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Call Judiciary Committee Senators TODAY to End Harsh Drug Sentencing!

Update: The committee markup has been postponed until next week -- that means there's still time to call! (Calls needed from AL, AZ, CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, IA, MN, NY, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT.)

Dear friend,

  

Tomorrow -- Thursday, December 12 -- the US Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss mandatory minimum sentencing and S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a bipartisan bill sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which would allow federal judges to bypass the much-criticized mandatory minimum sentences, sparing thousands of nonviolent federal offenders from years or even decades of incarceration. The bill would also extend retroactive sentencing reductions to some federal crack prisoners who had already been sentenced before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act that reduced crack sentences was passed.

Today is a National Call-In Day for people who have Senators on the Judiciary Committee to call them in support of the bill. Please read the list of committee members below. If you live in one of the states that is on the list, please call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be transferred to the Senator's office. (If you are from Minnesota, Texas or Utah, you have two phone calls to make, as both of your Senators as on the Committee.) There is a phone script below that you can use as a guide for your call. When you are done, or if you are not from one of these states, please post this alert to your web sites or social media, or circulate them to people you know who are from any of these states.

  • Alabama: Sen. Jeff Sessions (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Connecticut: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Delaware: Sen. Christopher Coons (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Hawaii: Sen. Mazie Hirono (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Illinois: Sen. Richard Durbin (thank for sponsoring the bill)
  • Iowa: Sen. Charles Grassley (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Minnesota: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Minnesota: Sen. Al Franken (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • New York: Sen. Chuck Schumer (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (thank for sponsoring the bill)
  • South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Utah: Sen. Orrin Hatch (urge to vote for S. 1410)
  • Utah: Sen. Mike Lee (thank for sponsoring the bill)
  • Vermont: Sen. Patrick Leahy (thank for sponsoring the bill)

Here is a script to use if your Senator is not a sponsor of S. 1410:
"I'm a constituent, and I'm calling to ask the Senator to vote in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing reform, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410, at this Thursday's Judiciary Committee markup. The Senator should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don't keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views."

And here is a script to use if your Senator is a sponsor of S. 1410:
"I'm a constituent, and I'm calling to thank the Senator for his support of mandatory minimum sentencing reform, including S. 1410, at this Thursday's Judiciary Committee markup. The Senate should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don't keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views."

Thank you for taking action! Read our report about why this is such a promising time for sentencing reform, online here. And read more about the upcoming hearing here.

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 5, 2013

Busy, busy on the marijuana policy front today, and there is also medical marijuana news, a new report on coerced federal plea bargains, a call for call-ins to the Senate on mandatory minimums next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Possession Legal in Portland, Maine, As of Tomorrow, But... The voter-approved ordinance legalizing the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by people 21 and over goes into effect Friday. But tokers beware: The police chief says he is going to continue to enforce state law, which is stricter. Maine is a decriminalization state, so getting caught with a small amount of pot will still get you a fine.

Legalization Initiative Filed in Missouri. The Missouri marijuana reform group Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has filed an initiative that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana. Petitioners will have to collect signatures from about 320,000 registered voters by May 4 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Surpass 1,300. Lots of people want to get into the legal marijuana business in Washington state. Regulators there are reviewing over 1,300 applications and there are still two weeks left for people to apply. More than 600 have applied for commercial growing licenses, more than 450 to produce edibles, and 230 have applied to open retail outlets. Regulators will license up to 334 pot shops, and there is no limit to the number of growers or producers, although the state wants to limit production to two million square feet.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said Wednesday that he has asked the State Liquor Control Board to allow at least 50 marijuana retail sales licenses to be issued in the city. The Board has proposed allowing only 21, but Holmes said that will not be enough to meet demand in the city.

