The Drug Debate

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Chronicle AM--May 30, 2014

Yesterday was a bad day for the DEA as the House thrice voted to slap its hands, an anti-marijuana initiative in Montana gets okayed for signature-gathering, the New York Senate releases a report on heroin and opiate addiction and calls for more drug war, marijuana legalization supporters rally in Tel Aviv, and more. Let's get to it:

The DEA had a bad day on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Marijuana Policy

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. An initiative that would repeal Montana's already severely scaled-back medical marijuana law and ban anything listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana, has been approved for signature-gathering. But Billings car dealer and initiative sponsor Steve Zabawa has only three weeks to get the 24,175 signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted 219-189 last night to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

Hemp

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Hemp Production in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted last night to bar the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using taxpayer dollars to interfere with industrial hemp production in states where it is legal. Hemp production for research purposes in states that have laws allowing it was approved by the Congress as part of the omnibus farm bill earlier this year. A dozen states have such laws.

Law Enforcement

In Historic Vote, House Takes Funds from DEA, Shifts Them to Addressing Rape Kit Backlog. In addition to barring the DEA from going after hemp and medical marijuana in states where they are legal, the House also approved an amendment from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) to take $5 million from the DEA's appropriation and shift the money into grants for state and local law enforcement to address backlogs of untested rape kits. The House voted down another Cohen amendment that would have taken $15 million from the DEA and allocated it instead to the Legal Services Corporation. The House also approved an amendment that would block additional staffing for the Pardon Attorney's Office in a bid to thwart President Obama's call for drug war prisoners to seek clemency.

Heroin and Opiates

New York Senate Task Force Proposes Massive Package of Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement Bills to Fight Increased Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. The state Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction issued its final report Wednesday. The report, Solutions to New York's Heroin Epidemic, calls for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures, but the 25-bill package it includes is heavy on law enforcement. Thirteen of the 25 proposed bills would ratchet up the drug war. There is a complete list of the bills in the package in the report.

International

Colombian Government Releases Outline of Drug Accords With FARC. The Colombian government has released a document laying out the points agreed to with the FARC guerrillas on dealing with drug cultivation and the illicit drug trade. The two sides, meeting at peace talks in Havana a couple of weeks ago, reached the agreement a couple of weeks ago. Colombia Reports has the details at the title link.

Despite Drug Decriminalization, Colombia Continues to Arrest, Hassle Drug Users, Researcher Finds. In a report from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law, researcher Diane Guzman found that Colombia continues to rely excessively on punishing drug users, even though drug use is decriminalized there. Guzman blames police enforcement strategies and their focus on arrest, and reports that drug users detained by police are often let go after they pay bribes. She also found that Colombia's goal of reducing drug addiction suffers because the country doesn't devote sufficient resources to improving health care and rehabilitation for drug users. The report, En Busca De Los Derechos: Usuarios De Drogas Y Las Respuestas Estatales En América Latina, also examines drug policies in seven other Latin American countries. Guzman wrote the Colombia chapter.

Thousands March for Marijuana in Tel Aviv. An estimated 2,000 people marched and rallied for marijuana legalization in Tel Aviv Thursday night. The march comes as the Knesset prepares to debate a bill easing restrictions on medical marijuana next week and a bill from MK Tamar Zandberg to legalize marijuana a few weeks from now.

House Passes Historic Medical Marijuana Amendment

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives told the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states by approving a budget amendment barring the use of taxpayer funds to do so.

Not with our tax dollars anymore--if the Senate gets on board (usdoj.gov)
Wow, things are changing fast. Efforts to pass similar amendments have never come close in previous years--the previous best was 165 yea votes in 2007--but the amendment passed by 30 votes tonight.

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority is liking what he's seeing:

"This historic vote shows just how quickly marijuana reform has become a mainstream issue," he said. "The last time a similar amendment came up it didn't come very close to passing but, since then, more states have passed medical marijuana laws and a couple have even legalized marijuana for all adults. More states are on this way later this year and in 2016, and it's clear that more politicians are beginning to realize that the American people want the federal government to stop standing in the way. If any political observers weren't aware that the end of the war on marijuana is nearing, they just found out."

It ain't a done deal just yet, though. If the Senate version of the bill doesn't contain similar language, it will be up to the House leadership to fight for the amendment (or not) in conference committee.

Still, this is historic. I like it when we make history like this. And it seems to be happening more often these days.

Angell also makes another astute point. While we can grumble about the spate of what I call "limited CBD medical marijuana bills," and how they are so extremely restrictive, they have also spread the medical marijuana meme to places where it hadn't thrived before, like the Deep South. And that could be paying off in congressional votes like this one.

"This year's huge vote increase can largely be attributed to the fact that lawmakers only recently began hearing the moving stories of the many children whose severe seizures are only relieved by marijuana. Being able to list these CBD states in the amendment text meant that more members of Congress that represent these states voted yes than otherwise would have. Counting these states, 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in a place where state law disagrees with federal law."

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 29, 2014

Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, the California Senate passes a medical marijuana regulation bill and a bill equalizing crack and powder cocaine offenses, a new study reports on who current heroin users are, there are a series of votes set for today to rein in the DEA, a Canadian court allows heroin-assisted treatment trials to move forward, and more. Let's get to it:

Cocaine is cocaine, whether rock or powder, and the California Senate has voted to treat it like that. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Legalization at 42%. A Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released today has support for marijuana legalization at 42%, with 52% opposed. The poll conducted by the Glengariff Group of Chicago surveyed 600 voters. It has a margin of error of +/ -4%. "There is a sharp difference in attitudes on marijuana legalization among voters under and over the age of 40," said pollster Richard Czuba. "And while Democratic voters support legalization of marijuana, independents and Republican voters strongly oppose legalization." Click the link for more demographic details.

