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Marijuana Bust No Longer Automatic Arrest in New Orleans

In a bid to reduce congestion in the city's criminal courts, the New Orleans City Council voted last Thursday to make marijuana possession, prostitution, and two other minor crimes municipal offenses. That gives police the option to issue a summons instead of making an arrest.

The New Orleans City Council just made life a bit easier in the Big Easy.
Up until now, pot possession and the other offenses have only been addressed by state laws, which required police to arrest and book offenders. With the offenses now municipal, police are no longer required to make arrests, saving the city the expense of booking, housing and feeding jailed pot smokers. The move will also reduce the caseload of judges and prosecutors, who also handle serious felonies.

"These ordinances will contribute significantly to the city's efforts to promote greater efficiency and equity in our criminal justice system, particularly for our police officers, the District Attorney's office and in the criminal court," said Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chair of the council's Criminal Justice Committee. "These measures have unanimous support from the City's criminal justice agencies, and we are thankful for the many people who have worked so hard on this initiative."

Possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids, prostitution, a driver's failure to stop when a police officer has used flashing lights and a siren to signal the driver to stop, and refusing to leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by police are the four offenses that will now be dealt with by summonses.

While it is a scaling back of marijuana enforcement, the council's move does not amount to true decriminalization. Like Louisiana state law, the new city municipal ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro complained mightily when he took office in 2008, only to find more than a thousand marijuana possession cases clogging his docket. At his urging, the city already tries pot possession cases in municipal court, but Thursday's ordinances mean the prosecution of those cases can be shifted from Cannizzaro's office to the city attorney's office.

The ordinances are a continuation of ongoing efforts by the city council to reduce the number of people arrested and jailed for minor offenses in the city. Two years ago, the council passed ordinances directing police to issue written summons instead of arresting people found with outstanding traffic warrants and a number of municipal offenses, including disturbing the peace, trespassing, making threats, urinating in public, playing loud music and public intoxication.

New Orleans police arrested 58,219 people in 2007. Half of those arrested were for municipal or traffic offenses. Although no hard numbers are available, the measures undertaken since then have certainly decreased that percentage, and Thursday's ordinance should see it decline further.

New Orleans, LA
United States

DEA Criminalization of 'Fake Marijuana' Repeats Mistakes of Past Prohibitions (Opinion)

Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator in the Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs in Washington, D.C., says we know from marijuana prohibition that law enforcement has no control over the drug market and the criminals who run it. By choosing to ban K2 outright, lawmakers are committing millions of taxpayer dollars to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate K2 users. He points out that we simply cannot afford to expand the war on drugs at a time when budgets are in the red and the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/149036/dea_criminalization_of_%27fake_marijuana%27_repeats_mistakes_of_past_prohibitions

Election 2010 and US Drug Policy in Latin America [FEATURE]

This month's election returns, which resulted in the Republican Party taking back control of the US House of Representatives, have serious, if cloudy, ramifications for progress on drug policy on the domestic front. Similarly, when we look south of the border, where a cash-strapped US has been throwing billions of dollars, mainly at the governments of Colombia and Mexico in a quixotic bid to thwart the drug trade, the Republican return to control in the House could mean a more unfriendly atmosphere for efforts to reform our Latin American drug policy.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/clinton-plan-merida-meeting.jpg
Plan Merida funding on the line?
Or not. Analysts consulted by Drug War Chronicle this week said it was too soon to tell. They varied on the impact of the Tea Party movement on Republican drug policy positions, as well as reaching differing conclusions as to whether the Tea Party's much-touted allegiance to fiscal austerity will be trumped by mainstream Republican militarism, interventionism, and hostility to drug reform.

Since 2006, and including Fiscal Year 2011 budgets that have not actually been passed yet, the US has spent nearly $2.8 billion on military and police aid to Colombia, with that number increasing to roughly $7 billion if spending back to the beginning of Plan Colombia in 1999 is included. Likewise, since 2006, the US has dished out nearly $1.5 billion for the Mexican drug war, as well as smaller, but still significant amounts for other Latin American countries and multi-country regional initiatives. Overall, the US has spent $6.56 billion in military and police assistance to Latin America in the past five years, with the drug war used to justify almost all of it.

Even by its own metrics, the US drug war spending in Colombia has had, at best, limited success. It has helped stabilize the country's shaky democracy, it has helped weaken the leftist guerrillas of the FARC, and it has managed to marginally reduce coca and cocaine production in Colombia.

But those advances have come at very high price. Tens of thousands of Colombians have been killed in the violence in the past two decades, Colombia has the world's highest number of internal refugees, widespread aerial spraying of coca crops has led to environmental damage, and paramilitary death squads linked to the government continue to rampage. Some 38 labor leaders have been killed there so far this year.

