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Chronicle AM: Federal Sentencing Reform Advances, OH Legalization Init in Dead Heat, More (10/22/15)

It's nail-biting time for marijuana legalizers in Ohio -- and for different reasons in California -- the Obama administration rolls out new measures to deal with heroin and prescription opiates, a federal sentencing reform bill advances, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Billionaire Philanthropist Sean Parker Circulating California Legalization Initiative Draft. Napster cofounder and early Facebook president Sean Parker has a team of lobbyists and political consultants circulating a draft legalization initiative this week. The move comes as the state's legalization effort is in turmoil, with state activists organized as ReformCA having drafted their own initiative, only to see national reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, drift away. Click on the link for all the juicy details.

Another Ohio Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A second poll this week has found the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative race "too close to call." A new Bowling Green State University poll has the initiative supported by 44.4% of "likely voters," with 42.9% opposed. Among "definite voters," the measure does a bit better, getting 46% support, with 45% opposed and 9% undecided. Earlier this week, a University of Akron Buckeye poll had voters evenly split at 46%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Announces New Steps to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. The administration announced Wednesday that it is moving to increase access to drug treatment and to expand the training of doctors who prescribe opiates in a bid to fight high levels of heroin and prescription opiate use. The plan includes doubling the number of doctors who can prescribe the maintenance drug buprenorphine. The administration has a "sense of urgency that we at the federal level can do more to address this issue," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. Click on the link for much more.


Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The committee today voted 15-5 to advance the bill, S. 2123, which would reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand the federal "safety valve," expand early release and reentry programming, and make other sentencing reforms retroactive.


Capture of Gulf Cartel Leader Sparks Weekend of Violence in Matamoros. The mayor of the Mexican border city just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas, has warned residents to exercise caution and stay indoors after the arrest last Friday of a Gulf Cartel leader sparked a weekend of clashes between security forces and cartel gunmen. Prado "El Ciclon 7" Rodriguez, the cartel's Matamoros boss, was captured Friday morning, with traffic blockades and gunfights breaking out that same day and continuing through the weekend.

Chronicle AM: FL Legalization Init to Roll Out, Dark Web's Largest Drug Market Shuts Down, More (8/27/2015)

The controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative continues to make news, a Florida legalization initiative kicks-off tomorrow, the Dark Web's biggest drug marketplace is shutting down -- at least temporarily -- and more.

"Buddie," the Ohio legalization initiative mascot (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Rolls Out Tomorrow. An initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State will begin with a news conference in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. The Sensible Florida PAC will announce a signature-gathering drive for a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Some 683,000 valid voter signatures will be needed, and since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Ohio Legalizers Roll Out "Buddie" Mascot, Get Flak From Child Advocates. The folks behind the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have introduced their mascot, "Buddie," a cape-wearing superhero with a green marijuana bud for a head and a "B" logo over a picture of a pot leaf. Some child advocates grumbled that the mascot would lead kids to believe that pot is OK.  ResponsibleOhio said Buddie will only visit college campuses filled with voting age college students.

Ohio Legalizers Go to State Supreme Court Over Ballot Language. ResponsibleOhio asked the Supreme Court today to reject the state Ballot Board's wording of its initiative. In a 40-page complaint, the group claimed the board used prejudicial language, deliberate omissions, and outright falsehoods by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and his staff, and that the resulting language is "fatal to the validity of the ballot."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor to Call Out National Guard to Fight Drugs. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday the state would ramp up police efforts to fight drugs in the state, including deploying the National Guard to support the struggle against drug trafficking. He also renewed his pleas for more funding for more cops and prosecutors, a stance that leaves him at odds with the state legislature. LePage's remarks come a day after drug czar Michael Botticelli told a Maine roundtable the state needs more drug treatment facilities.


Dark Web's Largest Drug Marketplace Closing Its Doors -- For Now. Agora, the reigning champion among Dark Web drug sellers, is shutting down at least temporarily to heighten its defenses against intruders who may be seeking to identify and bust the site's operators and servers. The site's anonymous administrators said they had detected "suspicious activity" they thought was aimed at breaking the anonymity software Tor browser, which could reveal not only administrators, but customers. "At this point, while we don't have a solution ready it would be unsafe to keep our users using the service, since they would be in jeopardy," Agora said. "Thus, and to our great sadness we have to take the market offline for a while, until we can develop a better solution. This is the best course of action for everyone involved."