Washington, DC, Initiative is Sweating the Signature-Gathering. Organizers of the DC initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana -- but not the legalization and regulation of marijuana sales -- are "a little nervous" about the progress of their signature-gathering campaign. They have until July 7 to collect 22,373 valid voter signatures. They had collected some 19,000 raw signatures by Monday, but of the 16,734 that have been processed, only 5,360 have been found to be valid.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) today introduced a decriminalization bill, House Bill 371. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil offense with a maximum $100 fine for people 21 and over. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) today signed into law the medical marijuana bill approved earlier this month by the legislature. It allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

California Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. The state Senate yesterday approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending. A competing bill, Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was expected to be voted on today. If both pass their respective houses, look for a compromise.

Drug Policy

Congress Set to Vote Today on Four Amendments to Reign in DEA. Congress is set to vote today on at least four amendments aimed at reigning in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One would prohibit DEA from interfering in states that allow medical marijuana; another would prohibit it from blocking hemp seed imports in states that have approved hemp research; a third would prohibit it from undermining state laws that allow for hemp cultivation; and a fourth would reject a proposed $35 million increase in the DEA's FY 2015 budget.

Heroin

Today's Heroin Users Are Mainly Young, White and Not in the Big City, New Study Finds. A new research article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that, unlike the heroin boom of the 1960s, most heroin users today are young white men whose opiate habits overwhelmingly started with prescription pain pills. "Our data show that the demographic composition of heroin users entering treatment has shifted over the last 50 years such that heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas," the authors concluded.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Prosecutor "Sending a Message" Charges Five Teens With Murder in Teen Girl's Overdose Death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged five local teenagers with murder in the January death of a 17-year-old girl who died after taking a new synthetic hallucinogen. "We think there's a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs," said Orput. "We're sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account." Those charged include a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and three 17-year-olds. Orput said the three minors will be charged as adults. The 19-year-old is accused of being the dealer; the others bought some of the drug and shared it among themselves and the dead girl.

Customs to Curtail Searches of General Aviation Aircraft Not Crossing Borders. After loud complaints from private pilots that their domestic flights were being searched for drugs by Customs agents, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has announced it will curtail the searches. An official told National Public Radio yesterday that "his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots." The Airline Operators and Pilots Association has been raising a stink about the issue for the past year, saying it has received more than 50 reports from members who recounted their encounters with law enforcement at airports.

Georgia SWAT Team Throws Flash-Bang Grenade, Burns Toddler in Drug Raid. A 2-year-old child was burned when members of the Habersham County Special Response Team deployed a "distraction device" as they executed a drug search warrant early yesterday morning. The raid came a day after a snitch made a drug buy at the home and reported no children present. The raiders got themselves a no-knock warrant and breached the door of the home. "What had happened was there was a playpen -- a Pack N Play -- that was pushed up against the door, and when they breached the door it wouldn't open up because of the Pack N Play," Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "It was just wide enough to toss the flash bang in, then they had to physically push it [Pack N Play] on out of the way to get in. That's when the team medics saw the child, stopped at the child, took the child out and began first aid. "The door that we entered was the door that we bought dope out of -- that's why entered at that door," Terrell said. "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did," he maintained. He blames the target of the warrant. Read the whole story at the link.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine sales and make it easier to get probation for either. The measure is Senate Bill 1010, introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). It now goes to the Assembly.

International

Peru Names Former Defense Minister as New Drug Czar. President Ollanta Humala has named former Defense Minister Luis Otorala as the new head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA. He replaces Carman Masias. Otarola said that while eradication of coca crops will continue, greater emphasis will be placed on economic alternatives for farmers. Hardline critics said the move and the new emphasis "showed a weakening in the resolve of the government" to confront the drug trade. Peru is once again the world's leading coca and cocaine producer.

Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Philippines. Rep. Rodolfo Albano III has filed a medical marijuana bill in the Philippine legislature. House Bill 4477, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, is intended "to provide accessible, affordable, safe medical cannabis to qualifying patients."

British Columbia Supreme Court Grants Injunction for Heroin Treatment Study to Continue. Canada's BC Supreme Court today granted an injunction for an exemption from federal drug laws for participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness). The injunction will allow doctors in the study to continue prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective.

Chronicle AM -- May 28, 2014

Look out 2016, here comes Nevada! Also, a US congressman rips into NYPD over marijuana arrests, a New York medical marijuana bill passes the Assembly, Dallas pays out big time for police misbehavior, former DEA head Asa Hutchinson wants more drug war for Arkansas, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol yesterday commenced its campaign to put a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. Two Nevada politicians who are members of the campaign, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and former Republican Senate Caucus executive director Joe Brezny, were the first to sign the petitions. Canvassers need to come up with 101,000 valid voter signatures by November. If that happens, the measure goes to the legislature. If the legislature declines to act or rejects the measure, it goes to the voters in November 2016.

Oak Park, Michigan, Activists Sue Over Decriminalization Initiative Delay. The Safer Oak Park Coalition has filed a lawsuit against city officials charging that they are delaying efforts to put a decriminalization initiative before the voters. The Coalition handed in more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot on April 27, but city officials said it was too late to have a ballot measure ready for the August primary election. Unless the lawsuit prevails, Oak Park residents will have to wait until November to vote on the issue.

