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Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Delay, Ohio's Bad "Good Samaritan" Bill, No RI Referendum, More... (5/17/16)

Another New England legislature fails to act on pot legalization, Maryland's long-awaited medical marijuana program is again delayed, Wisconsin's GOP attorney general wants all employers to drug test their workers, and more.

No medical marijuana for Maryland patients for at least another year. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Chances Fade for Rhode Island Referendum on Pot Policy. For six years, marijuana legalization bills have failed to even get a vote in the legislature. This year is no exception. There has been some talk of a non-binding referendum to plumb public sentiment on the issue, but it now looks like even that is going nowhere. "A referendum on this year's ballot is unlikely," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday. "I am keeping an open mind on the issue and will continue to analyze it over the summer and fall."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Announces Continuing Delays in Implementing Program. The commission, which is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, announced Tuesday yet another delay in getting the program up and running. The state approved medical marijuana more than two years ago, in April 2014, making this one of the slowest roll-outs yet. The commission now says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Attorney General Wants Every Workplace to Test for Prescription Drugs. Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), championing his Dose of Reality program aimed a prescription opioid use, has called on all employers in the state to institute drug testing programs. "We have 163,000 in Wisconsin abusing opiates in some manner. We need to get them help," Schimel said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Legislature Considers 911 "Bad" Samaritan Law That Could Increase Overdose Deaths. As early as Wednesday, the Ohio Senate could consider a bill, House Bill 110, that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended so badly it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 "Bad" Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result. The bill would limit the number of times people could get immunity from prosecution for reporting an overdose and it requires medical providers to give patient information to police.

Law Enforcement

Texas Trucking Company Owner Asks Supreme Court to Hear Case Against DEA. The owner of trucking company whose semi was used without permission by DEA agents in a failed Zetas sting that left the driver dead wants the US Supreme Court to take up his case. Craig Patty, the owner, had filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages in the 2011 incident, which led to a wild shoot-out in northwest Houston. A New Orleans-based appeals court throw out his case in March; now, Patty wants it reinstated. A Patty employee working as a DEA informer took the truck to the Mexican border, then drove a load of Zetas marijuana to Houston, where DEA and local police would swoop in and make arrests, but the truck was attacked before the bust could go down.

Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA approves a PTSD medical marijuana study, a Senate committee votes to rein in the DEA on medical marijuana, a Utah poll has very strong support for medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to prevent the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws. The committee voted 21-8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski (D-MD) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration. After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services. The Mikulski amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

Last week, DEA approved a Colorado-funded study on marijuana and PTSD. It's the first time the agency has given permission to use raw marijuana in a controlled clinical trial for PTSD. Enrollment in the study could begin as early as next month. The study is one of nine funded by historic grants from the Colorado Health Department, which are in turn funded by medical and legal marijuana fees and tax revenues.

Connecticut

Last week, the House approved medical marijuana for kids. The House voted overwhelmingly last week to expand the state's four-year-old medical marijuana program to include children. The bill also includes a provision to create a Board of Physicians to review requests for new ailments to be added the list of qualifying conditions, which currently lists 17 diseases or syndromes. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Iowa

On Monday, a href="http://globegazette.com/news/iowa/gop-medical-cannabis-plan-voted-down/article_f665abe6-90a0-58d9-b756-fed6c88a88d8.html" target="_blank">a CBD medical marijuana expansion bill was killed. A Republican-backed bill to expand the number of ailments for which Iowans could use CBD cannabis oil was defeated in the House Monday. Democrats said the proposal did not go far enough, while some Republicans objected to any effort to legalize marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. The bill was defeated 61-36.

Montana

On Monday, the state Supreme Court delayed enforcement of its medical marijuana rollback. The state high court said it will delay enforcement of its February ruling dramatically rolling back the state's medical marijuana program. The court said its ruling would now not go into effect until August 31. Montana activists and medical marijuana industry spokesman have said the rollback would force the closure of dispensaries and leave patients in the lurch. Supporters are also working on an initiative campaign to put a revamped medical marijuana system before the voters in November.

Utah

On Wednesday, a new poll found strong support for medical marijuana. A new Utah Policy poll has two out of three (66%) of Utahns in favor of medical marijuana, with only 28% opposed. The poll comes after the legislature failed to pass a medical marijuana bill this year. If the legislators are listening to their constituents, they will pass it next year.