Obama's Heroin Initiative: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

The White House Monday announced a new initiative to combat heroin that will pair law enforcement and public health in what it called a bid to shift the focus of the fight from punishing drug addicts to treating them. Under the plan, drug intelligence officers will work with public health officials to track heroin supplies, how it gets to street-level dealers, and how and where it's getting cut with sometimes deadly adulterants.

The initiative has won support from some elected officials in states hard-hit by rising levels of heroin use and heroin overdose deaths. But drug reform advocates called it "one step forward, two steps back."

Under the plan, announced today as part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) funding program by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, $5 million will go to "a broad range of efforts that will reduce the trafficking, distribution, and use of heroin," with half of that funding a Heroin Response Strategy involving an "unprecedented partnership" of five HIDTA programs -- Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore -- to fight smack.

Another $4 million in HIDTA funds will go toward prevention in 18 HIDTAs, including programs that feature "key partnerships between law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in public health and education," the announcement says. Another $1.3 million will go to five Southwest border HIDTAs "to enhance investigational efforts" against the Mexican trafficking organizations supplying most of the nation's heroin.

"The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. "The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue. This Administration will continue to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue 'smart on crime' approaches to drug enforcement, increase access to treatment, work to reduce overdose deaths, and support the millions of Americans in recovery."

Branded heroin packet from New Jersey (NJ State Police)
The funding will pay for 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within the HIDTA programs. The narcs will gather information on trafficking patterns and trends and feed it to street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts will increase overdose monitoring, look for dope cut with dangerous adulterants, and train first responders on how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The announcement comes amidst rising clamor over heroin's comeback and increasingly lethality in recent years. While the causes of the increase in heroin use are multifaceted and debatable, the reality of it doesn't seem to be. According to the Centers for Disease Control in a report released last month, more than half a million people were using heroin in 2013, up 150% from 2007.

The number of heroin overdose deaths is climbing even faster. The CDC reported that fatal overdoses hovered around 2,000 a year in the early 2000s before doubling to around 4,000 in 2011, and then doubling again to 8,257 two years later in 2013.

The sound of more federal funding is music to the ears of politicians in states like New Hampshire, which saw more than 300 heroin overdose deaths last year and where Republicans and Democrats are squabbling over how much money to spend on drug treatment. Elected officials across the political spectrum had kind words for the initiative Monday.

People lining up to score in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
"While the announcement of additional federal support for New England is an important first step, we must see these resources move as quickly as possible and we will need continued engagement from our federal partners to help combat this pressing public health and safety challenge," said Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).

"Stemming the tide requires investments in prevention, treatment and recovery, and broad cooperation at the federal, state and local levels," said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D).

"Today's announcement is welcome news for New Hampshire and other New England states that are confronting this crisis," added US Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). "We must take a multi-pronged approach in this fight, and prevention is a key part of that."

But the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) took a more skeptical view.

"Half of what they're doing is right -- the focus on health and overdose prevention -- but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail," said Bill Piper, director of the group's office of national affairs.

DPA took particular exception to the use of the HIDTA program as a vehicle for addressing heroin use, noting that even though its mandate was originally to focus on high-level drug traffickers, its programs "lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes."

HIDTAs came into being in 1988, with five being created to focus on "top priority" areas. But since then, the HIDTA program has swollen to 28 different regional HIDTAs covering more than 60% of the US population, including such major drug trafficking hotbeds as South Dakota and Wyoming.

And, thanks to Congress, since 1998, no HIDTA money can be spent on drug treatment. DPA and other advocates have pointed out that this statutory ban reduces program flexibility and access to treatment, and have called on Congress to repeal the ban, eliminate the HIDTA program altogether, or move it out of the White House and into the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush administration once proposed.

If the Obama administration wants to really address drug use as a public health issue and not throw away more money on failed drug war policies, DPA had some suggestions:

  • "Shifting federal resources from enforcement and incarceration to treatment and public health program funding to save more lives and realize substantial savings for taxpayers. The federal government's drug control budget has increased exponentially throughout the years. Despite a recent change in rhetoric, the federal government still focuses the vast majority of its drug-related spending on interdiction, enforcement and incarceration.
  • "Committing more federal investments into naloxone access, overdose prevention, and greater access to methadone and buprenorphine and other forms of evidence-based treatment.
  • "Funding community-based initiatives such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that reduce barriers to drug treatment and other health services.
  • "Removing barriers to methadone and other forms of medication assisted treatment in military treatment facilities that care for active duty and veterans.
  • "Investing more funding into making overdose prevention and medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals who are at elevated risk of substance use and overdose.
  • "Eliminating federal legal barriers to research trials for supervised injection facilities and heroin assisted treatment."