Legalization Referendum Proposed for Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin. Dane County voters could vote on whether the state should legalize marijuana after a member of the county Board of Supervisors said he planned to introduce a measure that would ask them just that. The proposal has to pass the board, and if it does, voters would vote on a non-binding advisory referendum on the spring 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Action on Medical Marijuana Bills Delayed in Michigan. The Associated Press reported Thursday that votes on pending medical marijuana bills are unlikely until next year, although it didn't say why. Still, hundreds of people jammed legislative committee rooms to voice their opinions on improving the state's medical marijuana law.

Hearing Today on Medical Marijuana in Buffalo. Legislators in New York held a public hearing to gain support for medical marijuana legislation in Buffalo Thursday. More than two dozen speakers were invited to testify about the proposed legislation. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired the meeting.

Sentencing Reform

Call Your Senators on Mandatory Minimum Reform Next Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next Thursday on mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. If passed, that bill would benefit thousands of nonviolent federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences (including some crack offenders who are already in federal prison). Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is urging people whose senators are on the committee to call in to voice their support next Tuesday. Click on the link for more details.

Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Forced Pleas in Federal Drug Cases. Human Rights Watch Thursday released a report condemning coercive plea bargaining by federal prosecutors in drug cases and calling for sentencing reform. The report is An Offer You Can't Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

International

Israeli Health Ministry Bill Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The Israeli Health Ministry is proposing legislation that would increase the number of doctors authorized to prescribe medical marijuana and allow it to be distributed through pharmacies. The ministry is resisting allowing even broader access.

British Drug Think-Tank Offers Guide to Marijuana Regulation. The British drug think-tank Transform Drug Policy Foundation has issued How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, "Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?" to "How will legal regulation work in practice?"

Chronicle AM -- December 4, 2013

Some Denver city council members don't know when to give it a rest, some California US reps want stiffer penalties for pot grows on public lands, the Big Dog speaks on drug policy, Ecstasy may be on the rise, Morocco holds a historic hearing on cannabis, and more. Let's get to it:

Ecstasy seems to be making a comeback.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Now Considering Cultivation Restrictions. Just when you thought it was safe again, after an effort to stop people from smoking marijuana on their own property in public view died Monday night, the Denver city council is now considering an effort to cap the number of plants that can be grown in a single household. The measure is sponsored by Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, the same person behind the failed private property smoking ban. The measure would be in conflict with Amendment 64, which is now part of the state constitution and clearly says anyone 21 or older can grow six plants "notwithstanding any other provision of law."

California US Senator, Representatives Seek Tougher Penalties for Federal Lands Marijuana Grows. Several California congressmen, including some who have been strong supporters of medical marijuana, have written a letter to the US Sentencing Commission seeking longer prison sentences for people growing on federal and some private lands. "We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," the letter said. "The production and cultivation of controlled substances in particular marijuana, on public lands or while trespassing on private property is a direct threat to our environment and public safety." The signatories include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and US Reps. Doug Amalfa, Sam Farr, Jared Huffman, and Mike Thompson.

Drug Policy

Bill Clinton Says Attitudes Toward Drug Legalization Are Changing. Attitudes toward drug legalization are changing, former President Bill Clinton said in an interview with Fusion TV Tuesday. "The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," the ex-president opined. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state-by-state. And Latin America is free to do the same thing. It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up," he said. But he added that he didn't think hard drugs should be treated like marijuana. "It's also too complicated to say that if you legalize it, you wouldn't have any of these armed gangs trying to exercise a stranglehold over whole communities and lives, or that we could actually get away with legalizing cocaine and then the criminals would go away," he said.

Vermont Chief Justice Criticizes Drug War, "Tough on Crime" Approach. Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber has lashed out at the war on drugs and "tough on crime" approaches in general in a pair of recent speeches and a television interview. "Even with our best efforts, we are losing ground," Reiber told a crowd at Vermont Law School last month. "The classic approach of 'tough on crime' is not working in this area of drug policy. The public responds very well to this 'tough on crime' message, but that does not mean it's effective in changing individual behavior. If the idea is law enforcement alone will slow and eventually eliminate drug use altogether, that isn't going to happen… The criminal justice system can't solve the drug problem."

