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Chronicle AM -- November 22, 2013

The momentum for marijuana legalization continues in the US, but Australia's New South Wales rejects medical marijuana even for the terminally ill. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a legal retail outlet near you (if you live in Colorado). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

World's First-Ever Marijuana Retail License Issued in Colorado. Officials in Central City, Colorado, issued the world's first legal marijuana retail license Thursday. The license went to Annie's, currently operating as a medical marijuana dispensary. Annie's must still obtain a state license. Legal retail marijuana sales begin on January 1.

Oregon Legislators Meeting Today on Marijuana Legalization. Oregon lawmakers are meeting today to lay the groundwork for a possible marijuana legalization initiative to put before voters in November 2014. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) said he would push for such an initiative. New Approach Oregon has already filed its own legalization initiative, which Prozanski called "a great first draft," but then added that legislators should vet it.

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Has Majority Support in Indiana. The 2013 Hoosier Poll finds that 52.2% of adults in the state favor making "marijuana a regulated substance much like the way we regulate the use of alcohol and tobacco products." Only 45.3% were opposed. Support reached a whopping 78.1% when respondents were asked if "marijuana should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco products, or not."

Maine Legislative Council Rejects Legalization Bill. The Maine Legislative Council, made up of 10 leading legislators, Thursday night rejected a marijuana legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland). That means the bill will have to go through the regular legislative process next year, or the voters will decide through a referendum.

Medical Marijuana

Four California US Representatives Call on Northern California US Attorney to Stop Harassing Dispensaries. Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Drug Testing

Northern Marianas Bill Would Require Twice a Year Drug Tests for Elected Officials. A bill being crafted in the Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives would require all elected officials to undergo drug tests every six months. The bill is being drafted by former cop Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero, but is likely to be found unconstitutional if it ever passes, given federal court precedents.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Makes First Arrest under Automobile "Secret Compartment" Drug Law. An Ohio man arrested Tuesday for driving a vehicle that contained a hidden compartment becomes the first person charged under the state's 2012 law (Senate Bill 305) making it a felony to add a secret compartment with the intent of using it to conceal drugs for trafficking. Norman Gurley's vehicle had a secret compartment, but it contained no drugs or evidence of drugs.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Blasts High US Incarceration Rates at Colombia Conference. US Attorney General Eric Holder ripped into US incarceration policies at a conference of security ministers in Colombia Thursday, calling our imprisonment rates "both inadvisable and unsustainable." Holder added that the resort to mass incarceration "results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons -- and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason." He also signaled that other countries should have greater flexibility in drug control policies. "We must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a 'one-size-fits all' approach."

International

No Medical Marijuana for the Terminally Ill in Australia's New South Wales. The state government in New South Wales has rejected a request that terminally ill patients be granted an exemption to use marijuana to ease their pain. A bipartisan parliamentary committee had recommended that AIDS and terminally ill patients be allowed to possess up to a half-ounce for medical reasons, but the state government rejected the recommendation, saying the potency and safety of medical marijuana cannot be guaranteed. The decision was "cannabis hysteria at its worst," said Green MP John Kaye. "It's absurd to argue that someone dying of cancer should be denied access to a little bit of pain relief because it's the same substance some people use illegally."

Chronicle AM -- November 7, 2013

Portland's police chief demonstrates why local initiatives are only a start, a new Urban Institute report has ideas for reducing the federal prison population, the Irish parliament rejects marijuana legalization on its first go round, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Portland Police Chief to Ignore Legalization Initiative Victory. Portland, Maine, voterd Tuesday to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his officers will continue to issue citations for pot possession under state law. But Sauschuck also said Portland police didn't consider small-time pot possession a high priority even before Tuesday's vote, and the numbers back him up. In the last two 12-month periods, police there have averaged about one pot possession ticket a week.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Groups Launch Fundraising Campaign for 2014 Arkansas Initiative. Arkansas medical marijuana advocates Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) have joined forces with the national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to raise enough money to get the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act initiative on the 2014 ballot. The campaign kicks off Saturday in El Dorado with a concert sponsored by Budweiser (!), which will give a portion of the proceeds to ACC.

Sentencing Reform

Urban Institute Report Says Best Way to Reduce Federal Prison Population is Modify Sentencing, Prosecution Policies. A new report from the Urban Institute, Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System, concludes that "reducing the number of drug offenders is the quickest way to yield an impact on both prison population and cost," and recommends changes in both prosecution ("front end") and sentencing and reentry ("back end") policies.