New York City US Congressman Rips NYPD Over High Marijuana Arrest Numbers. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, called on the NYPD yesterday to quit arresting so many people for minor pot possession. More than 28,000 were arrested last year -- 86% of them black or brown -- even though Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) called the mass arrests and the racial disparity in them "unjust and wrong." The rate of arrests so far this year has dropped by 9%, but that's still 7,000 pot busts in the city this year alone, and the numbers were heading up at quarter's end. Arrests topped 50,000 in 2011, before NYPD was instructed to quit violating the spirit of the state's decriminalization by arresting people for "open possession" after intimidating them into emptying their pockets.

Washington State Parolees Can Smoke Marijuana. The Washington Department of Corrections says it will stop testing the state's 14,000 parolees for THC because marijuana is now legal in the state. "We don't want to hold them to that level, when, as a citizen, you wouldn't be held to that level either," a department spokesperson explained. The department isn't endorsing marijuana use, she added, "We are simply aligning with state law."

Medical Marijuana

New York Assembly Passes Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Bill. The Assembly Tuesday approved Assembly Bill 6357, a comprehensive medical marijuana bill, by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. This year, a bill is moving in the upper chamber, and a key committee head has signaled if he may be willing to let it come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina Lawmaker Files Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. She said she would, and now she has. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

Drug Policy

Former DEA Head Asa Hutchinson Vows More Drug War if Elected Arkansas Governor; Democratic Foe Says He's Tough on Crime, Too. Former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, running as a Republican for the Arkansas governor's seat, Tuesday unveiled a plan to address drugs and crime that includes $1 million a year in additional funding for the state's parole system, $300,000 a year for reentry programs for ex-convicts, and more, as yet unspecified, money for the State Police, more drug courts, more drug task forces, and maybe even a new prison. He also hinted that he might want to "re-tweak" a 2011 sentencing reform bill to give prosecutors "more flexibility" in prosecuting property and drug crimes. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, former US Rep. Mike Ross, also "has a strong record of being tough on crime and supporting our law enforcement community," his campaign retorted Tuesday.

Law Enforcement

City of Dallas Keeps Paying Out for Police Misbehavior. Last week, the Dallas city council approved a $105,000 settlement to a man beaten unconscious by police during a fruitless drug raid. It's just business as usual in Dallas, where the pay-out was just the latest in a series of series of high-profile, six-figure lawsuits against the Dallas PD in recent years, including at least one other drug-related case. The city council approved the most recent settlement without debate.

International

Australia's New South Wales Greens Launch Medical Marijuana Bill. The NSW Greens Tuesday launched their campaign to pass a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The bill, the Drug Legislation Amendment (Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 would allow people suffering from terminal illnesses to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill is in line with the recommendations of a cross-party Upper House inquiry into the issue last year.

(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.)

There's More to Colorado Than Marijuana [FEATURE]

Colorado has certainly garnered a lot of attention since voters there decided to legalize marijuana in the 2012 election, but when it comes to drug reform, there's a lot more going on in the Rocky Mountain State than just buds, blunts, and bongs. In the past few years, Colorado has taken significant steps toward more enlightened drug policies, and with the powerful coalitions that have emerged to push the agenda, more is likely to come.

Passed last year while all the attention was on the legislature's race to get marijuana commerce regulations passed, the single most significant piece of broader drug reform legislation was Senate Bill 250, which aims to rein in and redirect corrections spending by reducing the number of drug offenders in prison.

The bill creates a separate sentencing system for drug offenders and allows people convicted of some felony drug charges to be sentenced to probation and community-based sentencing and see that felony charge changed to a misdemeanor conviction upon completion of probation. It allow provides that savings from the sentencing changes be plowed back into drug treatment.

The bill didn't come out of nowhere. It was the outgrowth of a 2008 law that created the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. That panel brought together in one effort the heads of all the relevant state agencies as they grappled with how to reduce recidivism and put a brake on prison spending. It also provided an opportunity for groups like the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) to start confronting the commission with research-based evidence about what does and doesn't work.

"There is a lot of good evidence-based practice that shows what we did in the past didn't work, and a lot of it had to do with national attention," said Pam Clifton, communications coordinator for the CCJRC. "People were asking 'How come half your people are going back to prison?' Well, we didn't have funding for treatment in Colorado. If you didn't have any money, there wasn't any place for you to go. Another problem was helping people on the front end. How can we be more proactive with people on probation? The recession gave us a little bit of leverage."

But to get sentencing and drug reforms passed required not just a commission to come up with best policies and practices, but a political leadership that was willing to act. That came in 2008, when Colorado turned from red to blue, with a new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, and Democrats in control of the legislature.

"When Bill Owens (R) was governor, he wasn't going to let anything happen," said Clifton. "But with the commission, a lot of conversations got started and we were able to educate about why change was needed, so when we had a change in leadership, there was a mandate from the commission to get good legislation passed. A lot of the recommendations the commission made went directly to the legislature, and when a bill showed up from the commission, it had a better opportunity to survive the process."

And while, as noted above, the legislature has passed other reforms, Senate Bill 250 was the biggie.

"That was the landmark legislation that really changes things," said Clifton. "This was the whole state -- prosecutors, defense counsel, the commission, us -- coming together and agreeing it was the right approach."

The bill only went into effect last October, so its results remain to be seen. But advocates are confident it has not only changed the conversation about drugs and sentencing, but that it will pay off in terms of fewer prisoners doing less time at less cost to the state -- and with less harm to the futures of drug offenders in the state.

Even the prisons are scenic in Colorado, although it is hoped that fewer prisoners will be forced to enjoy the view soon. (CDOC)
"It's too early to tell what impact Senate Bill 250 will have," said Art Way, Colorado manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It was definitely a step in the right direction, though. It shrank the number of felony degrees for drug charges from six to four, and now, many low-level drug felonies can wobble down to misdemeanors thanks to that bill. It's not true defelonization of use and possession, but it still gives defendants some opportunities to avoid the label of felons."