Club Drugs

Teen Ecstasy-Related Hospital ER Visits Doubled in Recent Years, Feds Say. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday that hospital emergency room visits linked to teen Ecstasy use had more than doubled between 2005 and 2011. The number jumped from about 4,500 to more than 10,000 during that period. One third of those cases also involved alcohol. Authorities worry the club drug is making a comeback, although the number of ER visits reported for ecstasy is a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million drug-related ER visits reported each year.

International

Morocco Parliament Holds Hearing on Legalizing Cannabis for Hemp, Medical Marijuana. Morocco's Party for Authenticity and Modernity held a historic hearing Wednesday about legalizing marijuana cultivation for hemp and medical marijuana. The party hopes to introduce legislation next year. Somewhere between 750,000 and a million Moroccans depend on the cannabis crop for a living, although lawmakers said small farmers currently reap very little profit, with most profits going to drug traffickers sending Moroccan hash to Europe.

Former Mexican Border State Governor Charged in US with Money Laundering for Cartels. Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas state, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, has been indicted by US authorities on charges he took millions in bribes from the Gulf Cartel. Prosecutors allege Yarrington started receiving bribes while running for governor of the state in 1999 and continued to do so throughout his term. He is being sought by US authorities, but has not been taken into custody in Mexico.

Medical Marijuana Update

Massachusetts and Illinois prepare for medical marijuana dispensaries, action is picking up in state legislatures, and Americans for Safe Access issues a report on state compliance with federal enforcement priorities. And more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, Americans for Safe Access released a report finding that medical marijuana states have enacted regulations that address federal enforcement concerns and calling on legislators and state rule-makers to keep the August 2013 Justice Department memo on enforcement guidelines in mind as they craft new laws and regulations. But DOJ memos aren't a solution, just a stopgap until appropriate federal legislation is passed, the report said.

Alabama

On Monday, State Rep. Patricia Todd said she will reintroduce medical marijuana legislation. She is talking up a bill that would allow for the use of CBD. Todd's previous medical marijuana bills have gotten nowhere in Montgomery.

California

Last Thursday, four California US representatives called for an end to the harassment of dispensaries.Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Also last Thursday, the Santa Cruz planning commission approved plans for a new dispensary to open where one closed last year. The panel unanimously approved a special use permit for CannaCruz Collective. The city only allows for two dispensaries, and one other one is already open nearby.

Illinois

Last Tuesday, the Niles city board approved regulations limiting where medical marijuana facilities can locate. Such businesses will be limited to manufacturing districts with a special use permit. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the state Department of Health released the names of finalists for medical marijuana sales licenses. There are one hundred of them, but some may face difficulties finding locations, in part because at least 130 cities and towns have adopted temporary moratoria on them. Applicants each paid a $30,000 application fee to enter the final round.

Michigan

On Monday, a key legislative leader said medical marijuana is a top priority next month. House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) said his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills. The first, House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state. Cotter also plans to take up two other medical marijuana-related bills. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible forms of marijuana. And Senate Bill 660 would clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan, but only if the federal government decides to regulate cannabis as a prescription drug.

New Jersey

On Monday, a lawmaker filed a bill allowing patients to get their medicine out of state. Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) introduced a bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy their medicine in other states where it is legal and consume it in New Jersey. The bill attempts to address restrictions in the state's medical marijuana law that prevent easy access to some medical marijuana formulations, especially strains with high levels of CBD.

New York

On Saturday, Democratic lawmakers announced public hearings next month to try to push a medical marijuana bill through the legislature. They plan to hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and Mineola. For the past several years, bills have passed the Assembly, only to die in the more conservative Senate. Another bill is moving this year. Click on the link for hearing details.