The results of US anti-drug spending in Mexico have been even more meager. The $1.4 billion Plan Merida has beefed up the Mexican military and law enforcement, but the violence raging there has not been reduced at all. To the contrary, it has increased dramatically since, with US support, President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels at the beginning of 2007. Around 30,000 people have been killed since then, gunfights are a near daily occurrence in cities just across the border from the US, and the flow of drugs into the US remains virtually unimpeded.

That is the reality confronting Republicans in the House, who will now take over. The shift in power in the House means that the chairmanship of key foreign affairs committees will shift from moderate Democrats to conservative Republicans. Current House Foreign Relations Committee chair Howard Berman (D-CA) will be replaced by anti-Castro zealot Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), while in the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Elliot Engel (D-NY) will be replaced by Connie Mack (R-FL).

Other Republicans on the subcommittee include hard-liners Dan Burton (R-IN) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). But there will be one anti-drug war Republican on the committee, Ron Paul (R-TX).

"Ileana and her committee will try to stir things up more, but it's too early to say what that means for drug policy," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "She'll do anything she can to screw over the Castro brothers, and that is the lens through which she sees the world."

That could mean hearings designed to go after Castro ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who threw out the DEA several years ago, and whose country is cited each year by the State Department as not complying with US drug policy objectives. But beyond that is anybody's guess.

"I think you might see a change of tone," said Adam Isaacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "You'll see Venezuela portrayed more and more as the drug bad guy, but neither Ros-Lehtinen or Mack can see much beyond Cuba," he said.

"If you bought the premise that the drug war was an extension of the Cold War, you could have a brand new Cold War framework here," said Isaacson. "They won't be able to buy a lot of Blackhawks, but they can use it as another way to beat up on the Obama administration."

"I think not much is going to change," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "To the extent the need is to cut money, Republicans might want less funding for these programs, but that's a big if. But this is a different sort of Republican, and so there may be the possibility of a left-right coalition to quit funding Plan Colombia. I'm not sure the Republicans can keep their people in line on Mexico and Colombia."

"Obama has been unyielding when it comes to maintaining the status quo on hemispheric drug policy," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "He hasn't come up with any new programs or expressed any sympathy for the progressive drug policy initiatives coming out of Latin America. He is not going to allow himself to be accused of being soft on drugs. All hope for reform is gone, and there is little likelihood that the administration will come up with any drug-related initiative that will cost more money than we're spending now or that would challenge the pro-drug war lobby that now exists. I don't think we will see much activity on this front," he predicted.

Nor did Birns look to Tea Party-style incoming Republicans to break with drug war orthodoxy. He cited campaign season attacks from Tea Party candidates that Washington was "soft on drugs" and suggested that despite the occasional articulation of anti-drug war themes from some candidates, "the decision makers in the Tea Party are not going to sanction a softening on drugs in any way."

"I'm not aware of a single reference to the prospective drug policy of the new class of representatives," said Birns. "It seems to have become desaparicido when it comes to hemispheric policy."

"The Tea Partiers are very vague on foreign policy in general, and we're seeing things like John McCain coming out and attacking Rand Paul for not being interventionist enough," noted Tree.

Despite calls from conservatives for vigorous budget cutting, Tree was skeptical that the Latin American drug war budget would be cut. "In the Heritage Foundation budget cut report, for example, they killed ONDCP's funding and foreign assistance, but nothing from the military budget," he noted. "Maybe they can find some common ground on the drug war, but I'm not holding my breath."

"We haven’t heard them say too much yet," said Isaacson, disagreeing with Tree. "But they don't have any money. The Tea party wants to cut the budget and the foreign aid budget is most vulnerable. Even the Merida Initiative could be in play," he said.

But, Isaacson said, the old-school hard-liners are already at work. He cited a Wednesday conference on Capitol Hill called Danger in the Andes, which explores the "threat" from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

"A lot of these new guys went," he said. "John Walters, Roger Noriega, and Otto Reich were there. Good to see some new faces," he laughed painfully.

"We still don't know much about the Tea Party when it comes to foreign policy," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Whether these guys will follow their budget-cutting instincts and look to reduce foreign aid and the military presence abroad, or whether they will follow the neoconservative wing of the party that believes in empire and strong defense and pursuing interventionist policies all over the world is the question," he said.

"I expect more of the same under the Republicans," said Hidalgo. "I don't foresee big changes. This Tea Party is going to play conservative when it comes to the war on drugs," he predicted. "But I haven't seen a single Tea Partier say what they believe on this issue. We have to give them six months to a year to show their colors."

Mexican Marines being trained by US Marines
The Tea Party movement has already shown conflicting tendencies within it when it comes to foreign policy in general and US drug policy in Latin America in particular, Hidalgo argued. "Some part of it is militaristic and interventionist, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there are people link Rand Paul, who stands for a non-interventionist foreign policy and who thinks drug policy should be reassessed," he said. "We don't know how that is going to play out."

