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Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bills, CO Legal Marijuana Battles, VA Cannabis Oil Bills Pass, More (2/20/15)

It's all marijuana news today: Federal legalization bills are filed, battles break out over legalization in Colorado, the Kettle Falls Five is now the Kettle Falls Four, Virginia CBD cannabis oil bills head to the governor's desk, and more. Let's get to it:

Congress action
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced. Two congressmen from two states where marijuana is already legal under state law today filed two separate bills to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana without fear of federal intervention, while Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill that would tax marijuana at the federal level, in addition to any state taxes. The bills were not yet available on congressional web sites as of this afternoon. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

Democratic Congressman Calls on Holder to Reclassify Marijuana. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) this week sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. "I urge you to in your remaining time in office to take action, under existing federal law, to reclassify marijuana," Cohen wrote.

Marijuana Policy Project Calls for Holiday Inn Boycott Over Colorado Lawsuit. The group is calling for the boycott because one of two new lawsuits filed in an effort to undo Colorado's legalization of marijuana is in behalf of a Holiday Inn in the mountain town of Frisco. The suit claims that a marijuana shop scheduled to open nearby will damage its business. While the boycott targets the Intercontinental Hotels Group (Holiday Inn's parent company), the hotel is actually operated by New Visions Hotel Two. MPP points out that pressuring the corporate chain could help pressure New Visions to drop its lawsuit.

Former DEA Heads All Sign Brief Opposing Colorado's Legal Marijuana Law. All nine former DEA administrators have signed onto an amicus brief filed Thursday in support of the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma to try to kill legalization in the state. Colorado's legal marijuana "gravely menaces… the health, comfort, and prosperity of the people" of Nebraska and Oklahoma, the former administrators claimed.

Medical Marijuana

The Kettle Falls Five is Now the Kettle Falls Four. Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 71-year-old Larry Harvey, elder member of the Kettle Falls Five, Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted despite marijuana being legal in the state and despite Justice Department policy guidance that would appear to preclude such prosecutions. The charges against Harvey were dropped because he's about to die of pancreatic cancer, which has spread to his liver. But his family members still face decades in prison for growing their own medicine. "I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a statement. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."

Virginia Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. The state Senate Wednesday approved House Bill 1445, which would allow people suffering from epileptic seizures to use CBD and THC-A cannabis oils. It has already been approved by the House and now goes to the governor's desk. An identical companion bill introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 1235, has also already passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.

Chronicle AM: More CO Lawsuits, 2016 MI Inits, New Paid Med Rules a Pain for Vets, More (2/19/15)

An anti-crime group has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Colorado's legal marijuana law, a decrim bill is moving in Hawaii, 2016 initiative plans are getting underway in Michigan, DEA rules on pain pills are causing problems for vets and others, and more. Let's get to it:

Recent DEA rules tightening access to prescription opiates are causing problems for veterans and others.
Marijuana Policy

Revised Alaska Marijuana Bill Removes It From Controlled Substances List; Adds New Misdemeanors. The legislature's effort to regulate legal marijuana has been revised to remove pot from the controlled substances list, according to an updated draft of Senate Bill 30. The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana, including selling it without a license, possessing more than six plants, transporting more than an ounce, providing it to minors, and making hash oil with a volatile or explosive gas. The bill got a hearing in committee yesterday.

California's Attorney General Not Opposed to Legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law enforcement officer and Democratic front-runner for a 2016 US Senate seat has said she has no moral objection to legalizing marijuana, but worries about impacts on children and public safety. "I don't have any moral opposition to legalization," she said, "but I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details... to make sure that if it were legalized... that vulnerable people are safe."

Private Group Sues Colorado Over Legalization. Two months ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's legal marijuana law, and now, two more lawsuits are being filed by a private group, Safe Streets Alliance, an anti-crime organization led by a former Reagan administration official. In one suit, two Colorado property owners are suing a handful of marijuana industry participants under federal racketeering laws and state and local officials under the charge that they are violating the constitution's supremacy clause by not enforcing federal law. In the other suit, Safe Streets joined with the Holiday Inn in Frisco to sue a number of marijuana industry participants on racketeering charges. That suit claims that a planned legal marijuana store is causing the hotel to "suffer injuries to its business and property." Pot supporters say the lawsuits are unlikely to go anywhere.

