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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- March 7, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has passed the legislature with only temporary local bans allowed, more CBD medical marijuana bills are moving, an Indiana hemp bill has passed the legislature, and more. Let's get to it:

Yours truly with Peruvian coca farmer. The government wants to eradicate his crop. (Phil Smith/stopthedrugwar.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cops Want Marijuana Tax Dollars Because…. Colorado police chiefs have written a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) asking for a bigger cut of marijuana tax revenues. "Many of our local law enforcement agencies have diverted staff from other operations into marijuana enforcement, leaving gaps in other service areas as a direct result of marijuana legalization," according to the letter from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. They claim they need more money to learn how to spot stoned drivers, to pay for "oral fluid testing" at DUI stops, and to create a database of marijuana-related crime.

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a decriminalization bill on a 8-3 vote Friday. Senate Bill 364, cosponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 fine, similar to a parking ticket. It would also make penalties for minors the same as those for underage possession of alcohol. Under current Maryland law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Puerto Rico Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Approval Looming. Bills that would decriminalize small-time pot possession (Senate Bill 517) and allow for medical marijuana (House Bill 1362) in Puerto Rico are due for debate soon and are expected to pass. The decrim bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Home Grow Bill Passes House. The House Friday approved a bill that would allow patients to grow their medicine while waiting for the state to develop regulations for dispensaries and commercial medical marijuana cultivation. House Bill 1622 now heads for the state Senate.

Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel Recommends PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel appointed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has decided to recommend that the department add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. It is now up to Steve Arwood, Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to accept or reject the recommendation. If he does, Michigan will become the 8th state to allow marijuana for the treatment of PTSD.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Panel. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptic seizures passed a House subcommittee Thursday. House Bill 4803, sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville), calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug, but very few can participate in such trials, Hilton said. While the bill would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalls in Senate. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for treatment of seizure disorders hit a roadblock as the Senate adjourned Thursday before taking it up. Senate Bill 174 could still get a hearing next week, though.

California Dispensary Limits Bill Gets Hearing Next Week. A bill that would expand the minimum distance of dispensaries or collectives from schools to 1,000 feet (up from 600 feet under current law) is set for a hearing next week. Assembly Bill 1588 will go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is opposed by Cal NORML.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Passes With Only Temporary Local Bans Allowed. The Oregon Senate Friday gave final approval to a statewide dispensary regulation bill after the House approved compromise language that would allow localities to issue moratoria on dispensaries, but only for a year while they figure out how to regulate them. Senate Bill 1531 now heads to the governor's desk.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would license Indiana farmers to grow hemp has been approved by the legislature. Senate Bill 357 passed the Senate unanimously last month and passed the House 93-4 earlier this week. Because it was amended in the House, the Senate needed to approve the changes. It has now done so, and the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Pence (R).

Harm Reduction

Transnational Institute Releases Paper on Cocaine Harm Reduction. The Transnational Institute has released the latest paper in its Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies. The paper, Cocaine: Toward a Self-Regulation Model -- New Developments in Harm Reduction, argues that most cocaine users do not "escalate toward addiction," but instead self-regulate their use, and that drug treatment programs stressing the disease model of addiction should be replaced by programs that empower users and their ability to self-regulate.

Federal Overdose Prevention Bill Reintroduced. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and 18 cosponsors reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat Act (House Resolution 4169) Friday in a bid to reduce the toll of fatal drug overdoses. It would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs run by community agencies and municipal, state and tribal governments. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the Trust for America's Health, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Law Enforcement

Press Conference Monday to Promote New Jersey Bail Reform. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is set to hear a bail reform bill Monday morning, but before that happens, supporters of the legislation will hold a statehouse news conference will faith leaders. Click on the link for more details. A number of bail bills have been filed; it's not clear which one(s) will be heard.

International

Italian Government Won't Challenge Abruzzo Law Allowing Medical Marijuana. The Italian government has decided not to challenge a regional law that would permit the supply of cannabis-based prescription drugs in Abruzzo, government sources said. The decision would open the door for legal marijuana use for therapeutic purposes in the central Italian region. The case refers to a law passed this past January. The area has been on the vanguard of cannabis legislation in Italy for years.

Peru Will Spend $300 Million to Eradicate Coca Crops. Peru's government has reaffirmed its pledge to meet a coca eradication target set at 30,000 hectares by allocating US $300 million for boosting ongoing efforts to tackle drug trafficking, Peruvian Prime Minister, Rene Cornejo, said on Thursday. Cornejo's remarks came during the signing ceremony of a financing agreement with the European Union to support the country's National Anti-Drug Strategy. Peru is once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, after losing that title to Colombia late in the last century.

