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Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 10, 2014

The marijuana issue continues hot and heavy, one of our favorite authors is nominated for an award, harm reduction bills move in Wisconsin, and the US Sentencing Commission wants to cut drug sentences. And more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Carl Hart, nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "High Price" (columbia.edu)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legal Marijuana Sales Hit $5 Million in First Week. Sales of legal marijuana in Colorado since January 1 are estimated to have exceeded $5 million, with some 100,000 people lining up to buy it, according to industry insiders.

Colorado Republicans File Bill to Ban Food Stamps in Marijuana Shops. File under: solutions in search of problems. There is no evidence that anyone has ever used a food stamp EBT card to purchase marijuana products, but that hasn't stopped a handful of GOP state legislators to file a bill to outlaw it. "We need this bill, if for nothing else, as a statement," said Rep. Jared Wright (R-Grand Junction). "We shouldn't be enabling anyone to buy a substance that is banned under federal law. It's not a good use of taxpayer money," he said. The bill is Senate Bill 37.

New Hampshire House Didn't Vote on Marijuana Legalization. The House was set to vote Wednesday on a bill to legalize marijuana, but it didn't happen. The vote has instead been pushed back for a week as legislators dealt first with attempts to override vetoes on bills passed last year. The bill is House Bill 492.

No Marijuana Legalization Bill for Ohio This Year. The only Ohio legislator to push for marijuana legalization last year won't try it again this year. Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) said he had no plans to introduce a measure this year after last year's effort to pass a resolution to let residents vote on the issue was sidelined.

Washington Congressman Urges Feds to Act Quickly on Marijuana Banking. Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) Friday called on federal regulators to move swiftly to resolve the issue of financial institutions being able to do business with legal marijuana businesses. In a statement, the coauthor of pending federal legislation that would do just that said that "it is urgent federal regulators come to a resolution on this issue as soon as possible."

Powerful Maryland Pol Comes Out for Marijuana Legalization. Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) has joined the list of powerful state legislators calling for marijuana legalization. She said legalization is one of "the biggest, most important issues" facing the General Assembly this year. She joins Senate President Thomas Miller (D) and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur in supporting legalization, but Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D) both oppose it.

Steny Hoyer Opposes Marijuana Legalization in Maryland. US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Thursday he opposes legalizing pot in the state. "I'm not a proponent of legalizing marijuana," he said. "As I talked to people who deal with drug abuse issues, with rehabilitation issues, I became convinced that marijuana was, in fact, a threshold drug and it would lead to the use of harder, very harmful drugs," he added.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky House Panel Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The House Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss medical marijuana. No specific bill was under discussion, but one legislator, Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) filed a bill this week, Senate Bill 43, which would legalize medical marijuana.

Florida House Committee Chair Will Propose Bill to Legalize High CBD Strains for Seizures. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said Thursday he would introduce a bill to allow for the medical use of marijuana strains that are high in CBDs. The vow came after a heart-wrenching hearing from parents of children who suffer seizure disorders, who called on the legislature to legalize strains such as "Charlotte's Web."

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Attorney General Sees Asset Forfeiture as Tool against Drug Legalizing Attorneys. After changes to undo asset forfeiture reforms approved by voters in 2000 snuck through the state legislature last year came under this week, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a brief defending the new law. But a bullet point justifying a new cap on attorneys' fees for people who successfully defend their property is setting off alarms among First Amendment advocates. "By setting a limit on attorney's fees it will take away the incentive for attorneys who actively promote the legalization of drugs in the state of Utah from soliciting clients who are engaged in criminal activity," the attorney general's brief said. Click on the link for a lengthier critique.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Coming Back in Indiana. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said Thursday that while welfare drug testing legislation is not part of the House Republican agenda, a pending bill to do just that is "one we're going to enthusiastically endorse and move forward on." The bill, which passed the House, but not the Senate, last year, would require drug testing of welfare recipients based on some form of reasonable suspicion.

Harm Reduction

Push On to End Needle Exchange Ban in Federal Funding Bill. Harm reduction and public health advocates are urging lawmakers to lift the prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for needle exchange programs. The battlefield is the conference committee that will reconcile House and Senate budget bills. The Senate version had language that included funding for needle exchanges, but the GOP-led House is expected to oppose it.