And the CCJRC deserves some major credit, he said.

"The CCJRC has been doing great work in the past decade revealing that we are on an unsustainable path," said Way. "The Department of Corrections budget was only increasing year after year, and they were able to make this a fiscal argument as well as a human argument. They've been at the forefront here."

Another front where Colorado is forging ahead is harm reduction. Needle exchange programs were legalized in 2010 and there are now six across the state, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012, and a law allowing friends and family members of injection drug users to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) passed last year.

Activists have also managed to push through laws exempting needle exchange participants from the state's drug paraphernalia laws, and in Denver, an ordinance last year allowed the first mobile needle exchange in the state.

"We've been really excited, not only about all these programs, but also about getting these policy wins," said Lisa Raville of the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center. "Every time we go to the capitol, we've been winning. The legislature is very excited about harm reduction."

After passing Senate Bill 250, this year was relatively quiet on the sentencing and drug reform front. There are a number of reasons for that, some of them having to do with gauging public (and legislative) attitudes in the wake of a well-publicized violent crime, the killing of state prison chief Tom Clements by a parolee.

"Our corrections director was murdered last spring, and that caused a lot of ripples and made people at the capitol freak out a bit, so we wanted to tread lightly," said Clifton. "And things are really tricky in Colorado now," she added. "Elections are coming up, and everyone's concerned about what color we're going to be come November. Our elected officials are all being very cautious right now."

Like the CCJC, the harm reductionists were quiet in the legislature this year. It was a time for solidifying gains and getting previous victories implemented, Raville said.

Harm reduction measures in place in Colorado include needle exchanges and overdose reversal drug access. (wikimedia.org)
"This is an election year, and we knew they would be playing defense at the capitol," she said. "We decided this year would be all about promoting harm reduction policies and procedures. When we got those laws passed, we assumed that the legislature and the courts would implement them, but they didn't, so we spent the first six months promoting implementation, working with the legislature, as well as working with doctors and pharmacies so they know about these new laws."

But that doesn't mean the Harm Reduction Action Center is giving up on the legislature.

"Depending on how the election goes, our goal next year is total syringe decriminalization," said Raville. "We have the exemption for needle exchange participants, but there are still folks who won't ever access a needle exchange program, and we want them exempt as well. Now, you can get eight to 15 days in jail for every syringe, clean or used."

Raville pointed to the success of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition in getting a similar measure passed last year in the last year in getting a similar measure passed in the Tar Heel State. That partial decriminalization bill allows people carrying needles to avoid arrest if they inform officers they are carrying them.

"Robert Childs and the NCHRC got that passed with the support of law enforcement, who didn't want to get pricked," she said. "That's inspired us to work closely with the Denver Police Department. We have two officers on our advisory board."

"We have an overdose issue here in Colorado," Raville noted. "ODs have tripled in the past 10 years, and we have a fatal overdose every day and a half in the state. Not many doctors are prescribing naloxone, but we've had 92 overdose reversals so far. And a couple of hospitals in Denver are discharging overdose patients with a prescription for naloxone. We're trying to make that the standard for hospitals across the state."

While it was relatively quiet this year in the legislature, activists had to play defense on one set of bills and managed to kill them. That was a pair of bills to amend the civil code for child neglect to explicitly include marijuana use as an indicator, even though the state has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use and possession.

"Stopping that bill was our top concern this year," said Way. "We worried that amending the civil code the way those bills tried to do would simply help law enforcement during drug investigations by leveraging parental rights. This wasn't a public health approach; it was a law enforcement bill couched as a public health and child protection bill," he said.

"The bill's fiscal notes only involving increasing bed space for what they expected to an influx of people put in jail," he noted. "There was nothing about access to treatment or reunification with kids. It was a standard, punitive drug war approach to a public health issue, and we were able to kill it for the second year in a row."

The CCJRC, for its part, is continuing to push for reform. While it wasn't ready to share its strategic planning for the near future, Clifton did say that the group is working around implementation of the Affordable Care Act's provisions requiring insurance companies to cover drug treatment.

"We've convened a stakeholder group from around the state -- health care and criminal justice people -- to make sure they knew each other as a step toward successfully implementing the ACA, getting more people in treatment, and reducing the prison population. We're teaching people how to navigate the system and teaching the system how to help people navigate it," she said.

And while sentencing reform and harm reduction efforts in Colorado haven't, for the most part, been about marijuana, the whole opening on marijuana has given political and social space to drug reform efforts that go beyond pot.

"The conversation about marijuana has absolutely helped," said Raville. "We legalized it and the sky didn't fall. This has helped normalize pot and normalize drug use more broadly. And it's been a good opportunity to talk to people about how voting matters."

"Marijuana reform has helped legislators understand what we mean by a public health approach," said Way. "We hope to now be able to address drug policy on a broader level with the legislature."

But much of that will depend on what the makeup of the legislature looks like after November. Still, Colorado has shown what some persistence, some coalition-building, and some science, evidence, and compassion can accomplish.

CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 27, 2014

Chuck Schumer wants $100 million to fight heroin in New York, a congressional vote to stop the DEA from attacking medical marijuana in states where it is legal is coming soon, the New York Assembly is voting today on a medical marijuana bill, an Oklahoma prescription drug bill dies, and more. Let's get to it:

Will another $100 million stop heroin in New YorK? (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Decriminalization Initiatives Planned for Albuquerque and Santa Fe. ProgressNow New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, a 501(c)4 that's affiliated with Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, are planning municipal decriminalization initiatives for the November election in New Mexico's two largest cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The initiatives envision decriminalizing up to an ounce, with a maximum $25 fine. Backers filed a petition with the Santa Fe city clerk this week; Albuquerque efforts should be coming soon.

