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Chronicle AM: CA Pot Foes Sue Over Prop 64 Language, ND MedMJ Init Qualifies, More... (8/10/16)

It grows quiet in the dog days of summer, but there is still some news: North Dakotans will vote on medical marijuana in November, California pot legalization foes sue over ballot argument language, and more.

Medical marijuana shops could be coming to North Dakota. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Foes Sue Over Prop 64 Ballot Language. Opponents of the Prop 64 legalization initiative organized as No on 64 have sued the California secretary of state, alleging that Prop 64 ballot arguments could deceive voters. The group claims the ballot arguments are false and misleading in regard to TV advertising and marijuana delivery services. Last week, Prop 64 supporters also sued, alleging opposition arguments were false and misleading.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office has confirmed that Compassionate Care Act initiative has submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow patients suffering from a list of specified medical conditions to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow their own if they are more than 40 miles away from a licensed dispensary. Dispensaries would be nonprofits.

International

Philippines' Deadly Anti-Drug Policies Spark Protests. With the death toll from police an vigilante killings of alleged drug users and sellers already climbing into the hundreds just weeks after President Rodrigo "Death Squad" Duterte took office, the public backlash is beginning. On Wednesday, protestors gathered at the Redemptorist Church in Paranaque City to demand an end to the killings.

Chronicle AM: UN Agencies Condemn Philippine Killings, Huge Danish Consumption Room Opens, More... (8/4/16)

UN drug agencies join civil society in condemning Philippine drug war killings, the world's largest drug consumption facility opens in Copenhagen, the California marijuana legalization initiative sues to have "false and misleading" ballot arguments removed, and more.

The Copenhagen drug consumption room covers a thousand square meters. (Nanna Gotfredsen, Sune Kehlet)
Marijuana Policy

California Prop 64 Campaign Sues to Disallow "False, Misleading" Ballot Arguments. The Prop 64 marijuana legalization campaign filed a lawsuit in state superior court in Sacramento Thursday seeking to have what it calls false or misleading statements submitted by opponents removed from ballot arguments. Ballot arguments appear in the voter information guide. The campaign wants the judge to reject or amend a number of arguments, including one that claims children will be exposed to edibles advertising and one that claims Prop 64 will remove consumer protections, among others. All legal questions around ballot arguments must be settled by August 15.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 58%. A new poll of likely voters has a healthy majority for medical marijuana, with 58% saying they support it. Voters will have a chance to signal that support at the polls in November, when the Arkansans for Compassionate Care initiative will appear on the ballot. A second medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment, is still trying to qualify for the ballot and has received an extension to gather more signatures after coming up just short last month.

New Jersey Legislature Passes Bill to Make PTSD a Qualifying Condition. The Senate Tuesday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 457, which would allow people with PTSD to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto it.

International

UN Drug Agencies Join Chorus of Critics of Philippines Drug Killings. In a statement Wednesday, UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Yuri Fedotov said he joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in "condemning the apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings" of alleged drug users and dealers in the country under the new administration of President Rodrigo "Death Squad" Duterte. "[Extrajudicial killing] is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms," he said. "Such responses contravene the provisions of the international drug control conventions, do not serve the cause of justice, and will not help to ensure that 'all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity,' as agreed by governments in the outcome document approved at the UN General Assembly special session on the world drug problem," he said. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) likewise expressed its concern later the same day. In a written statement, the self-described "quasi-judicial" agency that monitors compliance with the drug conventions wrote that "should these reports prove accurate, this would constitute a serious breach of the legal obligations to which the Philippines is held by the three UN drug control conventions and by the corpus of international legal instruments to which the country has adhered."

World's Largest Drug Consumption Room Opens in Copenhagen. The drug consumption room is 1,000 square meters and includes space for both drug injecting and smoking. It is partially funded by the city of Copenhagen. Users at the site will also be able to engage with medical and social welfare services.

Chronicle AM: MA Init Passes Two Hurdles, Feds Ease Docs' Buprenorphine Limits, More... (7/6/16)

It's a two-fer for Bay State legalizers today, the feds move to ease the opioid problem, Italy's top anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism prosecutor comes out for marijuana legalization, and more.

