the request of the DEA, which is considering another rescheduling petition. Federal agencies have fended off efforts to reschedule marijuana for more than 40 years. The FDA reviewed marijuana's classification in 2001 and 2006 and found no reason to change it then.

Medical Marijuana

New York to Become 23rd Medical Marijuana State. The New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana this week, and today, the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state.The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Drug Policy

Pope Says Nope to Dope. Pope Francis told participants at a drug control conference that he opposes marijuana legalization, and he's not so sure about using opiate maintenance to treat heroin users. 'Drugs are an evil, and with evil you can't give way or compromise," Francis said. "Even the partial legalization of so-called recreational drugs, besides being questionable on legal grounds, doesn't produce the intended effects," according to the text of his remarks posted on the Vatican web site.

California Set to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. The California legislature has approved a bill that will once again allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps. A 1996 federal law barred drug felons from food stamp programs, but also gave states the ability to opt out. With the passage of Assembly Bill 1468, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign, California will have done so. Only 12 other states continue to ban drug felons from getting food stamps.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Injury Free Medication and Drug Overdose Prevention Summit Coming Next Month. State agencies and non-profits will take part in medication and overdose prevention summit on July 14 in Raleigh. Click on the lick for more details.

Law Enforcement

Utah Narc Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Danielle Willard. Former West Valley City Police undercover narcotics officer Shaun Cowley has been charged with manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting death of Danielle Misha Willard. Willard, who was unarmed, was shot and killed as she backed up her car in an apartment building parking lot. Cowley and another officer, who were investigating heroin sales, claimed they feared for their lives, but prosecutors didn't buy it. "Mr. Cowley acted in a reckless manner, and the evidence that we have does not support that his life was in danger or give him the justification to use the force that he did," said Salt Lake County prosecutor Sam Gill. The case has already resulted in a major shake-up in the department, and Willard's family has already filed a civil lawsuit.

Georgia Narc Must Pay Millions to Family of Pastor He Killed in Drug Investigation. A federal judge has ruled that Georgia undercover narc Billy Shane Harrison used unreasonable force in the killing of Pastor Jonathan Ayers and must pay his widow $2.5 million. Harrison shot and killed Ayers in a convenience store parking lot as Ayers attempted to drive away from undercover officers approaching him. They thought Ayers had some connection with a woman they were investigating, but he was just acting as a pastor.

International

Cartel Drug Wars Inflaming Mexico's Tamaulipas State. Dozens of people have been killed and numerous others have gone missing in Mexico's northeastern state of Tamaulipas since April as factions of the Gulf Cartel fight for dominance there. Click on the link to read more.

Peru Clashes Leave Soldier, Shining Path Guerrillas Dead. A Peruvian army soldier and three suspected Shining Path guerrillas have been killed in gun battles this week between security forces and suspected drug traffickers in the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), a major Peruvian coca producing region. The soldier died fighting "narco-terrorists," Peruvian authorities said.

Chronicle AM -- June 19, 2014

We can watch the marijuana policy landscape shift before our eyes, with legalization initiatives and decrim measures popping up around the country and even Oklahoma Republicans arguing over legalization. There is also action on the opiate front, the Senate will vote on defunding the DEA's war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and more. Let's get to it:

US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) cosponsors an amendment to cut DEA medical marijuana funding. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Fails to Add Rider to Block DC Decriminalization Law. The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a familiar series of social policy riders on the District of Columbia budget, but did not include one that would seek to undo the city's recent adoption of marijuana decriminalization. It's not a done deal yet, however; such a rider could still be added during the legislative process. The subcommittee did approve riders barring the District from funding needle exchanges or medical marijuana programs.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and levy a maximum $250 fine passed the House Public Safety Committee today. House Bill 371 now heads for a House floor vote.

