Decriminalization

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Chronicle AM -- March 25, 2014

Richard Branson speaks out on California drug policy reforms, a leading anti-drug group gives up the ghost on fighting marijuana legalization, the Canadian government is under attack from a couple of directions, and more. Let's get to it:

Richard Branson speaks out again on drug policy reform (David Shankbone/wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Drugfree.org Gives Up on Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign. The people who brought you "this is your brain on drugs" and similar anti-drug advertising campaigns have given up on fighting marijuana legalization. Formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the group and its CEO, Steve Pasierb, say they have rejected a request to launch a campaign against marijuana legalization because legalization "is happening in America." Here is the interview in Advertising Age where Pasierb speaks out.

Colorado Supreme Court Says Lawyers Can Work With Marijuana Businesses. The Colorado Supreme Court approved a rule change Monday that will eliminate the threat of ethics sanctions against attorneys who work with marijuana businesses. Lawyers "may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them," Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote in the updated rule.

Delaware Poll Has Majority for Legalization, Two-Thirds for Decriminalization. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that a narrow majority (51%) support legalizing marijuana, while an overwhelming majority (68%) support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Has Hearing Today. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana gets a hearing today in the House Restorative Justice Committee. The measure, House Bill 5708, was introduced by Rep. Kelley Cassidy (D-Chicago).

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to legalize a special strain of low-dose medical marijuana passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would only allow patients to use extracts containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.5% THC. The House companion bill, House Bill 843, differs in several ways. The two measures would have to be reconciled if both pass their respective chambers.

Illinois Bill to Add Seizure Disorders Gets Hearing Today. A bill that would add seizure disorders to the list of diseases and conditions for which medical marijuana is approved gets a hearing today in the Senate Public Health Committee. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 will be supported in committee by testimony from Kurt Florian, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago, as well as a family practitioner and parents of two children suffering from seizure disorders.

Drug Policy

Richard Branson Op-Ed Urges Support for California Drug Reforms. Virgin Airlines head and Global Drug Policy Commission member Richard Branson has penned an op-ed calling for support of an initiative campaign to decriminalize drug possession in California. Click on the title link to read the op-ed. Branson is also appearing this afternoon at an event in San Francisco, where Sundog Pictures will hold a special screening of its drug war documentary "Breaking the Taboo." That's at 5:30 pm at the New People Cinema on Post Street.

Law Enforcement

Pennsylvania Man Sues Philly Narcs for 13 Years of False Imprisonment. Philadelphia resident Kareem Torain has filed a lawsuit against a trio of current and former Philadephia narcotics officers, in which he claims they falsified evidence that led to him being convicted on drug charges and spending 13 years in prison. In addition to the individual narc, the lawsuit also targets the city of Philadelphia for "systemic deficiencies and deliberate indifference" that "have caused police officers, including defendant police Officers Monaghan and Reynolds, and former police Officer Walker in this case, to believe that they can violate the rights of citizens, with impunity, including the use of fraud and falsehood, without fear that their actions will be investigated." In recent years scores of drug cases have been dismissed by Philadelphia courts, and several lawsuits have been filed, claiming that narcotics officers routinely planted evidence and lied in court to secure convictions.

International

Russian Drug Czar Calls for New Plan to Combat Afghan Drug Threat. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Russian anti-drug agency, has called for the UN Security Council to address "planet scale" drug production in Afghanistan and for interested countries to create a global alliance for alternative development in Afghanistan through "forced industrialization." Ivanov is one of the Russian political leaders sanctioned as a result of the Crimea crisis, and last week, he suggested that the US was using the crisis to deliberately destroy the international anti-drug cooperation in order to hide its responsibility for the drug crisis in Afghanistan.

Canada Blocked Support for Harm Reduction at UN CND Meeting, Observers Say. Canadian diplomats in Vienna for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting blocked harm reduction health approaches abroad that are widely practiced at home, said Canadian Drug Policy Coalition director Donald MacPherson, who attended the conference. "Historically, Canada had been a leader in this area," MacPherson noted. "A substantial amount of the scientific research validating harm reduction measures was done right here in Vancouver, and we've implemented quite robust harm reduction policies at the provincial level across Canada. It's hypocritical for us to oppose adoption of these strategies internationally, especially since this is a matter of life and death in many countries with high levels of injection drug use and HIV." Similarly, Richard Elliot, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, described the position adopted by Canada in Vienna as "profoundly stupid."

Canada Court Hearing Request for Injunction to Allow Prescription Heroin This Week. The Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care will be in court this week to argue that participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness) should receive an exemption from recent amendments to federal drug laws that prohibit doctors from prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective. Pivot is representing five patients whose condition improved while in the SALOME study, operated by Providence Health, and who can no longer access the treatment now that their time in the study is over. Click on the link for more details.