On Monday, a New York City council committee approved a resolution urging the federal government to approve the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, which would take medical marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances and enable certified medical providers and researchers to prescribe or access the drug without the threat of prosecution. The vote was unanimous.

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

Chronicle AM -- November 22, 2013

The momentum for marijuana legalization continues in the US, but Australia's New South Wales rejects medical marijuana even for the terminally ill. There's plenty more news, too. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a legal retail outlet near you (if you live in Colorado). (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

World's First-Ever Marijuana Retail License Issued in Colorado. Officials in Central City, Colorado, issued the world's first legal marijuana retail license Thursday. The license went to Annie's, currently operating as a medical marijuana dispensary. Annie's must still obtain a state license. Legal retail marijuana sales begin on January 1.

Oregon Legislators Meeting Today on Marijuana Legalization. Oregon lawmakers are meeting today to lay the groundwork for a possible marijuana legalization initiative to put before voters in November 2014. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) said he would push for such an initiative. New Approach Oregon has already filed its own legalization initiative, which Prozanski called "a great first draft," but then added that legislators should vet it.

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Has Majority Support in Indiana. The 2013 Hoosier Poll finds that 52.2% of adults in the state favor making "marijuana a regulated substance much like the way we regulate the use of alcohol and tobacco products." Only 45.3% were opposed. Support reached a whopping 78.1% when respondents were asked if "marijuana should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco products, or not."

Maine Legislative Council Rejects Legalization Bill. The Maine Legislative Council, made up of 10 leading legislators, Thursday night rejected a marijuana legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland). That means the bill will have to go through the regular legislative process next year, or the voters will decide through a referendum.

Medical Marijuana

Four California US Representatives Call on Northern California US Attorney to Stop Harassing Dispensaries. Reps. Barbara Lee (D), George Miller (D), Sam Farr (D), and Eric Swalwell (D) Thursday released excerpts of a letter they sent to US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag challenging her "hostility toward dispensaries." They criticized Haag's approach as "counterproductive and economically prohibitive," as well as being out of step with Obama administration policies as set down in August's Justice Department memo. "It is far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities," said Rep. Lee. "This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end."

Drug Testing

Northern Marianas Bill Would Require Twice a Year Drug Tests for Elected Officials. A bill being crafted in the Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives would require all elected officials to undergo drug tests every six months. The bill is being drafted by former cop Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero, but is likely to be found unconstitutional if it ever passes, given federal court precedents.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Makes First Arrest under Automobile "Secret Compartment" Drug Law. An Ohio man arrested Tuesday for driving a vehicle that contained a hidden compartment becomes the first person charged under the state's 2012 law (Senate Bill 305) making it a felony to add a secret compartment with the intent of using it to conceal drugs for trafficking. Norman Gurley's vehicle had a secret compartment, but it contained no drugs or evidence of drugs.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Blasts High US Incarceration Rates at Colombia Conference. US Attorney General Eric Holder ripped into US incarceration policies at a conference of security ministers in Colombia Thursday, calling our imprisonment rates "both inadvisable and unsustainable." Holder added that the resort to mass incarceration "results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons -- and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason." He also signaled that other countries should have greater flexibility in drug control policies. "We must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a 'one-size-fits all' approach."

International

No Medical Marijuana for the Terminally Ill in Australia's New South Wales. The state government in New South Wales has rejected a request that terminally ill patients be granted an exemption to use marijuana to ease their pain. A bipartisan parliamentary committee had recommended that AIDS and terminally ill patients be allowed to possess up to a half-ounce for medical reasons, but the state government rejected the recommendation, saying the potency and safety of medical marijuana cannot be guaranteed. The decision was "cannabis hysteria at its worst," said Green MP John Kaye. "It's absurd to argue that someone dying of cancer should be denied access to a little bit of pain relief because it's the same substance some people use illegally."