Medical Marijuana

Congress to Vote Soon on Banning DEA, Justice Department From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The House could vote as early as this week on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which would ban the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using federal taxpayer funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The time to contact your representatives is now. Click on the link for more information.

New York Assembly to Vote Today on Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly is set to vote today on the Compassionate Care Act (Assembly Bill 6357), a comprehensive medical marijuana bill for the Empire State. Patients and supporters from all over the state are heading to Albany for a day of last-minute lobbying and to watch the Assembly debate and vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 4406, has already passed the Senate Health Committee and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

North Carolina Lawmaker to File CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) has announced that she will file a bill allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to reduce seizures in epileptic children. It's not a medical marijuana bill, she said, rather "this is only a medicine for these children so they can develop motor skills."

Drug Policy

Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act Gets Marked Up Thursday. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will be marking up House Resolution 4640, "to establish the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission" Thursday. "Mark up" means subcommittee members will debate, amend, and rewrite the bill.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Prescription Drug Crackdown Bill Dies. A bill that was the centerpiece of Gov. Mary Fallin's (R) effort to crack down on prescription drug abuse is dead after being defeated in committee last Friday. The bill, Senate Bill 1820, would have required doctors to check the state's existing Prescription Monitoring Program registry every time they wrote or refilled a prescription for a Schedule II or III controlled substance. Those schedules include opiate pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrodocone, as well as many non-opiates, including hormone supplements. The bill was opposed by doctors.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin in New York. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is seeking $100 million in taxpayer dollars "to fight the scourge of heroin." He wants the money to go to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. He said he would seek the funding in a pending appropriations bill.

In Licking County, West Virginia, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. The most recent felony indictments in Licking County Common Pleas Court show that more than half (60%) are for drug offenses. Seven of the 12 indictments were for drug offenses, and six of those were for either "aggravated drug possession" or "abusing harmful intoxicants."

In Mendocino County, California, Marijuana Dominates the Court Docket. Busy, busy. Mendocino County jail bookings for May 11-15 show 22 people taken to the slammer. Fifteen of them were marijuana sales and/or transport and one was for "possessing proceeds from drug transactions." Marijuana offenses accounted for more than two-thirds of all bookings. There were also two arrests each for assault with a deadly weapon and DUI, and one each for indecent exposure, battery, and embezzlement.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Jail Sentences for Drug Use Killed. California law requires a mandatory 90-day jail sentence for anyone convicted of using or being under the influence of drugs (not including marijuana). A bill that would have ended the mandatory sentences, Assembly Bill 2515, has now died in the Assembly. It needed 41 votes for passage, but only got 34 because many members didn't vote. There were only 16 votes against it.

International

Jamaica Marijuana Conference Calls for Road Map to Decriminalization within Four Months. The first Jamaica Cannabis Conference took place over the weekend and ended with a call from participants for the government to create a pathway to decriminalization within four months. The conference also called for recognition of Rastafarians' sacramental rights to use ganja, a sustained drug education program in the schools, and a properly regulated medical marijuana industry.

Barcelona Now a Stop on the Marijuana Tourism Trail. Spain has decriminalized marijuana possession, people can grow their own in small amounts, and cannabis clubs are offering the chance to join by phone or email and purchase marijuana. As a result, marijuana tourism is up in Barcelona, and local authorities are beginning to think about ways to regulate it all. Click on the link to read more.

Zambia's Green Party to Continue Campaigning for Marijuana Legalization. Zambia's Green Party will continue to campaign for marijuana legalization, its leader, Peter Sinkamba said last Friday. "As the Green Party, we have a task to sell the Green agenda by not joining any politics on the constitution-making process, but ensure that marijuana is legalized," he said. "This is the only way we can create employment for the people and make medicine available for every citizen. You know marijuana is used for many things including the provision of medicines, hence the need for it to be legalized and get the benefits that will help the country make its own medicines." The Greens are not represented in the Zambian parliament.

Chronicle AM -- May 23, 2014

There's a slim majority for marijuana legalization in New York, an Oregon legalization initiative gets another big-bucks boost, New Mexico patients fight back against proposed new rules, actor Don Johnson speaks out on drug policy, a global campaign for medical marijuana as a human right is underway, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Legislature Approves Law Making Possession Not Automatic Parole Violation. The state Senate yesterday approved House Bill 681, a tiny step toward the reform of marijuana laws in the Bayou State. Under current law, a misdemeanor marijuana possession is an automatic parole revocation for a parolee; this bill would give judges some discretion to impose administrative sanctions instead. The bill has already passed the House and awaits the governor's signature. Clicking on the title link will allow you to email Gov. Jindal (R) to urge him to sign the bill.

Quinnipiac Poll: 51% of New Yorkers Say Legalize It. Support for marijuana legalization in the Empire State is at 51%, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll. The poll also had support for medical marijuana at 83% and comes as the state Senate is considering a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 4406.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets Another $100,000 Donation. The Drug Policy Alliance has kicked in another $100,000 to get the New Approach Oregon initiative on the November ballot. That's the third $100,000 donation to the group in less than two months, including an earlier $100,000 from DPA's political campaign arm, Drug Policy Action. The initiative needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot, and it's not the only one in play. Medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford's Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative and his Oregon Cannabis Amendment initiative are both also in the signature-gathering phase. The latter needs more signatures -- 116,000 of them -- because it is a constitutional amendment.

Medical Marijuana

New New Mexico Program Rules Provoke Campaign to Start Afresh. Medical marijuana advocates are launching a campaign to force the state Health Department to go back to the drawing board after it released proposed rule changes last Friday that advocates say will make access to medical marijuana more difficult. The Don't Take Away My Medicine campaign is being led by the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance. Click on the title link for more details.

