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Chronicle AM -- July 30, 2014

Marijuana arrests are up in a third of the states, the drug czar's office responds to the New York Times, Dr. Carl Hart wins a literary award, Philly narcs get busted, and more. Let's get to it:

Bus ad for the Alaska marijuana legalization campaign.
Marijuana Policy

ONDCP Responds to New York Times Call to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. In a Monday night blog post, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) responded to the New York Times's Sunday editorial calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "Marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution," ONDCP proclaimed. "The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem." Click on the link to read the whole post.

NORML PAC Endorses Constance Johnson for US Senate in Oklahoma. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) for the US Senate in Oklahoma. Johnson has been an advocate for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization and, this year, has been leading a petition drive to put legalization on the November ballot. "I'm incredibly thankful for NORML's endorsement, " said Sen. Johnson. "After years of stonewalling in the state legislature, I'm taking this fight to the people. It's time for the people of Oklahoma to speak on this issue." The Democratic primary is August 26.

Marijuana Arrests Up in Many States. Although annual marijuana arrests nationwide declined by 3.3% between 2008 and 2012, they increased in at least 17 states, according to a report published by NORML, Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests. South Carolina and the District of Columbia saw the biggest increases, but DC has just decriminalized marijuana possession, so that should change soon. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1%), New Hampshire (72%), Montana (70.3%), Wyoming (68.7%) and Wisconsin (67.1%).

Alaska Legalization Campaign Unveils News Bus Ads. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol In Alaska unveiled a series of bus ads yesterday in Anchorage that highlight the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol. The ads will appear throughout the week on city buses.

National Cannabis Industry Association Announces Food Safety Program for Edibles Makers and Responsible Selling Program for Retailers. The National Cannabis Industry Association will hold a ServSafe Food Safety training for edibles makers and a responsible selling program for budtenders in Denver next month. Click on the link to register.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Tells Health Department to Hurry Up with Medical Marijuana. Impelled by the deaths of two children with epileptic seizure disorders whose conditions could be alleviated with medical marijuana, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today sent a letter to the Department of Health urging it to find ways to "accelerate the process for this specific dire population." Cuomo added that he looked forward "to any progress you can make for the children of our state living with epilepsy."

Fired University of Arizona Medical Marijuana Researcher Loses Appeal. Dr. Sue Sisley, the University of Arizona researcher whose pending study of medical marijuana to treat PTSD among veterans was halted when she was fired last month, has lost an appeal to regain her job. Sisley is now looking for a new academic home to pursue the research.

Law Enforcement

Six Philadelphia Narcs Charged in Corruption Probe. The long-running scandal around Philadelphia's out-of-control narcotics units took another twist today when federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against six of them, including robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. They are accused of shaking down drug dealers and stealing hundreds of thousands in cash and drugs over a six-year period. Federal prosecutors asked that they be held without bail, given their violent histories.

Drug Science

Dr. Carl Hart's "High Price" Wins Science Writing Award. Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University (and Drug Policy Alliance board member), has been awarded the PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his memoir, "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society." Read our review of "High Price" here.

International

Medical Marijuana Civil Disobedience Action in Italy. Activists affiliated with the Italian Radical Party have engaged in civil disobedience over medical marijuana by planting seeds to grow specifically selected marijuana plants to treat patients with multiple sclerosis. The move is a result of frustration with the lack of effective access to medical marijuana in the country, where only 60 patients manage to obtain Dutch-produced medical marijuana through the Public Health Service. Click on the link for more details.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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 Book Review: To End the War on Drugs

To End the War on Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press, and Public by Dean Becker (2014, DTN Media, 340 pp., $19.95 PB)

Dean Becker is on a crusade. As I write these words, the Houston-based activist, advocate, and journalist is in Washington, DC, preparing for a Tuesday press conference in which he, along with other drug reform advocates, will announce a "Summer Reading Assignment" for Congress, the executive branch, the Supreme Court, and the governors of the 50 states. The assignment is to read his new book, To End the War on Drugs.

