Asset Forfeiture

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Chronicle AM: El Chapo Captured, ME Gov's Race-Tinged Remarks Draw Outrage, More... (1/8/16)

Mexican authorities have recaptured the fugitive head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Maine's Tea Party governor goes racial on drugs, while other New England states move toward drug reforms, and more.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, arrested today in Mexico
Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. An initiative from New Approach Missouri has been approved for circulation by the secretary of state's office. The group is seeking 250,000 raw signatures to ensure it meets the requirement of 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign estimates it will cost $800,000 for paid signature gathering and is trying to raise funds now.

Asset Forfeiture

New Hampshire House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform. The GOP-controlled House Thursday approved a bill that would divert money garnered through civil asset forfeiture away from law enforcement and into the state's general fund. The bill would also require a criminal conviction before seized property can be permanently forfeited and it would provide protections for "innocent owners." The bill is House Bill 636. It now goes to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Maine Governor Says Black Out-of-State Drug Dealers Are "Impregnating Young White Girls." During a town hall meeting on Wednesday night, Gov. Paul LePage (R) was asked about how he was tackling substance abuse in Maine. What was his response? "These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty -- these types of guys -- they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home." He then elaborated: "Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road." He is catching lots of flak for his comments.

Massachusetts House Votes to Repeal Mandatory Driver's License Suspension for Drug Offenders. The House voted Thursday to repeal a state law mandating automatic driver's license suspensions for people convicted of drug offenses -- whether they were driving or not. About 7,000 people have their licenses suspended for drug offenses each year, imposing significant barriers to social reentry for drug offenders. "This vote shines a bright light on our state's evolving understanding of drug policy, and emphasizes our ongoing need to advance an approach to criminal justice and drug law reform that prioritizes treatment and rehabilitation over harmful punitive measures that impede Massachusetts residents from successfully reentering and re-engaging their communities," said Rep. Tom Sannicandro, Chair of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Caucus. The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

El Chapo Captured! Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced on his Twitter feed this morning that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, fugitive head of the Sinaloa Cartel had been recaptured in his home state of Sinaloa. He had escaped from a Mexican federal prison last July. That was his second prison break. He also escaped from a Mexican federal prison in 2001 and eluded capture for more than a decade. Not this time. Guzman heads what is arguably the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world.

Chronicle AM: IN Asset Forfeiture Bill Filed, Spanish High Court Convicts Cannabis Club Members, More... (12/29/15)

Medical marijuana petitioners are busy in North Dakota, the Indiana legislature will take up asset forfeiture next session, the Spanish Supreme Court rules against a leading cannabis social club, and more.

members of the Spanish cannabis social club Pannagh (encod.org)
Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Initiative Off to Fast Start on Signature Gathering. The North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana said Monday that it had gathered between 700 and 800 signatures during its first three weeks of petitioning for its initiative. The group needs 13,452 valid voter signatures by July 11 to appear on the November ballot. It says its goal is to gather at least 15,000 signatures.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill pre-filed earlier this month in the state legislature would require a criminal conviction of the property owner before finalizing asset forfeiture. The bill, from Sen. Lannie Randolph (D), would also allow property owners to file for a hardship release of property and it would require judges to ensure that any seizures are proportionate to the offense. The measure is Senate Bill 123.

International

Spanish Supreme Court Sentences Cannabis Club Members to Prison. The country's high court reversed a lower court decision favoring members of the Pannagh cannabis club and instead has sentenced four of them to prison terms and hefty fines. They were convicted of drug trafficking for their roles in the cannabis social club. The high court decision can and will be appealed.

Mexico's Marijuana Legalization Debate Begins January 25. The congress will take up the topic in a debate set for that date, with others to follow through February 17. The debate comes after the country's court have carved out limited exceptions to marijuana prohibition for medical marijuana patients and a handful of recreational users.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Progam, Syrians Flee ISIS for Lebanon's Hash Trade, More (12/23/15)

Two federal agencies make drug policy-related announcements, Syrians are fleeing the ISIS caliphate to work in the hash fields of Lebanon, and more.

Lebanese hash field (cannabisculture.com)
Medical Marijuana

DEA Eases Requirements for Natural Marijuana-Derived Research. The DEA today eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

New Hampshire to Begin Issuing Medical Marijuana ID Cards. State officials said today that they will begin issuing ID cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program. The Justice Department released a memorandum Monday notifying law enforcement agencies that it is temporarily suspending the equitable sharing program asset forfeiture funds because of tight budgets. This means law enforcement agencies will no longer get a share of federal funds confiscated through civil asset forfeiture, and that means law enforcement agencies have lost a considerable financial incentive to turn drug busts over to the feds. Many state laws require seized funds to be allocated to the general fund or education funds, and law enforcement agencies used the federal equitable sharing program to get around those laws. Under the federal program, the local seizing agency got 80% of the haul.