But Hidalgo strongly suggested he thought that it wasn't going to be in a reformist direction. "Even though the Tea Partiers believe in smaller government, the movement has been hijacked by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party," he said. "Its biggest names are Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, both of whom are ultraconservative Republicans. I would be pleasantly surprised to see Tea Party representatives come into office and say the war on drugs is a failure, a big waste of money that has failed miserably. They claim they will look at every single budget item, and what better way to cut spending? I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

One thing that managed to win reluctant Democratic votes for funding the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico was human rights conditionality, meaning that -- in theory, at least -- US assistance could be pared back if those countries did not address identified human rights concerns. With tens of thousands dead in both Mexico and Colombia in the drug war, with widespread allegations of torture and abuses in both countries, the issue should be on the front burner.

In reality, human rights concerns always took a back seat to the imperatives of realpolitik. That's likely to be even more the case with Republicans in control of the House.

"There is not going to be much sympathy to human rights as a driver of US policy," said Birns. "The Republicans initially used human rights as an anti-communist vehicle; it was never meant to be used against rightists. Given that the Obama administration has been conspicuously silent on Latin America, human rights, like drug policy reform, is an issue that has largely disappeared from the public debate. If anything, the noise level of things to come on drug policy will be significantly lowered. Whatever was in the air about new approaches has pretty much been put to bed for the winter."

"On Plan Merida, the Democrats attached human rights conditions because of concerns the Mexican army was committing human rights abuses," said Hidalgo. "It's an open question whether a Republican House will be less concerned about human rights when it comes to helping Mexico, or will they say we should cut spending there?"

For Hidalgo, the big election news in 2010 was not the change in the House of Representatives, but the defeat of Proposition 19 in California.

"Before the vote, several Latin American leaders, including Colombian President Santos, said that if it were to pass, that would force Colombia to reconsider its drug policy and the war on drugs and bring this issue to international forums like the United Nations," he said. "That gave many of us hope that Colombia would precipitate an international discussion on whether to continue the current approach or to adopt a more sensible approach like Portugal or the Netherlands," he said. "Now, that is not going to happen."

Washington, DC
United States

Budget Cutters Eye Controversial National Drug Intelligence Center

Location: 
Johnstown, PA
United States
Newly-elected Republicans coming to Washington this week to slash the federal budget are taking note of a tiny federal agency in the rusting steel town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania -- the National Drug Intelligence Center, a pet project of the late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa). Conceived in the early 1990's as a clearinghouse for all of the intelligence in the nation's war on drugs, the agency was installed on the fifth floor of a defunct department store. For years, Murtha lavished federal dollars on the little agency, even as it struggled to find a mission and critics blasted it as unnecessary.
Publication/Source: 
CNBC (NJ)
URL: 
http://www.cnbc.com/id/40196179/

The Republican House and Drug Reform: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly [FEATURE]

Last week, a resurgent Republican Party retook control of the US House of Representatives, giving the Democrats a drubbing the likes of which has not been seen for decades. The Democrats lost 61 seats, seeing their side sink to 189 seats to the Republicans' 240. They needed 218 to take over again.

The change in control of the House has some serious drug policy implications. There's bad news, but maybe also some good news.

Reform measures passed in the current Congress, such as repealing the bans on federal funding of needle exchange programs and implementation of the Washington, DC, medical marijuana program, could see attempts to roll them back. And pending reforms efforts, such as the battle to repeal the HEA student loan provision, are probably dead. Reform friendly Democratic committee chairs, who wield considerable power, have been replaced by hostile Republicans.

But the incoming Republicans made slashing the deficit and cutting the federal budget a winning campaign issue for themselves, and will be looking for programs they can cut or eliminate. That could open the door to hacking away at programs that support the ongoing prosecution of the drug war, but it could also open the door for cuts in prevention and treatment programs.

As the Chronicle noted here earlier this week, it's not just Tea Party types who want to wield the budget ax. The mainstream conservative Heritage Foundation issued a report just before election day laying out a whopping $434 billion in federal budget cuts, including eliminating the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grant (JAG, formerly the Byrne grant program) program, and the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities state grant program.

"Budgetary issues is where I'm most optimistic," said Bill Piper, veteran national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Given the fiscal climate, there could be real cuts in the federal budget. Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity to de-fund the federal drug war. These new Republicans are a different breed—anti-government, anti-spending, pro-states' rights, and some are proven to be prone to bucking the leadership. If the Republican leadership votes to preserve the drug war, they may rebel," he said.

"We can go after the Byrne grant program," Piper enthused. "That's a very important deal. If we can cut off drug war funding to the states, the states won't be able to afford their punitive policies anymore. During the recession in the Bush administration, when the administration was cutting money to the states, a lot of states passed reform measures because they couldn't afford to lock people up. This time, the federal government has been bailing out state criminal justice systems, but if we can cut or eliminate Byrne grants, the states won't have money for their drug task forces and imprisoning people. Then they will have to consider reforms like cutting sentences and making marijuana possession an infraction."