Israeli Health Ministry Approves Medical Marijuana for Epileptic Kids. The Health Ministry has decided to approve the use of medical marijuana for children suffering from extreme cases of epilepsy, but only if other drugs are ineffective or less effective. It's not clear if only high-CBD cannabis oils are approved, but the exception for epilepsy is only for kids. The ministry also added fibromyalgia to the list of approved diseases and conditions.

Chronicle AM -- March 6, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has gone back to the Senate with compromise language allowing only temporary local bans, a GOP US Senate candidate there says legalize it, Chuck Schumer fights heroin, Canada's Tories look to be going soft on pot law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

Canadian Justice Minister Peter Mackay hints that something much like marijuana decriminalization is coming. (petermackay.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Debate Draws Hundreds. A week after the Alaska marijuana legalization initiative was officially certified for the ballot, hundreds of people streamed into the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska in Anchorage for a debate on marijuana policy. In an opening speech, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance called the war on drugs "a rat hole of waste" and that marijuana prohibition was "grounded in bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance." Then a panel of five people, including Nadelmann, as well as an anti-legalization Project Sam representative, went at it. Click on the title link for more.

Another Missouri Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering Wednesday. This is not one of the initiatives filed by Show-Me Cannabis, which had a bakers' dozen of similarly-worded initiatives approved earlier this year, but has decided to wait until 2016 for its effort. The initiative has a May 4 deadline for handing in petitions, and must obtain signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2012 governor's election from six of the state's eight congressional districts.

Maryland Sheriffs Rally Against Legalization. Local sheriffs attended a rally in Annapolis to voice opposition to proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland Wednesday. Sheriffs from the Eastern Shore and local police chiefs attended a rally sponsored by the Maryland Sheriff's Association and its supporters. The sheriffs are taking a stand against legalizing marijuana in Maryland, as lawmakers ponder a legalization bill.

Oregon GOP US Senate Candidate Endorses Legalization. Portland attorney Tim Crawley, who is seeking the Republican US Senate nomination, favors marijuana legalization. In a press release this week, he said he had "long been concerned with the tremendous waste of money and human potential the criminalization of marijuana has involved." In a subsequent interview, Crawley said he would support a legalization initiative in Oregon and if elected to the Senate, he would support removing marijuana from the controlled substances list.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon House Passes Dispensary Regulation Bill With Only Temporary Local Bans. The statewide dispensary legalization and regulation bill, Senate Bill 1531, passed out of the House on Wednesday with a provision allowing localities to ban dispensaries, but only for a year while they develop regulations for them. The Senate has already passed a version without the temporary ban language, but is expected to accept this compromise language.

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances with House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday. House Bill 843 now heads for the House Judiciary Committee.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. A bill to allow patients with specified diseases and conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to use and grow their own medicine or purchase it at dispensaries has been introduced. House Bill 4879, filed by Minority Leader Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Schumer Wants New York Heroin Database. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called Wednesday for a standardized heroin database to fight crime and addiction related to the drug's use. "Data and information sharing drives solutions, and we're seriously lacking in that department," said Schumer. "All we know for sure is heroin is ravaging families across New York state." He called on the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to help set up a statewide "Drugstat" database to track heroin use patterns, hospitalizations, and overdoses, which he said could help police combat the drug.

Law Enforcement

California Informants Sue San Luis Obispo Over Rogue Narc. A civil lawsuit recently filed in federal court against the city and county of San Luis Obispo by two former confidential informants of disgraced narcotics detective Cory Pierce charges that Pierce allegedly forced the female informant to have sex with him. Pierce is currently serving a prison term for corruption. According to prosecutors in his federal trial, both informants aided Pierce in acquiring cash, oxycodone and heroin, and now allege that they were forced into indentured servitude, including being kept addicted to drugs and engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. According to prosecutors, Pierce used the informants to set up drug buys with local dealers, then later robbed them. The federal lawsuit alleges that Pierce used his position as a detective to force the woman into engaging in sex with him, including an act of oral copulation, and on another occasion, forced sexual intercourse. Click on the link for more sleazy details.

International

Canada's Tories Hint at Move Toward Ticketing Marijuana Possession Offenders. Conservative Justice Minister Peter Mackay said Wednesday that the government is seriously considering looser marijuana laws that would allow police to ticket anyone caught with small amounts of pot instead of laying charges, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday. "We're not talking about decriminalization or legalization," MacKay said prior to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill. "The Criminal Code would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would... allow police to ticket those types of offenses." Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has called for legalization.

Vancouver Police Say They Won't Bother with Busting Dispensaries. All but a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to be illegal after Canada's new medical marijuana law comes into effect April 1, but Vancouver police said Wednesday they are not going to bother them unless there are signs they are selling to people without a medical marijuana permit. "I don't think for now there is any plan to change the current drug policy that is in place to fit specifically with these changes," said Constable Brian Montague. "We don't have plans for massive raids on April 2nd."