(Just last week, Becker put out a special "Policy-makers edition" of the book for this purpose.)

Becker is convinced that if the politicians just understood how horribly wrong-headed and misguided drug prohibition is, they would see the error of their ways and repent. I'm not sure I share his trust in the power of truth to overcome hide-bound thought processes and entrenched interests, but To End the War on Drugs is chock-full of argument and information that will be of great use to anyone seeking an understanding of how far off-the-rails our prohibitionist drug policies have taken us.

To End the War on Drugs is a compilation (and, hopefully, not the culmination) of Becker's 15 years in the trenches of what I call drug reform movement journalism. By that I mean reporting that seeks to accurately portray the effects of drug prohibition as well as the battles to change the drug laws, but which is informed by a certain editorial perspective. That perspective is that the drug war is a disaster.

When I first started covering the drug war for the Chronicle 13 years ago, I was almost alone in providing systematic coverage. There was High Times, but there weren't the dozens of marijuana-related magazines and hundreds of pot-related blogs that there are now. There wasn't much interest in marijuana reform in the mainstream media, let alone much concern about prison overpopulation, racism, and law enforcement militarization. The blogosphere was in its infancy. It was a pretty lonely beat, but Dean Becker was there.

He's been at it since 1999, creating his own movement journalism version of a media empire, beginning with the Drug Truth Network's Cultural Baggage radio shows broadcast from Houston's Pacifica radio station, which currently airs on around a hundred stations, and now including the Unvarnished Truth TV program. At the same time, Becker has also been an activist, working with the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and once heading Houston NORML.

The words of those Becker interviewed for the programs form the bulk of To End the Drug War. The book contains excerpts from interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the drug war or in ending it, including politicians, cops, lawyers, judges, researchers, scientists, and even other journalists (including yours truly, whose comments on the Mexican drug war a few years ago warranted a few pages). There is plenty of ammunition in there for folks seeking to demolish drug prohibition.

And that's exactly what Becker wants to do. He makes no bones about it. The interview excerpts make up the bulk of the book, but they are divided into various topics, with Becker providing an introductory page or two for each topic, and that's when Dean gets to shine. Journalists are usually doing the listening, not the talking -- watch out when we get a chance to say what's actually on our minds!

In his mini-essays, Becker makes it crystal clear that his mission, his obsession, his over-riding goal, is to drive a stake through the heart of the drug war. His is a demand for freedom and justice, and he is happy to leave the hesitations, the equivocations, and the qualifications to others. And he doesn't pull a lot of punches.

"Incrementalism" is, in Becker's view, a trap, a detour, a diversion. Drug prohibition, with all its horrors, has gone on more than long enough, and half-measures like drug decriminalization are not sufficient to end the evil. It is time to quit screwing around and end the drug war, he writes.

Similarly, while of course Becker wants marijuana legalization -- and he wants it now! -- he also understands that the drug war doesn't end with weed. It isn't white pot smokers who are filling our prisons, and legalizing weed isn't going to empty them out. It's going to take actually ending drug prohibition. Incremental measures such as sentencing reforms -- while a blessed relief to the victims of the drug war -- aren't going to end the injustice.

When it comes to drug prohibition, Becker is an absolutist. And I don't think that's a bad thing. To End the Drug War is his cri de couer. It deserves to be widely read, not only by those seeking ammunition to reinforce their policy positions on the drug war, but by those decision-makers and opinion-shapers at whom it is aimed.

Chronicle AM -- July 28, 2014

The New York Times comes out for marijuana legalization, a Florida poll finds majority support for it, Rand Paul introduces a bill to wipe out the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. Let's get to it:

The nation's "newspaper of record" wants to free the weed. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls for End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition. What is arguably the most influential and respected newspaper in the United States is ready to free the weed. In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times called forthrightly for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. "The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," the newspaper proclaimed. "We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws."

Alaska Legalization Initiative Backers File Campaign Finance Complaint Against Foes. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission charging that the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign deceived the public trust when its campaign spokesperson, Kristina Woolston, said her employer, Northwest Strategies is donating its time to the campaign. State law requires that donations be filed as campaign contributions.