Hawaii Senate Committee Passes Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Health Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 596, which would decriminalize up to an ounce, replacing a petty misdemeanor with a civil infraction and a $100 fine.

Two Michigan 2016 Legalization Initiative Efforts Getting Underway. At least two different groups are eyeing a legalization initiative effort next year. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank filed paperwork Tuesday for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, while East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, a marijuana industry advocacy group, filed paperwork last month to create the Michigan Responsibility Council, which says it will soon transform itself into a ballot committee for 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Bill Would Free Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzanskey. Rep. Shamed Dogan this week filed House Bill 978, which would require the release of anyone serving life without parole for marijuana offenses. That means Jeff Mirzanskey, who is 21 years into his life sentence. Efforts have been afoot to persuade Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to commute his sentence, but he has yet to do so.

Medical Marijuana

Activists Target Wasserman Schultz Over Medical Marijuana Stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

Colorado Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Gets Stripped Down. The bill, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crackdown on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Defeated. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was defeated in the House Wednesday on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Ruidoso) has introduced a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance. It does not yet have a bill number and is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Wyoming Legislators Prepare to Try to Override Governor's Veto of Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state Tuesday, but the bill passed by a veto-proof margin, and now legislators and bill supporters are angling for an override vote. The measure, Senate File 14, passed the Senate 26-3 and the House 54-6.

Undertreatment of Pain

New Federal Opiate Prescription Rules Are Causing Problems for Veterans. Restrictions on prescription opiates adopted last summer by the DEA are causing hardships for veterans, the Washington Post reports in a lengthy piece. And it's not just veterans, but they're being hit particularly hard. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Sentence for Pot Dealer. Utah resident Weldon Angelos has already spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of three marijuana sales while he had a pistol in his sock. That pistol led to consecutive mandatory minimum sentences resulting in a whopping 55 years in prison for the aspiring rapper. Now, Paul Cassell, the then federal judge who sentenced him, wishes he had a do over. "I do think about Angelos," he said. "I sometimes drive near the prison where he's held, and I think, 'Gosh he shouldn't be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there... That wasn't the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it. I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds," Cassell continued. "But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that. I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer," Cassell pointed out. "I think it's just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don't really think anyone believes that's an appropriate sentence."

Utah Ready for Drug Defelonization, Poll Finds. Strong majorities of Utahns favor defelonizing drug possession offenses, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Some 58% support defelonization, while 59% said probation and community-based drug treatment were more appropriate than jail for being caught with small amounts of drugs. The poll comes as a defelonization bill, House Bill 348, is introduced today.

International

UK Liberal Democrat Leader Supports Medical Marijuana. Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, has said people should be able to use marijuana to alleviate medical problems. "I strongly agree that where there is a proven medicinal use for cannabis for instance we should make that easier for those to have access to it in a straightforward legal way in order to alleviate the symptoms that you clearly have that you know as a user are alleviated by the use of cannabis," he said. "Let's take a more intelligent approach -- where there is a clear medicinal use, make sure you have access to that in a regulated way." This is yet one more way that the Lib Dems and the Tories are at odds on drug policy.

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.)

The President's Budget: Drug War on Cruise Control [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

President Obama (whitehouse.gov)
President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal today, and when it comes to the drug war budget, it's largely more of the same old same old. Despite the growing realization that the war on drugs is failed policy and despite the wave of marijuana legalization beginning to sweep through the states, there is no sign of anything new here.

Budget documents describe the drug war spending as "a 21st Century approach to drug policy that outlines innovative policies and programs and recognizes that substance use disorders are not just a criminal justice issue, but also a major public health concern" and calls for "an evidence-based plan for real drug policy reform, spanning the spectrum of prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, effective law enforcement, and international cooperation."

But the rhetoric doesn't match up with the spending proposals. Instead, the decades old, roughly 60:40 split in favor of law enforcement over prevention and treatment continues. While the Department of Health and Human Services would get more than $10 billion for treatment and prevention programs (more than $6 billion of it for Medicaid and Medicare), drug law enforcement spending in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as the drug czar's office would total more than $14.5 billion.

