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Chronicle AM -- May 1, 2014

Asset forfeiture gone wild is in the news, so is a Delaware drug lab scandal, there's a major report on imprisonment from the National Academy of Sciences, Silk Road is back, and more. Let's get to it:

Silk Road is back and as busy as ever.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Seal Old Marijuana Convictions Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan sponsored bill that would allow someone to have their marijuana conviction sealed, if the conviction is now legal under Amendment 64. The committee heard nearly two hours of public comment before approving the measure, Senate Bill 14-218. The bill passed on a 3-2 vote and is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Dies in Committee. There will be no medical marijuana legislation passing through the Louisiana legislature this year. Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia) was defeated in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a vote of 6-2.

Iowa Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. The Iowa Senate on Thursday approved a narrow opening for Iowa parents with children suffering from severe epilepsy to be able to access cannabis oil as a treatment option. After an emotion-charged debate, senators voted 36-12 to pass Senate File 2360, a bill that legalizes the possession and medical use under certain conditions of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that backers say possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits. Ten Republicans joined 26 Democrats in passing the bill. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is the sponsor.

US House Narrowly Defeats Amendment to Allow VA Docs to Recommend Medical Marijuana. Nearly 200 members of Congress, including 22 Republicans, voted in favor of an amendment Wednesday intended to allow physicians within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states that allow it. The bipartisan-sponsored amendment failed 195-222. The amendment, sponsored by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO), was the first of its kind to be introduced on the House floor. It would have become part of House Resolution 4486, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Sheriff on Asset Forfeiture Rampage. Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair is seizing criminal suspects' assets like never before, according to this report from The Ocala Star Banner. Prior to Blair taking office in 2012, asset forfeiture cases averaged 38 a year, but jumped to 57 last year, and there are already 33 so far this year. Now, Blair is expanding the practice beyond drug cases to include common crimes. Suspects face being stripped of their property after being arrested by officers for DUI, shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended or revoked license, or grand theft. One woman had her 2008 Chevy seized after being caught with a few oxycodone pills. Here's the money quote (so to speak), as Blair's office explains the increase in seizures: "It shows the difference between a sheriff with 35 years of law enforcement experience and a sheriff who came from the business world," Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre explained. The whole article is worth the read; click the link.

Class Action Lawsuit Coming Over Nevada County's Highway Robbery Asset Forfeiture Program. Humboldt County already had to give back the money it stole from driver Tan Nguyen under the guise of its highway asset forfeiture program -- and pay his lawyer's fees -- but now the county faces a class action lawsuit from other victims of its overzealous law enforcement practices. After Ngyuen won his case against the Humboldt County Sherff's Department, 20 more people have come forward to say that they too had been stopped in Humboldt County and forced to give up money without any charges or even being accused of a crime. In many cases, they weren't even slapped with a speeding ticket. "What they're doing is profiling. They think they're stopping people who are on their way to California to buy drugs, and then bring them back to the Midwest or the Eastern states, and then sell them," said John Ohlson, he attorney for the cash seizure victims.

Drugged Driving

"Impaired" Driving Bill Wins Vermont Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a drugged driving bill, House Bill 501, but not before amending it to remove the zero tolerance language in the version passed by the House. Instead, the Senate version now says the amount of drugs in your system has to actually impair your ability to drive. While the distinction between the two bills seems small, it may be a tough fight to hammer out a compromise by next Friday, when the session adjourns. The version of the bill cited here is the original; the amended version is not yet available.

Law Enforcement

Delaware Drug Lab Scandal Could See Thousands of Drug Cases Thrown Out. The Delaware Public Defender's Office on Wednesday filed "the first wave" of legal challenges to try and overturn 9,500 drug convictions because of tampering and thefts at the state's drug testing lab. This is on top of the more than 3,700 pending drug prosecutions in Delaware courts that are at risk of being dismissed due to the scandal at the Controlled Substances Lab inside the Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. And on the same day that public defenders delivered five archive boxes containing 112 motions for post-conviction relief to prosecutors and the court, state officials revealed that an employee at the Medical Examiner's Office has been suspended with pay as an investigation into the missing drug evidence continues. Click on the link for all the sleazy details.

Georgia Narc Denied Immunity in Killing of Innocent Pastor in Drug Investigation. A narcotics officer who fatally shot a Baptist pastor in Georgia persuaded a federal judge to partly reduce the jury-imposed $2.3 million verdict, but failed in his bid to claim qualified immunity because he was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer. Billy Shane Harrison shot and killed Pastor Jonathan Ayers after Ayers attempted to flee in his car from undercover officers attempting to question him in a drug investigation. The judge in the case ruled that "defendant could not have reasonably believed that Ayers posed an imminent threat of serious harm or that deadly force was necessary to prevent his escape," the 11-page ruling states. "And because it is clearly established that it is unreasonable for a police officer to use deadly force under such circumstances, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on qualified immunity is denied." No criminal charges were ever filed against Harrison for the killing.