Florida Poll Finds 55% for Marijuana Legalization. A majority (55%) of Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana, a new Quinnipiac University poll has found. It looks to be a generational thing; 72% of people under 30 support it, but only 36% of people 65 and older do. The poll also had 88% support for medical marijuana.

More Michigan Towns to Hand in Local Decriminalization Initiative Signatures Tomorrow. Initiative organizers in Port Huron, Lansing, and Portage are preparing to hand in signatures for local decriminalization initiatives tomorrow. The Safer Michigan Coalition says organizers have already handed in signatures in 14 other towns: Frankfort, Huntington Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Pleasant Ridge and Utica; in prior weeks, they did so in Berkley, Grosse Pointe Park, Harrison, Hazel Park, Lapeer, Montrose, Oak Park, Onaway and Saginaw.

Santa Fe, New Mexican, Decriminalization Initiatives Comes Up Short on Signatures. A campaign to put a municipal decriminalization on the Santa Fe ballot in November has hit a bump. Only 3,569 of the 7,000 signatures it handed in were valid; it needs 5,763 to qualify. But campaigners still have more time to gather more.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Allow Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Filed in US House. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) today introduced a bill that would exempt low-THC, high-CBD marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Staten Island Narcs Are NYPD's Most Sued. Seven of the 10 most sued NYPD officers work out of a Staten Island narcotics unit, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News. Those Staten Island narcs account for 21% of the more than 600 cases filed against NYPD officers in the past decade. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $6 million to settle suits against them. Most of the suits against them allege false arrests for charges that are later dropped. Detective Vincent Orsini, who has been sued 21 times since 2003, with payouts of nearly $1.1 million, is the most-sued cop on the Island.

Sentencing

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last Thursday filed the RESET (Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment) Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but this bill would totally equalize the penalties. The bill would also reclassify some low-level federal drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Gun Battles Continue in Northeast Mexico Across from US Border. Fighting between various Mexican drug cartel factions in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas continues. Gun battles in Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, left six suspected cartel gun men dead, including at least one killed by Mexican marines.

Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

A Belle Isle, Florida, man died Wednesday during a gun battle with undercover deputies trying to seize a package from his home. Giles Harrison Carter, 29, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WOFL Fox 35 Orlando, citing police sources, undercover Orange County sheriff's deputies belonging to the department's narcotics unit were attempting to intercept a package from a home when Carter opened fire, then retreated inside his house. Deputies said he barricaded himself inside and continued to exchange gunfire with them.

"During the shooting, the deputies had some conversation with him [Carter]. They were identified," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings during a news conference held on Wednesday afternoon. "He [Carter] had a handgun. At that point, the gun was pointed directly at them, is what I'm being told at this time. They fired at him, he retreated into the home and came back and fired another volley of rounds at the deputies."

Sheriff Demings did not say whether the undercover deputies "were identified" as such by Carter before that point.

An Orange County SWAT team was called in to rescue the deputies, who were "pinned down by the gun fire." After a brief conversation between Carter and the SWAT team, the team entered the home and reported finding him dead.

It's not clear whether Carter was shot by police or died at his own hand. Nor is it clear whether he was the intended recipient of the package or what was actually in it.

Carter, an Army veteran, had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia last Friday. But other than that, he had no criminal record, his attorney in that case said.

"Mr. Carter is fairly new to the area, and he had previously been in the US military. He told me he was a veteran, and we were approaching the State Attorney's Office about avoiding prosecution completely and looking into a pre-trial diversion program to keep his record clean, so that he could obtain and maintain security clearances with the federal government," said attorney John Gihon. "Mr. Carter, he was a smart guy. He was intelligent and educated, and it really came across in the short time that I knew him. To find out now that he's dead; that's really a shock to me."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will conduct the deputy involved shooting investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards section will conduct an administrative review.