"Sentencing reform on budgetary grounds is possible," said Kara Gotsch, director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project. "From our perspective, that is a way to reduce government spending. If you want to reduce drug war spending, you reduce costs by investing in prevention and substance abuse programs. That will be part of our talking points, but the reality is, to be successful they're going to have to be bipartisan."

Eric Sterling, former House Judiciary Committee counsel and current head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation was less sanguine than either Piper or Gotsch about the urge to cut the deficit leading to progress in drug reform. "The prospect of saving money leading to criminal justice and drug policy reform is remote," said Sterling. "In state legislatures where they have to balance the budget, everyone recognizes what has to happen. But in Congress, they know there is still going to be a deficit."

Sterling also questioned just how different the Republican freshman class will be from traditional Republicans. "That's a big question mark," he said. "They are younger and bring with them different experiences about drug policy or marijuana in particular, but most of these men and women won by using traditional themes that most incumbent Republicans used, too. I think for them, cracking down on drugs and crime will have more value than trying to save money by funding diversion or correctional programs that aren't about harsh punishment."

But Piper remained upbeat. "Next year is probably an unprecedented opportunity for the movement to defund the drug war. The stars are aligning. A lot of tax groups are already on record for cutting some of these programs," he noted. "Given the fiscal climate, we could see considerable cuts in the federal budget. The type of Republicans coming into office, as well as Obama's own need to show he can practice fiscal discipline, means a real chance to cut or eliminate some of those programs," he said. "The down side is that funding for prevention and treatment is likely to come under fire, too."

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) -- no friend of drug reform.
While budget battles will be fought in appropriations committees, criminal justice issues are a different matter. One of the most striking changes  comes in the House Judiciary Committee, where pro-drug reform Democrats like chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) are being replaced by the likes of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who will head the Judiciary Committee. Smith, a conservative old school drug warrior, was the only congressman to speak up against passage of the bill to reduce the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences.

He also authored a bill this fall that would have made it a federal offense for US citizens to plan to commit acts outside the US that would violate US drug laws. While that bill was allegedly aimed at large drug trafficking organizations, it could have made federal criminals out of college students making plans to visit the coffee shops of Amsterdam. He took to Fox News last month to lambaste the Obama administration as insufficiently tough on marijuana law enforcement, a clip he displays on his web site (scroll over the small video screens; the title will pop up).

"The fact that Rep. Smith is going to be the chair will definitely have an impact," said Gotsch. "He was the only vocal opposition to the crack cocaine sentencing reform, and the fact that he is now going to be chair is discouraging. It indicates that he won't be thoughtful about sentencing reforms for low level drug offenders."

"The Democratic committee chairs were good on drug policy and unlikely to advance bad drug war bills," said Piper. "Now, with Conyers and Scott gone and Lamar Smith in charge, we can expect stuff like Smith's foreign drug conspiracy bill to come out of that committee."

"You couldn’t find bigger champions for reform than Scott and Conyers," said Gotsch. "We won't have them as chairs now; that's probably the biggest disappointment to our community."

"Smith has been quite out there in his attacks over the drug issue," said Sterling. "My hunch is that we will take advantage of the political attractiveness of the drug issue to try to have both oversight hearings and legislation that would be embarrassing to Democrats."

And don't expect too much from the Democrats, either, he added. "The Democratic caucus is going to be more reluctant to deal with the drug issue in a progressive way than it has been," said Sterling. "They see it as a distraction from the heart of the message they need to bring to retake power in 2012."

With people like Smith holding key House committee positions, the drug reform agenda is likely to stall in the next Congress. Instead, reformers will be fighting to avoid reversing earlier gains.

"In terms of passing good things, there probably wasn’t a lot more that was going to happen with Democrats before 2012," said Piper. "The important low hanging fruit of overturning the syringe ban, the DC medical marijuana ban, and the crack sentencing bill had already gotten through. We might have been able to achieve repeal of the HEA drug provision, but probably not now."

The drug reform movement's job now will be not only blocking bad legislation, but also fighting to prevent a rollback of drug reform victories in the current Congress, such as the repeal of the bans on syringe exchange funding and implementing the Washington, DC, medical marijuana law, said Piper. 

"They're unlikely to go backwards on crack, but the syringe ban and the DC medical marijuana ban were both repealed with some, but not a lot, of Republican support," he said. "The syringe ban repeal barely passed, and that was in a Congress dominated by Democrats. Will they try to restore the syringe funding ban and overturn DC's medical marijuana program? That's our big fear. Hopefully, we can scrape up enough votes to defeat in the House, or stop it on the Senate side," he said.