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

Chronicle AM -- March 5, 2014

Washington state's marijuana legalization passes a milestone, the DEA gets an earful on pot in Congress, the fight over Oregon's statewide dispensary regulation bill continues, pain pill prescriptions decrease, Indian poppy farmers are plagued by strung-out antelope, and more. Let's get to it:

"Hey, buddy, know where I can score?" Opium-addicted nilgai are wrecking Indian poppy crops. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Take on DEA Over Marijuana in Congressional Committee Hearing. DEA official Thomas Harrigan was on the hot seat at a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday. "There are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation's marijuana policy," Harrigan told loudly skeptical lawmakers, even though he could not point to one death caused by marijuana. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) were among those who raked Harrigan over the coals. Click on the link for more.

First Ever Marijuana Producer License in Washington Granted in Spokane. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has granted the first license to grow marijuana for the state's legal pot market. The honor goes to Kouchlock Productions of Spokane, owned by Sean Green, who also owns dispensaries in Spokane and Seattle.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Dead in Senate. The Oregon legislature will not act to put marijuana legalization before the voters in November. A bill to do so, Senate Bill 1556, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Portland), doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate and faces near certain death in committee, lawmakers said Tuesday. That means if Oregon wants to legalize it this year, it will have to happen through the citizen initiative process.

North Carolina Poll Has Slight Majority Opposing Legalization. A new Elon Poll has 51% of North Carolinians opposed to marijuana legalization, with 39% in favor. The only demographic group to support legalization was young people. Among the 18-to-30 group, 54% said legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Foes Urge Justice Department Not to Reschedule, Call for More Research. Project SAM, addiction-oriented medical groupings, and anti-drug groups sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department urging it to resist calls to reschedule marijuana and calling instead for easier access to marijuana for researchers. The signatories have "deep concern" about the "normalization" of marijuana and about "recent statements from members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use."

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee advanced a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. House File 1818 now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, but faces opposition from law enforcement, which is demanding that marijuana be available only in pill, liquid, or vapor form.

Compromise on Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Would Allow Only Temporary Local Bans. Legislators trying to get the statewide dispensary regulation bill, House Bill 1531, through the House have floated the idea of allowing localities to enact temporary moratoria of up to a year in a bid to win over cities and counties that have objected to having to allow dispensaries to operate. The bill has already passed the Senate without allowing localities to ban dispensaries, and bill sponsors have indicated they will not support a bill that allows bans. Stay tuned.

Michigan Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Restriction Bill. A bill that would prohibit medical marijuana users from growing or smoking their medicine in rental properties, including apartments and hotels, passed the Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), allows landlords to ban such activities in leases. The bill now heads to the House.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Passes Senate. A bill to allow the production, sale, and purchase of industrial hemp overwhelmingly passed the Senate Tuesday. Legislative Bill 1001 passed on a vote of 32-1. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Norm Wallman (D-Cortland). It now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill to Drug Test Politicians Filed. State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) has filed a bill to require drug testing for judges and elected officials. The bill, House Bill 1435, is intended to "ensure that public officers are sober as they undertake their responsibility to make policy decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they represent." But similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in the federal courts.

Prescription Drugs

Opioid Prescriptions Decrease. Doctors and healthcare providers wrote approximately 11 million fewer prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in 2013 than in 2012. They wrote about 230 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet in 2013 according to data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That's down about 5% from 2012, when about 241 million prescriptions were written.

Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill Would Up Penalties for Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) Tuesday introduced a bill to increase the penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs. House Bill 495 would reduce the weights of synthetic drugs that trigger trafficking charges and would shift a first offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

International

Indian Villagers Want Leopards Returned to Protect Legal Opium Crops From Strung-Out Antelope. Poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh's opium belt want leopards returned to their area because, in their absence, opium-addicted nilgai (antelope) are wreaking havoc with their crops. The district had two leopards until 2008, but they were removed after farmers complained they feared for their lives. But since then, the population of nilgai has skyrocketed, fearlessly attacking poppy crops, and now the villagers want the big cats back. "Our opium fields were safe as long as leopard was here," said one. [Ed: Note that India including the Madhya Pradesh province is one of the countries providing licit opium growing for the global medicinal market.]

Mexican Vigilantes Demand Resignation of Apatzingan Mayor. Vigilantes opposed to the presence of the Knights Templar Cartel in the western state of Michoacan took over city hall in Apatazingan, a city of 100,000, Monday and demanded the resignation of the mayor, who they say is allied with the cartel. The vigilantes had entered the city three weeks ago, but pulled back to the outskirts and set up checkpoints to prevent cartel members and supporters from entering. The vigilantes are allied with Mexican security forces, who are attempting to absorb them as Rural Defense Forces.

