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Chronicle AM: MO MJ Actions, CT Patients Want Buds, AL Goes After Pregnant Drug Users, More (10/13/14)

Missouri marijuana activists are keeping things hopping, Connecticut patients want actual buds, the Washington Post continues its asset forfeiture series, the Labor Department issues proposed rules for unemployment compensation drug testing, and more.

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone is coming to Michigan. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Show-Me Cannabis Activist Sues Missouri Narcs for Violating Sunshine Law. Aaron Malin, a member of the Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis, has filed suit against the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association for failing to hand over documents and information about budgets and training the group provides to narcotics officers. The lawsuit could clarify the question of whether the association is subject to the state's Sunshine Law. Malin argues that because much of the group's funding comes from dues and training paid for by members of taxpayer-funded drug task forces, it is a quasi-governmental entity and therefore subject to the law.

Columbia, Maryland, Cultivation Decriminalization Advances. The city's Disabilities Commission voted unanimously last week to endorse an ordinance that would decriminalize the cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. People caught growing two plants would face only a $250 fine; seriously ill people would face no fine. The city council had asked various commissions to weigh in; the Board of Health and the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission came down against the proposal. The council will take it up at a meeting next Monday.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Patients Want Whole Buds, Not Ground-Up Whole Plant. State medical marijuana regulations require that the plant be ground up, and that's not sitting well with some patients and activists. Homogenizing the plant results in "the degradation of the cannabinoids, the actual essential oils that are in the flower," explained Peter Mould, executive director of Connecticut NORML, who has posted a petition at change.org (search for "medical marijuana CT") asking state regulators to allow the sale of whole buds.

Asset Forfeiture

Seized Cash Fuels Law Enforcement Spending. The Washington Post continues to hammer away at asset forfeiture. This latest in an ongoing series of articles examines what law enforcement agencies are buying with the hundreds of millions of dollars they have seized under federal asset forfeiture laws. The Post examined 43,000 annual reports from police agencies under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing program. While some of the spending is justifiable, the Post also found seized funds paying for luxury vehicles, travel expenses, and even a clown named Sparkles. It's a long, but worthwhile read.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Issues Proposed Rule for Unemployment Compensation Drug Testing; Limits It to Job Categories Where Drug Testing is Required. The department is responding to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which has a provision allowing states to drug test people seeking unemployment compensation. "We propose that an applicant may be drug tested by the State in order to be eligible to receive State UC if the applicant's only suitable work, as defined under the State UC law, is in a position or class of positions, i.e., an 'occupation,' for which Federal law or that State's law requires employee drug testing in that occupation," the department proposed.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) today signed into law a bill that requires emergency medical responders to be trained to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The legislation, House Bill 5407, is part of a package of bills dealing with the issue. Snyder signed them all.

Pregnancy

Two More Alabama Counties Start Charging Pregnant Women Who Test Positive for Illegal Drugs. Calhoun and Cleburne counties now join Etowah County in seeking to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs, saying the move is designed to deter them from using drugs. That's even though there is a strong consensus among the medical community that criminalizing pregnant women hooked on drugs is not good for either mother or child, because the threat of arrest may deter pregnant women from seeking adequate prenatal health care.

International

Medical Marijuana Momentum in Australia. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced today that it will join in a national clinical trial on medical marijuana. It will join in trials being conducted by the New South Wales government. Nearly two-thirds of Australians support medical marijuana, according to a July poll, and both the national and various state governments are becoming more receptive.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Poll Battle, NE Anti-Heroin Campaign, NYC Psychedelic Conference, More (10/9/14)

Polls continue to split on the Alaska initiative, Illinoisans are lining up for medical marijuana, four Northeastern states unite to fight heroin, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

heroin (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Polls Split on Alaska Initiative. The fate of Alaska's Measure 2 legalization initiative remains up in the air. Polls this week commissioned by the opposing sides had differing results. A Dittman Research poll sponsored by the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign has the measure losing 44% to 53%. But the Alaska Survey poll, in which the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol paid for a marijuana policy question to be asked, had the initiative winning 57% to 39%. Both polls claimed a +/- 4% margin of error, but even so, both of them can't be right. The split in polls has been evident throughout the campaign. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 6,000 Illinoisans Have Applied for Medical Marijuana Cards. The Department of Health reported Wednesday that some 6,300 state residents have applied for permission to use medical marijuana, with cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries being the most common health conditions mentioned. But the department also noted that the vast majority of applications were incomplete; only 800 have submitted complete applications, which include a doctor certification form and background check information. People whose applications are incomplete will be notified and then will have 21 days to complete them.