DEA Raiding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Denver! [FEATURE]

DEA and IRS agents backed up by Denver and other state and local law enforcement raided a number of Denver area medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations Thursday. The US Attorney for Colorado's office confirmed the raids were taking place.

a Denver medical marijuana dispensary (not one of those raided Thursday) (wikipedia.org)
"The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search warrants and seizure warrants," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the US Attorney for Colorado's office in a Thursday statement

"Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department's recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters," Dorschner added. "As this is an on-going investigation, no additional information will be made available," he said.

Dorschner was referring to an August 29 Justice Department memorandum to federal prosecutors that said the Obama administration would not interfere with marijuana legalization provided certain boundaries were not crossed. US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh laid them out in his own statement that same day.

"Of particular concern to the US Attorney's Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado's extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines," Walsh explained.

The Thursday raids come less than two months before state-legal marijuana retail stores open for business on January 1.

The Denver Post reported that the number of sites hit was "about a dozen," while the alternative weekly Westword put the number at fewer than 20, although that number is tentative. Among businesses mentioned by "reliable sources within the scene" to Westword are VIP Wellness, Cherry Top Farms, marQaha, and Swiss Medical in Boulder. Westword printed a photo of police cars in the parking lot of marQaha, while the Post printed a photo of piles of uprooted marijuana plants lying in the snow outside Swiss Medical.

Westword also reported that the owner of Swiss Medical told it that the raid there was prompted by one person among multiple tenants using its space, but that the raiders seized all the plants belonging to anyone who had a grow there. That's similar to what happened at Cherry Top Farms in 2011, when federal raiders targeting one grower seized all the plants on the scene.

"We do not yet know the details of these latest federal actions, so it is too soon to say what inspired them," said Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. "The Justice Department said it would respect states' rights to regulate marijuana, and that it would not go after businesses as long as they are complying with state laws. We hope they are sticking to their word and not interfering with any state-regulated, law-abiding businesses."

Tvert emphasized that at this point he does not know whether any of the businesses struck are accused of violating state laws.

"Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana works," Tvert said. "Those businesses that are in clear compliance with state laws are meeting the needs of the community and not causing problems. As a result, they have not faced much in the way of federal interference. If a business is suspected of violating state laws, they will likely face increased scrutiny, and if they are found to be in violation, they will likely face consequences. That is how our society treats alcohol, and that is how we expect to see marijuana treated."

Denver-based attorney and marijuana activist Rob Corry was less diplomatic. He told the Post the Justice Department was acting like a bully and targeting "mostly mom-and-pop businesses."

"That is true to form, the DOJ, behaving like the classic schoolyard bully picking on the little guy," he said. "The DOJ needs to explain in a logical fashion why they are picking and choosing, going after only some of these entities when every one of them selling marijuana is running afoul of the federal law."

Denver, CO
United States

Editorial: Did Trey Radel Really Vote for Drug Testing?

One of the top political stories this week was the recent arrest of Rep. Trey Radel, a freshman Republican congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession yesterday and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. Last night he gave a press conference to apologize to the country and his constituents and family, and announced he would be taking a leave of absence to pursue counseling and drug treatment.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Since the bust came to light, numerous headlines have circulated to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. But this is only true in a technical sense. As the text of these articles notes, unlike their headlines, the legislation Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the recurring major federal budget packages authorized every five years. Drug testing was a noxious but small part of the legislation, which also was a mechanism for continuing agricultural subsidies, for continuing the SNAP program itself, and many other things. There were Democrats who voted for the bill too, the roll call shows, some of them liberals who undoubtedly opposed the drug testing provision. Also, the amendment that got drug testing added to the Farm Bill was passed through a voice vote, and there is therefore no record of who voted for or against it. That means that Radel's vote for the Farm Bill could have been consistent with supporting drug testing of SNAP recipients, opposing drug testing, or having no position on it. There is no way to know without delving further. Politicians often have to vote for bills despite there being provisions they don't like, because they want an overall bill to pass.

