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Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Hemp

Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."

International

British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim a Step Closer, DC Legalization Battles, Pot and Driving, More (2/9/15)

The fight over legalization continues in DC, Jamaica is now one vote away from decriminalizing ganja, the NHTSA has a study out saying there is no evidence pot use increases the risk of crashes, and more. Let's get to it:

On Bob Marley's birthday, the Jamaican Senate passed decriminalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Nominee Says DC Should Be Able to Legalize Marijuana. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli has said that the District of Columbia should be able to determine its own marijuana policy. "As a resident of the District I might not agree about legalization," Botticelli said, "but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that." Federal law requires the drug czar to oppose marijuana legalization, but that didn't stop Botticelli from endorsing home rule for the District even if that meant legalization.

DC Council Cancels Hearing on Taxation and Regulation Bill in Face of Legal Threats. The DC council was supposed to hold hearing on a taxation and regulation bill today, but abandoned those plans after the District attorney general warned lawmakers they and their staffs could face fines or even jail time if they went ahead. Incoming DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned the council in a letter late last week that holding the hearing would violate a congressionally imposed spending restriction prohibiting the city from moving forward on legalization and regulation. Council members and invited witnesses, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify, instead held an informal roundtable discussion on the topic to avoid the risk of being found in contempt of Congress.

Idahoans Not Ready to Legalize Marijuana, Poll Finds. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that only 33% supported legalization, with 64% opposed -- and they mean it. More than half (53%) of respondents were "strongly opposed," while another 11% were "somewhat opposed." Only 17% said they "strongly supported" legalization, with another 16% "somewhat supporting" it.

Sentencing Policy

Kansas Bill Would Cut Marijuana Sentences. The Kansas Sentencing Commission is pushing a bill through the legislature that would end prison sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses and allow for increased use of good-time sentence reductions. The bill has been endorsed by the Department of Corrections and many legislators and has passed out of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for possible drug use. Those deemed to be suspected of drug use after screening would be subjected to drug tests.

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Scheme Yields Few Positives. Six months after the state rolled out its controversial law to drug test some people applying for public benefits, the first results are in, and they're not very impressive. Some 16,017 people applied for the Families First cash assistance program; only 279 were deemed to have provided reasonable suspicion that they were drug users, and only 37 of them tested positive for drugs. Eight people were disqualified for refusing to answer the drug questionnaire; another 81 were denied benefits after dropping out of the application process.

Driving

NHTSA Says No Evidence Marijuana Use Increases Crash Risk. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released last Friday found no evidence marijuana use increases the risk of getting in a traffic accident. While pot smokers are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than non-users, NHTSA attributed that to factors other than marijuana use itself -- particularly that younger men are more likely to get in crashes. "Other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users," the study found. The study is the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers.

Law Enforcement

Utah Town Pays Big for 2012 Drug War Killing of Danielle Willard. The city of West Valley City, Utah, will pay $1.425 million to the family of Danielle Willard to settle their wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers. Willard was shot and killed by Det. Shaun Cowley as she sat in her car in an apartment complex parking lot. When detectives approached her vehicle, she began to back up. Two opened fire, but only Cowley was on target, hitting her in the head and killing her. Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill found the shooting unjustified, but a district court judge threw out charges against Cowley. Cowley was later fired for mishandling evidence and dereliction of duty, and the West Valley Vice Narcotics Unit was disbanded. It has just been reconstituted.

Missouri Activists Issue Report on Drug Task Force Misconduct. Show Me Cannabis has released a comprehensive report on misconduct in the state's anti-drug task forces. The report is "Drug Task Forces in Missouri: Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable; A Thorough Exploration of Patterns of Gross Misconduct."

International

Jamaican Senate Approves Ganja Decriminalization. The Senate approved marijuana decriminalization last Friday after five hours of debate. Up to two ounces will be decriminalized, Rastafarians will be able to grow their own, and the country will begin to move toward setting up a legal marijuana industry. The measure must still pass the lower House, but is expected to do so.

Vancouver Looks to Regulate Marijuana Dispensaries. Even though they are illegal under Canadian law, at least 60 dispensaries operate in Vancouver, and the municipal government is now moving to come up with a way to regulate them -- not shut them down. Click on the link for more details.