Chronicle AM: NE Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, New England Pot Politics, Mexico Marijuana Reforms, More... 4/25/16

Marijuana policy is keeping state houses busy in New England, Nebraska becomes the 10th state to end civil asset forfeiture, Maine's Tea Party governor vetoes a Naloxone bill, Mexico's president expands marijuana reforms, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Marijuana Activists Meet Today With White House. Two members of the DC Cannabis Campaign (DCMJ) were set to meet with Obama administration officials at the White House today. DCMJ head Adam Eidinger said he had been requesting a "Bud Summit" with Obama's leading drug advisors for years, but had no response until his group demonstrated in front of the White House on April 2. "This is an opportunity for the White House to meet with serious and committed cannabis activists and hear our case for why it's in President Obama's best interest to work with the attorney general to fully remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act," DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller said in a statement.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Dies. There will be no marijuana legalization in Connecticut this year. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), sponsor of the legalization bill, withdrew it last Wednesday after first attempting to add it as an amendment to a related bill. The bill had been declared dead earlier in the session, and Candelaria's move last week was a last ditch effort to keep it alive.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana was approved by the Senate last week. A similar measure was approved by the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). This year's bill lowers the decrim limit from 15 grams to 10 grams, making it a bit more palatable to the governor. A spokesman for Rauner said he was "encouraged" that legislators heard his concerns and would be monitoring the bill's progress. The bill now goes to the House.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Dies. The Senate voted last week to kill House Bill 1631, which would have decriminalized the possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana. This is the seventh time the House has approved decriminalization, only to see it shot down by the Senate. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not decriminalized small time pot possession. This year, the legislation ran up against concern over heroin and prescription opioid abuse. "We are in a war, and the last thing we need is to tell our citizens it is OK to use a little marijuana or any other illegal substance," said Sen. Gary Daniels (R-Milford).

Rhode Island Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Brown University Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy poll has two-thirds (67%) supporting medical marijuana and a solid majority (55%) in favor of marijuana legalization. This as a legalization bill has been stalled this year. "I know public officials are being very thoughtful and careful on this issue," pollster James Morone said. "But it's hard to see in the long run how legalization won't happen because there is so much strong support among young people. But I would emphasize 'in the long run.' I think anytime you have voters under 44 years old supporting something by 72 percent, it's just a question of time," he added. "Like same-sex marriage around the country, it's being driven by the demographics around the country. It's the exact same dynamic."

Vermont Legalization Bill Amended. The state's legalization bill, Senate Bill 241, faces an uncertain fate after the House Ways and Means Committee approved it, but only after amending it to allow residents to grow and possess small amounts of pot, but not to allow regulated sales. Another House committee had rejected legalization, and a third House committee now has it under consideration. If the House manages to pass some version of the bill, it will have to be reconciled with the version passed earlier by the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Votes to Prevent DEA from Undermining State Medical Marijuana Laws. The committee voted last week 21-8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski (D-MD) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration. After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services. The Mikulski amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

DEA Approves Colorado-Funded Study on Marijuana and PTSD. The DEA gave the go-ahead for the ground-breaking study last week. It's the first time the agency has given permission to use raw marijuana in a controlled clinical trial for PTSD. Enrollment in the study could begin as early as next month. The study is one of nine funded by historic grants from the Colorado Health Department, which are in turn funded by medical and legal marijuana fees and tax revenues.

Connecticut House Approves Medical Marijuana for Kids. The House voted overwhelmingly last week to expand the state's four-year-old medical marijuana program to include children. The bill also includes a provision to create a Board of Physicians to review requests for new ailments to be added the list of qualifying conditions, which currently lists 17 diseases or syndromes. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Nebraska Latest State to Institute to Abolish Civil Asset Forfeiture. Last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) signed into law LB 1106, which eliminates civil forfeiture in the Cornhusker State. The bill had passed the legislature a week earlier on a vote of 38-6. Nebraska becomes the 10th state to eliminate civil asset forfeiture. Now, if Nebraska cops want to seize cash and property, they must first obtain a criminal conviction. The bill also imposes some limits on state law enforcement participation in the federal "equitable sharing" program, under which police can end run state laws directing where seized assets go by turning the busts over to the feds, who in turn give back 80% of the value of seized goods to the arresting agency.

Harm Reduction

Maine Governor Vetoes Bill Seeking to Increase Access to Life-saving Overdose Antidote Naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage last week vetoed the bill last week, arguing that "naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose." Every state in the nation, with the exception of five, have either passed or are in the process of passing naloxone access legislation, and thirty states currently allow for sales of the overdose antidote without a prescription. The bill, LD 1547, could still be revived, though. On Friday, the legislature will take up all bills vetoed by Le Page, including LD 1547. Two-thirds votes in both the House and the Senate would be needed to override the veto.