Justice Department drug war spending would increase from $7.79 billion this fiscal year to $8.14 billion next year under the president's proposal. That includes nearly $3.7 billion for the Bureau of Prisons (up $187 million), $2.46 billion for the DEA (up $90 million), $519 million for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (up $12 million), and $293 million for the Office of Justice Programs (up $50 million).

That last line item -- the Office of Justice Programs -- is where the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which typically fund multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, are found. It would see a rather substantial 20% funding increase despite congressional efforts in recent years to cut it back. That means more drug task forces, more drug busts, and more back-end costs associated with them (see the Bureau of Prisons line item).

While the overall federal drug budget is up to $27.57 billion (from $26.34 billion last year), there are decreases in some line items. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) would be cut from $375 million this year to $307 million next year, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program would be cut from $245 million to $193 million, and Defense Department drug war spending would be cut from $1.307 billion to $1.267 billion.

There are no huge increases in the drug war budget, but neither are there significant decreases. This is very much a drug war budget on cruise control. And this is, of course, only the president's proposed budget. What the Congress will do with it remains to be seen.

If everyone agrees the drug war is a failure, someone forgot to tell the president.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DEA License Plate Spying; Federal Asset Forfeiture, Hemp & State MedMJ Bills Filed (1/27/15)

A marijuana business group predicts 18 states will legalize by 2020, medical marijuana bills get filed in Florida and Pennsylvania, the DEA is tracking your license plates, federal asset forfeiture reform and hemp bills are filed, and more. Let's get to it:

Arcview sees legalization in 18 states by 2020.
Marijuana Policy

ArcView Group Predicts 18 States Will Legalize By 2020. ArcView Market Research, a firm that pairs investors with marijuana-related businesses, is predicting that 18 states will have legalized marijuana by the end of 2020. Those states are: Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont by 2016; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Jersey by 2020. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have already legalized it, as has the District of Columbia.

Southern California Legalization Meetings Planned. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which is working to create a unified movement behind a legalization initiative in 2016, will be holding a series of meetings in Southern California this weekend. There will be events in West Hollywood, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Ana. They want people to RSVP. Click on the link for meeting details.

Medical Marijuana

Full-Blown Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Florida. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has filed Senate Bill 258, which would regulate the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana in the state. The proposal larger mirrors that failed constitutional amendment that won 57% of the vote last year (it needed 60% to pass because it was a constitutional amendment). The state passed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it was limited to high-CBD cannabis oils. Brandes is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and sits on the Criminal Justice Committee, too.

Medical Marijuana Bill Reintroduced in Pennsylvania. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have reintroduced a medical marijuana that died late in the last session. The new bill, Senate Bill 3, is almost identical to last year's Senate Bill 1182. It has a bipartisan batch of cosponsors -- 11 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

Iowa Medical Cannabis Oil Registrations Now Open. The Department of Health has completed establishing a process to approve and generate medical cannabis oil registration cards. The legislature passed a bill last year allowing for such use. The relevant Health Department web page is here.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has filed HR 525, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill has 47 cosponsors -- 31 Democrats and 16 Republicans. It's been assigned to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, SB 255. The measure would end the federal government's Equitable Sharing program for civil asset forfeiture. An identical measure has been introduced in the House. The bills are headed for each house's respective judiciary committees.

Law Enforcement

DEA is Spying on Millions of Vehicles. A license plate tracking program run by the DEA is building a national database that tracks the movement of vehicles around the US. The secret domestic intelligence-gathering program has scanned and stored hundreds of millions of records about motorists, all without a warrant. The DEA's uses of license plate readers on a massive scale "raises significant privacy concerns," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government's asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern." There's much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: DEA Settles Facebook Suit, WY Decrim Bill Advances, More (1/21/15)

The DEA will pay for using a woman's identity (and photos) to make a fake Facebook page, a Wyoming decrim bill is moving, Virginia is seeing CBD and medical marijuana bills, there's a hemp bill in Florida, the Vera Institute releases a report on New York sentencing reforms, and more. Let's get to it:

A faked Facebook page will cost the DEA $134,000. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 29, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot. Fines would be $250 for less than a half ounce and $500 for more. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Defendant Seeks Dismissal in Federal Medical Marijuana Case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "cromnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