Guam Election Commission Seeks to End Legal Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative Vote. The commission has asked the US District Court on the island territory to dismiss the petition for a writ blocking the vote filed by local attorney Howard Trapp. Trapp has argued that the legislature cannot send an initiative to the voters, but the Election Commission and the Guam Supreme Court have already rejected his claim.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Claims Marijuana Legalization Undermines Fight Against Opiates. In a speech yesterday in Maine, acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli argued that the trend toward marijuana legalization is making the fight against more serious drug problems, such as the abuse of prescription opioids, more difficult. He said that early use of marijuana increases the likelihood that users will develop dependency on other drugs. "It's hard to say at one level that we want to think about prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse without looking at how to prevent kids from starting to use other substances from an early age," he said.

Heroin

Four Northeastern States Create Anti-Heroin Task Force. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania officials Wednesday announced the formation of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF) in "an unprecedented law-enforcement collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region." Attorneys General from the four states will work together to try to repress the heroin trade. "For too long, drug organizations have tried to outmaneuver law-enforcement agencies by crossing state lines. This task force will ensure that our borders do not become our boundaries," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "By joining together, we can prevent defendants from using state borders as a shield from law-enforcement and allow us to shut down the pipelines and cut off the heroin supply."

Why Are We Freaking Out About Heroin? Wonkblog Asks. The Washington Post's Wonkblog has an insightful piece about the level of heroin use in the country and the public policy response it has engendered. The piece notes that "hardly anyone uses heroin" and is full of crunchy numbers and thoughtful commentary. "Overall, it's important for the public -- and particularly the media -- to keep some perspective when it comes to the numbers on heroin," the piece concludes. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to speak of 'epidemics' when use rates continue to hover somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5% of the total population. And kneejerk legislating will only make the problem worse." Click on the link for the full piece.

Psychedelics

New York City Conference on Psychedelics This Weekend. The eighth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will be held at Judson Memorial Church and The New School in Greenwich Village on October 11 and 12. Horizons focuses on contemporary research into the applications of psychedelics, providing an invaluable forum for experts to share ideas, insights, and to rethink the future of these drugs in science, medicine, culture, and history. This year, professors, researchers, writers and practitioners from the United States, England and Switzerland will be presenting findings and insights in the fields of neuroscience, terminal anxiety disorder, depression, hard drugs addiction, sexual orientation and identity, and more. Click on the links for more information.

International

Canada's Largest Addiction Center Calls for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization with a strict regulatory approach. The recommendation is based in harm reduction principles. The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto made the call for legalization in its report CAMH's Cannabis Policy Framework. It comes after an in-depth analysis of the health, social, and legal implications of marijuana use, as well as an examination of comparative marijuana policy, by CAMH scientists and policy experts. "Canada's current system of cannabis control is failing to prevent or reduce the harms associated with cannabis use," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH. "Based on a thorough review of the evidence, we believe that legalization combined with strict regulation of cannabis is the most effective means of reducing the harms associated with its use."

Myanmar Moving Toward Reducing Drug Penalties. Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun has told members of parliament that the government is preparing to review sentences for drug use, which currently range from five to 15 years in prison. "Officials from the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, the Union Attorney-General's Office and the Union Supreme Court are drawing up an amendment law," the deputy minister said. The Myanmar government has been moving to shift drug penalties since 2012.

Medical Marijuana Update

California cultivation fights continue, it's nail-biting time for the Florida initiative, Colorado wants to tweak its system, a Pennsylvania bill appears stalled for now, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, a Fresno County court again upheld the county's ban on medical marijuana cultivation. The ACLU of California had challenged the county ordinance banning grows and has now been shot down for a second time. Now, the group can either pursue other related actions or file an appeal in the Fifth District Court of Appeal. The county ordinance fines violators $1,000 per plant.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of California came out against Shasta County's proposed ordinance to ban outdoor marijuana cultivation and impose new restrictions on indoor grows. The ordinance is Measure A on the November ballot. The ACLU is the first statewide group to weigh in on the measure.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, a state legislative panel recommended tightening up on medical marijuana. The Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one care giver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

Florida

On Wednesday, a new SurveyUSA poll had support for the medical marijuana initiative at 51%. Because the initiative, Amendment 2, is in the form of a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. Consecutive SurveyUSA polls in the past month have showed support declining. In the last four weeks, support has dropped from 56% to 53% to 52% and now 51%. Some 15% were undecided. If the poll is correct, the undecided would have to break two-to-one in favor of the initiative for it to pass.