Maine Governor Says He Found Money to Pay for More Drug War. Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced Wednesday that his administration has found $2.5 million to pay for a drug enforcement bill that would add agents, judges and prosecutors and increase funding for addiction treatment programs. The bill was enacted with broad bipartisan support, but the Legislature's budget committee did not fund it. On Wednesday, the LePage administration said it has found a projected surplus in the state's unclaimed-property fund, which is overseen by the State Treasurer's Office and consists of money and personal assets that are considered lost or abandoned. The governor said he will propose emergency legislation today to allocate the surplus to the drug enforcement initiative. But it's unclear whether the Legislature will consider it. The ACLU of Maine, which has consistently opposed the bill, urged lawmakers to reject LePage's proposal. "The governor continues to push a proposal that would scale up an already bloated criminal justice system while giving a back seat to more effective treatment programs," the group said. "Plenty has been said about the need for a balanced approach, but this proposal is nothing of the sort... A truly balanced approach would mean scaling back law enforcement while increasing treatment and prevention."

Sentencing

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Big Cuts in Imprisonment. A groundbreaking report released yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of US incarceration rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in US history. America's prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years. The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the US prison population is "not serving the country well." It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the US should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Sentencing Commission Submits Federal Sentencing Guideline Amendments to Cut Drug Sentences. On Wednesday, the US Sentencing Commission submitted its proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines to Congress. In addition to recommending reductions in some drug sentences, the Commission is also seeking public comment on the issue of whether to apply the amendment to the drug quantity table retroactively. Comments can be made through July 7 and can be emailed to public_comment@ussc.gov.

Federal Judge Calls for Clemency for Convicted Cocaine Dealer. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Court Judge Paul Friedman urged President Obama to commute the sentence of Byron McDade, who was convicted following a jury trial in 2002 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Friedman sentenced McDade to 27 years in prison, the shortest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory at the time. Prior to his conviction in the drug case, McDade had only a single misdemeanor on his record, for which he paid a $10 fine. "The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is 'out of line' with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today," Friedman wrote in his opinion dismissing McDade's latest bid to overturn his conviction. "While the Court is powerless to reduce the sentence it was required by then-existing law to impose, the President is not. The Court urges Mr. McDade's appointed counsel to pursue executive clemency on Mr. McDade's behalf so that justice may be done in this case." The administration recently called on federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

International

Silk Road Internet Drug Sales Web Site Still As Busy As Ever. Eight months after federal agents brought down the man alleged to be running an underground Web site called Silk Road that had become a thriving venue for drug trafficking, not only is the site up and running again but the new version is more vibrant than ever. Busted Not Broken, a report from watchdog group the Digital Citizens Alliance claims the "online black market economy has done a complete somersault in the six months since the fall of the original Silk Road. New players have arisen, including a second incarnation of 'Dread Pirate Roberts' and a revived Silk Road (which seems to be thriving, even after law enforcement arrested and charged some of the new site's prominent figures) has replaced the original."

Jakarta Drug Crackdown An Exercise in Futility. The vice governor of Jakarta, commonly known as Ahok, has announced a crackdown on drugs in the Indonesian capital, but a thoughtful analysis from asiancorrespondent.com's Patrick Tibke shows how it is in exercise in both futility and hypocrisy. Click on the link; the read is worth it.

Lebanese Druse Leader Walid Jumblatt Says Legalize Marijuana. Walid Jumblatt, stalwart of the Lebanon's Druse community and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Thursday he supported marijuana legalization, for both medical and economic reasons. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north and the Bekaa Valley," Jumblatt told Al-Jadeed TV. "Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation," the politician said. Crop substitution programs in the Bekaa Valley, which once saw a multi-billion marijuana trade, have been a failure, he added.

DEA Chief Opposes Marijuana Legalization, Supports Mandatory Minimums

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday to warn of the dangers of marijuana legalization and affirm her support for mandatory minimum sentences.

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart (usdoj.gov)
Leonhart's testimony put her increasingly at odds with the administration that employs her. The Obama administration has announced that it is not going to interfere with legal marijuana in states that have approved it -- unless some of its eight listed enforcement priorities are in play -- and it has made it very clear that it views mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed policy.

Leonhart mentioned two of the enforcement priorities -- the leakage of marijuana to non-legal states and the use of the herb by minors -- in her statement to the committee. She said she is worried by an increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and that the same thing could happen in Washington state. She also worried that increasing acceptance of marijuana would lead to increased use.

"The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen," she said. "In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana." But she did not provide any evidence tying the number of marijuana users to changing attitudes or laws.

The DEA is indeed concerned about marijuana legalization. Three months ago, DEA chief of operations James Capra called legalization in the states reckless and irresponsible and warned of looming disaster.

"It scares us," Capra said during a Senate hearing in January. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again."

Except that marijuana legalization has never been tried anywhere before Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington made the leap too recently to cite. In the Netherlands, where authorities turn a blind eye to sales at cannabis coffee shops and which is often cited as an example of "legalization," life goes on and marijuana use rates are well with European norms.

Leonhart continued singing the same old tune Wednesday, warning that emergency room visits related to marijuana increased by 28% between 2007 and 2011.

ER visits may be up, but it's the quality, not just the quantity that also matters. Marijuana has no fatal overdose potential; most marijuana-related ER visits are panic attacks or anxiety reactions, not life-threatening events.