Chronicle AM -- March 4, 2014

The INCB releases its annual drug report and so does the US State Department, DC moves toward marijuana decriminalization and so does New Hampshire, the Georgia House approves a CBD medical marijuana bill and so does the Utah House, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday voted 10-1 to give final approval to a marijuana decriminalization bill. It must still be signed by the mayor and approved by Congress. The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized.

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday. House Bill 1625 would allow for the possession of up to an ounce. It would also make the cultivation of up to six plants a misdemeanor.

Oklahoma City Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Ready to Get Underway. Signature gathering will begin Friday for an Oklahoma City municipal initiative that would decriminalize small-time pot possession. Advocates filed the measure Monday. They have 90 days to gather some 6,200 valid voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the next municipal election. Click on the link to see the initiative.

Pennsylvanians Evenly Split on Legalization, Favor Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 48%, with 49% opposed. Medical marijuana is favored by 85%.

Northeastern NAACP Chapters Endorse Rhode Island Legalization.The New England Area Conference of the NAACP, comprising chapters in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, is supporting legislation to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. Among other reasons, the NAACP cited "an alarming racial disparity" in marijuana arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Georgia House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available to treat certain seizure disorders. House Bill 885 now goes to the state Senate.

Utah House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Utah House Monday approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available on a trial basis for children suffering seizure disorders. House Bill 105 passed on a 62-11 vote and now goes to the state Senate.

Drug Testing

Georgia House Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Georgia House Monday approved a bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if a state caseworker suspects they are using drugs. A positive drug test would result in a loss of benefits. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) now goes to the state Senate.

Indiana Senate Committee Amends, Then Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Indiana Senate Health Committee Monday approved a welfare drug testing bill, but only after amending it so that it only applies to recipients with previous drug convictions. Senate Bill 287 now heads to the Senate floor.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma House Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Statute. The Oklahoma House Monday unanimously approved a bill that would make people carrying large quantities of specified prescription drugs subject to drug trafficking charges. The bill adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and benzodiazepine to the list of drugs in the trafficking statute. People possessing more than specified amounts of those drugs could face prison time and Senate.

International

International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report, Frets About Marijuana Legalization. The INCB is very "concerned" about moves to legalize marijuana in US states and Uruguay. But the UN agency is also coming under serious attack from critics over what they call its ideologically-based positions. Click on the link for access to the report and to read our feature article on it and the critics.

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Click on the link to read the report.

War of Words: The International Narcotics Control Board vs. A Changing World [FEATURE]

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy's watchdog group, the International Drug Control Board (INCB) released its Annual Report 2013 today, voicing its concerns with and wagging its finger at drug reform efforts that deviate from its interpretation of the international drug control treaties that birthed it. The INCB is "concerned" about moves toward marijuana legalization and warns about "the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states."

"We deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis," INCB head Raymond Yans said in introducing the report. "INCB reiterates that these developments contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medical and scientific use only. INCB urges the Government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirety of its territory."

For some years now, some European and Latin American countries have been expressing a desire to see change in the international system, and "soft defections," such as the Dutch cannabis coffee shop system and Spain's cannabis cultivation clubs, have stretched the prohibitionist treaties to their legal limits. But legal marijuana in Uruguay is a clear breach of the treaties, as Colorado and Washington may be. That is bringing matters to an unavoidable head.

After surveying the state of drug affairs around the globe, the 96-page INCB report ends with a number of concerns and recommendations, ranging from non-controversial items such as calling for adequate prevention and treatment efforts to urging greater attention to prescription drug abuse and more attention paid to new synthetic drugs. [Ed: There is some controversy over how to best approach prescription drug abuse and synthetic drugs. e.g. the type of attention to pay to them.]

But the INCB is clearly perturbed by the erosion of the international drug prohibition consensus, and especially by its concrete manifestations in legalization in Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington and the spreading acceptance of medical marijuana.

"The Board is concerned that a number of States that are parties to the 1961 Convention are considering legislative proposals intended to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical and scientific ones" and "urges all Governments and the international community to carefully consider the negative impact of such developments. In the Board's opinion, the likely increase in the abuse of cannabis will lead to increased public health costs," the report said.

Similarly, the INCB "noted with concern" Uruguay's marijuana legalization law, which "would not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, particularly the 1961 Convention" and urged the government there "to ensure the country remains fully compliant with international law, which limits the use of narcotic drugs, including cannabis, exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Ditto for Colorado and Washington, where the board was "concerned" about the marijuana legalization initiatives and underlined that "such legislation is not in conformity with the international drug control treaties." The US government should "continue to ensure the full implementation of the international drug control treaties on its entire territory," INCB chided.