It looks like they will be voting on marijuana legalization in Boston in November. (regulatemassachusetts.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Turns in Final Batch of Signatures. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Tuesday handed in some 25,000 signatures to comply with a final signature gathering requirement before its legalization initiative can appear on the November ballot. Proponents only need 10,971 valid voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot. The campaign already successfully completed a larger signature gathering campaign in the spring, but had to do a second round under state law after the legislature refused to act on the initiative petition.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Okays Legalization Initiative for Ballot… With Changes. The state's Supreme Judicial Court Wednesday ruled that the legalization initiative from the Massachusetts Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol can appear on the November ballot. But the court also massaged the language of the title -- changing it from "Marijuana Legalization" to "Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana" -- and the summary language that will appear on the ballot. The new summary reads as follows: "A YES VOTE would allow persons 21 and older to possess, use, and transfer marijuana and products containing marijuana concentrate (including edible products) and to cultivate marijuana, all in limited amounts, and would provide for the regulation and taxation of commercial sale of marijuana and marijuana products." (Changes highlighted in bold).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Feds Raise Patient Limits for Buprenorphine Docs. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has nearly tripled the number of opioid-addicted patients who can be prescribed buprenorphine by a single doctor. Under old rules, doctors were limited to treating 100 patients; now, the cap has been set at 275. The drug is used to help wean people off heroin and prescription opioids.

International

Italy's Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Says Legalize "Soft Drugs." As the Italian parliament prepares to take up marijuana legalization later this month, the country's top anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism prosecutor, Franco Roberti, has endorsed the proposal, calling for the legalization of "soft drugs" as a means of redirecting police resources and weakening the finances of terrorist groups. Under prohibition, he said, "cannabis production is one of the main financing sources of terrorists. If we want to give a blow to the Mafia and the Taliban, we must remove this extraordinary financing channel from illegality."

Bolivia's Coca Crop is Under Control, UN Says. Bolivia has brought the number of acres under coca cultivation down to 50,500, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Tuesday. Since farmers are allowed to plant 50,000 acres to supply the country's traditional and industrial coca market, that means that only 1% of production is destined for the illicit market. Cocaine continues to be exported through Bolivia, the agency said, but it coming from Peru.

Chronicle AM: New Orleans "Decrim" in Effect, Philippine Drug Executions Accelerate, More... (6/21/16)

The Big Easy goes easy on marijuana possession, a California medical marijuana business is back in operation after a misbegotten raid, Danish cops raid Christiania to little effect, suspected drug dealers are being killed in the Philippines, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Foes Unveil New Website. Anti-legalization forces operating as Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities have launched a new website aimed at doing in the legalization initiative from the Maine Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. A drop-down menu on the website provides an indication of their approach, with buttons for "Pot Shops on Main Street," "Marijuana Candy," and "Big Marijuana."

New Orleans "Decriminalization" Ordinance Goes Into Effect. A newly passed city ordinance allowing police to cite and fine instead of arrest people caught with small quantities of pot is now in effect in the Big Easy. But not everybody will get a ticket. Those caught with pot in a drug free zone, such as a city park, school, or church will still be charged and jailed.

Medical Marijuana

After Misbegotten Raid, California Medical Marijuana Company Open for Business Again. Sonoma County's Care By Design (CBD) is already back in business after a massive raid including a hundred police officers and DEA agents last week. Business operator Dennis Franklin Hunter was released without charges after initially being held on a $5 million bond. Police raided the business thinking it was using a dangerous and illegal butane extraction process to make cannabis oil, but it was actually using a non-flammable CO2 extraction process. CBD is blaming the botched raid on a disgruntled former employee involved in a competing business.

International

Danish Cops Raid Christiania's Pusher Street, To No Avail. Police last Friday marched into the Copenhagen hippy enclave, tore down 37 marijuana and hash sales stands, and arrested 18 people, but new stands went up and pot sales recommenced before police even left the scene. The raid is sparking new discussion on marijuana legalization, including from a senior prosecutor in the Copenhagen prosecutor's office. I personally believe we should legalize the sale of cannabis because this is a fight we cannot win," Anna Birgitt Sturup said.