Marijuana Policy in the Oklahoma GOP Governor's Race. In next week's GOP primary, sitting Gov. Mary Fallin is up against two longshot opponents who both favor marijuana legalization. Both Chad Moody, also known as "The Drug Lawyer," and Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican, have come out in favor of freeing the weed. But Fallin says that's not on her to-do list: "I just don't see that it provides a substantial benefit to the people of Oklahoma," Fallin said.

Milwaukee Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering Drive Underway. A coalition of Milwaukee groups have begun a petition drive to place a municipal legalization ordinance on the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce. The groups have until July 29 to come up with 30,000 valid voter signatures. People interested in helping out can get more information here.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana. The city council today approved a decriminalization measure introduce last month by Councilman Jim Kenney. Up to 30 grams is decriminalized, with a maximum $25 fine. Four years ago this month, the city began treatment small-time possession as a summary offense, with a maximum $200 fine and three-hour class on drug abuse.

Activists Gather Twice the Signatures Needed for York, Maine, Legalization Initiative. Activists supported by the Marijuana Policy Project needed 100 valid voter signatures to present a marijuana legalization petition to the York Board of Selectmen. They handed in 200. Similar petition drives are going on in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland voters approved a legalization referendum last year. The local efforts are laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Sens. Rand Paul, Cory Booker Cosponsor DEA Defunding Amendment in Senate; Vote Could Come as Soon as Tonight. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month.

New York Governor, Legislature in Tentative Deal as Session Draws to End. With the legislative ticking down its final hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders today announced a deal that would allow passage of a medical marijuana pilot program, but would not allow patients to smoke their medicine.

North Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee today.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy in the Colorado GOP Senatorial Race. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for the state's GOP senatorial nomination, is being attacked as a drug legalizer in a radio ad created by a committee supporting former Sen. Mike Copp. While Tancredo supports marijuana legalization and has in the past spoken of the need to consider drug legalization, he says he is not ready to legalize hard drugs and is demanding that the ads be pulled.

Opiates

Vermont Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Opiate Use. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of bills and executive orders that will ramp up treatment for opiate addiction, but also increase penalties for bringing more than one gram of heroin into the state. The centerpiece of the legislative package is Senate Bill 295, which will fund pretrial screening and drug treatment for suspects before they are arraigned.

New York Assembly Set to Approve Package of Heroin Bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and key lawmakers announced Tuesday night that they had a deal on a package of heroin bills that would raise awareness of the issue and increase insurance coverage of heroin treatment. What isn't clear is whether they agreement also includes a series of Rockefeller drug law-style measure passed by the Republican-dominated Senate that would increase criminal penalties for some heroin offenses.

Harm Reduction

DC Police Chief Orders No Arrests for Overdose Victims. In a recent memorandum, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has instructed her police force to observe protections from arrest and charge granted under a DC law designed to encourage residents to seek immediate medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose. The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#A19-564), which was passed by the D.C. Council in 2012 and took effect on March 19, 2013, provides limited legal protection from arrest, charge and prosecution for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.

Sentencing

Federal Fair Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 39. Rep. William Envart (D-IL) has signed on as a cosponsor to the Federal Fair Sentencing Act. That makes 25 Democrats, along with 14 Republicans. It would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences and impose retroactivity for crack cocaine sentences handed down before 2010.

International

Britain's Looming Khat Ban Could Create Black Market. A ban on khat is about to go into effect in England, and this report suggests that it could create political tensions in East Africa, as well as creating a black market for the substance in England itself.

Albanian Siege of Marijuana-Producing Village Continues. A police assault on the village of Lazarat that began Monday is still underway as clashes continued between police and armed villagers. Some 800 police are involved in the operation, and they say they have seized or destroyed more than 10 tons of marijuana so far. But that's only a fraction of the 900 tons the village is estimated to produce annually. The town's $6 billion pot crop is equivalent to about half Albania's GDP.

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

Senate Could Vote to Cut DEA Funds as Soon as Tonight

Cut that funding!

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is reporting that Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal.

The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow, MPP says.