Mexican Lawmakers Hit DC, NYC to Discuss Their Marijuana Reform Proposals. Legislators from the Mexican Congress and the Mexico City Assembly will be in Washington, DC, and New York City to discuss the bills they introduced to decriminalize the consumption and purchase of marijuana for personal use in Mexico City and to legalize medical marijuana countrywide. Mexico City Senator Mario Delgado and Mexico City Assembly member Vidal Llerenas, both from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), will be in DC on March 24 and 25 and in NY on March 26 to discuss the aims of the marijuana reform proposals in Mexico. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM -- March 24, 2014

Medical marijuana dominates the drug policy news today, plus a legalization bill is filed in New Jersey, welfare drug testing advances in a pair of states, the Russians halt anti-drug cooperation with the US, and more. Let's get to it:

Cannabis oil is a hot item in traditionally unfriendly legislatures (wikimedia.org/Stephen Charles Thompson)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) introduced a marijuana legalization bill today. The bill is not yet available online, but Scutari said it is modeled on the laws in Colorado and Washington state. "Anybody that looks at the facts, knows that the war on marijuana has been a miserable failure," Scutari said in a press release. "We're not delusional about how simple the effort would be, but I think from a standpoint of moving this state and this country forward on its archaic drug laws, I think it's a step in the right direction."

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Judge Okays Use of Medical Marijuana Extracts. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that using marijuana extracts is legal under the state's medical marijuana law. The state Health Department had argued that that the law only allows patients to consume parts of the actual plant, but Judge Katherine Cooper said nothing in the law backs that conclusion.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Initiative Language. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the popular name and ballot title of a proposed medical marijuana initiative. The initiative is sponsored by Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. Another Arkansas initiative, from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is already in the signature-gathering phase.

Iowa Lawmakers Introduce Resolution for Medical Marijuana Study. A bipartisan group of 10 Iowa lawmakers have introduced a resolution seeking a legislative interim study of the feasibility of legalizing medical marijuana in the Hawkeye State. Senate Resolution 112 now goes to the Iowa Legislative Council, which meets in June to consider requests for interim studies, which are typically completed prior to the next legislative session.

Oregon Health Authority Says No to Edibles at Dispensaries. The Oregon Health Authority last week released draft rules for dispensaries that do not allow medical marijuana edibles to be sold there. The authority said it feared edibles would be attractive to young people, but advocates said some patients need to take the drug orally.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dead. A bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana in Tennessee is dead after sponsors reported no possibility of action on it in the state Senate. House Bill 1385, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) also got no respect in the House, where the Health Subcommittee heard unscheduled testimony opposing it from the Department of Health and the hearing ended without Jones being able to present an amendment to the bill and get a vote on it.

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. A bill to authorize and fund a $1 million University of Alabama study of the effectiveness of CBD cannabis oil in treating seizures has passed the Alabama legislature. Senate Bill 174 now goes to the governor's desk.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. A bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for epileptic seizures died in the legislature last week. House Bill 885 fell victim to parliamentary maneuvering as the session neared an end. After it passed the House, Senate leaders tied it to a favored autism bill and approved that, but the House never voted on the merged bill. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill's sponsor, vowed to try again next year.

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for children suffering seizures passed the House Judiciary Committee last week and now heads for a House floor vote. Senate Bill 124 has already passed the Senate.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances, But With Restrictions. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil won a Senate committee vote last week and now advances to the Senate floor. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 1035, but only as part of clinical trials testing federally approved drugs.

Utah Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has signed into law House Bill 105. The measure allows children with epileptic seizures to use CBD cannabis oil and allows their families to bring it back to the state with a neurologist's consent.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Would Consider Decriminalizing Drug Possession, But… Democratic gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem said last week she would consider decriminalizing some drugs, including cocaine, in an effort to treat nonviolent drug offenders differently within the criminal justice system. "Decriminalization of marijuana has been important. I think we should consider it for other drugs, or create more drug courts so that people do not fall into the criminal justice system," Kayyem said. But she later clarified that she meant drug users should be sent to treatment, not jail.

Harm Reduction

Georgia 911 Good Samaritan, Naloxone Bill Passes Legislature. A bill that would provide a "medical amnesty" to people seeking medical attention for overdose victims has passed the Georgia legislature. House Bill 965 was also amended to include allowing for the distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. It now heads for the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

New Jersey EMTs to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. The office of Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced last week that emergency medical technicians will be able to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The move required a waiver of state EMT rules, which do not cover the use of naloxone. "Allowing first responders to administer Narcan [naloxone] will save lives," Christie said in a statement. "We want to encourage people to seek medical assistance when a drug overdose occurs."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes Legislature. A bill requiring food stamp recipients to undergo drug tests if state officials have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs has passed the state legislature on the last day of the session. House Bill 772 now goes to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R) for a signature.