Radel is also one of just three Republican sponsors of the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bill to undo mandatory minimum sentencing by allowing judges to impose sentences below any specified minimums. Although mandatory minimums extend to more issues than drugs, it is drug offenders who are the principle targets of them. So Radel has actually done more than most members of Congress to try to at least reduce the use of incarceration in America, and for drug offenders in particular. A piece published on ThinkProgress.org Tuesday in fact noted a number of statements Radel has made that express skepticism about drug war policies. It also noted that he has expressed opposition to marijuana legalization, so there are facts on both sides. On the other hand, most members of Congress are still likely to say they're not for legalization, despite our movement's recent victories and where opinion polls have gone, so I'm not inclined to attach much significance to that.

Radel news conference, 11/20/13 (TodayNews via YouTube)
That doesn't mean there isn't a valid lesson to be learned from the Radel arrest. A Politico article fairly described the incident as "bring[ing] up drug testing for food stamps." Nancy Pelosi legitimately made this point. Radel's Republican colleagues who are the main supporters of the drug testing amendment may deserve the hypocrisy charge. But it's less than clear that Radel does.

More important than piling on a member of Congress who probably doesn't deserve it, but more important in any case, is to make the points that the incident helps to illustrate about the discrimination and injustices inherent in drug war policies -- like drug testing poor people who don't use drugs more than anyone else, and throwing them out the window when they make the same mistakes in their stressful lives that many others who have easier lives make too.

Radel Hypocrisy Charge Doesn't Withstand Scrutiny

[Update: I've posted an improved version of this editorial in the Chronicle. Request links and likes there instead. - DB]

One of the top political stories this week is the recent bust for cocaine possession of Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican freshman congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty today, and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. As I write this piece, he is giving a press conference to apologize to the country and his family.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/trey-radel-200px.jpg
Trey Radel
Since the bust came to light, headlines have been circulating to the effect of Radel having voted for legislation to drug test food stamp recipients. I believe this is off base, because it is true only in a technical sense. As the body of the articles explain, what Radel voted for was an ultimately failed version of the Farm Bill, one of the major, recurring federal budget bills that get authorized every five years. It includes things like agricultural subsidies, funding for the food stamps program as a whole (now known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, rather than "food stamps"), many other items. Drug testing of food stamp recipients was just one provision out of many in the bill, and a look at the bill's roll call shows that while it was mostly Republicans who voted for it, there were also some Democrats, including some liberals who almost certainly opposed the drug testing provision. Politicians frequently have to vote for bills that include provisions they don't like, because they want to larger package to pass.

The drug testing language was actually added to the bill through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), which was passed on a voice vote, no roll call. That means there is no way to know, at least from the official legislative record, what Radel's position on the amendment was. His vote for the Farm Bill is consistent with supporting the amendment, with opposing the amendment, or with having no position on it. It's legitimate to point out, as a Politico article did, that Radel's arrest "brings up drug testing for food stamps." I hope it does, but that's a different point.

A ThinkProgress article noted that Radel has made comments suggesting "nuance" in his views on drug policy, pointing out he cosponsored a bill to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses. Perhaps in a nod to the "drug testing vote" headlines, the article has an update at the bottom mentioning the vote. I believe the original thrust of the article was on target, and I don't see the hypocrisy angle holding up in this case, at least from as much as we know right now.

Medical Marijuana Update

Federal agencies are beginning to work on the banking problem for medical marijuana businesses, the District of Columbia is looking at why its program is so tiny, and New Mexico can't keep up with medical marijuana demand. And there's much more, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a US Treasury official said the department is discussing banking for medical marijuana businesses with the Justice Department. Access to banking services has been a major roadblock for marijuana businesses, but the Obama administration has signaled it is willing to try to reach a workable solution to the problem.