Philippines in Drug Dealer Killing Frenzy. Under the new presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, who earned a reputation as a crime fighter and death squad organizer as the long-time mayor of Davao City, killings of alleged drug dealers are surging. Duterte has vowed to eradicate drugs and other crime within six months and even offered to give medals to citizens who kill them. Police reported killing 11 suspected drug dealers over the weekend, saying they resisted arrest, with more than 40 killed since Duterte was elected on May 9.

The Outrageous Death of Ollie Lee Brooks

A poor, elderly black man with a heart condition was sitting in his room at a cheap Tulsa, Oklahoma, motel the night of May 28th, using his drug of choice, minding his own business, and not bothering anybody when police arrived at his door. Now he's dead, and his death raises questions not only of law enforcement use of force, but of race, class, and predatory policing.

Ollie Lee Brooks
As the Tulsa World reported, Ollie Lee Brooks, 64, died at the Oklahoma State University Medical Center after a pair of Tulsa police officers tased and pepper spayed him during an arrest attempt at a Super 8 Motel in east Tulsa. Police said he struggled with them when they tried to arrest him after spotting drug paraphernalia "in plain sight" in his motel room.

Brooks becomes the 22nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

He "immediately resisted arrest by actively fighting officers," the police report said. They then pepper sprayed him, but it didn't "have the desired effect," so one officer then tased Brooks, who "continued to fight," so he tased him again. At one point, Brooks broke free and ran down the stairs, but the officers tackled and cuffed him, then called medics to the scene.

The officers were not wearing body cams, and there is no surveillance video to verify their account.

But there is no reason to doubt their explanation for why they went to his room in the first place: They had gone to the motel "to search the register for guests with outstanding warrants, police spokesman Leland Ashley said."

You read that right: Police in Tulsa are going around to motels and hotels and checking guest lists against their lists of people wanted for warrants. Or at least they're going to some motels and hotels and doing that. Like motels in minority neighborhoods that attract a non-wealthy clientele. There are no reports of police running warrant checks at the Tulsa Hilton Garden Inn or the Tulsa Marriott Courtyard.

This looks to be a race- and class-based predatory policing practice, targeting the poor, who often have arrest warrants not just for alleged crimes but for the crime of being unable to pay fines for past offenses. It has the same sort of stench about it as the now well-known predatory policing in Ferguson, Missouri, that culminated in massive civil unrest after the killing of Michael Brown nearly two years ago.

And a list of outstanding warrants for dangerous felons is one thing, but that's not what the Tulsa police officers were carrying. Instead of keeping society safe from criminals, the officers were essentially acting as bill collectors.

Ollie Lee Brooks was on the list not for being an escaped fugitive or a dangerous criminal, but for an $874 bench warrant in connection with an DUI/open container charge from Okmulgee County in 1991. (It had been a $642 warrant, but a $201 "collections fee" and other fees had been added in 2012.) That DUI/open container charge was never prosecuted, and Brooks had had several run-ins with the law since then (he was last arrested in 1999), yet somehow that warrant was still on the books, was reissued in 2005, and had never been served.

(In a Friday press conference, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said it wasn't the Okmulgee warrant, but a 2015 Tulsa warrant for failure to pay a jaywalking fine. In either case, the point remains that cops acting as bill collectors, went after Brown, and now he's dead.)

The comments section of the initial Tulsa World article contains numerous messages from Tulsans who knew him as a sometimes homeless man who frequented a custard shop and who also picked up occasional work in landscaping and odd jobs. Here's one:

I knew this man as "Richard". He slept behind a dumpster at 61st and Sheridan several years ago when I worked for my parents business, Custard King Frozen Custard. I used to give him free custard and talk to him. I even bought him a pair of shoes and some clothes one time. Actually he's a pretty nice guy! This is very sad news indeed and serves as a warning that police have no hesitation about shocking the hell out of you and killing you. I was told that he had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks ago with a heart condition. My father talked with him recently. He would occasionally stop by their business. Several years ago, I tried to help this guy out. I am totally shocked because I never knew him as a violent guy. He just frequented our area sometimes. He told us he had a son which he helped with tree work sometimes. He was always very friendly to us.