Wisconsin Overdose 911, Naloxone Bills Pass Assembly Committee. A bill to provide limited legal immunity to people who notify authorities of an overdose passed the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee Thursday. So did a bill that would allow first responders to carry and use the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Both now goes to the full Assembly, which should vote on them Tuesday. The bills have the backing of Attorney General JB Van Hollen (R) and are expected to sail through the Senate as well.

Honors

Carl Hart Wins NAACP Image Award Nomination for "High Price." Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Carl Hart's "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self Discovery That Changes Everything You Know About Drugs and Society" has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of literary nonfiction. The awards ceremony takes place on February 22.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Suggests Lowering Drug Guideline Sentences. The US Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to publish proposed federal drug sentencing guideline amendments that would include lowering guideline sentences for drug trafficking offenses. The amendments would reduce drug trafficking sentences by about 11 months, leading to a reduction in the federal prison population of more than 6,000 prisoners five years after taking effect. The commission is now seeking public comment on the proposal.

International

Jamaica Marijuana Growers to Organize. Jamaican legalization activists and marijuana growers will form a Cannabis Future Growers and Producers Association as part of a major conference next week. The "Going Forward -- Legalize It" conference is organized by the Ganja Law Reform Coalition, the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, and the National Alliance for the Legalization of Ganja, and hopes to help lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry on the island.

Canada's SensibleBC Sees 2014 as a Building Year. After an effort to put marijuana reform on the provincial ballot via an initiative faltered last year, Sensible BC leader Dana Larsen said this year would be a year of building momentum, training canvassers, and spreading the message of marijuana legalization. Larsen will also be touring the province this spring and summer to build support.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

Chronicle AM -- January 2, 2014

The New Year starts off with a whole bunch of marijuana news, the DEA Cartagena prostitution scandal gets an update, another Republican governor calls for welfare drug testing, and a South Korean comedian gets hammered for toking up. And more. Let's get to it:

South Korean comedian and actress Song In Hwa gets sent to jail for smoking pot. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Stores Open for Business; Sky Doesn't Fall, But Crowds Form. Crowds of would-be customers braved long lines in frigid, snow-blown conditions Wednesday to be able to participate in the historic first day of legal retail marijuana sales to adults in Colorado. The biggest apparent problem was feared supply shortages, leading some retailers to either limit purchases to a quarter-ounce (state law allows purchases of up to an ounce for residents) or raise prices, or both.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Top 5,000. As of year's end, state officials have processed more than 5,000 marijuana business applications, the state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of the process, said Tuesday. There were 1,312 applications for retail outlets, but the state plans to cap their number at 324, so there will be competition. There were also 2,113 applications for cultivation licenses and 1,512 for processing facilities. And there will be more. Although the application window closed December 20, officials are still processing backlogged applications.

New Hampshire House to Vote This Month on Legalizing Marijuana. The New Hampshire House will vote later this month on a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over. But even if it passes the House, it faces an uphill battle. Last year, the Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize a quarter-ounce, and Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) opposed even decrim.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden) has introduced a bill to tax, regulate, and legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, but he said he doubted it would pass this year. The state decriminalized possession last year, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said legalization isn't a priority this year. The Marijuana Policy Project said it would use this year to build a consensus for legalization, with an eye on 2015.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Coming Back in Hawaii. Marijuana decriminalization got through the state Senate last year, but got stuck in the House. Proponents will try again this year, Pam Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told local media.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Law Goes Into Effect. Illinois' medical marijuana law went into effect on New Year's Day. Sort of. Patients aren't protected until they have signed up with a state registry, which will not be open until the spring at the earliest, and regulatory agencies are going to spend the next four months establishing rules and regulations for cultivation and distribution. Cultivation applications might be accepted by the fall. In the meantime, the state has created the Medical Marijuana Pilot Program web site, which will have updates and information on the state's progress.

Washington State Wants Medical Marijuana Businesses to Pay Taxes. The state Department of Revenue said Tuesday it will send letters to several hundred medical marijuana businesses informing them that they need to be registered and paying taxes. The department is giving the businesses until January 24 to comply. Some medical marijuana businesses already pay taxes, but others don't, arguing that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are untaxed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Governor to Push for Welfare Drug Testing. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he wants to require drug tests for recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Bryant's comments came just hours after a federal judge threw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional and as "reasonable suspicion" welfare drug testing laws in states like Utah and Minnesota have come under fire as costly and unnecessary.