Chronicle AM: Third MI Init, TX MJ Bill Hearings, Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchanges, More (4/9/15)

An Alaska marijuana regulation bill continues its slow advance, another Michigan legalization initiative effort emerges, Texas pot bills get a hearing, the DEA recommends tripling the federal research marijuana crop, and more.

Drug czar Michael Botticelli touts needle exchang programs. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill to create a marijuana control board to govern the state's soon-to-be legal pot industry. The committee advanced the bill, House Bill 123, without adopting amendments that would have barred people with felony convictions within the past five years or misdemeanor drug convictions within the past three years from getting licenses. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Group Files Proposed Language. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition today submitted proposed language to state officials for review. The coalition is one of three groups considering a 2016 legalization initiative. If approved for signature-gathering, initiatives would have to come up with some 250,000 valid voter signatures within 180 days to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Texas Marijuana Reform Bills Get Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee ran late into the night last night hearing impassioned testimony on a set of bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana. The main bill is House Bill 507, by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), which would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction. Another bill, House Bill 325, from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) would make possession of less than a third of an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense. Yet another bill, House Bill 414, from Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would make possession of less than an ounce a Class C misdemeanor, while House Bill 1115, from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) would keep pot possession a misdemeanor, but would require police to cite and release anyone caught with less than four ounces. Finally, House Bill 2165, from Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) would remove all marijuana prohibition laws from the books. No votes were taken.

Wichita Seeks Court Ruling on Legality of Local Decriminalization. The city has filed a petition for declaratory judgment in local district court asking the court to rule on the legality of enacting a decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by voters. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last month that the ordinance would have no effect, and he's also warned the city that he would be required to sue to enforce state law.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Recommends Government Triple Amount of Marijuana Grown for Research. The DEA recommended Wednesday that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for This Year. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills this week. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Senate Panel Takes Up Asset Forfeiture Bill. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice today took up Senate Bill 1534, from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Tampa). The bill would limit law enforcement to using seized funds only to reimburse themselves for the cost of holding seized property, with the rest going into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Touts Needle Exchange Programs in Kentucky Visit. Director of the Office of National Drug Control (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli touted needle exchange programs as a means of reducing the spread of infectious diseases and to steer drug users toward treatment in a visit to Kentucky Wednesday. He said the program also reduce the danger of law enforcement getting stuck with dirty needles. Kentucky lawmakers just passed an anti-heroin bill that will allow for needle exchanges, and a nearby Ohio county just started an emergency needle exchange to combat an HIV outbreak.


Chile Harvests First Medical Marijuana Crop. TV cameras were on hand in Santiago Wednesday as the country's first permitted medical marijuana crop was harvested. Chilean health officials last fall gave the okay. The therapeutic Daya Foundation will produce cannabis oils from the plants and provide them to 200 selected cancer patients.

Chronicle AM: Ted Cruz Shifts on State Legalization, Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Forfeiture Action, More (2/27/15)

Ted Cruz sees the light (or at least, which way the wind is blowing), a new poll has a majority for legalization in Maryland, asset forfeiture reform gets killed in two states, The Washington Post rethinks drug testing, and more.

Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican now says he is okay with states legalizing marijuana. (congress.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Changes His Mind on Marijuana Legalization. A year ago, the Texas Republican senator and possible GOP presidential candidate criticized President Obama for allowing Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, but now he's singing a different tune. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative," he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). "I personally don't agree with it, but that's their right."

Iowa Bill to Reduce Marijuana Possession Passes Senate. Earlier this week, the Senate approved Senate File 219, which would reduce the maximum sentence for possessing up to five grams from up to six months in jail to up to 30 days. The bill now goes to the House.