Another comment:

Ollie used to come to our store and buy a sirloin steak with all the fat on it. We wouldn't see him for awhile and he would just show up. Friendly guy, mannerly, sometimes you could tell he had been drinking and sometimes he appeared to be under the influence but before he got sick he had a tree trimming business and did some landscaping on the side so he wasn't a complete bum. It is sad that this is how he left this Earth and how he will be remembered.

Let's recap here: An elderly black man living on the margins of society manages to scrape enough money together to get a motel room to do his thing in peace, the police run a warrant check on the guests at the motel, they find a trivial warrant, they discover evidence of another criminal offense (drug possession), a struggle ensues, and Ollie Brooks is dead.

Police Chief Jordan said Friday that the two officers involved had been suspended with pay, but had been returned to active duty the day before and had done nothing wrong. But there's something very wrong indeed with a criminal justice system that generates results like this.

And speaking of things being wrong, just a few days ago, AlterNet published "May Was One of the Worst For Drug War Deaths in Recent Memory," which listed seven people killed by police enforcing the drug laws that month. Ollie Lee Brooks wasn't on that list, not because he didn't deserve to be, but because the Tulsa Police didn't bother to publicly announce his death at their hands.

News of his death came only when the Tulsa World ran a story after an affidavit for a search warrant for his room after his death was officially filed last Wednesday. When asked by a reporter whether the department should have notified the media and the public that someone had died after an encounter with police that involved physical force, Jordan said, "In hindsight, after today, yeah, I probably would. Yes, sir."

Brooks' family has retained legal counsel. But he's still dead.

Chronicle AM: NM Police Defend Reverse Stings on Homeless, Israel Ponders Decrim, More... (6/3/16)

Marijuana legalization remains a hot issue in New England, Albuquerque's police chief defends reverse stings targeting the homeless, the Israeli justice minister ponders decriminalization, and more.

Rhode Islanders want the legislature to vote on legalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Retailers Join Opposition to Legalization. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts has come out in opposition to the legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The retailers said their opposition is rooted in concerns about worker safety, absenteeism, and the impact of marijuana on kids and communities.

Rhode Island Advocates Demand Vote on Legalization. Led by Regulate Rhode Island, legalization supporters gathered at the state house Thursday to call on General Assembly leaders to allow a vote on the issue. Two identical bills, House Bill 7752 and Senate Bill 2420, would legalize the drug, but they have not gotten even a committee vote, as has been the case in the legislature every year since 2011. The protestors delivered a petition with more than 1,300 signatures calling on House Speaker Nicholas Mattielo and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed to finally allow votes.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Bill to Add PTSD Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions advanced out of the Assembly Oversight Committee on a 3-0 vote Wednesday. The measure now heads for an Assembly floor vote. A similar bill was approved by the Assembly last year, but died in Senate committee.

Law Enforcement

Albuquerque Police Chief Defends "Reverse Drug Stings" Targeting Homeless. Police Chief Gordon Eden has made a strong defense of his department's controversial "reversal narcotics operations" in which undercover police posed as drug dealers, sold and traded small amounts of crack and meth to homeless people, then arrested them on felony drug charges. The operations improve "quality of life" for area businesses and residents, Chief Eden said, adding that they would continue.

International

Israel Justice Minister Considers Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is considering a different legal approach to people caught with small amounts of marijuana. She is considering decriminalizing small-time possession with a fine of "a few hundred shekels," but the policy is yet to be formally announced.

Cartel Battles Heating Up in Mexico's Baja California. A Sinaloa Cartel weakened by the capture and looming extradition of its leader, "El Chapo" Guzman, is facing a violent challenge from the rising Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The number of homicides in Baja California Sur in the 2014-2016 period has nearly doubled that in the 2011-2013 period, and most of the killings are linked to conflicts in the illicit drug trade.

May Was a Bad Month for Drug War Deaths

At least seven people were killed by police doing drug law enforcement last month. Four were armed and two of them engaged in shootouts with police. Two were killed by police after vehicle chases where police claimed they were trying to run them over. One was killed during a physical struggle with police.

Four of the victims were white, two were black, and one was a Pacific Islander. The ethnicity of one -- Eugene Smith -- remains undetermined.

