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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.

Chronicle AM: NM MJ Legalization Bill Dead, Fed Crackdown on Drug Courts, More (2/6/15)

State legislatures are keeping us busy with lots of drug-related bills, New York's attorney general gets a deal on naloxone pricing, the feds will crack down on drug courts that don't allow opiate maintenance, and more. Let's get to it:

Drug courts will have to get on board with opiate maintenance if they want to keep their federal funding. (henrico.us)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. The House Agriculture and Wildlife Committee voted 7-1 to table House Bill 160, which would have legalized marijuana and allowed for regulated and taxed sales. Opponents said it would lead to more drug use on the job and impair public safety.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia CBD Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 1235, which would allow patients with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. The measure passed 37-1. A similar bill has already passed out of committee in the House and awaits a floor vote.

Hemp

Federal Industrial Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 525, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill now has 52 cosponsors -- 34 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The newest are Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC).

New Synthetics

New Hampshire Bill to Ban Synthetic Drugs Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 106, which would restrict the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. The bill would give the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to "add, delete, or otherwise revise" the list of substances included in the law and set a $500 fine for businesses caught distributing the drugs.

Asset Forfeiture

House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Federal Asset Forfeiture Next Week. The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will hold a hearing on federal asset forfeiture uses and reforms. The hearing is set for next Wednesday at 10:00am.

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Vote Stalled. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has been stalled. Senate Bill 6 was supposed to have a committee hearing this week, but the hearing has been delayed, with no make-up date announced.

Harm Reduction

New York Attorney General Gets Deal to Reduce Price of Overdose Reversal Drug. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that will result in cheaper prices for the company's formulation of naloxone, which can reverse opiate overdoses. The company nearly doubled the price of the drug last fall as demand rose, giving rise to a chorus of complaints. The deal would give New York state naloxone buyers a $6 per dose rebate. But the company had increased the price of the drug by about $20 per dose.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Narrows Public Benefits Drug Testing Proposal. Gov. Scott Walker (R) no longer plans to require drug screening and possible drug testing for all public benefits recipients; instead, now only childless adults will face the screening.

Law Enforcement

Feds to Crack Down on Drug Courts That Don't Allow Opiate Maintenance. Acting drug czar Michael Botticelli said during confirmation hearings Thursday that drug courts receiving federal funds will no longer be allowed to deny opiate addicts access to opiate maintenance treatments such as suboxone. Click on the link for more details.

International

New Cartel Violence in Matamoros Sends Newspaper Editor Fleeing to Texas. At least 15 people have been killed in the past week in confrontations between drug trafficking factions in Tamaulipas state, across the border from South Texas. And a newspaper editor from Matamoros has fled to Texas after being threatened upon publishing reports of a shootout that left nine people dead. Enrique Juarez Torres, editor of El Manana, said he had been kidnapped, beaten, and threatened with death for his reporting. The Thursday edition of the newspaper carried no news of his kidnapping or any other reports on cartel activity.

Laos Vows Crackdown on Drugs; Will Target Addicts as Well as Traffickers. Laotian security officials say they will be going after important drug rings and street dealers, but also drug users. "We're targeting the buyers, sellers, and consumers," a security official said. Laos has already ratcheted up drug law enforcement, with drug arrests up five-fold in 2014 over 2013. The moves come as opium production continues in the country and next door in Myanmar.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy. A federal medical marijuana bill is filed, and so are many more in the states. Also, the Surgeon General has something to say, Oregon bars patients from being caregivers, Maine says medical marijuana can make parents unfit, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

On Monday, a federal appeals court questioned attempts to shut down an Oakland dispensary. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today challenged federal prosecutors over their attempt to shut down Oakland's Harborside dispensary. The judges wanted to know why the effort was continuing given recent policy pronouncements from the Justice Department that it would not go after dispensaries where they are legal.

On Tuesday, a bill to allow VA docs to to recommend medical marijuana was filed. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors have introduced a bill that would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. The Veterans Equal Access Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

On Wednesday, the US Surgeon General said medical marijuana can help some patients. In an interview on "CBS This Morning," US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the medical effectiveness of marijuana had to be shown scientifically and much more information about it was coming. "We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, marijuana can be helpful," said Murthy. "I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I'm very interested to see where that data takes us."