International

Syrians Flee ISIS to Harvest Hash in Lebanon. Refugees from Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS caliphate, are fleeing across the border to Lebanon, where they can get work in that country's booming cannabis trade. Their work in the trade places them in danger of retribution from the jihadists if they return home, they said. "If Islamic State back home knew we work with hashish, they would cut us" with knives, said one refugee.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

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

Chronicle AM: Mexico Issues First Pot Permits, DOJ Wants More $$$ for Asset Forfeiture, More (12/11/15)

A legalization initiative dies in Florida, but another is born in Montana; the Justice Department proposes funding increases for asset forfeiture programs, Mexico issues the first permits allowing people to grow and possess marijuana, and more.

!Viva Mexico!
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Gives Up. Marijuana legalization will not be on the Florida ballot next year. Regulate Florida, which was the group behind the campaign, conceded Wednesday that it would not be able to gather the 683,000 needed signatures by the February deadline. They may try again in 2018, the group said.

Montana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D) Thursday approved the language of Initiative 178, which would legalize pot for people 21 and over, subject to licensing requirements and state regulations. Petitioners need 24,175 valid voter signatures, including at least 5% of registered voters in each of the state's 343 House districts.

St. Petersburg Ponders Decriminalization. St. Petersburg city council members Thursday asked Pinellas County commissioners to decriminalize small-time pot possession. Council members said that if the county doesn't act, they will draft their own municipal decriminalization proposal. In the past year, local decriminalization has taken off in Florida, with Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, as well as several municipalities in those counties, adopting similar ordinances.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Wants Even More Money for Asset Forfeiture Programs. American law enforcement is seizing property from citizens at a record rate, but that's apparently not good enough for the Justice Department, which is seeking increased funding to support the asset forfeiture activities of the DEA and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The department wants $297.2 million to fund asset forfeiture in FY 2016, up $14 million over the previous year and up a whopping 146% since 2008. The entire federal drug control budget has increased by only 25% during that same period.

Drug Policy

Maine Legislature Caves in to Governor, Agrees to Hire More Drug Agents. Legislative leaders Wednesday unveiled a $4.8 million plan to fight the state's opiate use problem, with half of the funding going to law enforcement, including the hiring of 10 new state drug agents. Gov. Paul Le Page (R) had threatened to call in the National Guard today to fight drugs if the legislature didn't fund his demands. The other half of the money designated would go toward treatment, recovery, and education.

International

Mexico Issues First Permits to Grow and Use Marijuana. The Mexican government has awarded permits to four people that allow them to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. The move comes in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision allowing the four to legally produce it for their own use. Both the court ruling and the permits were limited to the four people in the case, but could pave the way for similar court rulings across the country and, ultimately, pot legalization nationwide.

Danish Parliament Considers Medical Marijuana. The parliament today began debating a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill is sponsored by Alternativet, but has the support of other parties as well. Alternativet, Dansk Folkeparti, Liberal Alliance, Socialistisk Folkeparti, and Radikale all support the bill. Together, they have 88 votes in parliament, precisely the number needed for the measure to pass.

Chronicle AM: No Oregon MJ Social Clubs, Huge Chilean MedMJ Crop, More (12/4/15)

Oregon's cannabis cafes face a bleak future after running afoul of the state's anti-smoking laws, a no-smoking Florida medical marijuana bill advances, a huge medical marijuana crop grows in Chile, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Oregon Marijuana Cafes Must Shut Down By Next Month. Operations that allow people to smoke marijuana inside will have to shut down by January 1 or face fines for violating the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act. Some cannabis café owners, such as Madeline Martinez, operator of the World Famous Cannabis Café, say they will fight. "People will be forced to consume in the street, in their car, at the park," she said. "It's a nightmare. I'm going to have to close my doors."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording on Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana in the state, saying the wording is ambiguous. Initiative proponent David Crouch, a Little Rock attorney, will have to submit revised language if he wants to move forward.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for cannabis oils containing higher levels of THC-- but not for smokable medical marijuana -- passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Thursday. The measure, SB 460, would amend the state's Right to Try Act, which allows patients facing death to try experimental medicines. A companion measure is also moving in the House.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Panel Rejects Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The Virginia State Crime Commission voted 9-3 Thursday against endorsing civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. Virginia doesn't have a problem with asset forfeiture, asserted Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, who sits on the panel. The legislature considered asset forfeiture reform last year, but refused to vote on it and instead bumped it over to the crime commission for further study.

