An Oregon effort to protect marijuana using job seekers gets hammered by employers, the Arkansas commission charged with crafting rules and regs for medical marijuana has approved final rules, asset forfeiture reform has passed the North Dakota House, Bolivian coca farmers are unhappy, and more.
Drug testing that discriminates against marijuana users is an issue in pot-legal states. (Wikimedia)
Oregon Bill to Block Employers From Firing Workers for Marijuana Use Gets Rough Reception. A bill that would protect workers from using state-legal marijuana during their off hours ran into a storm of opposition at a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 301 would bar employers from refusing to hire workers merely because of a positive test result for pot, but employers complained that the bill would violate federal law and that there is no scientific means of determining whether someone who tests positive is still under the influence. The hearing was before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No vote was taken.
Arkansas Commission Approves Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission Tuesday approved final rules governing how the state's medical marijuana system will be regulated. Next comes a public hearing set for March 31, and then the rules must be approved by the state legislature, which must happen before May 8. After that, the commission will use the rules to determine who gets licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.
North Dakota House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted 50-42 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1170, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a prior criminal conviction before property could be seized, and which would require that any revenues from seizures go to the state's general fund instead of to law enforcement. The measure now heads to the Senate.
Bolivian Coca Farmers Clash With Police Over Cultivation Limits. Angry coca farmers threw rocks, fireworks, and sticks of dynamite as they clashed with police outside the Palacio Quemado, the seat of government and official residence of President Evo Morales in La Paz. That was the second day of clashes sparked by the government's move to limit coca cultivation to 50,000 acres. The government says local demand only requires about 40,000 acres, but the farmers say that figure is too low.
The House approves a bill that could open the door to states drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits, harsh sentencing bills advance in Ohio and Kentucky, Houston decriminalizes marijuana possession (in most cases), and more.
The House has approved a bill that would allow states to expand drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits. (wikimedia
Arizona PAC Plans to File 2018 Legalization Initiative. A political action committee called Safer Arizona was set to file a marijuana legalization initiative with state officials Thursday. Arizona voters narrowly devoted a similar measure last year, but organizers say this one will have some differences, including requiring that people be at least 21 before they can buy it. They will have to gather 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the 2018 ballot.
Guam Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. In a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 8-34, representatives of the judiciary said they took no position on the bill, but cautioned that implementing legalization would require a review of the island territory's entire criminal code. Guam Customs and Quarantine acting chief, Maj. Phillip Taijeron also testified, saying he supported the will of the people. "If the will of the people is to enact Bill 8-34, then I am in support of Bill 8-34," Taijeron said.
New York State Assembly Passes Landmark Legislation to Seal Past Marijuana Possession Convictions. The Assembly voted Tuesday in favor of Assembly Bill 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who have been unjustly and unconstitutionally arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view. The vote was 95 in favor and 38 opposed.This sealing legislation has taken on increased importance amid the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and actions targeting immigrant communities. On the national level, simple marijuana possession is the fourth most common cause of deportation, according to the report "Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?" Sealing records will provide a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Additionally, sealing will guard against the Trump administration's Executive Order targeting noncitizens with any criminal arrests and/or convictions for deportation. If the arrest is also sealed and the sealed information is not shared with the FBI, these individuals may be at lower risk of becoming an enforcement target.
Houston to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The nation's fourth largest city is ready to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. As of March 1, under a new "Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program," in most circumstances people caught with an ounce or less will face no jail, no tickets, no court appearances and no criminal record. Houston and surrounding Harris County have spent $200 million prosecuting 100,000 pot possession cases in the past decade, with "no tangible public safety benefit," said District Attorney Kim Ogg (D), who took office this year.
Virginia Republicans Kill CBD Expansion Bill. Patient advocates burst into tears Wednesday night as six House Republicans voted to kill a major expansion of the state's CBD law, which limited its use to people with epilepsy. Senate Bill 1298 would have expanded the law to allow its use for treatment for 13 more conditions, but the bill was killed by a 5-6 party line vote in the subcommittee that writes criminal law.