California

Last Thursday, San Diego's first permitted dispensary won final approval. The A Green Alternative dispensary won a final okay from the Planning Commission. It will become the first permitted dispensary to operate in the city since the state passed Prop 215 in 1996. Three other dispensaries are expected to be approved in March.

On Wednesday, a federal judge upheld most patient claims in a lawsuit against Lake County. Patients filed suit after plant seizures last year. The county argued that officers could enter a property without a warrant to cut down plants because they use a lot of water and the state is in a drought, but the court rejected that argument.

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenging Butte County cultivation restrictions was filed. The county's Measure A, which was approved by voters in November, restricts the size of gardens but not the number of plants. Plaintiffs argue that it prevents them from growing the marijuana necessary to treat their conditions.

On Tuesday, the Anaheim city council toughened its prohibition on dispensaries. The council passed a revised ordinance that now threatens landlords who rent to dispensaries with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 a day fine.

Colorado

On Tuesday, a bill to allow a continued medical marijuana system passed the state Senate. The bill would allow residents with medical marijuana cards to continue to use dispensaries until at least 2019. That means people with cards could continue to buy marijuana for a lower price than in the adult retail market because medical marijuana has lower taxes. The bill is Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill (R- Colorado Springs).

Connecticut

On Monday, a state commissioner agreed to expand the list of qualifying ailments. 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.

Florida

On Saturday, Florida sheriffs objected to a pending medical marijuana billl. The Florida Sheriffs Association has come out against Senate Bill 528 while meeting at their winter conference in Tallahassee. The sheriffs, with all their medical expertise, say that "smoked marijuana is not medicine" and list the medical conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. They have other demands, too; click on the link to read their press release.

On Tuesday, a new poll had medical marijuana doing well. A new Gravis Insights poll has support for medical marijuana at 64% in the Sunshine State. The poll comes as the legislature prepares to take up a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 528, and with the prospect of another initiative in 2016 looming. Last year's medical marijuana initiative won 57% of the vote, but was defeated because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass.

Illinois

On Monday, the state issued medical marijuana licenses. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Monday issued medical marijuana licenses and permits to qualifying growers and sellers. The move came after former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) failed to act on the permits before his term expired. See the full list of licenses and permits here.

Maine

Last Friday, the state's high court ruled that 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

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was 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.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair) has filed a full-fledged medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces and would require that the medicine be grown in the state. The measure is House Bill 800.

North Dakota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was 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... if the illness or condition may be improved by the use of marijuana."

Ohio

On Tuesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) has filed House Bill 33, which would allow doctors to prescribe high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. The bill would make the oil available at a limited number of hospitals in the state.

Oregon

Last Friday, the state barred 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

On Monday, a low-THC cannabis oil bill was 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.

Virginia

On Monday, a CBD medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. A bill that would allow epilepsy patients to use low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana won a committee vote Monday. Senate Bill 1235 passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on an 11-2 vote.

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

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Refiled, CT Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization, More (2/4/15)

There's Florida medical marijuana news, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act is reintroduced, Connecticut's governor wants to defelonize drug possession, an Oregon bill would let localities opt out of legal marijuana commerce, and more. Let's get to it:

At both the federal and the state level, efforts to reduce the prison population are underway. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill That Would Let Localities Ban Pot Businesses Filed. A bill that would repeal parts of the Measure 91 legalization initiative to give local governments the power to regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses was filed Monday. The bill is Senate Bill 542. It is part of a package of bills before the Senate Implementing Measure 91 Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill to Allow Continued Medical Marijuana System Passes Senate. The bill would allow residents with medical marijuana cards to continue to use dispensaries until at least 2019. That means people with cards could continue to buy marijuana for a lower price than in the adult retail market because medical marijuana has lower taxes. The bill is Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill (R- Colorado Springs).

Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Doing Well. A new Gravis Insights poll has support for medical marijuana at 64% in the Sunshine State. The poll comes as the legislature prepares to take up a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 528, and with the prospect of another initiative in 2016 looming. Last year's medical marijuana initiative won 57% of the vote, but was defeated because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass.

Florida Sheriffs Object to Medical Marijuana Bill. The Florida Sheriffs Association has come out against Senate Bill 528 while meeting at their winter conference in Tallahassee. The sheriffs, with all their medical expertise, say that "smoked marijuana is not medicine" and list the medical conditions for which medical marijuana can be used. They have other demands, too; click on the link to read their press release.