Leonhart also had kind words for mandatory minimums, even though her immediate boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has said they create cruel, disproportionate punishments and contribute to federal prison overcrowding.

"Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations," said Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after."

Leonhart is a holdover from the Bush administration. It is unclear how long she can continue to fit in under an Obama administration that is moving forward on drug policy reform.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana continues hot and heavy in state legislatures across the country, there's a petition for a patient denied access to a liver transplant in California, two federal marijuana patients in Iowa also need some help, and a new federal medical marijuana bill has been filed. And more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith introduced a federal medical marijuana bill. Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Arkansas

Last weekend, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act initiative went signature-gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won an Assembly committee vote. A bill to impose regulation on the state's medical marijuana industry passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would make it illegal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot dispensary. It would also let the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforce laws regulating marijuana and develop plans to tax it beyond the sales tax now levied, while ensuring it is grown and processed safely and in ways safe for the environment. A competing bill favored by law enforcement, Senate Bill 1262 by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), was approved a day earlier by the Senate Business Professions and Economic Development Committee. It would regulate medical marijuana through the Department of Public Health and county health departments.

Last Wednesday, a proposal to consider allowing dispensaries in Colfax failed. Two council members voted in favor, and two voted against the motion, which would have instructed city staff to look into revising the 2009 ordinance prohibiting dispensaries in Colfax. The fifth council member abstained.

On Monday, a petition drive got underway for a patient denied access to a liver transplant because he uses medical marijuana. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 343 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Colorado

On Monday, a bill to make PTSD a qualifying medical condition died in a House committee. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

Florida

On Monday, Florida sheriffs announced they would campaign against the state's medical marijuana initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Also on Monday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Iowa

Last Thursday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol to treat seizures. Senate File 2360 would require patients or their caregivers to obtain a state-issued license to possess the drug and must have a neurologist's prescription in order to obtain the license.

Last Friday, a call went out to seek help for two Iowa federal medical marijuana patients. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Louisiana

On Tuesday, the state sheriff's association spoke out against a pending medical marijuana bill. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved a compromise medical marijuana bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the bill. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Missouri

Last Wednesday, the House gave first approval to a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people suffering from seizures. Senate Bill 951 won first round approval by a voice vote. It needs one more vote in the House.

Montana

Last Saturday, medical marijuana supporters protested at businesses owned by the sponsor of an anti-marijuana initiative. The proposed initiative would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, Clark County (Las Vegas) reported receiving more than 200 applications for medical marijuana businesses.A total of 206 applications for medical marijuana businesses were filed by 109 legal entities with the county's Business Licensing Department before yesterday's deadline. That total includes 90 applications for dispensaries, 70 applications for cultivation facilities, 45 for production facilities and one for an independent testing laboratory. Businesses who met today's deadline will have until May 2 to submit a zoning application and the accompanying $5,000 fee for the special-use permits needed to operate a medical marijuana establishment. The county commission plans to review and award a limited number of special-use permits at a June 5 public meeting. Businesses can apply for one of four license types.

New Mexico

Last Wednesday, the medical cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board recommended adding Alzheimer's to the list of eligible conditions. The Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board voted unanimously Wednesday to add neurodegenerative dementia including Alzheimer's disease (AD) to the list of medical conditions eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary of Health will have the final decision. Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the states that authorize its use.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, a state senator and parents of sick kids said they would sit in at the governor's office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said. No word of any meeting as of today.

Rhode Island

Over the weekend, state law enforcement officials said they want to amend the medical marijuana law for "public safety" reasons. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Vermont

Last Wednesday, the House passed a dispensary bill that includes a study of legalization. The House gave preliminary approval to a medical marijuana dispensaries bill, endorsing an amendment that calls for a study of potential tax revenue from legalizing and taxing pot. Senate Bill 247 has already passed the Senate, but has to go back for concurrence with changes made in the House.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the bill. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program.

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

Chronicle AM -- April 30, 2014

There was marijuana talk on Capitol Hill yesterday, a Vermont dispensary bill passes the Senate, Georgia's governor signs a welfare drug testing bill, a California drugged driving bill dies, and -- oh, yeah, we spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium production and got squat. And more. Let's get to it:

The US spent $7.5 billion to reduce Afghan opium cultivation. Now Afghanistan produces more than ever. Go figger. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

NIH Head Tells Congress Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director from the National Institutes of Health warned House lawmakers Tuesday against legalizing marijuana use, saying it could act as a gateway drug. Volkow told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations subpanel studies show that changes to brain chemistry after alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana use can prime users for harder drugs. Despite Volkow's claims, the gateway theory is widely discredited.

Treasury Secretary Defends Marijuana Banking Guidelines.Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday defended the Obama administration's guidelines to banks conducting transactions with legal marijuana sellers as congressional Republicans questioned whether the guidance amounts to tacit federal approval of a drug illegal in most states. Lew's comments came at hearing of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services, where Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) accused the administration of providing a "rubber stamp" to drug dealers. Lew disagreed: "Without any guidance, there would be a proliferation of cash-only businesses, and that would make it impossible to see when there are actions going on that violate both federal and state law and that... would be a real concern," Lew said. "We thought that the clarity, bringing it into daylight, was a better solution." Congress should write a law to establish a policy, he added.