Colorado Cops Lobby Hard, Defeat Asset Forfeiture Reform. A proposal to expand oversight of police seizures of property was defeated in a party line vote in a Senate committee Wednesday, with Republicans casting all the "no" votes. The measure, Senate Bill 17-136, would also have prevented law enforcement agencies from turning property over to the federal government to get around state restrictions unless the property was worth more than $50,000. The vote came after a parade of law enforcement officers testified against the bill.
House Approves Measure Aimed at Expanding Drug Testing of People Who File for Unemployment Assistance. The House approved H.J. Res 42, which would repeal a recently finalized Department of Labor rule that interpreted a 2012 federal law that permits states to drug test people who file for unemployment insurance in certain circumstances. Advocates see the repeal of the Department of Labor rule as a first step by some Republicans in Congress at undoing federal restrictions on states conditioning receipt of unemployment and other forms of public assistance on a drug test. The measure now goes before the Senate.
Kentucky Senate Passes Bill Toughening Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales. The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to approve a bill increasing penalties for people trafficking even the smallest amounts of heroin and fentanyl. The measure, Senate Bill 14, rolls back sentencing reforms enacted in 2011. Under those reforms, trafficking less than House Bill 4, which reverses a state Supreme Court ruling that only the weight of actual cocaine -- not filler -- be used when imposing stiffer sentences for possession and trafficking. Under the bill, prosecutors would be able to sentence defendants based on the weight of the entire mixture. Under the bill, a pound of powder that contained only a gram of cocaine would be considered a pound of cocaine for sentencing purposes. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Vermont's GOP governor throws up an obstacle to marijuana legalization, the House GOP is set to vote to force unemployed workers to take drug tests before receiving their earned benefits, the rightist mayor of South America's largest city turns his back on harm reduction, and more.
House Republicans want laid off workers to have to undergo suspicionless drug tests before receiving their earned benefits.
Oregon Bill Would Limit Pipe, Bong Sales to Pot Shops. Minority whip Rep. Jodi Hack (R-East Salem) has filed a bill that would only allow pot paraphernalia to be sold a licensed marijuana shops. Hack said the measure, House Bill 2556, was aimed at stopping minors from buying the stuff at gas stations, minimarts, and tobacco shops. But smoke shop operators and other retailers are vowing a fight.
Vermont Governor Demands Tough Driving Provisions Before He Will Support Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will not support a legalization bill before the legislature unless it has provisions allowing police to determine is someone is driving while impaired. "Certainly it's still problematic from the standpoint of public safety," said Scott. "I want to make sure that we address those concerns I talked about on the campaign trail in terms of impairment on our highways." He also acknowledged that current tests don't provide clear evidence of impairment, but used that uncertainty to say Vermont should wait and see how other states deal with the issue.
Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Advance. The House voted Monday to approve two bills aimed at tidying up the state's new medical marijuana law. The measures, both authored by Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) are House Bill 1371, which requires that Arkansans hold 60% ownership interest in pot businesses in the state, and House Bill 1298, which requires that persons, not corporations, hold the licenses. The bills now head to the Senate.
South Dakota CBD Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 95, which would reschedule CBD as a Class 4 drug in the state and remove it from the definition of marijuana under state law. The bill would legalize the possession and use of CBD, but only upon approval by the FDA. That requirement was added in committee.
House to Vote on Drug Testing the Unemployed. The House was prepared to vote as early as today on House Joint Resolution 42, which would undo Obama administration limits on drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a compromise to extend unemployment benefits in 2012, the Obama administration agreed to limited drug testing, but only once the Labor Department had identified industries and sectors that "regularly require drug tests." People receiving unemployment benefits are people who have been laid off from work, not people who have been fired for cause, including drug use. People who are fired for cause don't qualify for unemployment benefits.
Arkansas Senate Approves Bill Making Welfare Drug Testing Permanent. The Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 123, which would make permanent a welfare drug testing pilot program approved two years ago, even though the pilot program had only two people fail a drug test and 11 decline to take it out of more than 3,000 people who applied for welfare last year. Under the Arkansas law, the children of people who fail a drug test lose their benefits unless their parent undergoes drug treatment at his or her own expense. The bill now goes to the House.