Five Drug War Killings in Four Days

Five people have been killed by police doing drug related enforcement operations in four days. They become the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In South Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, police shot and killed heroin user David Kassick, 59, Monday after a traffic stop turned into a chase and "altercation." According to PennLive, citing police sources, Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick's vehicle for an expired inspection sticker, but Kassick first drove away, then got out of his car and fled.

"An altercation ensued between (Mearkle) and (Kassick), shots were fired at the scene and (Kassick) succumbed to those injuries," according to a search warrant police obtained to search his car for drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The warrant does not provide details of the "altercation," nor does it say whether Kassick was armed.

A hypodermic needle was found beside Kassick's body, and a spoon with residue "known to be drug paraphernalia" and some Suboxone strips were found on his body. His brother told police that Kassick "had a known heroin addiction and related that he had relapsed approximately two weeks ago," the search warrant stated.

Kassick had a history of drug-related criminal convictions and had spent time in federal prison for heroin dealing a decade ago.

State police are conducting an investigation into the shooting, and Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico will then decide whether the use of deadly force was justified.

In Tempe, Arizona, police shot and killed two men Wednesday, one of whom was wanted for a probation violation on drug charges. The other was a man traveling with him.

According to ABC 15 News, citing police sources, a US Marshals task force was attempting to take Salvador Muna into custody when he hopped into a vehicle driven by his friend, Joaquin Hernandez, and fled. Police executed a maneuver to pin the vehicle and said Muna then pulled out a weapon and pointed it at officers.

Four officers, one from Chandler, one from Tempe, and two from Mesa then opened fire. Witnesses reported hearing at least six shots.

Muna was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, Hernandez, was also wounded. Police said he was "hurt in the crossfire," but it is unclear if Muna ever actually fired his weapon. Hernandez died a short time later at a local hospital.

In Orlando, Florida, undercover narcotics officers shot and killed one man at an apartment complex and took another into custody Wednesday night.

According to WKMG Local 6 News, undercover narcs Yong Hall and Amanda White approached two men at the complex as they were following up on an unrelated case. "There was a confrontation" that led to the officers shooting and killing one man, identified as Izzy Colon, and taking a second man, Ricardo Caban, into custody on charges of reckless display of a firearm and possession of a firearm charges.

The Orlando Sentinel had a bit more detail. It quoted police as saying the two officers were in plainclothes working the drug detail when they heard gunfire at the apartment complex. They took cover behind cars in the parking lot and shortly saw Colon, 37, and Caban, 34, coming toward them.

When Officers White and Hall confronted the two men, Caban immediately dropped his gun, laid on the ground, and surrendered. But Colon "refused to surrender and his actions caused Detective Hall to fire his weapon," Caban's arrest report said.

Police did not specify exactly what action caused Hall to shoot Colon. They did say that both Caban and Colon were armed.

Colon's family told WKMG Local 6 that he was not armed. "My brother was not playing with guns -- that's not true," one family member said.

In Calimesa, California, a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy shot and killed a man engaged in "illegal narcotics activity" Thursday evening.

According to NBC Los Angeles, citing police sources, believing they were seeing a drug deal in progress, deputies approached two men standing next to a vehicle. One of the men immediately followed deputies' demands and was detained.

The other man then allegedly removed a hand gun from his pocket and was then shot and killed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Yucaipa/Calimesa News Mirror identified the dead man as John Sawyer, 36, of Yucaipa.

The newspaper also reported that the hand gun police saw was actually a replica hand gun and that there was an SKS-style assault rifle in the vehicle. There was no mention of whether any drugs were found.

Chronicle AM: More Pot Bills, Asset Forfeiture Action, Silk Road Conviction, Peru Coca "No Fly Zone," More (2/5/15)

The marijuana reform bills keep on coming, Oregon activists fight to protect legalization there, the feds get a conviction in the Silk Road case, there's news on the asset forfeiture front, and more. Let's get to it:

This message appeared when the feds busted Silk Road.
Marijuana Policy

New Approach Oregon to Fight to Defend Marijuana Legalization Law. The group that successfully managed the Measure 91 campaign to free the weed is now mobilizing to ensure that the legislature doesn't undo the will of the voters. The move comes as legislators contemplate various bills that would modify the initiative, including allowing localities to ban marijuana businesses. "We want a marijuana policy that reflects the will of the people," said Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner for Measure 91. "Instead of making major changes, the state first needs to get the basics of implementation right -- like childproofing, labeling, testing, packaging, auditing, inspecting, taxing, licensing and background checks."

