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Chronicle AM: Boehner Not Eager to Mess With DC, NE AG Explains Lawsuit, Forfeiture Pressure, More (1/28/15)

The House Speaker doesn't appear too interested in undoing legalization in DC, Nebraska's AG explains his lawsuit against Colorado legalization, good poll results from Virginia, more pressure for federal asset forfeiture reform, and more. Let's get to it:

House Speaker Boehner Not Eager to Mess With DC's Pot Legalization. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser met Tuesday with the speaker and reported that he seemed little interested in trying to undo the will of District voters who approved limited legalization in November. "Well, I think that the speaker wants to be able to concentrate on national issues, and recognizes that the District of Columbia is moving in the right direction, and would prefer to have his interest on national issues," Bowser said in her recap of the meeting.

Nebraska's Attorney General Explains Why He Is Suing Colorado. State Attorney General Doug Peterson has penned a column explaining his reasoning for asking the Supreme Court to undo marijuana legalization in Colorado. Click on the link to read it in full.

Vermont Will See a Legalization Bill This Year. The Green Mountain State is almost universally included in those lists of "the next states to legalize marijuana," and now Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Crittenden County) says he will introduce a bill to do just that. He said there's no reason to delay. "I think there is a wait-and-see attitude on the part of many," Zuckerman said. "There's also a let's-get-there-and-get-it-done attitude."

Poll Finds Virginians Strongly Support Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Christopher Newport University survey released Tuesday found 71% of registered voters support decriminalization and 69% favor medical marijuana. The poll comes just days after state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced a decriminalization bill. Click on the poll link for methodological and other details.

Anchorage Bans Public Consumption, But Allows Use in Licensed Premises. Alaska's largest city has opened the door to "cannabis cafes." The Anchorage Assembly voted to prohibit public pot smoking, but approved an amendment allowing allows for consumption in places "authorized by a state permit or license or authorized by a municipal permit or lease."

Wichita Will Vote on Decriminalization in April. The city council okayed putting a decriminalization initiative on the April 7 ballot after backers presented petitions with thousands of signatures supporting it. The vote was 6-1. Those 21 and over caught with 32 grams or less would face a citation and a $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

In Pennsylvania, A Change of Tune From the Governor's Mansion. Last year, then Gov. Tom Corbett (R) was a staunch foe of medical marijuana. But now, there's a new year, a new legislative session, and a new governor. This one, Democrat Tom Wolf, met with families of children suffering from diseases treatable by medical marijuana Tuesday and said he would support broad medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

ACLU, NACDL Speak Out for Asset Forfeiture Reform.The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent a letter to every congressional office, expressing support for proposals to stop police from seizing cash, cars and other property from people without convicting them of a crime. And he American Civil Liberties Union also issued a strong statement on Tuesday, saying reforms are needed to protect innocent Americans from a seizure system that has a disproportionate effect on low-income people. The letter and statement are in support of Senate Bill 255, introduced yesterday by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), or similar legislation.

Pregnancy

ACLU of Virginia Object to Bill Targeting Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The civil liberties group is challenging HB 1456, filed by Del. Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania County). The bill would authorize child welfare authorities to investigate or make a family assessment any "report or complaint that a pregnant woman is using a controlled substance" in an illegal manner. The state ACLU affiliate says the bill is dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses because it would prevent them from seeking the health care they need.

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.

Justice Department Limits Seized Asset Sharing With State, Local Cops [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

Attorney General Eric Holder (justice.gov)
Attorney General Eric Holder this morning issued an order that will bar federal agencies from participating in "adoptions" of assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. "Adoptions" occur when state or local law enforcement agencies seize cash or properties under state laws, but then ask that a federal agency takes the seized property and forfeit it under federal law.

State and local law enforcement agencies routinely resort to "adoption" as a means of circumventing state laws that mandate seized assets go to designated programs, typically a state's general fund or education fund. When a seizure is "adopted" by the feds, the seizing agency gets to keep 80% of the proceeds, with the federal government getting the rest.

"With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons," Holder said in a statement. "This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program. Asset forfeiture remains a critical law enforcement tool when used appropriately -- providing unique means to go after criminal and even terrorist organizations. This new policy will ensure that these authorities can continue to be used to take the profit out of crime and return assets to victims, while safeguarding civil liberties."