International

Mexican President to Push Broader Marijuana Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. President Enrique Pena Nieto used his speech before the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs last week to call for decriminalizing up to an ounce of marijuana and legalizing the medicinal use of the plant. Currently, only up to five grams is decriminalized. "We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years," Pena Nieto said. "Our country has suffered, as few have, the ill effects of organized crime tied to drug trafficking. Fortunately, a new consensus is gradually emerging worldwide in favor of reforming drug policies," he said. "A growing number of countries are strenuously combating criminals, but instead of criminalizing consumers, they offer them alternatives and opportunities."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another DEA scandal is brewing in the Big Easy, more jail guards gone wild, another cop with a pill problem, and more. Let's get to it:

In New Orleans, a "golden boy" DEA agent is at the center of an investigation into misconduct in a multi-agency drug task force he led. An FBI-led criminal inquiry has focused on several sheriff's deputies who served on the task force and are suspected of stealing cash and selling drugs. The problems with the DEA in New Orleans resulted last month in the head of the New Orleans being recalled to Washington.

In Lisbon, Ohio, a Columbiana County jail guard was arrested last Friday as he tried to smuggle drugs into the jail. Corrections Officer Steven Michael Hamilton, 27, was caught carrying joints, pills, and loose tobacco into the jail hidden inside a Burger King bag. He admitted being paid $50 to do so. He is charged with illegal conveyance of a drug of abuse.

In Corinth, Mississippi, an Alcorn County jail guard was arrested last Saturday as he tried to smuggle drugs, alcohol, and other contraband into the jail. Acting on a tip, sheriff's deputies searched Ethan Wayne Little's vehicle when he reported to work and found meth, cocaine, marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and a cell phone bundled in a package. It's not clear what the precise charges are.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a former Dupont police officer was convicted Tuesday of letting a drug dealer go free in exchange for prescription pain killers. Kenneth Shotwell, 46, was convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, and official oppression. He went down after pulling over the known dealer, accusing him of driving on a suspended license, and then letting him go in exchange for oxycodone tablets.

In Sacramento, California, a former deputy US Marshal was sentenced last Thursday to 10 years in federal prison for ripping off 24 pounds of marijuana from drug dealers in Yuba City. Clorenzo Griffen, 38, and two acquaintances stole the weed at gunpoint in a motel parking lot, but then attracted the attention of a Highway Patrol officer by blowing through a stoplight as they fled. The robbers then abandoned their vehicle, and Griffen ran into a nearby building—which happened to be the Sutter County Sheriff's Office—where he was arrested.

In Philadelphia, a former prison guard was sentenced Monday to 2 ½ years in federal prison for delivering OxyContin pills to prisoners in return for cash. Joseph Romano, 31, pleaded guilty in December to attempted organization and two counts of attempted distribution of controlled substances. He quickly confessed to his offenses, and that confession helped lead to a sting that resulted in the indictment of five other prison guards. Romano said he was addicted to opioates because of an injury and said he would focus on his recovery. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: Wichita "Decrim" Thrown Out, Argentina Will Shoot Down Drug Planes, More... (1/22/16)

The Kansas Supreme Court throws out Wichita's voter-approved "decrim" ordinance on a technicality, GOP committee chairs quash medical marijuana bills in Indiana, the DEA partnered with a TSA screener in a bid to seize cash from travelers, the Argentines want to shoot down drug planes, and more.

The DEA schemed to pay a TSA screener a cut for any cash he found in travelers' luggage. (tsa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Key Vermont Politico Says No To Home Growing Marijuana. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears (D-Bennington) said today he would advance a marijuana legalization bill if it has majority support in his committee, but that he does not support home cultivation.

Kansas Supreme Court Throws Out Wichita "Decrim" on a Technicality. The state's high court ruled that the initiative was invalid because it was improperly filed with the city clerk, but did not address arguments by the state that the ordinance conflicted with state marijuana laws. The Wichita ordinance lessened penalties for first offense possession to a $50 fine, but was not true decriminalization because that first offense would still be a criminal infraction.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bills Pronounced Dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Utah Governor Signals Support for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

Law Enforcement

DEA Hired TSA Informant to Help Steal Money From Travelers' Luggage. The agency recruited a TSA security screener to alert agents to cash in luggage that the DEA could confiscate, an arrangement that "violated DEA policy," according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. The agency planned to pay the screener a cut of the cash he seized, but the Inspector General found that the screener never actually provided any actionable intelligence for seizures. Still, the DEA scheme "could have violated individuals' protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action," the OIG noted.

International

Argentina Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The new government of President Mauricio Macri continues to burnish its drug warrior credentials by announcing plans to begin shooting down suspected drug trafficking planes, a move the opposition called "the death penalty without trial." Macri has already decreed a "public security emergency" for a year to fight drug trafficking, which he said had led to "situation of collective danger."

