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Police Took More From Citizens Than Burglars Did Last Year

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

When you think about getting property stolen, you think about criminals, but maybe you should be thinking about the police. Law enforcement use of asset forfeiture laws to seize property -- often without a criminal conviction or even an arrest -- has gone through the roof in recent years, and now the cops are giving the criminals a run for their money -- and winning.

According to a new report on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice, police seized $4.5 billion in cash and property through civil forfeiture last year. That exceeds the $3.9 billion worth of property stolen in burglaries during the same period. The valuation of burglary proceeds is from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Now, not every dollar seized by police is "stolen." Some of it is seized legitimately from real criminals who should pay for the damage their crimes cause. But in too many cases, property is seized from people who have not been convicted of anything, like Charles Clarke.

Clarke, a 24-year-old college student, was relieved of $11,000 in cash by federal agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport after a ticket agent reportedly told them he smelled like marijuana. They stopped and searched him at the airport, found no drugs or other banned items, and never charged him with a crime, but they took his money.

Clarke says the cash was money he had saved over five years for college tuition. A federal judge this month said he was inclined to believe Clarke and has ordered the feds to actually show he made the money from drug dealing, as they claimed.

Clarke may get his money back, but it is an uphill battle. Unlike criminal law, where prosecutors must prove the guilt of the defendant, under civil asset forfeiture law, the burden of proof falls on the person from whom the money or property was seized. The property owner must prove that the property was not the proceeds of crime. And he must pay attorneys to fight for him. And he may not win.

With police racking up billions in seizures each year, law enforcement itself begins to take on the appearance of a criminal enterprise. It's an enterprise with an ever-expanding appetite. According to Armstrong Economics, federal prosecutors seized an estimated $12.6 billion between 1989 and 2010, and the trend is upward. Federal asset forfeiture proceeds hovered at just under a billion dollars a year until 2007, doubled to two billion by 2009, and doubled again to over four billion in both 2013 and 2014.

Abuses of civil asset forfeiture have struck a chord with the public, and states are now beginning to pass laws banning or severely restricting civil asset forfeiture. Both New Mexico and Michigan did this year, and so did Wyoming, but that law fell victim to a governor's veto.

Likewise, the issue is again gaining attention in Congress, which passed minor asset forfeiture reforms after a similar outcry 15 years ago. There are at least two bills going after civil asset forfeiture in this Congress, including one from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and a bipartisan bill that would bar the use of civil asset forfeiture funds by the DEA to eradicate marijuana.

But until federal legislation actually passes, it's still open season on the citizenry.

Chronicle AM: AK to Allow Some Social Pot Smoking, Sentencing Reform Moves in Congress, More (11/23/15)

Marijuana Policy

You'll be able to toke up with this at some Alaska pot shops. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Will Allow Marijuana Use at Some Stores. The state's Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 last Friday to allow consumption at some pot shops, making it the first state to do so. Board Chairman Bruce Schulte said there seemed to be public demand for such an option.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Going Up, Not Down. Even as state legislators discuss marijuana legalization, New Jersey cops are busily arresting pot smokers at a record pace. Marijuana arrests jumped 10% in 2012 and 10% again in 2013, according to New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reports. The 24,765 marijuana arrests is the highest number in 20 years, and nearly double the amount in 1993.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Release Report. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has released a report outlining a legalization framework for state lawmakers. The report calls for home grows of up to nine plants, craft growers who could grow up to 99 plants, and large-scale operators, who could have a grow space of up to 30,000 feet. There's much more at the report link.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Heroin and Prescription

Maryland Legislator Proposes Heroin Maintenance Program. Delegate Dan Morhaim (D) said last Thursday he plans to offer legislation next year to provide free heroin to addicts in a bid to reduce crime.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Senators Sue Albuquerque Over Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan pair of state senators have filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque over its vehicle seizure program, which they say violates the state's recently passed asset forfeiture reforms. Sens. Lisa Torraco (R-Albuquerque) and Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) are seeking an injunction to stop the city from seizing vehicles without the owner first being convicted of a crime.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Narcan Nasal Spray. The Food and Drug Administration last Thursday approved a naloxone nasal spray to stop or reverse opiate overdoses. The FDA said it was as effective as the injectable form of the drug.