Drug Policy

Miami Vice Star Don Johnson Says Legalize It All. Miami Vice star Don Johnson, perhaps now better known as "Dakota Johnson's dad," has come out with a frankly anti-prohibitionist stance on drug policy. The 65-year-old actor who got famous fighting 1980s drug traffickers in the TV show told HuffPostLive on Thursday that America should "legalize every drug and tax it" -- with no exceptions. Does that include hard drug like heroin? "Absolutely," he said. "When we privatize prisons we've turned it into a business," Johnson continued. "And so when you turn it into a business you need clients, and so we arrest a lot of people that don't belong in prison, but they are clients to the privatization of the prison." That's just "stupid," he added. "If you legalize and decriminalize drugs, you take the glamour out of it. You take the gangs out of it, you take the drug dealers out of it and you make a less glamorous thing."

International

Italy to Count Drug Money, Other Illicit Commerce in GDP Calculations. The Italian government statistics agency Istat said Thursday in will include estimated revenues from drug trafficking and the sex trade in figuring the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Bank of Italy said it estimated the value of the illicit economy -- also including cigarette and alcohol smuggling -- at 10.9% of the GDP, which could make Italy's economic growth look better than the 1.3% estimated earlier this year.

Overview of Drug Trafficking and the Colombian Peace Process. The Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation has published an article on Colombia, the drug trade, and the peace process by Fabio Andres Diaz. He argues that the peace process is unlikely to result in a reduction of drug cultivation. Those interested in the subject should take a look by clicking on the title link.

British Medical Journal Article Discusses Comparative Marijuana Legalization Models, Prospects for Change. A new article in the British Medical Journal looks at how marijuana is being regulated and/or legalized in different countries around the world, including Holland, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, and the United States. "Cannabis Regulation: High Time for Change?" is available without going through a pay wall by clicking on the title link.

Global Campaign Calls for Access to Medical Marijuana as a Basic Human Right. An international consortium of medical cannabis organizations are demanding that humans, regardless of state or allegiance and without qualification, be able to use cannabis therapeutically. In a joint declaration, the organizations from Europe and North America refer to Article 3 of the Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The new declaration is the beginning of a worldwide campaign on the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It says: "Every medical doctor has the right to treat his or her patients with cannabinoids and cannabis products according to the rules of good medical care" and "every patient has the right to access cannabis and cannabinoids for medical treatment supervised by a medical doctor, regardless of social status, standard of living or financial means." The initial signatories include medical marijuana and medical groups from the US, Germany, Italy, and Norway. Click on the title link for more information.

Chronicle AM -- May 22, 2014

A new poll suggests Vermont is ready to legalize it, and so is the mayor of Rome, a San Francisco crack pipe exchange is set to expand, a West Virginia county's latest grand jury indictments shine a light on drug war in the Appalachians, Bermuda marijuana growers want an emergency exemption for medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bermuda-grown cannabis indica await patients there. (Alan Gordon)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Poll Has 57% Support for Legalization, Taxation, and Regulation. A new poll from the Castleton Polling Institute has 57% of respondents saying they would support legalizing marijuana for adults, taxing it, and regulating it like alcohol. Only 34% were opposed. The poll has +/- 4% margin of error. The Vermont legislature approved a bill in April that includes an amendment initiating a study to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to sign it into law.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Legislator Files Bill for Medical Marijuana Referendum. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has filed a measure, House Bill 1161, that, if approved, would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana to treat specified medical conditions. Alexander had filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it went nowhere in the legislature. The new bill would have to get super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature before it could go to the voters.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco's Crack Pipe Exchange Program to Expand. A crack pipe exchange program operated by volunteers from the Urban Survivors Union, a drug users' rights group, is set to expand even though the city won't condone or fund the program. Volunteers have been distributing about 50 clean crack pipes a week in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Polk Gulch neighborhoods, even though city officials say there is no evidence it is an effective harm reduction measure. Seattle is the only other city in the country with a similar program.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. Rep. David Price (D-NC) has become the latest representative to endorse the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (House Resolution 3382). The bill would reduce some drug mandatory minimums, allow judges greater leeway to sentence beneath the mandatory minimum, and allow for reduced sentences for crack offenders whose offense took place before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Price is the 32nd cosponsor and the second this week.

Law Enforcement

In One West Virginia County, Drugs Dominate Grand Jury Indictments. Holy hydrocodone, Batman! The Fayette County grand jury in West Virginia has just released its May batch of bills of indictment, and 71 out 101 of them were for drugs and related charges. There are a whole lot of "conspiracy" and "possession with intent to distribute" charges, too. The indictments don't specify which drugs were at play, but there are a bunch of "obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, or forgery" charges as well, and a handful of meth lab charges. Click on the link for the whole list.

International

Mayor of Rome Says Legalize It. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said Wednesday he supports legalizing marijuana in Italy. "I am in favor of the possibility of deregulating cannabis for medical or personal use," he told the 8th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. "In 2011, more than one million plants were confiscated in our country compared to 73,000 in France," Marino continued. "Organized crime still manages large portions of international traffic and there are enough reasons to reopen the debate today in Italy. We live in a time in which reform for drug laws is necessary on an international and national level. For Italy I personally have a very clear idea of what needs to be done: the decriminalization of marijuana should be considered a starting point because the years of prohibition have not brought any results to prevent the dramatic increase in the use of drugs. In addition, new forms of legalization could be experimented with in medicine for people's health but also to target organized crime." Marino's comments come just weeks after the Italian parliament approved a new law amending the country's drug laws and treating marijuana as a "soft drug" with reduced penalties.