While much asset forfeiture activity is related to drug cases, they are not included in the list of exceptions to the new policy barring "adoptions." Those public safety exceptions include firearms, ammunition, explosives, and materials related to child pornography.

The new policy does not impact asset forfeitures conducted by federal law enforcement, nor does it bar state and local law enforcement from conducting civil asset forfeiture under state law.

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit. (wikimedia.org)
Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture "adoption" program, state and local law enforcement has made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property with a value of more than $3 billion since 2008.

Holder's move Friday is the boldest step to roll back sweeping police powers to seize goods and property since federal asset forfeiture began as tactic in the war on drugs in the 1980s. The Justice Department adopted the Equitable Sharing program in 1993.

Civil asset forfeiture -- the seizure of goods or property without having obtained a criminal conviction -- has come under increasing fire in recent years. Several asset forfeiture reform bills were filed in the last Congress, one has already been filed in the new Congress, and members from both parties are working jointly to draw up a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture.

The issue brought together libertarian-leaning groups like the Institute for Justice, which produced the highly critical study "Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture," and left-leaning groups like the ACLU to press for reforms. They met with congressional staffers to seek changes last fall.

Just last Friday, a bipartisan group of legislators including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to Holder calling on him to end the Equitable Sharing program.

Pressure mounted after a Washington Post investigative piece published in September found police had seized nearly $2.5 billion in cash from motorists without search warrants or indictments since September 11, 2001. In that investigation, the Post found that police routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic violations, then intimidated them into agreeing to warrantless searches and seized cash without evidence of criminal misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is working on civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. (house.gov)
Holder's move is likely to exacerbate already strained relations between the Obama administration and law enforcement agencies. Police groups have expressed unhappiness with remarks both Holder and Obama made about controversial police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

And now, the administration is in effect taking money out of their pockets. More than 7,500 of the nation's 18,000 state and local police departments and joint task forces have participated in the Equitable Sharing program. And hundreds of departments and sheriff's offices have seizure proceeds accounting for more than 20% of their budgets.

The move will also hurt federal agencies that have been "adopting" the seizures, particularly the DEA and ICE. Federal law enforcement has pocketed $800 million under Equitable Sharing seizures without arrests or convictions since 2001.

This is the second major asset forfeiture reform at the federal level. Spurred by reports of abuses of asset forfeiture in the late 1990s, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000. That bill originally contained a provision "ending the sharing of seizure proceeds between local police and federal agencies," but it was removed in the face of fierce opposition from police and prosecutors.

Since 9/11, with calls by federal officials for state and local law enforcement to surveil the nation's highways looking not only for drugs, but now for terrorists, the program only expanded. It didn't help that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security paid out millions to private companies to teach police officers aggressive highway interdiction techniques emphasizing the importance of seizing cash.

The Equitable Sharing program and the aggressive interdiction techniques created what lawmakers a decade-and-a-half ago called "a perverse incentive" for police to concentrate more on seizing cash than seizing drugs. Now, Holder has butchered the cash cow.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Challenges Congress on Pot Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Plan Approved, More (1/14/15)

The District of Columbia is challenging Congress on marijuana legalization, Sens. Feinstein and Grassley complain about administration drug policy, a plethora of pot bills have bill filed in Oregon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Sends Legalization Measure to Congress. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) Tuesday sent to Congress the District's voter-approved Initiative 71 legalization measure, in effect challenging the body to either block it or let it stand. Mendelson's move starts a 30-day clock during which time Congress must act or the measure becomes law. In December, Congress voted to block funds to implement the measure, but DC maintains that that move does not stop the District from enacting it. Stay tuned.

Anchorage Mayor Wants to Ban Public Consumption. Mayor Dan Sullivan has proposed an ordinance that would ban pot use in public places. But his plan is running into opposition, with opponents claiming it is too broad. Click on the link for more details.