Sentencing

Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee. Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by thirty other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive. The bill is also moving in the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its version last month.

International

China Bans More Than a Hundred New Psychoactive Substances. China last month banned more than a hundred new psychoactive substances, including alpha-PVP, more widely known as "flakka." It is now illegal to distribute flakka, synthetic opiates, and a score of other chemicals.

Mounting Pressure on DEA Head to Resign For Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke"

Medical marijuana patients and supporters gathered today at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, to hand in more than 100,000 petition signatures demanding the resignation or firing of DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg after he called medical marijuana "a joke."

Medical marijuana is no joke said 100,000 signatures delivered to the DEA today. (wikimedia.org)

The petition, which was started only two weeks ago, has more than doubled the number of signatures on an earlier petition that helped prompt the ouster of Rosenberg's predecessor, former DEA head Michele Leonhart.

After walking from the nearby site of the International Drug Reform Conference, the group held a brief press conference in front of the DEA building. It was led by petition organizer Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, whose own mother is a patient.

"My mom uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain caused by multiple sclerosis," he said. "This issue is no laughing matter for her and millions of other people who have seen the benefits of cannabis for themselves."

Also addressing the press conference were medical marijuana patients and the parents of young medical marijuana patients.

"There is no doubt that my son Jagger is alive today because of medical cannabis," said Sebastian Cotte, who helped carry the petitions. "Cannabis has tremendously decreased the pain and seizures caused by his mitochondrial disease, while improving his quality of life. For our family, this is no joke."

"There's nothing funny about suicidal thoughts, and those are something my family and I lived with day-to-day die to my military-related PTSD," said Navy veteran T.J. Thompson. "Using medical marijuana not only helps with my condition, but it has also had the added effect of making me a better father and husband."

Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, and 17 more states have more limited laws allowing for the use of marijuana extracts, primarily for children suffering seizure disorders. According to Americans for Safe Access, which supported the petition, more than two million Americans now use medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

An ever-increasing mountain of scientific studies have shown that medical marijuana is beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of serious conditions, including cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and many others. With his remarks about medical marijuana as "a joke," DEA head Rosenberg made clear that he was either ignorant of the science around medical marijuana or indifferent to it.

The petition delivery came one day after a bipartisan group of members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama calling for Rosenberg's head, saying his comments "send a clear signal to the American people that the federal government isn't listening to them. It erodes trust. Cavalier statements like these fly in the face of state policy and the experience of millions of patients."

The letter blasted Rosenberg's statements as relics of "a throwback ideology rooted in the failed war on drugs" and accused him of "trivializing" both the science and the experience of millions of American who have used medical marijuana.

"Mr. Rosenberg's statements send a clear signal to the American people that the federal government isn't listening to them…Through his statements, Mr. Rosenberg has demonstrated that he is not the right person to hold the job of head of the DEA, and we urge you to find new leadership that can work to develop the right tools to properly rationalize our treatment of marijuana," the letter said.

It was signed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Ted Lieu (D-CA). Blumenauer himself took to the House floor to echo the call for Rosenberg's resignation or firing.

"This is going to be a political problem for the Obama administration until they fix it," warned Angell.

Arlington, VA
United States

Chronicle AM: Mid-Atlantic MedMJ Moves, Bolivia's President Chooses Official Coca Drink, More (11/13/15)

Applicants have overwhelmed Maryland medical marijuana regulators, a New Jersey school becomes the first in the country to allow medical marijuana on campus, Bolivia's president chooses an official beverage, and more.

This coca liqueur is now the official drink of the Bolivian presidential palace.
Medical Marijuana

Large Number of Applicants Will Delay Maryland Program. Nearly 900 people have applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in the state, and that is going to delay the program's rollout, Hannah Byron, the executive director of the state's medical marijuana commission said Thursday. She said the commission will extend the application period and revise the timeline, which had originally anticipated the first stage of the application review would be done by January.

New Jersey School Becomes First in Nation to Permit Medical Marijuana on Campus. The Larc School in Bellmawr Wednesday night adopted a policy allowing a teenage girl with autism and epilepsy to consume medical marijuana edibles while at school. The move comes just two days after Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law a bill requiring school districts to adopt such policies.