Hawaii Health Department Takes Charges of Medical Marijuana Program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Virginia Legislature Sees CBD, Medical Marijuana Bills. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington State Law Banning Medical Marijuana Advertising Unconstitutional, Court Rules. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

Hemp

Florida Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasalinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state. The bill is House Bill 363. Activists with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN) are seeking a Senate sponsor.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on New York Sentencing Reforms. The report examines 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that removed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and expanded eligibility for treatment instead of incarceration. The report found a 35% percent increase in the rate of diversion to treatment; lower rates of re-arrest in such cases; which was associated with lower rates of rearrest, and fewer defendants sentenced to jail, time served, or "split sentence" -- a combination of jail and probation. However, most drug arrests still did not lead to diversion, and implementation varied widely across boroughs.

Law Enforcement

DEA Will Pay $134,000 to Woman It Used in Fake Facebook Page. The Justice Department has settled a civil suit brought against the DEA by a Watertown, New York, woman whose identity and photos were used by a DEA agent to create a fake Facebook page in her name to catch drug fugitives. Sondra Arquiett's phone had by seized by the Agenty Tim Sinnigen during a 2010 drug arrest, and the agent posed as her on Facebook without her consent. "The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of (Arquiett), including photographs of (her) in her bra and panties. Sinnigen also posted photographs of (Arquiett's) minor child and her minor niece to the Facebook page." The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to make this go away.

International

Vietnam Sentences Eight to Death for Heroin Trafficking. Eight people have been sentenced to die for trafficking 416 pounds of heroin in Vietnam. The trial in People's Court in Ho Binh province ended Monday. Six other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and 17 others jailed for terms ranging from six to 20 years. Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws.

Stratfor's Mexico Cartel Map. The private, Austin-based intelligence concern has released its latest map of Mexican cartel activity. Despite constant changes in the organized crime scene, Stratfor says, cartel activity remains based in three geographic locations: Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and the Tierra Caliente in Michoacan and Guerrero. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: NY Pot Legalization Bill, DEA Gathered Metadata, Indonesia Executions Reaction, More (1/19/15)

New York has a marijuana legalization bill, New Hampshire ponders a study of legalization, Rhode Island patients get a vapor lounge, the DEA has another means of surveilling Americans, Indonesia's resort to the death penalty for drugs stirs controversy, and more. Let's get to it:

The beach at Bali. Indonesia is a major tourist destination, but also has the death penalty for drug offenses. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) has filed a bill to legalize marijuana. SO1747 would allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. Notably, it also sets the age for legal marijuana use at 18, instead of the more common 21.

New Hampshire Hearing on Legalization Study Committee. A bill that would establish a study committee on marijuana legalization got a hearing today. The bill is HB 150.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Chooses Medical Marijuana Rulemakers. The state Office of Compassionate Use has selected a 12-member panel to craft rules for growing and distributing low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a state law passed last year. The panel will meet during the first week of February to set up a regulatory structure for five nurseries that will be selected to grow, process, and distribute the medicine.

Rhode Island's First Vapor Lounge Opens. Rhode Island patients can now have a place where they can gather and enjoy their medicine together. The Elevated vapor lounge opened in Providence Saturday.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Bill Would End Civil Forfeiture. Freshman state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada) has filed a bill that would stop police from seizing assets unless the owner is convicted of a crime. Senate Bill 2015-006 would end civil forfeiture without a conviction unless there is a settlement with all parties, including the owner, to agree to give up the property. Woods said the bill is an effort to block "policing for profit."

Law Enforcement

DEA Kept Secret Metadata Database. The DEA kept a secret database of telephone metadata -- entirely separate from the NSA program revealed by Edward Snowden -- covering calls between parties in the US and ones in other countries. The information, contained in a three-page,partially-redacted affidavit from a top DEA official, was revealed in a court filing last week in a case involving trade with Iran. The DEA used "administrative subpoenas" authorized under a federal drug trafficking statute to collect the data. The program was ended in 2013. Click on the link for much more detail.