Piper also dared to dream of an emerging Republican anti-drug war caucus. "We don't know who these new Republicans all are, but some have probably been influenced by Ron Paul (R-TX)," he said. "If only 10 of them stand up against the drug war, that's a huge opportunity to raise hell in the Republican caucus. Almost a third of Republican voters want to legalize marijuana, and that's an opportunity for us, too. Maybe there will be Republicans we can work with and create a truly bipartisan anti-drug war coalition in Congress. That's a foothold."

For Piper, the future looks stormy and cloudy, but "the silver lining is in appropriations fights and opportunities to organize an anti-drug war movement in the Republican caucus. We just have to play defense on a bunch of stuff," he said. 

"The activist community is going to have to figure out what the recipe for our lemonade is," advised Sterling. "That requires first a redoubled effort at organizing, using themes such as the wise stewardship of the scarce resources we have, and what works and what is effective," he said.

"It also requires mobilizing people not involved in this issue before, whether it's the business community or people who see their rice bowls been broken by the Republican approach," Sterling continued. "Teachers, nurses, people asking how come the part of the public work force this is protected is the police and the police guards. Drug policy reform activists have to think about what are the alliances they can make in this time of public resource scarcity."

Washington, DC
United States

Heritage Foundation Says Cut Drug Czar's Office, Byrne Grants, More

In an attempt to provide some specifics for Republican promises to reduce the budget deficit by cutting federal spending, the conservative Heritage Foundation has issued a backgrounder report saying Congress should eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar's office), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities state grant program, and all Justice Department grant programs, except those for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice. That means the drug task force-funding Justice Assistance Grants (JAG, formerly known as the Byrne grant) are on the chopping block, too.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/director_kerlikoske.jpg
Goodbye Gil?
The report said the federal government could cut a whopping $434 billion and the savings could come from eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and outdated or ineffective programs;consolidating duplicative programs, targeting programs more precisely, privatization, and "empowering state and local governments" by reducing federal funding for them.

Taxpayers could save $30 million by axing the "duplicative" drug czar's office and $298 million by eliminating the Safe and Drug Free Schools state grants, which are used for violence and drug and alcohol prevention programs. The Byrne grant program, which can also be used to fund drug treatment and prevention, is set at $598 million in the Obama administration's FY 2011 budget request. 

The drug budget cuts are only a tiny fraction of  the $343 billion that Heritage said should be cut. The report takes the budget ax to nearly $20 billion in agriculture funding, nearly $8 billion in community development grants, nearly $8 billion in federal education spending, more than $7 billion in energy and environmental spending, nearly $92 billion from federal government operations (including federal employee pay freezes), and nearly $7 billion by cutting federal job training and Job Corps funds.

If the cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation in its entirety were to be enacted, they would radically shrink the federal government and redraw the picture of what the people expect from government. But the Republicans only control one chamber of Congress, some of the proposed cuts could lead to dissent even within GOP ranks, and Democrats and people who stand to lose out are sure to fight them.

Still, it would be nice if the spirit of bipartisanship could prevail long enough to begin closing the book on decades of wasted and counter-productive federal drug prohibition spending, even though we wouldn't want to see proven prevention programs slashed.

Washington, DC
United States

More Marijuana Law Reform Talk in Britain

Marijuana law reform is back in the news in the British Isles, as both a high-ranking police officer and a leading Liberal Democratic politician made comments over the weekend suggesting that pot should be decriminalized or regulated and sold legally.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/tim-hollis.jpg
Tim Hollis
Marijuana is currently a Class B drug with possession punishable by up to five years in prison. It was down-scheduled to Class C under the Labor government in 2004, but then returned to Class B by Labor in 2008. The current Conservative/Liberal Democratic government supports keeping marijuana as a Class B drug.

But on Saturday, Tim Hollis, chief constable of the Humberside police and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drug committee, told the Guardian marijuana possession should be decriminalized to allow police to devote more resources to dealing with more serious crime. The criminal justice system can offer only a "limited" solution to Britain's drug problem, he said.

"We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people," said Hollis. "We don't want to criminalize young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."

Hollis also backed increasing calls for the current drug classification system to be reexamined. He said concerns that placing drugs such as heroin and ecstasy in the same classification were justified. He also said whether to include tobacco and alcohol in the country's drug strategy should be open to debate.

"My personal belief in terms of sheer scale of harm is that one of the most dangerous drugs in this country is alcohol," he said. "Alcohol is a lawful drug. Likewise, nicotine is a lawful drug, but cigarettes can kill," he said. "There is a wider debate on the impacts to our community about all aspects of drugs, of which illicit drugs are one modest part."

Hollis's comments came as a row between scientists and politicians over marijuana policy continues. Just last week, Professor Roger Pertwee, arguably Britain's top marijuana researcher, called for decriminalization. But last month, the Home Office rejected marijuana decriminalization, calling it "the wrong approach."