Maryland Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. A new Goucher College poll has support for legalization at 52%, with 44% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Filed. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) have filed Senate Bill 528, the "Regulate Marijuana Act." But they don't expect it to go anywhere this year.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Issues Licenses for CBD Cannabis Oil Production. The Department of Agriculture this week issued two licenses for the cultivation of low-THC marijuana to be used to make CBD cannabis oil for patients. The licenses went to two St. Louis-area nonprofits.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Committee. A bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture in the case of joint state and federal asset forfeiture proceedings has been killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was Senate Bill 006.

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) Thursday filed Senate Bill 1534, which would bar civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction.

Wyoming Attempt to Override Governor's Asset Forfeiture Reform Veto Fails. The state Senate voted today not to override Gov. Matt Mead's (R) veto of bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture reform could take place. The Senate voted 23-7 to uphold the veto. The bill had passed both houses with veto-proof majorities, but some senators changed their minds after the gubernatorial veto.

Drug Courts

Under Federal Pressure, Kentucky Drug Courts Consider Allowing Opiate Maintenance. After federal drug czar Michael Botticelli said earlier this month that drug court programs that do not allow opiate maintenance therapy could lose federal funding, Kentucky drug courts are considering getting with the program. A court spokesperson confirmed the courts are looking into it, but that they haven't reached a firm decision.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) has filed Senate Bill 600, which would require people seeking government assistance to be screened for drug use. Those deemed at suspicion of using drugs after screening would have to be tested for drugs.

The Washington Post is Rethinking Its Employee Drug Testing Policy. "The Washington Post is reviewing its policy in light of the changes to DC law," the newspaper said Thursday without elaborating any further. It also ran an opinion piece by Gina Tron arguing that employers in general should quit such screening.


Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Most Wanted Drug Lord. Mexican authorities said today they had captured Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, head of the Michoacan-based Knights Templar cartel. The capture is a boon to the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has been under fire for months for the disappearance and apparent murder of 43 teachers' college students by corrupt police in league with drug gangs.

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

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.


Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."


British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim a Step Closer, DC Legalization Battles, Pot and Driving, More (2/9/15)

The fight over legalization continues in DC, Jamaica is now one vote away from decriminalizing ganja, the NHTSA has a study out saying there is no evidence pot use increases the risk of crashes, and more. Let's get to it:

On Bob Marley's birthday, the Jamaican Senate passed decriminalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Nominee Says DC Should Be Able to Legalize Marijuana. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli has said that the District of Columbia should be able to determine its own marijuana policy. "As a resident of the District I might not agree about legalization," Botticelli said, "but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that." Federal law requires the drug czar to oppose marijuana legalization, but that didn't stop Botticelli from endorsing home rule for the District even if that meant legalization.

DC Council Cancels Hearing on Taxation and Regulation Bill in Face of Legal Threats. The DC council was supposed to hold hearing on a taxation and regulation bill today, but abandoned those plans after the District attorney general warned lawmakers they and their staffs could face fines or even jail time if they went ahead. Incoming DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned the council in a letter late last week that holding the hearing would violate a congressionally imposed spending restriction prohibiting the city from moving forward on legalization and regulation. Council members and invited witnesses, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify, instead held an informal roundtable discussion on the topic to avoid the risk of being found in contempt of Congress.

Idahoans Not Ready to Legalize Marijuana, Poll Finds. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that only 33% supported legalization, with 64% opposed -- and they mean it. More than half (53%) of respondents were "strongly opposed," while another 11% were "somewhat opposed." Only 17% said they "strongly supported" legalization, with another 16% "somewhat supporting" it.

Sentencing Policy

Kansas Bill Would Cut Marijuana Sentences. The Kansas Sentencing Commission is pushing a bill through the legislature that would end prison sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses and allow for increased use of good-time sentence reductions. The bill has been endorsed by the Department of Corrections and many legislators and has passed out of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for possible drug use. Those deemed to be suspected of drug use after screening would be subjected to drug tests.

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Scheme Yields Few Positives. Six months after the state rolled out its controversial law to drug test some people applying for public benefits, the first results are in, and they're not very impressive. Some 16,017 people applied for the Families First cash assistance program; only 279 were deemed to have provided reasonable suspicion that they were drug users, and only 37 of them tested positive for drugs. Eight people were disqualified for refusing to answer the drug questionnaire; another 81 were denied benefits after dropping out of the application process.


NHTSA Says No Evidence Marijuana Use Increases Crash Risk. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released last Friday found no evidence marijuana use increases the risk of getting in a traffic accident. While pot smokers are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than non-users, NHTSA attributed that to factors other than marijuana use itself -- particularly that younger men are more likely to get in crashes. "Other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users," the study found. The study is the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers.

