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Chronicle AM: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Blocked, AL Life Sentence for Pot, Ominous Afghan Opium News, More (2/18/15)

A New Jersey coalition for marijuana reform has formed, an Alabama judge sentences a man to life in prison over 2 1/2 pounds of pot, the Hawaii legislature advances a dispensary bill, asset forfeiture reform gets slapped down in Virginia and Wyoming, the opium trade is expanding in western Afghanistan, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Coalition Forms, Includes Prosecutors. Representatives from a number of groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the New Jersey Municipal Prosecutor's Association held a news conference in Newark today to announce the formation of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The groups are joining forces "in a broad-based campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, ending thousands of arrests per year in New Jersey."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Cannabis Chamber Supports Tightened Regulations on Caregivers. The chamber, which represents recreational marijuana business interests, has come out in support of Senate Bill 14, which would require medical marijuana caregivers to be licensed and registered with the state. The measure would help law enforcement maintain a tighter control on who is growing how much marijuana for whom. The chamber said the "caregivers system is being abused" by people who don't want to abide by the same regulations as the rest of the industry. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins House Committee Vote. Fourteen years after the legislature approved medical marijuana, it may finally get around to approving dispensaries. A bill that would do that, House Bill 321, was approved by the House Committee on Health and the Judiciary Tuesday. It now goes before the House Committee on Finance. A similar proposal in the Senate was slated for a decision in a joint committee hearing today.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Senate Committee Vote. An asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week has been killed in the Senate Finance Committee. The measure, House Bill 1287, was opposed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James County) said the bill will now be studied by the State Crime Commission.

Wyoming Governor Vetoes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have made it more difficult for police and prosecutors to seize property from people they believe are involved in drug crimes. The bill, Senate File 14, would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could take place. Mead, a former US attorney, said he didn't believe asset forfeiture had been abused in the state. The measure passed both houses by a veto-proof margin, so stay tuned.

Harm Reduction

Virginia 911 Good Samaritan Bill Awaits Final Senate Vote. A bill that would provide protection from prosecution to people who report drug overdoses has passed the Senate and House of Delegates, but was amended in the House and now requires a final Senate concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The measure is Senate Bill 892.

Sentencing

Alabama Man Gets Life in Prison for Marijuana Distribution. A Houston County judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to life in prison Tuesday for trafficking 2 ½ pounds of pot. Richard Bolden was also hit with another eight years for bail-jumping -- to be served consecutively. Bolden had one prior federal drug conviction and was out on bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, but had not been convicted of that. He had also been arrested 37 times, but never actually convicted in any of those arrests. But prosecutors said he was "a habitual and dangerous criminal offender" and the judge agreed.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Man Jailed on Three Meth Charges Freed After Tests Showed Powder Was Vitamins, Not Amphetamines. Joseph Ray Burrell, 31, spent three months in jail on meth charges after a Mankato police officer mistook his vitamins for meth. Burrell tried to tell the cops what the powder was, but they didn't believe him and jailed him on $250,000 bail. He was set for trial February 4, but test results came back two days before, and police were forced to admit he was telling the truth. The charges were dropped and Burrell was released. No mention of restitution.

International

Opium Booms in Western Afghanistan; Taliban, ISIS, Corrupt Officials Benefit. A weak government in Kabul is unable or unwilling to reign in rampant opium production and trafficking in remote western Farah province bordering Iran. Taliban insurgents control half the region, a former Taliban commander who has pledged allegiance to ISIS is roaming the area with a band of dozens of gunmen, and police and local government officials seem more interested in profiting off the crop than suppressing it. That bodes ill for the Kabul government. Much more at the link.

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Five Drug War Killings in Four Days

Five people have been killed by police doing drug related enforcement operations in four days. They become the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In South Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, police shot and killed heroin user David Kassick, 59, Monday after a traffic stop turned into a chase and "altercation." According to PennLive, citing police sources, Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick's vehicle for an expired inspection sticker, but Kassick first drove away, then got out of his car and fled.