International

The Silk Road is Back. The anonymous online marketplace notorious as a drug-buying and -selling venue is back up and running. It went down earlier this year when FBI agents arrested its operator, Ross Ulbrict, but was up again as of yesterday.

David Nutt Calls Britain's Drug Laws an Obstacle to Research.Scientist David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs, says Britain's drug laws are stifling research into the benefits of drugs like marijuana and Ecstasy. "The UK has gone from being early adopters of evidence based harm reduction -- prescription heroin, needle exchanges and opiate substitute therapy -- to lagging behind many countries across the globe that are modifying their drug policies to better reflect advances in our understanding of drugs," he told Forbes. Nutt, who was fired from the commission over his views on drug policy, recently won the John Maddox Prize, which is awarded for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility.

Irish Parliament Rejects Marijuana Legalization. The Irish Dail (parliament) soundly rejected a bill to legalize marijuana Wednesday. The private member's motion filed by TD Luke "Ming" Flanagan was defeated on a vote of 111-8. Still, the occasion marked the first time the Dail has seriously debated marijuana policy.

Czech Activists Denounce Grow Shop Raids, Plan Protests. The Czech marijuana reform group Legalizace has denounced Monday's mass raids on grow shops as "an absolutely unacceptable and scandalous infringement upon civil rights and freedoms" and is calling for a protest Saturday evening at Prague's Old Town Square.

Iran Drug Executions Continue. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's leading executioner of drug offenders, and this month is no different. According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, which monitors Iranian press reports, 11 people have been hung for drug offenses so far this month, and we haven't even finished the first week. The annual number of people executed for drug offenses in Iran is in the hundreds.

Jerry Brown Vetoes California "Defelonization" Bill [FEATURE]

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Saturday vetoed a bill that would have allowed prosecutors or judges to charge simple drug possession as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill would have made drug possession a "wobbler," meaning it could be charged either way, based on judicial or prosecutorial discretion.

overcrowded California prison (supremecourtus.gov)
Some 10,000 people are convicted of drug possession felonies each year in California, and experts estimated that, under the bill, 15% to 30% of them would have been charged instead with misdemeanors. The exact number is unknown because the bill would have left those decisions up to prosecutors and judges. But in any case, the bill would have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal justice system savings, which would have provided local governments with more flexibility to invest in drug treatment and mental health services and focus law enforcement resources on more serious offenses, along with lightening up on some of the people caught up in the criminal justice system.

The bill, Senate Bill 649, was sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and passed the legislature with bipartisan support, but was opposed by law enforcement and some prosecutors. Leno and supporters had argued that the bill would save the state money on incarceration and related costs.

The bill was premature, given that a broader criminal justice system reform is in the works, Brown said in a veto message. "We are going to examine in detail California's criminal justice system, including the sentencing structure," he said. "We will do so with the full participation of all the necessary parties, including law enforcement, local government, courts, and treatment providers. That would be the appropriate time to evaluate our existing drug laws."

Even after the state's vaunted prison realignment, California prisons remain overcrowded, and the more than 4,100 people currently imprisoned on simple drug possession charges only add to that burden. The cost of imprisoning them comes to $207 million a year.

Under current California law, which will now stay in place, simple possession of drugs such as cocaine, meth, and heroin is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Leno's bill left that maximum sentence in place, but would have given either judges or prosecutors the discretion to punish possession as a misdemeanor, with a year in jail as a maximum sentence. Similarly, under the Leno bill, judges or prosecutors could have diverted drug users to treatment or community programs in a bid to reduce recidivism.

Charging drug possessors with misdemeanors instead of felonies would also have created criminal justice system savings with each lower-level prosecution. That's because felony charges require a preliminary hearing, while misdemeanor charges do not.

But law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California District Attorneys Association all opposed the bill, labeling it a threat to public safety. They argued that the bill would reduce incentives for drug possessors to voluntarily seek drug treatment because they would only face jail time, and the jails are so full -- thanks to prison realignment -- that people sentenced to jail time do only a tiny fraction of that time.

Brown could have let the bill become law without his signature, Leno noted in an interview with the Chronicle earlier this month, and pronounced himself "surprised" at the veto.

"It's quite surprising that the governor would veto a modest attempt at sentencing reform in light of our prison overcrowding crisis," Leno said Saturday.

Bill supporters, including the ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance lambasted Brown's decision to veto the bill.

Jerry Brown
"By vetoing SB 649, Gov. Brown has thwarted the will of the voters and their elected representatives by rejecting a modest reform that would have helped end mass incarceration in this state," said Kim Horiuchi, criminal justice and drug policy attorney for the ACLU of California.