May's drug war killings bring Drug War Chronicle's count of drug law enforcement-related deaths this year to 21. The Chronicle has been tallying such deaths since 2011, and they have occurred at a rate of roughly one a week over that period. The Chronicle's count includes only people (police and civilians) who died as a direct result of drug law enforcement activities, not, for example, people who died in conflicts between drug sellers or people who died because they ingested bad drugs.

In May, drug war deaths occurred at a rate nearly twice the five-year average. The seven killings in May accounted for one-third of the killings tallied so far this year. Let's hope last month was an aberration and not a harbinger of a long, hot summer.

It's worth emphasizing that more than half the people killed last month were carrying firearms, and two of them turned them on police. Attempting to enforce widely-flouted drug prohibition laws in a society as heavily armed as this one is a recipe for violent encounters, as we saw last month. When the war on drugs intersects with the Second Amendment, the bullets fly.

Our count here also includes two deaths in March and one in April that had not yet been added to our tally.

Here are the latest drug war deaths:

On March 14, in Chicago, police investigating "possible narcotics activity" shot and killed Lamar Harris, 29, during a shoot-out in which three officers were also struck and wounded. When the cops approached Harris, he took off running through a dimly lit courtyard in the Homan Square neighborhood before reportedly turning and firing, hitting one officer in the back, one in the foot, and another in the chest. At least one officer returned fire, killing Harris.

On March 22, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Fredericksburg police officer shot and killed Travis Blair, 33, after he fled the officer's effort to pick him up for missing a court date on a drug possession charge. Officer Christopher Brossmer pulled Blair over, but Blair then drove away, dragging Brossmer with him before fleeing on foot after crashing in a ditch. A foot pursuit ensued, which ended with Brossmer shooting Blair in the leg as the pair struggled on the ground. Blair was hospitalized, but died five hours later. Police made no mention of a weapon being found, but they did find five packets of heroin inside a Marlboro package. Brossmer was later absolved of any criminal liability in the shooting.

On April 30, near Spanish Fork, Utah, a Utah County sheriff's deputy attempting to arrest Mark Daniel Bess on drug-related felony and misdemeanor warrants and a traffic-related warrant shot and killed him after he allegedly charged the officer with a knife. Police said Bess had fled from the deputy, but was found hiding behind a barn at a nearby residence. The deputy said Bess refused repeated commands to drop the knife and get on the ground and instead charged at him. The deputy fired at least two shots when Bess was 10 to 15 feet away, striking him in the head and body. He died at a local hospital hours later. He had been wanted for failure to appear in felony heroin possession case and failure to appear in another case where police caught him preparing to inject on the sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City.

On May 1, in Alamo, Tennessee, police finishing up a 3 AM drug raid at a private residence shot and killed Army veteran Ronald Branch, 28, when he arrived at the home carrying "multiple handguns." Two Crockett County opened fire on Branch, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police said Branch knew the homeowner, but they didn't know why he went to the house. The homeowner wasn't home, but police arrested another man on drug, drug paraphernalia, and marijuana possession charges. The officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending a review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

On May 5, in Gretna, Louisiana, police chasing a man who fled from them in a vehicle shot and killed Corey DiGiovanni, 36, who was the target of an ongoing heroin distribution investigation. DiGiovanni spotted narcotics officers outside a residence in Gretna and took off in his pick-up truck, leading police on a high-speed chase through the city. Police said they opened fire on him after he rammed several police cars and accelerated toward officers at an intersection.

On May 9, in St. Martin, Mississippi, police called to a Ramada Inn to investigate "possible drug activity" in a guest room shot and killed Christian Bowman, 23, after he became "aggressively combative" toward a deputy on the scene. One of the two deputies on the scene then shot him in the chest, killing him. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.

On May 11, in San Diego, police shot and killed Thongsoune Vilaysane, 30, at the end of a car chase that began when officers investigating drug and weapons activity at a Pagel Place residence followed the car he was driving as it left the home. Police learned it had been reported stolen and pursued the driver during a short pursuit before he crashed into a parked car. Police said officers with guns drawn ordered Vilaysane to get out of the car, but he instead put it in reverse, nearly striking two officers, police said. "In defense of their (lives), four officers fired multiple rounds at the driver to stop the threat of the moving vehicle," Homicide Lt. Manny Del Toro explained in a statement. He was hit multiple times and died at the scene. The officers were wearing body cams, and San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis has announced the videos will be released to the public after her office reviews whether the shooting was legally justified.