Sao Paulo's New Mayor Turns Back on Successful Harm Reduction Program. New Mayor Joao Doria will scale back a successful harm reduction program that provided housing and jobs to people with problematic crack cocaine use and replace it with a coercive and abstinence-based program. The Restart program Doria likes involves the involuntary "hospitalization and confinement of those who are victims of crack so that with medical treatment, they can stay away from drugs," he explained.
Venezuela VP Shrugs Off US Drug Sanctions. The Venezuelan government Tuesday condemned US sanctions imposed a day earlier on Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a "highly dangerous" infringement of Venezuelan sovereignty, while El Aissami himself called it a "miserable and defamatory aggression" that wouldn't distract him from his job. The US accuses El Aissami of facilitating cocaine shipments while he was a provincial governor.
After decades of the war on drugs and other "tough on crime" policies, America seems finally to have begun to come to its senses. The imprisonment rate has leveled off, and we're no longer seeing year after year after year of ever-increasing numbers of people behind bars in the land of the free.
We've seen that change at the federal level, with the Fair Sentencing Act, softening of the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, and Justice Department instructions to prosecutors to avoid hitting bit players with mandatory minimum sentences. We've seen that at the state level, with sentencing reforms in dozens of states leading to an actual reduction in the number of state prisoners. And we've even seen it at the local level -- the nation's system of city and county jails -- through things like marijuana decriminalization and reforms in bail practices.
That's all well and good, but we're still the world's leading jailer, in both absolute and per capita term, with more than two million people locked up (China only has 1.5 million). Tens of thousands of them are non-violent drug offenders sentenced under draconian laws enacted before the fever broke -- confined not for years, but for decades -- and writing less brutal sentencing laws now isn't much help to them.
In his waning days in office, President Obama struck a bold blow for justice and made modern presidential history by granting clemency to more than 1,700 federal drug prisoners. Let's be crystal clear here: These were not pardons granted to people who had finished their sentences and long ago returned to society and now wanted their records wiped clean. Obama's commutations meant that people currently spending their lives behind prison walls walked free -- years or decades before they otherwise would have. Hundreds, mostly third time drug offenders serving life sentences, would have died in prison.
But the president can only grant pardons or commutations to people in the federal system, and the vast majority of American's prisoners are in state prisons. Each state governor holds a pardon power similar to the federal chief executive's, but it is used sparingly, some might even say stingily, and has certainly never been wielded in a mass fashion to achieve a social justice end like Obama did at the federal level.
That's a crying shame -- and a potential focus of reform organizing -- because a governor's signature can liberate a human being who not only deserves a chance to breathe the air of freedom, but who may actually make our world a better place by being in and of it instead of being locked away from it -- and us.
Ask Tony Papa. He was a young New York City family man with his own business who, short on cash, took an offer to make a few hundred bucks by delivering some cocaine back in the 1980s, when New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws were still in full effect. It was a sting, and Papa got popped. Like thousands of others, the luckless he quickly entered the state's drug war gulag, sentenced to 15 years to life.
In an earlier work, 15 to Life, Papa told the story of his bust, his seeming eternity behind bars, his slammer-honed artistic talent, and how an anguished self-portrait that seemed to encapsulate the horror and madness of crushing drug prohibition resulted in some high-placed interest, followed by media attention, a public campaign on his behalf, and his release after 12 years when he was granted clemency by then-Gov. George Pataki. It is a remarkable tale of punishment, perseverance, and redemption.
And now, he's back with the rest of the story. In This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, the personable Papa tells the tale of his life after rebirth -- and makes achingly clear how the trauma of years-long incarceration lingers in the psyche of the freed. There is a clear public policy moral buried in these pages, too: Getting out of prison is only the first step, reentry into society is hard, society itself seems to make it even harder, a virtual obstacle course for people taking the baby steps of freedom, but if we as a society are smart, we will make the effort, for our own collective sake as well as out of a humanitarian impulse.
Compared to most newly freed prisoners, Papa had it good. The campaign for his release had made him connections, he could find work, he could revive his familial ties, yet still he struggled, and understandably so. When you've spent a dozen years being told what to do, freedom isn't easy.