"California voters and the legislature recognize the urgent need to reevaluate our sentencing laws and enact smart reforms, especially for low level, non-violent drug crimes," Horiuchi continued. "Doing so will allow California to reduce its reliance on incarceration and free up limited resources for the sorts of community-based treatment, education and job training programs proven to reduce crime and create safe and healthy communities. Despite this, Gov. Brown remains inexplicably opposed to meaningful sentencing reform."

"The governor let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The vast majority of voters agree with the experts -- locking up drug users is stupid, unproductive, cruel and expensive."

Despite the opposition of the law enforcement establishment, California public opinion wants to see sentencing reform. A 2012 Tulchin poll found that 75% of Californians preferred prevention and treatment as an alternative to jail for nonviolent offenders and 62% agreed that possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be a misdemeanor.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia already have such laws, and an effort to pass similar legislation is gearing up in Washington state. But in Sacramento, Gov. Brown was listening to the cops instead of the people.

"Our system is broken," said DPA's Lyman. "Felony sentences don't reduce drug use and don't persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release -- three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities."

Sacramento, CA
United States

Florida Attorney General Bans "Crazy Clown" Drug

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Wednesday filed an emergency rule criminalizing four related synthetic cannabinoid drugs, including one being marketed under the name "Crazy Clown," her office announced in a press release. The emergency move makes the new synthetics Schedule I controlled substances under Florida law.

The four substances are B-PINACA, AB-FUBINACA, ADB-PINACA, and Fluoro ABDICA. They have been tentatively identified as cannabinoid receptor agonists, similar to an earlier round of synthetic cannabinoids that have been marketed under names such as "Spice" and "K2." Those drugs are banned under federal law and are illegal in a number of states as well.

Georgia banned the drugs last month under a synthetic drugs analog law, and now neighboring Florida has moved to do so, too.

The move came after a spate of media reports and law enforcement warnings in August and September about users suffering ill effects from "Crazy Clown," including nausea, vomiting, and violent behavior. But there has been no reported follow-up on those initial accounts.

"I will remain vigilant in my efforts to keep these drugs off store shelves and will continue to outlaw emergent synthetic drug compounds. These drugs pose a serious threat to Floridians, particularly our youth," said Attorney General Bondi.

"While synthetic drugs are marketed as safe alternatives to illegal drugs, make no mistake; these synthetics are dangerous," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "Adding these four new concoctions to Florida's schedule 1 drug list strengthens our fight. We will continue our efforts with Attorney General Bondi to identify illegal chemicals and react swiftly."

Bondi said she will work with the state legislature to permanently ban them next year.

While Bondi's action is of a piece with the reflexive prohibitionist response to the earlier new synthetics apparent both in Washington and in state houses around the country, banning new synthetic drugs is not the only possible response to them. New Zealand made headlines worldwide when instead of banning them, it moved to regulate new synthetics.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds back off in some Southern California asset forfeiture cases, an Iowa newspaper tells local authorities to back off from prosecuting a cancer patient, and several states move forward with implementing their medical marijuana laws. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, Navajo County sheriff's deputies raided a dispensary in Pinetop. They hit the Beyond Compassion dispensary, owned by Mike Lytle. Lytle also owned the Mountain Meds dispensary in Lakeside that was raided earlier this year. He was charged with five drug-related felonies in that case, which is still pending. He racked up two more felony possession of marijuana for sale charges Thursday.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state attorney general approved the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved an initiative submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care that would allow patients to grow their own or buy it from a dispensary. McDaniel earlier approved another medical marijuana initiative that would not allow patients to grow their own.

California

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped their case against an Anaheim landlord whose property they tried to seize over a $37 medical marijuana sale. Under federal pressure, Tony Jalali had already evicted a dispensary he had rented to when the feds brought their asset forfeiture action. Prosecutors had been seeking to drop the case for months, but had insisted that he agree to surprise inspections and promise never to rent to another dispensary. They didn't get that, but Jalali did agree not to demand that the US government pay his attorney fees. The feds dropped the case with prejudice, meaning they cannot threaten to seize his property again. They also dropped two other asset forfeiture cases, but those agreements have been finalized with the courts.