Oregon Legislature Sees a Bundle of Marijuana Bills. You'd think legalizing marijuana would quiet the issue at the statehouse, but you would be wrong. At least 16 marijuana-related bills were introduced Monday, ranging from limits on physician prescribing to limitations on retail sales locations to warnings to pregnant women, and more. Click on the link for a fuller rundown.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Program Recommends Expanding List of Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians voted today to include sickle cell disease, chronic back pain after surgery, and severe psoriasis as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, but not Tourette's Syndrome. The recommendations now go to the Consumer Protection Commissioner, who would then decide whether to accept the recommendation, then draft a new regulation that would go to another public hearing before going to the General Assembly's regulation-review committee for a final decision. It could take months or even years.

Drug Policy

Senators Feinstein and Grassley Criticize Obama's Policy on International Drug Control Treaties. Senate octogenarians Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have teamed up to express their dismay over the Obama administration's "flexible interpretation" of UN drug control treaties and their concern over whether allowing states to legalize marijuana puts the US in conflict with the treaties. They sent one letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and another letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control complained that administration forbearance in the face of state-level legalization could let states "implement policies that legalize other, even more harmful drugs, without recourse" and that administration approaches to the issue may "weaken US standing as an international leader on drug control issues."

Drug Testing

Maine Governor Gets Go-Ahead for Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Paul LePage's (R) plan to begin drug testing some welfare applicants has won final approval from the state attorney general, his office said Tuesday. The state will begin drug-testing convicted drug felons who are applying for or receiving welfare benefits. Those who fail will lose benefits unless they enroll in a drug treatment program. Civil rights and poverty activist groups have criticized the measure as an intrusion on privacy and an attack on poor people.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Cops Now Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in the Volunteer State are now beginning to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. The first training seminars for law enforcement personnel began last Friday. The move comes after the legislature last year passed a law allowing for broader distribution of the drug, including law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

International

Walid Jumblatt Again Calls for Lebanese Hash Legalization, Cites Terror Fight. Senior Druse leader and Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt has reiterated his call to legalize the hash trade in the country and he has tied it the country's fight against terrorism. The government needs to increase security and stability in the Bekaa Valley, a leading hash cultivation area, he said. "The treatment cannot be a security one only, but it should be backed by development (projects), and thus I still believe that the cultivation of hashish should be legalized because the theory of alternative crops has failed," Jumblatt said.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law.

Last November, District voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not the regulated sale and taxation of it. That's because DC law forbids voter initiatives from addressing tax issues.

The city council, which already approved decriminalization last year, has been prepared all along to consider a taxation and regulation bill to turn Initiative 71 into full-blown legalization. And despite the move by some Republicans in Congress to try to erase November's District election results, the council is undeterred.

Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

An earlier version of the bill, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013, got as far as a public hearing in October, before the election. But it has now been superseded in part by Initiative 71 and by the new bill.

With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, efforts to quash the District's efforts to end pot prohibition are bound to continue -- even though even some Republicans are now leery of blocking the democratic expression of the will of District voters. But like the District's new mayor, Muriel Bowser, who is vowing to push ahead with Initiative 71, the DC council appears ready to take the fight wherever it leads.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Flurry of Federal Drug Reform Bills, AZ Legalization Demo, Heroin ODs Up Sharply, More (1/13/15)

Marijuana legalization battles start to heat up in the states, a flurry of federal drug reform bills are filed, heroin overdose deaths are up sharply, Mexican cartels seem to be switching from pot to meth and heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Foes Get Organized. Maine isn't going to legalize weed without a fight. Two groups with "grave concerns" about legalization kicked off a year-long campaign to "educate" Mainers about the dangers of the herb. The two groups are Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse. The move comes as Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said she will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, and as state activists work toward a legalization initiative in 2016.

Arizonans Rally to Protest Pot Prohibition, Call for Legalization. More than a hundred people gathered outside the state capitol in Phoenix Monday to urge marijuana law reforms. They were led by Safer Arizona, which says it will protest on the first day of the legislative session until marijuana is legal. A legalization bill will be before the legislature this year.

Medical Marijuana

Fight Over Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has said he will modify his CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) objected to a provision that would allow production of the crop in the state. That has supporters of the bill unhappy. They say that because federal law prohibits transporting medical marijuana between states, their medicine will remain out of reach if it cannot be grown in-state.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Reintroduced. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) and Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) have re-filed their bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill, SB 134, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Heroin Overdose Deaths Jumped in 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Monday showing that 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, up 39% from the 5,924 deaths the previous year. The number of overall drug overdose deaths also increased, to 43,982 in 2013 from 41,340 the year before. That's an overall increase of 6%.