"An altercation ensued between (Mearkle) and (Kassick), shots were fired at the scene and (Kassick) succumbed to those injuries," according to a search warrant police obtained to search his car for drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The warrant does not provide details of the "altercation," nor does it say whether Kassick was armed.

A hypodermic needle was found beside Kassick's body, and a spoon with residue "known to be drug paraphernalia" and some Suboxone strips were found on his body. His brother told police that Kassick "had a known heroin addiction and related that he had relapsed approximately two weeks ago," the search warrant stated.

Kassick had a history of drug-related criminal convictions and had spent time in federal prison for heroin dealing a decade ago.

State police are conducting an investigation into the shooting, and Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico will then decide whether the use of deadly force was justified.

In Tempe, Arizona, police shot and killed two men Wednesday, one of whom was wanted for a probation violation on drug charges. The other was a man traveling with him.

According to ABC 15 News, citing police sources, a US Marshals task force was attempting to take Salvador Muna into custody when he hopped into a vehicle driven by his friend, Joaquin Hernandez, and fled. Police executed a maneuver to pin the vehicle and said Muna then pulled out a weapon and pointed it at officers.

Four officers, one from Chandler, one from Tempe, and two from Mesa then opened fire. Witnesses reported hearing at least six shots.

Muna was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, Hernandez, was also wounded. Police said he was "hurt in the crossfire," but it is unclear if Muna ever actually fired his weapon. Hernandez died a short time later at a local hospital.

In Orlando, Florida, undercover narcotics officers shot and killed one man at an apartment complex and took another into custody Wednesday night.

According to WKMG Local 6 News, undercover narcs Yong Hall and Amanda White approached two men at the complex as they were following up on an unrelated case. "There was a confrontation" that led to the officers shooting and killing one man, identified as Izzy Colon, and taking a second man, Ricardo Caban, into custody on charges of reckless display of a firearm and possession of a firearm charges.

The Orlando Sentinel had a bit more detail. It quoted police as saying the two officers were in plainclothes working the drug detail when they heard gunfire at the apartment complex. They took cover behind cars in the parking lot and shortly saw Colon, 37, and Caban, 34, coming toward them.

When Officers White and Hall confronted the two men, Caban immediately dropped his gun, laid on the ground, and surrendered. But Colon "refused to surrender and his actions caused Detective Hall to fire his weapon," Caban's arrest report said.

Police did not specify exactly what action caused Hall to shoot Colon. They did say that both Caban and Colon were armed.

Colon's family told WKMG Local 6 that he was not armed. "My brother was not playing with guns -- that's not true," one family member said.

In Calimesa, California, a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy shot and killed a man engaged in "illegal narcotics activity" Thursday evening.

According to NBC Los Angeles, citing police sources, believing they were seeing a drug deal in progress, deputies approached two men standing next to a vehicle. One of the men immediately followed deputies' demands and was detained.

The other man then allegedly removed a hand gun from his pocket and was then shot and killed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Yucaipa/Calimesa News Mirror identified the dead man as John Sawyer, 36, of Yucaipa.

The newspaper also reported that the hand gun police saw was actually a replica hand gun and that there was an SKS-style assault rifle in the vehicle. There was no mention of whether any drugs were found.

Ohio Drug Fugitive Killed in Columbus Gunfight

An Ohio man who had been a fugitive from drug charges for more than a year was shot and killed by state troopers in Columbus Tuesday. Jermonte Fletcher becomes the second person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Associated Press, relying on police sources, members of a US Marshals fugitive task force got a tip that Fletcher was at a Columbus apartment building, and when they tried to arrest him, he opened fire. Two state troopers returned fire, killing him.

No officers were injured in the shootout, but one injured his leg carrying an 8-year-old boy from the building.

Fletcher was the last member of the North Short Posse at large. The gang had moved large amounts of drugs through Central Ohio since the 1990s. Twenty-two members of the gang were indicted on federal drug trafficking, weapons, and money laundering charges in 2013. Nineteen of them have already pleaded guilty or been convicted.

Fletcher was facing up to 115 years in federal prison if convicted on all 46 counts against him. The US Marshals office said that he had vowed not to be taken alive.