Arizona

Last Friday, a judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law did not limit the health care rights by preventing those living less than 25 miles away from a dispensary from growing their own medicine. Judge Katherine Cooper throw out the challenge from two men, but she said they may be able to try again by arguing that the 25-mile rule amounts to a violation of their rights under constitutional provisions guaranteeing everyone equal protection of the law. She said, though, they have yet to make a case for that claim.

California

Last Thursday, the city of Los Angeles filed suit to block a Mar Vista dispensary from opening. The suit claims the business would violate voter-approved rules for marijuana dispensaries because its proximity to a residential neighborhood and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 a day for anyone involved in operating a dispensary at that location.

On Monday, the city of Jurapa Valley said it had filed lawsuits against five dispensaries. The suits seek to force the dispensaries to close. The Riverside County community wants to shut down all dispensaries within its jurisdiction. The lawsuits follow sternly-worded letters sent out in September 2011 and again last summer warning dispensary operators of possible actions against them.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors grappled with cultivation rules for medical marijuana grows. The supervisors had already set new rules for dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county and are preparing to vote December 10 on cultivation rules. The proposed rules would limit personal grows to 100 square feet, but allow up to 3,000 square feet in rural areas.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond city council agreed to allow a dispensary to relocate to East Richmond. The Green Remedy Collective needed to move because its landlord is facing foreclosure, but wanted to move to a location zoned general use, which violates the city's guidelines. The city waived the zoning requirement.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to ban dispensaries. The ban passed 4-1 after several community and religious leaders spoke against allowing the outlets, claiming they have harmful effects on families and adolescents. The action was prompted by the approaching date for the expiration of the city's moratorium on issuing permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. The council imposed a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in January 2012; it has renewed the moratorium twice. The current moratorium is set to expire January 24, 2014, and it cannot be renewed.

Last Friday, the city of Santa Ana sent warning letters to all dispensaries in the city saying they must close by the end of the month or face $1,000 a day fines and misdemeanor criminal charges. The city has a dispensary ban in place, but activists there have managed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot that would allow dispensaries to operate.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, news came that Mayor Gray has convened a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to assess current policies. The move comes amidst complaints that strict restrictions on eligibility for the District's medical marijuana program are preventing patients from taking advantage of it. An Intergovernmental Operations Subcommittee will monitor the effectiveness of the current medical marijuana program, and a Scientific Subcommittee will review applicable scientific research. Both subcommittees will review the practices of other states. Only 59 patients are enrolled in the program in the District and only 39 doctors are currently licensed to recommend medical marijuana.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Brookline town meeting cleared the way for a dispensary to open there. The meeting passed three warrant articles designed to set up a licensing framework for medical marijuana businesses. Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from a school.

Nevada

On Wednesday, the Reno city council approved a moratorium on dispensary business license applications. Las Vegas passed a similar temporary moratorium in September. Reno officials said they were waiting for the state to set final dispensary regulations before the 2013 medical marijuana law goes into effect on April 1.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's third dispensary began accepting patient registrations. Garden State Dispensary (formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of America) is opening in Woodbridge, although when that will actually happen is not yet certain. Some 1,500 patients and caregivers have registered with the state program, which has gotten off to an excruciatingly slow start.

New Mexico

On Saturday, a survey of medical marijuana producers and patients found that demand is outstripping supply. New Mexico producers have had to turn away thousands of patients in recent months and ration supplies to others, the report found. The number of licensed producers has dropped from a high of 25 to 23, while the number of active patients certified to buy medical cannabis hit 10,289 as of the end of last month, according to state officials, increasing by 1,200 from earlier this year.

Oregon

Last Friday, the Tualatin city council voted to ban dispensaries. The town follows the lead of Medford, but both localities may be in conflict with Oregon's new dispensary law, which leaves regulation up to the state, not localities.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters rallied at the state capitol in support of pending legislation that would allow for the use of medical marijuana by patients, including children. Senate Bill 1182, sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Mike Folmer (R) is the first bipartisan medical marijuana legislation in the state.