Michigan Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. A bill that would require drug testing for welfare recipients if state officials suspect they are using drugs has passed the state Senate. It would set up a pilot program in three counties. The bill is part of a package of welfare drug testing bills that are still under consideration in the House.

Methamphetamine

Illinois Pseudoephedrine Prescription Bill Gets Hearing. A bill that would require prescriptions to obtain cold medications containing the meth precursor pseudoephedrine got a hearing before a Senate panel last week. Senate Bill 3502 is supported by law enforcement, but opposed by OTC drug manufacturers.

Sentencing

New Jersey Supreme Court Committee Report Urges Major Bail Reforms. The state Supreme Court has released a report from its Joint Committee on Criminal Justice calling for significant changes to the current bail system in New Jersey and enactment of speedy trial legislation. Click on the links for more details.

International

Russians Warn US Sanctions Will Halt Anti-Drug Cooperation. Russia's anti-drug agency said Friday US sanctions imposed over the Crimea crisis would wreck its cooperation with the US. "The U.S. administrations' arbitrary and ill-considered decision will, in one day, destroy our unique experience of cooperation," the agency said.

Canadian Court Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can Keep Growing Their Own. A Canadian federal court judge has issued an injunction exempting patients already licensed to possess or grow medical marijuana from the Conservative government's new rules attempting to restrict such grows to commercial facilities. The federal government announced its plans to overhaul the production of medical pot last year, arguing the current system had grown out of control and was rife with problems ranging from unsafe grow-ops to infiltration by criminals. The injunction is only good while a lawsuit filed by patients works its way through the courts.

Bermuda Marijuana Reform Report Coming Next Month. A final report detailing local opinions on cannabis reform is to be handed in to the government by April 17, according to the Cannabis Reform Collaborative (CRC). The group has canvassed views through seven focus groups, targeting different age groups. Bermuda's marijuana laws are being appraised following a call last year by National Security Minister Michael Dunkley for a public discussion on decriminalizing the drug.

Bermuda Has Near Majority for Marijuana Decriminalization. The Bermuda National Household Survey on Drug Consumption and Health is out, and it shows that nearly 49% support marijuana decriminalization, with 41% opposed and 9% undecided.

Australian Government Toughens Penalties for New Synthetics. The Australian government said it has added four substances marketed as "synthetic LSD" to its list of drugs that attract the most serious penalties. Under the move, importers will face a minimum of two years in jail. Currently, importers pay only a fine set a three times the value of the product. The substances are derivatives of phenethylamine marketed under names like "N-Bomb."

(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 -- March 19, 2014

Fewer people are getting arrested for marijuana possession in Washington state after legalization -- imagine that! -- Kansas legislators want to drug test teachers, a New Jersey heroin and opiates panel has recommendations, Russell Brand goes to Vienna, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand speaks out for drug decriminalization at the CND in Vienna. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Says Legalize It. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Carr says he favors legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana use and would spend the proceeds on helping the homeless and others in need. Carr is one of six Republicans running in the primary to determine who takes on incumbent Democrat John Kitzhaber. He's not the front-runner; that distinction goes to state Rep. Dennis Richardson.

Massachusetts Poll Has Near Majority for Legalization.A new WBUR TV poll shows increased support for marijuana legalization, with 48% in favor and 41% opposed. A Boston Herald/Suffolk University poll showed majority support for the first time. These two polls suggest that attitudes toward legalization in the Bay State have moved in a positive direction in the past year.

Washington State ACLU Reports Big Drop in Pot Arrests. Misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests plummeted last year, the ACLU of Washington reported today. There were just 120 such arrests last year after legalization went into effect, compared to 5,531 the year before. But black people are still getting arrested for pot possession more often. They're getting popped at a rate three times that of whites, the ACLU said.

National Cannabis Industry Association to Host Marijuana Business Summit. The NCIA will hold its first national conference, the Cannabis Business Summit, June 24-25 in Denver. Click on the links for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would study the impact of using a marijuana derivative to treat seizures is one step closer to becoming state law. Senate Bill 174 passed the House Judiciary Committee after it was amended in the Senate last week.

Drug Testing

Kansas School Teacher Drug Testing Bill Passes Senate. A bill that requires drug testing of school employees and affirms the firing of educators convicted of DUI, drug crimes, and other offenses passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 335 was approved after Senate Democrats successfully offered an amendment that would subject members of the House and Senate to treatment requirements and financial sanctions mirroring those in state law for the unemployed or those on cash aid. The welfare drug testing law passed last year also included elected representatives, but contained no provisions for sanctioning them or requiring they seek help. The bill now goes to the House.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Stuck in House. A bill that would both enact harm reduction measures and crack down on heroin-selling offenses is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 5 would let drug dealers be charged with murder if the sale of Schedule I drugs results in death and increases penalties for high-volume heroin dealers. It also seeks increased Medicare funds for drug treatment, access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and a 911 Good Samaritan provision. The Senate passed the bill in January.