Belle Isle, FL
United States

US Drug Policy and the Border Child Immigration Crisis [FEATURE]

The mass migration of tens of thousands of children and adolescents from Central America festered for months before exploding into a full-blown border refugee/immigration crisis in the last few weeks, as images of hundreds of children warehoused in temporary holding facilities competed with equally compelling images of crowds of angry Americans loudly protesting their presence.

At the border. (COHA)
The finger-pointing is in full swing. Much of it centers on the need to "secure the border" and the Obama administration's alleged failure to do so. Other Republican critics blame the administration's alleged "softness" on child immigrants as a factor pulling the kids north. Democrats counter that the GOP's blockage of long-pending immigration reform is part of the problem.

A lot of the discussion centers around the "pull" factors -- those policies or social or economic realities that draw these immigrants toward the US, but equally at play are "push" factors -- those policies or social or economic factors that impel these emigrants to seek new, better lives outside their homelands.

And there is finger-pointing going on about that, too, with some loud and prominent voices placing a good share of the blame on prohibitionist US drug policies in Latin America -- their emphasis on law enforcement and military responses, their balloon effects, and their other unintended consequences.

The majority of the child immigrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (the isthmus also includes Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama). Those Northern Triangle countries suffered not only devastating civil wars in the 1980s, with the US supporting conservative, often dictatorial governments against leftist popular guerrilla movements (or, in the case of Honduras, serving as a platform for counterinsurgency against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua), but also chronic poverty and income inequality.

They are also the countries feeling the brunt of the expansion of powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- who, in response to increased pressure from the Mexican government (assisted by US aid under the Merida agreement) began pushing south into the region around 2008. And they are countries where transnational criminal gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have taken on an increasingly high profile, bringing high levels of criminal violence with them. (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, bears the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the world.)

Honduran President Juan Fernandez is one of the prominent voices placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the war on drugs.

"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration. A good part of (migration) has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85% of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said.

Former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich has been another prominent voice pointing to the role of the drug war -- and earlier militaristic US interventions in the region. He let loose in a Facebook post last weekend.

"I've been watching media coverage of angry Americans at our southern border waiving signs and yelling slogans, insisting that the children -- most of whom are refugees of the drug war we've created -- 'go home' to the violence and death that war has created, and I wonder who these angry Americans are," he wrote. The "United States is not a detached, innocent bystander" when it came to the refugee crisis, he explained.

"For decades, US governments supported unspeakably brutal regimes and poured billions into maintaining them ($5 billion in El Salvador alone). Implacable opposition to communism -- often defined as virtually any reformer -- gave these regimes a blank check," Reich continued. "The result is a legacy of dealing with opponents through extreme violence and a culture of impunity. Judicial systems remain weak, corrupt, and often completely dysfunctional. After the cold war ended, the United States lost interest in these countries. What was left was destruction, tens of thousands dead, and massive population displacement. The percentage of people living below the poverty line is 54 % for Guatemala, 36 % for El Salvador, and 60 % for Honduras. More recently gangs, organized crime, and drug cartels feeding the US market have become part of this unholy mix."

While the president of Honduras and Democrats like Reich could have political incentives in what is an increasingly ugly and partisan debate over the crisis, a number of experts on the region -- though not all of them -- agree that US drug policies in the region are playing a major role in the affair.

"Although there are many factors, clearly the drug war is one of them," said John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "There can't be any doubt that drug trafficking and efforts to repress it are part of the criminality and violence in Central America," he told the Chronicle.

"It's not the only explanation, of course," he added. "There are decades of weak institutions and long histories of violence in the area. But if you take into account the shifting trafficking patterns resulting from the US helping other governments in the region put pressure on the industry and shift routes through Central America, it has certainly added to the problems."

"We've been engaged in a drug war for 40 years, and everywhere we put pressure, it bulges out somewhere else," said Nathan Jones, fellow in drug policy at Rice University's Baker Institute in Houston. "In the Miami Vice era, we put pressure on the Caribbean, and the trade moved to Mexico. We dismantled the Cali and Medellin cartels in the early 1990s, and in hindsight, we know that also empowered the Mexican cartels."

The pattern keeps repeating, Jones said.