While the House vote was historic, it will be only a symbolic victory unless the Senate also joins in. Passage of the DEA defunding by the Congress (and the presumed signature of the bill by the president) would, on the other hand, have real world consequences--for the better. 

Stay tuned for what could be a very well-deserved slap in the face for the DEA. Even if the measure fails in the Senate, it should provide a heads-up to the agency that there is growing dissatisfaction with it on the Hill. But we don't want to settle for that; we want the DEA handcuffed when it comes to medical marijuana.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

High drama in New York as a medical marijuana bill goes down to the wire, congressmembers call on HHS to help unblock marijuana research, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill becomes law in another Southern state, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Tuesday, federal regulators warned casinos not to take bets made with marijuana money. Federal regulators addressing a banking secrecy conference in Las Vegas warned casinos they can't accept bets from people working in the marijuana industry unless the casinos undertake rigorous background checks and allow the federal government to monitor the bets. That's because casinos are subject to the same financial reporting requirements as financial institutions. It's a lengthy report; click on the link to read it all.

On Tuesday, 30 congressmembers called on HHS to end roadblocks to medical marijuana research. Thirty members of Congress led by Rep. Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mathews Burkwell calling on her to make the process for obtaining marijuana for research purposes less onerous.

California

Last Thursday, the Blythe city council moved to overturn a dispensary ban. The council voted to authorize city staff to draft an ordinance to repeal the ban put in place in 2010 and introduce a new ordinance to allow dispensaries under strict guidelines.

Also last Thursday, the California Coastal Commission approved San Diego's new medical marijuana ordinance. The approval means parts of Barrio Logan and Sorrento Valley can be added to the short list of neighborhoods where dispensaries can operate.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won an Assembly committee vote. Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), would create the first statewide regulation of medical marijuana. It passed the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee and now heads for the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It has already passed the Senate.

Florida

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. He signed the "Charlotte's Web" bill (Senate Bill 1030), which allows a small number of patients to use high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils for the treatment of epilepsy or cancer.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, the DC Council moved toward expanding medical marijuana access. In a joint session of the Health and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, the council gave preliminary approval to two bills. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, would increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met.

Kentucky

Last Friday, the Kentucky VFW passed a resolution supporting medical marijuana for vets. The Kentucky state convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) passed a resolution calling on the national VFW to support medical marijuana access for veterans through the Veterans Administration. The VA should begin "post haste" to provide medical marijuana to vets through VA Hospital System pharmacies, the resolution said. The resolution will be brought up at the VFW national convention in St. Louis next month.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health got an earful over its proposed new medical marijuana program rules. Proposals to reduce the number of plants patients can grow, impose stricter testing requirements, and increase fees are all proving unpopular. So is the department's insistence on holding the hearing Tuesday instead of postponing it to allow more time for people to respond to the proposed rules.

New York

As of Wednesday, the Compassionate Use Act was still alive, but just barely. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rejected the Compassionate Use Act Tuesday, just two days before the state's legislative session ends. Legislators are working to revise the bill in a manner acceptable to Cuomo, and he has signaled he was willing to waive legislative rules to allow a late bill to be introduced.

Oklahoma

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative signature-gatherers complained of harassment by the Tulsa Police. Signature-gatherers for the state's medical marijuana initiative say that on at least four occasions, Tulsa Police have shown up to harass them. Police asked signature-gatherers to leave, then, when they asserted their right to petition, began asking for identification and doing background checks on them. Tulsa Police, for their part, said they had records of two calls reporting that signature-gatherers were selling marijuana. But no one was arrested for selling marijuana or anything else, and the campaign group Oklahomans for Health said its people were not selling or advertising marijuana. The group said it has asked the ACLU of Oklahoma for assistance.

South Carolina

Last Tuesday, state Democrats voted overwhelmingly for medical marijuana in a non-binding primary question. South Carolina Democrats voting in the party primary Tuesday supported a non-binding question about allowing for medical marijuana use by a margin of three-to-one. The state passed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill this year, but that will only help a small number of patients.