International

Latin America's Largest Ever Legal Marijuana Crop Planted in Chile. Regional agricultural authorities in central Chile last month approved a 6,900-plant medical marijuana grow operation that will produce 20 strains of high-potency marijuana. The resulting buds will be converted to cannabis oil after being harvested next spring (fall in the Southern Hemisphere).

Police Took More From Citizens Than Burglars Did Last Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Petition to Fire DEA Head Gains Traction, Colombia OKs Medical Marijuana, More (11/12/15)

There are now more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to fire DEA head Chuck Rosenberg over his medical marijuana comments, Denver thinks a thousand pot shops is enough, Colombia will allow medical marijuana, and more. 

Coca and cocaine production is on the upswing in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

ResponsibleOhio Isn't Going Away. The group behind this month's defeated marijuana "monopoly" legalization initiative isn't going quietly into that long good night; instead, ResponsibleOhio is now trying to craft an initiative that can actually win. The group seems to understand that its plan to limit commercial grow opportunities and its bud-headed mascot, Buddie, were real turn-offs.

Denver Moves Toward a Moratorium on New Pot Shops. The city is proposing changes to its marijuana ordinances that would effectively halt new marijuana stores from opening for the next two years. The city currently has more than a thousand licensed operations, and that's enough, city officials said. "We have enough marijuana in Denver," said Ashley Kilroy, Denver's executive director of Marijuana Policy. "Basically, we’re saturated." The only exceptions would be some 85 medical marijuana businesses that were licensed in 2013.

Medical Marijuana

Petition to Fire DEA Head for Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke" Now Has 16,000 Signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

Kansas City Hospitals Deny Cannabis Oil to Epileptic Patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Prosecutors Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. County prosecutors from across the state lined up Wednesday to testify against House Bill 347, which would eliminate asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. They called the tactic "a vital tool" in going after drug traffickers during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more flavor.

International

Colombia Will Allow Medical Marijuana. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said today that the country plans to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana. Legalization will only apply to medical and scientific uses of the plant, he clarified. Pot possession is already legalized under Colombian Supreme Court rulings, but this move will allow for commercial medical production.

Colombia Retakes Title of World's Largest Cocaine Producer. Colombia is back on top in the cocaine production sweepstakes, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The organization puts Colombian production last year at 175,000 acres, compared to 109,000 for Peru, and 31,000 for Bolivia. The UN estimates Colombian cocaine production will increase 52% this year, in part because of the end of aerial eradication and in part because peasants believe that a looming peace deal between the government and the FARC will see benefits for farmers who abandon their crops, so they are planting coca. 

The 2015 International Drug Reform Conference is Next Week in DC! [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here

The world's premier drug policy reform conference is set for next week in suburban Washington, DC. Hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, the 2015 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will bring well over a thousand experts and advocates together beginning next Wednesday evening and going through next Saturday evening.

Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann provides a stemwinder keystone speech. (osi.org)
This biennial conference is the de rigueur event of drug policy reform, and DPA's co-hosts include the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Institute of the Black World, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Open Society Foundations, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and more.

People will be attending from around the country and around the planet, and the conference will be covering international as well as domestic drug policy concerns.

This year's conference couldn't come at a more exciting and propitious time for drug policy reform: Marijuana legalization is on the march in the US and across the world, outrageous drug sentences in the US are starting to be undone, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is set for next year, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling, and a more enlightened future awaits -- if we can get there from here.

And that's what the conference is about: effecting change. Attendees will be hearing from experts not only in science, medicine, and law, but also from the activists and elected and appointed officials who have successfully made reform happen.

The conference will feature a live national town hall exploring the intersections between drug reform and the Black Lives Matter movement, documentary film screenings, tours of Washington, DC's drug war history, three dozen community-based sessions, and too many panels for any one human to attend in person. (thankfully, DPA will be recording all the sessions for future reference.)

Here's just a taste of what's in store:

Ensuring Inclusion, Repairing Damage: Diversity, Equity and the Marijuana Industry

  • This roundtable will focus on how the war on drugs has harmed multiple generations through criminalization and mass incarceration. As marijuana legalization efforts move forward, who will control the industry and what will be the barriers to entry? Most importantly, how can the "green rush" be a road to repair for the traditionally marginalized and underserved?

