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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Pregnancy

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

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

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

Arcview sees legalization in 18 states by 2020.
Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Hemp

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Hemp

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

Heroin

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

LSD

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

Criminal Justice

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug War Issues

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