New York City Conference Today and Tomorrow Marks 70th Anniversary of LaGuardia Commission Report. A major one-and-a-half day conference at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) to discuss marijuana and broader drug policy reform gets underway today. The conference commemorates the 70th anniversary of one of the nation's first systematic studies to address many of the myths about marijuana, The La Guardia Committee Report: The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York, published in 1944. The NYAM published report concluded that "the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated," but marijuana prohibition has stood largely intact for seventy years -- until now. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Vermont Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Dispensary Improvement Bill. The Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that will expand access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. Currently, only 1,000 total patients are able to access dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program. The bill was amended by the House to initiate two studies: one to explore the possibility of adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program, and one to evaluate the potential impact of making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Excites Law Enforcement Opposition. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association today. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Virginia Congressman Introduces Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Drug Testing

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Drug Test Some Welfare Recipients. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed legislation on Tuesday requiring some applicants for food stamps and welfare benefits to undergo a drug test. Under the measure, House Bill 772, testing could be required if authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. A person failing the test would temporarily lose benefits, although their children could receive assistance through another adult. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, called the legislation "shameful" and said it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Drugged Driving

California "Per Se" Drugged Driving Bill Dies in Committee. A bill that would have made the presence of tiny amounts of marijuana metabolites per se evidence of impaired driving was killed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 2500, sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Antioch), was opposed by California NORML, whose head, Dale Gieringer, called it "a solution in search of a problem."

Law Enforcement

Bogus Highway Drug Search Yields $100,000 Settlement for Star Trek Fan. A Star Trek fan returning home from a convention on I-70 Illinois when he was stopped and searched by a Collinsville, Illinois, police officer has settled a lawsuit against the department for $100,000. Terrance Huff, who is also a documentary filmmaker, sued over the stop. After the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused to throw out the lawsuit, Collinsville settled. Click on the link for the whole juicy, sleazy story.

Colorado Bills That Would Have Removed Kids from Parents Suspected of Drug Use Die. The state Senate approved, but then rejected two bills that attempted to expand the definition of child abuse to include even attempts at drug use and/or possession. The bills were Senate Bill 177 and Senate Bill 178. They were opposed by a coalition of groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU of Colorado, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Defends Approval of Zohydro. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, defended the agency's approval of the powerful opioid Zohydro ER (hydrocodone bitartrate) extended-release capsules, explaining that its highest dose is no more potent than the highest strengths of the opioid OxyContin ER (oxycodone) extended-release and extended-release morphine, in an FDA blog posted yesterday. Dr. Hamburg explained that with the drug approval, it is unlikely that opioid prescribing will change significantly or use by patients with pain. Zohydro ER is approved for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate. "Addressing the opioid crisis by focusing on a single opioid drug will simply not be effective," she stated. "Instead we must focus our collective attention and energy on the key drivers of the problem, which include excessive prescribing, illegal activity by a small number of providers, improper disposal of unused medications, and insufficient prescriber and patient education."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes its First Committee. The California Fair Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1010), authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), passed its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Public Safety by a 4-2 vote. The bill will correct the disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Appropriations Committee.

Bill to Up Meth Trafficking Penalties Passes New York Senate. The state Senate Monday passed legislation, cosponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), that would increase the penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine. The measure, Senate Bill 3639, increases sentences by moving various meth manufacture and distribution offenses up one notch on the state's felony crime sentencing scheme.

International

OAS Drug Commission Meeting Underway. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday inaugurated its 55th Regular Session where it discussed, among other issues, policies related to micro-trafficking and the agenda of the Special General Assembly the hemispheric institution will hold in September in Guatemala, which will be dedicated exclusively to the Global Drug Problem in the Americas. The agenda of the CICAD meeting also includes discussions on alternatives to incarceration for drug dependent offenders and others in conflict with the law for reasons related to drugs, and the challenges and impacts surrounding the regulation of cannabis, with special attention to initiatives of this type in some States of the United States, as well as Uruguay. The meeting takes place between today and Thursday, May 1 at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, and is being chaired by Colombia. Click on the link for more details.

Singapore Bans New Synthetic Drugs Effective Tomorrow. Synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of controlled drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, will become illegal and attract the same penalties beginning May 1. While it is now legal to possess these drugs, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has the power to seize them to restrict their circulation. There are currently 11 types of compounds under the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act, with over a hundred specific examples listed. Beginning in May, drugs listed under the Fifth Schedule will then be re-classified as Class A controlled drugs. This means that those convicted of abusing them may be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to S$20,000. Those found guilty of trafficking such substances will face a minimum of five years' jail and five strokes of the cane.

US Spent $7.5 Billion to Stop Afghan Opium, Got Squat, New Report Says. A new report from Washington's Afghanistan war watchdog has found that the US spent $7.5 billion in efforts to reduce Afghan opium cultivation, but that opium cultivation there is at an all-time high. The report is the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstuction. Opium-poppy cultivation takes up 209,000 hectares (516,230 acres) of land in Afghanistan, a 36% increase since 2012. Afghanistan is by far the world's largest opium producer.