How could weed not be on the agenda?
Beyond Marijuana: The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Broader Drug Policy Reforms

  • Despite marijuana's broad and growing social acceptance, marijuana law violations make up almost half of all drug arrests nationally. Because of this, marijuana legalization is often touted as the first step toward dismantling the war on drugs, but legalization advocates often distinguish the substance from other illicit drugs. With this in mind, how can marijuana legalization further the movement to decriminalize other drugs?

The Drug War and the Militarization/Bastardization of the Police

  • Even though some communities have always known police brutality, issues of impunity of action and corruption are now touching upon the mainstream like never before. Supported by lawmakers and the judiciary, the police have become militarized and bastardized. What has caused the condoning of an ever increasing violent police force and how has the politics and violence of the drug trade and the drug war directly assisted with this phenomenon?

MDMA and Other Psychedelics: What Does Legal Access Look Like?

  • We all agree that criminalization of all drugs needs to end, and marijuana legalization has provided one model for that. Public and political support for moving immediately to the same model for other drugs is low -- so in what other ways can we end criminalization and create legal access for MDMA and other psychedelic drugs? What would a medical model look like? Would a spiritual model using approved guides work for something like ayahuasca? What about licensing users or specific venues? And would any of these models show promise for drugs with addiction potential like cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin?

Reform For Those Who Sell Drugs: The Third Rail of Drug Policy Reform

  • This roundtable will broach the subject of advocating for drug sellers. As we look to minimize the use of the criminal justice system where drug policy is concerned, how do we distinguish the drug dependent subsistence dealer and the more common mid-level drug dealer who's not dependent? Does compassion and the public health approach extend to those who sell drugs?

The Future of Digital Spaces, Drug Sales and Drug Policy

  • Shutting down the Silk Road and sentencing Ross Ulbricht to life in prison not only failed to end global online drug transactions, but actually led to having more digital drug marketplaces today than ever before. Join leading experts to discuss the benefits and risks of this new model of drug sales and how they can be used to help end the war on drugs.

Supervised Injection Facilities

  • Supervised injection facilities (SIFs) have been a crucial part of harm reduction initiatives allowing people to consume illicit drugs in a supervised, often clinical space. However, questions remain concerning the advantages SIFs offer and their role in addressing the HIV epidemic among people who use drugs. This session will cover campaigns and strategies, both in the United States and internationally.

There will be sessions on psychedelics. (wikimedia.org)
Drugs and America's Pop Culture: America's Untold Story!

  • From Bob Dylan to Nina Simone, Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, successful American artists have traditionally played a leading role in addressing social and political issues of their time. Have political activism and America's pop culture parted ways? If the criminal justice system is today's civil rights issue, what will it take to engage a cadre of pop artists who fully embrace art as politics?

Criminalized, Marginalized and "Othered": Lessons and Strategies for Fighting the Drug War in Hard Places

  • This roundtable will focus on the diverse demographics among drug users. From pregnant women to individuals in LGBT circles and HIV-affected communities, what strategies are working and what can our movement learn about organizing with criminalized, marginalized and transient constituencies? How do we build a more robust movement that addresses the challenges and concerns of those least visible and most vulnerable to drug war policies?

What Does Drug Education and Prevention Look Like in the Age of Marijuana Legalization?

  • Despite successful marijuana legalization campaigns in Colorado, Washington, and the District of Columbia and California's potential legalization vote in 2016, the rhetoric of "Reefer Madness" type messages are being renewed even though recent studies show that teen marijuana use is falling as more states legalize it. This discussion will bring together drug education and prevention experts to highlight the current research findings and map out a path for effective drug education and prevention in the age of legalization.

United Nations: What's the Opportunity?

  • The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is less than a year away. This gathering presents an immense opportunity to build international momentum to end the war on drugs and highlight countries that have taken significant steps in implementing sensible drug laws. This roundtable will focus on the set of "outside game" strategies taking place and ways in which UNGASS can advance the drug policy movement's common agenda.

Are the Party Kids Any Safer Yet? EDM Festivals, the Music Industry and Harm Reduction

  • Festival event producers are in a tough spot: always trying to balance demands for "zero tolerance" drug-free events versus trying their best to prepare for attendees who will use drugs. How are festivals starting to integrate drug education and onsite harm reduction services to keep their attendees safe? What challenges and limitations still remain? Will a national effort to change federal RAVE Act legislation clear the path? What more could be done?

E-Cigs and the Future of Maintenance Therapies

  • Electronic cigarettes have been the center of considerable controversy between those who see them as a public health threat and those who see them as a valuable harm reduction tool. This roundtable will discuss e-cigs as an alternative source of nicotine for those who c annot or will not quite smoking traditional cigarettes and whether these devices could herald a new era of maintenance therapies or a new era of cracking down on them.

See you there!

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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