New Jersey Heroin Task Force Calls for Broad Reforms. A governor's task force on heroin and opiate use called for a wide array of reforms, saying it is "time to confront our demons." According to The Newark Star-Ledger, which obtained an advance copy, the panel's report calls for tighter prescription pill monitoring laws, changes in the state's insurance system to make treatment more available, and expanded use of drug treatment recovery communities.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Equalize Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentences. A bill filed by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City) would cut prison sentences for people convicted of selling crack to bring them in line with sentences for people convicted of selling powder cocaine. Senate Bill 1010 was introduced last month, but amended Monday. It is before the Senate Rules Committee.

International

In Vienna, Russell Brand Joins "Support, Don't Punish" Campaign. British actor and comedian Russell Brand spoke at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna today and publicly joined forces with the Support, Don't Punish campaign to decriminalize drug possession and end the imprisonment and punishment of people who use drugs.

Senior Mexican Anti-Drug Official Resigns. Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico's national security commissioner and one of the most senior officials in charge of the country's counternarcotics fight, has resigned "for personal reasons." The National Security Commission (CNS), which falls under the Interior Ministry, was created by President Enrique Peña Nieto in January 2013 to replace the Secretariat of Public Security. The CNS, which is in charge of the Federal Police, is behind schedule in its task to create a National Gendarmerie to bolster the country's counter-narcotics fight, which is one of Peña Nieto's campaign promises.

(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.)

Maryland Senate Okays Marijuana Decriminalization

The Maryland Senate today overwhelmingly approved a marijuana decriminalization bill with bipartisan support. It now heads to the House of Delegates.

The bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Montgomery County). It would replace criminal penalties for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $100. That should help in Maryland, which has the fourth-highest arrest rate per capita for marijuana possession.

The bill's next stop is the House Judiciary Committee, where a similar bill last year died without a vote. If you are a Maryland resident, contact your members of the House of Delegates to tell them to fight for this bill.

Kudos to the Maryland senators who did the right thing on decrim--even if they couldn't get a legalization bill through--and to the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland and the Marijuana Policy Project for helping show them the way. 

Location: 
Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM -- March 14, 2014

No legalization for Maryland this year, the ASA national conference is coming soon, Utah (!) passes a package of policing reform bills, welfare drug testing goes down in flames in Indiana, the Swiss ponder cannabis clubs, and more. Let's get to it:

A bill before Utah's governor would begin to rein in SWAT in the Beehive State. Only Maryland has done something similar.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Activists Plan Slew of Local Reform Initiatives. Marijuana reform activists are planning "a tsunami move in November 2014," with plans to put initiatives aimed at legalizing or decriminalizing possession, use or transfer of small amounts of marijuana on private property by persons 21 or older on the local ballot in at least eight towns and cities, and perhaps a dozen more. The Safe Michigan Coalition, the folks behind successful initiatives in Lansing, Ferndale, and Jackson last year, are also behind this effort.

NORML PAC Endorses Tommy Wells for DC Mayor. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of NORML, announced today that it is endorsing Councilman Tommy Wells for mayor of Washington, DC. "Councilman Wells is a passionate crusader for the cause of marijuana law reform," stated NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri, "Wells showed his skill and acumen for the issue when he championed the District's marijuana decriminalization measure, which was overwhelmingly approved by the DC City Council just this month. The District of Columbia would greatly benefit from having his compassion, knowledge, and strong leadership in the mayor's office. Under a Tommy Wells administration, DC will continue to roll back its failed prohibition on marijuana and move towards a system of legalization and regulation."

Maryland Legalization Bill Dies, But Decriminalization Bill Still Lives. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in Maryland, House Bill 880 from Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore), died for lack of support in committee yesterday, but a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 364, filed by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Montgomery) passed the Senate and is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Some Marijuana Convictions Can Be Thrown Out. Some people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can ask for those convictions to be thrown out under the law that legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, the state's second-highest court ruled Thursday. The Colorado Court of Appeals said people whose cases were under appeal when Amendment 64 on recreational marijuana took effect in December 2012 are eligible to have their convictions reversed. The case is Colorado v. Brandi Jessica Russell.

Medical Marijuana

ASA National Conference in Washington, DC, April 5-7. The country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), formally announced today its second annual Unity Conference, "Navigating Medical Cannabis in the Mainstream," to be held in Washington, DC on April 5-7, 2014. The conference will highlight medical and legal experts, policymakers, and a wide array of workshops and panels focusing on scientific research, strategic planning, and skills building. Click on the links for more details.