But even as INCB struggles to maintain the legal backbone of global prohibition, it is not only seeing marijuana prohibition crumble in Uruguay and the two American states, it is also itself coming under increasing attack as a symbol of a crumbling ancien regime that creates more harm than good with its adherence to prohibitionist, law enforcement-oriented approaches to the use and commerce in psychoactive substances.

"We are at a tipping point now as increasing numbers of nations realize that cannabis prohibition has failed to reduce its use, filled prisons with young people, increased violence and fueled the rise of organized crime," said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute. "As nations like Uruguay pioneer new approaches, we need the UN to open up an honest dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of the treaty system rather than close their eyes and indulge in blame games."

"For many years, countries have stretched the UN drug control conventions to their legal limits, particularly around the use of cannabis," agreed Dave Bewley-Taylor of the Global Drug Policy Observatory. "Now that the cracks have reached the point of treaty breach, we need a serious discussion about how to reform international drug conventions to better protect people's health, safety and human rights. Reform won't be easy, but the question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to reassess and modernize the UN drug control system, but rather when and how."

"This is very much the same old stuff," said John Collins, coordinator of the London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and a PhD candidate studying mid-20th Century international drug control policy. "The INCB views its role as advocating a strict prohibitionist oriented set of policies at the international level and interpreting the international treaties as mandating this one-size-fits-all approach. It highlights that INCB, which was created as a technical body to monitor international flows of narcotics and report back to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has carved out and maintains a highly politicized role, far removed from its original treaty functions. This should be a cause for concern for all states interested in having a functioning, public health oriented and cooperative international framework for coordinating the global response to drug issues," Collins told the Chronicle.

"The INCB and its current president, Raymond Yans, take a very ideological view of this issue," Collins continued. "Yans attributes all the negative and unintended consequences of bad drug policies solely to drugs and suggests the way to lessen these problems is more of the same. Many of the policies the board advocates fly in the face of best-practice public health policy -- for example the board demanding that states close 'drug consumption rooms, facilities where addicts can abuse drugs,'" he noted.

"If the board was really concerned about the 'health and welfare' of global populations it would be advocating for these scientifically proven public health interventions. Instead it chooses the road of unscientific and ideological based policies," Collins argued.

The INCB's reliance on ideology-driven policy sometimes leads to grotesque results. There are more than 30 countries that apply the death penalty for drugs in violation of international law. Virtually every international human rights and drug control body opposes the death penalty for drugs including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's human rights experts on extrajudicial killings, torture and health, among many others.

INCB head Raymond Yans (incb.org)
But when an INCB board member was asked in Thailand -- where 14 people have been executed for drugs since 2001 -- what its position on capital punishment was, he said, "the agency says it neither supports nor opposes the death penalty for drug-related offenses," according to the Bangkok Post.

Human rights experts were horrified and immediately wrote asking for clarification, to which the INCB responded, "The determination of sanctions applicable to drug-related offenses remains the exclusive prerogative of each State and therefore lie beyond the mandate and powers which have been conferred upon the Board by the international community," according to Human Rights Watch.

Another area where the board's concern about the health and welfare of global populations is being challenged is access to pain medications. A key part of the INCB's portfolio is regulating opioid pain medications, and this year again it said there is more than enough opium available to satisfy current demand, although it also noted that "consumption of narcotic drugs for pain relief is concentrated within a limited number of countries."

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees about that latter point. A 2011 study estimated that around 5.5 billion people -- or 83% of the world population -- live in countries with 'low to non-existent' access to opioid pain relief for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. These substances are listed by the WHO as essential medicines, and the international drug control conventions recognise explicitly that they are 'indispensable' to the 'health and welfare of mankind.'

Adding to the paradox -- the global supply is sufficient, but four-fifths of the world doesn't have access -- the INCB calls on governments to "ensure that internationally controlled substances used for pain relief are accessible to people who need them."

What is going on?

"The INCB uses totals of requirements for opioid medicines compiled by the UN treaty signatory states," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, which keeps an eye on the agency with its INCB Watch. "Unfortunately there is often a huge gap between these administrative estimates and the actual medical needs of their populations."

The prohibitionist slant of global drug control also creates a climate conducive to understating the actual need for access to pain relief in other ways, Fordham told the Chronicle.

"Many governments interpret the international drug control conventions in a more restrictive manner than is necessary, and focus their efforts towards preventing access to the unauthorized use of opioids rather than to ensuring their medical and scientific availability," she said. "This is a grossly unbalanced reading of the conventions, underpinned by fear and prejudice regarding opioids and addiction."

Although the agency has cooperated somewhat with the WHO in attempting to enhance access to the medicines, said Fordham, it bears some blame for rendering the issue so fraught.