Law Enforcement

Sleazy Details of DEA Cartagena Prostitution Scandal Emerge. A FOIA request from Foreign Policy has resulted in the release of a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on the scandal surrounding Secret Service and DEA agents who accompanied President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012. The report is full of juicy, sleazy detail on agents making dozens of calls to prostitutes on their government-issued cell phones, searching for dates with transvestite prostitutes, and seeking to redefine "sex" as not including paying hookers to masturbate them and "prostitution" as not what they had engaged in by paying hookers for sex acts. The OIG said that latter claim defied "common sense and legal definitions." Click on the link for more.

International

South Korean Comedian Gets Six Months in Jail for Smoking Pot. South Korean comedian Song In Hwa was sentenced to six months in prison last Saturday after she was found guilty of using marijuana on two separate occasions, one of them in a Las Vegas hotel room, the other one with her older sister in an unspecified location. The older sister got hit even harder, getting two years in prison. Both sisters also received additional years of jail time with the remainder of the sentences suspended. "Marijuana use by a celebrity is not a light crime given its bad influence on society, but considering the defense's recognition of the crime, her reflection, and the fact that it was only two times, we gave her a suspended sentence," the court said.

Peru Will Seek to Increase Coca Eradication This Year. Peru has set a target of eradicating 75,000 acres of coca this year, the head of the country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Wednesday. That's up from about 58,000 acres actually eradicated last year. Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's number one coca and cocaine producer, and the government of President Ollanta Humala has taken an increasingly hard line against illicit coca-growing. Eradication efforts will target the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM). The government also plans alternative development and crop substitution schemes for some 75,000 coca-growing families.

TNI Issues Report on Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario, Argentina. The Transnational Institute has released the first report in its new Briefing Series on Drug Markets and Violence, focusing on the interior Argentine city of Rosario. Illicit drug trafficking and associated violence and corruption went unremarked there until the killing on New Year's Day 2012 of three community activists sparked attention. Click on the link for the full report

Dutch Crackdown on Marijuana Grow Leads to Increased German Cultivation. German police said Thursday that they have seen a large increase in marijuana grows in empty buildings in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. They blame a Dutch crackdown on marijuana growers that has been in place since 2011. Since then, German cops in the state have busted 50 big grows, up from one or two a year before then.

Swansea University Global Drug Policy Observatory Up and Running. The recently created Global Drug Policy Observatory at Britain's Swansea University, whose goal is "promoting evidence and human rights based drug policy through the comprehensive and rigorous reporting, monitoring and analysis of policy developments at national and international levels," is open for business. Check out its new web site by clicking on the link above.

Federal Judge Throws Out Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

In a ruling out of Orlando Tuesday, US District Court Judge Mary Scriven permanently halted enforcement of Florida's suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients. The 2011 law had been in abeyance since a preliminary injunction was issued against it earlier.

"There is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use," Scriven wrote in her opinion in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families. She found that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

The law required anyone applying for welfare benefits to undergo a drug test without any particularized suspicion that he or she was using drugs. The federal courts have been loath to okay suspicionless drug testing, with a few notable exceptions for workers in public safety positions and some school kids.

Luis Lebron, the plaintiff in the case, who is also the sole caretaker of his disabled mother, was a 35-year-old full-time student at the University of Central Florida when he applied for temporary assistance in July 2011, to support his then 4-year-old son. When informed that he would be subjected to a humiliating and invasive search without cause or suspicion, Lebron refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by submitting to the newly-required drug test.

"I'm really pleased with the court's decision," said Lebron. "This confirms what I believed all along -- that what the government was asking people like me and my family to do was wrong. I'm proud that standing up against that is going to make a difference for other families like mine."

"This is a victory not just for Luis and his family, but for all Floridians who would have been forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches of their bodily fluids just because they need temporary help making ends meet," stated Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida and lead attorney on the case. "In reconfirming that the Fourth Amendment protects all of us, regardless of wealth or status, Judge Scriven's decision soundly rejects the notion that the government can treat an entire class of Floridians like suspected criminals simply for being poor. We are thrilled to ring in the New Year with the Court's opinion."

"The Court today affirmed that the 4th Amendment protects everyone, including those who need temporary assistance from the government," stated Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU. "Requiring suspicionless drug testing of TANF recipients is a slippery slope toward requiring drug testing for the receipt of any kind of government benefit, including social security, farm subsidies, and student scholarships. A clear line must be drawn, and the court did so today."

Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would appeal the decision.