On May 19, in Miami, gang unit detectives on a narcotics investigation shot and killed Kentrill Williams, 22, after he allegedly grabbed a gun from his waistband. Williams was shot by Detective George Eugene. He died at a nearby hospital.

On May 24, in Park Forest, Illinois, FBI agents serving a search and arrest warrant on a high-ranking member of the Black P Stone Nation gang found him dead inside the home after a shoot-out that left two agents wounded. Melvin Toran, 50, committed suicide after the shoot-out, the medical examiner said. The raid was part of a federal sweep targeting drug trafficking by members of the Black P Stone Nation.

On May 26, in St. Paul, Minnesota, police doing a drug investigation at a residence shot and killed Eugene Smith, 29, after he allegedly fired at them from a bedroom. Police had been called to the home a week earlier on a drug complaint and had found meth, marijuana, and a rifle. When they returned the following week, they said Smith opened fire on them after they shot and killed a pit bull in the house. Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Chronicle AM: Bumper Afghan Opium Crop, No Monopoly Needed for MJ Research, Says State, More... (5/5/16)

It's harvest time in Afghanistan and the poppy crop is bountiful, the State Department says UN drug treaties don't require a NIDA monopoly on research marijuana, CBD bills get signed by the governor in Alabama and go to the governor in Oklahoma, South Dakota's internal possession law is obstructing sentencing reforms, and more.

It's a bumper crop of opium poppies for Aghanistan this year. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Foes Attack Marijuana Potency. The anti-legalization Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, led by Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (D), and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), is set to make an issue of marijuana potency as it attempts to blunt support for the state's legalization initiative. It's a 21st Century version of former drug czar William Bennett's "not your father's marijuana."

Oregon To Allow Recreational Edibles Sales Beginning in June. The Oregon Health Authority issued draft temporary rules Wednesday that will allow the sale of marijuana edibles to recreational users at medical marijuana dispensaries beginning in June. Recreational pot shops aren't open yet, but adults who want to purchase marijuana have been able to do so at dispensaries. Now, they will be able to buy edibles there, too.

Medical Marijuana

State Department Says NIDA Monopoly on Research Marijuana Unnecessary. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department has gone on record stating that the United States could issue multiple licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes without violating the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. The statement came in response to a direct request from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) regarding whether issuing multiple licenses to grow medical marijuana was a violation of the Single Convention. The State Department's interpretation is at odds with that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has always maintained that the treaty only allows a single license, which is granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This has created what is referred to as the "NIDA monopoly on cannabis," which has stalled medical cannabis research for years.

Alabama Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) Wednesday signed into law "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, which will allow the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat people suffering from debilitating seizures. The bill is named for Leni Young, a child whose family had to move to Oregon because her CBD treatment was illegal in Alabama. The family reports a dramatic reduction in seizures since using cannabis oil.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Wednesday voted 69-14 to approve a bill expanding the medicinal use of CBD cannabis oils. Last year, the state approved CBD cannabis oil, but only for people under 18. This bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, removes that age restriction.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Connecticut Bill Would Increase Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The legislature is considering House Bill 5524, which changes the definition of narcotic substances to include fentanyl and its derivatives. This would expose fentanyl sellers to up to 15 years in prison, as opposed to the up to seven years in prison they currently face.

Drug Policy

South Dakota's Internal Possession Laws An Obstacle to Sentencing Reform, Report Finds. Criminal justice reforms have slowed the growth of the state's prison population, but South Dakota is still locking up too many drug offenders because of a state law that makes ingestion of a controlled substance a felony. That's the bottom line of a new report issued Thursday by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Signs Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Order. Gov. Scott Walker (R) Wednesday signed an emergency order mandating drug testing for people seeking unemployment benefits. Those who refuse the drug test will have their benefits denied; those who fail it must undergo drug treatment and a job skills assessment in order to retain benefits. The rule will take effect when published later this week.