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

Chronicle AM -- June 17, 2014

It looks like Oregon is set to join Alaska in voting on marijuana legalization this year, the New York medical marijuana bill is going down to the wire, Florida's governor signs a pair of drug-related bills, Colombia's drug-reforming president wins reelection, and more. Let's get to it:

Colombia's drug reforming and peace negotiating President Juan Manuel Santos has won reelection. (wikiemedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Now Has More Than 100,000 Signatures. Only yesterday, we reported that just before the weekend, the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative had handed in some 83,000 raw signatures, but that proponents would need more than 100,000 raw signatures to feel comfortable that they will actually attain the 87,213 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. Now, the campaign reports that it has more than 100,000 raw signatures and will continue signature-gathering until the July 3 deadline. It looks like Oregon is about to join Alaska as states where residents will vote on marijuana legalization this fall.

Medical Marijuana

Thirty Congressmembers Call on HHS to End Roadblocks to Marijuana Research. Thirty members of Congress led by Rep. Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mathews Burkwell calling on her to make the process for obtaining marijuana for research purposes less onerous.

California Assembly Committee is Debating Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. A bill that would create the first statewide regulation of medical marijuana is being heard in the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee today. Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), has already passed the Senate.

Florida Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Monday signed into law the "Charlotte's Web" bill (Senate Bill 1030), which allows a small number of patients to use high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils for the treatment of epilepsy or cancer.

New York Medical Marijuana Fight Going Down to Last Minute. Medical marijuana proponents continued to do battle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over the Compassionate Care Act as the state's legislative session draws to a close. Legislators have amended the bill to address Cuomo's concerns, but patients and providers expressed outrage over Cuomo's "attempt to derail the legislation." Cuomo has called for eliminating many medical conditions from eligibility for medical marijuana, as well as imposing onerous restrictions on physicians. Another obstacle is the Senate's GOP leadership, which could block a floor vote. The session ends on Thursday.

Oklahoma Initiative Signature-Gatherers Complain of Harassment by Tulsa Police. Signature-gatherers for the state's medical marijuana initiative say that on at least four occasions, Tulsa Police have shown up to harass them. Police asked signature-gatherers to leave, then, when they asserted their right to petition, began asking for identification and doing background checks on them. Tulsa Police, for their part, said they had records of two calls reporting that signature-gatherers were selling marijuana. But no one was arrested for selling marijuana or anything else, and the campaign group Oklahomans for Health said its people were not selling or advertising marijuana. The group said it has asked the ACLU of Oklahoma for assistance.

Privacy

Methadone Advocates Warn of SAMHSA Patient Confidentiality Threat. A proposed Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) regulation that would end the exclusion of methadone treatment records from electronic health records is raising concern among methadone advocates. They say methadone patients suffer from stigma and that the records of their treatment should stay protected. Click on the link for information about how to have some input on the decision-making process.

New Synthetic Drugs

Florida Governor Signs Bill Targeting New Synthetic Drugs. Gov. Rick Scott Monday signed into law House Bill 697, which adds six new synthetic drugs to the list of criminally banned substances. The new synthetics targeted all appear to be phenethylamines.

Law Enforcement

South Dakota Drug Arrests Up More than 40% Last Year. Although overall arrests were only up slightly last year, drug arrests in South Dakota jumped more than 40%. Law enforcement is saying the big jump is due to the increased presence of meth and other drugs in the state's largest cities, Sioux Falls and Rapid City "Certainly more people have been arrested for drug offenses," Attorney General Marty Jackley said. "Part of that is attributable to more people using controlled substances." Drug arrests accounted for one out of six of all arrests in the state last year. More people were arrested for drugs than for DUI, assault, or larceny.

New Orleans Police Department Loosens Past Drug Use Policies. Under a policy change approved Monday, past drug use is no longer an automatic disqualifier for being hired as a New Orleans police officer. Now, applicants can be hired if that have not used marijuana or prescription pills within the last three years and most other drugs within the last 10 years. The brings the NOPD in line with the FBI and other major city police departments.