Chronicle AM: DEA Settles Facebook Suit, WY Decrim Bill Advances, More (1/21/15)

The DEA will pay for using a woman's identity (and photos) to make a fake Facebook page, a Wyoming decrim bill is moving, Virginia is seeing CBD and medical marijuana bills, there's a hemp bill in Florida, the Vera Institute releases a report on New York sentencing reforms, and more. Let's get to it:

A faked Facebook page will cost the DEA $134,000. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 29, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot. Fines would be $250 for less than a half ounce and $500 for more. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Defendant Seeks Dismissal in Federal Medical Marijuana Case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "cromnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

Hawaii Health Department Takes Charges of Medical Marijuana Program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Virginia Legislature Sees CBD, Medical Marijuana Bills. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington State Law Banning Medical Marijuana Advertising Unconstitutional, Court Rules. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

Hemp

Florida Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasalinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state. The bill is House Bill 363. Activists with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN) are seeking a Senate sponsor.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on New York Sentencing Reforms. The report examines 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that removed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and expanded eligibility for treatment instead of incarceration. The report found a 35% percent increase in the rate of diversion to treatment; lower rates of re-arrest in such cases; which was associated with lower rates of rearrest, and fewer defendants sentenced to jail, time served, or "split sentence" -- a combination of jail and probation. However, most drug arrests still did not lead to diversion, and implementation varied widely across boroughs.

Law Enforcement

DEA Will Pay $134,000 to Woman It Used in Fake Facebook Page. The Justice Department has settled a civil suit brought against the DEA by a Watertown, New York, woman whose identity and photos were used by a DEA agent to create a fake Facebook page in her name to catch drug fugitives. Sondra Arquiett's phone had by seized by the Agenty Tim Sinnigen during a 2010 drug arrest, and the agent posed as her on Facebook without her consent. "The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of (Arquiett), including photographs of (her) in her bra and panties. Sinnigen also posted photographs of (Arquiett's) minor child and her minor niece to the Facebook page." The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to make this go away.

International

Vietnam Sentences Eight to Death for Heroin Trafficking. Eight people have been sentenced to die for trafficking 416 pounds of heroin in Vietnam. The trial in People's Court in Ho Binh province ended Monday. Six other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and 17 others jailed for terms ranging from six to 20 years. Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws.

Stratfor's Mexico Cartel Map. The private, Austin-based intelligence concern has released its latest map of Mexican cartel activity. Despite constant changes in the organized crime scene, Stratfor says, cartel activity remains based in three geographic locations: Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and the Tierra Caliente in Michoacan and Guerrero. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Foes Busted, VT Pot Legalization Coalition Forms, KY to Hand Out Naloxone Kits, More (1/7/15)

DC pot legalization foes get nailed for campaign finance violations, Vermont activists are joining forces to legalize it this year, the Congressional Black Caucus is going to concentrate on criminal justice reform, Kentucky is spending money to prevent opiate overdoses, and more. Let's get to it:

Kentucky is spending $100,000 to give naloxone overdose reversal kits to drug users. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Says Legalization Off to Good Start, But He's Worried About the Kids. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told reporters Tuesday that despite his initial concerns, the state's marijuana industry is well-regulated and staying within the law "in almost every case." Still, said Hickenlooper, "The concern that we still have — that I still have — is whether young people will view this legalization as in some way saying to them that marijuana is safe."

DC Legalization Opponents Violated Campaign Finance Laws. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has concluded that the anti-Initiative 71 group TIE DC ("Two is Enough, DC") violated several campaign laws in its effort to defeat the successful legalization initiative. It failed to register as a political committee, failed to file a financial report, and failed to include proper language in its campaign literature, according to the campaign finance office report. The office is recommending that the group be fined $2,000.

Oregon Liquor Commission Seeking Public Comment on How to Proceed With Legal Marijuana. The commission, which is charged with implementing legalization, wants to hear from interested parties. It has posted a survey on its website asking the public for its input on how best to move forward. The commission is planning a series of "listening sessions" later this month.

Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Forms. Groups of Vermont legalization supporters have come together to form the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana with an eye toward getting a legalization bill passed this year. Coalition members include the Vermont ACLU, the state Libertarian and Progressive parties, other state groups, the Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). A legalization bill last year morphed into a study bill, whose report will be released next week, but Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) said he plans to introduce a legalization bill this session.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky to Pay For 2,000 Take-Home Overdose Reversal Drug Kits. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced Tuesday that the state will provide $105,000 for three urban hospitals to buy 2,000 naloxone kits to send home with heroin overdose patients. "This project will allow us to get this medicine into the hands and homes of the people who need it most: heroin users and their families," Attorney General Jack Conway said at a Capitol news conference, standing with Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear. "They will be walking out (of the emergency room) with a medication that could save their lives." At least 723 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in the first nine months of 2014; 27% of those cases involved heroin.

Criminal Justice

New Head of Congressional Black Caucus Promises Focus on Criminal Justice Reform. Incoming caucus head Rep. GK Butterfield (D-NC) said at his swearing in ceremony Tuesday that the group will focus on criminal justice reform this session. "Thjere is a well-founded mistrust between the African American community and law enforcement officers," Butterfield said. "The statistics are clear. Video clips are clear. We recognize that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. Unfortunately, there are some officers who abuse the sacred responsibility to protect and serve by using excessive and sometimes deadly force when a less severe response is warranted. The CBC will seek legislative action to reverse this terrible trend." The caucus will also work to reform sentencing laws, he said.

International

At White House, Obama Pledges to Support Mexico in Fight Against Drug Violence. Meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Tuesday, President Obama said the US will stand alongside Mexico as a "good partner" in its fight against violent drug traffickers and related problems. "Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and drug cartels that are responsible for so many tragedies inside of Mexico," he said. Despite calls from groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Center for International Policy's America's Program for the US to hold Mexico's feet to the fire over human rights violations, corruption, and impunity, Obama did not publicly address those issues. 

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Chronicle AM: Pot Use Up in Legal States, Bolivia Chides US on Drug War, Las Vegas Dispensaries Coming Soon, More (12/30/14)

Pot use among adults is up in legal marijuana states -- but some others, too -- Las Vegas could see dispensaries as early as next week, US drone strikes targeted Afghan drug traffickers, Evo Morales wags a finger at US drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

coming soon to Las Vegas (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Adult Marijuana Use Up in Legal States, Teens' Not So Much. Marijuana use increases in states where it is legal, at least among adults, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The NSDUH combined two years of numbers for state-level data, and found that adult use increased in both Colorado and Washington -- and this was while possession was legal, but legal sales had not yet commenced. But legality may not be the only factor at play; adult pot use also increased in Georgia, Maine, Maryland, and Missouri. Use among teens in the legal states edged up a bit, but the increase was statistically insignificant.

Medical Marijuana

Some Dispensaries Coming to Las Vegas Soon. At least 10 dispensaries have been approved by both state and Clark County (Las Vegas) officials and could open as early as next week. But another eight are up in the air after disputes between the state and the county. The county had selected 18 applicants, but the state made eight changes to the list, and the county commission on Monday rejected the changes. That means there are now eight vacancies for dispensaries in the county. Even those who were among the eight contested dispensaries will have to reapply and start the process again.

Florida Tries Again on Crafting Medical Marijuana Regulations. The Department of Health is holding a hearing today in Orlando in a bid to re-start the process of crafting regulations for the state's low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana law. A program allowing for the use of the medicine was supposed to go into effect Thursday, but was bumped back after an administrative hearing judge sided with appellants who argued the first draft rules were too restrictive. It's not clear how long this new regulatory process will take.

Pardons and Commutations

Missouri Governor Pardons Two Marijuana Offenders, But Jeff Mizanskey Remains Behind Bars. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has pardoned two nonviolent marijuana offenders, both of whom received probationary sentences, both in the late 1980s. But Nixon has not acted on the case of Jeff Mizanskey, a 68-year-old grandfather now doing his 20th year of a life sentence for marijuana trafficking. Mizanskey has been the subject of a campaign to win his release.