International

Fury as Indonesia Executes Six Drug Traffickers, Including Five Foreigners. As promised by President Joko Widodo, Indonesia put to death six convicted drug traffickers Sunday, including citizens of Brazil, Malawi, Nigeria, the Netherlands, and Vietnam. Brazil and the Netherlands reacted angrily, with both countries recalling their ambassadors from Jakarta. Brazilin President Dilma Roussef said she was "distressed and outraged" after Indonesia ignored her last minute plea for clemency. "Using the death penalty, which is increasingly rejected by the international community, seriously affects relations between our countries," the Brazilian government said in a statement. The Dutch government called the executions "terribly sad" and emphasized that it remains opposed to the death penalty. But President Widodo defended the executions in a Facebook post: "The war against the drug mafia should not be half-hearted measures, because drugs have really ruined the good life of the drug users and their families," he said.

Justice Department Limits Seized Asset Sharing With State, Local Cops [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

Attorney General Eric Holder (justice.gov)
Attorney General Eric Holder this morning issued an order that will bar federal agencies from participating in "adoptions" of assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. "Adoptions" occur when state or local law enforcement agencies seize cash or properties under state laws, but then ask that a federal agency takes the seized property and forfeit it under federal law.

State and local law enforcement agencies routinely resort to "adoption" as a means of circumventing state laws that mandate seized assets go to designated programs, typically a state's general fund or education fund. When a seizure is "adopted" by the feds, the seizing agency gets to keep 80% of the proceeds, with the federal government getting the rest.

"With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons," Holder said in a statement. "This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program. Asset forfeiture remains a critical law enforcement tool when used appropriately -- providing unique means to go after criminal and even terrorist organizations. This new policy will ensure that these authorities can continue to be used to take the profit out of crime and return assets to victims, while safeguarding civil liberties."

While much asset forfeiture activity is related to drug cases, they are not included in the list of exceptions to the new policy barring "adoptions." Those public safety exceptions include firearms, ammunition, explosives, and materials related to child pornography.

The new policy does not impact asset forfeitures conducted by federal law enforcement, nor does it bar state and local law enforcement from conducting civil asset forfeiture under state law.

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit. (wikimedia.org)
Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture "adoption" program, state and local law enforcement has made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property with a value of more than $3 billion since 2008.

Holder's move Friday is the boldest step to roll back sweeping police powers to seize goods and property since federal asset forfeiture began as tactic in the war on drugs in the 1980s. The Justice Department adopted the Equitable Sharing program in 1993.

Civil asset forfeiture -- the seizure of goods or property without having obtained a criminal conviction -- has come under increasing fire in recent years. Several asset forfeiture reform bills were filed in the last Congress, one has already been filed in the new Congress, and members from both parties are working jointly to draw up a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture.

The issue brought together libertarian-leaning groups like the Institute for Justice, which produced the highly critical study "Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture," and left-leaning groups like the ACLU to press for reforms. They met with congressional staffers to seek changes last fall.

Just last Friday, a bipartisan group of legislators including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to Holder calling on him to end the Equitable Sharing program.

Pressure mounted after a Washington Post investigative piece published in September found police had seized nearly $2.5 billion in cash from motorists without search warrants or indictments since September 11, 2001. In that investigation, the Post found that police routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic violations, then intimidated them into agreeing to warrantless searches and seized cash without evidence of criminal misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is working on civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. (house.gov)
Holder's move is likely to exacerbate already strained relations between the Obama administration and law enforcement agencies. Police groups have expressed unhappiness with remarks both Holder and Obama made about controversial police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

And now, the administration is in effect taking money out of their pockets. More than 7,500 of the nation's 18,000 state and local police departments and joint task forces have participated in the Equitable Sharing program. And hundreds of departments and sheriff's offices have seizure proceeds accounting for more than 20% of their budgets.

The move will also hurt federal agencies that have been "adopting" the seizures, particularly the DEA and ICE. Federal law enforcement has pocketed $800 million under Equitable Sharing seizures without arrests or convictions since 2001.

This is the second major asset forfeiture reform at the federal level. Spurred by reports of abuses of asset forfeiture in the late 1990s, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000. That bill originally contained a provision "ending the sharing of seizure proceeds between local police and federal agencies," but it was removed in the face of fierce opposition from police and prosecutors.