Portugal Soon to Get First Safe Injection Site. The Lisbon city council has approved the location for what would be Portugal's first "assisted consumption room" for drug users. Portugal approved safe injection sites several years ago, but left implementation up to local councils. None had moved to do so until now.

Bermuda Marijuana Growers Seek Emergency Amnesty for Medical Grows, Offer Up Over 50 Locally Available Varieties. Bermuda attorney and marijuana reform activist Alan Gordon, speaking on behalf of a collective of nearly two dozen Bermuda marijuana growers, called today for the government to act immediately to allow for the use of medical marijuana, as called for in last month's Cannabis Reform Collaboration report. "There is only one way to allow the immediate medical cannabis called for by the CRC Report," Gordon said. "We need to just do it instead of just shuffling paperwork. Eighty small medical grade cannabis trees are available to start, and over 50 medical cannabis strains currently on-island." Click on the title link to read more.

NORML Canada Conference This Weekend in Toronto. NORML Canada is holding its annual conference this weekend in Toronto. Click on the link for the details.

Indonesia's New Drug Treatment Over Prison Scheme Faces Challenges. In another excellent analysis from Asiancorrespondent.com, Patrick Tibke looks at Indonesia's progressive new guidelines for the "Processing of Drug Addicts and Drug Abusers into Rehabilitation Centers" and warns of the obstacles ahead in actually implementing such reforms. As he notes, the move was not new legislation, but simply gives a push to the country's 2009 Narcotics Law, which first allowed for the rehabilitation of drug users instead of their incarceration. Whether and how this will actually be implemented remains to be seen. It's a good, thorough read; click on the link for the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- May 21, 2014

Marijuana, marijuana, marijuana. Sometimes it seems like it's sucking all of the air out of the room in drug policy. But there are a lot of other things going on, too. Plus, Michele Leonhart finds a friend, Dana Rohrabacher talks legalization, and Virginia cops are raking in the asset forfeiture cash. Let's get to it:

A marijuana user and his dog. One of a series of photos normalizing marijuana use by Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana Policy

FBI Ponders Loosening Marijuana Hiring Policies Because Too Many Hackers are Stoners. FBI Director James Comey said Monday the organization may have to modify its no-tolerance policy for hiring people who have smoked marijuana because many of the people it wants to hire as programmers and hackers like to smoke pot. "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said. He added that the FBI was "grappling right now" with how to amend its hiring policies, which currently exclude anyone who has smoked in the past three years. [Update: Not gonna happen. Comey said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he is "absolute dead set against using marijuana" and "I did not say I was going to change that ban." His remarks came in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who was worried about his Monday comments.]

Truven Health Survey Has Support for Legalization at 43% Nationwide. A national survey of attitudes toward marijuana conducted by Truven Health has support for legalization at 43% nationwide, with support for medical marijuana at 78%. Click on the link for more demographic details.

Tennessee Poll Has Three Out of Four Supporting Some Form of Marijuana Access. The latest Vanderbilt Poll has 76% supporting some form of access to marijuana, with just more than one in five (22%) of respondents saying it should not be legal, period. Just under a third (32%) said it should be legal for personal use, while another 44% said it should be legal for medical use.

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Pot Policy. Marijuana policy is on the agenda in New Mexico, and it's splitting the Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Two candidates -- Alan Webber and Howie Morales -- support legalization and regulation, Lawrence Rael said it should be up to the voters, Linda Lopez wants to "wait and study," while Gary King opposes legalization, but says he supports reduced penalties for personal possession. Click on the link for more details.

Maine Local Legalization Initiatives About to Start Signature-Gathering. Advocates of marijuana legalization got a local ordinance approved in Portland six months ago. Now, they're back and about to start signature-gathering in three more Maine cities: Lewiston, South Portland, and York. The campaign will get underway "in the coming weeks," supporters said.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Approves Medical Marijuana for Seizures. The House voted today to approve Senate Bill 2636, which expands the state's medical marijuana law to include both adults and minors suffering from seizure disorders. The measure has already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Massachusetts Patients Object to Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana. The state Senate today began debating a state budget, and medical marijuana patients are objecting loudly to amendments proposed by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) that would impose the state's 6.25% general sales tax on medical marijuana products. "To tax sick and suffering patients is just wrong," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "By their very nature, medical marijuana patients tend to be lower income people because that's the nature of serious and chronic illness."

New Mexico Appeals Court Upholds Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals Monday ruled unanimously that an injured worker can be reimbursed for medical marijuana purchases by his former employer and the company's insurer. The appeals court upheld an earlier workmen's compensation decision in favor of the worker. The case is Vialpando v. Ben's Automotive Service and Redwood Fire & Casualty. Attorneys familiar with the case said they knew of no similar rulings in other medical marijuana states.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a historic move, a state Senate committee actually heard a medical marijuana bill -- and then voted to approve it. The Senate Health Committee gave the okay to Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island). Medical marijuana bills have passed the state Assembly repeatedly in recent years, only to die of inaction in the Senate. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee, which must approve it before it can go to a floor vote.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to allow epilepsy patients to use high-CBD marijuana extracts was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee Tuesday. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and should get a final floor vote next week.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Cops Scored $57 Million in Seized Assets Since 2007. Virginia law enforcement agencies have raked in more than $57 million in asset forfeitures in the last six years, according to a lengthy analysis by The Virginian-Pilot. Under the state's asset forfeiture laws, the cops get to keep 90% of what they seize. In its 2010 report Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Forfeiture, the Institute of Justice gave Virginia a grade of "D-" for both its lax asset forfeiture laws and the ease with which they can be circumvented by law enforcement.