Last Thursday, a Riverside County dispensary sued the city of Murrieta over its decision to ban dispensaries and medical marijuana delivery services. Compassionate Care Beneficiaries seeks a peremptory writ of mandate to set aside the city's decision. It alleges that Murrieta violated state environmental laws by failing to evaluate the potential air pollution and traffic impacts of barring dispensaries and forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors moved closer to new medical marijuana regulations. The board is considering rules that would prohibit dispensaries within 600 feet of schools or each other, restricts hours and signage, and could require background checks of dispensary managers or dispensary board members. They would also limit home grows to 100 square feet indoors and 1,000 square feet outdoors. The ordinance will have a final vote on October 22.

Connecticut

Late last month, the state began accepting cultivation and dispensary applications. Patients have been able to sign up for the medical marijuana registry for the past year, but no one has yet been authorized to cultivate marijuana. Now, the state is finally moving forward.

Iowa

On Sunday, the Quad-City Times editorialized against prosecuting a cancer patient for growing medical marijuana. The newspaper accused the Scott County justice system of enforcing "the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good" in the case of Benton Mackenzie, who was arrested along with his wife, son, and parents for growing marijuana he used to alleviate his cancer treatments. Mackenzie was jailed for two months until authorities realized they might be stuck with his medical bills, and is now free awaiting trial. "Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value," the paper concluded. "Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement." The Quad Cities are a trans-Mississippi River metropolitan area consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois (and East Moline, too).

Kansas

Last Friday, the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana. The group focuses on legislation affecting Kansas senior citizens and said in a resolution that medical marijuana brings relief for numerous conditions "often found among senior citizens" as well as slowing the progress of two conditions common to senior citizens -- Alzheimer's Disease and glaucoma. Medical marijuana has gained virtually no traction in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Michigan

Last Thursday, a Lansing couple whose medical marijuana use resulted in the state seizing their infant daughter saw felony drug charges against them dropped. Steve and Maria Green were arrested on marijuana manufacturing charges in 2011, but the Oakland County prosecutor dropped the charges after it was proven that Steve Green was a patient and his wife a caregiver. But the filing of those charges played a role in the state's decision last month to remove their daughter from their home. It's unclear how the dropping of charges will affect their battle to regain custody of their daughter, who is currently living with Maria Green's mother.

Nevada

On Friday, state officials released their 80-page draft medical marijuana dispensary regulations. The move comes after the legislature this year passed a dispensary bill, which is set to go into effect in April. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the draft, which sets broad guidelines for growers, dispensaries and test labs. The draft has already excited numerous concerns and comments, and is subject to revision.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a second dispensary won approval to start selling marijuana to patients. The Health Department announced that the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can open for business. It has been growing marijuana since June, but has not announced an exact opening date. The state has authorized six dispensaries, but so far, only one has opened.

Vermont

On Tuesday, the Rockingham Selectboard approved an ordinance banning dispensaries. The vote came after the police chief said he didn't want a dispensary in the city and a village resident said the town already faced drug abuse issues. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority of voters at the next town meeting.

Washington

On Sunday, a medical marijuana farmers' market reopened in Seattle. While providing candies, lotions, and dried buds to patients, the market is also part of an ongoing fight by the state's patients and medical marijuana industry to ensure that their rights are kept in mind as the state moves toward legally regulated marijuana for all adults.

Wisconsin

Last Thursday, two Democratic legislators announced they would file a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton held a news conference Thursday to announce a new bill, saying marijuana can provide pain relief other medication doesn't. A similar measure in 2010 got a hearing, but went nowhere after that under Democratic leadership. In 2011, a similar bill got nowhere at all under a Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans still control both houses.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Broad Coalition Seeks Capitol Hill Hearings on DEA

Spurred by recent revelations of the DEA using NSA and CIA programs ostensibly designed to fight terrorism to try to make drug cases, but grounded in decades of festering concern over the DEA's bull-in-a-China-shop behavior, a broad coalition of more than 120 groups Thursday asked Congress to hold hearings on the agency.

Citing an August Reuters report on the DEA's use of NSA spying data to make drug cases and hide the NSA connection from prosecutors and judges and a September New York Times story on how the DEA makes use of AT&T phone traffic databases to make cases against US citizens, the groups called on the House and Senate Judiciary and Oversight committees to hold broad hearings to investigate the DEA and hold it accountable for its actions.

"The implications of the Reuters revelations are serious and far-reaching. Since the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations, the American public has been continuously told by the Obama Administration and others that such programs do not constitute a domestic spying program, and that the programs are solely used for counterterrorism purposes. The news that the DEA is using such programs in domestic drug cases directly contradicts both these assertions," the coalition said in a letter sent to relevant committee chairs and ranking members and copied to Attorney General Holder.