Since 9/11, with calls by federal officials for state and local law enforcement to surveil the nation's highways looking not only for drugs, but now for terrorists, the program only expanded. It didn't help that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security paid out millions to private companies to teach police officers aggressive highway interdiction techniques emphasizing the importance of seizing cash.

The Equitable Sharing program and the aggressive interdiction techniques created what lawmakers a decade-and-a-half ago called "a perverse incentive" for police to concentrate more on seizing cash than seizing drugs. Now, Holder has butchered the cash cow.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Moves, No More UMass Snitches, Suboxone Bottlenecks, More (1/15/15)

Oregon marijuana regulators are going on a listening tour while consumers get organized, a Minnesota Indian reservation ponders producing medical marijuana, UMass ends its student snitch program, and more. Let's get to it:

This opiate maintenance drug could be in wider use. (bluelight.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Liquor Control Board on Pot Policy Listening Tour. The board, which is charged with regulating marijuana as well as liquor, has set the first two stops on its statewide listening tour designed to elicit public comment on proposed rules and regulations. The first two stops will be next Thursday in Baker and Pendleton. Click on the link for event details.

NORML Forms Portland Chapter to Lobby for Marijuana Consumer Interests. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has formed a Portland, Oregon, chapter to lobby for the interests of pot smokers as the state begins drafting rules for legal marijuana there. The Portland chapter is headed by radio host and long-time marijuana activist "Radical" Russ Bellville. The group will push to ensure that pot smokers are "provided the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as adult alcohol and tobacco consumers, whenever practical."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Indian Tribe Okays Study on Medical Marijuana, Hemp. The tribal council for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians has approved a study what economic benefits could accrue to the tribe by allowing the production of medical marijuana and hemp. Tribal leaders weren't interested in recreational marijuana, but saw job growth and economic development opportunities in producing medical marijuana or hemp. The federal government cleared the way for Indian reservations to participate in marijuana business last month, but so far, only one tribe, the Pinole Pomos in Northern California, has announced plans to move forward.

Harm Reduction

Obstacles to Wider Use of Suboxone. The Washington Post has a nice piece on bureaucratic bottlenecks blocking the wider use of the opiate maintenance medication suboxone, which is safer than methadone. Only doctors who have been trained and approved by the DEA can prescribe it, and only to a limited number of patients. Click on the link for much more.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Hears Deportation Case Hinging on Whether a Sock is Drug Paraphernalia. The US Supreme Court Wednesday held a hearing in the case of Moones Mellouli, a legal permanent US resident, who was ordered deported after being caught with four Adderall pills and eventually accepting a deal to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia -- the sock in which the pills were hidden. His is the fourth case in which the high court has looked at deportations for minor drug offenses; in the first three, the court ruled against the government. Given the incredulous tenor of the questions from the justices, it looks like the government may lose this one, too. Click on the link for more.

UMass Amherst Will Quit Using Student Snitches. The school's chancellor has ended its program allowing campus police to use students as confidential informants. The move comes after a student used as a snitch by campus cops died of a heroin overdose. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said using students as snitches is "fundamentally inconsistent with our core values."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A high-ranking DEA agent in Mexico is in trouble, so is a former North Carolina SBI narc, an Alabama police officer and a West Virginia jail guard. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, the DEA's resident agent in charge in northeastern Mexico was arraigned last month on charges he took reimbursements for doing "favors" on behalf of unnamed Mexican nationals. Agent Leonardo Silva is accused of abusing his position by advising the State Department to cancel the US visa of a Mexican national at the behest of a friend. Silva allegedly falsely said the woman was a cocaine user and trafficker, and then bragged about it. He is also accused of taking nearly a hundred private plane trips that he didn't pay for or report, as well as taking a $3,000 payment for obtaining a job for the son of a US consulate worker. He is charged with fraud and making false statements.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a former State Bureau of Investigation narcotics agent was arrested early last month on federal charges he was involved in a major cross-country marijuana trafficking conspiracy. Fredrick Tucker is accused of transporting more than a thousand of pounds of marijuana from California to North Carolina via South Dakota, where he now lives, in a conspiracy with his son Ryan. Tucker had resigned his SBI position "while under investigation for improprieties." He is now charged with conspiracy to traffic more than 50 kilos of marijuana and money laundering. He's in jail in Charlotte pending a March court date.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a Huntsville police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges he conspired to make cocaine trafficking charges against a person go away. Officer Lewis Hall, 45, allegedly conspired with another person to pay another police officer $5,000 to claim a search he made that resulted in a drug trafficking arrest was unlawful. The officer who they hoped would help make the charges vanish instead turned them in. Hall faces charges of conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to investigators.