And on Sunday, the junior partner in the government, the Liberal Democrats, were scolded by one of their leaders for staying "silent" on drug policy since the issued was last discussed at a party conference in 2002. Then, the party voted to legalize marijuana and end jail sentences for simple possession of any drugs.

At the party's national conference, Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, called for a "rational debate" on drug policy, saying the party had been left "vulnerable" because it was seen as "soft on drugs." What is needed, he said, is detailed discussion of regulating drugs, the sale of drugs in pharmacies, and the diversion of profits from those sales to drug treatment programs.

"The last time we talked about this was in 2002 and we certainly haven't heard our candidates and representatives talking about it very much since," Hoyle told delegates. "I put it to you that we have been silent on this issue because we got our policy wrong. Our policy, especially on cannabis, was a soft on drugs policy which has left us vulnerable," he said.

"We have to start discussing policy features like pharmacy sales, the provision of detailed information on harm before individuals are permitted to purchase the drug, and bans on branding and marketing," Hoyle proposed. "We have to find a policy that can best protect our citizens from harm, especially our children, and that can end the massive profits from the criminal gains that control the illegal trade."

Will the Liberal Democrats listen and perhaps nudge their Tory partners toward a more reformist stance? Time will tell, but the pressure is mounting.

United Kingdom

Washington Prosecutor Candidate Makes Drug Reform a Key Issue [FEATURE]

Snohomish County, Washington, stretches from the Seattle suburbs in the south to the city of Everett in the north. It encompasses the Pacific Coast and the Cascade Range, and come November, its 700,000 citizens will be electing a new prosecutor. One of the candidates is staking out a very progressive position on drug policy.

Jim Kenny with firefighters (jimkenny.org)
The campaign pits incumbent prosecutor Mark Roe against challenger Jim Kenny. Both are long-time prosecutors, Roe in Snohomish County and Kenny in Seattle, and both are Democrats. But only one supported I-1068, this year's failed marijuana legalization initiative, and only one is trying to make drug policy reform a winning issue. That would be Jim Kenny.

Under Washington election law, the top two vote-getters in the primary go to the general election ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Roe won the primary with 67% of the vote, while Kenny came in second with 31%.

"You could say I'm the underdog," Kenny told the Chronicle this week. "But we do have a plan to turn those numbers around and win in the general election. We think we can double the turnout over the primary election," he said.

With both candidates running as Democrats and experienced prosecutors, the challenger is looking for issues to differentiate himself from the incumbent, and for Kenny, drug policy is one of those issues. Reformist stances are drug policy positions are prominently displayed on his campaign web site's issues page. Roe does not even have an issues page.

Kenny supported I-1068 because "it was the right thing to do," he said. "I supported 1068 for a variety of reasons," said the veteran prosecutor. "I think it was the right thing to do to end 40 years of the war on drugs and marijuana prohibition. It could have had financial benefits for the state through a redirection of law enforcement resources or potentially even a reduction in the need for those resources."

Kenny pointed out that there were 12,000 marijuana prosecutions in Washington in 2008. "Those prosecutions cost the state more than $18 million," he said. "If you legalize marijuana, you would reduce the need for all those arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations. You can save those resources, or redirect them to fight real crime."

"You could also tax marijuana, and those tax dollars would be a real financial benefit to the state," he said.

"Another reason 1068 made a lot of sense," Kenny continued, "is that it started allowing our community in the state of Washington to look at drugs within a public health model instead of a criminal justice model. We spent 40 years prosecuting people for drugs, but now the Obama administration has come out with a new drug control strategy that walks away from war on drugs rhetoric and talks about dealing with drugs as a public health issue. It didn't involve any changing of programs or funding, but I think it's significant for the federal government to disavow the term 'war on drugs.' That provides the opportunity for people at the local level, for prosecutors, to run with it. I'm afraid the federal government may not take more significant steps in that direction, but it is something local governments can run with."

Kenny also sought to draw a sharp line between himself and Roe on medical marijuana. "My opponent is prosecuting some sick and injured people as felons for marijuana distribution, and I think that's the wrong thing to do," Kenny said. "People with medical marijuana authorizations should be treated as patients, not criminals."

Talking drug policy reform could be a winning issue, or at least not a losing one in Western Washington, said Seattle attorney Rachel Kurtz. "I feel like we're pretty advanced here," she said. "[Drug reformer and state representative] Roger Goodman runs for office, and in his last election he was attacked for not doing enough on drug reform. In this financial climate, drug policy reform is seen as a way to save money and taxes. I don't think Kenny is going to lose because of his drug policy stances. The electorate is becoming smarter and you can use those old tactics anymore," she said.

Kenny isn't just talking about pot. He is also advocating innovative criminal justice measures to reduce incarceration levels and promising to bring transparency to police-involved shootings. It's all part of what he calls "smart on crime" policies, as opposed to "tough on crime."