"The INCB has continually stressed the repressive aspect of the international drug control regime in its annual reports and other public statements, and in its direct dealings with member states," she said. "The INCB is therefore responsible for at least some of the very anxieties that drive governments toward overly restrictive approaches. This ambivalence considerably weakens the INCB's credibility and contradicts its health-related advocacy."

Fordham joined the call for a fundamental reform of global drug prohibition, and she didn't mince words about the INCB.

"The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already," she said before leveling a blast at Yans and company. "But the INCB is notable as the most hard line, backward-looking element, regularly overstepping its mandate in the strident and hectoring manner its adopts with parties to the treaties, in its interference in functions that properly belong to the WHO and in its quasi-religious approach to a narrow interpretation of the drug control treaties."

The INCB should get out of the way on marijuana and concentrate on its pain relief function, said Collins.

"The INCB should stay out if it," he said bluntly. "It is a technocratic monitoring body. It should not be involving itself in national politics and national regulatory systems. So it doesn't need to be either a help or hindrance on issues regarding cannabis reform. It has no reason to be involved in this debate. It should be focusing on ensuring access to essential pain medicines. These debates are a distraction from that core function and I would argue one of the reasons it is failing to meet this core function."

Sorry, INCB. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM -- February 27, 2014

A thousand people march in support of "El Chapo" Guzman in his home state, Alaska makes it official that legalization is on the August ballot, another poll has a nationwide majority for marijuana legalization, medical marijuana bills move in a pair of states, there are a pair of moves to tighten up on pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro or No-hydro? A move is on to get the new hydrocodone-based pain medication killed.

Marijuana Policy

It's Official -- Alaska Lieutenant Governor Signs Off on Legalization Initiative. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell Wednesday made it official: Alaska will vote on a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which is working with the Marijuana Policy Project. "I have determined that the initiative sponsors have timely filed the petition and that the petition is signed by qualified voters… the Director of the Division of Elections shall place the ballot title and proposition on the election ballot for the Primary Election on August 19, 2014," Treadwell wrote in his official statement.

CBS News Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization, Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 51% of Americans think marijuana should be legal, according to a new CBS News poll, and a whopping 86% think doctors should be able to prescribe it for medical use. Just three years ago, the CBS News poll had support for legalization at only 40%. CBS News now joins pollsters at Gallup, Pew Research, CNN,Quinnipiac, PPP, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, who have have all found that a majority of the country supports marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil for children suffering epileptic seizures won a unanimous vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday. House Bill 885 was approved after sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) amended it to allow for cultivation of marijuana at Georgia medical research universities. Producers of CBD cannabis oils cannot legally import them to Georgia.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill that would allow people suffering from conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), and HIV/AIDS to use medical marijuana by a vote of 9-5 today, following a public hearing. The Cannabis Compassion Act, or House Bill 350, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) and cosponsored by Committee Chairman Tom Burch (D-Louisville), would permit licensed patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana, and it would establish regulations to operate a limited number of medical marijuana compassion centers and testing facilities.

Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Wants $4.5 Million for Drug Court Expansion. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced Wednesday that his proposed 2015 budget includes $4.5 million to pay for an expansion of the state's drug court program, but the sponsor of the bill that created the expansion says that isn't enough. The budget also includes half a million dollars to help provide drug offenders with employment services and another half million to allow drug court clients to obtain job training, skills acquisition, and job placement. But critics said if the state wants to provide drug treatment, it should do so without forcing people into drug court. "If you're really going to talk about the shift from addiction to treatment, it's not just for those who get arrested," said Roseanne Scotti, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office.

Opioid Pain Medications

Coalition Calls on FDA to Reverse Approval of Zohydro. Zohydro, a hydrocodone-based opioid pain reliever, was approved by the FDA last fall, but now a coalition of drug treatment, healthcare, and consumer groups led by Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing is calling on the agency to reverse that decision. "It's a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule," said the group's Dr. Andrew Kolodny. "It will kill people as soon as it's released." But Zogenix, Zohydro's manufacturer, and the FDA both insist that the drug's benefits outweigh its risks.

DEA Publishes Proposal to Move Hydrocodone Combo Products to More Restrictive Schedule II. The DEA today published in the Federal Register notice that it intends to reschedule the opioid pain reliever hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II, making it more difficult to access, when it is sold in products that also contain substances, such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Hydrocodone by itself is already Schedule II, but Congress placed the combination products in Schedule III when it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The DEA says Schedule III opioids are more likely to be abused than the more tightly controlled Schedule II ones. Public comment on the proposed rule must be made by April 27 and can be done at www.regulations.gov. A request for a hearing can be made at the same web site, but the deadline for that is March 31.