In Exxon, West Virginia, a Western Regional Jail guard was arrested last Wednesday carrying 74 grams of marijuana. Preston Chase Thacker, 20, is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. It's not clear whether the weed was destined for the jail or not. 

Chronicle AM: NE Felony Pot Brownies, OK Pot Lawsuit Protest, Mexico Cop-Zeta Ties, More (12/26/14)

Some Nebraska counties are charging possession of marijuana brownies as a felony, Oklahoma activists will rally against the state's lawsuit against Colorado's marijuana law, San Diego closes more dispensaries, a new document reveals links between cartel gangsters and cops in Northern Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Kratom -- for adults only in Illinois starting next week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Western Nebraska Counties Are Charging Possession of Some Marijuana Edibles as a Felony. Even though pot possession has been decriminalized in the state for decades, some counties near Colorado are now treating foods containing marijuana extracts as a Schedule I drug, possession of which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Prosecutors in some Western counties say that pastries that contain actual marijuana will be treated like marijuana, but those containing concentrates will be treated as a Schedule I drug.

Nevada NAACP Leader Urges Legislators to Legalize It This Coming Session. Jeffrey Blanck, president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP, has sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to legalize marijuana during the 2015 legislature. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada already has a legalization initiative approved for the 2016 ballot. The legislature has the first 40 days of the session to approve the initiative; if it doesn't, it goes directly to the voters in 2016.

Oklahoma Activists to Protest Pot Lawsuit Against Colorado. Oklahoma marijuana legalization supporters have organized a protest against state Attorney General Scott Pruitt's decision to join Nebraska in suing Colorado to try to undo legalization there. Led by OK NORML and the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, activists have set up a Facebook invite to the January 8 rally. "Attorney General Scott Pruitt is suing Colorado for their marijuana laws," the page says. "This is a waste of taxpayer money and a clear violation of states' rights." Click on either link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

San Diego Officials Shut Down Five More Dispensaries. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has shuttered five more unpermitted dispensaries ahead of the opening of the first permitted dispensaries early next year. Four are set to open then. More than 200 dispensaries have been shut down in the past four years under threat of legal action, but as many as 50 unpermitted dispensaries remain.

Kratom

Kratom Will Be for Adults Only in Illinois Beginning Next Week. As of January 1, a new state law will limit the use and possession of the Southeast Asian herb kratom to adults. Kratom is said to have a high similar to opiates, but is not a controlled substance under federal law. It is, however, on the DEA's list of "drugs of concern." It has been banned in neighboring Indiana.

Law Enforcement

Lawsuit in Deadly Massachusetts SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue, Judge Rules. A police officer who shot and killed unarmed black Framingham resident Eurie Stamps, 68, in a January 2011 drug raid may have used excessive force, violating his constitutional rights, a US District Court judge ruled as he allowed a lawsuit against the officer to move forward. Officer Paul Duncan shot and killed Stamps as the elderly man lay prone on the floor of his apartment during the raid. Duncan claims the shooting was accidental, but Stamps is still dead, and his family is suing.

International

Mexican Cops Worked Closely With Zetas, Declassified Document Shows. A document declassified by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam shows how police and traffic police in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, worked closely with the Zetas cartel in a series of killings of immigrants en route to the US known as the "San Fernando massacre," in which at least 72 immigrants were tortured and murdered.

Indonesian Ulama Supports President's Plan to Execute Drug Offenders. The Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, said Wednesday it supported President Joko Widodo's tough stance on drug traffickers. Widodo has refused to stop the execution of convicted drug offenders and is seeking support for his stance. He found it with the Ulama. "We support the death penalty for the drug dealers and the producers, but not the consumers," said Said Aqil Siradji, chairman of the Ulama's central board.

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