Ohio CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Wes Retherford (R-Hamilton) has filed House Bill 33, which would allow doctors to prescribe high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. The bill would make the oil available at a limited number of hospitals in the state.

New Synthetics

Indiana Bill Seeks to Punish New Synthetics Like Other Drugs. After the Court of Appeals threw out the state's law banning synthetic drugs as overly broad and too complicated to be unconstitutional, lawmakers are responding by filing a bill that would increase the penalties for "dealing in a counterfeit substance if the person represents the substance to be cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD or a schedule I or II narcotic drug." The bill is Senate Bill 278, sponsored by state Sens. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) and Randall Head (R-Logansport).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Makes it Official -- He Wants to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled his budget proposal Tuesday, and it includes plans to require drug testing for those seeking a variety of public benefits. Walker would drug test not only people seeking food stamps, but also people seeking unemployment payments and people seeking Medicaid.

Sentencing

Federal Justice Safety Valve Act Reintroduced. A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced Senate Bill 353 (the House version is HR 706), the Justice Safety Valve Act. The Senate bill was filed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT); the House version was filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors.

Federal Drug Manufacturing Sentencing Enhancement Bill Filed. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Tuesday filed Senate Bill 348, which would "impose enhanced penalties for conduct relating to unlawful production of a controlled substance on Federal property or... while intentionally trespassing on the property of another that causes environmental damage." That language is from the bill summary; the actual text is not yet available.

Connecticut Governor Calls for Drug Defelonization. Gov. Dannell Malloy Tuesday proposed rewriting the state's criminal law to make all simple drug possession arrests misdemeanors. Possession with intent to distribute would not be included. He would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and expand the state's pardon system. Under current state law, all drug possession arrests except for small amounts of marijuana are felonies, with sentences of up to seven years.

International

Senior British Cop Says Give Addicts Free Heroin. Mike Barton, chief constable for Durham, has called for an end to arresting heroin addicts and said it would be better to supply addicts with pharmaceutical heroin in a controlled setting. Targeting drug users is counterproductive, he said. "Their entrapment in criminal justice is a waste of police time and the state's money and dissuades addicts from revealing themselves for treatment for fear of criminal consequences," Barton said.

The President's Budget: Drug War on Cruise Control [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

President Obama (whitehouse.gov)
President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal today, and when it comes to the drug war budget, it's largely more of the same old same old. Despite the growing realization that the war on drugs is failed policy and despite the wave of marijuana legalization beginning to sweep through the states, there is no sign of anything new here.

Budget documents describe the drug war spending as "a 21st Century approach to drug policy that outlines innovative policies and programs and recognizes that substance use disorders are not just a criminal justice issue, but also a major public health concern" and calls for "an evidence-based plan for real drug policy reform, spanning the spectrum of prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery support, criminal justice reform, effective law enforcement, and international cooperation."

But the rhetoric doesn't match up with the spending proposals. Instead, the decades old, roughly 60:40 split in favor of law enforcement over prevention and treatment continues. While the Department of Health and Human Services would get more than $10 billion for treatment and prevention programs (more than $6 billion of it for Medicaid and Medicare), drug law enforcement spending in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as the drug czar's office would total more than $14.5 billion.

Justice Department drug war spending would increase from $7.79 billion this fiscal year to $8.14 billion next year under the president's proposal. That includes nearly $3.7 billion for the Bureau of Prisons (up $187 million), $2.46 billion for the DEA (up $90 million), $519 million for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (up $12 million), and $293 million for the Office of Justice Programs (up $50 million).

That last line item -- the Office of Justice Programs -- is where the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which typically fund multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, are found. It would see a rather substantial 20% funding increase despite congressional efforts in recent years to cut it back. That means more drug task forces, more drug busts, and more back-end costs associated with them (see the Bureau of Prisons line item).

While the overall federal drug budget is up to $27.57 billion (from $26.34 billion last year), there are decreases in some line items. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) would be cut from $375 million this year to $307 million next year, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program would be cut from $245 million to $193 million, and Defense Department drug war spending would be cut from $1.307 billion to $1.267 billion.

There are no huge increases in the drug war budget, but neither are there significant decreases. This is very much a drug war budget on cruise control. And this is, of course, only the president's proposed budget. What the Congress will do with it remains to be seen.

If everyone agrees the drug war is a failure, someone forgot to tell the president.

Washington, DC
United States

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.

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

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