Papa had his demons, and part of the way he fought them was by resolving not to forget the prisoners he left behind. Within a year of his release, inspired by the courageous years-long struggle of the Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared, those survivors of the thousands taken and killed by the military dictatorship of the 1970s, he and comic/political gadfly Randy Credico formed the New York Mothers of the Disappeared along with family members of the thousands imprisoned under the Rockefeller laws.
Papa, Credico, and the Mothers played a critical role in early efforts to overturn the Rockefeller drug laws, and his tales of feckless politicians, preening celebrity intervenors, and back room double-dealing are the inside dirt on the glacial process of bringing some sanity to the state's drug laws. It ain't pretty, but reform did happen -- eventually -- and Papa got his social justice payback. If that isn't redemption-worthy, I don’t know what is.
This Side of Freedom is one part memoir, one part social history, one part heart-felt manifesto. Papa is an effective, engaging writer who tells his story in discrete episodes and has a knack for jumping from the personal to the political like a quivering quantum particle. You'll meet a range of colorful characters and experience the gamut of human emotion -- the highs, the lows, the ennui -- as you follow Papa's path.
His is one portrait of life in turn-of-the-21st Century America: mindless cruelty and brutality, mixed with racial injustice, but leavened with the will to resist. Read and ask yourself: How many other Tony Papas are out there, watching their lives tick away as they're locked in the cells, when they could be out here helping the rest of us make our world a better, more just and humane place?
Marijuana-related legislation is moving in several states, the HIA is suing the DEA over hemp foods, Philippines Catholic bishops speak out against drug war killings, and more.
The Hemp Industry Association is suing the DEA (again) over hemp foods. (thehia.org)
Alaska On-Site Consumption Not Dead Yet. Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Control Board shot down a proposal that would have allowed for Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes, but a day later, the state's Department of Economic Development clarified in a press release that the decision didn't amount to a permanent ban on such businesses. The department encouraged marijuana businesses that want to allow on-site consumption to continue filing relevant paperwork, even though there is not yet an alternative proposal to regulate businesses allowing on-site consumption.
After Legalization, California Faces a Plethora of Pot Bills. The passage of Prop 64 appears to have left as many questions as answers, and legislators in Sacramento are working to address them with at least nine bills filed already. The proposals range from efforts to reconcile the medical marijuana and legal marijuana regulatory systems to protecting non-union workers to helping pot businesses gain access to financial services and beyond. Click on the link to see the full list of bills and accompanying discussion.
New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins House Vote. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to allow a legalization measure, House Bill 89, to keep advancing through the House. The committee made no recommendation for or against. The bill still faces to more committee votes before it can head for a House floor vote. "This is the one thing we can do this year that will instantly inject a massive amount of money into our economy and create jobs right away," said bill sponsor Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park).
New York Legalization Bills Filed. A pair of identical bills to legalize marijuana for adults and allow for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana commerce have been filed in Albany. They are Senate Bill 3040, with Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) as primary sponsor, and Assembly Bill 3506, with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) as primary sponsor.
Washington Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana Use at School Wins Committee Vote. The House Health Care and Wellness Committee approved "Ducky's Bill," House Bill 1060, last Friday on a 13-3 vote. The bill is named after an elementary school student who can only attend half-days of class because of intractable epileptic seizures. It would require school districts to allow students to use medical marijuana on school grounds, on a school bus, or while attending a school-sponsored event. A companion measure has been filed in the Senate, but has not moved yet.
Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA Over Illegal Attempt to Regulate Hemp Foods as Schedule I Drugs. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) has filed a motion to hold the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in contempt of court for violating an unchallenged, long-standing order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, prohibiting the agency from regulating hemp food products as Schedule I controlled substances. Specifically, the HIA asserts that the DEA continues to operate with blatant disregard for the 2004 ruling made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which permanently enjoined the DEA from regulating hemp fiber, stalk, sterilized seed and oil, which are specifically exempted from the definition of "marijuana" in the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Colorado Bill Would Close Federal Asset Forfeiture Loophole in Most Situations. A bipartisan group of four senators has filed Senate Bill 136, which would require state law enforcement to comply with extensive reporting requirements, but would also prohibit them from entering into agreements to transfer seized property to the federal government unless it amounts to more than $100,000. Law enforcement agencies use federal sharing programs to get around state laws aimed at reining in asset forfeiture procedures. The bill is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Colorado Companies Shedding Marijuana Drug Tests. The Associated Press is reporting that in the past two years, seven percent of Colorado companies have dropped marijuana from pre-employment drug tests. Would you test someone for alcohol or something like that I mean it's legal like alcohol is. Why would you test someone for marijuana especially if it's legal?" said one small business owner.