Chronicle AM: CA Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Kosher MedMJ Comes to NY, More... (12/31/15)

Thar's gold in that there merry-ju-wanna, California finance officials say; Oregon recreational tokers start paying taxes next week, kosher medical marijuana comes to New York, the US surgeon general is planning a review of drug policies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Could Get $1 Billion a Year in Pot Taxes, Finance Department Says. The state stands to gain "from the high hundreds of millions to over $1 billion annually," according to the Department of Finance's analysis of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the "Sean Parker initiative," which looks to be the one that will go before voters in November. The state could also save about $100 million a year from "the reduction in state and local criminal justice costs" associated with marijuana prohibition, the report added.

Mississippi Legalization Initiative Comes Up Far Short. A DeSoto County woman's effort to get a legalization initiative, Ballot Initiative 48, on the November 2016 ballot has come to an end. Kelly Jacobs managed to gather only 13,320 valid voter signatures by this week's Tuesday deadline. She needed 107,000 to qualify. Jacobs had complained of unlawful denial of access to public buildings and being threatened by Ku Klux Klan members, among other improprieties. "The truth about Mississippi and marijuana is that Mississippians are too afraid of the police to change the law themselves by supporting a ballot initiative with their signatures of approval," Jacobs said.

Oregon Recreational Marijuana Sales Tax Goes Into Effect Next Week. Recreational pot smokers who have been enjoying tax-free marijuana from dispensaries in the state will have to start paying up beginning on January 4. On that date, a 25% sales tax for pot takes effect. Registered medical marijuana patients will not be affected. The tax could decrease at a later date.

Medical Marijuana

New Yorkers Can Get Kosher Medical Marijuana. Vireo Health, a provider of non-smokable medical marijuana products, has been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. The Union said it awarded the certificate after inspecting the company's facilities to ensure that the marijuana was being grown and processed according to kosher standards. Vireo said it was the first time a medical marijuana producer had been certified as kosher.

Drug Policy

US Surgeon General to Review Drug Policies. According to a Federal Register notice published Thursday, the US surgeon general is preparing a report "presenting the state of the science on substance abuse, addiction, and health. The review will cover both illegal drugs and legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. The report will be broad in scope, covering prevention, treatment, and recovery; social, economic, and health consequences of substance use; the state of health care access; and "ethical, legal and policy issues; and potential future directions."

Law Enforcement

Appeals Court Agrees to Hear Case of Texas Trucking Company Suing DEA. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will hear oral arguments in the case of Craig Patty in February. Patty owns a trucking company. The DEA used one of his trucks without his permission in a drug cartel sting that resulted in a shootout in Houston leaving an informant dead and leaving Patty's truck bullet-riddled. Patty filed suit, seeking payment from the DEA for fixing the truck and for the temporary loss of its use, as well as damages for emotional turmoil to Patty, who feared the Zetas cartel could come after him. A federal circuit court judge ruled earlier in the DEA's favor.

International

Another Malaysian Faces Death Sentence for Marijuana Trafficking. A 35-year-old Malaysian man has been charged with trafficking 15 pounds of marijuana, which, under the country's Dangerous Drug Act of 1952, carries a mandatory death sentence. The defendant, S. Gunalan, had no legal representation during his initial hearing.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Progam, Syrians Flee ISIS for Lebanon's Hash Trade, More (12/23/15)

Two federal agencies make drug policy-related announcements, Syrians are fleeing the ISIS caliphate to work in the hash fields of Lebanon, and more.

Lebanese hash field (cannabisculture.com)
Medical Marijuana

DEA Eases Requirements for Natural Marijuana-Derived Research. The DEA today eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

New Hampshire to Begin Issuing Medical Marijuana ID Cards. State officials said today that they will begin issuing ID cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program. The Justice Department released a memorandum Monday notifying law enforcement agencies that it is temporarily suspending the equitable sharing program asset forfeiture funds because of tight budgets. This means law enforcement agencies will no longer get a share of federal funds confiscated through civil asset forfeiture, and that means law enforcement agencies have lost a considerable financial incentive to turn drug busts over to the feds. Many state laws require seized funds to be allocated to the general fund or education funds, and law enforcement agencies used the federal equitable sharing program to get around those laws. Under the federal program, the local seizing agency got 80% of the haul.

International

Syrians Flee ISIS to Harvest Hash in Lebanon. Refugees from Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS caliphate, are fleeing across the border to Lebanon, where they can get work in that country's booming cannabis trade. Their work in the trade places them in danger of retribution from the jihadists if they return home, they said. "If Islamic State back home knew we work with hashish, they would cut us" with knives, said one refugee.

Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

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