International

High Yields for Afghanistan's Poppy Crop This Year; Taliban Happy. Farmers and officials in Helmand Province, the heartland of Afghan opium production, are reporting high yields thanks to abundant rainfall and the cancellation of government eradication campaigns. Taliban members were taking part in return for wages and taxes, in cash or in kind, as well as recruiting new members from among the seasonal laborers who scrape the resin from the poppy pods. "We are happy that we had a good harvest this year compared with previous years," said Abdul Rahim Mutmain, a farmer in Musa Qala district. "There is no security concern for a single laborer being checked or robbed by the police," Mr. Mutmain said. "The entire district is under Taliban control and the bulk of the harvesters are Taliban." He added, "Actually, this is the Taliban regime -- you can take your narcotics anywhere or anytime you want to sell them."

Beyond UNGASS: Looking Toward 2019 [FEATURE]

The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for UN Headquarters in Manhattan next week, and civil society and some European and Latin American countries are hoping to make limited progress in moving toward more evidence- and public health-based drug policies. But, knowing the glacial pace of change at the UN and well aware of how little of substance is likely to emerge from the UNGASS, some eyes are already turning to the post-UNGASS international arena.

UNGASS is coming... and then what? (Creative Commons)
Hopes for more forward movement at the UNGASS, always tentative and facing opposition from global drug war hardliners such as Russia, China, and Singapore, were effectively dashed at the run-up meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting last month in Vienna, whose outcome document was described as "quite awful" by leading Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson.

The outcomes document includes some minor progressive movement, but does not challenge the trio of treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, while its embrace of "flexibility" emboldens regressive, repressive measures (the death penalty for drug offenses, forced "treatment," criminalization of drug users) in hard line countries, despite being helpful for progressive reforms around the edges of the treaties' prohibition.

MacPherson was one of a handful of international drug policy experts and elected officials who took part in a teleconference last week organized by StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), a US-based group that has been deeply involved in civil society organizing around the UNGASS. He wasn't the only one looking beyond 2016.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernández, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Organizations, called this year's UNGASS poses "a step" toward examining the objectives of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on drugs, which will be reviewed in 2019. While the CND outcomes document had good language around the need for embracing multiple approaches, such as public health, human rights, gender, and prevention, it also includes serious shortcomings, she said.

Mexican Senator Laura Angelica Rojas Hernandez (pan.senado.gob.mx)
"There is a lack of recognition of the relative efficacy of demand reduction and harm reduction policies and the absence of an acknowledgement of the high costs that the prohibitionist and punitive approaches have generated," the senator said.

Mexican senators know all too well the high costs of drug prohibition. For the past decade, the country has been battered by brutal prohibition-related violence that has left at least 100,000 dead, tens of thousands more "disappeared," a legacy of human rights abuses by soldiers and police fighting the cartels, and the legitimacy of the state severely weakened.

"The international community should continue to work toward the establishment of indicators that could help measure the impact of drug policies on people's lives and their rights," Rojas said, suggesting this could still happen at the UNGASS.

But she was also looking down the road.

"Something that should be placed on the table in 2019 is a thorough review of the three conventions on drug control that acknowledges the highly detrimental effects of the current approaches," she said. "And we should be more honest about the so-called flexibility of implementation offered by these treaties and acknowledge that there should be a wider range of action for countries to define their own drug policies, taking into consideration their national and cultural context."

Canadian drug policy expert Donald MacPherson (cssdp.org)
Both Rojas and Canada's MacPherson called for some sort of expert mechanism to guide policymakers eyeing the 2019 meeting.

"Organizations and even some governments are beginning to call for a mechanism post-UNGASS to get real with the modernizing of the treaties," MacPherson said, reflecting frustration with the UNGASS process and prospects. "It's really important that UN member states speak strongly for the need for that mechanism, whether it's an expert committee or some other sort of group. And it needs to happen now -- the next three years are critical coming up to 2019. We really do need to have that process in place to [counter] the kind of intransigence of other countries that use the consensus-based model to hold progress ransom."