Rhode Island Random Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Elaine Morgan last Thursday filed a bill that would allow the Department of Human Services to conduct random, suspicionless drug tests on welfare recipients. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has yet to appear on the legislative website.
Tel Aviv Marijuana Legalization Demonstration Draws Thousands. As the Knesset and the Israeli cabinet ponder marijuana decriminalization, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday night to call for full legalization. At least two Knesset members, Likud's Sharren Haskel and Meretz's Tamar Zandberg, were present.
The Senate Judiciary Commitee has approved the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, a legalization bill pops up in Wyoming, a Florida bill that would fix the state's medical marijuana system has the support of the folks behind the constitutional amendment, and more.
Marijuana foe Jeff Sessions is one step closer to being Attorney General (senate.gov)
Wyoming Bill to Put Legalization to Popular Vote Filed. State Reps. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) and Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) have filed House Joint Resolution 11, which would allow the state's residents to vote on a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. The measure envisions legalizing up to three ounces and six plants, three of which can be mature. The bill's prospects are dim; the legislature has already defeated a decriminalization bill this year and is currently fighting over how much jail time pot possessors should face.
Florida Bill Would Overhaul State's Medical Marijuana Laws. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed Senate Bill 614 Wednesday. The bill would scrap the state's existing system and replace it with a new set of rules. The move is supported by the people behind the successful Amendment 2 initiative. "Sen. Brandes' bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida," said United For Care campaign manager Ben Pollara on Wednesday. "The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well-regulated, well thought out manner."
Kansas Legislature Punts on Asset Forfeiture. The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to set aside five bills dealing with asset forfeiture issues until it could get input from an advisory committee. The bills have been referred to the Kansas Judicial Council, which Committee Chairman Blaine Finch said may "possibly draft legislation," but probably not this year.
Iowa Workplace Hair Drug Testing Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would allow employers to conduct drug tests using hair samples passed the Senate 35-15 on Wednesday. Employers can already conduct drug tests using blood, urine, or saliva, but the hair tests can indicate drug use months in the past.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved the nomination of Sen. Jeff Session (R-AL) to be attorney general on a party line vote of 11-9. The nomination now goes before the full Senate.
A Democratic Massaschusetts state senator is out to seriously undercut the state's new, voter-approved marijuana legalization law, an Oregon bill seeks to protect marijuana users' employment rights, El Chapo gets extradited to the US, and more.
DC Activists Hand Out 8,000 Joints for Trump Inauguration. The same folks who brought you legal marijuana in the District were on hand Friday for the inauguration of the incoming president. DCMJ activists handed out nearly double the promised 4,200 joints they promised. A good time was had by all. "Oh yeah, there's 10,000 people who showed up for free marijuana today, so it's really busy," DCMJ founder Adam Eidinger said. "The goal is really to get Donald Trump talking about marijuana, to show the tremendous support. To show that you can have Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters together in unity."
Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed.Speaker of the House Joseph Souki (D-District 8) has filed House Bill 205, which "authorizes persons 21 years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. Provides for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, safety testing facilities, and retail stores" and "applies an excise tax on transactions between marijuana establishments."
Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Pot Smell, Despite Decriminalization. Even though the possession of small amounts of pot has been decriminalized in the state, the state's highest court has ruled that it remains a banned substance and thus give police probable cause to search a vehicle if they smell it. "Simply put, decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful," Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote in a unanimous opinion issued Friday. Defendants had argued that police should be required to cite factors leading them to believe the amount they smelled was greater than the 10 grams decriminalized under state law. But the court didn't buy that argument.