Drug Policy

Senate Drug Caucus to Hold Hearing on Border, Mexican Anti-Drug Assistance Next Week. The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing to examine drug trafficking across the Southwest border on Tuesday. The hearing will focus on the increase in illicit narcotics crossing the Southwest Border, the cartels profiting from this activity, and the nature and effectiveness of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Mexico in reducing this flow, combatting corruption, and strengthening the rule of law.  The following witnesses have confirmed that they will attend: Mr. Michael Botticelli, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); Mr. Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and Todd Owen, Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

International

 

. Former coca grower union leader President Evo Morales has announced that a coca leaf liquor, Cocablue, is the official drink of the presidential palace. Every bottle of Cocablue (111° proof) liqueur contains 69 grams of coca leaf extract that has been decocainized and is distilled five times. One vintage is released every year and each bottle is recorded, signed and numbered. The Mayan blue colorr is said to be a natural by-product of an artisanal handcrafting technique.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill to ease medical marijuana access for vets, medical marijuana sales begin in Illinois, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana school access bill, and more.

National

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill allowing veterans access to medical marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Also on Tuesday, calls to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" grew louder. Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

California

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council approved a ban on medical marijuana activities in the city. The unanimous vote was on a first reading of the ordinance, which would ban cultivation, as well as dispensaries and delivery services.

Illinois

On Monday, medical marijuana retail sales began in the state. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, pain patients called for access to medical marijuana. Pain patients pleaded with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

Michigan

Last Thursday, fired medical marijuana patients learned they can get unemployment benefits. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, a lung cancer patient sued to get a medical marijuana card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

New Jersey

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana school access billl. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients demanded the governor sign an emergency access bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signed the bill.

South Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana petitioners handed in signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it.

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

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Arrests Plummet, Senate Passes Veterans MedMj, More (11/11/15)

Decriminalization spreads in South Florida, DC pot arrests hit historic lows, the Senate passes a spending bill that should ease vets' access to medical marijuana, there are calls for the DEA chief's head after he said medical marijuana was "a joke," and more.

Pot arrests are now almost nonexistent in the nation's capital. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida's Broward County Adopts Decriminalization Ordinance. County commissioners Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $150 citations to people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Violators would also have to complete an assessment/treatment program. The move puts the county, Florida's second most populous, in line with similar moves in Miami-Dade County and Key West.

DC Marijuana Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization, Legalization. Pot arrests are at historic lows in the nation's capital after city officials decriminalized and voters then legalized marijuana possession. Possession arrests peaked at 2,346 in 2011 before declining to 895 in 2014 (only seven of them after the city's decriminalization ordinance took effect in July 2014), and only seven so far for all of this year.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Approves Bill Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Calls for DEA Chief's Head After He Said Medical Marijuana Was "A Joke." Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

Minnesota Pain Patients Call for Access to Medical Marijuana. Pain patients pleaded Tuesday with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

International

Mexican Senator Files Bill to Allow Import of Marijuana Medicines. Sen. Cristina Diaz Salazar (PRI) has filed a bill that would allow patients import marijuana and cannabis derivatives for medical purposes. She said the bill would codify a recent court ruling that granted an 8-year-old girl's parents permission to import cannabis oil to treat her epilepsy.

Chronicle AM: State Dept OK With Legalization Elsewhere, IL MedMj Sales Monday, More (11/06/15)

It's all marijuana-related news today, with medical marijuana sales starting Monday in Illinois, the State Department saying it can live with pot legalization in other countries, the Houston DA implementing a marijuana diversion program, and more.

medical marijuana -- coming next week to Illinois (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders' Measure to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Has Bill Number Now. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which the Democratic presidential contender filed Wednesday, now has a Senate bill number. It is S. 2237.

Wyoming Legislators Want to Make Possession of a Pound of Edibles a Felony. The Joint Judiciary Committee will sponsor a bill that would make possession of more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony. The bill originally aimed to make possession of three ounces a felony (as is the law with marijuana), but lawmakers were persuaded to up the limit to a pound. The bill comes after at least two judges have thrown out cases of edibles possession because they read state law as only addressing felony pot possession in plant form.