"The international community should examine the possibility of establishing an analysis mechanism as a working group of experts, for example, with a mandate to formulate recommendations aimed at the modernization of the international system of drugs for the 2019 review process," Rojas added. "And from a longer-term perspective, we need to see the creation of a special office within the UN Human Rights Council, to follow up and monitor the respect of human rights in the context of the enforcement of the drug policies."

The UNGASS hasn't even gotten here yet, and interested observers are already looking past it. Welcome to politics at the United Nations where most things happen at a snail's pace. The global drug prohibition consensus may be crumbling, but it is crumbling very slowly at the level of international conventions and institutions. The work continues.

[A follow-up story on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico will highlight remarks during the teleconference by Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Aram Barra of Mexico United Against Crime, and StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden.]

Virginia Cop Gunned Down Last Week Was Doing a Drug War Training Exercise

The Virginia State Trooper shot and killed at the Greyhound Bus Station in Richmond, Virginia, last week died while on a drug war training exercise aimed at patrons of the transportation hub.

Trooper Chad Dermyer, 37, was gunned down by James Brown III, an Illinois man with a lengthy criminal record, who in turn was shot and killed by Dermyer's colleagues. Two women were wounded in the gunfire, neither with life-threatening injuries.

The two fatalities come as a shock, but hardly a surprise. According to Drug War Chronicle, which has been tallying deaths directly related to domestic drug law enforcement activities since 2011, the killings bring this year's total to eleven. Over the past five years, drug war deaths have occurred at a pace of roughly one a week, and this year so far is about on track.

Of those 50 or so drug war deaths each year, only a handful have been police officers. But Dermyer is the second law enforcement officer to be killed upholding drug prohibition in a 10-day period: An Indiana deputy was killed March 22 in a misbegotten midnight drug raid over a single syringe.

In Richmond last Thursday, as Fox 10 TV reported:

State Police were at that station for a training exercise on how to intercept drugs at bus terminals, which are often critical transfer points for narcotics. Dermyer had just been training for his new position around 2:40 when he was shot by a man he approached as part of that training, according to State Police.

"The male subject pulled out a handgun and shot Chad multiple times," Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty said. "The male subject continued firing his weapon, as two state police troopers opened fire."

The Washington Post added a bit more detail:

[State Police Superintendent W. Steven] Flaherty said Dermyer and other troopers were at the station to train for what is called a counterterrorism and criminal interdiction unit. The unit is assigned to public transit areas and highways to identify and question people deemed suspicious. It is a way of intercepting drugs and guns.

Dermyer, wearing a dark blue uniform that resembles fatigues, had started to question the man when the assailant pulled out a gun and shot the trooper, police said. Dermyer was not wearing a protective vest.

Flaherty said the conversation lasted about 30 seconds. He said he did not know what drew Dermyer's attention to the man. Two other troopers returned fire, police said. Flaherty said the squad's training assignment was: " 'If you see some suspicious behavior, go over and engage and have a conversation.' That was what was taking place here."

While it may have been a "training exercise," what police were doing was surveilling and accosting real people in real life. And it got very real indeed when Dermyer stopped Brown, who was armed and who had an extensive criminal record, with arrests on counts ranging from the petty -- "failure to obey police, resisting a corrections officer, numerous drug charges" -- to the ugly -- "aggravated battery of a pregnant woman" -- to the quite serious -- "murder, intent to kill, aggravated battery with a firearm, felony possession of a weapon." (It's not clear which of those arrests actually resulted in convictions and on what charges.)

According to his aunt, who helped raise him and with whom he stayed until she kicked him out in December, Brown really didn't like cops. The aunt, Edith Brown of suburban Chicago, told WTVR News Brown had been to prison and had had enough.

"He said he would never go back to prison again," she said. "He would fight it out with them. He had a lot of anger about the police in the past," she said. "He pretty much thought he wanted to be infamous... in terms of having a showdown. He always praised those people who got into shootouts with police."

It's difficult to tease out the role of drug prohibition in the incident where Dermyer's and Brown's lives intersected -- and ended. It's embedded in an intricate tapestry of race and class, crime and criminalization, permanent paranoia and militarized policing. But the war on drugs is one of the threads, and now, two more people are dead.

Richmond, VA
United States

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