Massaschusetts Bills Would Gut Legalization Law. Hardline marijuana foe state Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) has filed legislation that would deeply curb the ability of state residents to possess and grow marijuana and threaten the ability of recreational pot shops to begin selling a full range of products next year. Lewis would delay the ability of pot shops, now set to open in July 2018, to sell edibles and concentrates for at least two more years, and he would dramatically increase the ability of local governments to reject marijuana businesses. Under the legalization law, they must go to the voters, but Lewis's legislation would undo that. Groups that led the successful November legalization initiative are vowing a vigorous fightback. His package of 14 bills was filed last Friday, the last day to do so.
Oregon Bill to Prevent Pot Smokers From Getting Fired Filed. State Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego) has filed Senate Bill 301, which would override a state Supreme Court decision saying employers can fire marijuana users even though it is legal in the state. The bill would bar employers from requiring workers or prospective workers to "refrain from using a substance that is lawful to use under the laws of this state during nonworking hours."
Illinois Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) has filed House Bill 468, which would prohibit the state from seizing property without a criminal conviction. The measure would also block prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds, who then return 80% of the money to the law enforcement agency involved. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee.
California Bill Would Protect Immigrants from Deportation in Low-Level Drug Cases. Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) Monday filed a bill to shield immigrants from deportation for minor drug offenses -- as long as they seek drug treatment or counseling. The bill would adjust state law so that defendants without prior convictions within the last five years could enroll in drug treatment before entering a guilty plea and have those charges wiped from their record upon successful completion. That would prevent them from being considered drug offenders eligible for deportation under federal law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill last year. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.
Missouri College Appeals to US Supreme Court Over Student Drug Testing. Linn State Technical College has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn federal appeals court rulings that its program requiring mandatory drug testing of all incoming students is unconstitutional. The college has lost at just about every turn in this case, with a federal district court judge issuing an injunction to block implementation of the program, and the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting mass, suspicionless drug testing. The appeals court did allow the college to impose testing on students in five safety-sensitive programs.
El Chapo Extradited to the US. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader and repeat Mexican prison escapee Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was extradited to the US last Thursday to face drug and other charges in New York City. "The government of the republic today delivered Mr. Guzmán to the authorities of the United States of America," the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement.
German MPs Vote to Approve Medical Marijuana. The lower house of parliament last Thursday approved a measure legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. The law limits the use of medical marijuana to "very limited exceptional cases" and patients will not be allowed to grow their own. Instead medical marijuana will be imported until state-supervised grow operations are set up in Germany.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.
More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.
Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.
"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, AryehNeier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."
Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.
The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.
Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.
"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."
The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.
Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.
And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.
report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.
"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.
"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter seems pretty mellow about marijuana, more workers are testing positive for illegal drugs, medical marijuana advances in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, and more.
Employee drug use is on the rise, a major lab reports. (Creative Commons)
Defense Secretary Hints Pentagon Could Relax When It Comes to Hiring Marijuana Users. Responding to a hypothetical question at TechCrunch's Disrupt SF event on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the military should be more flexible when it comes to hiring people who have used marijuana or other illicit drugs. When asked if he would be willing to hire someone who "[partook] in some goodies" at Burning Man when looking for engineers, Carter replied: "It depends on what the goodies are. It's a very good question and we are changing that, in recognition of the fact that times change and generations change and by the way, laws change as respect to marijuana. In that and many other ways, we need to, while protecting ourselves and doing the appropriate things to make sure that it's safe to entrust information with people, we need to understand -- and we do -- the way people [and] lives have changed, not hold against them things that they've done when they were younger. It's an important question and the answer is yes, we can be flexible in that regard, and we need to," he concluded.
Nebraska Marijuana Activists Begin Working on 2018. Two separate initiative campaigns, one aimed at decriminalization and one aimed at legalization, are getting underway with an eye toward making the 2018 ballot. The decriminalization proposal started signature gathering last month; the legalization campaign is awaiting approval from the secretary of state's office to begin signature gathering.