Massachusetts Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge) and at least 10 other legislators have introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and allow for marijuana commerce in the Bay State. The measure has not yet been assigned a bill number and is currently known as House Docket 3436, the "Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act of 2016."

Illinois Limited Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) has introduced a bill that would legalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana and the cultivation of up to five plants, but which would not allow for legal marijuana commerce. The measure is Senate Bill 753. A decriminalization bill, House Bill 218, was filed days earlier in the House.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Juan Candelaria has filed a bill to "allow marijuana use for persons twenty-one years of age and older, and to regulate the sale, possession, use and growth of marijuana." That's all the bill says at this point. The measure is House Bill 6703. A bill introduced last month, House Bill 6473, would decriminalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Five Hawaii Bills to Get Hearing Saturday. The House Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on Health will hear five medical marijuana-related bills, including one that establishes dispensaries, one that allows patients to transfer marijuana to other patients and caregivers and increases quantity amounts, one that allows doctors to determine which medical conditions qualify, one that bars employers from punishing employees who are patients for a failed marijuana drug test, and one that bans infusing trademarked products with marijuana. Click on the link for bill and hearing details.

Virginia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate this afternoon approved Senate Bill 1235, which would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil. A similar bill is before the House of Delegates.

Asset Forfeiture

New Institute of Justice Report on Civil Asset Forfeiture. The report is Seize First, Question Later: The IRS and Civil Forfeiture. "Federal civil forfeiture laws give the Internal Revenue Service the power to clean out bank accounts without charging their owners with any crime. Making matters worse, the IRS considers a series of cash deposits or withdrawals below $10,000 enough evidence of "structuring" to take the money, without any other evidence of wrongdoing. Structuring -- depositing or withdrawing smaller amounts to evade a federal law that requires banks to report transactions larger than $10,000 to the federal government -- is illegal, but more importantly, structured funds are also subject to civil forfeiture," says the report's executive summary.

Colorado Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada) has filed House Bill 006, which would require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. "I was spurred by complaints from citizens who are watching what's going on across the country. As there is more policing-for-profit and seizing-for-salaries -- as they say -- they were contacting me with concerns," Woods said. The bill would also set a $50,000 threshold for local law enforcement to be able to turn seizures over to the federal government in a bid to "de-incentivize" that practice.

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes House. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can be undertaken passed the House of Delegates yesterday. The vote was an overwhelming 92-6. The measure, House Bill 1287, now goes to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

International Harm Reduction Conference 2015 Set for Malaysia in October. Click on the link for more details and registration information. There's a call for papers, but that ends March 27.

Drug Testing

Texas Food Stamp Drug Testing Bills Filed. State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has filed Senate Bill 54 and Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) has filed House Bill 352. Both bills would require food stamp applicants to be screened for possible drug use, with those deemed likely drug users made to take and pass a drug test.

Law Enforcement

Silk Road Dark Web Drug Marketplace Operator Found Guilty. A federal jury in New York City Wednesday convicted Ross Ulbricht on federal drug trafficking charges for operating the Silk Road web site, where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs and other goods were sold. He is now looking at up to life in prison. Meanwhile, other dark web drug marketplaces continue to spring up.

International

Peru Declares "No-Fly Zone" Over Major Coca-Growing Region. Civilian aircraft are now barred from flying over the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), Peru's largest and most lawless coca-producing region, without prior military approval. The government of President Ollanta Humala took the step in a bid to stop a growing number of small planes from smuggling cocaine to neighboring countries. The move brings Peru one step closer to reinstituting a policy of shooting down unauthorized airplane flights. That policy ended in 2001, when the military accidentally shot down a plane that wasn't carrying drugs, killing a US missionary and her baby.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

What a busy week! Jail guards get arrested all over the place, an Illinois narcotics unit commander gets busted for drunk driving, a Seattle cop gets investigated for stealing weed, a Texas cop gets popped for selling fake weed at his store, a dirty Philadelphia cop heads for prison, and more. Let's get to it:

In Seattle, a Seattle police officer was being investigated Saturday for allegedly stealing marijuana from the evidence room to use with her lesbian lover. Officer Cynthia Whitlatch came under scrutiny after arresting an elderly black man for carrying a golf club that he used as a cane (and had done so for years). In the wake of publicity around that incident, a woman came forward to say she was Whitlatch's ex-girlfriend and that the two had smoked the marijuana at home after Whitlatch stole it in the spring of 2005.

