With all eyes on the November elections, it's pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front. Minors get admitted to the program in Connecticut, and, speaking of the elections, we have news from Florida.
Last Thursday, minors became eligible to qualify for medical marijuana. Under changes in the state's medical marijuana system that went into effect this week, minors with certain specified conditions can now enroll in the program. Those conditions include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, irreversible spinal cord injury with intractable spasticity, severe epilepsy, intractable seizure disorders, and terminal illness.
On Monday, money was flowing into the state over the medical marijuana initiative. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson kicked in another $500,000 in the last week of September to help defeat the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative. That brings Adelson's total for the campaign to $1.5 million. He kicked in $5.5 million to defeat a similar proposal in 2014. All told, the opposition raised $560,000 in the last week of September. Meanwhile, Amendment 2 backers took in $1.07 million in the same period, all but $7,000 from the New Approach PAC. Florida attorney John Morgan has also kicked in $2.3 million of his own money. The no side spent more than $700,000 last week, mainly on TV ads, while the yes side spent $326,000.
On Wednesday, a new poll had the initiative winning big. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.
More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.
Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.
"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, AryehNeier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."
Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.
The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.
Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.
"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."
The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.
Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.
And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.
report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.
"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.
"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."
We have Massachusetts legalization news today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gets slapped down in his bid to drug test food stamp applicants, Iran's parliament ponders ending the death penalty for drugs, and more.
It looks like another bumper opium harvest next spring in Afghanistan. (unodc.org)
Another Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new Western New England University Polling Institute poll has the Question 4 leading a month out from election day. The poll had support at 55% among all registered voters, with 39% opposed. When it came to likely voters, the initiative's lead shrunk slightly, with 52% in support and 42% opposed.
Massachusetts ACLU Report Highlights Continuing Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. Even after decriminalization, people continue to get arrested for marijuana offenses, especially if they're black, a new ACLU report has found. Black Massachusetts residents were 3.3 times more likely to get popped for pot than white ones even though they use it at the same rate. For marijuana sales offenses, the disparity was even more striking: Blacks were 7.1 times more likely than whites to get busted for peddling pot. "Racial disparities are a disturbing feature of our current marijuana policy. Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 10 times the rate of white people in some counties -- despite the fact that black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate," ACLU Racial Justice Director Rahsaan Hall says in a prepared statement. "Taxing and regulating marijuana is an important step towards reducing the harm that current policies cause to people of color, particularly Black people, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested in our communities."
Federal Court Rejects Wisconsin's Bid to Drug Test Food Stamp Applicants. A federal judge in Washington has rejected a challenge from Gov. Scott Walker (R) to a federal law that blocks states from drug testing food stamp applicants. Walker had challenged the policy last year as he launched a doomed presidential bid, but the federal judge ruled that Wisconsin filed its complaint too soon, before it had actually implemented the policy, and without giving the Obama administration a chance to formally reject it.
Afghan Opium Production Expands to Near Record Levels. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production this year to one of the highest levels on record. Illicit cultivation has expanded to nearly half a million acres, making it one of the biggest years for poppy since 1994, when the UNODC began estimating the crop size. The all-time record is about 600,000 acres, reported in 2014.
Iraqi Forces Burn ISIS Opium Poppy Crop. Iraqi security forces Wednesday burned a four square acre field planted with opium poppies belonging to ISIS in Salahuddin province. The move was described as an effort to cut ISIS financing through the opium and heroin trade. Iraqi officials said ISIS used laboratories at Mosul University to process the raw opium into heroin.
Iran Moving to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses. One of the world's leading drug executioners may be about the change its ways. A bill that would end capital punishment for drug trafficking now has the support of a majority in the parliament. If the parliament actually approves the bill, it would have to be ratified by the Guardian Council of Islamic jurists, which has opposed any relaxation of the country's death penalty regime. But executing drug smugglers "will not benefit the people or the country," said Yahya Kamalpur, deputy head of the parliamentary legal and judicial committee. Parliament "wants to eliminate the death penalty for criminals who [smuggle narcotics] out of desperation" and replace it with long prison sentences or hard labor. We are after a scientific and not emotional solution in confronting drug smugglers," he said.
Danes to Consider Bill Easing Marijuana-Impaired Driving Rules. A bill filed in the parliament this week would the country's zero tolerance policy toward drivers with marijuana in their systems in favor of a "stepladder" approach in which the penalty for driving while impaired would depend on the level of marijuana in the driver's system. Under current law, driving with marijuana in one's system can result in the loss of a driver's license for three years. That's too much for bill sponsor Jan Jorgensen of the Liberal Party. "You can actually drive pretty well, even after having smoked hash. There is obviously a limit to how much, but we believe a minimum threshold should be introduced now," he said. "The problem is that we have punished a lot of people who have not been of any danger to traffic at all, simply because they might have smoked marijuana a fortnight ago, and it still could be measured in the blood."