International

Drug Reformer, Peace Negotiator Juan Manuel Santos Re-Elected President of Colombia. Juan Manuel Santos has won reelection as president of Colombia in a race against a rightist candidate who criticized his peace negotiations with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. Santos has been a loud voice for drug reform on the national and international stages.

Bermuda Approves Drug Testing of Parliamentarians. After rancorous debate, Bermuda's parliament has approved a proposal to require drug testing of parliamentarians. MPS can test positive for marijuana three times before they are suspended; for other drugs, it's one time.

What Does the Dance of the Peruvian Drug Czars Mean? Peruvian President Ollanta Humala recently fired hard-line DEVIDA head Carmen Macias, replacing her with former Defense Minister Luis Alberto Otarola. Humala also backed away from a controversial coca eradication campaign about to get under way in the Apurimac-Ene-Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM) that faced strong local opposition. Washington Office on Latin America analyst Coletta Youngers has written an analysis of what it all means, both domestically and internationally. Click on the link to read her piece.

Chronicle AM -- June 13, 2014

Jamaica will decriminalize pot possession and Bermuda is thinking about it, legalization initiatives in Alaska and Oregon get big bucks donations, medical marijuana reform is moving in the DC city council, and more. Let's get to it:

MPP Gives Alaska Initiative Campaign Big Cash Contribution. The Marijuana Policy Project, which is backing the Alaska legalization initiative, has just kicked in another $140,000. That's the second largest contribution to the campaign yet (the biggest, also from MPP, was $210,000), and pushes its total contributions to over half a million dollars. The organized opposition -- Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2 -- has, on the other hand, raised only $31,000, most of it in a single donation by an Alaska Native village corporation.

Peter Lewis Family Gives Oregon Initiative Campaign Big Cash Contribution. A PAC controlled by heirs of Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform funder Peter Lewis has donated $250,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative. Lewis had donated $96,000 before his death last fall, and there were fears his death could end his reform largesse, but his family is carrying on. The group has raised more than $900,000 overall.

SurveyUSA Oregon Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll in Oregon has 51% supporting marijuana legalization, with 41% opposed, and 8% undecided. The poll comes as three legalization initiatives are in the final weeks of signature-gathering to put the issue on the November ballot. Initiative organizers are not going to breathe easy with numbers like these, though; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives want to be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins in earnest. Click on the link for demographic and methodological details.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Moves Toward Approving Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. The District of Columbia city council moved ahead yesterday with plans to expand access to medical marijuana. In a joint session of the Health and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, the council gave preliminary approval to two bills. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, will increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met.

Feds Warn Casinos to Not Take Bets Made With Marijuana Money. Federal regulators addressing a banking secrecy conference in Las Vegas yesterday warned casinos they can't accept bets from people working in the marijuana industry unless the casinos undertake rigorous background checks and allow the federal government to monitor the bets. That's because casinos are subject to the same financial reporting requirements as financial institutions. It's a lengthy report; click on the link to read it all.

Sentencing

Fair Sentencing Act Gets Another Cosponsor. Add Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to the list of cosponsors of the federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2013. He signed on yesterday. That makes 24 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee. Clicking on the link will take you to the bill.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Sheriff's Office Makes Mass Drug Bust… Again… and Again. The Amherst County Sheriff's Office announced yesterday that a county grand jury had indicted 68 people on drug charges after a months-long investigation by the department. It's the third mass bust since 2010's Operation Silent Night and 2012's Operation Avalanche. The sheriff's office seems to understand--at least on some level--the futility of such operations: "It stops these folks from selling drugs [but] as soon as you remove these folks, someone else takes their place. It's a never-ending cycle we're working on," a spokesman said.