"Additionally, we believe that by covering up the origins of evidence it obtained, the DEA has violated the constitutional rights of many Americans and created judicial chaos," the letter continued. "Indeed, lawyers seeking to review certain cases and convictions have been stymied by the fact that authorities will not inform them when and where such methods were used."

The letter was signed by more than 120 groups, both domestic and international and from across the political spectrum. Signatories included the ACLU, Witness for Peace, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Global Exchange, Witness for Peace, the Drug Policy Alliance and numerous US drug reform groups, including StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), and the International Drug Policy Consortium, which represents more than 160 non-government organizations.

"For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight because this agency has a deeply troubling track record of unregulated and out of control behavior. The DEA must be reined in and held accountable."

While the recent revelations about the DEA and the NSA and AT&T have been the catalyst for the hearings call, the letter also cited a small selection of other issues and scandals associated with the DEA (which should be familiar to Chronicle readers), including:

  • The case of Daniel Chong, a San Diego student who was left unattended and unfed in a holding cell by the DEA for five days, and who subsequently sued and settled for $.4.1 million in July of this year.
  • A drug war operation in Honduras in which the DEA took part, and which led to the killing of four innocent civilians. The incident has never been properly investigated by authorities.
  • DEA's role in the "Fast and Furious" scandal, where the agency smuggled and laundered millions of dollars in drug war profits for Mexican drug cartels as part of an ill-conceived sting operation.
  • DEA administrator Michele Leonhart's role in overruling the DEA's own administrative judges after they made decisions based on medical science.
  • Defense attorneys in Arizona are claiming government misconduct because the DEA rehired Andrew Chambers, a government informant who was terminated by the Justice Department years ago amid accusations of serial perjury.

In July, the DEA marked its 40th anniversary of its creation by President Richard Nixon. As the letter noted, "Congress has rarely held hearings on the DEA, its actions, and its efficacy." It is time for Congress "to investigate the DEA and hold it accountable for its actions," the letter's signatories said.

Washington, DC
United States

DEA Using Massive AT&T Phone Records Database

For at least six years, the DEA has had access to a massive AT&T database of phone call records dating back to 1987, the New York Times reported Sunday. According to the report, the DEA pays AT&T to place company employees in DEA offices around the country, where they supply DEA agents with phone data in compliance with federal subpoenas.

The program, known as the Hemisphere Project, is not limited to AT&T calls. It also covers data for any carrier using an AT&T switch and picks up 4 billion calls a day, according to the Times.

It only came to light because a Washington peace activist filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking information from West Coast law enforcement agencies, and one of them included training slides from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The slides, which included a power point presentation, were marked "law enforcement sensitive."

They revealed not only the existence of the Hemisphere Project, but also efforts to keep it secret.

"All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document," one slide said.

The exposure of Hemisphere comes at a time when concern over government surveillance technologies is high, as revelations from former NSA employee Edward Snowden and his interlocutors about the extent of spying continue to appear on a regular basis. While NSA spying is ostensibly directed at foreign terrorists, it has also provided surveillance information to the DEA for use not in terrorism investigations, but in criminal ones.

Federal officials told the Times that the Hemisphere Project was no big deal, saying it has been useful in finding drug dealers who frequently discard cell phones and it uses investigative techniques that have been employed for decades and present no new privacy issues.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates begged to differ.

The Hemisphere Project "certainly raises profound privacy concerns," ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer told the Times. "I'd speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts," he said. And while he acknowledged that the database remained in AT&T's possession, "the integration of government agents into the process means there are serious Fourth Amendment concerns."

Cops Cry Foul Over Holder Marijuana Policy Move

Organized law enforcement has some problems with Attorney General Holder's announcement last week that the Justice Department would not seek to block Colorado and Washington from implementing their marijuana legalization laws. In a joint letter last Friday, the leaders of seven major law enforcement groups expressed "extreme disappointment" with the move.

Those law enforcement groups are the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriff's Association, the National Sheriff's Association, the Major Cities Chief's Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the National Narcotics Officers' Associations Coalition, and the Police Executive Review Foundation.

While law enforcement has long argued that its role is to enforce the law, not set policy, the police associations clearly felt they should have had input in the Justice Department's decision-making process.

"It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations -- whose members will be directly impacted -- for meaningful input ahead of this important decision," the cops wrote. "Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department's conclusion on this matter. Simply 'checking the box' by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion."