Pennsylvania

On Monday,officials announced that a medical marijuana pilot program was getting underway. Three children's hospitals and the Department of Health are doing a research study on the use of CBD cannabis oil in children. The project, announced in May, is now underway. A broader, but still restrictive, medical marijuana bill has passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

On Tuesday, a pending medical marijuana bill got a House committee assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a panel studying medical marijuana met. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state met at the Medical University of South Carolina. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

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

Chronicle AM: NY Times Backs Marijuana Initiatives, UK Lib Dems Approve Drug Reforms, More (10/06/14)

The nation's leading newspaper endorses three marijuana legalization initiatives, the FDA sticks up for Zohydro, British Lib Dems endorse drug reforms as a new British poll suggests growing public support, Ecuador begins freeing drug mules under a new law, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New York Times Endorses Alaska, Oregon, DC Legalization Initiatives. The editorial board of the New York Times endorsed all three initiatives in a Sunday editorial. The newspaper of record noted that all three entities had already legalized medical marijuana, and it "makes good sense" to go the rest of the way. "Opponents of legalization warn that states are embarking on a risky experiment," the newspaper said. "But the sky over Colorado has not fallen, and prohibition has proved to be a complete failure. It's time to bring the marijuana market out into the open and end the injustice of arrests and convictions that have devastated communities."

Oregon Legalization Campaign Gets Another $300,000 Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the campaign and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has kicked in another $300,000 for the Measure 91 legalization campaign. That means the group has now donated nearly a million dollars to the campaign, which has raised nearly $3 million overall.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Gets Underway. Three children's hospitals and the Department of Health are doing a research study on the use of CBD cannabis oil in children. The project, announced in May, is now underway. A broader, but still restrictive, medical marijuana bill has passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Most See Drug Addiction as Moral Failing. Most Americans consider drug addiction a personal vice rather than a medical condition, according to a new poll from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Respondents were much more likely to approve of helping people with mental illness than with drug addictions, the poll found. "While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," study leader Colleen Barry, an associate professor in the department of health policy and management, said in a Hopkins news release. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal," she added.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Responds to Critics on Zohydro. Responding to months of criticism over its decision to approve the prescription opiate pain reliever Zohydro ER, a trio of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have written a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying approval of the drug was warranted and criticism of the agency was misguided. Concentrating on one drug during a time of heightened concern over opiate misuse does not address the underlying problems of widespread misuse and physician overprescribing, they write. "The problem of opioid overdose demands well-informed policies. The actions taken by FDA may help to reverse the epidemic," they wrote. "Policies that focus on a single drug can divert focus from broader, further-reaching interventions… The concerns over Zohydro ER should be seen in the greater context of the opioid epidemic. Singling out one drug for restrictions is not likely to be successful."

International

British Liberal Democrats Approve Drug Reform Platform. The Lib Dems, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, Sunday approved a drug policy plank that calls for the decriminalization of drug possession and for the tightening of laws allowing police to stop and search people suspected of drug crimes. That puts them at odds with their coalition partners. The Lib Dems have presented their drug policy platform within the broader context of reducing crime, which has been going down, and reducing re-offending.

Poll Finds Most British Think Drug War a Huge Failure. A new Guardian poll finds that 84% think the war on drugs cannot be won, with 39% supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and a slight majority (52%) supporting marijuana legalization initiatives like those in Colorado and Washington. Click on the poll link for much more detail and discussion.

Ecuador Freeing Thousands of Drug Mules. Under a law that went into effect in August, Ecuador has begun quietly freeing thousands of people convicted of low-level cocaine smuggling offenses. The new law retroactively reduced jail sentences for drug mules, with some 500 already freed and at least another 2,200 to follow. The sentence reductions come only after a court hearing, which the prisoner must request. President Rafael Correa's father spent three years in a US prison as a drug mule.

UNODC Head Says Drug Legalization Could Cause More Deaths. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), said today that drug legalization could lead to increased consumption and more deaths. He was responding to a report last month from the Global Commission on Drug Policy that called for "experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs," which he rejected. "I believe that such experimentation certainly will make drugs more available and (cheaper)," Fedotov said. "It means that we may face increased consumption of psychoactive substances which may result in more death and more suffering of individuals (and) their families."