Sentencing

Sentencing Discrepancies Under Scrutiny in Minnesota. Widespread disparities in Minnesota drug sentencing revealed in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story Sunday led to a legislative hearing Wednesday in which legislators offered up fixes ranging from stiffer sentences for drug "kingpins" to lesser penalties for low-level drug offenders. But even though Minnesota has tougher drug sentences that surrounding states, increased penalties appeared to have more traction than decreased ones.

International

A Thousand March for "El Chapo" Guzman in Culiacan. More than a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Wednesday. The largely young crowd, many dressed in white, bore signs that read "We want Chapo Freed" and "We demand no extradition" as they filed across the center of Culiacan.

Bermuda Activist Challenges Bias of Speaker Chosen By Government to Address Medical Professionals. Attorney Alan Gordon, one of Bermuda's most prominent marijuana activists, is raising concerns about the government's selection of Dr. Andrea Barthwell to address medical professionals there. Barthwell, a former deputy drug czar under George W. Bush, has "a long history of credible accusations" made against her "one-sided and heavily misleading information which could harm Bermuda health care," Gordon said. "Dr. Barthwell's bias against medical cannabis, historically, is so strong that she is not a credible source of information until she meaningfully addresses the allegations," said Gordon. He had a lot more to say about Barthwell, too. Click on the link to read it all.

Chronicle AM -- February 26, 2014

A Maryland police chief embarrasses himself with bogus marijuana death claims, welfare drug testing bills face challenges in the Deep South, a hemp bill advances in Indiana, Russia's drug czar says "nyet" to legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Get Hearing; Police Chief Cites Hoax Story About Pot Overdose Deaths. Sen. Robert Zirkin's (D-Baltimore) Senate Bill 364, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and Sen. Jamie Raskin's (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 658, which would legalize marijuana, got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Law enforcement opposed the bills, while leaders of the ACLU and NORML members supported it. The lowlight of the hearing was Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop's testimony mentioning an article about 37 overdose deaths the day marijuana became legal in Colorado. After being called out for repeating the hoax story by Sen. Raskin, Pristoop quickly backtracked.

Iowa Semi-Decriminalization Bill Introduced. A bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce and a half of marijuana has been introduced by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines). It's not a true decriminalization bill because it would keep simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. House File 2313 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link to read the bill.

Texas Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization. Almost half -- 49% -- of Texans surveyed in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing weed in either small quantities (32%) or any quantity (17%). Another 28% supported legalization only for medical purposes, while only 23% opposed any form of legalization.

New York Poll Finds Majority Oppose Legalization. A new Siena poll has support for legalization at only 43%, with 53% opposed. That contrasts with a recent Q Poll that had New Yorkers supporting legalization 57% to 39%. Differences in the questions asked and the margin of error in the polls may account for the difference. Or New Yorkers are conflicted.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for the trial use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat childhood epileptic seizures was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 124 now heads for the Senate floor.

Hemp

Hemp Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp passed the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday and now heads for the House floor. The bill is Senate Bill 357. It has already passed the Senate.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Georgia. A bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday. House Bill 772 now moves to the House floor.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Stalls in Alabama Senate. A bill requiring drug testing of some welfare applicants hit a roadblock in the Senate Tuesday when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) adjourned the body after Democrats began fighting the bill. Senate Bill 63 would require drug testing of any applicant with a drug conviction in the last five years. It is just one of five bills in the Republican agenda to tighten regulations for public assistance.

Sentencing

West Virginia Senate Approves Draconian Drug Sentencing Bill. A bill that would increase the penalty for bringing drugs into West Virginia from one year to up to 15 years passed the Senate Monday. It now goes to the House.

International

Russian Drug Czar Rules Out Marijuana Legalization, Methadone Maintenance. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service has called marijuana a dangerous gateway drug and said the authorities did not plan to legalize it, or to allow methadone treatment for heroin addicts. "Marijuana users have a 50 or 60 times higher risk of switching to heroin. There is one step from dope to heroin," Viktor Ivanov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He completely ruled out legalization, saying it was too risky in an advanced society. "Today we live in the age of high technology, a lot of things are managed with the help of computer systems. Someone who works at a nuclear power plant can wreak real havoc after smoking marijuana," he said. Ivanov also scoffed at needle exchange and methadone maintenance, saying there was little reliable evidence methadone maintenance worked. [Ed: Ivanov must have missed the entirety large body of research done on both needle exchange and methadone maintenance, which has found them to be effective and of paramount importance.]