Chelsea Clinton retracts an errant statement, a California bill creating a "micro farm" license for ma-and-pa growers is signed into law, Massachusetts moves toward being more patient-friendly, and more.
Last Thursday, a spokesman conceded that Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" about the risk of marijuana fatalities. Chelsea Clinton "misspoke" when she suggested that using medical marijuana along with other medications could be fatal, a spokeswoman has conceded. "While discussing her and her mother's support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana's interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths," the spokeswoman said. While campaigning for her mother, the former first daughter told students at Youngstown State University in Ohio over the weekend that "some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medicinal] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking."
Last Thursday, the governor signed the medical marijuana "micro farmer" bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.
On Tuesday, regulators proposed expansions in the medical marijuana program. The Department of Public Health has submitted a collection of proposed changes to the Public Health Council. The proposals include allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients and allowing dispensaries to post prices online. Allowing nurse practitioners to certify would boost patient numbers and allowing online price posting should encourage competition and drive prices down, the department said.
On Monday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll finds strong support for medical marijuana, with nearly two-thirds (63%) in favor. A medical marijuana bill failed earlier this year after the Mormon Church warned it could do more harm than good, but expect another one to be filed next year. Utahns may be down with medical marijuana, but they don't go for legalization. Only 22% were prepared to endorse that.
(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)
Tennessee's two largest cities have semi-decriminalized small-time marijuana possession, California pro-legalization ads roll out, the NFL bans "fake weed," and more.
California Marijuana Legalization Ads Hit the Airwaves Statewide. TV ads in support of marijuana legalization hit the airwaves Monday up and down the state of California. The campaign's ads in support of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, are running on both broadcast and cable channels. The first ad highlights in a straightforward way how the tough restrictions will keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. It explains how only adults 21 and older will be allowed to purchase at licensed businesses. The initiative bans ads directed at kids, there are strict labeling and child proof packaging and would ban edibles that appeal to children. The second ad also reinforces that marijuana will only be legal for adults over 21 and bans marijuana use in public. The ad also explains that the money in new revenue will fund after school job training and placement initiatives.
Maine ACLU Endorses Legalization Initiative."Legalizing, regulating and taxing the use of marijuana by adults 21 and older will bring a new approach to our marijuana laws, making them more fair, more compassionate and better at improving public health and increasing public safety. For those reasons, the ACLU endorses a 'yes' vote on Question 1 in November, wrote ACLU of Maine executive director Alison Beyea.
Memphis Decriminalizes (Sort of). The Memphis city council Tuesday night voted 7-6 to approve an ordinance that gives police the discretion to issue a fine instead of arresting people possessing less than a half ounce of marijuana. Nashville approved a similar ordinance last month. Full decriminalization would make the penalty for small-time possession only a fine and would not give police officers the ability to choose which offenders get ticketed and which get arrested.
Massachusetts Regulators Propose Expansions in Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Public Health has submitted a collection of proposed changes to the Public Health Council. The proposals include allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients and allowing dispensaries to post prices online. Allowing nurse practitioners to certify would boost patient numbers and allowing online price posting should encourage competition and drive prices down, the department said.
New Psychoactive Substances
NFL Bans "Synthetic Marijuana". The National Football League has added synthetic cannabinoids ("fake weed") to its list of banned substances in an agreement with the NFL Players Association announced Wednesday. Players whose drug tests reveal more than 2.5 nanograms per milliliter of synthetic cannabinoids will be considered in violation of the league's drug policies and subject to intervention and discipline.
The campaign ads start rolling out in Maine and Massachusetts, legal pot sales keep getting higher, the DEA cuts quotas for prescription opioid manufacturing, and more.
The maker of Suboxone is accused of price gouging and patent manipulation. (Wikimedia.org)
Legal Pot Sales Keep Going Up, Up, Up. This year is on track to be another record-setter when it comes to legal marijuana sales. A new report from the financial services company Convergex finds that sales growth at legal pot shops in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington was "impressive." Through July, Colorado has already done $458.7 million in revenues, while Washington has come in at $415.8 million through August. The Colorado figure is only 20% below the total for all of 2015, while the Washington figure already exceeds sales for all of last year. Oregon dispensaries reported $42.4 million in retail sales in June and July.