"Through the Merida Initiative, we put more pressure on the Mexican cartels -- and for very good reasons -- but that resulted in their dispersal into Central America. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel established alliances and began carving out chunks of Central America. They shifted to two-state and multi-stage trafficking operations and tried to minimize their risk by having their loads stop in various countries."

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikipedia.org)
At the same time the Mexican cartels were pushing (and being pushed) into Central America, Central American gangs were rearing their tattooed heads. Ironically enough, gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) had their origins in another US war in the region: the Reagan-era effort to thwart the rise to power of popular leftist guerrillas.

"Deportation got us into this mess in the first place," said Jones. "We had immigrants coming from Central America during the wars of the 1980s. Some of them formed their own gangs after being rejected by Mexican street gangs in places like Los Angeles, and when they showed up in the criminal justice system, we deported them back to their home countries. We transnationalized those gangs in the process, and now the violence from those very gangs is resulting in another mass migration flow. And now we are proposing the same solution of deportation. This doesn't deal with root causes."

"I'm not a big proponent of the drug war as an explanation for everything," countered Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. "We need to stop thinking about the violence in Central America as a drug problem. It's a factor in the violence but not really a primary factor. Community based criminal networks involved in extortion, kidnapping, and other forms of criminal activity -- including retail drug markets -- are more of a factor," he told the Chronicle.

"There is virtually no state presence in most of the areas of highest violence so it's a little hard to blame the drug war," Olson continued. "Where the drug war has been the biggest problem has been when there are mass operations and mass detentions, but even those arrests have less and less to do with drugs and more and more to do with the criminalization of gang membership, extortion, and other things. We've got to stop seeing everything through the drug war lens."

"Criminal groups have diversified their business models," WOLA's Walsh conceded. "Drug trafficking is only one aspect, but the revenues are so huge that there is more money to buy weapons and corrupt officials, so it contributes to crime and impunity. There is no doubt this is part of the problem."

"This is a very complicated issue, with lots of causal factors, and blaming it solely on US policy has lots of shortcomings," said Alicia Magdalena Duda, a researcher with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). "But the drug war and the violence is a big issue."

Assigning blame for the status quo is a backwards looking exercise, but what is to be done moving forward? There are divergences of opinion there, too.

"We have to recognize that just equipping these countries to chase drugs around in the interest of interdicting them for our purposes isn't contributing much to reducing violence and increasing public safety," said Walsh. "Drug enforcement as measured by how much they're interdicting has no impact at best, and probably makes things worse. Rather than foster the illusion that we can eradicate the drug trade, we need to steer law enforcement there to reduce violence by going after the worst, most violent actors rather than measuring success in tons seized."

"How to end the violence is a long-term issue," said COHA's Duda. "Those countries are facing extreme violence and poverty. To address this immigration crisis, we have to actively engage with them, and not just with monetary packages. One of the contributors to poverty is corruption, and corruption is rampant there. Ignoring that and just continuing with the present approach is not effective, either," she said.

Duda even broached a very controversial response, one that has also been heard in regard to Mexico and the prohibition-related violence there.

"Maybe they have to engage in peace talks with the gangs and cartels," she suggested.

"One of the great frustrations about Central America is that we supported those right-wing regimes during the Cold War, but we didn't deal with any of the underlying conditions, the grievances, the extreme income inequality, the crushing, grinding poverty," said Jones. "We need a sustained engagement with Central America, but we also have to leverage those host governments to do the right thing. We can't have a situation where wealthy elites are not paying their fair shares of taxes. We have societies fundamentally structured along wrong principles. It will take decades to turn things around, but it needs to happen."

"Our focus should be on reducing violence and addressing the factors that are actually driving the violence," said Olson. "This should include targeted law enforcement, but also prevention programs as well as gang intervention and reintegration programs. Only by reducing violence and the stranglehold criminal networks have on communities will people consider staying in place."