Washington Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Dies. A legislative effort to roll Washington's medical marijuana program into its I-502 legal marijuana system has died at the last minute after House Republicans tried to use it to divert a share of marijuana tax revenue to cities and counties. Senate Bill 5887 sponsor Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) said the bill was doomed by "immovable positions" even after a last-minute push by the governor. The bill would have required existing dispensaries to either get legal under I-502 or close, would have ended collective gardens, and would have reduced the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil has passed the legislature and now heads for the governor's desk. House Bill 105 won final approval in the House Thursday.

Drug Testing

Pre-Job Offer Drug Tests Violate ADA, Federal Court Rules. Pre-offer drug tests to determine the use of both legal and illegal drugs violates the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) prohibition on pre-offer medical inquiries, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled last week. The ADA contains an exception for tests solely "to determine the illegal use of drugs," but the court held that the urine drug screens qualified as medical exams because they tested not just for drugs but also for other medical purposes. The case is EEOC v. Grane Healthcare Co. and Ebensburg Care Center, LLC, d/b/a Cambria Care Center.

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dies on Ties Vote in Senate. A bill to drug test welfare recipients suspected of using drugs died last night on a dramatic tie vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 1351 had already passed the House by a margin of 81-17, but Senate opponent said the measure unfairly targeted poor people and that other states that have adopted such programs have found they were not cost effective.

Law Enforcement

Utah Legislature Passes Policing Reform Bills. Three bills to impose some controls on law enforcement have been sent to the governor's desk in Utah. House Bill 70 originally would have limited the use of "dynamic entry" search warrants to situations involving violent crime, but was watered down. It still, however, imposes some restrictions on such searches. Senate Bill 185 would require police agencies with SWAT teams to report on why and how often they are used. Only Maryland has approved a similar law. And House Bill 185 requires police to obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a cell phone, including bulk data collection through technologies like Stingray.

Drugged Driving

Drugged Driving Bill Passes Vermont House. A bill that makes it easier for police to charge drivers with drugged driving passed the House Thursday. House Bill 501 changes existing law to use the same definition of "under the influence"of drugs as has been established for alcohol. Under current law, drugged driving can only be proven if someone drives unsafely, but the proposed law would change that to enable a conviction "when the person is under the influence of any other drug or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drug." The state Supreme Court has held that any drug presence constitutes "under the influence." The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Swiss Cities Consider Backing Cannabis Clubs. Municipal governments in at least five Swiss cities are considering plans to allow "cannabis clubs" or user associations. Local governments in Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, and Zurich are contemplating the move, with Geneva taking the lead. A working group will present a final proposal to authorities in June, but the move would require changes in federal law.

British Deaths From New Synthetics "Inflated," Former Drug Advisors Say. The National Program on Substance Abuse Deaths (NSPAD) reported 68 deaths in 2012 from the use of "legal highs" or new synthetic drugs, but two former government drug advisors say that figure includes many deaths from substances that "are already illegal, not new, and/or not psychoactive." Professor David Nutt and Dr. Les King of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs said only 11 of the 68 deaths actually occurred with new synthetics. "What is certain is that if the current government review of legal highs is to be taken seriously and lead to health improvements then there must be a proper definition of terms and improved data collection," they said. "Moreover the data must be properly and independently audited so the effects of any change in the law can be properly evaluated."

(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 -- March 13, 2014

Attorney General Holder endorses federal drug sentencing reductions, CBD medical marijuana bills move in the South, a New Hampshire decriminalization bill advances, Zohydro may get some competition, and the UN is generating plenty of news, and more. Let's get to it:

Attorney General Eric Holder endorses federal drug sentence reductions. (usdoj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marylanders Rally for Legalization. Nearly 100 supporters of sweeping changes in Maryland's marijuana laws rallied in Annapolis Thursday before planned legislative hearings on bills to legalize -- or at least decriminalize -- possession of the drug. The House Judiciary Committee is hearing a series of marijuana reform bills this afternoon, including a legalization bill (House Bill 880) from Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Slim Majority for Legalization. As the legislature considers marijuana reform bills, a new Goucher Poll has support for legalization at 50.1%, with 39.4% opposed. The poll also had a whopping 89.6% in favor of medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Passes House. The House approved a decriminalization bill by a veto-proof margin Wednesday. House Bill 1625, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and a bipartisan group of seven cosponsors including Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. It would also make cultivation of up to six plants a Class A misdemeanor instead of a felony. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. Now, it's on to the state Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Senate Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate passed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe and patients to use CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons Wednesday. The bill passed with no opposition. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the House.

