Regulation of Legal Drugs

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Chronicle AM -- May 7, 2014

A reform rollback in New Zealand, a hearing on DC decrim in Congress tomorrow, a medical marijuana trial becomes a travesty, the DEA makes another change-nothing drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

New synthetic drugs are going back to the black market after New Zealand rolls back its effort to regulate them. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

ACLU DC Branch Will Testify on District Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Tomorrow. The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital will testify before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Operations about the District of Columbia's marijuana decriminalization bill tomorrow. The legislation would remove the criminal penalties under District of Columbia law for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana within the District. The bill passed the DC council overwhelmingly and was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray. It cannot become law until Congress and the president have had 60 days to review it. The Subcommittee on Government Operations called the hearing to discuss the enforcement in the District of local and federal marijuana laws. The ACLU will testify that nothing in the bill would prevent federal law enforcement officers from enforcing federal law throughout the District.

Colorado Legislature Approves Bills on Hashish, Edibles. House Bill 1361, which limits hash sales, and House Bill 1366, which further regulates edibles, both passed the Senate Wednesday, the last day of the session. Under current law, consumers can purchase up to an ounce of hash at a time, but that will be reduced by some as yet unspecified amount. The edibles bill would ban manufacturers from making edibles that "a reasonable consumer would confuse with a trademarked food product" (goodbye, Reefers Cups) or that are "primarily marketed to children." Both bills await the governor's signature.

MPP Releases Report on Collateral Consequences of Marijuana Convictions in New Hampshire. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has just released a new report, Marked for Life, that shows how the lifelong stigma associated with a marijuana conviction can derail dreams by making it difficult to obtain jobs, an education, and even housing. The moves two weeks after the state Senate refused to consider a marijuana reform bill, but the session isn't over yet, and MPP and its allies say they are not giving up for the year.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Judge Denies Medical Marijuana Defense to Family Accused of Growing Medical Marijuana. A federal judge won't allow a family of a medical marijuana patients from Washington state to defend themselves against drug trafficking charges by arguing their pot plants were for medical purposes. US District Judge Fred Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington on Tuesday rejected the planned medical marijuana defense of Larry Harvey, 70, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, and three others facing trial next week, saying they could not argue that growing marijuana was for medical purposes and legal under Washington state law. "The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues," Van Sickle said. "There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either." Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, federal courts generally don't allow evidence that the drug may have been used for medical purposes, even when medical marijuana is legal under a state's law, as it is in Washington. The Harveys, their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; Gregg's wife Michelle, 35; and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, sought to describe their doctor-recommended medical marijuana cultivation at their upcoming trial on federal drug charges.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gains First Republican Sponsor. Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester) added his name this week to the Compassionate Care Act, joining 17 other Democratic senators who have cosponsored the measure. The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. Republican Senate leaders have held up the bill. Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday there was a "good possibility" some sort of bill would be approved this session, but that he would only support a limited CBD bill.

Minnesota Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Tuesday approved Senate File 1641, which would allow for up to 55 dispensaries statewide and allow patients suffering from a list of approved medical conditions to use the plant -- but not to smoke it. A companion measure in the House is even more restrictive. It could be up for debate as early as Friday.

Law Enforcement

Courts, Legislators Moving to Curb Police Access to Prescription Drug Databases. For years, police across the country have had easy access to databases of prescriptions for controlled substances used by individuals they suspect of committing a crime. Not anymore. Some courts and legislators are now starting to restrict the data, amid concerns by privacy advocates and defense lawyers who say warrantless searches of these databases violate privacy rights, The Wall Street Journal reports. In February, a federal court in Oregon ruled for the first time that federal agents need a warrant to search that state's prescription-drug database. Last year, Rhode Island raised the barrier of entry to its database, and legislators in Florida and Pennsylvania are considering new limits on law-enforcement access to the records in those states.

DEA in Nationwide Raids on Synthetic Drugs, Sellers. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday broadened its national crackdown on synthetic drug manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers as federal agents served hundreds of search and arrest warrants in at least 25 states. Agents served warrants at homes, warehouses and smoke shops beginning early morning. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama. Agents also were active in Florida and New Mexico, among other states. Wednesday's crackdown was focused strictly on US targets and involved 66 DEA cases, seven investigations led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents and several others led by Customs and Border Protection that focused on express consignment shipments. Last year, the DEA and Customs and Border Protection wrapped up a 7-month investigation that ended in 150 arrests and the seizure of about a ton of drugs. And now it's rinse and repeat.

Sentencing Reform

Harry Reid Says Sentencing Reform Debate Could Hit Senate Floor Soon. CQ Roll Call (behind a pay wall; no link, sorry) reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was asked whether he intended to bring Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-IL) sentencing reform bill, Senate Bill 1410, to the floor for debate soon. "The answer is yes," Reid said, adding that he has been consulting with Durbin about it. The bill would slash mandatory minimums for some drug crimes and give judges more discretion to impose sentences beneath federal guidelines.

International

New Zealand Reverses Course on Regulating Synthetic Drugs. In a disappointing about-face, New Zealand reversed course on allowing some synthetic drugs to be legally sold after a rising public clamor about them. A law change effective Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. That ends the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year. The country last year gained international attention after enacting a novel new law that allowed those synthetic drugs thought to be low-risk to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing. The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove them low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. And manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers on Wednesday also banned the use of animals in testing the products.

Tunisia Activists Urge Reform of Harsh Marijuana Laws.Tunisia's tough law on cannabis use, laying down jail terms of at least one year, is "destroying lives" and overcrowding prisons, according to a group of activists urging reform. Since the law was passed more than 20 years ago, "tens of thousands of Tunisians have been convicted," the group said in an open letter to the government. "But the number of people sentenced and the number of users continue to grow, proving that this law is not a deterrent. It has failed," said the group, named Al Sajin 52 (or Prisoner 52) as the law is called. Health ministry director general Nabil Ben Salah said the health and justice ministries are trying to "humanize" the marijuana law, but that decriminalization is not an option.

Drug War Violence Flares in Northeast Mexico. Federal security forces killed five gunmen in separate shootouts in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, just across the border from McAllen, Texas, Monday. Army troops, meanwhile, detained 15 suspected criminals in different operations across the state. The Gulf and Zetas drug cartels have been fighting for control of Tamaulipas and smuggling routes into the United States for years, and now Gulf cartel factions are also fighting among themselves. The violence has spiked in recent weeks, but federal officials have not taken any additional measures to deal with the situation in the border state.

"Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered from 21 to a Younger Age?," on ProCon.org

Did you know the drinking age is an example of continuing societal debate over how best to regulate legal drugs? Read what different thinkers have to say, at "drinkingage.procon.org," part of the ProCon.org family.

This is the fifth in a six-part series of ProCon.org teasers being published in Drug War Chronicle. Keep tuning in to the Chronicle for more important facts from ProCon.org the next several weeks, or sign up for ProCon.org's email list or RSS feed. Read last week's Chronicle ProCon.org highlight piece here.

ProCon.org is a web site promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan primarily pro-con format.

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