West Virginia

On Wednesday, the first details of a new medical marijuana bill emerged. An interim meeting of the Joint Health Committee heard from counsel Charles Roskovensky that the bill he is drafting for them would allow people with certain illnesses like cancer and glaucoma to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, registered patients would be able to purchase medical marijuana at five 'compassion centers' throughout the state that would be chosen through a competitive bid process, he said. Registered patients would also be allowed to have a limited number of 12 marijuana plants. But Roskovensky said the bill wasn't yet in final form, and he solicited suggestions from lawmakers.

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

Chronicle AM -- November 19, 2013

Hmmm, on the same day the DEA warns that "marijuana availability seems to be on the increase," hundreds of people apply for licenses to sell pot in Washington state. Times are changing, and somebody needs to let the DEA know. And there's more news, too. Let's get to it:

Crackdowns on pain pills are leading the way to comeback for heroin. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Hundreds Apply for Pot Business Licenses in Washington State. Monday was the first day budding ganjapreneurs could apply for licenses to open marijuana cultivation, processing, and retail facilities, and interest was intense. By 2:00pm Monday, 299 applications had been submitted. The state envisions up to 334 marijuana retail shops opening next year; it is unclear how many production and processing facilities will be licensed, although regulators have said they want to limit cultivation to two million square feet statewide. Applications are being accepted through December 17.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Initiative. The Arkansas attorney general's office Monday rejected the proposed language of an initiative that would repeal the state's marijuana laws. The initiative isn't clear about what it seeks to achieve, the office said. The attorney general's office has been busy with initiatives this year; it has already approved two separate medical marijuana initiatives, and the author of this one can come back with new language if she wishes.

Drug Policy

DEA Releases 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA Monday released the annual drug threat assessment, which includes looks at drug use and trafficking trends. The report identifies the illicit use of controlled prescription drugs as "the nation's fastest growing drug problem," warns that heroin use and supply is up, as is methamphetamine, but that cocaine use and supply is down. Also, "marijuana availability seems to be increasing," and synthetic drugs "have emerged as a serious problem in the United States."

New Yorkers to Map Out City Drug Policies on Saturday. New York City residents just elected a self-described progressive -- Bill de Blasio -- as mayor. Now, they will have a chance to let him know what direction they want the city to take on drug policy. As part of Talking Transition, "an open conversation about the future of New York City," hundreds of people are expected to attend a Saturday forum on "Ending the New Jim Crow: Mapping the Future of Drug Policy in New York City," then break into small groups to make recommendations on issues ranging from racially-biased marijuana arrests, lack of effective drug treatment, and overdose prevention strategies. Click on the main link for more details.

Heroin

Ohio Attorney General Declares War on Heroin. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday announced he had created a new heroin unit within his office to fight back against what he called "an epidemic" of heroin use. The move comes as heroin overdose deaths have doubled in recent years, from 292 in 2010 to 606 last year. DeWine said his office will spend an additional $1 million a year on increased assistance to law enforcement, community outreach workers, and lab technicians. The rise in heroin use in Ohio comes after Gov. John Kasich cracked down on pain clinics in 2011, leaving illicit heroin as the last resort for people strung out on opioids.

International

China to Turn "Re-Education" Labor Camps into Drug Treatment Centers. At its recent Third Plenary meeting, the Chinese Communist Party announced it was abolishing its controversial "re-education" labor camps. Now, it turns out that the camps won't be closing, but will instead be converted into drug treatment and rehabilitation centers. "The new rehab centers will provide compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment for addicts, and help them find self-confidence again," one official explained. There are 1.8 million "officially registered" addicts in China, but the number of actual addicts could run as high as 12 million.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy Meets in Vancouver This Weekend. Canadian SSDP is holding its annual national conference this weekend in Vancouver. In addition to panels and speeches, there will be tours of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection facility, a Downtown Eastside Walking Tour, and rides on the Sensible BC bus. For more details, click the link.

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