Beyond their issues with process, the law enforcement groups made it clear that they did not agree with the policy decision. The sky would fall if people could buy and smoke pot legally, the cops warned.

"The decision by the Department ignores the connections between marijuana use and violent crime, the potential trafficking problems that could be created across state and local boundaries as a result of legalization, and the potential economic and social costs that could be incurred," they wrote. "Communities have been crippled by drug abuse and addiction, stifling economic productivity. Specifically, marijuana's harmful effects can include episodes of depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit issues, and marijuana has also been documented as a gateway to other drugs of abuse."

As if that were not enough, the cops also warned of "grave unintended consequences, including a reversal of the declining crime rates" of the past decades. But they didn't explain how allowing for legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington would cause crime to increase.

For the cops, though, the bottom line was not enforcing the law, but setting policy.

"Marijuana is illegal under Federal law and should remain that way," they wrote. "While we certainly understand that discretion plays a role in decisions to prosecute individual cases, the failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict Federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law."

Maybe law enforcement should just go back to enforcing the laws, not trying to write them.

Administration Gives States Okay on Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Colorado and Washington Thursday that the Justice Department would not -- at least for now -- block their states from implementing regimes to tax, regulate, and sell marijuana. The message was sent during a joint phone call early Thursday afternoon.

The Justice Department will take a "trust but verify" approach, a department official said. The department said it reserved the right to challenge the state legalization laws with a preemption lawsuit at a later date if necessary.

The go-ahead from Holder to the states was accompanied by a memorandum from Deputy US Attorney General James Cole to federal prosecutors laying out Justice Department concerns and priorities. If marijuana is going to be sold, the memo said, it must be tightly regulated.

"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," the memo said. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."

The memo listed a number of activities that could draw federal prosecutorial attention or result in a Justice Department reassessment, including sales to minors, profits going to criminal actors, diversion to pot prohibition states, marijuana sales as a cover for other drug sales, violence and the use of firearms, drugged driving and other "adverse public health consequences," and growing marijuana on public lands.

Attorney General Eric Holder (usdoj.gov)
That leaves some wiggle room for federal prosecutors, some of whom have shown a willingness to be quite aggressive in going after medical marijuana providers. But it also gives them a clear signal that legalization will, in general, be tolerated in states where voters have approved it.

In a first response from marijuana reform activists, Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority called the Justice Department's stance "a step in the right direction", but also blasted the administration for its aggressive enforcement activities against medical marijuana providers and warned that interpreting the new directive will be up to US attorneys.

"It's nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn't at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual US attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law," Angell said.

"It's significant that US attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business," he continued.

Angell chided the administration for using cheap rhetoric about not busting pot smokers to obscure deeper issues of federal harassment of marijuana businesses.

"The administration's statement that it doesn't think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana," he said. "The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs."

The Marijuana Policy Project also reacted Thursday afternoon, saying it applauded the move.

"Today's announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition. The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana," said Dan Riffle, the group's director of federal policy.

"We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision," he added. "It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation's broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them."

Washington, DC
United States

Holder Pressed on DEA Use of NSA Intelligence

A group of Democratic senators and congressmen want Attorney General Eric Holder to answer questions about a Reuters report earlier this month revealing that the National Security Agency (NSA) supplied the DEA with intelligence information aimed not at fighting foreign terrorism, but at making drug cases in the US.

Five Democratic senators and three Democratic congressmen -- all senior members of the House Judiciary Committee -- have sent a letter to Holder, obtained by Reuters, that submitted questions on the issue. Congressional aides told Reuters the matter will be discussed during a classified hearing next month.

The original Reuters report showed that a DEA intelligence unit passes on NSA-gathered intelligence to field agents and instructs them not to reveal the source of the intelligence -- even in court. Those tips involve drugs, organized crime, and money laundering -- not terrorism, which is the raison d'etre for the NSA surveillance program.

"These allegations raise serious concerns that gaps in the policy and law are allowing overreach by the federal government's intelligence gathering apparatus," said the letter written by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Three congressmen -- ranking Judiciary Committee Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) -- sent a similar letter after the original Reuters report earlier this month.

"If this report is accurate, then it describes an unacceptable breakdown in the barrier between foreign intelligence surveillance and criminal process," the congressmen wrote.

It's not just Democrats. House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told CBS's Face the Nation August 18 that the NSA's passing of intelligence to the DEA for non-terrorist criminal investigations is of concern.

"I think we need to have a very careful examination of this. I think that the trust of the American people in their government is what's at stake here," he said.

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