This is a complicated problem with no easy solutions and a lot of different suggestions. Whether prohibition and US drug policies have played a key role or only a supporting one, it does seem clear that, at best, they have not helped. At worst, our drug policies in the region have increased violence and corruption in the region, enriching the worst -- on both sides of the law.

Chronicle AM -- July 16, 2014

The House okays marijuana banking, DC decriminalizes tomorrow, DC expands its medical marijuana program, Miami-Dade taxpayers pay for a particularly heinous killer drug raid, a lot of states did sentencing reforms last year, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana businesses could go to the bank under a measure passed by the House today. (Drug Policy Alliance/Sandra Yruel)
Marijuana Policy

House Votes to Let Banks Take Deposits from Marijuana Businesses. In a historic vote this afternoon, the US House has approved an amendment to the Treasury Department appropriations bill barring the agency from spending any money to punish financial institutions that provide services to marijuana businesses where it is legal. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Heck (D-WA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Lee (D-CA) and Rohrabacher (R-CA). It passed with bipartisan support.

DC Decriminalization Law Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of one minute after midnight, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be decriminalized in the nation's capital. Jail time for pot possession will be replaced with a $25 fine. A Republican-led effort in the House to block it remains alive, but will not stop the law from taking effect -- at least for now. That effort still has to get through the Congress and overcome White House opposition, and that looks like a long-shot at this point.

Grosse Point, Michigan, Initiative to Legalize Up to an Ounce Turns in Signatures. A municipal initiative campaign to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point turned in more than 600 signatures today. The group needs 493 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Grosse Point is one of a handful of Michigan towns with similar campaigns this year, including Berkley, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, and Pleasant Ridge.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Initiative to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Turns in Signatures. Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action (the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance) have submitted more than 7,000 signatures for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of up to an once of marijuana. They need 5,763 to qualify for the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

DC City Council Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city council Tuesday approved legislation to loosen restrictions on the District's medical marijuana program. The measure replaces a restrictive list of defined illnesses and conditions with a blanket authority for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for "any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient's physician."

Michigan Legislature Set to Vote on Medical Marijuana Improvement Measures This Week. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R) said he expects the Senate to vote this week on a pair of measures to improve the state's medical marijuana program. One would allow localities to govern their own dispensaries; the other would allow the sale of edibles and concentrates.

LA Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market Hit With Temporary Injunction. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order shutting down a medical marijuana farmers' market that drew thousands when it opened a couple of weeks ago. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for August 6.

Thousands Sign Petition Supporting Fired University of Arizona Researcher. A petition demanding that the University of Arizona research scientist Dr. Suzanne Sisley be rehired after being fired after she won federal approval to study marijuana for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has received more than 27,000 signatures. Sisley made no bones about blaming conservative Arizona political figures for her firing. Click on the link to read her comments.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Cops Slow to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a law allowing law enforcement officers to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone in March, but Ohio police are slow to get with the program. Police in Columbus said they have no plans to carry it "anytime soon," and many rural agencies are also unwilling to do it. About 17 people a week are dying from opiate overdoses in Ohio. Under the new law, the drug is also available to friends, family members, and "others who may be in a position" to assist with reversing overdoses.

Law Enforcement

Miami Agrees to Pay in Death Squad-Style Police Drug Robbery Sting Killings. Miami-Dade taxpayers will shell out $600,000 to the families of three men killed by a Miami-Dade SWAT team during a drug house robbery sting. Four men, including an informant for the police, were gunned down when they appeared on the scene of a home they had been told was stuffed with drugs for them to rob. The informant's family didn't join the settlement; it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court. Police video of the raid shows officers firing dozens of shots into the body of a man already on the ground. It also shows the informant surrendering to police moments before they shot and killed him, too. Prosecutors suspect police officers of misconduct but were unable to develop enough evidence to charge any of them.

Almost All US Wiretaps Are for Suspected Drug Deals. A new Administrative Office of US Courts report reveals that not only did wiretaps hit an all time high last year, but that nearly 90% of them were for drug investigations. Of the 3,576 wiretaps sought by federal law enforcement agencies, 3,115 were for drug investigations.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Releases Report on 2013 State Sentencing Reforms. The report, Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends, finds that 35 states passed at least 85 bills to reform sentencing and corrections last year. The legislation generally focused on reducing prison populations, strengthening community-based corrections, supporting reentry, and creating better research and analysis to drive policy decision-making.