International

Jamaica Will Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Jamaica will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the government announced yesterday. It will also allow possession for some medical and scientific purposes. And it will allow possession for religious purposes. Justice Minister Mark Golding said that the cabinet is supporting a proposal to decriminalize the possession of to two ounces of the ganja. Under the proposal, those caught with marijuana could be subjected to fines, but not criminal charges.

Bermuda's Attorney General Says Government Should Consider Marijuana Decriminalization. As the Bermudan government mulls marijuana reform, new Attorney General Trevor Moniz has come out for decriminalization. Moniz would prefer "a system where if you get caught with a small amount of marijuana, you don't go to court and you wouldn't have any criminal record," he said. "In New York and the UK., they have a caution only for a first offence, which may need to be broadened. I'm in favor of small steps, incremental steps, rather than a big leap," he added.

Barcelona Bans New Cannabis Clubs for a Year. Citing a proliferation of private cannabis clubs and a lack of regulation, the Barcelona city council announced today it was instituting a moratorium on new clubs for one year. The crackdown comes just days after a club was closed for illegal sales. The clubs allow members to grow and consume their own cannabis, but they aren't supposed to sell the stuff to outsiders. The clubs have been attracting cannabis tourists from around the world.

Conflict in Turkish Municipality Tied to Marijuana Crop. Three weeks of violent protests in the municipality of Lice in Diyarbakir Province, where Kurds predominate, are linked to the looming marijuana harvest, some of the profits from which are destined for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), according to this report. Violent incidents have been ongoing since demonstrators attacked a security forces outpost with homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails, and soldiers opened fire, killing the nephew of a "notorious trafficker."

DEA Ignores Science, Obstructs Research, New Report Finds [FEATURE]

[Full disclosure: I researched and wrote most of this report and was paid by DPA to do so.]

In a report released this week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) reveal a decades-long pattern of the DEA ignoring scientific evidence and systematically obstructing medical research that could lead to the rescheduling of marijuana.

The report comes just days after the House issued a stinging rebuke to the DEA by approving a bipartisan measure that bars the use of federal taxpayer dollars for the DEA to undermine medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The House also approved measures stripping the DEA's ability to interfere with hemp production in states where it is legal.

While the report found that the DEA tends to move with excruciating slowness when confronted with evidence that confounds its ideological predispositions, the agency is able and willing to move at lightning speed to criminalize more drugs or schedule them more restrictively.

The report, The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science, uses a number of case studies to unveil DEA practices to maintain the existing, scientifically unsupported drug scheduling system. They include:

Failing to act in a timely fashion. The DEA took 16 years to issue a final decision rejecting the first marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine years for the third. In two of the three cases, it took multiple lawsuits to force the agency to act.

Overruling DEA Administrative Law Judges. DEA Administrative Law Judges are government officials charged with evaluating the evidence on rescheduling and other matters before the DEA and making recommendations based on that evidence to the DEA Administrator. In the cases of the scheduling of marijuana and MDMA, the judges determined that that they should be placed in Schedule II instead of Schedule I, where they would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescription medicines, but still retain criminal sanctions for non-medical uses. However, agency administrators overruled their Administrative Law Judges' recommendations, substituting their own judgments and ignoring scientific evidence. The current DEA head, Michelle Leonhart, also rejected a DEA Administrative Law Judge ruling that the DEA end its unique and unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research.

Creating a regulatory Catch-22. The DEA has argued for decades that there is not sufficient evidence to support rescheduling marijuana or the medical use of marijuana. At the same time, it has -- along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- acted in a manner intended to systematically impede scientific research. Through the use of such tactics, the DEA has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in maintaining existing drug laws than in making important drug control decisions based on scientific evidence.

The report makes two central recommendations: 1) that the responsibility for determining drug classifications and other health determinations should be completely removed from DEA and transferred to another agency, perhaps even a non-governmental entity such as the National Academy of Sciences, and 2) that the DEA should be ordered to end the federal government's unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research. No other drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes.

Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) (congress.gov)
"The DEA abuses its discretionary powers over scheduling, making it incredibly difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana for research purposes," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann during a Wednesday teleconference to announce the report. "Our recommendations call for taking the power over drug scheduling away from the DEA. It is essentially a police and propaganda agency. This authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm, or a truly independent agency, like the National Academy of Sciences," he said.

"The DEA and Ms. [Michele] Leonhart have constantly been opposing any science that would change her mindset and opinion, which was apparently created around 1937," said Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN), referencing the year federal marijuana prohibition began. "She is totally against marijuana, she will not admit that it is not as harmful as heroin or cocaine, and she is on a war on drugs."

Cohen was the author of another successful amendment that spanked the DEA. His successful amendment redirected $5 million in DEA funding to instead be used to help reduce a back log of rape kits that need testing. He said he was happy to be part of the congressional effort to restrict the agency.

"I was thrilled to be part of that coalition," Cohen said. "Those amendments to the appropriations bill were a great victory. We've been voting on this since 2007, and we always had about 165 Democrats on board, and a few more this time. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) did a great job getting Republicans on board; he got some of the younger, more libertarian members and members who know people marijuana has helped."

"The DEA has opposed efforts to reform federal scheduling policy to acknowledge that marijuana has medical purposes," said Dr. Carl Hart, a Columbia University neuroscientist. "As someone who has studied marijuana, this concerns me. That the DEA has not rescheduled marijuana seems to go against all the scientific evidence and against a society that uses empirical evidence."

MAPS executive director Rick Doblin said his organization, acting as a non-profit pharmaceutical company, had been trying for 22 years to develop Schedule I drugs like marijuana into FDA-approved medications, but that the DEA and other federal agencies had made that impossible.

DEA Administrator Leonhart is on the hot seat. (usdoj.gov/dea)
"Twenty-two years later, I've been unable to start a single, privately-funded study, and the main reason is the DEA's refusal to open the door," he said. "The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a DEA-protected monopoly on the production of marijuana for research, and although we've had two protocols approved by the FDA and review boards, we have been unable to obtain marijuana. We tried for seven years to buy 10 grams of marijuana for vaporizer studies; we were unable to do that. We've been in litigation with the DEA for 12 years and lost on the grounds that NIDA had an adequate supply."

One study -- of marijuana's efficacy in treating PTSD -- has been approved, Doblin said, but even there, the process has been painfully slow.

"We started trying to get that approved four years ago," he said. "We finally got approval from NIDA in March of this year, but they say they won't have the marijuana we need until January 2015."

For Doblin, it's all about ending NIDA's monopoly on marijuana for research purposes.

"DEA is protecting the NIDA monopoly, which should be ended," he said. "That's the action item we should be doing right now."

The DEA has been politically bulletproof since it was created by the Nixon White House in 1973. But that is changing, DPA national affairs director Bill Piper argued.

"When you look at Congress, with so many members driven by frustration that the DEA is blocking research and preventing medical marijuana from moving forward, that's a big reason the House voted for those amendments," he said. "The DEA has said that marijuana is not approved by the FDA, but Congress has figured out that DEA is blocking the necessary trials from moving forward. The more the DEA obstructs the research, the more support there is for changing federal law and cutting the DEA's authority. The days when the DEA can quietly block this stuff are over; they will pay a price if they stand in the way of reform."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congressional Democrats who voted wrong on medical marijuana catch some flak, California continues to struggle with regulating medical marijuana, while other states struggle to get bills passed. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana advocacy group began airing TV ads targeting Democrats who voted against ending DEA interference in medical marijuana states. The group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and other Democrats as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it.

Arizona

Last Thursday, a state court judge ordered the state to allow medical marijuana for PTSD. A state court judge has ruled that "a preponderance of evidence shows medical marijuana provides palliative benefit to those suffering from PTSD" and given the state Health Department until July 9 to accept his decision or appeal it. The department has denied all previous petitions seeking to add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions.