Georgia Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 885, which would allow patients to use CBD-based cannabis oils. It also amended the bill to allow parents to bring the oil into the state without facing penalties. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

South Carolina Senate Panel Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs approved a bill allowing people suffering from epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil Wednesday. Senate Bill 1035 still needs to pass the full committee. Similar legislation is moving in the House.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the cultivation of hemp for research purposes passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday. House Bill 2445 now heads for the House Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor. A bill that would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug testing if there is a suspicion they are using drugs passed the Senate Wednesday and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has made it a keystone of his legislative agenda. House Bill 49 passed the Senate after debate in which supporters couched the program as an additional benefit that could help somebody struggling with addiction, while opponents said it was unfairly singling out the poor.

ASAM White Paper Calls for Vastly Expanded Drug Testing. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has published a white paper by former NIDA director and present day drug testing consultant Robert Dupont calling drug testing "underutilized" and arguing it should be expanded to be include people of all ages in virtually all aspects of daily life. The totalitarian vision is ably critiqued by NORML drug testing expert Paul Armentano (click the title link), as well as by progressive talk radio host Thom Hartman, who countered Dupont with an op-ed entitled "It's Time to End All Drug Testing." Both Armentano's and Hartman's critiques are worth the read.

Prescription Opioids

Oxycontin Maker Offers Alternative to Zohydro. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, says it has completed testing of an abuse-resistant version of the painkiller hydrocodone, a surprise development that could derail sales of the recently launched Zohydro, a similar medication that has been criticized for lacking such safeguards. Purdue Pharma says it plans to submit its extended-release hydrocodone drug to the Food and Drug Administration later this year. Shares of rival Zogenix Inc. plunged more than 20% after the announcement, which appears to jeopardize sales of the company's just-launched drug Zohydro. Zogenix began shipping Zohydro to pharmacies last week.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Endorses Proposal to Cut Federal Sentences. US Attorney General Eric Holder today endorsed a proposal from the US Sentencing Commission to reduce the sentences of people convicted of federal drug trafficking offenses by about a year, from an average of 62 to months to an average of 51 months. "This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable," Holder said. "It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate."

International

Listen to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Sessions. You can do it by clicking on the UNODC's webcast page at the link above. Also, Oregon activist Doug McVay has uploaded audio of the second part of today's plenary session here. There will be more updates on McVay's weekly Drug War Facts podcast.

UNODC Panel Says Criminalizing Drug Use "Not Beneficial". Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC -- which includes Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say "criminal sanctions are not beneficial" in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

UNODC Sees "Serious Setbacks" in Fight Against Drugs. Addressing the opening session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOC) head Yury Fedotov said the global fight against drugs had suffered "serious setbacks," including record opium crops in Afghanistan, violence linked to drug trafficking in Central America, and weak West African states succumbing to the blandishments of traffickers. While he said legalization was no solution, he did add that: "A public health response to the drug use problem should consider alternatives to penalization and incarceration of people with use disorders."

Caricom Creates Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The leaders of the Caricom Caribbean trade bloc announced today that they are creating a commission to study the impact of legalizing marijuana. The move came at the end of a two-day summit where members discussed a preliminary report on decriminalization. The commission is charged with presenting its report in early July for a Caricom summit in Antigua.

Iran Executed More Than 300 People for Drugs Last Year, Report Says. A report from the nonprofit group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran released Wednesday says Iran executed 331 people on drug-related charges last year. The drug executions accounted for almost half of all executions in the Islamic Republic, the report found. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime sponsors anti-drug programs in Iran, and is under increasing pressure from European donor countries to put in place measures to stop its support from contributing to the death penalty.

Dire Prospects for Afghanistan Drug War, Analysis Finds. A new analysis from Alex Pollard-Lipkis of Foreign Policy in Focus finds that "if costly drug war strategies in Afghanistan have been unsuccessful even with a strong US military presence, they won't stand a chance after the US withdraws." The analysis critiques contemporary US approaches and peeks into the post-US future. Click on the title link to read the whole thing.

Say What? UNODC Panel Says Criminalizing Drug Use "Not Beneficial"

Yep, you read that right. The global anti-drug bureaucracy doesn't think it's a good idea to criminalize drug use.

As the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) notes:

Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

DPA was happy to hear it:

"There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Hopefully the UN’s recommendations will help accelerate the global trend toward ending the criminalization of drug use and possession.  That certainly would make an enormous difference in the United States."

And so are we. While decriminalizing drug use does not remove all the harms associated with drug prohibition (especially since it would still leave a huge black market in drug production and sales), it would be a huge step toward recognizing the humanity of drug users. In the US alone, it would also save about 1.5 million each year from being saddled with arrest records.