In Raymondville, Texas, an Edinburg police officer was arrested last Monday for selling synthetic marijuana at his Raymondville store. Officer Michael Anthony Moreno, 32, was arrested after officers found 21 pounds of the fake pot at his store. Police acted on a citizen's complaint that he was selling the stuff. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone and delivery of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone. He has been suspended without pay.

In Suffolk, Virginia, a guard at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail was arrested last Thursday after it was discovered that he was smuggling marijuana to an inmate. Michael Williams went down after authorities received a tip. He is charged with Accomodation/Distribution of Marijuana to an Inmate. He's out on $5,000 bond.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a Jackson Detention Center guard was arrested last Thursday on charges he tried to smuggle contraband into the jail. Anthony Ware, 30, went down after arriving at work with "a strong odor" and was subsequently searched. Guards found marijuana, amphetamines and other controlled substances on him, as well as cigarettes and condoms. He is charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, possession of amphetamines and other controlled substances with the intent to distribute and the introduction of contraband into a correctional facility.

In Crown Point, Illinois, the head of the Lake County Sheriff's Department drug unit was arrested Sunday after he struck two cars on Main Street and then left the scene. Commander David Britton, 46, was busted with a blood alcohol content of 0.24%, three times the legal limit. He was reportedly driving at a high rate of speed in snowy conditions when he attempted to pass a car, but instead struck it. He then hit the front side of another car waiting at a traffic light. He then drove away, but was arrested nearby.

In Plainfield, Indiana, a Plainfield jail guard was arrested Monday on charges he smuggled drugs to an inmate. Ryan Daniels, 22, went down after investigators received a tip that he would be bringing heroin and tobacco into the jail. During an interview, he admitted smuggling drugs into the jail and produced a package he had taped between his legs. It contained marijuana, synthetic marijuana, and heroin. He is charged with trafficking with an inmate and dealing in a synthetic drug.

In Denver, a former Walsenburg police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to five years in federal prison for helping hide her ex-husband's stash of cash and heroin after he was arrested by police in Pueblo. Gloria Suazo pleaded guilty to charges of aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute heroin. She still faces unrelated charges of selling crack cocaine in Pueblo.

In Philadelphia, a former narcotics officer was sentenced last Wednesday to more than 17 years in federal prison for stealing money and selling drugs in and out of uniform. Jonathan Garcia, 24, stole more than $4,000 from drug suspects, then filed fake paperwork to hide his activities. He and his partner, Sydemy Joanis, ripped off at least five drug dealers between April 2010 and June 2012. He was also selling heroin, including while he was on duty and sometimes right across the street from the 17th Police District Headquarters.

In Honolulu, a Coast Guard officer was convicted and sentenced last Thursday to three years in the brig for a variety of drug and other offenses. Ensign Johnson Cox was found guilty of possession and distribution of multiple controlled substances, cruelty and maltreatment toward a subordinate, assault, absence without leave, failure to obey an order and dereliction of duty.

In San Diego, two married San Diego police officers were sentenced last Friday to three years in state prison after being convicted of drug and burglary charges. Bryce Charpentier, 32, and his wife Jennifer, 41, pleaded guilty to distributing drugs, stealing prescription medications from Jennifer's mother, and burglarizing a home while on duty.

Chronicle AM: MJ Decrim and Medical Bills Filed, Ramarley Graham Settlement, Jamaica Decrim Progess, More (2/2/15)

Decriminalization and medical marijuana bills are being filed left and right, Maine says pot patients can be unfit parents, Oregon says pot patients can't operate child care centers, New York City pays out big time for the killing of a black youth over weed, Jamaica's decrim bill advances, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 39, which would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable only by a fine. Public use would remain subject to jail time, but for no more than five days.

Maryland Push for Legalization Underway. Supporters of legalization held a press conference last Friday to push the idea forward. State legislators, including Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) were joined by a Colorado legislator and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. The press conference came as legalization supporters prepared to brief legislative committees on the topic. Maryland decriminalized it last year.