Orlando, FL
United States

Judge Strikes Down Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

Happy holidays, indeed! First Uruguayan President Mujica give us a Christmas present by signing his country's law legalizing marijuana commerce (no surprise there, really), and now, a federal judge throws invites us to welcome the new year with a ruling throwing out Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) welfare drug testing law.

Curses, foiled again...
In a ruling out of Orlando today, US District Court Judge Mary Scriven permanently halted enforcement of the law, agreeing with an earlier court finding that "there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use...."

The law required anyone applying for welfare benefits to undergo a drug test without any particularized suspicion that he or she was using drugs. The federal courts have been loath to okay suspicionless drug testing, with a few notable exceptions for workers in public safety positions and some school kids.

The case is Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families. We'll have more on it later.

Oh, and the never-say-die Gov. Scott says he will appeal.

Location: 
Orlando, FL
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 23, 2013

The marijuana court judge was drunk, Dread Pirate Roberts wants his bitcoins back, Beto O'Rourke wants the Border Patrol to answer some questions, Rand Paul and Cory Booker tweet policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Florida "Marijuana Court" Judge Comes to Work Drunk. Florida Judge Gisele Pollack, who pioneered the notion of a "marijuana court," where misdemeanor pot offenders are steered toward treatment, showed up at work last Tuesday drunk out of her mind. When court staff tried to keep her off the bench, she responded, "Fuck you, you're fired." She was also reportedly screaming and crying as she demanded that her car keys be returned to her. She later told reporters she would be off for two weeks in "an intense outpatient program."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Signature-Gatherers Held Day of Action Saturday. Organizers for the campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the Florida ballot held a "Day of Action" Saturday as their effort heads into its final weeks. Supporters set up locations in 14 cities, including Daytona Beach and Orlando, where volunteers picked up and dropped off petitions. They need 700,000 to make the ballot, but are seeking to gather one million to have a cushion.

Asset Forfeiture

Silk Road's Dread Pirate Roberts Wants His Bitcoins Back. Ross Ulbricht, also known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts, is asking the federal government to return more than $30 million worth of bitcoins it seized after it shut down his Silk Road web site for allowing visitors to buy and sell illegal drugs and other contraband. Ulbricht argues in a legal filing that the currency should be returned because it isn't subject to civil forfeiture rules.

Law Enforcement

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Investigation into Heavy-Handed Border Drug Searches. US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is calling for an investigation into border drug search practices after, in the latest border search scandal, a New Mexico woman is suing after having been subjected to body cavity searches, including anal and vaginal probes while crossing into El Paso from Mexico. "Recent allegations brought against CBP for extreme and illegal searches are deeply troubling and, if true, completely unacceptable," O'Rourke said. "Individuals do not waive their constitutional or human rights simply because they choose to cross one of our international bridges. The war on drugs cannot be an excuse for sexual assault under the color of legal authority. Constitutional limits exist so that the rights of our citizens are protected and the government does not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," O'Rourke said. "CBP has a responsibility to ensure that all persons entering into our country are treated humanely and in accordance with our laws."

Sentencing Reform

Paul-Booker Tweet Fest Could Be Harbinger of Reform Alliance Next Year. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) engaged in a Twitter exchange today that could augur cooperation on moving forward with sentencing reform and marijuana and hemp legalization next year. Both are among the highest-profile senators seeking sentencing reform. Read the exchange at the link.

International

A Thousand Rally for Marijuana Legalization in Tel Aviv. More than a thousand people rallied in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square Saturday night in favor of marijuana legalization and easing restrictions on medical marijuana. Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin and Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg have proposed a bill that would legalize marijuana and ease access to it for medical use.

Costa Rica Presidential Candidates Not Keen On Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica's two leading presidential candidates have said they do not support the full legalization of marijuana in Costa Rica. Proponents of medical marijuana, however, might glean some hope from the candidates' responses. Front-runners Johnny Araya of the National Liberation Party and Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front are lukewarm at best on marijuana reform. Araya said "I'm against legalizing marijuana in Costa Rica," while Villalta, while not endorsing legalization, at least called for "a broad national dialogue" on the issue.

Obama Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Other Crack Offenders [FEATURE]

The White House announced yesterday that President Obama had granted commutations to eight federal prisoners serving decades-long sentences for crack cocaine offenses, including poster boy for drug war excess Clarence Aaron, who has spent the last 20 years behind bars. The president also pardoned 13 former prisoners.

Finally, Clarence Aaron will go free.
"Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," the president said. "But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all."