New England Legalization Initiatives Launch First TV Ads. The Question 1 campaign in Maine and the Question 4 campaign in Massachusetts both rolled out their first television ads Monday. The Massachusetts ads feature a former Boston police officer who is now a criminal justice professor, while the Maine ad also features a former law enforcement official, former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
DEA Reduces Amount of Opioid Controlled Substances. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is reducing quotas for the amount of Schedule II opiates and opioid medications that can be produced in the US next year by 25% or more. DEA said it is responding to decreased demand for these substances, based on reduced prescribing of them. The quota has been cut by 25% for oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and other such medications and a whopping 66% for hydrocodone.
Thirty-Five States and DC Sue Suboxone Maker Over Price Gouging. Illinois is among the 35 states and the District of Columbia that have filed a lawsuit against the drugmaker Indivior over its maneuvers to keep a monopoly on the market for Suboxone, which is used to treat patients addicted to heroin and other opioids. The lawsuit charges that Indivior changed Suboxone from a tablet to a dissolving film only in order to get a new patent that would protect it from competition and allow it to charge exorbitant prices. The company has made over a billion dollars in annual sales every year since 2009, when the original patent was set to expire. "These companies rigged a system to ensure they profited at the expense of the people who depended on this drug to treat and recover from addiction," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.
We're little more than a month out from election day and Nevada is looking good, Arizona legalization foes have a big war chest, Germany okays its first medical marijuana patient grow, and more.
Arizona Legalization Foes Have Big War Chest. The organized opposition to the Prop 205 legalization initiative is well-positioned to do damage in the final weeks leading up to election day. According to financial reports filed with the secretary of state's office, the anti-205 Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has more than $1.4 million in the bank right now, while the pro-Prop 205 forces have only $170,000 on hand. The pro forces have raised more money ($3.2 million versus $2 million), but they've already spent most of it.
Oregon's Recreational Pot Shops Are Now Open for Business. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced last Friday it had approved licenses for 26 marijuana retailers. Until now, medical marijuana dispensaries had also served recreational users. But now, with pot shops opening, dispensaries will only be allowed to sell to patients after December 31.
Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll finds strong support for medical marijuana, with nearly two-thirds (63%) in favor. A medical marijuana bill failed earlier this year after the Mormon Church warned it could do more harm than good, but expect another one to be filed next year. Utahns may be down with medical marijuana, but they don't go for legalization. Only 22% were prepared to endorse that.
Germany Okays First Medical Marijuana Patient Grow. The federal agency for medicines and health products for the first time granted a patient the right to grow his own medical marijuana plants last week. The patient already has permission to obtain cannabis through a pharmacy, but he cannot afford to buy enough to treat himself. This could be a stop-gap measure, though; the government has crafted a law that makes medical marijuana available by prescription and covered by health insurance. The patient's ability to continue to grow his own will depend on showing that health insurance has not covered his costs.
Sinaloa Cartel Blamed for Attack That Left Five Mexican Soldiers Dead. In the worst attack on the military in more than a year, attackers believed to be Sinaloa Cartel gunmen ambushed a military convoy on the outskirts of Culiacan, leaving two military vehicles burned out and the bodies of soldiers strewn across the highway. The attack left five soldiers dead and freed a wounded cartel figure being transported in an ambulance being guarded by the convoy.
California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.
Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.
California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.
DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.
California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.
Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.
Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."
No medical marijuana for Missouri this year, polling looks good for the Florida initiative and tense for competing Arkansas initiatives, Colorado moves toward adding PTSD as a qualifying condition, and more.
The polls are looking good in Florida and Massachusetts, California's governor signs a mandatory prescription monitoring bill, Iran executes more drug offenders, and more.
California Nurses Endorse Legalization Initiative. The California Nurses Association has formally endorsed the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety, "Deborah Burger, the organization's president said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "On balance, Proposition 64 is significantly better for public health and safety than the broken status quo, and we are pleased to endorse it,"she added. The California Medical Association has also endorsed Prop 64; the California Hospitals Association opposes it.
California Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 482, aimed at preventing "doctor shopping." The new law requires doctors to check a database of prescription drug prescriptions before writing prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs. The state already has an electronic prescription database, but until now it's use has been optional. The new law will go into effect in six months.
Iran Hangs Five More Drug Offenders. Iranian authorities executed four drug prisoners at Tabriz Central Prison on Saturday and one more at Taybad Prison on Sunday. Their names were Abdolkarim Bapiri, Mehdi Molaie, Salah Ghaderian, Ali Mohtabipour, and Hadi Oskouie. In recent years, Iran has executed hundreds of drug offenders each year.