Location: 
Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM -- March 11, 2014

The District of Columbia could legalize marijuana at the ballot box this year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta doubles down on his support for medical marijuana with a new CNN special tonight, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week in Vienna is attracting a lot of attention, and more. Let's get to it:

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta "doubles down" on his support for medical marijuana. (via Share Bear on Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November. Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

Colorado Takes in $2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month of Legalization. The state of Colorado collected $2.01 million in retail marijuana sales and excise taxes in January, the first month of legal sales, the Department of Revenue reported Monday.

Missouri Legalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana in the Show-Me State got a hearing in the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee Monday. House Bill 1659, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), got a mixed reception in the hearing, with GOP lawmakers expressing skepticism. The committee took no vote and offered no timetable for further action.

Louisiana Marijuana Reform Advocates Rally on Capitol Steps in Baton Rouge. Although there is no legalization bill filed in Louisiana, legalization advocates rallied at the state capitol Monday to get their voices heard. The event was organized by Legalize Louisiana, which seeks to "decriminalize, legalize, and regulate marijuana" in the Bayou State. Although there is no legalization bill this year, there are bills to decriminalize and to allow for medical marijuana.

Legalization Would Be a "Terrible Mistake," Says NYPD Commissioner. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday it would be a 'terrible mistake' to legalize marijuana and predicted problems for states that go that course. But he did say he supported medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doubles Down for Medical Marijuana; Special Airs Tonight. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who first saw the light on medical marijuana a few months ago, has reiterated his support for the herb's medicinal uses and will air a new special on the topic, Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports," at 10 p.m. ET on tonight.

In New Crackdown, Los Angeles Shutters A Hundred Dispensaries. More than 100 dispensaries have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing new rules restricting them, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday. In addition to the rules prompting scores of closures, Feuer said city lawyers had successfully fended off a host of legal challenges. In one closely watched case, they prevented a dispensary from opening in Mar Vista, securing a permanent injunction before it could set up shop.

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled By Cops. A key lawmaker said Tuesday she doesn't see a path forward for legalizing medical marijuana after talks with law enforcement hit a standstill. Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said she had conceded to virtually all demands from law enforcement over the weekend but was still unable to get their support for her bill, House File 1818. Melin said she had no choice but to postpone a House committee hearing that would have been lawmakers' second look at the issue. "Law enforcement won't support any bill that would result in helping any patients," Melin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The governor has to get involved."

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Passes Senate Committee. A bill that would require food stamp recipients suspected of drug use to pass a drug test to receive benefits narrowly passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has already passed the House. It's not clear if it now goes to another committee or to a Senate floor vote.

Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Senator Manchin Joins Call to Overturn FDA Approval of Zohydro. US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has joined the call for the FDA to overturn its recent approval of Zohydro, a single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for people suffering from chronic pain. It is the first ever single-ingredient drug to be approved by the FDA. Manchion joins Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of legislators, prosecutors, and medical groups seeking to reverse the decision. But the FDA and the drug's manufacturer say the drug is needed to treat chronic pain.

Drug Use

RAND Corporation Report Reviews Past Decade's Drug Use. A new report from the RAND Corporation, What America's Drug Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010, pegs spending on illicit drugs at $100 billion a year. It also notes that from 2000 to 2010, the amount people spent on cocaine dropped by half from $55 billion to $28 billion, reflecting dramatic decreases in the availability of cocaine after 2006: from approximately 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to about 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

International

UN Drugs Meeting Opens after Historic Reforms Shatter Consensus on Drug Control System. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) opens its annual meeting this week after a year of historic reforms. This year’s meeting—which is taking place Vienna from March 13-21—is expected to be unusually contentious after a monumental 2013-2014. Unprecedented reforms have shaken the foundations of global drugs policy and set the stage for an explosive international debate. For live updates, check out the CND Blog.

Report Finds UN Stuck in Denial Over Marijuana Regulation. A new report from the Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory has been released in the run-up to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week. The report, The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition: the History of Cannabis in the UN drug control system and options for reform, unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalization, coffee shops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits. The report outlines specific options for reform and assesses their potential for success. These options include: WHO review and modification of cannabis scheduling; state parties amending the treaties; modifying the conventions 'inter se', e.g. between specific states only; or denunciation of the treaty and re-accession with a reservation (carried out recently by Bolivia in order to defend indigenous rights and the use of coca leaf in its natural form).

ENCOD Calls for UN to End the Drug War. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) will use the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week to call on the UN to end the war on drugs. A delegation of five Encod members will join the debate inside the UN: Urki Goñi, chairman of Cannabis Social Club Urjogaberdea in the Basque Country, Spain, Doug Fine, author of 'Hemp Bound' and 'Too High To Fail: Cannabis & the New Green Economic Revolution', Dionisio Nuñez, Bolivian ex-minister of coca affairs, Janko Belin, Encod chairman and Joep Oomen, Encod coordinator. On Friday March 14 one of them will deliver a speech to the plenary meeting. ENCOD will also be reporting nightly from the sessions later this week on the ENCOD web site.