Drug Policy

Embattled DEA Head Has a Friend in Virginia Rep. Frank Wolfe. Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA) is sticking up for embattled DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. She was recently scolded and brought into line on sentencing policy by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Wolfe took umbrage at that. He called the Obama administration "Nixonian" for trying to get Leonhart back on the reservation. "Having served in the Nixon Administration, I am well aware of how the political leadership of an administration can try to politicize the civil service, including law enforcement," Wolfe wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. "This article [Ed: a Huffington Post piece on Leonhart's comeuppance] suggests a similar 'Nixonian' effort to pressure a career law enforcement leader into changing her congressional testimony and public comments to fit the narrative of the administration. I am deeply concerned and hope you will correct the record if the information reported was inaccurate."

Legalization Gets Discussed at House Committee Hearing. A House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on US-Mexican affairs turned briefly into a discussion of the pros and cons of drug legalization Tuesday. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked State Department officials whether it wouldn't be better to weaken drug cartels by legalizing drugs than to spend billions trying fruitlessly to suppress them. But William Brownfield, assistant secretary for State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement ("drugs and thugs"), demurred, saying he couldn't recommend a policy that would increase the availability of currently illegal drugs. Rohrabacher responded by saying he had seen no evidence that legalization would increase the number of drug users.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Sets National Conference for September in DC. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) will hold its national conference and lobby day in Washington, DC, on September 26-29. Click on the link for all the details.

Drug Testing

O.pen VAPE Feels the Heat, Backs Off on Drug Testing. The Denver-based marijuana vaporizer company O.pen VAPE took a lot of heat earlier this month when it announced an invasive drug testing policy aimed at "dangerous drug" users. Now, the company has switched gears and has announced it will instead use computer-assisted impairment testing. Celeb Stoner has more details, click on the link to read all about it.

(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.)

California's Latinos Are Ready for Sentencing Reform, Poll Finds [FEATURE]

A bill that would significantly reform California's drug sentencing laws is poised for approval in the state Senate, and a new poll showing strong support for sentencing reform among Latino voters could help push it over the top.

California's prisons are still overcrowded. (supremecourt.gov)
Senate Bill 1010, the Fair Sentencing Act, would equalize the penalties for sale of crack and powder cocaine. Under current California law, crack offenses are treated more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. The bill would also equalize probation requirements and asset forfeiture rules for offenses involving the two forms of the same drug.

Sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee last month and the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. It now heads for the Senate floor. It needs to pass in its chamber of origin this month or it dies.

The bill is supported by dozens of community, religious, civil liberty, civil rights, drug reform, and other groups. It is opposed by the California Narcotics Officers Association and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Among Latino groups supporting the bill are the National Council of La Raza, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Homies Unidos, the Latino Voters League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and Presente.

The poll results released today by Latino Decisions help explain why these groups are supporting sentencing reform efforts and may even encourage them to redouble their efforts. They show strong support for sentencing reform among California's Latino electorate. The poll only sampled registered voters.

When asked if the state should minimize penalties for drug possession, but continue to hold drug sellers accountable, a whopping 69% said yes. The lowest level of support among any Hispanic demographic was 59% among 40-to-59-year-olds.

When asked if racial disparities in law enforcement were a serious or very serious problem, an even more overwhelming 82% said yes. Even among Latino Republicans, the demographic least likely to be concerned, the figure was at 57%.

A third question asked whether respondents favored penalties for personal drug possession of drug treatment, case by case referrals, or zero tolerance. Again Latino voters overwhelmingly supported treatment or case by case (79% combined) over zero tolerance (16%).

"We're very excited to see the results of this poll," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, during a teleconference announcing and analyzing the results. "It's very clear that the poll findings reaffirm that Latinos want drug sentencing reform and a fix to our broken justice system. If politicians want to mobilize the Latino vote, they need to support these issues. Over the coming weeks and months, Latinos and allied groups will be working to support common sense reforms like this bill."

That only makes sense, Carmona said.

another drug arrest in California. (wikimedia.org)
"These issues are having a significant impact on our society, our state, and increasingly, the Latino community," he argued. "The US imprisons more people than any nation in the world, mostly due to the war on drugs, and blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized than whites. When you add in the federal detention center population, Latinos now make up the largest federal prison population in the country."

Dr. Adrian Pantoja, a senior analyst with Latino Decisions, emphasized that the poll was of registered Latino voters.

"These are folks who are part of the political process," he said. "These are the Latinos who will be voting and helping to shape our politics. And among them, we have a rejection of war on drugs strategies and incarceration, with large majorities across the board supporting sentencing reform for drug possession and use."

"It's evident that the Latino community is in a state of crisis," said Armando Gudino, a policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is the community most disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and unprecedented levels of incarceration. Latinos are fully aware of this, and we've begun to shift toward more responsible policies seeking to remove or reduce criminal penalties."

The poll demonstrates that attitudes are changing in the Hispanic community, Gudino said.

"Latinos have traditionally been deemed a conservative group, but we see shifting attitudes, and we could well see support we haven't seen in the past," he noted. "The older generation is more conservative, but the community isn't homogenous, and the same can't be said about other groups within the community, who have already shifted toward favoring issues like decriminalization, medical marijuana, and the efforts around taxing and regulating marijuana. This poll demonstrates that the Latino community is increasingly involved, informed, and willing to make changes."

"Latinos are now a majority in California, we have a seat at the table, and it's critical we're part of this conversation," said Mike De La Rocha, director of strategic partnerships for Californians for Safety and Justice. "Latinos are poised to have a voice in how we address crime and public safety. We understand our approach to crime isn't working, and we're finding our voice in these criminal justice debates."

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