Chronicle AM -- April 28, 2012

Medical marijuana continues to be contested terrain, a legalization bill gets a hearing in Boston, hemp is on the move in Hawaii and New York, New Zealand cracks down on its regulated synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

New Zealand is taking regulated synthetic drugs off the shelf until they can be proven "low risk." (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Seal Past Marijuana Convictions. Marijuana convictions that predate current Colorado law could be sealed under a bipartisan proposal being floated inside the Capitol -- a move that could potentially impact thousands of Coloradans. The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westminster) and Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), allows anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that would now be legal under Amendment 64 to have their records sealed. Also, a draft of the bill says that a person convicted of "any other marijuana offense" beyond the scope of Amendment 64 would also be allowed to file a petition with a district attorney to have their record sealed. If the district attorney does not object, the court would then be required to seal the conviction record.

Massachusetts Legislators Hear Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on Judiciary held a well-attended and well-covered hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 1632, Thursday. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act Initiative Goes Signature-Gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida Sheriffs to Fight Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Iowa Federal Marijuana Patients in Danger of Losing Access After Their Doctor Leaves the State. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Businesses Owned By Sponsor of Proposed Anti-Marijuana Initiative. Supporters of medical marijuana protested outside two of the businesses co-owned by the sponsor of a proposed initiative that would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Pennsylvania Legislator and Parents of Sick Kids Plan Sit-In at Governor's Office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children said Monday they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said.

Rhode Island Cops Want to Amend Medical Marijuana Law for "Public Safety" Reasons. Law enforcement officials are pushing to amend Rhode Island's medical marijuana law to address what they say are public safety problems, but patient advocates say the changes would jeopardize access to medicine. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Hemp

Hawaii Hemp Bill Passes Legislature. Last week, Hawaii legislators approved a bill that will focus on the study of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and phytoremediation resource. The bill, House Bill 1700, authorizes the dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. It does have quite a few strict stipulations to prevent undesired consequences.

New York Hemp Bill Introduced. Growing industrial hemp for research purposes would be legal in New York under a bill proposed last week by a pair of Southern Tier lawmakers. An amendment to the federal farm bill this year allowed for hemp research programs in states that allow industrial hemp growth. The New York bill, Senate Bill 7047 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwel), and Sen. Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats).

Drug Policy

Big Congressional Drug War Hearings This Week. This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10:00am there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled "Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships," held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration." The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Georgia Leaders Consider Expanding Drug Testing of Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was exploring a plan that would require drug tests those who apply for unemployment benefits, and would set aside funding for treatment programs if they fail. The move would require legislative approval in 2015 as well as signoff by the US Department of Labor. He also hinted he would sign House Bill 772, which would require drug testing for some food stamp recipients. He said he believes it strikes a "delicate balance" between helping the neediest and protecting taxpayer dollars, though he would not say definitively whether he would sign the measure into law. He has until Tuesday to decide.

International

New Zealand Backpedals on Regulating Synthetics; Will Pull Drugs Off Shelves Until Proven Safe. All synthetic drugs will be pulled off the shelves within two weeks until individual testing has proven each brand is "low-risk," the government has announced. Citing reports of severe adverse reactions and the government's inability to determine which of the regulated synthetics are causing them, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he would introduce emergency legislation to remove the remaining 41 allowed synthetics from store shelves until they are tested. "I will bring to Parliament amending legislation to put this measure in place, to be introduced and passed through all stages under urgency on May 8 and come into force the day after receiving the Royal Assent," he said.

Israeli MP Admits Regularly Smoking Marijuana. Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said she occasionally smokes marijuana, which is illegal, in an interview Friday. Zandberg is one of the most outspoken proponents of legalizing cannabis in the Knesset, together with MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), who says he has never used the drug. "Like everyone else, I smoke sometimes. I'm not a criminal and I'm not a delinquent," she said.

Poppies Bloom in Egypt's Sinai. A sharp slump in tourism is rippling across the southern Sinai, where resorts catering to foreigners line the Red Sea coast, and as a result, Bedouins are turning to the opium poppy to make a living. The Christian Science Monitor has an in-depth report; just click on the link.

Mexican Vigilantes Must Turn in Weapons By May 10. Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups who have been battling the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan for more than a year have signed an agreement spelling out the timetable for the militias to disarm. The self-defense groups must begin surrendering their guns, which include AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, on Monday and completely disarm by May 10, officials said. The militia leaders inked the disarmament deal Friday in a meeting at the headquarters of the 43rd Military Zone in Apatzingan, Michoacan, the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region.

Brazil Marchers Demand Legalization. Brazilian police said about 2,000 people gathered in downtown Sao Paulo Saturday in a demonstration demanding the legalization of the production and sale of marijuana in Latin America's largest country. Several of the demonstrators were smoking marijuana cigarettes while carrying posters reading "Legalize Marijuana Now," and "Marijuana is Medicine." Police say the demonstration was peaceful. No arrests have been reported.