International

US Drone Strikes Targeted Afghan Drug Traffickers. According to the latest documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, US drone strikes in Afghanistan targeted not only leading Al Qaeda and Taliban figures, but also low- and mid-level Taliban members involved in the drug trade. At one point, the US had a "kill list" that contained as many as 750 names. In October 2008, NATO defense ministers decided to target "narcotics trafficking networks that provide funding, weapons, and logistical support to Taliban elements in Afghanistan," according to a February 2009 NSA document.

Bolivia's Morales Attacks US Drug War Again. Bolivian President Evo Morales has once again criticized US drug policy as being a tool of American efforts to dominate other countries. "Washington uses its War on Drugs to pursue its own geopolitical agenda and now they use it to accuse other governments and take them down," Morales told the Mexican newspaper La Jornada on Monday. "They even named me the 'Andean Bin Laden' and accused us of being terrorists and drug traffickers and at the same United States is the top nation that backs and benefits from drug trafficking," the Bolivian president continued. "Drug trafficking seems like the big business of the capitalist system. It is a very developed country, with a lot of technology and the one who consumes the most drugs. How is it that they cannot control drug trafficking?"asked Morales. "I think the country that drives the drug trade is the US, it's big business; the big, illegal business of the capitalist system."

Chronicle AM: Deadly Tampa Snitch Culture; Columbia, MO, SWAT Raid Hack Attack; More (12/29/14)

The Tampa Bay Tribune has an explosive expose of the police-snitch culture there, a revenge hack attack on Columbia, Missouri; Michigan's governor signs a welfare drug test bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Mephedrone is marking a mark in India, where it is legal. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Wichita Decriminalizers Say They Have Enough Signatures to Make Ballot. A group that wants to put a marijuana reform initiative on the April 7 municipal ballot in Wichita says that it now has more than enough signatures to qualify. Kansas for Change said it will hand in signatures next week. The group had tried last summer to make the ballot, but came up 36 signatures short after a high number of signatures were disqualified.

Pot on the Agenda for Maine's Legislature. At least four marijuana bills will be before legislators when they return next month. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, the state Department of Public Safety is proposing a marijuana DUI bill, and there will be legislation seeking to expand the state's medical marijuana program.

Medical Marijuana

More Medical Marijuana Bills Coming in South Carolina. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), author of a successful high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, says he will be back with three more bills next year. One would create laws for growing high-CBD, low-THC marijuana, another would clean up language in the state's hemp laws, and the third is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill.

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Welfare Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last Friday signed a pair of bills that will mandate drug screening of adult welfare recipients and drug testing of those suspected of using drugs. The bills, House Bill 4118 and Senate Bill 275, would create a pilot program in three as yet unnamed counties. People who refuse to take a drug test would lose benefits for six months, while those who test positive would be referred to treatment -- and more drug testing. Benefits would be restored after the person passes a drug test.

Law Enforcement

Tampa Bay Times Blows the Lid Off Sleazy Informant Culture That Got a Pot Smoker Killed. Wow. The confidential informant who pointed Tampa police toward Jason Westcott, 29, who was shot and killed by a police SWAT team as it raided his home, has come clean to The Tampa Bay Times in a lengthy piece in which he admits lying to his police handlers about drug buys, telling them about drug buys that never actually occurred, expresses sorrow for the role his snitching played in Westcott's killing, and says police let him get away with his exploits because they wanted to make drug busts. Westcott was killed in May by SWAT team members who had entered his home while he was sleeping, then shot and killed him when he woke up and grabbed a weapon to fend off intruders. Westcott had sole miniscule amounts of pot to the informant on several occasions; when police raided his home, they found 0.2 grams of weed. The entire piece is worth the read -- if you can stomach it. Click on the link to do so.

Columbia, MO, Municipal Web Site Hacked Over 2010 SWAT Raid that Killed Dog. The municipal web site, gocolumbiamo.com, was offline from last Thursday night until noon Saturday after an anonymous hacker dubbing himself "Bitcoin Baron" unleashed a DDOS attack on it. The hacker posted a video of a February 2010 SWAT drug raid that terrorized a local family and resulted in the shooting death of their pet. Bitcoin Baron said he wanted to expose how SWAT teams work: "They're on a rampage and kill what they want and get away with it and know it too because they hide behind a badge/uniform," he wrote. "Yes, I am aware that it happened four years ago, but I wanted to let everyone know what the SWAT teams are like." Bitcoin Baron also took down the web site of local media outlet KOMU 8 News after it credited the DDOS attack against the city to Anonymous instead of him.