Houston DA Offers Diversion Instead of Arrest for Small-Time Marijuana Offenders. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday that as of January 1, people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program instead of being arrested and jailed. The program could include classes or community service. In the past year, police have been arresting and booking people, then offering them diversion, but now, they will forego the arrest and booking steps.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales to Start Monday. Eight dispensaries have been licensed and will be able to sell medical marijuana to registered patients beginning Monday, state medical marijuana program director Joseph Wright said Friday. Some 3,000 Illinoisans have already registered for the program.

New Hampshire Lung Cancer Patient Sues to Get Medical Marijuana Card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients Who Have Been Fired Can Get Unemployment. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

International

US State Department Says Other Countries Can Legalize Marijuana If They Want To. My, how times have changed! Responding to a press question about moves toward marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, a State Department spokesman said Thursday they were free to do so. "It's up to the people of each nation to decide policies," spokesman John Kirby said. "And in this case, it's up to the people of Mexico to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law." Kirby added that the US is "firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions," but added that "the conventions allow for a degree of flexibility on how member-states implement their obligations, particularly with respect to drug use, and the conventions anticipate variations in national legal frameworks." The openness to marijuana reform is a marked contrast to the US's historical opposition to such moves, but is consistent with the policy enunciated last year by the head of the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Sanders End MJ Prohibition Bill, MX Supreme Court Protects MJ Use & Growing, More (11/5/15)

Bernie Sanders makes Senate history with the first bill in that chamber to end federal marijuana prohibition, the DEA head badmouths medical marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court issues a historic ruling on the human right to use and grow marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana. The bill, the Ending Federal Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Nebraska's Omaha Tribe Voices Support for Legal Marijuana Operations. Members of the Omaha tribe voting in a referendum Tuesday supported moving toward legal marijuana operations on the reservation. Some 78% said they supported medical marijuana, 67% said they supported industrial hemp, and 59% said they supported recreational use. The Omaha tribal council will now vote on all three questions, using the referendum as guidance.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Head Calls Medical Marijuana "A Joke." DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Wednesday rejected smoking marijuana as a medicine. It's "a joke," he said. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Waters Down Reform Effort. The Joint Judiciary Committee Wednesday rejected a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in favor of another bill that would require a judge to decide within 30 days whether a seizure was appropriate and to hold a hearing within 120 days. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill ending civil asset forfeiture, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead (R).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin to Start Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Monday. Drug testing for some welfare recipients begins next week after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed off on a rule from the Department of Children and Families requiring able-bodied adults to be screened for drug use before seeking benefits. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Mexican Supreme Court Rules People Have the Right to Grow and Use Marijuana. In a decision that could open the door to pot legalization south of the border, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that individuals have the right to use and grow the plant. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (wikipedia.org)
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (wikimedia.org)
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Double Standard? Marijuana or Hemp? DEA Indian Tribe Raid Raises Questions [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and will appear at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/.

Taking advantage of a 2014 Justice Department memo giving Indian tribes a green light to participate in marijuana commerce, as well as a 2014 congressional vote allowing for industrial hemp pilot programs, Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe earlier this year planted some 30,000 cannabis plants as part of a pilot project with the College of the Menominee Nation.

Last Friday, the DEA came and cut them all down.

The DEA says the plants were marijuana plants; the tribe says they were hemp plants. In either case, tribal officials and marijuana reform advocates don't understand why the grow was raided. Even if it were marijuana, it appears to be an operation well within Justice Department guidelines. And that's leading to some pointed questions about whether the feds have one standard for pot-legal states and another for the tribe-legal jurisdictions.

The memo that allows for marijuana commerce on the reservation includes eight potential enforcement triggers first formulated in a 2013 Justice Department memo (the Cole memo) advising federal prosecutors to lay off of recreational and medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Those triggers include diversion to other localities, money going to organized crime, and violence associated with the trade, among others.

The raid came after the tribe allowed a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee and local police to inspect the operation and take plant samples. And that visit came after a meeting between the BIA agent, the local cops, and an assistant US attorney.

According to the DEA affidavit for a search warrant, the samples tested positive for "marijuana," although there was no measurement of THC levels in the plants.

Industrial hemp is high in fiber, but low in THC, with levels at 0.3% or less. Pot produced for the recreational market, by contrast, typically has THC levels of 15% to 20% and beyond. There is a possibility some of the plants could exceed the 0.3% limit, but not by much.