"We need to continue to incarcerate serious and violent offenders, but for low- and mid-level offenders we can do more," Kenny said. "In other cities across the country, they are using some innovative ideas to help people help themselves by addressing root causes, such as mental health and drug and alcohol problems," he said, pointing to problem-solving courts, such as drug court, mental health court, and veterans' court.

Snohomish County, with a large naval base and veteran population, should have a veterans' court, Kenny argued. "It's a specialized court with a redirection of resources where you might take in all the vets' cases," he said. "It's really about asking these defendants what's going on with them, why are they doing this, looking at their criminal histories and asking how we can change this. Ideally, it involves additional resources, particularly getting people into alcohol and drug treatment. It's about slowing down the process and asking why, and that makes a real difference."

The county does have a drug court, Kenny noted, but needs more problem-solving courts. "Those programs have been expanded in places in the country and the state, and we need to bring them to Snohomish County."

He also favors alternative sentencing arrangements. "Work crews, electronic monitoring, community service -- all of those keep people out of jail and allow us to not have to build a second jail any time in the near future. If we can use these tools to reduce recidivism, especially without putting people in jail, that would be a good thing," he said. "My conservative opponents don't like to focus on the fact that jail can be a school for criminals."

Kenny is also taking a strong stand on accountability for police-involved killings. In the past 18 months, Snohomish police have shot six people to death and Tasered one to death. Those killings need a light shone on them, he said.

"That's a real concern. I want to establish mandatory inquests," he said. "Inquests are not a criminal case, but a fact-finding investigation to find out what happened and whether it was justified. We need some transparency for these incidents where police use lethal force in the name of the community. There is currently no inquest, so unless the decedent files a lawsuit, we may never hear what happened in that particular case. And even then, civil cases are settled out of court all the time. Bad things could be happening and we never learn the details of why."

Mandatory inquests would be "good for the community and good for the police," Kenny said. "It gives police the opportunity to take the stand and explain why they used lethal force. They should explain to the community why. It costs some money, but it will provide transparency, and the community can rely on the fact that the police are doing the right thing."

When, running on a drug reform platform, New York prosecutor David Soares defeated the incumbent in the Albany County district attorney race in 2004, it was a shock. It is a measure of how far we have come that if Kenny manages to pull off a long-shot victory in November, it will be no shock at all, just a pleasant surprise.

(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.)

Everett, WA
United States

Maine Police Chief Wants Cocaine Misdemeanors to Be Felonies

Portland, Maine, Police Chief James Craig is pushing to increase some crack and powder cocaine offenses from misdemeanors to felonies, but he isn't exactly receiving a warm reception from lawmakers concerned about prison overcrowding. He told the Portland Press Herald Tuesday that he plans to meet with other police chiefs, prosecutors, and legislators to plot his brave push backward into the 20th Century.

Looking Backwards: Portland Police Chief James Craig
Under Maine law, first time possession of up to four grams of crack and 14 grams of powder cocaine is a misdemeanor. A second offense is a felony, as is possession of more than those amounts.

"Crack cocaine breeds violence," Craig said. "Crack cocaine will destroy this community if we don't stay ahead of it."

He cited recent incidents in the city that he attributed to cocaine users. He said three home invasions, three robberies, and a stabbing in a recent one-week period were committed by coked-out individuals.

Rep. Anne Haskell (D-Portland), co-chair of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, told the Press Herald she would listen to Craig's proposal, but expressed concern about costs.

"I'd be glad to have a conversation with Chief Craig and take a look at the kinds of things he's seeing. He's the person on the ground," she said. "If what he's seeing out there is what's happening, then folks ought to be held accountable, but we would have to find the money to do that," she said.

But Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick), the committee's senate chair, was more wary. "We're not going to start enhancing some of these crimes to fill up our prisons more than we have now," he said. "The legislature was very good at enhancing crimes and the time served, and we got ourselves in a pretty good mess."

Times have changed when cops looking for longer sentences for drug users are met by skepticism in the legislature.

Portland, ME
United States

Despite Decrim, California Marijuana Possession Busts Abound [FEATURE]

According to figures from the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center, more than 550,000 people were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in the Golden State between 1999 and 2009. Last year, 61,164 people were charged with pot possession, down slightly from 2008's record 61,388.

The number of small-time pot arrests hovered at around 50,000 a year for most of the decade. But in 2007, it jumped to just under 60,000, and crossed that threshold in 2008.

That could change this year, though. A bill, SB 1449, approved by the state legislature last week would change the misdemeanor to a civil infraction. It awaits action on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk. The Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative would allow people 21 or over to possess up to an ounce without fear of arrest and grow up to 25 square feet. It goes before the voters on November 2.