Colombia's FARC Calls for Dismantling Drug-Paramilitary Nexus. Colombia's FARC guerrilla army called Tuesday for the dismantling of drug and paramilitary organizations it said were embedded within the Colombian state. The call was part of the FARC's six-point program to deal with the drug issue in the country, which is the fourth item on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

British Chief Constable Says Give Heroin to Addicts. Mike Barton, Chief Constable for Dunham Constabulary, is calling for heroin maintenance for addicts. Such a move would "take money out of drug dealers' pockets," he said, adding that it "isn't practical" to simply arrest addicts. His comments come in a BBC documentary in which he went to Copenhagen to visit drug consumption rooms there.

Chronicle AM -- February 25, 2014

A Europe-wide marijuana legalization initiative campaign is underway, a Republican legalization group will hold its first meeting in Texas, there's still a California legalization initiative trying to make the ballot this year, state legislatures deal reflexively with familiar drug issues, and more. Let's get to it:

The times they are a-changing.
Marijuana Policy

DC Election Board Hears Arguments to Allow Legalization Initiative on Ballot. The District of Columbia Board of Elections heard proponents of a DC legalization initiative argue Tuesday that they should okay the measure for the ballot. The hearing comes days after DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan urged the board to reject the measure because it would conflict with a provision of federal law requiring that residents of public housing be evicted for drug possession. Nathan's opinion is not binding. The board said it would act on the matter within a week.

One California Legalization Initiative Remains and is Seeking $2 Million. And then there was one. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative has fallen short of its signature-gathering goal and will not make the ballot this year. The Drug Policy Alliance-backed initiative has been set aside for this year, and the Ed Rosenthal initiative designed as an alternative to it, has now likewise been set aside. That leaves only the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, which has until April 18 to gather more than 500,000 valid voter signatures. San Jose dispensary operator and initiative proponent Dave Hodges said the campaign needs $2 million to gather those signatures, and it is still doable. Click on the link for more details.

Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition to Hold First Meeting in Houston. Yeah, you read that right. Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, a national caucus founded in 2012 by Ann Lee, mother of Oaksterdam's Richard Lee, will host its inaugural meeting March 15 in Houston. Click on either link for more details.

New Georgia Poll Has Majority for Legalization. A new Public Policy polling survey finds that 54% of Georgia voters want to see marijuana legalized for recreational use. Support for decriminalization was at 62%. Click on the survey link for further demographic info.

Medical Marijuana

Fed Delay in Supplying Marijuana Blocks PTSD Research. The US Public Health Service (PHS) is blocking researchers who are seeking to learn more about the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat PTSD, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said Monday. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved protocol for a study of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in US veterans, sponsored by MAPS, has been on hold for over 3½ months, as researchers wait for the PHS to respond to their request to purchase marijuana for the study. The study would explore the safety and effectiveness of smoked and/or vaporized marijuana for 50 U.S. veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. Animal studies have already shown that marijuana helps quiet an overactive fear system, but no controlled clinical studies have taken place with PTSD patients. The PHS marijuana review process exists only because the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-protected monopoly on the supply of marijuana legal for use in FDA-regulated research. This additional review is not required for research on any other Schedule I drug.

Tampa Medical Marijuana Debate Gets Rowdy. Tampa Bay area residents got an earful at a debate over medical marijuana Monday night. Local news reports said there was "screaming, yelling, and even people dragged out" as Alan St. Pierre of NORML and Florida attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's medical marijuana initiative, squared off against Kevin Sabet of Project SAM and prehistoric prohibitionist Dr. Eric Voth.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalled in Committee. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children is stuck in committee as lawmakers grapple with the issue of how to obtain it. Either growing it or importing it would violate state law. The bill is House Bill 885, which is stuck in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Amended to Allow Local Bans. The Oregon bill to legalize and regulate dispensaries statewide, Senate Bill 1531, was amended in a Senate committee vote to allow localities to not just regulate dispensaries, but to ban them. The bill has passed the Senate and is now before the House Judiciary Committee. The statewide dispensary regulation system is scheduled to begin March 3.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Bills to Restrict Pseudoephedrine Purchases Moving. A package of bills designed to crack down on the use of pseudoephedrine in the manufacture of meth passed the state Senate last week. They would ban the sale of the chemical to people with meth convictions and make it a 10-year felony to buy the stuff knowing it's intended to make meth. The bills, sponsored by Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) are Senate Bill 535, Senate Bill 563, Senate Bill 564, and Senate Bill 756.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma Prescription Drug Database Bill Moving. A bill that would require doctors to check an online prescription database before prescribing drugs with abuse potential passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. Senate Bill 1821, sponsored by Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie) now heads for a Senate floor vote.

International

European "Weed Like to Talk" Citizens' Initiative Underway. In the European Union, voters can submit "citizen initiatives" that require EU legislators to propose legislation if they reach a million signatures. The "Weed Like to Talk" initiative began collecting signatures last week for an effort to legalize marijuana. It has about 35,000 signatures so far. Click here to see a by-country count.

Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

Drug War Issues

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