The DEA affidavit also attempted to make a case that the hemp grow was violating those Justice Department triggers. The tribe had hired Colorado cannabis consultant Brian Goldstein to consult on its grow, and Goldstein, along with Tribal Chairwoman Ruth Wapoose, had in fact guided the feds and the local cops on their tour of the operation.

But Goldstein was "white," the affidavit noted, and several other people present appeared "non-native," and some vehicles had Colorado plates. This, the affidavit somewhat tortuously argued, violated the memo's provision about diversion from states where marijuana is legal to those where it is not. It seems to claim that hiring a cannabis consultant from a legal state is equivalent to importing pot from that state.

A field of hemp at sunrise. (votehemp.org)
The affidavit also stretched to assert the operation was setting off other enforcement triggers. The lack of ventilation in a drying room "is a health and safety concern for the community and the individuals associated with the operation, which is a violation of the enumerated priorities listed in the Cole memorandum regarding adverse public health concerns of marijuana cultivation," it argued.

But drying hemp stalks in closed barns is standard practice and is used by farmers around the country, including those who produced legal hemp crops this year in Colorado and Kentucky.

And security personnel guarding the property had guns, leading the BIA agent to question "the ability for the security team to have weapons for protection because it would violate the Cole memorandum."

Now, the grow has been destroyed, any decision on criminal prosecution is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the tribe and other observers are wondering just what is going on. After all, the Menominee aren't the only tribe to take the Justice Department at its word, only to be raided down the road.

This past summer, the DEA hit two California tribes, the Pit River Tribe and the Alturas Indian Rancheria, seizing 12,000 plants. The feds alleged Cole memorandum violations including financing from a foreign entrepreneur and fears the marijuana would be distributed outside the reservations in ways that violated the state's medical marijuana law. And the US attorney in South Dakota a month earlier refused to agree to lift an injunction barring Oglala Sioux tribal member Alex White Plume from growing hemp, which the Oglala Sioux Nation has legalized.

Are the tribes being held to a different standard than states where it is legal? Has there been a policy shift at Justice? Are individual federal prosecutors going off the reservation?

Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw doesn't know, but he isn't happy about it.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe," he said in a statement after the raid. "We offered to take any differences in the interpretation of the farm bill to federal court. Instead, the Obama administration sent agents to destroy our crop while allowing recreational marijuana in Colorado. I just wish the President would explain to tribes why we can't grow industrial hemp like the states, and even more importantly, why we don't deserve an opportunity to make our argument to a federal judge rather than having our community raided by the DEA?"

Neither was Eric Steenstra, head of the hemp industry advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

"The DEA action in this case is egregious, excessive and presents an unjust prejudice against Indian Country and the rights of sovereign tribal nations," he said. "The Menominee Indian Tribe cultivated their industrial hemp in accordance with Federal Law, per the legislation put forth in the Farm Bill. This is a step backward, at a time when great progress has otherwise been made toward legalizing and regulating industrial hemp cultivation."

In an interview with US News and World Report, tribal law expert Lance Morgan, a member of Nebraska's Winnebago tribe who has worked with tribal governments pondering marijuana operations, said the Cole memorandum guidelines are not being applied consistently and warned the Menominee raid would be remembered as a historic betrayal.

"How can you allow people to buy marijuana in a retail environment in some states and then raid an industrial hemp operation of a tribe? The only difference is that there is a tribe involved," he said. "This odd federal policy of encouraging investment and then raiding the new business sets us back a few decades in federal tribal trust and economic policy."

The raids against tribal pot operations will kill investment in such ventures, Morgan said.

"The new federal policy of 'sort of' allowing tribes to get into the marijuana business is especially cruel and unusual because it encourages investment, but after the investment is made the federal government comes and shuts it down and the investors lose all their money."

Tribal law expert and former head of New York's Seneca Nation Robert Odawi Porter agreed that there is at least the appearance of a double standard.

"This certainly suggests a real divergence in policy approach for Indian country," compared to the pot-legal states, which have been allowed to develop enormous marijuana industries, he said. "It increasingly looks like the Justice Department guidelines are not being interpreted in the same way as they were intended."

It seems like the Justice Department has some explaining and clarifying to do. Can the tribes participate in the new marijuana economy like that states, or not? And does the DEA accept the legal definition and status of hemp? If not, why?

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