Minnesota Poll Finds More Want to Legalize It Than Don't. A new Public Policy Polling survey finds just short of a majority for legalizing pot there. Some 49% said they thought marijuana should be legal and regulated, while 44% thought it "should remain illegal." Support for medical marijuana, meanwhile, was at 76%.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and seven cosponsors have introduced House Bill 618, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not decriminalized.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Dona Ana County) has introduced Senate Bill 383, which would decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces and eliminate jail time for possession of up to eight ounces. Currently, possession of less than an ounce is a petty misdemeanor with possible jail time, while possession of between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Dies in Senate Committee. A bill that would have decriminalized pot possession in the Old Dominion was killed last Wednesday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Senate Bill 686, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) died in a 9-5 party line vote.

Philadelphia Pot Arrests Drop 88% After Decriminalization. Philadelphia police arrested only 63 people for marijuana possession between October 20 and year's end, marking a massive decline in marijuana arrests after decriminalization. Last year during the same time period, there were 559 possession arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut State Commissioner Agrees to Expand Qualifying Ailments List. Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said this morning that he will follow the recommendation of the program's Board of Physicians and is drafting new regulations to include sickle cell disease, post-surgical back pain with a condition called chronic radiculopathy, and severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis to the list of qualifying conditions. But that's not the end of it. Now, the proposal must be approved by the state attorney general and then by the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee. A vote there could come by spring.

Maine High Court Rules Using Medical Marijuana Can Make Parents Unfit. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in a child custody case that even though medical marijuana is legal in the state, its use can make a person an unfit parent. "Determining what is in the best interest of the child necessarily involves considering whether a parent's ability to care for his or her child is impaired, including by his or her marijuana use. As with any medication or substance, the question of whether a parent's ingestion of marijuana is legal is only part of the equation. The more important question is whether that ingestion negatively affects, limits or impairs a parent's capacity to parent his or her child," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in the eight-page decision. The case is Daggett v. Sternick.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-District 48) has filed Senate Bill 2318, which would allow patients with specified conditions to use medical marijuana. The bill doesn't envision dispensaries, but would allow patients to grow their own with a physician's recommendation.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Pamela Anderson (D-Fargo) has introduced House Bill 1430, which would allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. But there is a big loophole. Patients could also qualify if they suffer "any persistent or chronic illness or condition that, in the opinion of a physician, substantially limits the ability of a person to conduct one or more major life activities; or may cause serious harm to the patient's safety or mental or physical health if not alleviated; if the illness or condition may be improved by the use of marijuana."

Oregon Bars Medical Marijuana Patients From Being Child Care Providers. The state Early Learning Council has voted to bar patients from being child care providers. The decision follows a six-month temporary rule that was issued last August and gave patients an ultimatum: your patient card or your child care business.

Tennessee Low-THC Cannabis Oil Bill Filed. State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-District 11) today introduced House Bill 197, which would allow the use of cannabis oil with less than 0.9% THC for medical purposes.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Federal Prosecutors Drop "Stash House" Cases. The US attorney's office in Chicago has dropped dozens of serious drug conspiracy cases that were based on undercover stings where law enforcement agents enticed people into robbing non-existent drug stash houses. The law enforcement technique has come under strong criticism that it amounts to entrapment and is used disproportionately to target minorities. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

New York City Pays to Settle Killing of Black Teenager Over Weed. The city has settled with the family of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teen who was shot dead in his own bathroom by an NYPD cop who had stormed into his apartment without a warrant after suspecting he had marijuana. The killer cop, Richard Haste, was indicted in the shooting in 2012, but a judge threw out that indictment and a second grand jury failed to indict. Police said they suspected he had a gun because of the way he moved his hands near his waist. No weapon was ever found. The city has now agreed to pay the Graham family $3.9 million.

National Sheriffs Association Wants Deputy Attorney General Nominee "Investigated" for Pro-Drug Reform Comments. The group is upset with Vanita Gupta, nominated to head the department's Civil Rights Division. She has called for the decriminalization of all drugs, and that "put her at odds with the goal of public safety," the sheriffs complain. How her publicly made remarks would be "investigated" remains to be seen.