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

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.)

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Policy in Senate Races, CA Fair Sentencing Act, Stanton Peele on Disease Model, More (9/29/14)

Marijuana politics is popping up in some US Senate races, pot arrests are still going up in some states, the Guam medical marijuana initiative faces a legal challenge, Stanton Peele takes on the disease model of addiction and liberals who love it, Jerry Brown signs the California Fair Sentencing Act, and more. Let's get to it:

Addiction psychologist Stanton Peele rips into liberals who embrace the disease model of addiction. (YouTube.com)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy in the Kentucky US Senate Race. Pot politics is playing a role in the Kentucky Senate race. Both incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Grimes agree that industrial hemp is a good thing, but Grimes said last Thursday she wants to have a discussion on legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. McConnell retorted last Friday that he opposes legalizing marijuana for any reason because the state has a heroin problem and it would send the wrong message.

Nebraska Democratic US Senate Candidate Open to Legalization. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate from Nebraska is open to marijuana legalization. "I think we should give very serious consideration to legalization of marijuana," Dave Domina said Thursday. "If I were a philosopher king, we wouldn't have it, but I'm not and we need to spend our law enforcement dollars as intelligently as we can. That's not on marijuana enforcement. "What we should do is to make safe and dispense responsibly the drugs that are the most common, the least dangerous," he said. "I'm not saying they are desirable. I don’t think cigarettes are desirable, frankly. But nonetheless, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to methodically make marijuana available to people on a rational basis. It needs to be safely distributed and it needs to be taken away from crime as a profit center." The Republican nominee, Ben Sasse, didn't take a firm stand on the issue.

Marijuana Arrests Up in 17 States. Marijuana legalization may be inevitable, but some states haven't gotten the message. According to a new report from marijuana researcher Dr. Jon Gettman, even though national marijuana arrests peaked in 2007, marijuana arrests increased in 17 states between 2008 and 2012. Those states and their rates of annual increase are: South Carolina (11.6%), Washington, DC (7.7%) South Dakota (7.7%), North Dakota (5.5%), Utah (4.5%), Illinois (4.3%), Montana (3.5%), Idaho (3.2%), Virginia (2.6%), New York (2.4%), New Jersey (2.4%), Oregon (2.1%), Tennessee (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.2%), Vermont (1%), Michigan (1%), and West Virginia (1%). The report is Marijuana in the States 2012.

Overblown Analogy Department. The Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Office is sounding the alarm over high-THC cannabis oil, popularly known as "wax" or "dabs," but its spokesperson is relying on an old bogeyman to get her message across. "This particular drug is to marijuana the way crack is to cocaine," Donna Wood said.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Attorney Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney has asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

First Illinois Patients Get Their Cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York Governor Asks Justice Department to Allow State to Acquire Medical Marijuana from Other States. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Drug Policy

Dr. Stanton Peele on the Disease Theory of Addiction. Drug war critic and iconoclastic addiction psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele has penned a provocative screed critical of the disease theory of addiction and political liberals who embrace it. The article is "Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law. California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement. The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

International

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Says Pot Smoker Registry Could Be Used to Identify People Needing Drug Treatment. Former President Tabare Vazquez, who is running to return to the office, has proposed using the state's registry of marijuana users to expose them to drug treatment. He was attempting to frame the law as a rehabilitative measure, but critics say it could dissuade users from registering with the state. Vazquez's remarks also run afoul of provisions in the law that limit revealing such data "without the individual's express written consent."

(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.)

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement.

CA state Sen. Holly Mitchell's bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has been signed into law.
The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

"Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody," said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of California's Legislative Black Caucus. "My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest," Mitchell went on to say. "The law isn't supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness."

Although crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, legislation in the 1980s, driven by fear, misinformation, and political posturing, created much harsher penalties for crack cocaine offenses.

The racial impact of those laws was dramatic. In California, 77% of people imprisoned for crack offenses are black, 18% are Hispanic, and less than 2% are non-Hispanic whites. With blacks making up only 6.6% of the state's population, they are clearly being hit disproportionately by the crack sentencing disparity.

"The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980's drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men," said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California's action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes."

The bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform groups. It also won the support of the district attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

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