LSD

First LSD Study in Decades Shows Promising Results. LSD can alleviate anxiety in terminally ill patients, according to the first clinical study of the drug in 40 years. The research was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The research results were published here.

Criminal Justice

Houston Congresswoman Files Trio of Criminal Justice Reform Bills. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed several criminal justice reform bills: HR 46 would increase the evidentiary standard required to convict someone for a drug offense and require screening of police participating in drug task forces; HR 51 would provide for collection of data on racial profiling in traffic stops; and HR 71 would provide earlier releases for certain nonviolent offenders.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Medical Marijuana Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has filed HR 262, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt from civil forfeiture real property seized because of medical marijuana-related conduct in states where it is legal. The bill currently has no cosponsors.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Group Delivers Urine Specimen Cups to Legislators in Welfare Drug Test Protest. The Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) protested Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients Monday by delivering urine sample cups -- unused -- to the offices of Republican legislators. The group says the plan won't achieve anything except demonizing the poor and that it may be unconstitutional.

International

Mexican Drug Traffickers Switching to Meth and Heroin. Marijuana legalization and decriminalization north of the border is having an impact south of the border, if US drug seizures are any indication. The amount of marijuana seized by state, local, and federal law enforcement has dropped 37% since 2011, while heroin seizures have increased three-fold and meth seizures have increased five-fold. Farmers in Mexico have reported switching from marijuana to opium in response to market trends.

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like Pillreports.com will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (amendtheraveact.org)
"It's not that producers don't care, it's that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental -- a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a nonprofit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Chronicle AM: NE, OK Seek to Undo CO Marijuana Legalization, Philly Backs Off on Home Seizures, More (12/18/14)

Colorado's conservative neighbors try to undo its marijuana legalization, Philadelphia drops a pair of high-profile asset forfeiture cases, Obama commutes sentences for eight drug offenders, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nebraska, Oklahoma Ask Supreme Court to Undo Colorado Legalization. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today with the US Supreme Court asking it to declare that Colorado's marijuana legalization violates the Constitution. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Nebraska Attorney General Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles." But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who got a courtesy call from Bruning, scoffed. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court," he said.

New York Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Legalization. State Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Empire State. Krueger conceded the legislation was unlikely to pass during the coming legislative session, but said it was important to keep the conversation going.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Awards $8 Million for Marijuana Research. The Colorado Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research Wednesday. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

American Academy of Neurology Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia Drops Two High Profile Asset Forfeiture Cases. Faced with an ongoing federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice over its brazen asset forfeiture practices, the city of Philadelphia announced today that it is dropping efforts to seize the homes of two families. In one case, the city moved to seize a home after an adult son of the owners was busted for selling heroin; in the other, the city moved to seize a home after the owner's estranged husband was caught selling small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit continues.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Commutations for Eight Drug Offenders. President Barack Obama Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses. No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year. Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Opiates

Senators Send Letter to Officials, Health Groups Urging Stronger Response to Drug Overdoses. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week urged government officials and health groups to come up with stronger responses to drug overdoses. The call came in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Governors' Association, the American Medical Association, and associations of state and local health officials. Click on the link to read the letter.

International

Eleven Dead in Mexico Vigilante Clashes. Mexican "self-defense" vigilante groups in the Western state of Michoacan turned their guns on each other Tuesday, leaving 11 dead. The vigilante groups emerged last year in rural communities to fight the Knights Templar cartel, and in May they accepted an offer to be folded into government security forces. And now they are fighting among themselves.

Bangkok Police Hassling Tourists With Searches, Drug Tests, On-the-Spot Fines. Since the military coup in May, foreign visitors to Thailand are increasingly complaining that police Bangkok are stopping and questioning them, searching their persons and belongings, demanding they submit to drug tests, and handing out on-the-spot fines that must be paid immediately in cash. Most of the harassment is taking place on the city's main thoroughfare, Sukhumvit Road. The British ambassador said last week he had raised the issue with local tourism authorities.

Drug War Issues

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