International

Jamaica Senate Begins Debate on Decriminalization. The Senate last Friday began debating a bill that would decriminalize marijuana and establish a licensing authority for a marijuana industry on the island. The bill would also allow for Rastafarians to use ganja for religious purposes. Debate is expected to continue in the Senate in coming days before the bill is sent to the lower chamber. It is expected to pass, since the ruling party, which submitted it, controls both chambers and the opposition also supports its broad outlines.

Venezuela Shoots Down Suspected Drug Plane Off Aruba. The Venezuelan defense ministry confirmed last Friday that its fighter jets had shot down a civilian plane suspected of carrying drugs. The plane went down off Aruba. Aruban officials had reported a day earlier that a plane had come down in flames, and human remains and packages of drugs could be seen in the water. Venezuela has shot down a number of suspected drug planes in recent years.

Ohio Drug Fugitive Killed in Columbus Gunfight

An Ohio man who had been a fugitive from drug charges for more than a year was shot and killed by state troopers in Columbus Tuesday. Jermonte Fletcher becomes the second person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Associated Press, relying on police sources, members of a US Marshals fugitive task force got a tip that Fletcher was at a Columbus apartment building, and when they tried to arrest him, he opened fire. Two state troopers returned fire, killing him.

No officers were injured in the shootout, but one injured his leg carrying an 8-year-old boy from the building.

Fletcher was the last member of the North Short Posse at large. The gang had moved large amounts of drugs through Central Ohio since the 1990s. Twenty-two members of the gang were indicted on federal drug trafficking, weapons, and money laundering charges in 2013. Nineteen of them have already pleaded guilty or been convicted.

Fletcher was facing up to 115 years in federal prison if convicted on all 46 counts against him. The US Marshals office said that he had vowed not to be taken alive.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

NYPD narcs gone bad, a Utah drug task force agent gets busted, and a Colorado cop heads to federal prison. Let's get to it:

In New York City, two NYPD narcotics officers are being investigated for allegedly assaulting a former Marine sergeant. The veteran, Omar Rendon, said in a lawsuit filed Monday that he was eating lunch and watching a movie on his phone while sitting in his vehicle when two plainclothes narcs rousted him, demanding he get out of his car. When he asked for their badges, they violently yanked him out of the car and punched him. He was then searched and handcuffed, but no charges were filed after nothing turned up.

In Ogden, Utah, a former Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent was arrested last Friday on charges he twice solicited a woman to hire a man to purchase oxycodone for him. Don Henry Johnson, 29, went down after he promised to pay the woman, but failed to come through. She then reported what happened to authorities. He is now charged with two counts of second-degree felony drug distribution, and is looking at up to 15 years on each count.

In Denver, a former Walsenburg police officer was sentenced last Friday to five years in federal prison for helping her husband's heroin distribution business. Gloria Suazo, 32, had been convicted of conspiracy to possess heroin with the intent to distribute. Her husband got 10 years.

Chronicle AM: DEA License Plate Spying; Federal Asset Forfeiture, Hemp & State MedMJ Bills Filed (1/27/15)

A marijuana business group predicts 18 states will legalize by 2020, medical marijuana bills get filed in Florida and Pennsylvania, the DEA is tracking your license plates, federal asset forfeiture reform and hemp bills are filed, and more. Let's get to it:

Arcview sees legalization in 18 states by 2020.
Marijuana Policy

ArcView Group Predicts 18 States Will Legalize By 2020. ArcView Market Research, a firm that pairs investors with marijuana-related businesses, is predicting that 18 states will have legalized marijuana by the end of 2020. Those states are: Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont by 2016; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Jersey by 2020. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have already legalized it, as has the District of Columbia.

Southern California Legalization Meetings Planned. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which is working to create a unified movement behind a legalization initiative in 2016, will be holding a series of meetings in Southern California this weekend. There will be events in West Hollywood, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Ana. They want people to RSVP. Click on the link for meeting details.

Medical Marijuana

Full-Blown Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Florida. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has filed Senate Bill 258, which would regulate the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana in the state. The proposal larger mirrors that failed constitutional amendment that won 57% of the vote last year (it needed 60% to pass because it was a constitutional amendment). The state passed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it was limited to high-CBD cannabis oils. Brandes is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and sits on the Criminal Justice Committee, too.