Massachusetts Moves to Ease Medical Marijuana Access. State regulators Wednesday released draft rules that would make it easier for patients to gain access to medical marijuana. The rules would allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana, allow dispensaries to post prices on their websites, and allow dispensaries to deliver to patients in nursing homes, hospices, and other health care facilities. "Our goal is safety, transparency, and access for patients who need this," said Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which oversees the state's medical marijuana program. "This is an evolving process," Bharel said, "both in Massachusetts and nationally." The proposed rules were presented to the Public Health Council, which will give final approval, but not before a public hearing expected this fall.
Michigan House Gives Final Approval to Medical Marijuana Regulation Package. The House voted Wednesday in concurrence with last week's Senate vote approving a series of bills that would create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana that explicitly allows for dispensaries to operate. It also creates a licensing system for patients, growers, and dispensaries and establishes a 3% tax on retail sales. The package of bills now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is expected to sign it into law.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the country's largest drug testing laboratories, reports that the percentage of workers testing positive for illegal drugs has been increasing for the past three years after decades of decline. Some 4% of all 11 million drug tests came back positive. Positive tests results for marijuana have increased 26% since 2011 and account for almost half (45%) of all positives. But heroin positives jumped 146% in the same period.
House Republicans unleash another drug testing for benefits campaign, marijuana legalization foes start making moves, Michigan has moved a big step closer to explicitly allowing dispensaries, and more.
House Republicans want laid off workers to have to urinate in a cup before receiving benefits. (Creative Commons)
Alaska Approves First Permit for Retail Pot Shop. The state's Marijuana Control Board Thursday approved the first permit for a retail marijuana store. The permit went to Frozen Budz in Fairbanks. Co-owner Destiny Neade said she hoped to be open by October 1. "Now all I need is some herb," she said. The board was also considering 16 other permit applications.
California Anti-Legalization Effort Gets Big Gift from Pennsylvania Millionaire. Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer has donated $1.3 million to the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana/No on 64 campaign committee. Most of the money will be used to try to defeat the Prop 64 legalization initiative, but some will go to fight legalization campaigns in other states, too. Schauer's money made up most of the $64,000 that has gone to a separate committee opposing Prop 64. That committee has only raised $300,000, while committees supporting Prop 64 have raised more than $6 million.
Maine Police Chiefs Oppose Legalization Initiative. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association Friday formally announced its opposition to the Question 1 legalization initiative. "We're concerned about the effect (legalization) may have on the communities and the youth after looking at what's happened in Colorado," said Falmouth Police Chief Edward Tolan, incoming president of the association. "That's what prompted us to take this position as police chiefs."
Michigan Legalizers Ask Federal Court to Intervene in Signature Dispute. A day after being turned away by the state Supreme Court, the MI Legalize campaign has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the printing of state election ballots until disputed petition signatures are counted. The group handed in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but some of them were gathered outside a 180-day period and not counted, keeping the measure off the ballot. MI Legalize has gotten nowhere in the state courts. Ballots were supposed to be printed today.
Michigan Senate Passes Industry Regulation Bill Allowing Dispensaries. The state Senate Thursday passed a bill that would tax and regulate medical marijuana businesses and explicitly allow for dispensaries. The bill would set a 3% tax on dispensaries' gross retail income, require licensing to grow, process, transport, and sell medical marijuana, and explicitly allow for forms of medical marijuana that include infused, non-smokable forms of the herb. The House approved much of this package almost a year ago. Now, it goes to the desk of Gov. Ricky Snyder (R).
House Republicans in New Push to Drug Test Unemployment Applicants. House Republicans are pushing a new bill that would give states the option of forcing drug tests on applicants for unemployment benefits. They say the bill is needed because a Labor Department rule bars states from using a 2012 law to do so. The measure is HR 5945, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).
Canada Wants US to End Travel Ban on Residents Who Smoke Pot. The case of a Canadian man barred from entering the US because he admitted to recreational marijuana use has provoked the Canadian government to seek a re-set of US border policy. "We obviously need to intensify our discussions with our border authorities in the United States, including the Department of Homeland Security," the public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp late on Thursday. "This does seem to be a ludicrous situation," he said, noting that marijuana is legal in Washington state as well as "three or four other jurisdictions in the United States." First, though, Canada might want to work on its own border policy; it bars US pot smokers from entering the country.