Chronicle AM -- April 25, 2014

An Oregon congressman fights to end federal marijuana prohibition, a DC congresswoman vows to fight for decrim in the District, a Brooklyn DA gets support for his stance on small-time pot charges, some Philly narcs escape justice, and more. Let's get to it:

DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton will stick up for District decrim. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Congressman Launches Ad Campaign to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today began an advertising campaign to win support for ending federal marijuana prohibition. Blumenauer is a cosponsor of House Resolution 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2014. "Our marijuana laws don't work and cost the government billions," he said. "Federal drug law says that marijuana is more dangerous than meth or cocaine, and that is false."

DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton Vows to Defend District Marijuana Reforms from Congressional Republicans. In an effort to stop what could be the first step to overturn the District of Columbia's local marijuana decriminalization legislation, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has announced she will testify at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations in May on the District's newly-passed decriminalization law. Norton said that she was surprised to learn of a hearing that will single out the District's locally passed law. "It is appropriate for Congress to examine how the Obama administration will enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana in jurisdictions that have legalized or decriminalized it, as the subcommittee has done in two hearings this Congress," Norton said. "It is also appropriate to examine whether the federal marijuana prohibition preempts such local laws, but no local officials were called to testify at those hearings. It is inappropriate to hold a hearing on the local marijuana laws of only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, when 18 states have decriminalized marijuana, 21 states have legalized medical marijuana and two states have legalized marijuana. There is nothing that distinguishes the District from these states except for Congress's illegitimate power to overturn the democratically enacted local laws of the District." Congress has 60 days to attempt to block the DC decriminalization law.

Brooklyn DA's Decision to Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases Garners Support. Today, Brooklyn elected officials, community groups, and advocates rallied on the steps of Borough Hall to support District Attorney Ken Thompson's proposal to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. A memo outlining DA Thompson's proposal, shared with the press, states that when the police make a low-level marijuana arrest and the defendant has no criminal record or a minimal criminal record, "there will be a presumption that such case will be immediately dismissed." Click on the link for more reaction to Thompson's move.

Child Psychiatry Group Opposes Legalization. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has released a policy statement opposing efforts to legalize marijuana. Instead, "AACAP supports efforts to increase awareness of marijuana's harmful effects on adolescents and improve access to evidence-based treatment, rather than emphasis on criminal charges, for adolescents with cannabis use disorder. AACAP also urges careful monitoring of the effects of marijuana-related policy changes on child and adolescent mental health. Together, these efforts may help with the prevention of teen marijuana use during a critical period of ongoing brain maturation."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The long, strange saga of Minnesota medical marijuana continues. The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing today approved Senate File 1641, which would give patients with certain medical conditions access to a limited amount of marijuana. The measure now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia's "Tainted Justice" Narcs Avoid Criminal Prosecution, Could Get Jobs Back. After years of investigation, federal and local prosecutors have decided not to file criminal charges against four Philadelphia narcotics officers accused of lying about evidence on search warrants and stealing from corner stores during raids. One of the officers was also accused of sexually assaulting three women. Sources familiar with the investigation said authorities cited weak witnesses and a lack of evidence as factors in their decision not to bring charges. The officers -- who were at the heart of a scandal that shook the department five years ago -- now face possible disciplinary action from the Police Department. But it is likely they will soon be placed back on the street and even awarded lost overtime pay. The officers were the subject of a 2009 series by the Philadelphia Daily News that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The series, "Tainted Justice," detailed dozens of narcotics cases in which officers were alleged to have stolen, lied, and mistreated suspects. Click on the link for the whole sleazy story.

Wisconsin Becomes First State to Require Outside Agency Involvement in Investigating Deaths in Police Custody. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has signed into law Assembly Bill 409, under which Wisconsin will become the first state in the nation to require outside investigation when people die in police custody. The new law is the result of years of activism on the part of family members and a Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel investigation into five years of in-custody deaths in Milwaukee. Despite circumstances of detainees' deaths, officers were typically quickly cleared of wrongdoing.

Connecticut Bill to Shrink "Drug Free Zones" Dies. Legislation to reduce the size of "drug free zones" around schools died quietly in the Education Committee on Thursday. Senate File 609 failed on an 11-17 vote with no discussion. The bill's failure is frustrating for proponents who have sought the legislation for years. The proposal has twice been endorsed by the state's nonpartisan Sentencing Commission. The bill made it as far as a floor debate in the House last year, but was shelved when support began to wane among Democrats.

International

Drug Decriminalization Coming to Malta? Maltese Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said Thursday that a proposed drug law reform his government is working on will be "significantly broader" than previous failed reform efforts and hinted broadly that it would include drug decriminalization. But details remain sketchy, so stay tuned.

"Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands" Could be Freed Under New Federal Clemency Rules

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will soon release new, more expansive criteria for recommending federal prisoner clemency applications for President Obama to review. That means Obama, who has so far freed a paltry 10 prisoners early in his first six years could free "hundred, perhaps thousands" in his final two, a senior administration official told Yahoo News Monday.

Most of those who will be eligible for clemency under the new criteria are doing time for drug offenses, a category that accounts for 50.1% of the federal prison population, or roughly 100,000 inmates. As the Justice Department noted in its press release, the move will be "an important step to reduce sentencing disparities for drug offenders in the federal prison system."