Legalization Won't Solve World's Drug Problem, UN Drug Chief Says.Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters Monday that while it is up to member states to decide "what needs to be done," legalization ain't it. "As the head of UNODC, I have to say that legalization is not a solution to the (world's) drug problem," Fedotov said. "It is very hard to say that this law (adopted by Uruguay's parliament) is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions," he added.

UN Drug Chief Praises Iran Drug Fight Despite Executions. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said Monday that Iran's anti-drug efforts were "very impressive" and that Iran "takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs" even though human rights and harm reduction groups have criticized its frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offenders. Still, he added that UNODC opposes the death penalty and that he planned to raise the issue with Iranian leaders during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week.

Chronicle AM -- March 10, 2014

California's Democrats endorse marijuana legalization, Caricom gets ready to talk marijuana, Attorney General Holder calls for expanded access to naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, legislatures in the Pacific Northwest make moves on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Caribbean leaders are discussing ganja this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a supporter of marijuana legalization, has introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act, which would expand the federal definition of an impaired driver to include those impaired by marijuana use. The bill is not yet available online, and the devil is in the details. Stay tuned.

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization. The California Democratic Party voted Sunday to include in its platform a plank "to support the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Support for Legalization at CPAC. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington included many supporters of marijuana legalization, according to both a Huffington Post informal survey and a CPAC straw poll, which had 62% saying legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Program Won't Consider Adding New Conditions Until 2015. A Health Department spokesperson said late last week that the state's medical marijuana program will not consider expanding the list of conditions covered under state law until next year. That would appear to contradict the law, which required the health department to consider adding new diseases requested by the public after it submitted two annual reports, beginning in 2011, charting the program's progress. It also required the health department to produce a biennial report in 2012 and every two years after assessing whether there were enough growers to meet demand. But the Chris Christie administration didn't issue any reports at all until late last month, and now says it is too soon to add more illnesses.

Washington Senate Votes to Regulate Medical Marijuana. Legislation that would essentially fold the state's existing medical marijuana program into the I-502 legalization framework passed the Senate Saturday. Senate Bill 5887 would require dispensaries to be licensed under the legalization format. Patients could get their medicine there or grow their own, and they could voluntarily register with the state to get a partial tax break and buy greater quantities than allowed under general legalization. The measure now goes to the House, which has already passed a bill that requires mandatory patient registration. The session ends this week.

New York Assembly Democrats Roll Medical Marijuana Bill into Budget Proposal. In a bid to finally get medical marijuana through the legislature, Assembly Democrats have folded a bill to do that into this week's budget proposal. The bill resembles the Compassionate Care Act introduced by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), but is not identical to it.

Harm Reduction

Holder Calls Heroin ODs "Urgent Public Health Crisis," Calls for Expanded Naloxone Access. US Attorney General Eric Holder Monday said the Justice Department was stepping up efforts to slow the increase in heroin overdose deaths. As part of that effort, he reiterated the administration's call for more law enforcement agencies to be equipped with the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan).

Methamphetamine

Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill Introduced in Missouri House. Reps. Stanley Cox (R-118) and Kenneth Wilson (R-12) have filed a bill that lowers limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine-based medicines that people can purchase each month, sets an annual limit on purchase amounts, lowers the amount people can legally possess, and requires a prescription for anyone with a felony drug offense. House Bill 1787 is similar to legislation filed earlier this year in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 625, is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

International

LEAP Proposes Amendment to UN Drug Treaties. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has proposed an amendment to the UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. The amendment seeks to "eliminate the criminalization-oriented drug policy paradigm and replace it with a health, harm reduction, and human rights-oriented policy." The proposed amendment is accompanied by a letter to world leaders from LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. Read the amendment by clicking on the title link and sign onto it at the MoveOn.org link here.

Caricom Leaders to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. Leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc will discuss a preliminary report on decriminalizing marijuana and exploring its medicinal uses at a two-day summit beginning today on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The summit comes on the heels of a research report released last week by Caricom researchers that found such moves could help the region's sluggish economy.

Mexico Kills La Familia Cartel Leader -- Again. Mexican authorities are reporting that that they killed Nazario "El Mas Loco" (The Craziest One) Moreno in a shootout in Michoacan Sunday. The funny thing is that Moreno, one time leader of the La Familia Cartel, was also reported killed by authorities in December 2010. But his body was never found, and now government spokesmen say he was still alive and was acting as head of La Familia's replacement, the Knights Templar Cartel.

"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

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