California

Last Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors voted to ban all medical marijuana cultivation. The county had previously allowed cooperatives or individuals to grow up to 99 plants. The board rejected a chance to simply ban collective grows, but chose instead to ban all grows. This is just the initial vote.

Last Wednesday, the city of Riverside sued to block a medical marijuana ballot measure. The city has sued to block an initiative that would legalize and regulate a small number of dispensaries less than a month after organizers qualified it for the 2015 ballot. The initiative "goes beyond the legislative powers of the electorate" and is illegal because it would force the city to violate state and federal laws, including the federal Controlled Substances Act, the city argues.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council approved tough restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation sites. The council's vote limits dispensaries to a handful of industrial areas making up less than 1% of the city. It also forces dispensaries to grow all their medicine in the county, limit their store hours, and bars them from selling edibles resembling candy. Medical marijuana backers say they have already collected enough signatures to put their own dispensary regulations on the ballot. It ain't over in San Jose.

Also on Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors introduced an ordinance allowing limited indoor cultivation. Residents of unincorporated areas of the county would be able to grow up to nine plants indoors. Two months ago, the board backed a ban on all outdoor cultivation. The indoor cultivation ordinance comes up for a vote next week.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors okayed asking voters to approve a dispensary tax in November. The measure would allow dispensaries to be taxed at up to 10% of their gross sales. The county estimates it would raise about $900,000 a year, to be used to enforce marijuana dispensary and cultivation regulations.

District of Columbia

Last Thursday, the Department of Health added new qualifying conditions for patients. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Florida

On Wednesday, new polls showed strong support for medical marijuana among Florida voters. With medical marijuana on the ballot in November, a new poll shows 70% of likely voters support the constitutional amendment. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Another poll released this week has support at 66%. "Florida's medical marijuana amendment that will be on the ballot this fall continues to appear headed for easy passage," Public Policy Polling, which did the second poll, wrote in an analysis.

Also on Wednesday, conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson kicked in $2.5 million to defeat the initiative. Billionaire casino magnate and major Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson has donated $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the Florida medical marijuana initiative. A newly-formed group backed by Adelson, the Drug Free Florida Committee, was started by long-time GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife Betty. It has raised $2.7 million so far and its top donors have been primarily Republicans.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the DEA was reportedly giving dispensary docs an ultimatum: quit the dispensaries or lose your license. The Boston Globe reported that DEA agents have been visiting Massachusetts doctors involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and telling them the DEA will jerk the licenses to prescribe drugs if they don't cut ties with the dispensaries. And it's working. At least two doctors have severed ties, while one gave up his DEA license, saying as a semi-retired surgeon, he didn't need it to do his job. The Globe reports this will likely slow the opening of some long-awaited dispensaries.

Nevada

On Monday, Clark County commissioners approved 18 dispensary licenses. There will soon be 18 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in unincorporated parts of Clark County, the home of Las Vegas. Nevada approved medical marijuana in 2000, but only approved dispensaries last year.

New York

On Tuesday, a key GOP senator said he will not allow a vote on medical marijuana. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R) said today he would not allow a vote on the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D). "The Savino bill will not come out of my committee, the Finance Committee," he said. "You don't have any kind of reasonable research on the effects. You have people coming in here every day trying to ban e-cigarettes and use of tobacco in other ways." He said he and other Senate Republicans may be open to legislation that would not allow marijuana to be smoked. The session ends next Thursday.

North Carolina

On Saturday, Todd Stimson began a "March Against Fear" to generate support for medical marijuana. He is leading the 259-mile "March Against Fear" from Asheville to Raleigh to help bring attention to a pending medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1161. The bill was filed last month and is now languishing in the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the title link to join up or get more info.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a committee hearing and stays alive. Following a hearing on Senate Bill 1182, committee members said they had been assured the bill would get a vote in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, but it will be then up to Senate leaders to decide if they will allow a floor vote. If it gets and wins a floor vote, the House would still have to pass it, or pass its own version.

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

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