Law Enforcement

Utah Town Pays Big for 2012 Drug War Killing of Danielle Willard. The city of West Valley City, Utah, will pay $1.425 million to the family of Danielle Willard to settle their wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers. Willard was shot and killed by Det. Shaun Cowley as she sat in her car in an apartment complex parking lot. When detectives approached her vehicle, she began to back up. Two opened fire, but only Cowley was on target, hitting her in the head and killing her. Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill found the shooting unjustified, but a district court judge threw out charges against Cowley. Cowley was later fired for mishandling evidence and dereliction of duty, and the West Valley Vice Narcotics Unit was disbanded. It has just been reconstituted.

Missouri Activists Issue Report on Drug Task Force Misconduct. Show Me Cannabis has released a comprehensive report on misconduct in the state's anti-drug task forces. The report is "Drug Task Forces in Missouri: Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable; A Thorough Exploration of Patterns of Gross Misconduct."


Jamaican Senate Approves Ganja Decriminalization. The Senate approved marijuana decriminalization last Friday after five hours of debate. Up to two ounces will be decriminalized, Rastafarians will be able to grow their own, and the country will begin to move toward setting up a legal marijuana industry. The measure must still pass the lower House, but is expected to do so.

Vancouver Looks to Regulate Marijuana Dispensaries. Even though they are illegal under Canadian law, at least 60 dispensaries operate in Vancouver, and the municipal government is now moving to come up with a way to regulate them -- not shut them down. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM: NM MJ Legalization Bill Dead, Fed Crackdown on Drug Courts, More (2/6/15)

State legislatures are keeping us busy with lots of drug-related bills, New York's attorney general gets a deal on naloxone pricing, the feds will crack down on drug courts that don't allow opiate maintenance, and more. Let's get to it:

Drug courts will have to get on board with opiate maintenance if they want to keep their federal funding. (henrico.us)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. The House Agriculture and Wildlife Committee voted 7-1 to table House Bill 160, which would have legalized marijuana and allowed for regulated and taxed sales. Opponents said it would lead to more drug use on the job and impair public safety.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia CBD Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 1235, which would allow patients with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. The measure passed 37-1. A similar bill has already passed out of committee in the House and awaits a floor vote.


Federal Industrial Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 525, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill now has 52 cosponsors -- 34 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The newest are Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).

New Synthetics

New Hampshire Bill to Ban Synthetic Drugs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 106, which would restrict the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. The bill would give the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to "add, delete, or otherwise revise" the list of substances included in the law and set a $500 fine for businesses caught distributing the drugs.

Asset Forfeiture

House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Federal Asset Forfeiture Next Week. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will hold a hearing on federal asset forfeiture uses and reforms. The hearing is set for next Wednesday at 10:00am.

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Vote Stalled. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has been stalled. Senate Bill 6 was supposed to have a committee hearing this week, but the hearing has been delayed, with no make-up date announced.

Harm Reduction

New York Attorney General Gets Deal to Reduce Price of Overdose Reversal Drug. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that will result in cheaper prices for the company's formulation of naloxone, which can reverse opiate overdoses. The company nearly doubled the price of the drug last fall as demand rose, giving rise to a chorus of complaints. The deal would give New York state naloxone buyers a $6 per dose rebate. But the company had increased the price of the drug by about $20 per dose.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Narrows Public Benefits Drug Testing Proposal. Gov. Scott Walker (R) no longer plans to require drug screening and possible drug testing for all public benefits recipients; instead, now only childless adults will face the screening.

Law Enforcement

Feds to Crack Down on Drug Courts That Don't Allow Opiate Maintenance. Acting drug czar Michael Botticelli said during confirmation hearings Thursday that drug courts receiving federal funds will no longer be allowed to deny opiate addicts access to opiate maintenance treatments such as suboxone. Click on the link for more details.


New Cartel Violence in Matamoros Sends Newspaper Editor Fleeing to Texas. At least 15 people have been killed in the past week in confrontations between drug trafficking factions in Tamaulipas state, across the border from South Texas. And a newspaper editor from Matamoros has fled to Texas after being threatened upon publishing reports of a shootout that left nine people dead. Enrique Juarez Torres, editor of El Manana, said he had been kidnapped, beaten, and threatened with death for his reporting. The Thursday edition of the newspaper carried no news of his kidnapping or any other reports on cartel activity.