International

Mexican Priest Killed After Accusing Guerrero Drug Gang of Murder. Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, kidnapped a week ago today from his seminary, was found murdered Christmas day near Ciudad Altamirano. The priest had earlier this year accused the Guerreros Unidos drug gang of kidnapping killing 43 teachers' college students earlier this year. His body was found by police searching for the missing students.

Mephedrone on the March in India. The use of the synthetic stimulant drug mephedrone is spreading in India. It first became popular among drug users in Mumbai and Bangalore, and is now gaining popularity in Indore. The drug is unregulated and not illegal in India, and is available at about one-twentieth of the cost of cocaine.

Chronicle AM: Lebanon Ag Min Says Legalize Hash, NY MedMJ Regs, "Baby Bou Bou" Medical Bill, More (12/19/14)

New York officials have released draft medical marijuana regs, and advocates aren't too impressed, Lebanon's agriculture minister says it's time to legalize it, Bolivia's president criticizes Mexico's drug war, "Baby Bou Bou" has a million-dollar medical bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has some choice words about Mexico's "failed" drug policies. (www.wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri KC NORML Legalization Petition Needs Editing to Get Official Approval. The KC NORML legalization initiative petition is in for a tune-up after the secretary of state's office rejected it for minor stylistic issues, including incorrect underlining and brackets. Organizers say they will rework and resubmit shortly. There's also another Missouri legalization initiative in the works, courtesy of Show Me Cannabis, but the KC NORML initiative is less restrictive, and less restrictive than the legalization schemes in any of the states that have legalized it so far.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Issues Medical Marijuana Regulations; Advocates Not Too Impressed. The Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations today, but advocates say they are too tight. "New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from getting the relief they need," the Drug Policy Alliance complained. Click on the title link for details on the draft regs.

Asset Forfeiture

Public Hearing Set for Orange County, NY, Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. The public will have one last chance to voice objections to a local asset forfeiture already approved on a party-line vote by the county legislature. The ordinance would allow the county to confiscate assets from those convicted of even misdemeanor drug crimes. The ordinance has been criticized by defense attorneys and others not only for the misdemeanor provision, but also because it would allow for civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. A public hearing is set for December 29. Click on the link for meeting details.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Burned by Flash-Bang Grenade in Botched Drug Raid Faces A Million Dollar Medical Bill. It has cost a million dollars so far to undo the damage done to toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh when a Georgia SWAT team member tossed a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid in which the party sought wasn't even there. Habersham County officials have refused to pay the medical bills, and the family has no means of paying them.

International

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Calls for Legalization of Hash Farming. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called today for the legalization of marijuana so the state can benefit from hash export revenues. "We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it," Chehayeb said in a morning interview with a local radio station. "Instead of prosecuting the farmers, let's find other solutions for them," he said. "The planting of cannabis must be organized to benefit the state and the industrial sector, and it is one way of helping the farmers." Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made a similar call earlier this week.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peruvian officials announced today that they eradicated 77,000 acres of coca crops this year, the highest total since eradication programs began in 1983. But they didn't touch the country's largest coca producing area, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in south-central Peru. The UNODC says Peru is the world's largest coca producer, and the DEA says it is the world's largest cocaine producer.

Bolivian President Criticizes Mexico's "Failed" Drug War Policies. President Evo Morales said Mexico's failed model for fighting the drug war, citing the recent incident where 43 teachers' college students were disappeared and are presumed dead at the hands of corrupt police working with drug gangs. "The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But… look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico," said Morales. "The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the US. empire. And now there are deep problems. "We do not want to have this kind of problem in Bolivia, of organized crime. It seems that crime groups are above the state. In some regions, not even with the presence of military bases can one fight drug trafficking," he said at a graduation ceremony for National Police cadets.

Drug War Issues

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