International

Dutch Border Town Cannabis Café Owner Cleared of Most Charges. The owner of the Checkpoint Café in the in the town of Ternuezen near the Belgian border has been cleared of most charges against him by an Amsterdam appeals court. The café was closed in 2007 for violating government rules on soft drug sales, and the owner was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. But the appeals court ruled that the state had not proven Checkpoint knowingly broke the rules. It was the second such decision in the past month.

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

Chronicle AM -- July 9, 2014

The White House issues its annual drug control strategy, the Brooklyn DA announces an end to most small-time marijuana possession arrests, a suburban Maryland county adopts a marijuana reform resolution, the first medical cannabis oil permits are issued in Utah, Lebanese hash farmers vow to fight to protect their crops, and more. Let's get to it:

Under Maryland's new decrim law, that bud won't get you arrested, but the pipe will. (wikimedia.org/erik fenderson)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Offered a Hit of Weed in Denver; Responds With a Smile. During a visit to a Denver bar last night, President Obama was offered some of the state's legal marijuana. "Do you want to hit this?" came a voice from the crowd. The president did not respond to the offer, except to flash his trademark smile. On route to the event, the president was also confronted by apparently pro-marijuana protestors, including one holding a sign saying "Free Weed for Obama." We won't even mention the guy in a horse head mask who shook the president's hand.

Brooklyn DA Announces No More Prosecutions for First-Time Marijuana Offenders, Except… Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time offenders for small-time marijuana possession charges. "This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns." But Thompson added that he would still pursue charges for public pot smoking, if the defendant is a teen (he will be directed to juvenile court and a diversion program), or if the defendant has a criminal record suggesting he may act violently under the influence of marijuana.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Adopts Marijuana Policy Reform Resolution. The Montgomery County council Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for making marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority and for revising the state's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law to include pot-smoking paraphernalia. Under the law as written, people could not be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, but they can still be arresting for possessing the pipe to smoke it in.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Issues First Permits to Use High CBD, Low THC Cannabis Oil. Utah officials Tuesday issued the first permits to use high CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy in children under a law passed earlier this year. That law okays the use of cannabis oils containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.3% THC. But while initial permits have been issued, families are likely to have to wait until September to acquire the cannabis oil because the Colorado nonprofit that produces it has a long waiting list and a crop that won't be ready until the fall.

California Medical Marijuana Citizens' Lobby Day Will Be August 4. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has announced that its annual citizens' lobby day in Sacramento will be held this year on August 4. The group is supporting the statewide regulation bill, Senate Bill 1262, but wants some changes, too. Click on the title link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Releases 2014 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) today released its annual drug control strategy. In the big picture it doesn't appear to be a whole lot different from last year's, or the year before that or the year before that or… But there are some good things to be found. Check back here later today for a feature article on it. In the meantime, click on the link to take a look yourself.

International

Mexico Anti-Cartel Vigilantism Spreads Close to US Border. Vigilante groups targeting criminal drug trafficking organizations first sprung up last year in the west-central Mexican state of Michoacan, where they battled the Knights Templar cartel before eventually being folded into the Mexican police apparatus. Now, they are appearing in Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande River from Texas. A group known as the Pedro Mendez Column is operating in the city of Hidalgo, where it does nightly patrols to defend the city from the Zetas cartel. It also claims to have killed several Zetas. And the Zetas claim to have killed several people it accuses of being linked to the vigilantes. The Zetas also accuse the rival Gulf cartel of arming the vigilantes.

Lebanese Marijuana Farmers Vow to Fight Back Against Eradication Campaign. The Lebanese government has announced it will begin destroying marijuana farms in the Bekaa Valley tomorrow, but farmers there are vowing to defend their crops with their lives. Ali Nasri Shammas, a major grower and spokesman for the illicit industry, said growers would do what it takes to defend their crops, whether by protesting, blocking roads, or more violent means. "We will also use arms to face the security forces, who will damage the crops, even if it leads to bloodshed. Destroying the crops is forbidden no matter the results," Shammas warned. Given the ongoing Syrian civil war next door, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to actually eradicate much of the marijuana crop.