That wouldn't be a minute too soon, for some.  "It's morally offensive that in a state like California, where a majority of Californians favor outright legalization and where as far back as 1977 they thought they had it decriminalized, the law enforcement community continues to ignore the will of the citizens of the state," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"This is just another example of why we need to end marijuana prohibition and why we hope California voters will pass Proposition 19 this November," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We're criminalizing people and turning their lives upside down simply for using a substance that's safer than alcohol. It's also a huge misallocation of law enforcement resources. Even if they're not going to jail, these busts are still taking up police officers' time and clogging up the court system. This is all the more reason I hope voters really flock to the polls in November."

Under California law, possession of up to an ounce is a misdemeanor punishable only by a maximum $100 fine for a first offense. But because it is a misdemeanor -- not a civil infraction -- you can be arrested, and each offense requires a court appearance, leading to costs for the criminal justice system, as well as costs and a criminal record -- at least temporarily -- for the arrestee.

"People are usually cited and released, but they could be arrested," said Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol-based marijuana defense attorney. "The law says they can be arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and they will be if they don't have satisfactory proof of ID or if they ask to go before a judge."

It varies from locality to locality, Figueroa said. "In Berkeley, they try to process them in traffic court, even though it's technically a misdemeanor. A lot depends on the cop's discretion."

People charged with a misdemeanor have the right to counsel and the right to a jury trial. Ironically, both Figueroa and Dale Gieringer, longtime head of California NORML, said that exercising that right to trial could result in the charges being dropped.

"Some people have demanded jury trials," noted Gieringer, "and when you do that, you almost always find the charges getting dropped, because when the worst outcome is a $100 fine, it just isn't worth it."

"With the maximum sentence being a $100 fine, the system doesn't want to put out that much energy in picking a jury," said Figueroa, but don't count on it. "My first jury trial was pot possession misdemeanor in Los Angeles County. But if you're in San Francisco or Alameda County and you insist on your right to a jury trial, it will probably be dismissed."

Pleading guilty means a criminal record and all that entails, including collateral consequences like loss of access to public housing, but only for two years. Then, if you've managed to stay out of trouble, the conviction is expunged. But some judges push minor pot offenders into treatment, said Gieringer.

"Many judges railroad the defendants into not taking the misdemeanor plea, but instead doing a drug program, the advantage of which is that you have no conviction at all, but it's very expensive and time consuming," he said. 

Even having to show up for a court appearance can be burdensome, Gieringer said. "I know one UCLA student who had to go to Arcata [600 miles away] for a court appearance. It's also an inconvenience for the court. It's got to cost well over $100 for the state to assemble all the manpower for a pot misdemeanor hearing, and with 60,000 cases, that's $6 million wasted right there."

"It would be good to see that decrim bill signed into law or Prop 19 pass," said Stroup. "Or both," he laughed.

"Back when we did the decrim bill in the 1976, the district attorneys said it had to remain a criminal offense," said Gieringer. "The bill now pending would abolish that status. If Schwarzenegger can't sign this current decrim bill, there is something really sick in California politics." Gieringer laughed ruefully, adding, "Of course, we know there is something really sick in California politics."

"This same decriminalization proposal was defeated here three times in the past," said Gieringer. "I think its passage this year is an indication that you can get lawmakers to reduce penalties as a cost-cutting measure. The reason it passed this time was the budget crisis -- even the prosecutors and the courts supported the bill on the grounds of cutting costs."

That's just misdemeanor pot possession. An additional 135,000 people have been arrested on felony marijuana cultivation or distribution charges in the past decade. For all drug felonies, that figure rises to 1.4 million over the past decade.

An additional 850,000 arrests were made for non-marijuana drug misdemeanors. These are typically possession of personal use amounts of hashish, non-opiate prescription medications, and similar drugs on Schedules III, IV, and V of the state drug law, which can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors. Figueroa called such charges "wobblers," since they can be charged either way.

While last year's 78,514 marijuana arrests (felonies and misdemeanors) is an all-time high, arrests for other drug offenses are declining. Narcotics (heroin and cocaine) felony arrests peaked at more than 56,000 in 2007, but declined to just under 44,000 last year, while dangerous drug felony arrests have declined by half since peaking at nearly 93,000 in 2005.

The huge number of drug arrests in general and marijuana arrests in particular come as the state is experiencing its lowest crime levels in three decades and a skyrocketing criminal justice system budget. In 1968, total criminal justice system (law enforcement, corrections, courts, prosecutors, public defenders) were at about $100 million, by 1984, when crime rates had already begun falling, the criminal justice budget was at about $5 billion. Last year, it was about $33 billion, mostly for police ($17 billion) and prisons ($15 billion).

Passage of Prop 19 or the signing of the decriminalization bill could begin to rein in the California criminal justice juggernaut, but that would just be a start. Still, you have to start somewhere. Real decrim would be good, but if California votes for legalization, it will be a political earthquake.

CA
United States

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