[Editor's Note: The Senate Judiciary Committee was marking up three sentencing reform bills this same day.]

Some sentencing reforms have been enacted since the harsh escalation of the drug war in the Reagan era, including the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. It was unfair to continue to let people languish serving sentences no longer applicable, Obama suggested.

"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," he said." Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."

The commutations are a departure for the Obama administration, which until now has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before today, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

While all eight people whose sentences were commuted suffered for years under the impact of harsh federal sentencing laws racially biased in result if not, charitably, in intent, Clarence Aaron in particular has served as the face of the unjustly punished deserving of presidential mercy. Then a college student, the first-time, nonviolent drug offender was sentenced to three life sentences for a peripheral role in a cocaine deal in 1993.

A model prisoner, his case became widely known as a result of a PBS News Frontline special about the use of informants in drug cases. His case drew additional publicity when the investigative journalism consortium ProPublica documented problems with the Office of the Pardon attorney, using Aaron's more than a decade-long effort to obtain a pardon as Exhibit #1.

Aaron's reaction to the news was not surprising.

"He was just overcome," said his attorney, Margaret Love, herself a former US Pardon Attorney, who spoke with Aaron this morning shortly after he received the news. "We're very grateful to the president," she told ProPublica after the commutations were announced.

That all the commutations were for crack cocaine-related offenses, Love said, "says something very important about the long federal sentences for drug crimes. There are a lot of people in prison whose cases are similar to the ones being commuted."

The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) said four of its supporters, including Aaron, had had their sentences commuted, but that there were many more who deserved to come home, too.

"Now that the president has opened the door to doing commutations, he might make it a more regular activity, and not just save it for the holidays or the end of his term," said FAMM president Julie Stewart. "He certainly has plenty of cases that he could choose from. I guess that time will tell."

Other sentencing and drug reform organizations were pleased and encouraged by the news, but joined FAMM and the president in calling for more.

ACLU deputy legal director Vanita Gupta chimed in, "President Obama today gave several Americans who were unnecessarily sentenced to die behind bars the chance to reunite with their families. This is one important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system. We hope the President will continue to exercise his clemency powers and lend his support to systemic reform that will make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more humane." A recent report by the ACLU on people serving life without parole sentences highlighted the cases of four of the people who received commutations this week -- Aaron, Stephanie George, Jason Hernandez, and Reynolds Wintersmith, Jr.

"It's wonderful news that Obama has granted clemency to these individuals. We hope this is the just the beginning of the President using his executive powers to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system," 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. "I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families."

"Through his actions today, the President has signaled his willingness to undertake needed reforms to the criminal justice system," said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director of the Brennan Center for Justice Washington, DC, office. "For too long, harsh sentences and punitive policies have fed a system of mass incarceration in this country. A comprehensive effort, involving the Administration and Congress, is needed to solve this crisis and return balance to the scales of justice by creating a more rational, fair, and cost-effective criminal justice system."

"We commend the President on this right and just action. It shows bold and necessary leadership," said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "This marks a year in which the administration has taken great leadership on criminal justice issues. From the statements of Attorney General Holder to the American Bar Association in August, to the implementation of their policies, this shows a trajectory towards real justice in the criminal justice system."

The trajectory may be there, but take-off has yet to be achieved, several advocates warned.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said in a statement, "Until there is legislative action to make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, these commutations are the only relief available to federal inmates and their families. But the administration can only do so much; it is up to Congress to address this systemic failure.

"Kudos to President Obama for commuting these eight people," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "But shame on the President for not commuting many more. With over 100,000 people still behind bars on nonviolent drug charges, clearly thousands more are deserving of the same freedom. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses."

And while the commutations are welcome, they are not the real solution, said FAMM's Stewart.

"Even if President Obama used his clemency power energetically, which he has not, he simply wouldn't be able to commute every excessive sentence," she said. "The sentencing laws themselves are the problem. Congress needs to get moving and pass mandatory minimums sentencing reforms that save the worst prison terms for the worst offenders," Stewart said. "We hope there will be even more commutations today, but it's only Congress that can prevent the need for commutations tomorrow."