Russians Say They Lose 100,000 People a Year to Drug Overdoses. Russia's Federal Drug Control Service reports that nearly 100,000 people died of drug overdoses last year and that the rate of drug-related deaths in Russian urban areas was 28.7 per 100,000. That rate is 2.7 times higher than the previous year. By contrast, in the US, some 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida Man Killed in SWAT Raid Over Small-Time Marijuana Sales

A Tampa, Florida, man was shot and killed by members of a SWAT team executing a search warrant over small-time marijuana sales on May 27. Jason Westcott, 29, becomes the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Editor's Note: This case illustrates why we call on readers to let us know if they come across a report of a drug war-related death. Although we run Google searches to find such incidents, this one didn't pop up on the radar until the Tampa Bay Times ran a thorough investigative piece -- a rarity with such incidents -- on it this week. Absent that report, we would have missed it. So, please, feel free to send your tips and links our way.]

According to the Tampa Bay Times article, a Tampa Police SWAT team executing a warrant for marijuana sales knocked on the door of the home shared by Westcott and his roommate on the evening of the 27th, but both men were sleeping. When no one answered, police entered through the unlocked front door.

The roommate, who was sleeping on a couch, was taken into custody without incident, but Westcott, who had been sleeping in a bedroom, picked up a weapon upon hearing the intruders and moved toward the bathroom, from where he could see his surveillance monitor. Upon encountering Westcott in the hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom, two SWAT officers opened fire, shooting him five times with a semiautomatic shotgun and a handgun.

Police claim Westcott pointed his weapon at them. He never fired it. Instead, hit once in the arm and twice in the side, he collapsed on the bathroom floor. He received medical attention from a SWAT medic on scene, then was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Ironically, the only previous contact Westcott had had with Tampa police was several months earlier, when he contacted them to say he was worried that a man who had been at his house planned to rob him and had threatened to kill him. According to people close to Westcott, investigating officers told him: "If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill." Tampa police now deny they ever said anything like that.

The Times investigative piece also looked into the police drug investigation that precipitated the fatal raid. They found that despite police statements that they began looking at Westcott because of complaints from neighbors, the investigation actually began when a snitch reported that he was selling marijuana.

Over a period of months, that same snitch made several small marijuana purchases from Westcott, in amounts ranging from $20 to $60. The grand total of marijuana purchased by the snitch was less than $200. When the raid actually went down, police found a grand total of 0.2 grams of weed.

Westcott's roommate said the pair were habitual pot smokers, but that they never kept more than 12 grams in the house at a time to avoid felony charges. And he said that the pair engaged in a bit of social dealing, nothing more.

"We would just sell a blunt here and there to our friends or whatever. It was no crazy thing," he said. "There weren't people coming in and out of our house every day," he said. "It wasn't paying any bills. We were still broke... going to work every day."

Police initially said an undercover officer had made the drug buys, but later admitted it was the snitch who had done so. The roommate said if police had made the buys themselves, they would have realized that they were not facing violent drug traffickers, and Westcott might still be alive.

"Nobody can believe that this happened to Jason. They can't understand how this could happen to Jason," said Westcott's mother, Patti Silliman of New Port Richey. "No one can figure this out."

But the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has already determined that the two police officers who shot at Westcott -- Cpl. Eric Wasierski and Officer Edwin Perez -- were justified in the use of deadly force. And Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor defended both the drug investigation and actions of the officers involved.

"Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture," Castor said. "If there's an indication that there is armed trafficking going on -- someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm -- then the tactical response team will do the initial entry."

The Tampa Bay Times investigative report is worth reading in its entirety. One could only wish that every drug war death got the same treatment. If that were the case, we might end up with a lot less of them.

Tampa, FL
United States

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