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety," Holder said in a video message posted on the department's website. "The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

Later this week, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is expected to announce more specific details about the expanded criteria the department will use and the logistical effort underway to ensure proper reviews of the anticipated wave of applications, the press release said.

President Obama has, midway through his second term, begun moving to use his clemency power. In December, he commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses involving crack cocaine. He said the eight men and women had been sentenced under an "unfair system," including the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses that was reduced but not eliminated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

This latest move was foreshadowed by a January announcement that the administration was taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early, as part of its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases, and again last week, when White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Obama has directed the Justice Department to improve its clemency recommendation process and recruit more applications from convicts.

Drug reform advocates greeted the announcement as a step in the right direction and as a signal to state governors -- most drug offenders are doing time on state, not federal, charges -- but also as a tail-end fix for a problem that needs front-end solutions.

"This would be a positive step toward righting the wrongs of our broken criminal justice system. I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families," said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws.

"With half a million people still behind bars on nonviolent drug charges, clearly thousands are deserving of a second chance. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent drug offenses," added Papa.

It could do that by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which has already made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in the meantime, liberating some of the thousands of people currently imprisoned with harsh drug sentences is a move that can't come soon enough.

Washington, DC
United States

Faith Leaders Issue Easter Statement on War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration [FEATURE]

A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release an Easter statement calling for the end of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. They said they chose the Easter season to release their statement because of the spirit of the Resurrection, which Easter commemorates and celebrates.

The Rev. Edwin Sanders (cannabisculture.com)
The statement calls for repealing laws that criminalize drug possession and replacing them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment.

It also calls for the elimination of policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates and that that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.

The United States is the world leader in incarceration, accounting for 25% of the global prison population while only making up 5% of the planet's population. In state prisons, drug offenders typically make up 20-30% of all prisoners, although that proportion has begun declining as nearly half the states have undertaken sentencing reforms in recent years.

But while state prison population numbers have begun a slight decline, the federal prison population continues to increase, driven in large part by the war on drugs. As of this month, there were more than 216,000 federal prisoners, with just more than half (50.1%) doing time for drug crimes, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

"The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust and immoral war on drugs and mass incarceration of the poor. In particular, poor black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives," said Reverend John E. Jackson of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

"We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while a misguided war is waged on entire communities, ostensibly under the guise of combating the very real harms of drug abuse. The war on drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure," says Reverend Edwin Sanders, who is a Board Member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

More than 100,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in federal prisons (wikimedia/chris piner)
"We are called upon to follow Jesus's example in opposing the war on drugs, which has resulted in the United States becoming the world's biggest jailer," added Sanders.

"Resurrection reality commissions and commands us to change these policies, laws and systems that rob whole communities of their most precious resource, their young. These are the ones Jesus faced betrayal, denial and desertion for. These are the ones Jesus gave up everything for. These are the issues Jesus was raised from a 3 day grave to speak truth to power to through our voices, through our crying loud and sparing not and through our organized efforts," added Jackson.

The story of the prodigal son is appropriate to ponder, said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director of The Ordinary Peoples Society, in Dothan, Alabama, himself a former drug war prisoner.

"The story of the prodigal son says he went out and lived a riotous life, like somebody who committed a crime or was on drugs or got incarcerated," said Glasgow. "The father of the prodigal son embraced him with open arms, but as a society, we don't do that. We incarcerate instead of trying to treat or restore. His father gave him shoes on his feet and a coat of many colors. These are things we're not doing when it comes to mass incarceration and the war on drugs."

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow (theordinarypeoplesociety.org)
The struggle against the war on drugs is a fight for civil rights and democracy, said Glasgow.

"After they gave us civil rights, they came along with the drug war and took our voting rights back," he said, referring to the hundreds of thousands who have had voted rights restricted or denied after being convicted of drug offenses.

There are concrete steps to take, said several speakers.

"We want to repeal the laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with effective approaches, and put an end to any policy that unjustly excludes people because they have a previous criminal conviction," said the Rev Michael McBride, Director of Urban Strategies, Lifelines to Healing, Berkeley, California.

"We are fighting a righteous fight and standing in solidarity in the Holy Week to call for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration," McBride added. "We are organizing hundreds of faith congregations across the country to build a faith and moral movement to address and redress these unjust policies. Holy Week reminds us that death does not have a final say, but that God is able to bring redemption for the worst things that happen in our lives. Mass incarceration is the civil rights issue of our generation, and the faith community is in the forefront."

"For those of us who follow Jesus, this is the time to receive his grace, but also to receive his calling," said Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the United Methodist Church, which has been at the forefront of the faith community's challenge to the drug war. "It is time to proclaim relief for the captives and freedom for the oppressed. Unfortunately, because we are the world's leader in incarceration, we don't have to look far," he noted.

Mefford is the chairman of an interfaith coalition working on Capitol Hill to reform the criminal justice system. It represents 35 faith organizations with millions of members.

"There are steps we can take to rescue ourselves from our own captivity," Medford continued. "We can pass the Smarter Sentencing Act as an incremental step toward justice reform that will address costly overcrowding at the Bureau of Prisons by cutting in half mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses."

The Smarter Sentencing Act has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. It has yet to move in the GOP-controlled House.