Still, it is good that Clarence Aaron and a few others are going home.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 19, 2013

Today we have a plethora of pot polls, hope on banking, an important decision by Washington state regulators, and hints of change to come from Canada's Tories, among other news. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

AP Poll Finds Opposition to Legalization Declining. In a poll released Thursday, the Associated Press found opposition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana declining, from 55% in 2010 to 29% now. At the same time, the poll reported support for legalization rising from 33% to 36%. The poll included an option for "neither support nor oppose," with 33% choosing that response. While support is up slightly, according to the poll, a good chunk of those opposed in 2010 have moved to "neither support nor oppose" now.

Wall Street Journal Poll Explores Attitudes on Where Marijuana Should Be Sold. In a poll released Thursday, the Wall Street Journal found that the most popular locations where Americans wanted legal nmarijuana to be sold were pharmacies (69%), followed by pot shops (60%), liquor stores (39%), coffee shops (17%), and supermarkets (13%). The poll also reported that 53% said the sale and possession of small amounts should not be legal, but that 80% said it should be regulated like alcohol. Go figure.

Arizona Pot Polls All Over the Place. Three Arizona polls on marijuana legalization have come up with wildly different results. Two polls from earlier in the year had support for legalization at 56% and 60%, but one just released had support at only 39%. That one is from Susquehanna Polling and Research, which only does polls for candidates who are Republicans and which had Romney beating Obama in Pennsylvania three days before the 2012 election. Obama won the state by five points.

Relief on Banking Could Come Early Next Year. Marijuana businesses could enjoy access to banking and financial services early next year, Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said Thursday. "What we're being told," Finlaw said during a teleconference, "is probably in the first quarter of 2014 there will be some guidance issued that's comparable to the Cole memo from the Department of Justice that will give, maybe not a green light, but a yellow light to banks to allow them to do business [with marijuana businesses] -- to take deposits, to set up checking accounts, to set up small business loans, to allow these businesses to accept purchases through debit cards or credit cards, to allow what normal businesses are allowed to do." The comment comes after a meeting of the Bank Secrecy Advisory Group in Washington, DC, last week.

St. Louis Legalization Debate Packs 'Em In. A Wednesday night debate on marijuana legalization filled the St. Louis Ethical Society to overflowing as Show Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne took on Missouri Narcotics Officers Association vice president John Grellner for 90 minutes of heated, but polite debate. Show Me Cannabis is working to put a legalization initiative on the ballot next year.

Medical Marijuana

Washington Regulators Recommend Letting Patients Keep Their Personal Grows, But Eliminating Collective Grows. The state Liquor Control Board has reversed itself and is now recommending that patients be able to keep their grows of up to six plants. "Allow home grows and the ability for a qualified patient or designated provider to possess marijuana plants. A qualified patient or designated provider may possess 6 plants, 3 flowering and 3 nonflowering," the board recommended. But it also recommended eliminating collective gardens, the backbone of the state's dispensary system.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Long Island Public Hearing. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act, got a public hearing Wednesday in the chamber of the Nassau County Legislature. It had one earlier this month in Buffalo. The hearings are designed to mount public pressure on the state Senate to get the bill through.

International

UN Security Council Has "Deep Concerns" About West African Drug Trade. In a presidential statement Wednesday after a briefing from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" about a growing drug trade in West Africa and its links to terrorism. Ki-moon told the Security Council $1.2 billion worth of cocaine transits the region each year, where governments are weak, borders are porous, and extremists are on the march.

Canada's Tories to Modernize Marijuana Laws? Canada's governing Conservatives could modify the country's pot laws, Justice Minister Peter McKay hinted Wednesday. Fining marijuana users instead of arresting them is one possibility, he said. "That doesn't mean decriminalizing or legalizing, but it does mean giving police options, for example, to issue fines in addition to any other sanctions, or as a substitute for other sanctions," MacKay told QMI Agency. "These are things that we are willing to look at in the new year, but there's been no decision taken."

Obama Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

The White House announced this morning that President Obama had granted commutations to eight federal prisoners, including poster boy for drug war excess Clarence Aaron, who has served more than 20 years.

Finally, Clarence Aaron will go free.
These are commutations--not pardons--which means that people actually still serving time will shortly walk out of prison, as opposed to people who received pardons long after they were actually released.

The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) said four of its supporters, including Aaron, had had their sentences commuted. The group also said it expected four more crack cocaine offenders to be named as having received commutations as well. 

In the White House statement, President Obama acknowledged that commuting the sentences of a handful of prisoners was only a first step:

"Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," the president said. "But it must not be the last.  In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all."

We'll have a fuller write-up on this good news later today, but we thought you would want to hear as soon as we did. .

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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