Medical Marijuana Bill Reintroduced in Pennsylvania. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have reintroduced a medical marijuana that died late in the last session. The new bill, Senate Bill 3, is almost identical to last year's Senate Bill 1182. It has a bipartisan batch of cosponsors -- 11 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

Iowa Medical Cannabis Oil Registrations Now Open. The Department of Health has completed establishing a process to approve and generate medical cannabis oil registration cards. The legislature passed a bill last year allowing for such use. The relevant Health Department web page is here.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has filed HR 525, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill has 47 cosponsors -- 31 Democrats and 16 Republicans. It's been assigned to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, SB 255. The measure would end the federal government's Equitable Sharing program for civil asset forfeiture. An identical measure has been introduced in the House. The bills are headed for each house's respective judiciary committees.

Law Enforcement

DEA is Spying on Millions of Vehicles. A license plate tracking program run by the DEA is building a national database that tracks the movement of vehicles around the US. The secret domestic intelligence-gathering program has scanned and stored hundreds of millions of records about motorists, all without a warrant. The DEA's uses of license plate readers on a massive scale "raises significant privacy concerns," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government's asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern." There's much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: WY MedMJ Bill Killed, Ukraine Blocks Methadone to Rebel Regions, More (1/26/15)

Some pleasantly surprising poll results from Michigan, medical marijuana bills are popping up all over the place, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid is sparking bills to rein in over-the-top drug raiders, and more. Let's get to it:

Georgia bills seek to rein in over-the-top drug raiders.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Support for Taxing and Regulating Marijuana at 64%. A SurveyUSA poll released late last week has nearly two-thirds of respondents saying they would support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana to increase school and road funding. That same set of respondents did not support increasing sales tax to increase school and road funding. Only 43% answered yes to that question. Click the link for more poll details.

South Carolina Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) has filed House Bill 3117, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed.

Medical Marijuana

Pediatricians Call for Rescheduling Marijuana, Say Compassionate Use for Children Okay. In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that the DEA reschedule marijuana to ease research on it. The influential medical society is also proposing that medical marijuana be made available on a compassionate basis for children with serious illnesses who have not benefited from other medicines. Click the policy statement link for more detail.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) today filed House Bill 1, which would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for qualifying patients. He had earlier considered a bill that would allow marijuana to be grown in-state, but he removed that language after objections from Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Peake said he hopes a deal can be struck that will allow for cannabis oil to be imported to the state.

New Illinois Governor Stalling Medical Marijuana Licenses. Former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) left behind a list of companies poised to be granted medical marijuana business licenses, but incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is in no hurry. Now he wants to conduct "a thorough legal review of the process" used to choose licensees. Medical marijuana patients will have to continue to wait.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 3140, which would allow qualifying patients to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana. Last year, the legislature passed a CBD-only medical marijuana bill.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in House. The House Judiciary Committee last Thursday killed a medical marijuana bill on a 5-4 vote. The bill was House Bill 78.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Won't Fight Feds Over Food Stamp Drug Testing, But Will Seek Waiver. Gov. Scott Walker (R) had vowed to fight the Obama administration over requiring drug tests for food stamp recipients, but his forthcoming budget proposal now says he will seek waivers from the federal government. Federal law bars adding new eligibility requirements to the food stamp program.

Law Enforcement

Baby Bou Bou SWAT Raid Sparks Georgia Bill Regulating "No Knock" Raids. The May drug raid over a $50 meth sale that left a Georgia infant seriously injured by a flash bang grenade has sparked a reaction in the state legislature. Senate Bill 45, filed by Sen. Vincent Fort(D-Fulton County) this month, would require police to show probable cause that there is imminent potential for life endangerment or destruction of evidence if they knocked and declared their presence at a suspect's door prior to arrest. A separate House Bill 56 would end unannounced arrests between 10 pm and 6 am, unless a judge specifically grants a warrant.

International

Ukraine Blocking Delivery of Opiate Maintenance Drugs to Rebel Regions. The Kiev government is effectively blockading the pro-Russia regions under control of rebels, including supplies of buphrenorphine and methadone. Russia has been delivering other medical supplies to the region, but not the opiate maintenance drugs, which are illegal in Russia. In Donetsk, the last 52 patients on buphrenorphine ran out earlier this month, and the dwindling supply of methadone will be gone by March 1. There are nearly 400 methadone patients in the region.

Drug War Issues

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