As Holy Week looms, it is indeed appropriate to ask that rhetorical question. When it comes to dealing with drug use and the drug trade, what would Jesus do?

New York City, NY
United States

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More GOP Cosponsors

A sentencing reform measure pending in Congress has picked up more support from four more Republican members of the House this month. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382/Senate Bill 1410) now has 26 cosponsors, including 10 Republicans. The Senate version of the bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

The bill, which is supported by the administration, would direct federal judges to not sentence some drug offenders to mandatory minimum sentences, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for other drug offenders, and applies the more lenient crack cocaine sentencing scheme under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders sentenced before it was passed.

It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines and policy statements for drug offenders to minimize federal prison overcrowding and reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing, but at the same time directs that "penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe."

The act is currently before the House Judiciary Committee. Bill sponsor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) recently held a Republican Study Committee session on the bill, which resulted in four new GOP members signing on in one day.

The new cosponsors are Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Chris Stewart (R-UT). For a complete list of sponsors, click here.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- April 9, 2014

Attorney General Holder was on the pot-seat in Congress yesterday, New Jersey's legalization bill looks to have an uphill battle with public opinion, there's a psychedelic conference in Massachusetts this weekend, Uruguay is going to give medical marijuana to prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:

Trip the light fantastic at a conference on psychedelics at UMass-Amherst this weekend. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Holder Defends Administration Response to Marijuana, But Refuses to Go Further. Facing critics from both sides of the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday defended the administration's rather laissez-faire approach to marijuana legalization at the state level, but declined to go further to please reform supporters by taking executive branch action to reschedule the herb. He was appearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more details and some of the repartee.

GOP Congressman Calls for Republicans to Nominate Presidential Candidate With States' Rights Position on Marijuana. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Tuesday that the Republican Party should field a presidential candidate who supports states' rights to legalize marijuana -- as part of a broader states' rights agenda that also includes scrapping the Department of Education. "I think we ought to look for a presidential candidate who will make that part of his message," he said. "Just transfer it all to the states. Now this government would have nothing to do with education, and how about, from now on, drug laws are considered criminal matters, which is what our Founding Fathers had in mind, and that is up to the states." Rohrabacher also claimed (rather fancifully, unfortunately) that "Reagan did not want to put people in jail. He did not want to militarize our county in order to stop people from smoking weed."

Poll Finds New Jersey Evenly Split on Legalization, Less Support for Actual Bill. A new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll has support for legalizing small amounts of marijuana at 48%, with 47% opposed. But when asked specifically about supporting a pot legalization bill, Senate Bill 1896, recently introduced by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex), only 36% were in favor, with 49% opposed. "Obviously, New Jerseyans are really split on the idea of legalizing marijuana and are unsure about the specifics of the Scutari proposal," said Patrick Murray, director of the polling institute.

Medical Marijuana

Supporters Rally as New Hampshire Senate Considers Home Cultivation. Supporters of cannabis for therapeutic use are rallying in Concord this morning behind a bill that would allow for a limited home cultivation of marijuana plants for qualifying patients. The bill, House Bill 1622, would allow two mature plants per patient, and the authorization would be only until a licensed cannabis dispensary opens within 30 miles of their residence.

Missouri House Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A Missouri House committee has advanced legislation allowing the use of a cannabis extract by people whose epilepsy is not relieved by other treatments. House Bill 2238 passed the House General Laws Committee and is now set for a hearing in the House Rules Committee tomorrow.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Derailed in Oklahoma. A bill that would require doctors to check their patients' drug histories before writing narcotic prescriptions was derailed Tuesday by a House committee chairman, but sponsors expressed hope they could keep the issue alive. Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, would not let the bill be heard Tuesday during his panel's last scheduled meeting before a deadline for committee approval. He said he was concerned about several elements of the bill, including a provision that could allow the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to fine physicians $2,000 for failing to check the online Prescription Monitoring Program. The measure is House Bill 3030.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Conference This Weekend at UMass-Amherst. Psychedelic and research and policy experts will speak on issues relating to the role of psychedelics in culture, medicine and science at the Psymposium 2014: The Nature of Psychedelics conference. The conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on April 12 & 13 and is open to the public. Click on the link for all the details.

Law Enforcement

Another Lawsuit Filed Against Crooked Suburban Chicago Cops. Another lawsuit has been filed against the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg and three of its former undercover tactical narcotics officers, who have been accused of selling illegal drugs they seized from dealers. Xavier Neodina filed the suit Monday in federal court claiming police used falsified information to get a search warrant for his home, that he was then arrested and sexually assaulted while being held in the Cook County Jail, and the officers "intentionally schemed and worked together" to set him up. This is the fourth lawsuit filed against Schaumburg and its crooked cops. At least a dozen people convicted of drug offenses have been cleared of charges. One of the cops has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, while two others face trial later this month.

International

Uruguay to Provide Prisoners with Medical Marijuana. Prisoners in the jails of Uruguay will be able to use marijuana if a doctor says it will benefit their health. Uruguay's drug czar, Julio Calzada, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that any inmates with doctors' orders will be prescribed marijuana to improve their physical or mental health.

Drug War Issues

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