Laos Vows Crackdown on Drugs; Will Target Addicts as Well as Traffickers. Laotian security officials say they will be going after important drug rings and street dealers, but also drug users. "We're targeting the buyers, sellers, and consumers," a security official said. Laos has already ratcheted up drug law enforcement, with drug arrests up five-fold in 2014 over 2013. The moves come as opium production continues in the country and next door in Myanmar.

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: Rahm Says Defelonize, Mex Prez Says Don't Legalize, Florida MedMJ Poll, More (9/23/14)

Thar's gold in them thar marijuana legalization laws, Seattle's prosecutor throws out pot possession tickets, Massachusetts medical marijuana advocates chastise the slow-moving state government, Rahm Emanuel wants to defelonize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for the defelonization of drug possession. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Sales in DC Could Net Nearly $9 Million in Tax Revenues. A report from NerdWallet estimates that the District of Columbia could net nearly $9 million a year from taxes on the sales of marijuana -- if taxation and regulation is approved in the District. The DC marijuana initiative, Measure 71, does not include provisions for taxation and regulation because DC law precludes it from doing so, but a tax and regulate legalization bill is already before the city council. The NerdWallet report also includes marijuana tax revenue projections for all 50 states.

DC Council Advances Effort to Seal Marijuana Possession Records. The DC Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously last week to approve B20-467, a bill that would allow people to file motions to seal records for offenses that have since been legalized or decriminalized. DC decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year and could legalize it in November if Measure 71 passes, which means many DC residents would be able to take advantage of the law if it passes.

Seattle Prosecutor Will Drop All Pot Possession Charges. City Attorney Pete Holmes said Monday will dismiss about a hundred pot possession tickets issued by the Seattle Police Department in the first half of this year -- because most of them were written by a single police officer who disagrees with the state's marijuana legalization law. That officer, Randy Jokela, has been temporarily reassigned.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Press State Leaders on Slow Implementation. Patients and advocates rallied Monday at the state house to put pressure on the Department of Health to speed up access to medical marijuana under the state's nearly two-year-old law. The rally was sponsored by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose leader, Matthew Allen, told reporters that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) had not lived up to his responsibility to implement the will of the voters.

Florida Campaign Internal Poll Has Initiative at 69%. The United for Care campaign, the people behind the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, released an internal poll Monday that showed support for the initiative at 69%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. The internal poll release came after several recent polls showed the initiative hovering at the edge of defeat.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar to Open Next Month's National Harm Reduction Conference. Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House's Office on National Drug Control Policy, better known as the drug czar's office, will provide the opening remarks for the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference set for Baltimore a month from now. Click on the title link or the conference link to learn more.


Chicago Mayor Calls for Statewide Defelonization of Drug Possession Offenses. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) today proposed before a General Assembly panel in Chicago that possession of up to a gram of any controlled substance be treated as a misdemeanor, not a felony, as is currently the case. Emanuel also proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession statewide. "It doesn't make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles," Emanuel said. "It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for nonviolent, misdemeanor drug offenses so we don't put people in prison who need drug treatment."


Mexican President Opposes Marijuana Legalization. In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he opposes legalizing marijuana because that would be "opening the door to a large intrusion of drugs that is very damaging to the population." But he added that he was open to discussion on the issue. "I'm in agreement that we need to have a large debate in the hemisphere about the policies for this area, whether it's to tolerate or to legalize or to simply take a hemispherical definition," Pena Nieto said.

Peru Dynamiting Cocaine Plane Landing Strips, To No Avail. The Peruvian armed forces have been dynamiting clandestine airstrips in the world's number one coca growing region, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). But even though soldiers "cratered" 54 airstrips, Peru's counternarcotics chief, Gen. Vicente Romero, said that they were quickly repaired, with traffickers paying villagers up to $100 each to fill in the holes. Sometimes, he said, they get fixed overnight.

Iran Hangs 13 on Drug Charges. Iran has executed 13 people for drug crimes in the past week, including eight hanged in Shahab Prison in Kerman on September 18 and five, including two Pakistani women, hanged in Central Prison in Zahedan. Along with China and Saudi Arabia, Iran is one of the world's most prolific drug war executioners.

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